Friday, 25 May 2007
The Washminster blog will appear less frequently next week .
Wednesday, 23 May 2007
There's no chance of this bill becoming law (even if it got a 2nd Reading on 19th October - the session is likely to end in early November) - but Mr Allen, a respected writer and campaigner for constitutional reform - and MP for Nottingham North, is again drawing our attention to an issue that deserves consideration.
Tuesday, 22 May 2007
The Cloture procedure was designed to allow a super-majority of Senators to bring an end to a filibuster or delaying tactics by a single Senator or a minority of members. It limits debate - but doesn't immediately end proceedings on a matter. There are various steps which must be taken - both before and after the cloture is agreed.
A cloture motion must be signed by 16 members and presented to the presiding officer. On the second calendar day after that the motion is put to the vote - and requires three fifths of all senators (60 unless there is a vacancy).
Thirty hours of floor consideration are then allowed - a time which may be extended by a further 3/5th vote - and Senators who have used less than 10 minutes of the hour allowed to them are guaranteed up to a further 10 minutes after the 30 hours has elapsed - once that time is ended there will be the votes on any pending amendments and the underlying proposal itself.
A fuller description of the procedure and rules can be found in the Congressional Research Service paper by Walter Oleszek at:
Monday, 21 May 2007
"AN Essex girl may be the first lady with a tongue stud to have set her sights on the White House. The wife of Dennis Kucinich, a left-wing Democratic congressman and 2008 presidential candidate, is a 29-year-old hippie chick from Upminster at the end of London Underground’s District line.
Elizabeth Kucinich, née Harper, has been on the stump with her husband, a 60-year-old anti-war campaigner from Cleveland, Ohio, mingling with the likes of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama backstage at the Democratic presidential debates. “There’s a kind of camaraderie,” she said."
Those who know London will have noted that Upminster is on the line which goes westwards to Westminster - perhaps it even goes further West?
Sunday, 20 May 2007
There are some important difference between whips in the four Houses serving the UK and the US. In fact there are four wholly different environments in which they operate.
Each House has its own set of sanctions and incentives that whips can use to encourage members to vote the desired way. The power of patronage is at its greatest in the House of Commons. Members who seek appointment to ministerial office need the recommendation of the whips. Even permission to be away from the House for a meeting is at the discretion of the whips office. Rebels can have their their chances of appointment to office or participation in the committee stage of a particular bill blocked by the whips - they could even face deselection.
In the Lords members are likely to be less ambitious for office. Many have "been there, done that". They can't be removed from the House - since appointment is for life. Removal of the whip - in effect suspension or expulsion - from the party hurts the party more than the individual.
The Senate gives the greatest power to minorities to block action. A disaffected Senator can cause more trouble for his party, than the whips can cause for him. Whipping in that environment needs different skills.
The House of Representatives has the largest whip organisation. In a Congressional Research Service report in 2002 it was reported that the Democrats had 1 Chief Whip; 6 Chief Deputy Whips; 12 Deputy Whips; 70 'At Large' whips and 24 regional whips. The Republicans had 1 Chief; 1 Chief Deputy; 17 Deputies and 49 'Assistant Whips'. In the House of Commons there are 16 whips and in the Lords only 8.
Saturday, 19 May 2007
In the United States "Election Day" is the "the first Tuesday after the First Monday in November". Presidents, Senators and Members of the House of Representatives are elected on that day. Yet they don't take office until the following January. The 20th Amendment to the Constitution states:
"The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the 3d day of January, of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then begin."
In the United Kingdom the transition is more immediate. While an MP technically loses his status when Parliament is dissolved (usually within a few days of the General Election being called), MPs who are standing for re-election are treated as the sitting MP until the result is announced (often in the middle of the night following polling day). Once the announcement is made, they are OUT. The transfer of powers from one Prime Minister to the next is also fairly speedy. In most General Elections the new Prime Minister is known within hours of the polls closing - and his trip to the Palace to resign and his successor's appointment follows the same day. When a new Prime Minister is chosen by their party in the middle of a Parliament (as in 1976 when Callaghan was elected by Labour MPs as Wilson's successor; and in 1990 when Tory MPs picked Major) the existing PM goes to the palace within a few hours, or the next day).
