Washminster

Washminster
Washminster

Washminster

Washminster
Washminster

Thursday, 28 June 2007

The Future of Washminster

After the frantic events of yesterday - as power moved from Blair to Brown - the feverish atmosphere continues. We will have the details of the new Cabinet and Departments over the new day - and perhaps beyond.

Washmister will return to its usual pattern of a post a day. I hope you will continue to visit this blog. I'd appreciate your comments on the issues and matters raised - which can be done on the blog itself. I'd also appreciate any comments; suggestions that you have about what is being covered - and the style of the blog. These can be sent privately to me at jdavidmorgan@excite.com


There will be no post made on Friday 29th June, as I am taking a days break in Cherbourg.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Afternoon

The handover of power is complete. Britain's Prime Minister is Gordon Brown - and we should soon (at least within the next couple of days) know who will be getting the jobs in Cabinet, and in the other ministerial ranks.

There is just one greeting between the many Labour MPs and peers at Westminster this afternoon - "good luck".

Brown on way to Palace

Gordon Brown is at the Treasury - taking applause from his (former) staff before he leaves for the palace. The warmth of the send off has been commented upon by the Sky reporter.

As we returned to the office we noticed how quiet the corridors of the Palace of Westminster are. Many are following events on the TV screens which each office has.

The ministerial car, parked in Horse Guards Road, is now ready to leave - it's leaving travelling northwards - now in the Mall - and finally it enters the Palace. Britain's short period without a Prime Minister (unlike Monarch's in Britain - who succeed the instant the former Sovereign has passed on - there is a break, albeit it, as today, for a matter of minutes) - is about to end.

Lunchtime

Just did a short live (and lively) interview with BBC Radio Northampton. The presenter , Jonathan Vernon Smith was asking callers and interviewees what they would write in Tony Blair's leaving book. Phil Hope was on before me and he said that he had simply written 'thank you' in the book, which Labour MPs and Peers have been signing.

Once the interview was over (done live from an office in the House of Lords), I went down with a Peer to the PLP (Parliamentary Labour Party) Office in the Palace - where he to too signed the book. It was very moving to read the comments made by his colleagues.

I'm now back in the office watching the television coverage of events in Buckingham Palace, where Blair, the former Prime Minister, is due out shortly. Now he and Cherie are leaving. And so the hand of history steers a remarkable man into a new career.

PMQs - Part 2

Ann Clwyd has reminded the House of the atrocities in Iraq under Hussain - and that many Iraqis are grateful for Blair's actions.

A Lib Dem tried to attack Blair's educational legacy - and gave the outgoing PM the opportunity to state the achievements!

Richard Burden asked about the Middle East peace process - and taking the lessons from Northern Ireland to this issue.

Blair joked about receiving a P45 - the document an employee gets for tax purposes when leaving a job.

When asked about church & state seperation his response was - "I'm really not bothered about that one".

Climate Change. Then the other Winterton, Nicholas (Ann's husband) - got in. A eurosceptic rant - what a surprise. He was called to order by the Speaker (should be a question) - "first of all I like the honourable gentleman..." was Blair's response - who said goodbye to him in a number of European languages!!!

David Blunkett paid his tributes - then Tony Baldry on his local general hospital ... and the lack of a referendum on Europe. Blair sighed - then reminded Baldry of the advances in health; education and the economy in Baldry's constituency.

Angela Smith, another Sheffield MP to ask a question today, was followed by Rev Ian Paisley - who paid a fulsome tribute. He wished Blair the same success in the Middle East as he had had in Northern Ireland.

Blair responded. The Father of the House, Alan Williams, asked the last question, it was a touching moment. Tony Blair finished with a few remarks about the House of Commons, and politics in general. He then finished.

MPs clapped as he left. - not normally permitted - but appropriate

PMQs

Written as I watch this on the TV screen in the office of three Peers - one got into the gallery, the other two are with me.

A moving tribute to members of the Armed Forces.

Now Cameron is on his feet. First question on the floods which have hit Sheffield, a city I fondly remember from my student days. Second question on the same subject. Third, another non-controversial question about Blair's future role as a peace envoy in the Middle East. Fourth on Alan Johnston. Final "question" was a tribute to Blair and best wishes for the future.
Menzies Campbell asked a question about the welfare of the armed forces. Then another tribute rather than a question.
Jeremy Corbyn - surely he's not going to join the love-fest? It's about Iraq - and notes that the US Congress has voted for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. The strident voice of Ann Winterton follows. The premise of her question is rejected.




Watch Live


or if you missed it, PMQs can seen at http://www.parliamentlive.tv/?When=Live#Live


Speaker's Procession

11.10 Central Lobby is filling up for the Speaker's Procession. Lucky holders of tickets for the public gallery are waiting here to take their seats for Blair's last PMQs. A number of MPs are amongst the growing throng

11.13 The police have formed the passage for the procession early.


11.25 The Procession comes through then people head for the gallery. A number of their Lordships have also been making their way towards the Commons.

Mid Morning

I popped down to the Chamber of the House of Commons, and bumped into a predecessor of mine as parliamentary candidate for the constituency currently known as Blaby (South Leicestershire from the next election), Keith Hill. He made it to Westminster as MP for Streatham - and is currently Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to the Prime Minister, Tony Blair. Clearly a man with a busy few hours ahead of him, then a well deserved relax!

In the Chamber itself there were many more prayer cards than usual. MPs can reserve a seat for the day by leaving a card in the chosen place - and if they are there for prayers, they can keep that place for the rest of the day. There are usually a few for every PMQs - but today many more. By 09.50 there were 24 on the Labour Benches and a mass on the Tory side.

10.00 A crowd is now established outside the gates to Downing Street. A sole protestor stands on the opposite side of Whitehall. His sign reads 'Good Riddance' on one side and 'Next Stop the Hague' on the other. Inside the gate the removal van continues to be loaded - there are a lot of police and many cameras. More continue to arrive.

Breakfast on the terrace

09.36 A nice, full English, breakfast on the terrace of the Palace of Westminster - though the noise from the TV news companys' helicopters mean it is not peaceful! Already there are a number of MPs and Peers around - and the game of the day is sharing the latest gossip as to who will get what job. Peers have been told that if they want a seat for Prime Minister's Questions they need to arrive early - demand will be very high.

It's a day for looking forward - but also back. I've heard memories from those who saw Harold Wilson arrive at no 10 in 1964 and others who have visited the residential parts of No 10.

The TV news is showing the removal van in Downing Street being filled - it's not the green van I saw earlier!

Morning in Westminster

Sky News have just said "it's going to be a historic day". I began it by listening to the 5.00am news on BBC Radio Five. There was one story dominating the bulletin. After quickly changing I went for a walk, during which I recorded the following.

05.35 - I walked up Buckingham Gate. The sky is cloudy: it is cool, but not unpleasantly so. Past the Albanian Embassy. The UK is set to be the focus of the world's attention today.

