Monday, 30 November 2009

The Whip Pack

More information can be found about the details of legislation being considered by the House of Representatives in "The Whip Pack", which is published weekly by the Majority Whip. The Internet version contains further links which are useful if you want to follow the progress of a particular bill. In addition there is information about key issues on his website.

The Minority Whip also provides details of business and a blog about the issues, as seen from the Minority's perspective.

In the 111th Congress the Majority Whip is James Clyburn of South Carolina (pictured) and Eric Cantor from Virginia is the Minority Whip.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

The Scheduling of Business at Westminster

Included in the excellent report by the House of Commons Reform Committee (Chairman, Tony Wright (pictured)) - "Rebuilding the House" is a description of the process by which business is scheduled. My post last Wednesday described the work of the Legislation Committee of the Cabinet. Chapter Four of the Report goes into detail about the processes of scheduling and timetabling. It is worth reading the whole chapter (though I'd say the whole report merits consideration and reflection upon!).

The following are particularly useful extracts.

120. The gradual takeover by the Government of House time began in the first half of the 19th century, in response to the growth in Government financial business and Ministerial legislation. In 1811 Mondays and Fridays were reserved for Orders of the Day as opposed to Notices of Motions: these Orders were principally Government Orders. In 1835 Mondays and Fridays were reserved for “Government Orders”, a category of business recognised for the first time in that way. Ministers could no longer tolerate waiting in a disorderly queue behind a mass of backbench business, and constantly liable to procedural devices of delay or diversion. The public had growing expectations that a Ministry would bring its own detailed legislation to the House, discussed and agreed in outline in Cabinet, announced in a Royal Speech and drafted by professional draftsmen working for the Crown. By the 1880s legislation was seen not only as largely the preserve of Ministers, but their principal function. In 1896 Balfour first limited by temporary and annually renewed Orders the business of Supply—the principal opportunity to raise debate by moving amendments to a formal Question or by seeking to amend the actual Supply motions—to a fixed number of days each session, with the Opposition given the freedom to choose the subjects. On 11 April 1902 the House agreed to what was first Standing Order No 4, and in a revised form is Standing Order No 14, giving “government business” precedence at every sitting unless otherwise provided.

121. SO No 14 (1) provides that “Save as provided in this order, government business shall
have precedence at every sitting”. The specific savings in SO No 14 are for:
• 20 Opposition days each session, allotted on days determined by the Government: and
• 13 Private Members’ Bill Fridays each session, fixed by the House at the outset of each session on the basis of a Motion moved by a Minister.

Protected time
122. Time in the Chamber is also set aside by other Standing Orders for:
• oral questions for an hour on Mondays to Thursdays and Urgent Questions
• motions for leave to bring in Bills under the “ten-minute rule”, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays
• emergency debates
• end of day 30 minute adjournment backbench debates every sitting day
• three Estimates days each year, for debates under the auspices of the Liaison Committee
• opposed private business, to be distributed between “the sittings on which
government business has precedence and other sittings”.


150. The business programme is managed at official level by the Private Secretary to the Government Chief Whip and his staff in conjunction with his opposite numbers in the House of Lords. At the outset of a session, or shortly before it begins, the business managers look at the Government’s proposed legislative programme. Decisions have to be taken on which House each Bill is to start. Some Bills may require Royal Assent faster than others. A few may be introduced later in the session and be carried over. For each Bill, estimated dates are needed by when they should reach the second House. From these considerations spring the dates by which committee proceedings in the Commons must end—the “committee out-date”—which appears in the programme motion now usually applied to Government Bills in the Commons immediately after Second Reading. The date by which the managers wish to conclude Commons proceedings, at Third Reading, is not published. The business managers also have to allow for scheduling of the 20 Opposition days and the scatter of “default” debates through the year, as well as the Queen’s Speech and Budget debates.