Gordon Brown will be Blair's successor. He gained so many nominations from Labour MPs (313 out of 352) that no challenger would have been able to collect enough nominations (44) to go forward for the final stage of the election. Yet he will not become Prime Minister until 27th June! As the Guardian put it yesterday "Britain began an unprecedented six week transitional government yesterday as Gordon Brown accepted his landslide nomination as Labour leader and an invitation to a series of briefings with Whitehall permanent secretaries, police chiefs, defence chiefs and senior public service professionals."
The Modernisation Committee of the House of Commons has heard frequent complaints about the short period of time between a General Election and the first sitting of Parliament - and the problems that it causes.
Is it time for the UK to adopt a US style transition period?
What do you feel the adavantages and disadvantages are?
Your timely comments on this matter could spark a real - and necessary debate.
Friday, 18 May 2007
I thoroughly enjoyed reading his book "The House" which begins on 4th March 1789 (the day the House first met - though it was inquorate - only 13 Congressman turned up to Federal Hall - it was on 1st April that the required minimum of 30 was reached) and tells the story of events and individuals up to the present day. I have to blame this book for a loss of sleep. It was truly a book that was very difficult to put down! The House of Representatives has a fascinating history, has had some incredible characters amongst its members - and this book has a great style. It also has a very useful set of Appendices - listing all the Speakers; Clerks; Sergeant at Arms; Leaders of House; Whips and more.
Robert V. Remini -"The House: The History of the House of Representatives" - Smithsonian Books. 2006 ISBN 978-0-06-088434-5
Thursday, 17 May 2007
In the United Kingdom the Church of England is the official State Church. The Queen is Head of the Church (and it is 'her' parliament, 'her' government and 'her' judges!). In the House of Lords 26 seats are set aside for the Archbishops (2 - Canterbury & York) and Bishops (24 - Bishops of Durham, London and Winchester, and the 21 next most senior Church of England Bishops). Church of England measures are passed by Parliament. (for more information go to http://www.parliament.uk/documents/upload/l10.pdf)
By contrast separation of Church and State has been fundamental in the US system. The First Amendment to the US Constitution reads: -
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;". The implications of this has been the subject of controversy and Supreme Court decisions. One site you might find interesting is
http://members.tripod.com/~candst/tnppage/tnpidx.htm - strongly for separation
Wednesday, 16 May 2007
"an undertaking by the Government not to agree to a measure in the Council of Ministers if Parliament has not yet completed its consideration of the proposal, unless there are special reasons for doing so (e.g. where the national interest would be damaged by delaying agreement)".
The House of Lords passed a resolution "That—
(1) No minister of the Crown should give agreement in the Council to any proposal for European Community legislation or for a common strategy, joint action or common position under Title V or a common position, framework decision, decision or convention under Title VI of the Treaty on European Union—
(a) which is still subject to scrutiny (that is, on which the European Union Committee has not completed its scrutiny);
(b) on which the European Union Committee has made a report to the House for debate, but on which the debate has not yet taken place." A similar resolution was passed by the House of Commons.
Lord Willoughby de Broke asked Her Majesty’s Government: "Why they have over-ridden the scrutiny reserve resolution relating to the work of the European Union Select Committee on 157 occasions in the past three years."
Baroness Royall answered for the Government. The full answer can be found at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200607/ldhansrd/text/70515-0001.htm#07051549000007
She explained that "the Government take their commitment to parliamentary scrutiny extremely seriously. Over-rides occur in a small percentage of cases; for example, as a resultof the speed of decision-making in Brussels. The Government are committed to minimising the number of over-rides. In all cases where over-rides prove necessary, Ministers will continue to account for their actions by writing to the chairman of the House of Lords European Union Committee."
In the discussion that followed a number of points were made, including the opinion of one well known Eurosceptic that "the whole system is entirely unsatisfactory? A Minister can go to Europe without any parliamentary approval, make decisions or agree to make decisions, and then come back and say to Parliament, “The decision that I have made, without your prior consent, is binding on you”. Surely, that is not right in a democratic society."
The whole issue of scrutiny of EU affairs was considered by the Commons Modernisation Committee: http://pubs1.tso.parliament.uk/pa/cm200405/cmselect/cmmodern/465/465i.pdf
and the House of Lords EU Committee http://pubs1.tso.parliament.uk/pa/ld200203/ldselect/ldeucom/15/1501.htm
Tuesday, 15 May 2007
Neither Chamber is large enough to hold sufficient Parliamentarians - so joint addresses are usually given either in Westminster Hall (the oldest part of the Palace - which survived the Great Fire of 1834 and the bombing of the House of Commons in 1941) or the Royal Gallery. The latter venue is to be used today.