05.40 Outside Buckingham Palace. The Royal Standard is flying. In a few hours time Queen Elizabeth will receive the resignation of her 10th Prime Minister and Gordon Brown will be invited to 'kiss hands'. At the moment all gates are closed. From the fountain of the Victoria Memorial I can see the clock of Big Ben. It is 5.45

I walk along the Mall - the route that both the outcoming and incoming Prime Ministers will take as they make their visits to Buckingham Palace later today. Huge British flags (the Union Jack) decorate this street. A reminder that today is a uniquely British occasion. This year is the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union which created the United Kingdom. Previously one King sat on two thrones - as King of Scotland and King of England. He had two governments. Today Queen Elizabeth will appoint a scotsman to be Britain's Prime Minister.

05.55 I spot the first joggers of the day. My route takes me off the Mall into St James Palace, to cut across to Horseguards Parade - and the back of Downing Street.

06.00 Big Ben strikes as I arrive at Horse Guards Parade - soon other bells across the city of Westminster are tolling. Behind a tall brick wall, flanked to the west by a row of TV vans, are the gardens of Downing Street. A large green van is parked by the Foreign Office - could it be a removal van?

When I was a teenager it was possible to walk from here into Downing Street. As was the fashion of the day (following the publication of a young Harold Wilson outside No 10), I had my picture taken in front of the famous door. It is no longer possible for the public to wander into Downing Street, but no doubt we will see many pictures of that door in the coming hours.

06.07 I cross Horse Guards Road to enter King Charles Street, which divides the Foreign and Commonwealth Office from the Treasury. The latter has been Gordon Brown's department for the last 10 years as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Now he will become First Lord of the Treasury, the official title taken by the Prime Minister. I get a brief glimpse of Downing Street through the gates of the FCO.

06.12 There is a crowd near the entrance to Downing Street - but they are not there to watch the comings and goings. Instead they are there to catch the 88 bus to Oxford Street and Camden Town or the 11 to Liverpool Street. A photographer with a short step ladder and a huge camera arrives at the gates to Downing Street. Already the camera lights are blazing within this famous close and a pack of photographers is already in place.

06.15 I bump into Hazel Blears and Paul Richards who have just left Downing Street. They both enjoyed yesterday evening's Fabian Society reception - and await an interesting day.

06.20 On Parliament Street occupants of the 'peace camp' are up and walking around. It looks as if a new banner is being prepared. I notice that at the southern end a new sign, on a bed sheet has gone up saying "Gordon: War is still the issue". Even from the gates into the Palace of Westminster the bright lights for the cameras on College Green can be seen.

06.28 I rest for a while at the railings near the Jewel Tower, the oldest surviving building from the original Palace of Westminster. (c 1365. Although Westminster Hall was originally built in 1099, it was rebuilt in 1397-99 incorporating the original walls)

On College Green cameramen and presenters are preparing for the early morning outside broadcasts. In the BBC Radio Wales tent the presenter was working his way through a pile of the morning's newspapers. A stream of photographers with their stepladders pass me - presumably to join the throng in Downing Street

06.40 Back at the 'peace camp' work continues on constructing the new banner.

06.45 I buy copies of the Guardian ('Blair exits British politics as new era begins with a Tory defection') and the Independent ('Gordon Brown answers Your Questions').

06.50 Enter the parliamentary estate by way of 1 Parliament Street. In Portcullis House the cleaners are busily preparing the Atrium for what is sure to be an extraordinary parliamentary day.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Prime Minister

The post of Prime Minister is an accident of history. The King had his Cabinet, a Council of Ministers, who advised him on Executive matters. This arrangement continued as power moved from the King to Parliament.

After the death of Queen Anne in 1714 the next in line was 54 year old George, The Elector of Hanover. He had been born and lived in Hanover for most of his life. He spoke poor English; instead, he spoke his native German and also French. As KingGeorge I he found chairing meetings of Cabinet tiresome. His place was often taken by Sir Robert Walpole after 1721, who wags began to describe as "the Prime Minister". It was intended and regarded by Walpole as a term of abuse. The title is widely accepted today, although the holder is correctly known as "First Lord of the Treasury".

The meeting at which the Queen invites someone to be her Prime Minister is the point at which they become Prime Minister. We still talk of the new PM "kissing hands" - a sign of that individual's fealty and loyalty to the Sovereign. In practice this is no longer expected, though it does happen.

BBC Story

The Labour Party has been put on standby for an announcement by Tony Blair that he is resigning as an MP, triggering a by-election.

Mr Blair is expected to be confirmed as a Middle East envoy on Wednesday by the Mid-East quartet - made up of the US, Russia, the UN and the EU.

Officials said Mr Blair was expected to attend a local Labour Party meeting after resigning as prime minister.

Unexpected Shock

Something new keeping the chatter going in the Palace of Westminster - a Tory MP, Quentin Davies has defected to Labour. The fact, and the timing of this defection, has quite excited people around here!

In the Lords (2.30pm - 3.00pm)

The topic in the bars, corridors and rooms around the Palace of Westminster may be about the looming restructuring of the Government, but in the Chamber of the House of Lords the eurosceptics wanted our attention to be turned to the proposed new treay for the European Union. Lord Pearson of Rannoch led the charge demanding a referendum. Supporters of Parliamentary Sovereignty stressed that it was Parliament that will make the decision to ratify, and we were treated to a list of major agreements which affected Britain that no one had called for a referendum over.

The fever grows

Attending the Parliamentary Links Day - 'Science and the Global Challenge', this morning, it was evident how great the anticipation was for the changes to come in the next few days, not just from the politicians but also amongst the scientists.

David Miliband was the keynote speaker. Dr Brian Iddon introduced him saying "this may be his last day" in the job. Messages of support for the conference were received, we were told from "today's Prime Minister and tomorrow's Prime Minister". Alan Duncan, refering to speculation that there may be a General Election in 2008 rather cheeekly added " and from next years Prime Minister too".

Lord Rees of Ludlow reminded us of Harold Wilson's comment that 'a week is a long time in politics' - "this week it's particularly true" he said. "Ministers will be dismembered and regrouped by the end of the week - we know not how"

The mood at Westminster

It may be cool and damp outside, but the atmosphere in the Palace of Westminster (and the other parliamentary buildings) is fever hot. Tony Blair will take his last 'PMQs' at noon tomorrow, then will go to the Palace to tender his resignation. Shortly afterwards Gordon Brown will be invited to became Prime Minister and form a new government.

Everyone is on tenderhooks - and there is a real 'gossip-fest'. Who will be in? who will be out? Individual MPs and Peers await news of their own futures. Soon they will know.

Last night the PLP (Parliamentary Labour Party) held its weekly meeting. A very detailed account of this private meeting appeared on the midnight news on BBC Radio Four. A report can be found at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6239620.stm There were certainly a lot of journalists waiting outside. Somehow news leaked out! Presentations were made to Tony Blair of a guitar and to John Prescott of a stand to hold drinks decanters. The meeting was packed.

Tonight a reception will be held on the terrace by the Fabian Society. It will no doubt be packed with Labour MPs and Peers. The earnest speculation will continue - "for whenever two or three are gathered together, the spectre of a major reshuffle will be with them"




European Union Matters in the House of Lords

Yesterday the House of Lords heard the statement made in the House of Commons about the European Council by the Prime Minister repeated by Baroness Amos. Some were not happy. I sat just a few feet away from Lady Thatcher. She and her eurosceptic collegues did not like it.

