Friday, 22 May 2009


Parliament is off a short recess - so I will not be posting (UNLESS A MAJOR NEWS STORY ARISES) until it returns on 1st June.

It has been a difficult - and depressing few weeks - for the Institution of Parliament. So if you want to cheer yourselves up there is some excellent political humour available. Just follow this link - GO FOR A LAUGH

Thursday, 21 May 2009

In Committee

Committees in Westminster do not enjoy the same powers as those in Congress. While resources have been significantly increased, they pale by comparison to those enjoyed in Washington. However, in the UK, they are the bright spot of recent parliamentary reform. They continue to grow in significance - as members become more adept at scrutiny.

You can find details of the current inquiries at -

These are updated weekly, so you may wish to bookmark the addresses.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Debate on Suspension of Certain Members

Today the House of Lords will debate the Reports from the House's Privileges Committee, which if the reports are agreed to - will see the first suspensions of members in four centuries.

The report in the conduct of the four members is available at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200809/ldselect/ldprivi/88/88ii.pdf. Only two have been recommended for suspension.

The other report concerns the disciplinary powers of the House of Lords. It concludes that
  • The House possesses, and has possessed since before the 1705 resolution, an inherent power to discipline its Members; the means by which it chooses to exercise this power falls within the regulation by the House of its own procedures.

  • The duty imposed upon Members, by virtue of the writs of summons, to attend Parliament, is subject to various implied conditions, which are reflected in the many rules governing the conduct of Members which have been adopted over time by the House.

  • The House has no power, by resolution, to require that the writ of summons be withheld from a Member otherwise entitled to receive it; as a result, it is not within the power of the House by resolution to expel a Member permanently.

  • The House does possess the power to suspend its Members for a defined period not longer than the remainder of the current Parliament.

That report is available at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200809/ldselect/ldprivi/87/87.pdf

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Some Light Relief

Lord Denning was one of the most important judges within English law during the twentieth century. He was Master of the Rolls - the most senior Court of Appeal Judge on the civil side. He also made news as the head of an inquiry into the Profumo Affair in the early 1960s.

As a judge, his decisions could be controversial - but he had a very readable style. I reproduce the start of his judgement in the Balogh v Crown Court at St Albans case. While a serious issue - his telling of the facts always causes me to crease up with laughter. Enjoy!

There is a new court house at St Albans. It is air-conditioned. In May of this year the Crown Court was sitting there. A case was being tried about pornographic films and books. Stephen Balogh was there each day. He was a casual hand employed by solicitors for the defence. Just as a clerk at £5 a day, knowing no law. The case dragged on and on. He got exceedingly bored. He made a plan to liven it up. He knew something about a gas called nitrous oxide, N2O2 should be inferior character? It gives an exhilarating effect when inhaled. It is called 'laughing gas'. He had learned all about it at Oxford. During the trial he took a half-cylinder of it from the hospital car park. He carried it about with him in his brief case. His plan was to put the cylinder at the inlet to the ventilating system and to release the gas into the court. It would emerge from the outlets which were just in front of counsel's row. So the gas, he thought, would enliven their speeches. It would be diverting for the others. A relief from the tedium of pornography.

So one night when it was dark he got on to the roof of the court house. He did it by going up from the public gallery. He found the ventilating ducts and decided where to put the cylinder. Next morning, soon after the court sat, at 11.15 am, he took his brief case, with the cylinder in it, into court 1. That was not the pornography court. It was the next-door court. It was the only court which had a door leading up to the roof. He put the brief case on a seat at the back of the public gallery. Then he left for a little while. He was waiting for a moment when he could slip up to the roof without anyone seeing him. But the moment never came. He had been seen on the night before. The officers of the court had watched him go up to the roof. So in the morning they kept an eye on him. They saw him put down his brief case. When he left for a moment, they took it up. They were careful. There might be a bomb in it. They opened it. They took out the cylinder. They examined it and found out what it was. They got hold of Balogh. They cautioned him. He told them frankly just what he had done. They charged him with stealing a bottle of nitrous oxide. He admitted it. They kept him in custody and reported the matter to Melford Stevenson J, who was presiding in court 1 (not the pornography court).

At the end of the day's hearing, at 4.15 pm, the judge had Balogh brought before him. The police inspector gave evidence. Balogh admitted it was all true. He meant it as a joke. A practical joke. But the judge thought differently. He was not amused. To him it was no laughing matter. It was a very serious contempt of court. Balogh said:

'… I am actually in the wrong court at the moment … The proceedings which I intended to subvert are next door. Therefore, it is not contempt against your court … for which I should be tried.'

