Friday, 30 November 2007

House of Lords Bill

After the votes in both Houses last March, a cross-party group is meeting to work out a way ahead. The Commons have very clearly indicated a preference for all elected, whilst a majority of peers voting (though not a majority of all peers) voted for all appointed.
Some peers have tried to move ahead - led by Lord Steel, who voted for an all appointed House - and have brought forward a bill that would establish a 9 person Commission who would have the exclusive power to recommend appointments. Some are concerned, including the Government, that this is an attempt to bed down an appointed House thus thwarting the objective of the Commons.
Supporters of the Steel Bill say that nothing in the bill would preclude future reforms. Listen to the debate today - and you decide.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

RollCall report that "Republican Senators will gather in a special Conference meeting to conduct their leadership elections on Thursday, Dec. 6, at 9:30 a.m., according to an e-mail sent to members Tuesday night."

It looks as if Jon Kyl will be unopposed to succeed Trent Lott as minority whip. Interest is therefore focused on the Conference chairmanship. There are at least three contenders: Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and Richard Burr (N.C.). Sen. John Thune (S.D.) is reported to be considering putting his name forward.

The succession to Senator Lott's seat has provoked a separate row in the State of Mississippi. According to RollCall - "Gov. Haley Barbour (R) has called the contest for Nov. 4, 2008, the date of the next regularly scheduled general election. But Democrats — in particular Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood — contend that state law requires the special election to be held 100 days after Lott resigns, should the Senator stick with his stated plan to relinquish his seat by Dec. 31." - Legal action may ensue.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

This Day Six Months....

The House of Lords is changing one of its procedures which has confused some...the amendment to the motion to give a bill its second reading by replacing the word now by "this day six months". On the face of it there is only a postponement, but in reality it is the killing of the bill.

Lord Brabazon of Tara (Chairman of Committees) explained

"Finally, I turn to ... the time-honoured formula, “this day six months”. We recommend that it be replaced by a form of words which means what it says—namely, that this House declines to give a Bill a Second Reading. It may be helpful if I outline for noble Lords the various ways in which Second Readings may be opposed. Essentially the Companion describes three forms of opposition: first, a dilatory amendment—in other words, the “this day six months” amendment, which we are discussing today; secondly, and now very rare, there is the reasoned amendment that sets out the reasons why the House declines to give the Bill a Second Reading; and thirdly, and rarest of all, the Question that the Bill be read a second time may be negatived, although this is to be deprecated as, in the interests of good order, notice should be given on the Order Paper of any intention to oppose Second Reading. I must emphasise that all three forms of opposition are fatal. If any is successful, the Bill is automatically rejected and removed from the list of Bills in progress.

What the Procedure Committee proposes will not in any way limit the existing rights of Members to oppose Bills on Second Reading in the ways that I have just outlined. All we are doing is recommending that the wording be changed for the first of these procedures so that, instead of a dilatory amendment, which appears to postpone Second Reading for six months, we have a clear decision that this House declines to give the Bill a Second Reading.

It may interest noble Lords to know that the form of words “this day six months” became fixed in convention in the first half of the 19th century at the same time as the convention was established that parliamentary Sessions should also last six months; from February to August. The point of the amendment was therefore not to invite the Government to bring back the Bill in six months, but to ensure that the Government could not bring it back until after Parliament had been safely prorogued.

The first example of the six months amendment being used that we can find dates back to 9 April 1832, when an attempt to kill the Great Reform Bill on Second Reading was defeated. Clearly, the opponents of that Bill were not asking the Duke of Wellington to come back with a revised proposal in six months: they wanted to stop reform dead in its tracks.

Let us be clear about the significance of “this day six months”. If such an amendment is passed on Second Reading it means and has always meant that the Bill is dead, as when the Opposition successfully killed the Fraud (Trials without a Jury) Bill in March this year.

Unfortunately, the natural conclusion reached by those outside the House, who are less familiar with our proceedings, is that the six months amendment means that the Bill can be brought back six months later. That was very evident at the time of the Second Reading of the Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, in 2006, when the Information Office and the Public Bill Office were bombarded with calls from members of the public who were confused over the significance of what had just happened."