Lord Strathclyde asked for the main Opposition "Does the noble Baroness not see this as a major integrationist treaty, a step in the wrong direction, in which many more areas of veto are given away and the aims of harmonisation and centralisation are relentlessly laid out in every line of the presidency conclusions?". There were calls for a referendum.

Baroness Amos replied "The call for a referendum on what is another amending treaty is interesting, given that we did not have a referendum with the Single European Act, Maastricht or subsequently with Amsterdam and Nice. It is also interesting that the majority of Members opposite who spoke in a recent debate on European issues argued against a referendum. Other members of that party have made interesting comments about referendums. The noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, said: “I mean the big steps into Europe consolidating British position in Europe, far more important than this particular treaty, were all taken by Conservative governments, and none of them felt it was necessary to have a referendum”.

Kenneth Clarke said: “I disapprove of a referendum. I do think it is a serious blow to the sovereignty of Parliament”.

Another Conservative, the noble Lord, Lord Patten, said: “This Tory notes that the intellectually honest position of many of those in the forefront of the present campaign for a referendum is complete British withdrawal from the European Union”.

I can only suggest to the House that this is about political opportunism. This is about a Conservative Party that has nothing to offer in terms of a strong Britain in Europe and whose leader could not even be bothered to go to the meeting called by Angela Merkel for EPP colleagues in advance of the European Council because he was too busy. How will we ensure a strong Britain in Europe when we have an Opposition who are not even prepared to engage in the debate and on the issues?

Lady Thatcher did not like that. Her closest neighbour in the Chamber asked "Does the Minister not realise that governments have to carry consent? What will people conclude if governments behave in this way? Will we not see more and more people refusing to turn out to cast their votes at elections and on other occasions if governments treat their manifesto promises with such contempt?"

He was met by a quick reposte from Baroness Amos "My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, is right about the importance of governments having to carry consent. I can well remember what happened not only in Parliament but also elsewhere when there were proposals for a poll tax in this country." He shook his head vigorously and Lady Thatcher looked at the Government fronch bench with disgust.


Monday, 25 June 2007

Filling Vacancies

It's a sad fact that during the term of most legislatures (A Congress = 2 years; A Parliament = up to 5 years) there will be the occasional death of a Member.

Senator Craig Thomas died on June 4th. The Governor of Wyoming named John Barrasso to fill the vacant Senate seat until a special election is held in November 2008. The process of electing a successor to Representative Charlie Norwood in the 10th District of Georgia will continue to a runoff on July 17th because no candidate won over 50% in the special election held last Tuesday.

In the UK Piara Khabra died this week. A by-election will be announced shortly, in which the electors of Ealing Southall will choose his successor. On June 9th Lord Ewing of Kirkford died. As a life peer he will not be replaced. Only when one of the hereditaries dies is there considered to be a vacancy in the House of Lords. A by-election is held - with members of the relevant group (Labour; Conservative; Liberal Democrats; Crossbenchers) in the House electing the successor.

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Tony Blair











The House of Representatives is set to Honour Tony Blair when it considers, under the 'suspensions' procedure, H.Res. 416

RESOLUTION

Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives regarding the public service of Tony Blair, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Whereas Tony Blair has served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for more than a decade, winning three general elections as leader of the Labour Party;

Whereas Mr. Blair played an instrumental role in achieving peace in Northern Ireland and negotiating the Good Friday Agreement which brought all communities into the political and governmental process and ended centuries of division, conflict, and strife;

Whereas Mr. Blair committed himself to bringing devolved government to Northern Ireland which was achieved with the recent decision of the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein agreeing to form a power-sharing government;

Whereas the United Kingdom and the United States have had a long-standing alliance which was further strengthened during Tony Blair's tenure as he and the United Kingdom stood side-by-side with the United States during conflicts in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq;
Whereas Mr. Blair showed British solidarity with the United States after the 9/11 terrorist attacks by being the first foreign leader to visit Ground Zero and attending President Bush's speech before a joint session of Congress on September 20, 2001;

Whereas Mr. Blair displayed exemplary leadership as Prime Minister when the United Kingdom suffered its own terrorist attacks on July 7, 2005, when suicide bombers killed 52 people traveling on London's public transportation system;

Whereas the United Kingdom has been a steadfast ally to the United States in the Global War on Terror as it is the second largest contributor of coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan; and

Whereas on July 17, 2003, Mr. Blair was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal that declared `Congress finds that Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom has clearly demonstrated, during a very trying and historic time for our two countries, that he is a staunch and steadfast ally of the United States of America.': Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the House of Representatives--

(1) recognizes the remarkable public service of Tony Blair during his tenure as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom; and
(2) expresses appreciation to Mr. Blair for his steadfast support for the United States and Britain's invaluable alliance to our Nation.

Mr Blair will visit Buckingham Palace to tender his resignation to the Queen as her Prime Minister on Wednesday after his final Prime Question's Question Time.

This blog, which will be written in the Palace of Westminster on Tuesday and Wednesday, will follow events as they occur.

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Appropriations Bills

Last week the House of representatives finished work on three of the Appropriations Bills - Energy & Water; Legislative Branch; and State & Foreign Operations. In the coming week they will consider the Appropriation Bills for Interior & Environment and Financial Services.

The House decided to appropriate double the money requested by the President for aid to Darfur.

Friday, 22 June 2007

Government Defeats in the House of Lords


While in the Commons a Government will enjoy a majority (save in the relatively rare case of a hung parliament) - in the Lords no party is anywhere near having an absolute majority of members. In fact the latest breakdown of membership is -

Labour 211
Crossbench 206
Conservative 203
Liberal Democrats 77
Bishops 26
Others 12
TOTAL 735 (4th June 2007)

Unsurprising given the numbers, and the fact that their Lordships believe they have greater legitimacy since all but 92 hereditaries were removed, the Government is regularly defeated. University College London's Constitution Unit maintains a database of government defeats - available at

Thursday, 21 June 2007

BlackBerrys


One of the recommendations of the Modernisation Committee which has caught the imagination of the journalists is the proposal that "the use of handheld devices to keep up to date with e-mails should be permitted in the Chamber provided that it causes no disturbance." Inevitably the comments include "On-message MPs can take BlackBerrys into Chamber" (headline, The Times) and "The Blackberry will notch up another victory in its campaign for world domination ...as Jack Straw and other MPs call for the right to use handheld devices during parliamentary debates." (Guardian).

Westminster is built upon an ancient island created by branches of the River Tyburn and the Thames - known as Thorney Island. The meaning of the name is - "the island of blackberries"!




Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Modernisation Committee Report

The Modernisation Committee has published its report "Revitalising the Chamber: the role of the back bench member". It's a very useful report for anyone who wants to know how the House of Commons is operating in 2007. There are some excellent tables and the wealth of evidence presented to the Committee is published in full. Peter Riddell comments in The Times "These proposals could help to make the Commons more central to media and political discussion." The report is available at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmselect/cmmodern/337/337.pdf

The major Conclusions and Recommendations are:
  • The House authorities should identify ways of publicising the work of the Chamber
  • There should be a longer gap than usually occurred in the past between the election and the day the House first meets to permit some of the practicalities that prevent Members from focusing on their new job to be addressed and to make time for an induction programme before the House starts its work. "We recommend that the gap should be about twelve days."
  • "We recommend that the House authorities make continuous development opportunities available to all those who want them."
  • "We believe that the current short guide to procedure should be expanded."
  • "We recommend that oral Question Time should be divided into two periods: an initial period for oral questions under the current arrangements followed by a period of ‘open’ questions. "
  • The topicality of debates in the Chamber should be improved. "We believe that the House will attract greater attention from Members, the public and the media if it finds a means of debating topical issues."
  • provision should be made in Standing Orders for topical debates on issues of regional, national or international importance to be held on one day each week. Topical debates would last for an hour and a half and be taken immediately after questions and statements but before the main business of the day.
  • "For the majority of regular debates we recommend rebalancing the current allocation of days and mix of subjects."
  • The Government should listen carefully to representations from the main Opposition parties and from back bench Members of all parties about whether a debate should take place on a substantive motion to which amendments could be tabled, and a vote held if
    necessary, or whether it should take place on a motion that allows a debate without
    the House having to come to a resolution in terms.
  • Debates held for the purpose of discussing a topic be renamed ‘general debates’ and that debate should take place on a motion ‘That this House has considered [the matter of] [subject]’.
  • "We believe that opportunities for a number of shorter debates can be created without
    any procedural change and that these would encourage more Members to participate. "
  • "We are convinced that greater flexibility in managing the business of the House is
    needed."
  • The Government and opposition parties should agree more flexible use of time, splitting some of the current all-day non-legislative debates into two or more shorter, more focused debates where appropriate.
  • There should be a weekly committee half-hour in Westminster Hall in which a Minister can make a brief response to a committee report, selected for debate by the Liaison Committee, followed by the Chairman or other Member of the Committee. The remainder of the half-hour slot would be available to the opposition front benches and back bench Members generally. The usefulness of these weekly slots in Westminster Hall should be kept under review. "We also see no reason why it should not be possible for committee reports to be debated in Westminster Hall on substantive motions: this may require a change to Standing Order No. 10 to make clear that debates on reports of this kind cannot be blocked by six Members."
  • "We believe that in heavily over-subscribed debates the Speaker should have the discretion to impose a twenty minute limit on speeches from the front benches with an additional minute given for each intervention up to a maximum of fifteen minutes of additional time."
  • Front bench speeches in the one and a half hour topical debates recommended earlier in the Report should be limited to ten minutes each. However, front bench spokesmen could receive an additional minute for each intervention they accepted up to a total of ten minutes with similar limits set for smaller parties in proportion to the time limits the Speaker recently announced for statements. The Official Opposition and second largest opposition party spokesmen should be able to choose whether to make an opening or a wind-up speech (although additional time for interventions may not be practicable at the end of a debate). The minister with responsibility for the topic would reply to the debate in a speech lasting no more than five minutes. Back bench speeches in topical debates should be limited to not less than three minutes, the precise allocation depending on the number of Members who wished to speak.
  • The Speaker should have greater flexibility to vary time limits during debates with the objective of allowing all those who wish to speak to participate. "We recommend that the Standing Orders be amended to give the Speaker greater discretion in setting and revising time limits on speeches, including raising or removing limits if appropriate. "
  • "We do not see a need for lists of speakers in debates."
  • Removing barriers to participation is important and the use of handheld devices to keep up to date with e-mails should be permitted in the Chamber provided that it causes no disturbance.
  • "We believe there should be more opportunities for back bench Members to initiate business."
  • "We recommend an experiment with a ballot for opportunities for debating Private Members’ Motions using one of the longer slots each week in Westminster Hall on a trial basis for a whole Parliamentary Session. We recommend that this experiment should take place during the 2008–09 Session."
  • "We recommend the operation of programming is kept under review."

An interesting set of proposals. Many are worth further consideration. I personally think these are excellent proposals, though I regret that the Speakers Lists proposal and the idea of 'injury time' have, for the moment been rejected.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Reading Material

Simon Hoggart has brought out a book containing his best parliamentary sketches of the Blair era. It's great fun to read - but also has a very thoughtful introduction which is a serious reflection on Tony Blair. Highly recommended!

The Hand of History - Simon Hoggart (London: Atlantic Books, 2007) ISBN 978 1 84354 679 5



The Modernisation Committee is due to publish its report tomorrow. I shall of course be commenting upon the rport when it becomes available.

Monday, 18 June 2007

News from the House (of Representatives) Foreign Affairs Committee

From a Press Release issued by the Chairman, Tom Lantos

"Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will address legislators from Russia and the United States this Thursday in the first-ever open meeting between the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on International Affairs of the Duma, the legislature of the Russian Federation.

"I am delighted that the Speaker of the House will share her thoughts on US-Russian relations in this ground-breaking forum," said Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA), chairman of the House committee and the host of the event. "The Speaker is a strong supporter of inter-parliamentary dialogue. She will set the tone for us, and set the ball rolling for the day."

The June 21 joint session will mark the third in the series of meetings between the American and Russian foreign affairs committees, with previous sessions held in Moscow (June 2004) and Washington (November 2005). It will be the first such meeting ever to which the media and members of the public will be invited.

The gathering will focus on four key themes:
  • democracy and human rights,
  • unresolved regional conflicts,
  • strategic stability and trade and
  • economic issues

Agenda for Public Session of Joint Meeting


June 21, 2007 Room 2172 of the Rayburn House Office Building [Washington time]

10:00 a.m. - 10:30 a.m. Opening Statements, including Speaker Pelosi
10:30 a.m. - 10:55 a.m. Strategic Stability (including the Conventional Forces in Europe, non-proliferation, missile defense)
10:55 a.m. - 11:20 a.m. Unresolved Regional Conflicts (including Kosova, Georgia, Moldova)
11:20 a.m. - 11:40 a.m. Humanitarian Issues (including democracy, human rights)
11:40 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. Trade and Economy (including energy security)

How much does it cost to run Congress?

This week the House of Representatives will begin floor proceedings on the Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill. For Financial Year 2008 $4,330,451,000 has been requested - an increase of 14% from 2007. What would this be spent on?

The running of the Senate $869.3 million - mainly for the personnel and office expenses of individual Senators; and the salaries of officers and their employees.

House of Representatives - as for the Senate, but these costs amount to $1.2 billion

Architect of the Capitol - the costs of the maintenance, operation, development and preservation of the Capitol complex (which includes not only the main Capitol building but House & Senate Offices; the grounds; the buildings and grounds of the Library of Congress; Capitol power plant; Botanic Garden and the new Capitol Visitors Center are estimated at $481.7 million

Capitol Police - This department will the full time equivalent of 2,125 people. Staff and other costs will require $299.1 million.