The judge replied: 'You were obviously intending at least to disturb the proceedings going on in courts in this building, of which this is one … You will remain in custody tonight, and I will consider what penalty I impose upon you … in the morning.'

Next morning Balogh was brought again before the judge. The inspector gave evidence of his background. Balogh was asked if he had anything to say. He said:

'I do not feel competent to conduct it myself. I am not represented in court … I have committed no contempt … I was arrested for the theft of a bottle of nitrous oxide … no further charges have been preferred.'

The judge gave sentence:

'It is difficult to imagine a more serious contempt of court and the consequences might have been very grave if you had carried out your express intention. I am not going to overlook this and you will go to prison for six months … I am not dealing with any charge for theft … I am exercising the jurisdiction to deal with the contempt of court which has been vested in this court for hundreds of years. That is the basis on which … you will now go to prison for six months.'

Balogh made an uncouth insult: 'You are a humourless automaton. Why don't you self-destruct?' He was taken away to serve his sentence.

Eleven days later he wrote from prison to the Official Solicitor. In it he acknowledged that his behaviour had been contemptible, and that he was now thoroughly humbled. He asked to be allowed to apologise in the hope that his contempt would be purged. The Official Solicitor arranged at once for counsel to be instructed, with the result that the appeal has come to this court.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Members Allowances

The "Green Book" outlines the rules applying to claims for expenses. It is available at http://www.parliament.uk/documents/upload/GreenBook.pdf

Mr Speaker's Statement

I went to the gallery in the House of Commons for Question Time and the statement by the Speaker which followed. It was the most extraordinary occasion that I have witnessed in Westminster. When he spoke - although the House; the Press Gallery and the Visitors' Galleries were all full - you could hear a pin drop. The points of order which followed led to audible gasps.

For me the moment my jaw dropped was when Sir Patrick Cormack invited the Speaker to reflect on the debate in the House of Commons after the fall of Norway in 1940. An obscure refererence - save for those who, like Sir Patrick, know their parliamentary history. Leo Amery concluded his speech in that debate by quoting the words of Cromwell -

"You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go."

It has been an extraordinary day here - and no end is in sight.

Party Lists

In the European Elections, within each region, political parties put forward their candidates on a list. When the results are counted, seats are allocated to the parties on the basis of the proportion of the votes the party receives.

In the East Midlands there are 13 parties who have put forward lists.

A copy of the list of people nominated can be found at http://www.east-northamptonshire.gov.uk/ppimageupload/image15641.pdf. There are Five seats up for election.

I am number 4 on the Labour list. Our team is pictured above (Back Row - Kathy Salt; J David Morgan, Cate Taylor. Front Row - Roy Kennedy; Glenis Willmott)

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Campaign Report

Elections don't begin for candidates when the election is formally called (which was on April 28th) - but the work starts with selection. So I've been working with a view to the election on June 4th for well over a year.

But things go into top gear as election day gets closer. [Sometimes this is referred to as 'the short campaign']. This week I've been calling on doors in the southern part of the East Midlands region. In view of the outrage over MPs expenses I might have expected to need personal protection - but people have been decent.

In addition to the door to door campaigning and leaflet delivery I attended two meetings.

The first was a meeting of the East Midlands NFU (National Farmers Union) in Rutland. A report can be found at http://www.nfuonline.com/x38364.xml. It was a very enjoyable hustings - with some excellent questions.

On Thursday I attended the national launch of the Labour Party's European and County Election campaign. The meeting was addressed by the Prime Minister, then questions taken. Many of the cabinet attended - including David Miliband, Alistair Darling, Jacqui Smith, Hazel Blears, Ed Balls and John Denham. There were representatives of local voluntary groups - and students from the Kirk Hallam Community Technology College, where the launch was held. A report and pictures are available at http://www.labour.org.uk/winning_the_fight_for_britains_future_-_gordon_brown,2009-05-14

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Elections 2009

No General Election is required by law until June 2010, but of course the Prime Minister may ask the Queen for a dissolution of Parliament - thus causing an Election - at any time. But on 4th June there are two sets of elections which will be watched closely.

County Councils have elections for all their members once every four years. At the last major reorganisation of English local government on 1st April 1974 most of the country had a two tier structure - with County Councils responsible for strategic planning and services (for example, Education; Social Services; Waste Disposal) with district councils (sometimes the particular district council, for histroical reasons was entitled to be called a Borough or City) responsible for more local services (Housing; Waste Collection). In the Metropolitan areas the County Councils were abolished in 1986, and subsequently some districts have been given "unitary status" - for example Leicester City, Nottingham City, Milton Keynes.