The Royal Gallery is a magnificant room. It is 110 feet long; 45 feet wide and 45 feet high. There is one minor problem. The room is dominated by two large paintings - The 'Death of Nelson at Trafalgar' and the 'Meeting of Wellington and Bucher at Waterloo', both by Daniel Maclise. These two battles were great victories over the French. Hooks have now been installed to allow curtains to be hung to cover the paintings if a French President is giving an address. When Giscard D'Estang saw the paintings he reputedly remarked "C'est manifique, mais ce n'est pas diplomatique"
Monday, 14 May 2007
This appears a number of times a week (dependent upon whether Congress is meeting). There are a number of columnists who regularly contribute - my personal favourite being Norman Ornstein.
The second is The Hill http://thehill.com/. Both are respected specialist publications.
The Washington Post also includes good coverage. http://www.washingtonpost.com/
Congressional Quarterly is another good source http://public.cq.com/
Sunday, 13 May 2007
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmhansrd.htm - Commons
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld/lords_hansard_by_date.htm - Lords
Hansard is available on the internet approximately three hours after the words themselves have been spoken. Daily Hansard is available from about 8 am (UK time) the following morning.
Reports from Congress can be found in the Congressional Record. Representative and Senators can extend their remarks by having external documents inserted into the Congressional Record.
Friday, 11 May 2007
Party leaders were traditionally chosen by members of the parliamentary party. It's amazing to think that it is as late as 1965 that the leaders of the Conservative Party were first elected by all members of the parliamentary party (previous the choice was in the hands of a small group).
In the last 50 years (I stretch it by a few months) - Macmillan (1957); Douglas Home (1963); Callaghan (1976); and Major (1990) became Prime Minister after their predecessor stood down from the Premiership (all our other Prime Ministers were chosen while their party was in opposition and came to power after a General Election).
This time a Prime Minister will be elected by Labour Party members. The timetable so far is
Sunday 13th May - the Labour Party's National Executive Committee will meet to formally agree the timetable for the elections, including the opening and closing date for nominations and supporting nominations, the freeze date for new members to join the party, as well as the dates for the hustings.
Sunday 24th June - the new Leader and Deputy Leader will be announced at a special Leadership Conference
Wednesday 27th June - Tony Blair will meet the Queen to tender his resignation as Prime Minister. She will then invite the new leader of the Labour Party (as it is the party having a majority of seats in the House of Commons) to become her new Prime Minister.
The Labour Party has set up a special website - http://www.labour.org.uk/leadership/home on which more detailed information about the election and the candidates can be found.
Thursday, 10 May 2007
The question of who will replace him has also become a non-news item. Gordon Brown's succession seems secure. The only issue of detail is whether Michael Meacher or John McDonnell will be the left wing candidate for the leader's post heading for a crushing defeat.
Interest at Westminster is focused on who will be the Deputy Leader. John Prescott has announced that he will leave at the same time as Tony Blair. The position open is 'Deputy Leader of the Labour Party'. It does not necessarily follow that the holder of that post will be 'Deputy Prime Minister'.
The one question on the lips of almost every Labour MP; Peer and Staffer at Westminster when they meet a colleague is "who are you backing? - Alan Johnson? Peter Hain? Hazel Blears? Harriet Harman? Hilary Benn? Jon Cruddas? "
Tuesday, 8 May 2007
It is set in the whips office of a newly elected Tory Government - back in power after 12 years of Labour - but with a majority of only 3, facing a pack of plotting rebels.
Full of some great one-liners, many worth savouring, the play makes frequent reference to the mythology - and sometimes the reality - of whipping in the House of Commons. It stars Richard Wilson as Chief Whip; Robert Bathurst as Deputy Chief Whip - and Lee Ross as the young whip seeking to gain his whips' tie. Helen Schlesinger plays the Opposition whip and Kellie Bright (Kate Aldridge in the Archers) is the "researcher" with a secret to reveal.
Playing to an almost full house, which included at least one prominent parliamentarian, the run lasts until 16th June. It's worth watching!
I grew up in the knowledge that the very survival of Britain was bound up in that vital wartime alliance forged by Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt. On my first visit to Washington in 1951, your predecessor, President Truman, welcomed me to the White House, and it was his administration which reached out to Europe through the Marshall Plan to help our tired and battered continent lift itself from the ruins of a second world war. In the years that followed, successive administrations here in Washington committed themselves to the defense of Europe, as we learned to live with the awesome responsibilities of the nuclear age.