Support agencies, which provide information and carry out key work for the Congress are asking for the following: -

Congressional Budget Office: $37.97 million

Library of Congress $661.6 million

(including $108.7 million for the Congressional Research Service)

Government Accountability Office $523.8 million

Government Printing Office $181.98 million

Office of Compliance $ 4.1 million

Open World Leadership Center $14.4 million

John B Stennis Center for Public Service Training & Development $430,000


Sunday, 17 June 2007

Defence, European & Foreign Affairs at Westminster

Monday in the House of Commons will begin with Defence Questions. On Thursday there will be a debate on 'Armed Forces Personnel' on a motion for the adjournment of the House.

Wednesday in the Lords will involve the joint consideration of the Armed Forces, Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order 2007 ; Armed Forces (Alignment of Service Discipline Acts) Order 2007 and the Armed Forces (Service Police Amendments) Order 2007. On Tuesday Lord Morris of Manchester will ask Her Majesty’s Government what further consideration they are giving to the problems and needs of veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf War with still undiagnosed illnesses and of the dependants of those who have died since the conflict?

The Commons will debate European Affairs on Wednesday. Lord Lucas raises the question again of the Scrutiny reserve on Monday. Lord Renton of Mount Harry will ask Her Majesty’s Government on Tuesday "whether they intend to support a new treaty modernising European Union institutions and rules at the European Council in June."

Lord Howell of Guildford will initiate a debate on Thursday "to call attention to the results of the foreign policy pursued by the Government since May 1997 and to the current international standing of the United Kingdom; and to move for papers."

Foreign Matters in the House of Representatives


This week bills dealing with foreign affairs, as well as the Appropriations bill for State and Foreign Appropriations will be considered.

Mondays bills for consideration under the 'suspensions' procedure include


  • H.R. 885 – International Nuclear Fuel for Peace and Nonproliferation Act of 2007 (Rep. Lantos – Foreign Affairs)

  • H.Con.Res. 21 – Calling on the United Nations Security Council to charge Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with violating the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the United Nations Charter because of his calls for the destruction of the State of Israel (Rep. Rothman – Foreign Affairs)

  • H.Con.Res. 80 – Calling on the Government of Uganda and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) to recommit to a political solution to the conflict in northern Uganda and to recommence vital peace talks, and urging immediate and substantial support for the ongoing peace process from the United States and the international community (Rep. Johnson (GA) – Foreign Affairs)

  • H.Con.Res. 151 - Noting the disturbing pattern of killings of dozens of independent journalists in Russia over the last decade, and calling on Russian President Vladimir Putin to authorize cooperation with outside investigators in solving these murders (Rep. Chris Smith – Foreign Affairs)

  • H.Res. 137 – Honoring the life and six decades of public service of Jacob Birnbaum and especially his commitment freeing Soviet Jews from religious, cultural, and communal extinction (Rep. Nadler – Foreign Affairs)

  • H.Res. 233 – Recognizing over 200 years of sovereignty of the Principality of Liechtenstein, and expressing support for efforts by the United States continue to strengthen its relationship with that country (Rep. Stearns – Foreign Affairs)

Friday, 15 June 2007

Magna Carta Day

In June 1215 objections to various policies - and most of all, the high handed behaviour, of King John led to some of England's Barons joining together and on June 10th they seized London. As a result King John was forced to accept their demands and sign a formal document in a meadow at Runnymede, by the River Thames. That event occured on June 15th.

That document was a Great Charter [latin - Magna Carta] - and is revered as the first in a line of developments which replace despotism with the rule of law. King John renounced it as soon as he was able, but 'Magna Carta' was reaffirmed by his successors. Sadly, my observation is that Magna Carta is more revered in the United States and elsewhere, than in England itself.

It should be celebrated. The Rule of Law - the idea that power must be exercised according to law, rather than the personal whims or interests of those who hold the authority to make decisions affecting the rest of their community - is the foundation of modern democracy and liberty.

There are of course many myths attached to Magna Carta, and the Victorians in particularly romanticised it terribly - but a few individuals stood up to an abuse of power - and we all have benefitted from the consequences. They weren't the first - and certainly weren't the last - but as we reflect on the great events in the history of Freedom - Parliament's resistance to Charles I; the Glorious Revolution of 1688; The Declaration of Independence 1776; The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen 1789 - lets remember and honour that June day back in 1215.

The text can be read at http://www.bl.uk/treasures/magnacarta/translation.html. Other information can be found at





Thursday, 14 June 2007

Should Lords Get the Vote?

Members of the House of Lords are barred from voting in General Elections. The disqualification is of ancient origin. The leading case - which considers the matter in detail is Earl Beauchamp v Madresfield (1872) L.R. 8 C.P. 245. Thomas Jefferson also remarked on the issue in his Parliamentary Pocket Book in which he wrote "It was the opinion of the Sollicitor general in K. William's time, that the Lords had no right to vote in the election of a Commoner because they were not contributors to the expenses of a knight of the shire or a burgess [fees were levied on cities, towns and counties during the Middle Ages and paid by electors]; and that they were not contributors to that expence because they were of another house"

The matter was raised in the House of Lords yesterday by Lord Dubs, who asked the Government:-

"Whether they will introduce legislation before the next general election to enable Members of the House to have the right to vote in a general election."

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): "My Lords, the Government have no plans to do so."

Lord Dubs: "My Lords, does my noble friend accept the principle of no taxation without representation and will she perhaps join me in a little tea party to discuss this further? Will she also confirm that the basis for Members of this House being denied the right to vote in general elections stems not from statute but from a resolution passed by the House of Commons in 1699?"

The supplementaries which follow make for interesting reading, and I was priviliged to watch the exchanges from the gallery. The can be read in full in Hansard: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200607/ldhansrd/text/70613-0001.htm#07061372000004 or watched on the archive of Parliament Live [only until mid July 2007]. at http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Archives/ (at the start of business for 13th June).

What do you think. I'd be very interested in your views - either as a comment on this blog, or by email to jdavidmorgan@excite.com

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Blair's last Liaision Ctte Session

Tony Blair is to appear, for the last time as Prime Minister, before the Liaison Committee on Monday 18 June at 11am in the Boothroyd Room, Portcullis House .

The meeting will be broadcast live (and will be on archive at) www.parliamentlive.tv

Earmarks in Congress

A very controversial subject - which is likely to dominate Congress over the summer months.

In the US system monies are appropriated to Departments and Agencies, who use their discretion to apply the funds to achieve their legally defined objectives. Congress has always had the power to 'earmark' - that is to designate an amount for a specific project. However in recent years the numbers of such earmarks have rocketed. One study claimed that in 1970 there were 12 'earmarks' in the Appropriations Bills, this number rose to 62 in 1980 and hit 2,671 in 2005.

The objection to earmarks is that they have been used as political favours handed out for votes. The manner in which they have appeared has also caused controversy. Often they have not appeared during the earlier stages of the appropriation bills process - when each House can consider the individual earmarks in detail - but at the Conference phase when a joint committee of both Houses meets to reconcile differences between the respective bill from each House. Once a conference decision has been taken the full Houses can only vote for or against the entire bill.
It has been claimed that in 2005 98% of earmarks to Appropriations bills were added at this late stage.