The motion to agree to the Procedure Committee's proposals was agreed, after a short show of resistance.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Trent Lott

Trent Lott, Minority Whip in the Senate, has announced that he will resign his seat before the end of the year. Congress will be losing one of its most interesting characters. Senator Lott arrived in Washington as the Administrative Assistant to Congressman William Colmer, a Democrat who chaired the Rules Committee. When Colmer retired Lott ran to succeed him - as a Republican - and won with Colmer's endorsement.

Senator Lott has served as Republican whip in both Houses of Congress - in the House of Representatives 1981-89 and in the Senate 1995-96 and 2007 - the only person to have been the senior party whip in both chambers. He was Leader of the Senate 1996-2001 and Minority Leader until his forced resignation in 2001.

It was remarks made at the 100th birthday celebration which led to his resignation. Lott said ""When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over the years, either." Thurmond had been the segregationalist candidate in 1948.

Remarkably Senator Lott rose from political death to return to the Republican leadership in the Senate. His autobiography is called "Herding Cats".

Monday, 26 November 2007

National Assembly for Wales

The United States is a federal nation. Each constituent part, State, is a distinct entity in itself - which can be abolished by the federal government - in fact the federal government was created by an act of the States. In the United Kingdom Parliament is the source of all authority - and local government - and the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales - were created by Parliament in statute. Legally, the UK Parliament could abolish them.

The National Assembly for Wales was created by the Government of Wales Act 1998 - and its powers extended by the Government of Wales Act 2006. It has 60 members who serve a 4 year term - 40 are elected for individual constituencies and the remainder from 5 geographical areas. These representatives are known as AMs (Assembly Members).

The website of the Assembly can be found at http://www.assemblywales.org/index.htm

Saturday, 24 November 2007

The Week Ahead

The Thanksgiving Holiday continues for the week. At Westminster the week's business includes


House of Commons

Monday - 2nd Reading of the Health & Social Care Bill
Tuesday - 2nd Reading of the Housing & Regeneration Bill
Wednesday - Opposition debates on 'prisons crisis' and 'the performance of DEFRA'
Thursday - Topical Debate; and a debate on convicting rapists and protecting victims.


House of Lords

Monday - 2nd Reading of the Children & Young Persons Bill
Tuesday - 2nd Reading of the Climate Change Bill
Wednesday - 2nd Reading of the Regulatory Enforcement & Sanctions Bill
Thursday - Baroness Gale will initiate a debate to call attention to the Government’s record on the management and prosecution of sexual offences; and to move for papers. Lord Berkeley will initiate a second debate, this time to call attention to the growth in passenger and freight traffic on Britain’s railways; and to move for papers.
Friday - 2nd Reading of the House of Lords Bill and 2nd Reading of theDisabled Persons (Independent Living) Bill - both are private members bills

Friday, 23 November 2007

House of Lords Business

Each day a green document is produced entitled "House of Lords Business & Minutes of Proceedings". It is also available online at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld/ldordpap.htm


The front page includes a table of contents - and the business for the day ahead. Depending upon the volume of business, this can extend for a few pages. Future business follows and outline business set down, by appropriate date, for the month ahead. The early entries are quite full and the legislation to be considered is included, but beyond the immediate week or so the only entries relate to questions. Information follows about Motions for Balloted Debate; Select Committee Reports; Other motions for Debate; Motions Relating to Statutory Instruments and Questions for Short Debate. These have all been put down, but no date arranged with the "usual channels" and set down. Questions for Written Answer tabled [NOTE TO AMERICAN READERS - 'tabled' at Westminster means that the item has been put down for future action - and is the opposite use of the word as used in Congress, which means essentially to be 'killed'] on the day before are listed.


Bills in Progress are listed - by current or next stage - as are Affirmative Instruments in Progress and details of Negative Instruments; Regulatory Reform Orders and Legislative Reform Orders and Legislative Reform Orders.


Details of forthcoming Committee meetings are set out - and then "Minutes of Proceedings" - a record of action taken the legislative day before.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Pardons

The Royal Pardon is infrequently used in the United Kingdom. It is one of the Royal Prerogative powers, only used on the advice of the Home Secretary or the First Minister of Scotland (or the Secretary of State for Defence in military justice cases).