Mr. President, for someone of my age, surveying the many challenges we face in this new 21st century, that is the inescapable historical context within which we live. My generation can vividly remember the ordeal of the second world war. We experienced the difficulties of those early postwar years. We lived through the uncertainties of the long Cold War period.
For those of us who have witnessed the peace and stability and prosperity enjoyed in the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe over these postwar years, we have every reason to remember that this has been founded on the bedrock of the Atlantic Alliance. All the many and varied elements of our present relationship, be they in the fields of education, business, culture, sports, politics or the law, have continued to flourish, safe in the knowledge of this simple truth.
Today the United States and the United Kingdom, with our partners in Europe and the Commonwealth, face different threats and new problems both at home and abroad. In recent years, sadly, both our nations have suffered grievously at the hands of international terrorism. Further afield, whether in Iraq or Afghanistan, climate change, or the eradication of poverty, the international community is grappling with problems certainly no less complex than those faced by our 20th century forebears.
I have no doubt, however, that together with our friends in Europe and beyond, we can continue to learn from the inspiration and vision of those earlier statesmen in ensuring that we meet these threats and resolve these problems. Divided, all alone, we can be vulnerable. But if the Atlantic unites, not divides us, ours is a partnership always to be reckoned with in the defense of freedom and the spread of prosperity.
That is the lesson of my lifetime. Administrations in your country, and governments in mine, may come and go. But talk we will; listen we have to; disagree from time to time we may; but united we must always remain.
Mr. President, I raise my glass to you and to Mrs. Bush, to the friendship between our two countries, and to the health, freedom, prosperity, and happiness of the people of the United States of America.
Monday, 7 May 2007
The "accepted" view seems to be that Parliament has declined further during the Blair years. He stands accused of employing "the huge and overweening powers of the British executive to make central government even more powerful". The sycophancy of backbenchers has been matched by a ruthlessness in ramming through legislation. Is Graham Allen MP right when he claims that today "we are for all intents and purposes ruled by a hidden Presidency"?
I hope that as the Blair era comes to a close we can discuss how that man and his government have impacted Parliament. To kick things off I suggest some evidence of Parliament being strengthened. Somethings that could not have happened without the tacit acceptance of the Prime Minister.
Select Committees - These have flowered in the last 10 years. If you visited one in session in the mid 1990s, go again. They are clearly better resourced - with more advisors evident. They are also more confident and play a greater role in political debate.
Liaison Committee - Blair was the first Prime Minister to appear before a select committee. Thatcher and Major had refused. Now it has become an accepted practice that the Prime Minister will submit himself to extensive questions in regular sessions with the Chairs of Select Committees meeting as the Liaison Committee.
PMQs - Many argued that the replacement of 2 quarter-hour sessions of Prime Ministers Question Time with a single half-hour session every Wednesday diminished scrutiny. However 30 minutes allows for greater debate - and more opportunity for the Opposition leaders to press the PM
Modernisation Committee - There are those who have been sceptical of the motives and achievements of this Committee, which is chaired by a Cabinet Minister, the Leader of the House of Commons. But has it addressed some of the concerns of backbenchers? Has its reforms made their contribution greater?
House of Lords Reform - still incomplete, but has the partial legitimisation effected by the removal of the hereditaries delivered a House better able (and willing) to scrutinise?
Freedom of Information - not only used by lazy journalists, as some might claim, but by MPs themselves.
So what is your assessment of the Blair years?
Sunday, 6 May 2007
House of Commons and House of Lords: Weekly Information Bulletin, published on Saturdays (sometimes available on Friday afternoons)
House of Representatives: The Weekly Leader - from the Office of the Majority Leader
Senate: the schedule for the Floor isn't available beyond on the next sitting day (if any one has access to draft schedules on the net please let me know) - but future Committee Meetings/Hearings are available at
Saturday, 5 May 2007
In Congress there are a number of blocking actions open to the majority. A Chair of a committee may delay or decline to schedule hearings; the Rules Committee may refuse to report a special rule - allowing the bill to be torn apart should it be considered on the floor; or the Speaker may delay the bill. In the House of Commons the Government controls the overwhelming majority of time. Private Members Bills considered on Fridays can be "talked out" by members acting on the government's behalf.
Friday, 4 May 2007
In many areas the traditional practice of counting the votes began immediately - but in others, such as Rugby, the count will begin this morning. Late night counts keep the adrelrenalin flowing - but it makes for an extremely long day.