Groups like the 'Sunlight Foundation' have set up websites to highlight the issue and provide information about examples. http://www.sunlightfoundation.com/

One problem facing anyone wishing to investigate earmarks is that there are subtly different definitions. There's a good article comparing the differing definitions at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earmarking#Definitions

I'll be looking at current developments in future posts.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Henry VIII Clauses

Henry VIII clauses in British legislation are generally regarded as "a bad thing". But what are they? and why are they offensive?

Normally if Parliament passes a law, it is expected that Parliament itself should be the only body able to amend or repeal that legislation. Henry VIII clauses in a bill (and if passed, the Act) give the power to Ministers to repeal or amend the provisions using secondary legislation. Parliamentary scrutiny is limited over secondary legislation. Instead of weeks or even month of consideration by committee and in the various stages of the legislative process - Parliament gets, at most, the opportunity to vote for or against the measure - no amendment is possible.

The term "Henry VIII clause" is a reference to the Statute of Proclamations 1539, which has traditionally been seen as 'the highwater mark of Tudor despotism' [Maitland]. Or as Robin Cook once said, they "are termed Henry VIII clauses in disrespectful commemoration of that monarch's tendency to absolutism.” In fact that statute might not be as far reaching as British mythology has made out. G R Elton wrote a fascinating article on the Statute of Proclamations in The English Historical Review, Vol 75, No 295 (Apr., 1960) pp. 208-222, which I had the pleasure of reading in preparation for this entry.

A 1932 Report (The Donoughmore Committee) found that between 1888 and 1929 nine Acts of Parliament contained such clauses. It recognised that their occasional use might be justified but concluded that their 'use must be demonstrably essential, and justified on each occasion by the Minister "to the hilt"'. There were none until the war, but they then returned in growing numbers. Concerns were more frequently expressed in the 1970s and 1980s. Controversy reached a height during the passage of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 which contained a number of such clauses. They continue to appear in bills, but provoke - rightly - much concern.

Monday, 11 June 2007

Parliament and the Iraq War

The House of Commons Library has published a very useful Timeline of House of Commons Response to the Iraq War. It can be downloaded from

http://www.parliament.uk/commons/lib/research/notes/snpc-02941.pdf

Bipartisanship in the House of Representatives

Last week the Majority Leader issued a document showing how the 110th Congress was being run in a "more bipartisan, fair and civil manner at all steps in the legislative process". I reproduce the document below. Your comments are appreciated.

HOUSE DEMOCRATS’ BIPARTISANSHIP LEADS TO PROGRESS

Democrats are operating the House of Representatives in a more bipartisan, fair, and civil manner than it was run during 12 years of Republican rule. As legislation moves from committee, to the Rules Committee, to the Floor, Democrats are allowing greater debate, and providing Republicans more opportunities to express their views and affect legislation. The more bipartisan, fair and civil manner at all steps in the legislative process helps ensure that progress is made on the American people’s agenda.

COMMITTEES MAKE HOUSE MORE BIPARTISAN

Committee Chairmen have worked to make their committees fair and bipartisan for all members to contribute their opinions and affect legislation. Many Chairmen are crafting legislation with the ranking Republican on their committee, which leads to compromise legislation with broad support from Members. A few examples of renewed civility in committees:

Agriculture: Under the leadership of Chairman Collin Peterson, the House Agriculture Committee is writing the Farm Bill under regular order for the first time since 1990, allowing for debate and amendments at both the Subcommittee and full Committee level. Members of both parties have been involved in developing preliminary drafts that the Subcommittees are considering, and all Subcommittee members are allowed to submit amendments during the markups of these drafts. During the full Committee hearing, all Committee members will have the opportunity to submit amendments as well. The Farm Bill’s development is an open and public process that will allow all of the important issues included in this legislation to be fully considered.

Education: Chairman George Miller and Ranking Member Buck McKeon worked closely together to produce the Pell Grant Equity Act, the Student Loan Sunshine Act, and the Head Start Reauthorization, all of which passed the House with broad, bipartisan support – the Pell Grant Equity Act passed by a voice vote, the Student Loan Sunshine Act passed 414-3, and Head Start passed 365-48. The Committee has also held a bipartisan briefing on No Child Left Behind where any Member of the House could come before Chairman Miller to share feedback and recommendations on how to improve the program.

Energy & Commerce: Before marking up the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, Ranking Republican Joe Barton told Chairman John Dingell that Republicans were unhappy with the legislation. Rather than going forward with the markup, Chairman Dingell postponed the markup so his staff could work with Committee Republicans overnight to reach an agreement. The bill was passed out of Committee the next morning by a unanimous voice vote.

Judiciary: Before the Judiciary Committee voted on granting immunity to Monica Goodling, Ranking Republican Lamar Smith asked Chairman John Conyers to postpone the vote in order for Republicans to have more time to think the matter over. Chairman Conyers postponed the vote for one week, at which point the Committee voted overwhelmingly, by a 32-6 margin, to grant immunity.

Science & Technology: Because the Science & Technology Committee has operated in a bipartisan fashion, it has been roughly 150% more productive than the Committee was at this point in the 109th Congress in terms of hearings held, full committee markups held, subcommittee markups held, reports filed, and bills passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. Working in a bipartisan fashion, the Committee quickly cleared five major legislative pieces of the House Democrats’ Innovation Agenda. This follows through on a commitment Democrats made to the American people – and puts Congress one step closer – to insuring U.S. students, teachers, businesses and workers are prepared to continue leading the world in innovation, research and technology well into the future.

Transportation & Infrastructure: The Water Resources Development Act was a bipartisan product of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. When problems emerged with certifications for Republican projects, Chairman Jim Oberstar assured the Republicans that the issue would be fixed before the bill was brought to the Floor, which it was.

Ways & Means: H.R. 976, the Small Business Tax Relief Act, was crafted with cooperation between Chairman Charles Rangel and Ranking Member Jim McCrery, as well as the Democratic and Republican Committee Staffs. This could have been a controversial and partisan bill, but as a result of working closely together in the drafting process, the final bill passed the House with an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 360-45.

RULES COMMITTEE MAKES HOUSE MORE FAIR

Democrats Allow Greater Debate with More Amendments, Quadruple the Number of Open Rules During the first five months under Democrats (through May 15), the House Rules Committee processed significantly more legislation and reported out many more rules than the 109th Congress in the same period. In this short time, Democrats have quadrupled the number of open rules Republicans reported out.

109th (through May 15, 2005) - 29 total rules; 2 open rules (including 1 appropriation bill); 15 structured rules; 51 Democratic/minority amendments in order.

110th (May 15, 2007) - 43 total rules; 8 open rules; 20 structured rules;
60 – Republican/minority amendments in order

In addition, Republicans reported out 3 open Rules during the entire 109th Congress (excluding
appropriations measures, which are by tradition always open) compared with 8 open rules issued by Democrats in just four-and-a-half months.