The other election on June 4th will be the European Parliament elections. In the UK MEPs are chosen on a regional basis - with party lists in each of the English regions - and Wales; Scotland and Northern Ireland. Seats will be allocated to the parties on a proportional basis in each region.

I am a candidate on the Labour Party list in the East Midlands. Over the next few days, I hope to share with you some of the background - and some of my experience - of this election.

Friday, 15 May 2009

The Role of Privy Counsellors

There was a fascinating Question for Short Debate this week on the role of Privy Counsellors. I recommend reading the Hansard for the debate. It is both interesting and amusing. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200809/ldhansrd/text/90512-0013.htm#09051274000144

Privy Counsellors are "Right Honourable", rather than merely "Honourable". As one writer put it "The Privy Council was formerly a powerful institution, but its substantial decisions are now controlled by one of its committees, the Cabinet. The Council also performs judicial functions, which are for the most part delegated to the Judicial Committee."

The debate covers the history and activity of this "Council". Further information is available in a House of Commons Library paper at http://www.parliament.uk/commons/lib/research/briefings/snpc-3708.pdf - and the Privy Council website is http://www.privy-council.org.uk/output/page1.asp

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Public Consultations

Lord Norton of Louth will today kick off a debate in the Moses Room, House of Lords, with a question to the Government "what plans they have to ensure that public consultations by Government departments follow best practice?" This debate should be of great interest to anyone wanting to know about the processes of government.

Lord Norton discussed the debate on the "Lords of the Blog" - http://lordsoftheblog.wordpress.com/2009/05/08/public-consultations/

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Getting remedies in the British courts

Britain's membership of the European Union gives rights which apply to individuals. Normally any 'rights' arising from a treaty are only enforceable by individuals if Parliament legislates to allow the specific right to be actionable.

Early in the development of the EU, the European Court of Justice - in the leading case of Van Gend en Loos (1963), the Court laid down the principle of direct effect. In later cases the court provided further avenues for enforcing rights, should the criteria required for direct effect not be met.

So, when faced with the issue of whether an individual can enforce a right arising in EU Law in the national court - the following steps should be followed-
  1. Consider if the right claimed is "clear, precise and unconditional" in the European legislation (Primary legislation - the Treaties; Secondary legislation - Regulations; Directives & Decisions).

  2. If the right arises in a Treaty Article or a Regulation - and the answer is yes. There is direct effect.

  3. If the right arises in a directive two further criteria must be met:-

  4. Consider if the date for the implementation of the directive has passed - a straightforward question. If it hasn't there can be no direct effect.

  5. If it has, then you must consider if the body being claimed against is an "emanation of the State". That term is defined in Foster v British Gas - "a body, whatever its legal form, which has been made responsible, pursuant to a measure adopted by the State, for providing a public service under the control of the State and has for that purpose special powers beyond those which result from the normal rules applicable in relations between individuals"

  6. If all the criteria are met - then there can be direct effect. If not, then it will be necessary to rely upon

  7. Indirect Effect - the national court will try to read (interpret) the national legislation to give effect to the right. That may be possible, without doing violence to the language of the national legislation.

  8. Direct and Indirect Effect can be used when the body or person being sued is the body or individual who failed to give effect to the right. If neither can be used, only one option remains. The Government can be sued for "State Liability". This right first arose in the Francovich case.

  9. The criteria for State Liability (amended from Francovich) are
    (1) It must be an infringement of a rule of law intended to confer rights on individuals
    (2) There must be a "Sufficiently serious breach" In Dillenkoffer - failure to implement the directive within the deadline set out in that directive would of itself be a sufficiently serious breach. Otherwise the breach must be ‘manifest and grave’ – relevant considerations include

i. clarity and precision of the rule breached
ii. measure of discretion left by that rule to national authorities
iii. whether infringement or damage was intentional or involuntary
iv. whether any error of law excusable or not
v. possible contributory position of EC institutions
vi. adoption or retention of measures contrary to Community law

(3) There must be a causal link between the State's failure and the loss to the claimant

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Early Parliaments

English Kings had long taken advice in formal settings. In Anglo Saxon times the 'wise men' of the kingdom [the 'Witan'] met as the Witenagemot to discuss legislation and taxes.

The Norman 'King's Council' carried out similar functions. It was only in the 13th Century that the term "Parliament" came into use - it means talking or discussing.