In the United States the power to pardon is used more often - by tradition an outgoing President grants a number of pardons. Another tradition is annual - the pardoning of a turkey before Thanksgiving. On Tuesday President Bush delivered a full presidential pardon to the national Thanksgiving turkey in the Rose Garden at the White House. He also announced the names of the bird and its alternate, which were chosen by people who voted online. They will officially be called May and Flower, the president said.
Happy Thanksgiving Day to all our American readers.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Opposition Days

House of Commons Standing Order 14 says: - (1) Save as provided in this order, government business shall have precedence at every sitting.

(2) Twenty days shall be allotted in each session for proceedings on opposition business, seventeen of which shall be at the disposal of the Leader of the Opposition and three of
which shall be at the disposal of the leader of the second largest opposition party; and matters selected on those days shall have precedence over government business.


The first Opposition Day of the new 2007/08 session will be held today. The Conservatives have selected two half day debates on (1) healthcare associated infections and (2) the failure of the government to pursue school reform

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Second Reading

The first bills in the new session got their second readings yesterday. In the Commons the European Union Finance Bill was given its second reading. As Hansard reports

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—
The House divided: Ayes 312, Noes 215.


In the Lords the controversial Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill began its second reading - but the House was unexpectedly adjourned after a member of the House, Lord Brennan, collapsed moments after concluding his speech. After being given heart massage he was taken to Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital, where it is reported he is in a stable condition. The debate will be resumed on Wednesday.

The Cabinet Office's Guide to the Legislative Procedure says of 2nd Reading in the Commons -

The general principle of the Bill is debated. If a Bill fails to get a Second Reading, it can progress no further. The Opposition may choose not to vote against Second Reading, but retain major reservations about specific parts of the Bill. Immediately following Second Reading, the question on certain motions relating to proceedings on the Bill can be put forthwith:
· Programme Motion: usually includes provision for committal of a Bill (normally to a Standing Committee), determines the date by which the Standing Committee must report and specifies the number of days set aside in the House for remaining stages;
· Money Resolution: required if the Bill creates a charge on public funds;
· Ways and Means Resolution: required if the Bill imposes charges of certain kinds upon the people or makes certain provisions about borrowing or the use of receipts.


The purpose of the 2nd Reading in the Lords is the same, but there are some procedural differences. The main one being that "Second Readings are rarely opposed in the Lords and if Second Reading is to be opposed it is normal practice to give warning in the form of an amendment on the order paper. This can be in the form of a “reasoned amendment” or a motion to delay Second Reading for six months (which kills the Bill)."

Monday, 19 November 2007

Dennis Hastert

We knew that the former Speaker was not going to seek re-election in next November's elections, and there had been hints that he would retire earlier. Last week Dennis Hastert announced that he would stand down, probably before the end of December.

His announcement can be found in the Congressional Record http://www.gpoaccess.gov/crecord/index.html for 15th November. Hastert was Speaker from 1999 to 2007. He had previously been Tom DeLay's chief vote counter as the Chief Deputy Whip (1995-99)

It is claimed that in "West Wing", the powerful and very conservative Speaker, Glen Allen Walken was very loosely based on Hastert. Hastert may have been referenced in the episode "War Crimes" [Season 3 Episode 5] when Sam Seaborn stated that the Speaker was from Illinois (though Walken was revealed to have subsequently taken over from the nameless Illinois Speaker, and that he himself was actually from Missouri).

Hastert's autobiography "Speaker" is very readable!

Saturday, 17 November 2007

The Week Ahead

With the Queen's Speech debates over, the two Houses in Westminster will turn their attention to action on legislation, the following Second Readings will be held

Monday - European Communities Finance Bill [Commons]; Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [Lords]

Tuesday - Channel Tunnel Rail Link (Supplementary Provisions) Bill [Commons]; Local Transport Bill [Lords]

Wednesday - Dormant Bank & Building Society Accounts Bill [Lords]

Thursday - Sale of Student Loans Bill [Commons]

There will be an opposition day on Wednesday in the Commons, with topics chosen by the official opposition - these will be on (1) Health Care associated infections (2) Schools Reform. The Lords will debate the armed forces on Thursday.