Some open rules during the 110th Congress have required that amendments must be pre-printed before the bill is brought to the House Floor for consideration. These rules are still considered “open” because every amendment that a Member wants to put forward will be considered, unlike under structured rules whereby some amendments will not be allowed to come up for debate. Open rules with pre-printing requirements actually further increase openness and transparency in the House by providing Members have sufficient time to read and understand the amendments being offered before having to vote on them.

A Rules Process Which Takes Place in the Light of Day Makes House More Transparent

The Republican Rules Committee of the 109th Congress was notorious for meeting late in the
afternoon and reporting out rules late at night. While some such meetings are inevitable, Republicans in the 109th Congress reported a significant number of their rules after 8 p.m. Such meeting and reporting hours made the Committee difficult to cover for most reporters, and therefore less transparent, and made its sessions less accessible to Members of Congress:

53 of the 111 total rules reported from the Rules Committee (47 percent) were reported after 8:00 p.m.
• 14 of those rules were reported after midnight.
• 9 of the 14 were reported after 6:00 a.m. on the day that they were to be considered on the floor.


By comparison, the Democratic Rules Committee has thus far reported out only 8 rules (out of 47) after 8 p.m. (17 percent). Democrats have worked to conduct the business of the Rules Committee during the light of day, so that the process is accessible to reporters, the public, and Members.

HOUSE FLOOR IS MORE BIPARTISAN, FAIR, AND CIVIL

On the House Floor:

Iraq Debate – Democrats held an exceptionally open debate on a resolution opposing the President’s Iraq escalation, with every single Member – Republicans and Democrats – given five minutes to speak on the Floor. Debate lasted for 44 hours and 55 minutes over the course of four days, with 392 Members speaking.

Fair Floor Votes – At the beginning of this Congress, House Democrats enacted a rules change that ended the Republican practice of keeping votes open solely in order to change the outcome.

A BIPARTISAN, FAIR, AND CIVIL PROCESS HELPS THE AMERICAN PEOPLE’S AGENDA MOVE FORWARD

Democrats’ commitment to a bipartisan process and its positive results can be seen in a number of key pieces of legislation that stalled in the last Congress or were given less debate, but have passed the Democratic 110th Congress with broad, bipartisan majorities. After years of inaction on key issues, the New Direction Congress has had significant bipartisan support on 38 measures.

Listed below is some of the important legislation that was stalled or given minimal debate in the last Congress, but that now has seen a more fair process under Democrats:

1. H.R. 547- Advanced Fuels Research Infrastructure Act – Passed 400 to 3
i. 110th – Open rule – 13 amendments considered
ii. 109th – Similar bill considered under suspension - 0 amendments
2. H.R. 556- National Security Foreign Investment Reform Act – Passed 423 to 0
i. 110th – Open rule – 6 amendments considered
ii. 109th – Similar bill considered under suspension, 0 amendments
3. H.R. 569 – Water Quality Investment Act – Passed 425 to 0
i. 110th – Open rule – 4 amendments considered
ii. 109th – Similar bill passed out of committee by voice vote but never received
floor consideration
4. H.R. 700- Healthy Communities Water Supply Act – Passed 368 to 59
i. 110th – Open rule – 5 amendments considered
ii. 109th – Similar bill passed out of committee by voice vote but never received
floor consideration
5. H.R. 1427- Federal Housing Finance Reform Act – Passed 313 to 104
i. 110th – Open rule – 36 amendments considered
ii. 109th – Similar bill considered under structured rule - 9 amendments (of 28
offered) in order, 4 of which were Democratic

Listed below are some of the important pieces of bipartisan legislation enacted by the 110th Congress:

SCHIP Funding: 123 Republicans supported legislation signed into law that will provide
$650 million in funding to continue providing health insurance to children in low-income
families.
Katrina Recovery Funding: 123 Republicans supported legislation signed into law that will
provide $6.4 billion in funding to rebuild the Gulf Coast and help the victims of Katrina and
Rita.
Joint Continuing Funding Resolution: 57 Republicans voted to clean up the fiscal mess left behind by the previous Republican Congress, passing 9 out of 11 appropriations bills that were left undone by Republicans, and keeping the federal government working for America through Fiscal Year 2007.
Increasing the Minimum Wage: 82 Republicans supported legislation in January that would give hard-working minimum wage earners a long overdue raise; 123 Republicans supported an increase in the minimum wage in legislation signed into law in May.

Lake Sidney Lanier

The first bill to be considered under the 'suspensions' procedure in the House of Representatives today (2pm - [7pm UK time]) will be

H.Res. 354 - To recognize the year 2007 as the official 50th anniversary celebration of the beginnings of marinas, power production, recreation, and boating on Lake Sidney Lanier, Georgia (Rep. Deal – Transportation and Infrastructure)

The first electricity was produced from generators in the Buford Dam - the dam which created the lake from the waters of the Chattahoochee River - on June 17th 1957. Details of the lake and its history can be found at http://www.lakelanier50.com/index.htm

We spend a glorious three week holiday in Northern Georgia last August. This bill has my support!

Sunday, 10 June 2007

The Coming Week

The official photograph of the 110th Congress will be taken on Tuesday. Business on the floor of the House of Representatives will include consideration of the first Appropriations Bills for FY2008. [Military Construction & Veterans Affairs; Energy & Water; Interior & the Environment; and Homeland Security]. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has warned Congressmen "the House will remain in session the week of June 11, 2007, until all the legislative business scheduled for the week is completed"

The Senate begins the week by resuming consideration of the motion to proceed to H.R. 6, (an act to reduce US dependency on foreign oil by investing in clean, renewable, and alternative energy resources, promoting new emerging energy technologies, developing greater efficiency, and creating a Strategic Energy Efficiency and Renewables Reserve to invest in alternative energy, and for other purposes). It will then resume consideration of the motion to proceed to S.J. Res. 14,( a joint resolution expressing the sense of the Senate that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales no longer holds the confidence of the Senate and of the American people).

Bills before the House of Commons include - Serious Crime Bill (2nd Reading); International Tribunals (Sierra Leone) Bill (All Stages) and the Digital Switchover (Disclosure of Information) Bill (Consideration of Lords Amendments). The Opposition Day Debate on Monday relate to (1) Iraq Inquiry and (2) Carers.

The Lords will consider a number of pieces of legislation, and on Thursday will debate "the contribution of the European Union to United Kingdom national interests and management of global problems".

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Reform of the House of Commons

We are set for a period of debate - and hopefully some action - on making the House of Commons more effective. The incoming Prime Minister has already stressed the importance of enhancing Parliament's role; last week the Tory ‘Democracy Task Force’ report “Power to the People” set out its proposals and very shortly the Modernisation Committee (see blogs for 28th March & 18th April) will present its report.

The Commons have enhanced their effectiveness in recent years. Select Committees have become an important part of the work of the House and are now better resourced. Some outdated practices have been ditched - but clearly there is a perceived need for further, perhaps quite radical, change.

