Tuesday, 30 June 2015

When Technology Raises Constitutional Issues

I have been attending the first two sessions of the Public Bill Committee on the Education and Adoption Bill. The afternoon hearing shuddered to a sudden halt, when it was realised that the witnesses' microphones weren't working. We had to wait until the correct button was hit before the 20 person committee and the 3 witnesses could start.

It was explained that without the microphones, there was nothing for Hansard to use in preparing a transcript. Without that record, legally the evidence did not exist - hence the delay. A number of suggestions were made about getting the witnesses to be heard, but that was not the issue.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Coming Up

I'm sitting in Portcullis House working my way through Future Business for both House - some brief highlights

- Statements today on the events of the last few days - might not be out yet, but in any case the screen in Portcullis House for HoC is playing up
- 4th Question in Lords on performance of the Advertising Standards Authority
- Question tomorrow in HoL on whistleblowing in the NHS
- Short debate tomorrow in HoL (Dinner Break Business) on Children & Young People's Mental Health Task Force Report
- HoL question on Wednesday about publication (when???) of the Chilcot Report
- The Education & Adoption Bill will start its committee stage tomorrow and will have up to 4 meetings this week (Tuesday & Thursday)

The Ultimate Public Forum

This afternoon the nation will focus (some) of its attention on the House of Commons. After a long weekend of very serious developments - the House of Commons will hear statements from the Government - and have the opportunity to question and make suggestions about these events and how to deal with them.

Details of what statements will be made - from 15-30 (UK time) onwards - will be available by noon.

Major statements will be repeated in the House of Lords at the earliest convenient time AFTER the statements have been made in the Commons. Peers too will have the opportunity to ask questions.

There are live feeds from each chamber - available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/democracylive/. Tonight (as every weekday when Parliament is sitting) a half hour "Today in Parliament" will be broadcast. As I am unlikely to be fully awake at 11.30 on most nights, I benefit from the podcast which is available as separate episodes - or for subscription at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qtqd/episodes/downloads

Already this morning I have "prepped" for the day by listening to Friday's TiP (which is given to more detailed reports on issues) and yesterday's "Westminster Hour" (available at  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02nrs6c/episodes/downloads). There are free subscriptions available for the iPad app - search in "App Store" for  "Lords Business Papers" and "Commons Order Papers". A must read!

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

House of Commons Library

Regular readers of this blog will know how much I admire the work of the House of Commons Library. With a relatively small budget and staff - it regularly produces high quality research material to better inform the work of our MPs. Fortunately, much of this work is available free to their constituents too (and others! It's a great for students; academics; and anyone interested in a particular subject) through the internet.

The Library has to be politically neutral - it may report opinions - but its role is to inform not to advocate. Advocates though have access to the data and the arguments put forward from all sides.

It's worth bookmarking this page - http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ - it can be searched by subject, or can be used to find a particular paper.

I recommend the Key Issues book. This is now prepared for the start of each parliament and gives an overview of issues likely to come up in that Parliament. Can you afford NOT to read it?

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Watching the House of Commons

Yesterday I enjoyed the, sadly all too rare, opportunity of sitting in the public gallery of the Commons to watch a debate. The Education and Adoption Bill was having its Second Reading - and I could watch the Frontbench speeches followed by a succession of speeches from backbenchers - including a number of maiden speeches. It is good occasionally to watch a debate in the chamber - without the usual distractions. Normally when "watching a debate", I am multi-tasking - part listening to the debate; part reading something else - or writing; or carrying out some other task (downloading some material from the internet and so on). In the gallery one's full attention can be focussed on what is being said - and what is going on in the chamber. It's also good to be able to follow a debate over a number of hours! (Reading Hansard isn't quite the same)

I think that it is wonderful that we can now watch the live, un-interrupted  feed from the Chamber. In the past - and when I first visited the House of Commons in 1975 - that wasn't possible - only the written report or a summary on the news was possible. Now with the internet it is possible to watch the television coverage on BBC Parliament or a live stream on Parliamentlive.tv. Podcasts are available of Today in Parliament. But the limitations of TV cameras only give you part of the picture - and there is much of interest to observe outside the zone covered. The interactions and reactions off screen are important too.