Th House of Representatives has adjourned until December 4th for the Thanksgiving holiday. The Senate will meet in pro forma session on Tuesday. This avoids going into recess - (which would give the President an opportunity to push through recess appointments).

Friday, 16 November 2007

PMB Ballot Results

The 20 MPs who were successful in the private members bill ballot were:

  1. Michael Fallon - Conservative
  2. Sharon Hodgson - Labour
  3. Andrew Miller - Labour
  4. Julian Brazier - Conservative
  5. John Heppell - Labour
  6. Stephen Crabb - Conservative
  7. Nigel Griffiths - Labour
  8. Mark Lazarowicz - Labour
  9. Keith Hill - Labour
  10. Tim Yeo - Conservative
  11. Julie Morgan - Labour
  12. David Howarth - Lib Dem
  13. Michael Mates - Conservative
  14. Simon Hughes - Lib Dem
  15. Derek Conway - Conservative
  16. Pete Wishart - SNP
  17. Justine Greening - Conservative
  18. Anne Snelgrove - Labour
  19. William Cash - Conservative
  20. Gordon Prentice - Labour

Former Whips did well - Fallon; Brazier; Heppell; Griffiths; Hill; Hughes; and Conway are all former whips. 251 members had entered the ballot.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Turning Westminster Green

It's an old joke that Parliament produces lots of hot air - but it is certainly true that concerns are growing about the carbon footprint of the parliamentary estate.

It was reported recently that officials at Westminster are considering using wind turbines, tidal power and boreholes to reduce that footprint. Proposals will be considered by the Commons Administration Committee next year. A fuller report can be found on the Guardian's website at:

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

European Union Committee in the House of Lords

Yesterday in the House of Lords here were a number of motions relating to the membership of committees. As is usual all (but one) of these were agreed to immediately. However the motion to appoint members of the European Union Committee faced an amendment from Lord Pearson of Rannoch to reconsider. A twenty minute debate followed at which many of the best known europhobes in the House spoke.

Lord Richard, himself a former European Commissioner, was outraged at Lord Pearson's remarks, saying "My Lords, for 17 years now I have listened to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, on Europe. He does not say things that are novel. He occasionally says things that are interesting. He very often says things that are quite breathtaking. I am bound to say that what he has done today seems to be firmly in the last category; indeed, it is so breathtaking that it is difficult to produce moderate language with which to oppose it.The noble Lord seems to assume that the Committee of Selection has deliberately—that is the implication—put on this committee people whose general views are Europhiliac rather than Europhobic. That is a terrible thing to say. The Committee of Selection and its personalities were approved by this House and it includes distinguished Members of your Lordships’ House. The idea that they somehow would connive in order to produce a committee on the European Union that was somehow in the interests of the government side rather than the opposition side of the House—if that is the position of the Opposition—is incredible. I say with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, that he should withdraw his amendment and perhaps apologise to the House for having slighted it."

There was no apology - but the matter was not put to a vote. Clearly the Eurosceptics intend to use every opportunity this session to raise their opposition to Europe.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Private Members Bills

"The ballot for Private Members' Bills in the House of Commons will take place in Committee Room 10 on Thursday 15 November at 10am. The Bills of those Members successful in the ballot will be formally presented in the House of Commons on Wednesday 5 December."



At the start of every session a ballot is conducted, and some lucky backbench MPs get an opportunity to introduce a bill of their choice, and some parliamentary time on specified Fridays. Some MPs will enter the ballot with a specific bill in mind - probably most will not. If they win one of the coveted slots there will be plenty of campaigners who will urge them to take up a particular bill. A few bills may make it past all the obstacles that can be put up - because time is limited private members bills are susceptible to being 'talked out' - to become law. Further details about private members bills can be found at: http://www.parliament.uk/documents/upload/l02.pdf

Monday, 12 November 2007

Government Bills Published

The debate on the Queen's Speech will continue in both Houses until Wednesday - but the ground has already been prepared for a return to legislating. Last week a number of Government bills were given their first reading. The current list of bills includes