Simon de Montfort is often credited as being the first to call persons other than the nobility and church leaders to a parliament. In 1264 he summoned burgesses in addition to the normal membership, at a parliament called in the midst of a rebellion against King Henry III. But it was the Model Parliament of 1295 which set the pattern of inviting the nobility; leading churchmen plus two knights from each county and two burgesses from each Borough (Citizens if they were from a city) to a meeting of Parliament.

By 1332 it had become the normal practice for the Knights; Citizens and Burgesses [House of Commons] to meet separetly from the nobles and churchmen [House of Lords].

Monday, 11 May 2009

President Obama's Speech

... at the White House Correspondent's Dinner - some great fun lines

The Damage Being Done

Peter Riddell wrote in his column in the Times on Saturday - http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/peter_riddell/article6249870.ece

"Politicians generally, rather than any one party or MP, will be damaged by the disclosures on MPs’ expenses. They will discredit mainstream politics, reduce turnout and benefit anti-establishment groups. So watch how other parties, especially the British National Party, do in the European elections on June 4."

The Foundations of Westminster

Centuries ago the area we know as Westminster was a low lying island by the (much wider) River Thames. The Rive Tyburn flowed from the hills of Hampstead; along to Marble Arch [which was once the site of the Tyburn gallows - the main place of execution for London criminals]; then onto the site of Buckingham Palace where it split, creating "Thorney Island" - the island of blackberries.

It is claimed that a Roman Temple dedicated to Apollo was established there; but it was destroyed in an earthquake. King Sebert, perhaps converted to Christianity by this event, built a chapel in its place, dedicated to St. Peter. An ancient myth concerns the building of this chapel

Late on the Sunday night before the day appointed by Sebert for the consecration of his church by Mellitus, Bishop of London, a poor Thames-side fisherman, called Edric, was hailed on the Lambeth shore by a stranger who asked to be ferried to Thorney and back.
Edric, having fished all night so far without success, agreed to the request. While he lay idle in his boat in the darkness waiting for the return of his passenger, he suddenly beheld the windows of the new church spring into life. From it issued sounds of exquisite singing, and in the radiance encircling it arose a ladder, stretching up to heaven, upon which angels were ascending and descending.Presently the stranger who had hired his boat returned and bade him cast his nets once more. Edric obeyed and was rewarded by a noble haul.
Before departing from him the stranger told him that next morning he must go to meet the King and the Bishop at the Abbey doors, bearing a salmon in his hand. He must tell them that St. Peter had already consecrated the church on Thorney as his especial property. Furthermore, he must in future give a tithe of all fish he caught to the Abbot of Westminster, and refrain from Sunday fishing.Edric fulfilled his saintly passenger's commands, and, when Sebert and Mellitus asked for proof of his startling story, was able to convince them by showing them, within the new building, the moisture of holy water, crosses on the walls, signs of consecrated oil, the Greek alphabet traced in the sand, and the remains of the candles used in the miraculous illumination.

King Edgar restored the building in the Tenth century and established a Benedictine monastry.

The first palace was build by King Canute. The very religious Edward the Confessor (King of England 1042-1066) decided to build a great church, which became known as the 'West Minster' [to distinguish it from St Paul's in the city of London which was also known as the East Minster]. He extended, and moved into, the nearby palace to oversee the work.

It was the Norman Kings who moved key functions of government to Westminster. William II (Rufus) undertook further building work on the palace, including a new Great Hall - which remains to this day as Westminster Hall.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Could Politicians Do More?

The quote in yesterday's post "Are the Media to Blame" from Glenn Parker was reproduced in an article by David W Brady and Sean M Theriault ['A Reassessment of Who's to Blame: A Positive Case for the Public Evaluation of Congress' in Hibbing & Theiss-Morse (eds) "What is it about Government that Americans Dislike?]". It's an article worth reading.

They say "we offer several speculative arguments that place the blame of low congressional approval squarely upon the members".

In particular they highlight four practices that members actively engage in that lead to congressional unpopularity -
  1. Members of Congress avoid difficult votes by engaging in questionable legislative procedures. They employ these procedures to circumvent accountability. They give as an example the way congressional pay rises have been dealt with.

  2. Members frequently engage in hyperbolic rhetoric. First they employ quick-fix rhetoric in claiming to have easy solutions to hard problems. Second, and inversely, divergent proposals are not debated meaningfully; rather, the consequences are overblown and exaggerated in hopes of demonizing the proponents and killing the proposals

  3. Members run for Congress by running against it

  4. The public face of Congress distorts the internal workings of the institution. While ideological extremists bash each other on television as well as in newspapers, the moderates are left to negotiate and legislate.