In the United Kingdom all the ballot boxes are brought to a central place - a single place for each parliamentary constituency and each district. So when I go to the count in Rugby this morning all the counts will be held in Benn Hall, next to the Town Hall. Whereas in the United States candidates stay with their teams in separate places, in the UK everyone congregates at the count. Candidates bring along their 'counting agents' who observe the counting undertaken by a team appointed by the non-partisan electoral office of the council. Results are announced once all the physical ballots have been counted - and it is normal for the 'returning officer' to make the announcement flanked by all the candidates.
Thursday, 3 May 2007
Sometimes there are only two participants - the MP calling the debate, and the Minister replying. On other occasions more MPs may participate.
Recent daily adjournment debates have included
- Regulation of lending by high street banks (Siobhain McDonagh)
- OECD working group on bribery in international business transactions (Dr Vincent Cable)
- Future of the voluntary sector in Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr Andy Slaughter)
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office involvement with BA flight 149 to Kuwait on 2nd August 1990 (Norman Baker)
- Adjournment Debate: Dismissal of Mr Peter Francis by Walsall Council (Mr David Winnick)
- Proposed discontinuation of Ancient History A Level (Mr Michael Fallon)
- Plant science and climate change (Dr Ian Gibson)
As noted above, a Minister replies to the debate. On Tuesday an EDM appeared seeking support to end an anomaly which applies to daily adjournment debates, and those held in Westminster Hall or in the last days before a recess:
That this House requests the Procedure Committee to address the anomaly whereby adjournment debates cannot be secured by hon. Members on matters falling within the responsibility of the Prime Minister, such as departmental reorganisations of Whitehall; and suggests that Cabinet Office Ministers or others as appropriate, be invited by the Speaker to stand in for the Prime Minister in such circumstances.
Wednesday, 2 May 2007
A number of bills were being considered from the Suspensions Calendar. [Bills considered on the Suspension calendar are debatable for 40 minutes; may not be amended; and require a two-thirds vote for passage] - including
H.Res.272 - Commemorating the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade (Rep. Lee – Foreign Affairs)
H.Res.158 - Observing the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the British slave trade and encouraging the people of the United States, particularly the youth of the United States, to remember the life and legacy of William Wilberforce, a member of the British House of Commons who devoted his life to the suppression and abolition of the institution of slavery, and to work for the protection of human rights throughout the world (Rep. Pitts – Foreign Affairs)
It was interesting to watch. The House of Commons held a similar debate on Tuesday March 20th. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmhansrd/cm070320/debtext/70320-0004.htm#07032055000001 The House of Lords will do so on Thursday 10th May.
The different ways that debates arise can be seen. In the House of Commons the issue was discussed on a motion to adjourn the House - a procedural device regularly used to hold a debate but rarely ending in a vote. John Prescott began at 3.44pm and the debate concluded at 10pm [the Moment of Interruption] when the motion lapsed without the question being put.
In the Lords next week Baroness Howells of St Davids will rise "to call attention to the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade and to the United Kingdom’s role in tackling its legacies; and to move for papers." - this device is explained in the House of Lords Companion -
The words "; and to move for papers" are added to a subject for debate so that the mover of the motion has the right to reply to the debate. It is recognised that at the end of the debate such a motion should normally be withdrawn, since it is treated as a neutral motion and there is neither advantage nor significance in pressing it. The opinion of the House is expressed in the speeches made in the debate rather than on a division.
The House of Representatives discussed the subject as legislative business - the Resolutions were discussed and voted on (by voice vote).
Tuesday, 1 May 2007
John Edwards - 'Ending Poverty in America' (2007); 'Homes: The Blueprints of our lives' (2006); 'Four Trials' (2003)
Hillary Clinton - 'Living History' (2003); 'It takes a Village' (1996)
Barack Obama - 'Audacity of Hope' (2006); 'Dreams from my Father' (1995)
Bill Richardson - 'Between Worlds' (2005)
John McCain - 'Character is Destiny' (2005); 'Why Courage Matters' (2004); 'Worth the Fighting For' (2002); 'Faith of My Fathers' (1999)
Rudi Giulani - 'Leadership' (2002)
Mitt Romney - 'Turnaround: Crisis, Leadership & the Olympic Games' (2004)
Mike Huckabee - 'From Hope to High Ground' (2007)
Tom Tancredo - 'In Mortal Danger' (2006)