Commons

Channel Tunnel Rail Link (Supplementary Provisions) Bill - Dept for Transport
Child Maintenance and Other Payments - Dept for Work & Pensions [carryover bill]
Criminal Justice & Immigration - Ministry of Justice [carryover bill]
Crossrail Bill - Dept for Transport
European Communities (Finance) Bill - Treasury
Sale of Student Loans Bill - Dept for Innovattion Universities & Skills

Lords



Dormant Bank & Building Society Accounts Bill - Treasury
Human Fertilisation & Embryology Bill - Dept of Health
Local Transport Bill - Dept for Transport
Regulatory Enforcement & Sanctions Bill - Dept for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Torture

In view of the problems which had threatened to derail the confirmation of Michael Mukasey as Attorney General [He was confirmed last week and sworn in on Friday], it is of introduce that the issue of torture is still worrying members of Congress.

On Thursday, November 15, 2007 at 3:00 p.m. (8pm UK time) The House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight will hold a Hearing: “Diplomatic Assurances” on Torture: A Case Study of Why Some Are Accepted and Others Rejected

Bill Delahunt will chair this sub-committee meeting. I'm not sure whether it will be webcast - but if it is it will be available at http://foreignaffairs.house.gov/index.asp?subnav=close

Saturday, 10 November 2007

The Week Ahead

At Westminster question times resume in both chambers from Monday. Debates on the Queen's Speech continue until Wednesday. Thursday will be given over to other debates and neither House expects to meet on Friday. Full details of the business can be found in the Weekly Information Bulletin http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmwib.htm. The ballot for Private Members bills will be held on Thursday.

The House of Representatives will not sit on Monday, in order to observe Veterans Day.
The House will meet at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday for morning hour debate and at 12:00 p.m. for legislative business. Votes will be postponed until at least 6:30 p.m. On Wednesday and Thursday the House will convene at 10:00 a.m. for legislative business. On Friday, the House will meet at 9:00 a.m. for legislative business. 35 suspensions bills are expected to be consideration. In addition the House will deal with H.R. 3915 – Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act of 2007 (Rep. Brad Miller – Financial Services) and the Conference Report on H.R. 1429 - Head Start for School Readiness Act (Rep. Kildee – Education and Labor) .

The Senate also will not meet on Monday. It will begin on Tuesday with judicial confirmations.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Changes in the House of Lords

Some changes have been announced to the government lineup in the House of Lords. Lord Drayson (Paul Drayson) has stepped down as Minister for Defence Procurement and is replaced by Lady Taylor of Bolton (Ann Taylor), a former Chief Whip and Leader of the House of Commons. Lord Evans of Temple Guiting (Matthew Evans) has left the whips office - and Lord Bach (Willy Bach) [pictured] has returned as a whip - with responsibilities for the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR); Ministry of Justice; the department for Culture, Media and Sport [he is a big Leicester City FC fan); the Treasury and the Cabinet Office.

Full details of Government Spokespersons can be found at http://www.lordswhips.org.uk/display/templatedisplay1.asp?sectionid=12

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Yesterday in the House of Lords

The House met at its normal Wednesday time of 3pm. Five Bills were introduced and given their first Reading. A motion was then agreed to appointing the Committee of Selection. The debate on the Address was resumed at 3.12pm and continued until the House adjourned at 10.53pm. The subject matters for the day were Foreign and European Affairs, International Development and Defence.

Baroness Taylor, appointed only a few hours before at the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Defence, opened the debate. Her first task was to pay tribute to her predeccesor Lord Drayson, who has taken leave of absence in order to pursue his interest in motor racing. Much of the debate centered around the EU Reform Treaty; Israel-Palestine; Energy Security and Climate Change. Afghanistan; Iraq; Darfur and defence procurement were also discussed. The topics were so wide that many other matters were raised too.