Is the same true of Westminster?

Again your thoughts on these matters are appreciated.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Are the Media to blame?

In yesterday's post I mentioned the work of John Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse. In discussing 'what is wrong with the American political system' they comment -

"If open debate is seen as bickering and haggling; if bargaining and compromise are seen as selling out on principle; if all support staff and division of labor are needless baggage; if carefully working through problems is sloth; and if all interests somehow become evil special interests, it is easy to see why the public is upset with the workings of the political system."

This raises the question of how much the media moulds our perception of politics. My post yesterday suggested that we all naturally hold contradictory positions on democracy. Yet do the Daily Mail and Daily Express and the shock-jocks incessantly provoke our negative feelings? Would a more responsible media mean that our politicians are better understood and appreciated? Would Parliament's reputation be enhanced if more coverage was given to the calm, methodical and bipartisan work of Select Committees - and Prime Minister's Question Time given less prominence?

Do you agree with Glenn Parker's comment that "the public often lacks the basic understanding of the legislative process that would lead to an appreciation of the significance of legislative actions"?

Are the media to blame? - Your comments are appreciated.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Why do we hate our politicians?

Well hate is probably too hard a word, but politicians are certainly not held in high regard. Why is that? Are politicians more greedy, self-centered, obnoxious than the rest of us? Why do people have such a low opinion of the players and institutions in our political process?

John Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse put forward an interesting thesis in "Congress as Public Enemy" (1995). They argue that our contempt arises from a dislike of the processes of democratic government. We like the idea of democracy - but have an inbuilt distaste for what it involves.

In order to resolve the problems and competing demands that we face as a society we need bargaining and compromise. We want open discussion and a chance to have our say on matters of interest to us. We want to reap the benefits of the modern age, without being personally affected by its necessary disadvantages. We want government services without the pain of taxes.

We disdain compromise; are irritated by long discussions where everyone gets to say what they want - often at length. NIMBYs ("Not in my backyard") are regarded as selfish obstacle makers, yet we can be NIMBYs ourselves when our neighbourhood is threatened.

We hanker after clear, quick decisions - but only an authoritarian government can achieve these. As Winston Churchill once said, "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the other forms that have been tried"

The trouble with representative democracy - is that it does represent us.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Lords Question Alert

Lord Steel is due to ask the Government this morning - "when they expect to publish their Constitutional Renewal Bill; and what elements of it will be directly relevant to the working of the House of Lords."

You can watch this live at www.parliamentlive.tv at approximately 11.10 (UK time)

Article 234 Reference

The Judicial Committee of the House of Lords on Tuesday referred a case to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. This procedure allows a question of European Union Law arising in a national court, to be referrred to the ECJ for a ruling on that particular issue. The ECJ gives its interpretation of ECJ, but the national court has to apply it to the case in hand.

This 'preliminary ruling' procedure has played an important role in the development of EU Law - including such key cases as Van Gend en Loos and Costa v. ENEL. A very useful article on EU Law by Petra Lea Láncos can be found at http://www.jak.ppke.hu/hir/ias/200612sz/o1.doc

Some statistical information on Preliminary Rulings can be found at -
It was ordered that the following questions be referred to the Court of Justice of the European Communities for a preliminary ruling under Article 234 of the Treaty establishing the European Community:

1) Is a person of dual Irish and United Kingdom nationality who has resided in the United Kingdom for her entire life a “beneficiary” within the meaning of Article 3 of Directive 2004/38/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council (“the Directive”)?

2) Has such a person “resided legally” within the host Member State for the purpose of Article 16 of the Directive in circumstances where she was unable to satisfy the requirements of Article 7 of Directive 2004/38EC?

and that further consideration of the appeal be adjourned sine die.

The Minutes of Proceedings - Judicial Business records -

McCarthy (FC) (Appellant) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (Respondent) (formerly SM (Eire) (FC) (Appellant) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (Respondent))

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

New York Times on CRS Reports

The New York Times yesterday had an interesting piece on the campaign to have CRS Reports published directly to the public

Group Seeks Public Access to Congressional Research

American taxpayers spend more than $100 million a year supporting the work of the Congressional Research Service, a little-known but highly regarded division of the Library of Congress.

But unlike the library itself, the research service is by law exclusively for the use of members of Congress. Only they and their staffs have access to the reports and memorandums it generates, and only they can decide to make its work public.