Friday, 8 June 2007

The Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War

In December 1861 the two Houses in the US Congress set up the "Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War". Demands for oversight of military operations undertaken by the Union (Northern) forces had risen during that year as they suffered defeats and other setbacks. The death of Senator Edward Baker (one of a number of members of Congress who left Washington to fight) at Ball's Bluff brought congressional concerns to a climax. The Committee was formed - and was dominated by radical Republicans. Bruce Tap in his excellent book "Over Lincoln's Shoulder" (Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1998 - ISBN 0-7006-0871-0) commented "The committee was composed of military amateurs who attempted to influence military policy with simplistic, outmoded ideas on the art of warfare." and concluded that "the committee's activities did have a substantial negative impact on the northern war effort."

In my view the committee stands as an example of well meaning legislators losing sight of their role in oversight, who end up interfering in the work they should be standing back from and scrutinising. Rather than investigating they took it upon themselves to harry Generals they distrusted and tried to pressure Lincoln into taking ill thought out actions.

I'm a strong advocate of greater powers for committees, especially at Westminster but the Committee on the Conduct of the War serves as a warning that powers must be used wisely, or harm can be caused.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Scrutiny or Micromanagement?

A balance needs to be struck between effective scrutiny and unnecessary micromanagement. There is a danger of inappropriate interference (the 'Committee on the Conduct of the War' during the American Civil War is a blantant example of this - when a joint committee of Congress, dominated by a handful of radicals tried to micro-manage the military conduct of the union forces in the civil war).

An amendment was proposed to the Offender Management Bill which would have required the Secretary of State to

(a) ... by order specify factors, relating to the quality and value for money offered by the other person, by reference to which such decisions shall be made;
(b) ...
(2) ... after making each arrangement under section 3(2), publish a report explaining the basis on which the decision to select the relevant person was made by reference to the factors specified in the order made under section 5(1)(a).”

Lord Warner's remarks in the debate are worth noting

"It is an unnecessarily bureaucratic way of dealing with what is essentially a contracting issue. I hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, says about shortcomings in particular providers outside the public sector in other areas of public policy. We could all trade examples of failures of public, voluntary and private providers of public services. That is what regulators and inspectors are there to help deal with. That is not the issue here; it is whether we should, as the amendment proposes, tie up a Secretary of State over the detail of a contracting process for alternative ways of providing services to the traditional probation service. Telling a Government how to draw up a contract in primary legislation, as the amendment would, seems absurd; then requiring them to publish a report on a set of individual decisions on these contracts is going over the top.

I should like to detain the Committee a moment by talking about some personal experiences I have had as a Minister letting contracts in the public sector. I authorised contracts for elective surgery, diagnostic equipment and clinical assessments worth hundreds of millions of pounds. There was no requirement in primary legislation to go through the process set out in the amendment because there are umpteen safeguards in common law and European contract law for the process by which contracts are let. You have to go through a very diligent process of specifying what you require and making that information available to all potential providers. As a public body, you are under an obligation to seek value for money in your contracts. There is often a testing process supervised by the Office of Government Commerce and the Treasury.

We do not need to lay this down in primary legislation. We are still accountable to Parliament as Ministers when we make those decisions. We can still be hauled before a Select Committee such as the PAC and we still have to answer to Parliament, day in and day out, in questions and parliamentary debates, for our behaviour and conduct in letting those contracts. This is not how to handle this issue. Micromanaging ministerial actions in the area of contracts through primary legislation, as this amendment does, is not how to govern an advanced country."

YOUR comments on Lord Warner's observations; the merits of making such requirements; and how to get the balance right are appreciated.

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Royal Commissions

Royal Commissions have historically played an important role in the development of the 'British Constitution' and other important policy areas. But we haven't seen one of these for a while. Yesterday in the House of Lords, Lord Falconer answered a question from Lord Faulkner of Worcester asking the Government "Whether they will establish a royal commission on the constitution". His answers to that and supplementary questions are worth reading in full (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200607/ldhansrd/text/70605-0001.htm#07060544000004)

Particularly interesting was his comment - "I wonder whether royal commissions are the appropriate way to deal with constitutional change now and whether there are ways of communicating with the public in a much larger way. I wonder whether bringing together the great and the good and saying this is the way that constitutional reform should take place is the appropriate way to deal with it. I suspect that the day of the royal commission determining what constitutional reform should take place may be in the past."

What do you think?

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Jefferson's Manual

The House of Representatives have incorporated 'Jefferson's Manual' into their rules. Originally prepared by the great man himself for use as the presiding officer of the Senate (He was Vice President under John Adams 1797-1801), it was formally adopted by the House in 1837. They decided that it "should govern the House in all cases to which they are applicable and in which they are not inconsistent with the standing rules and order of the House and the joint rules of the Senate and the House of Representatives."

Jefferson had a life long interest in parliamentary practice. He studied parliamentary law under William Small whilst a young man at the College of William and Mary. He kept his own 'Parliamentary Pocket Book' where he recorded notes from his extensive reading on the subject. His own library included 36 books about parliamentary practice.

Monday, 4 June 2007

House of Representatives

The House of Representatives returns on Tuesday at 2pm (7pm London time). The first day back will be spent considering 16 bills brought up under the 'suspensions' procedure. These are uncontroversial bills ranging from H.Res.390 - 'Recognizing the importance of the Ouachita National Forest on its 100th anniversary' to H.R. 361, the 'Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act of 2007'. 10 of the bills are 'Natural Resources' bills while the rest are 'Foreign Affairs'.

On Wednesday and Thursday the House will begin legislative business at 10.00am (3pm London) - there are 6 bills to be brought up under the 'suspensions' procedure (1 Energy & Commerce 5 Science & Technology). There are three bills subject to a rule - the Afghanistan Freedom & Security Support Act of 2007; Lumbee Recognition Act (they are a tribe in North Carolina) and the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007.

Votes on Tuesday will be postponed until 6.30pm and no votes are expected on Friday.

Sunday, 3 June 2007

The Coming Week at Westminster

The Legal Services Bill, a massive piece of legislation (215 clauses & 24 schedules) covering the provision and regulation of legal services - which has already completed its stages in the House of Lords, begins its Commons consideration with 2nd Reading on Monday afternoon.

Tuesday sees a debate on Darfur in the Commons.

The Lords will consider, at the Committee stage, both the Pensions Bill (Monday & Wednesday) and the Offender Management Bill (Tuesday).

Full details of the weeks business can be found in the Weekly Information Bulletin http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmwib/wb070526/26.5.2007.pdf
and in the daily Order Paper of the Commons http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmagenda.htm
and the Lords Business Papers
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld/ldordpap.htm

Saturday, 2 June 2007

Washminster Returns

As the short break from business at Westminster and 'the Hill' comes to an end, this blog returns. An interesting few weeks are promised - not least in the United Kingdom. While the post of leader of the Labour Party, and therefore Prime Minister, is now settled, the battle for the deputy leadership continues. Further details and links can be found at http://www.labour.org.uk/leadership/.

One of the reasons (the other being the mountain of academic marking, to tight deadlines, I had to do this week), that the blog took its short break, was that I was kicking off my own campaign for selection as Labour's prospective parliamentary candidate in my home town of Rugby. For further details visit my personal website at http://www.jdavidmorgan.org.uk/