Baroness Ramsey of Cartvale made a thoughtful speech on Israel and Palestine and Lord Kerr of Kinlochard gave a reasoned speech about the EU Reform Treaty. Lord Jopling argued for greater co-operation between NATO and the EU. Lord Grenfell announced that the Lord's EU "Select Committee decided that the best service it could render the House was to conduct a rigorous and detailed impact assessment, based on the treaty text agreed at the 18 October informal summit, to be carried out through our policy-based sub-committees, of the effect of the treaty changes in their final form on the United Kingdom and on the EU as a whole. The Select Committee will assess the institutional changes with the exception of the creation of the post of High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy which will be scrutinised by our Foreign Affairs, Defence and Development Policy Sub-Committee. We plan to publish the consolidated assessment in advance of any ratification Bill coming before your Lordships' House, in the event that the treaty is signed at the 13 December European Council. Our sole objective is to produce a report that can prove useful to all participants in the debate.

We shall be looking principally at the treaty itself, with the UK's opt-ins and opt-outs treated separately. With regard to the latter, we shall explain where opt-outs are possible, and what would be the implications of not opting in. We will, in particular, seek to probe in detail the effectiveness of the Government's red lines, including, of course, the provision that national security remains a matter for member states. Opt-ins in freedom, security and justice matters will be subjected to close scrutiny, as will be the United Kingdom’s position regarding the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. We shall also look closely at any provision made by the Government to implement parliamentary involvement in passerelle provisions which enable qualified majority voting to be extended without treaty amendment, a matter on which the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, has already expressed interest.

I hope that noble Lords will agree that that is precisely what our Select Committee and its sub-committees should be doing. Work is already under way, and on Thursday last we published a preliminary report setting out our work programme on the treaty and publishing some evidence already taken from our permanent representative to the EU, as well as from the head of the Commission's legal service, from the office of the EU Commission vice-president in charge of relations with national parliaments, and from one of the three MEPs who represented the European Parliament in the intergovernmental conference on the treaty.

That is just the beginning. The Select Committee and its sub-committees are now fully engaged in carrying forward this very important inquiry. We are asking interested parties within and widely outside Parliament to put their views directly to our sub-committees and to the Select Committee. On Tuesday of last week, and leading the pack, our Law and Institutions Sub-Committee—chaired, as noble Lords know, by one of our Law Lords—which will bear a heavy burden in this inquiry, published its call for evidence, seeking a broad spectrum of views on the impact of the reform treaty in the areas of freedom, security and justice."

Apart from a diversion - Baroness Walmsley spoke about children, schools and family - she won't be able to attend that part of the debate scheduled for Thursday 8th - speeches on the announced subjects continued until Lord Malloch-Brown wound up the debate.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Update on Virginia Elections

The final (unofficial) results are in from 37th Senate district - by just 91 votes Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II was elected over Janet Oleszek.

The Washington Post reports -

"Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) claimed victory last night in legislative elections, saying his party had seized control of the state Senate and made historic gains in the House of Delegates. In a speech to Democratic Party activists at a hotel in Tysons Corner, Kaine hailed the political changes that have swept through Virginia, beginning with the election of Gov. Mark R. Warner in 2001, his own election four years later and last year's victory by U.S. Sen. James Webb.

In an interview moments later, Kaine said Democrats picked up four seats in the Senate, with two races still outstanding. "It's an exciting time," Kaine said. "The state is really a competitive state." The gains mean there is a new Democratic partner for him in Richmond, he said. "It enables me to get even more done," Kaine said.

Kaine's comments came as the votes were still being counted across the commonwealth. But what was clear to the governor was already emerging in the tallies: Democrats in Virginia made big gains in the legislature and in key local races as the commonwealth's voters continued to dramatically shift their preferences away from the Republican elected leadership they installed during the 1990s."

The New Session

The Queen opened the new session of Parliament (2007/08) in the House of Lords. MPs were summoned from the House of Commons and she delivered a short speech dealing with the legislation that Parliament will consider during the coming year. The speech was prepared by the Government. The text can be read at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/low/uk_politics/7080881.stm.



The two Houses then adjourned until the afternoon. Both began business by "defying" the Monarch - considering first legislation NOT mentioned by her. In the Commons they gave a first reading to the Outlawries Bill and the Lords did the same for the Select Vestries Bill. This is done as the first action in every session. The debates on the Queen's Speech then began. In both Houses the debate begins with two speeches by Government backbenchers moving and seconding an address to the Queen. These are usually humourous affairs. Then the real debate began.