A nonprofit group, the Center for Democracy and Technology, is leading a fight to change that.
“We think the public should have access to the information that is shaping legislation and policy, especially since it pays for that information,” said Ari Schwartz, the organization’s chief operating officer.

The center has been working for years to gain access to the service’s reports. In a recent informal online survey financed by the Sunlight Foundation together with the center and OpenTheGovernment.org, the research service’s reports were the government documents the most respondents wanted to see.

The center has created a Web site, Open CRS, on which it makes some of the research service’s reports available, but until recently, the only comprehensive source for the reports — there is no public index of them — was a small company, Penny Hill Press. Based in Maryland, Penny Hill Press sells the reports to lawyers, universities, lobbyists and corporations, as well as to Gallery Watch, which makes them available online.

“We wear out a lot of shoe leather and get cauliflower ear on the phone and use e-mail and every other trick we can, and we manage to get virtually all of the new C.R.S. documents,” said Walter Seager, owner of Penny Hill.

Mr. Seager said there were about 20 new documents, including updates to reports, each day. He started the effort in 1992, and he and one of his sons do most of the work finding the reports and updates. His wife, a dental hygienist, helps run the business.

“I’m 70 years old and getting tired, but my son is younger, so this will continue until such time as C.R.S. or Congress does the right thing and makes the reports freely available to the public,” Mr. Seager said.

In February, Wikileaks, an online source of hard-to-get documents, began offering access to 6,780 of the research service’s reports dating to 1990.

Members of Congress may make the reports public, and their constituents can write to ask for copies of reports they know exist.

“Because there was no index until we created one, in most cases, the only reports the public was able to see were the ones that politicians saw as useful to their political agendas,” said Daniel Schmitt, a Wikileaks representative.

Mr. Schmitt would not disclose how Wikileaks has gotten the documents, and he said fund-raising challenges made it difficult for the Web site to continue providing new documents of all kinds.

Janine D’Addario, a spokeswoman for the research service, said that by law, its work is to be exclusive and confidential to Congress. Additionally, a provision in the appropriations bill that finances the service each year forbids it to make its work public.

“That is Congress’s call,” Ms. D’Addario said when asked whether the reports should be made public.

She said, however, that release of the reports would put the research service into an awkward position between members of Congress and their constituents.

“Publication of our products directly to the public could put C.R.S. in an intermediate position between members and their constituents, and it is the member, not us, who represent their constituents,” Ms. D’Addario said.

There is no classified information in the reports, nor any copyrighted information. But Congress has consistently balked at sharing the reports.

“Reports are produced by the Congressional Research Service staff for the education of members of Congress,” Kyle Anderson, a spokesman for the House Administration Committee, which has jurisdiction over the issue in the House, wrote in an e-mail message. “Just as other memos produced by staffers for members of Congress aren’t made public, these are not.”
Mr. Schwartz made it clear, however, that the organization was seeking the public release of only reports the research service produces, not the memorandums it also writes for members of Congress.

A bipartisan group of senators, including John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, has tried for the last decade to make the reports public.
A spokesman for Senator
Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat who is the new chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, said Mr. Schumer was “aware of the arguments for making these reports public” and was reviewing the current policy.

Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, who makes several of the reports available on his Web site, has twice proposed legislation to make the reports public, but to no avail. He did so again last week.

“For too long, C.R.S. reports have been available to the public only on a haphazard basis,” Mr. Lieberman said in an e-mail message. “These reports inform members of Congress and their staffs on a wide range of issues. The American people, who pay for these reports, should be able to learn from this same expert analysis.”

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Washminster Returns - as MPs head for exit?

Washminster returns - as we have completed our move from Rugby to Milton Keynes. Unfortunately a resumption of full service (or the enhanced service I had planned) will be delayed - as it may be a month before I can get broadband at home. I can only publish posts when I'm in my Westminster office - and as I am a candidate in the European Elections on June 4th, I wasn't going to be spending much time down in London. So I apologise for the delay - but will post when I can.

As Washminster (partially) returns - the press are publishing stories claiming that the coming election will see an exodus of Labour MPs - retiring before facing defeat. These stories have been denied [see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8029262.stm]- but it is worth considering the differences with House of Representatives & Senate retirements.

The incumbancy factor is not as great in UK elections as in the US. People still tend to vote by party than for a specific individual in the UK. So the retirement of an existing member doesn't make the seat as vulnerable as an open seat in the US. Followers of British politics tend to look at the national swing - which may differ slightly in individual seats.