The (almost) verbatim report of the debate can be found in Hansard at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/pahansard.htm




Unofficial results from Virginia elections can be found at https://www.voterinfo.sbe.virginia.gov/election/DATA/2007/196E44FA-8B19-4240-9A44-737216DAA55D/Unofficial/7_s.shtml. As I write this the results in Senate district 37 are very close with Janet Oleszek (Dem) trailing Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II (Rep) by only 69 votes - one precinct has yet to report!

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Suspension Procedure

Each week in 'The Week Ahead', I report that the House of Representatives will be considering a number of bills under the 'suspension' procedure. This procedure has been described by the Rules Committee as follows:-

"Under House Rule XXVII, it is in order on Monday and Tuesday of each week, and during the last six days of a session (unable to determine unless the adjournment resolution has been adopted in advance), for the Speaker to entertain motions to suspend the Rules and pass legislation. Bills brought up under suspension of the Rules are referred to as "suspensions".

There is not a suspension calendar. The purpose of considering bills under suspension is to dispose of non- controversial measures expeditiously. Consideration of legislation under suspension of the Rules on other days of the week is possible by unanimous consent or by a special rule reported by the Rules Committee.

A motion to suspend the Rules requires a vote of two-thirds of the Members present and voting, and no amendments are in order unless submitted with the bill by its manager at the time the motion to suspend the Rules is offered.

Debate on a bill brought up under suspension is limited to 40 minutes -- 20 minutes controlled by a Member who supports the bill and 20 minutes controlled by a Member in opposition. A division does not always follow party lines depending on the issue. For control of the opposition time, priority is given to a Minority Member of the committee which has jurisdiction over the bill. Often the 20 minutes "in opposition" is controlled by the ranking Minority member of the committee or subcommittee who may not be opposed to the measure because no one rises in opposition, but he may be challenged for control of the opposition time by another Minority party member.

The Majority Leadership usually schedules several bills under suspension of the Rules on the same day and the Chair announces beforehand that recorded votes on passage of each suspension, if ordered, will be postponed until the debate is concluded on all such suspensions (or for up to two legislative days).

At the conclusion of debate, the postponed votes may be "clustered" and put before the House. If several votes have been ordered and the Chair has announced that the time for voting will be reduced, the first vote in the series will consume not less than 15 minutes and all subsequent roll calls will take not less than 5 minutes each. It is important to know when a 5-minute vote is expected, so that it will not be missed.

In the case of a series of two or more votes in which any votes after the first one are five minute votes, Members will be summoned to the Floor by two bells followed by five bells. "

Monday, 5 November 2007

Guy Fawkes



November 5th was decreed by an Act of Parliament ( 3 James Chapter 1) as a day of thanksgiving for "the joyful day of deliverance". This piece of legisalation remained in force until 1859. "fireworks night" is still celebrated, as evidenced by the photographs I look last Saturday at a display in Countesthorpe, Leicestershire.

While I work at Westminster, yards from the site of the cellar in which Guy Fawkes was discovered preparing for a terrorist attack on parliament which would have killed many MPs, Peers and King James I - I live in Rugby, close to Ashby St. Ledgers - where Robert Catesby spent much of his time, and where much of the planning of the plot was undertaken. Also just to the south of Rugby is Dunchurch, where the plotters awaited news of the outcome of the conspiracy.

In recent years celebrations of halloween have overshadowed Guy Fawkes night, which was the major occasion when I was a boy. Nowadays there is more emphasis on large organised displays rather than family fireworks - mainly because of the cost of fireworks and concern about accidents.

Moe information about the gunpowder plot - which occured 402 years ago - can be found at http://www.rugby.gov.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?documentID=438&pageNumber=1.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

The Week Ahead

The Queen travels to the Palace of Westminster on Tuesday morning to open the 2007/08 session of Parliament. She will deliver the "Queen's Speech". Debates on the speech will held in both chambers during the rest of the week.

The highlight of the coming week in the US will be the visit of new French President Nicolas Sarkozy. On Monday the House of Representatives will consider a House Resolution under the suspension procedure to welcome him to the United States. It will hold a joint session with the Senate at 10.45 on Wednesday to meet the French President.

In all 20 pieces of legislation are due to be considered under the suspensions procedure. There will also be consideration on Tuesday of the Conference Report on H.R. 3043 - 2008 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Small Business Contracting Program Improvements Act . The same day there will be a vote on Overriding the President’s Veto of H.R. 1495 Water Resources Development Act of 2007.

Other bills subject to special rules will be:

H.R. 3688 - United States-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement Implementation Act (Rep. Hoyer – Ways and Means)
H.R. 3355 - Homeowners' Defense Act of 2007 (Reps. Klein / Mahoney – Financial Services)
H.R. 3996 - Temporary Tax Relief Act of 2007 (Rep. Rangel – Ways and Means) (Subject to a Rule)

The Senate returns at 2 p.m. Monday to begin debate on the five-year farm bill (HR 2419).

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Mt Vernon, Fairfax County, Virginia

Mt Vernon was the home of the first President of the USA, George Washington. Next Tuesday voters in the district of Mount Vernon will be going to the polls. For your information I have posted a link to the sample ballot for the Bucknell; Fort Hunt; Hollin Hall; Sherwood; Stratford; Waynewood; Westgate; Whitman; Woodlawn and Woodley precincts.


The current State Senator "Toddy" Puller http://www.toddy.org/ and State Delegate "Kris" Amundson http://www.amundson.org/ have no opponents on the ballot, though as with all positions electors may write in the name of another person. Other positions up for election are
  • Chairman, Board of Supervisors (at-large) - covering all of Fairfax County
  • District Supervisor - for the Mount Vernon District
  • Clerk of the Court - Fairfax County
  • Commonwealth Attorney - Fairfax County
  • Sheriff - Fairfax County
  • Soil and Water Directors - North Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District is governed by a five-member Board of Directors. Three directors are elected in a general election every four years, and two, including a Virginia Cooperative Extension agent serving Fairfax County, are appointed by the Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Board.
  • School Board members - A 12-member School Board is elected to four-year terms; one School Board member represents each of nine magisterial (election) districts, and three members serve at large.

Friday, 2 November 2007

A Big Day

Next Tuesday, 6th November, is expected to be a big day for news stories.

In the UK the Queen will open the new session of parliament.

It will be election day in the US - though fewer posts are up [Congressional Elections are every 2 years, in the even numbered year]. Virginia though has elections for its General Assembly.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a Nov. 6 vote on the nomination of Michael Mukasey, a former federal judge from New York, to succeed Alberto R. Gonzales as attorney general. This was expected to be straightforward - but after his appearance before the Committee many Democrats were very concerned. As Sidney Blumenthal described it:-

"Then Mukasey was questioned about whether waterboarding -- a technique of forced drowning first used in the Spanish Inquisition and by orders of the Bush administration applied to accused terrorist detainees -- is torture. At great length, the nominee feigned lack of knowledge: "I think it would be irresponsible of me to discuss particular techniques with which I am not familiar when there are people who are using coercive techniques and who are being authorized to use coercive techniques. And for me to say something that is going to put their careers or freedom at risk simply because I want to be congenial, I don't think it would be responsible of me to do that." Questioned further, he said, "If it amounts to torture, it is not constitutional." But he would not say whether it was torture."

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Unorthodox Lawmaking

The traditional guides to the legislative procedure in Congress describe a simple process in which a bill is introduced; referred to Committee; considered and marked up, placed on the calendar then debated in the full chamber and passed. The bill is then sent to the other House for a similar process. Differences between the House and Senate versions are resolved by a conference committee - and their version is voted on in both Houses. The measure is then sent to the President for signature. The process is outlined (with an example) at

In recent years however many bills have followed variants of the 'normal' procedure. Barbara Sinclair, in her excellent book "Unorthodox Lawmaking" now in its third edition : http://www.cqpress.com/product/Unorthodox-Lawmaking-New-Legis.html
outlines how practice has latered in recent years. She explains why new practices have become the norm - with more emphasis on negotiations and compromises before and during passage - with less discussion and amendment on the floor - and how the party leadership has been more closely involved in the legislative procedure. The many different procedures are outlined and explained.