Business Statement

151. The business for the next fortnight is agreed internally by the Government business managers at a weekly meeting. Before and after this meeting there are some consultations
through the usual channels with the Official Opposition Whips. The Leader of the House then announces future business to the House each week on Thursday as a rolling two-week programme, with the second week avowedly less firmly determined than the first. Business in Westminster Hall is often announced more than two weeks in advance. The announcement of future business is akin to a Ministerial statement but preserves the facade
of being an Urgent Question from the Shadow Leader.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Euro Myths

I attended a tutors' staff development day at the Open University today. One of the courses I teach on for the OU is W200 - Understanding Law. We had the opportunity to share useful resources. One of my colleagues drew my attention to the following very very funny video about "Euromyths" which comes from an episode of QI presented by Stephen Fry -

Friday, 27 November 2009

Elections 2010

Washminster will of course be previewing some of the key races in the UK General Election and the US Congressional Elections which will occur in 2010. It will be an important election year in both countries. There are other countries which will also be going to the polls in coming months. An excellent website has been set up by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems listing national elections, and giving details for each country.

IFES also produces research on issues relating to elections - including a study of Political Finance Regulation around the world. The group which assesses the experience of regulation is available here.


For the UK it is possible to track the parties in the Guardian/ICM polls back to 1984 via this link.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Thanksgiving Day 2009

A Happy Thanksgiving Day to you all!

The traditional 'first Thanksgiving' was held by the Pilgrim Fathers in 1621. One place in England particularly associated with the Pilgrim Fathers is Scrooby in Nottinghamshire. It was here that a separatist church was founded whose members were to be the nucleus of the religious group on the Mayflower. It's a lovely village to visit, not far from Doncaster.

View Larger Map

There are a number of websites about the history of the 'pilgrims' in Scrooby and in the surrounding areas. My favourites are -

The Pilgrim Fathers UK Origins Association - which links to a number of interesting pages and
The Scrooby Village website - which has a number of history articles accessed via the left hand side of the page.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

L Committee

The Legislation Committee is a Ministerial Committee of the Cabinet - chaired by the Leader of the House of Commons. It's membership is listed here. This committee decides which government bills will be put forward to Parliament and allocates time for them.

Departments put forward their requests to the committee for permission to introduce their bill and to gain a slot in the legislative programme. Simon James in "British Cabinet Government" describes the role of the committee as "vet(ting) all bills before introduction."

A Cabinet Office "Guide to Making Legislation" describes the process. Departments are invited, about one year ahead, to put forward their bids for legislation in the following session. As the new session approaches the committee reviews the state of readiness of each proposed bill. The Guide warns that "If bills are not likely to be ready on time, they may be dropped". A meeting of the Committee will consider the Bill's introduction - requiring the relevant minister to circulate in advance a Bill Memorandum - and attend the committee to summarise the bill and answer questions about the content and readiness for introduction.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

House of Commons Reform

The Report of the House of Commons Reform Committee - "Rebuilding the House" - has been published. Set up earlier this year to address growing concerns about the effectiveness of the House of Commons, it was chaired by Tony Wright - the highly respected Chair of the Public Administration Committee (which has done so much to highlight constitutional issues & press for more powerful oversight of the Executive).

The main recommendations include
- Election of Select Committee Chairs by the House in a secret ballot
- Election of members of Select Committees by each party in secret ballots, the allocation of seats to each party representing the proportion of seats held in the Commons by the parties.
- smaller Select Committees to improve effectiveness
- rapid selection of select committee membership after a General Election
- establishment of a House Business Committee - with a Backbench Business Committee to organise the use of non-ministerial business time
- revival of work towards establishing an e-petitions system
- establishment of a system for "agenda initiative" by the public
- establishment of a monthly slot for debate of backbench motions

"opening up the process of legislation and giving the public a real opportunity to influence the content of draft laws should be a priority in the New Parliament"

Peter Riddell (Times Assistant Editor & Chair of the Hansard Society) commented on the report in the Times.

The full report is available here.

The Coming General Election

There will be a General Election in the UK during 2010. That is predictable - the date can be guessed at (most people think that May 6th is the most likely, being local election day) - but otherwise this could be the most unpredictable election for some time. A number of factors are at play -

New boundaries will take effect. There are few constituencies that will see no change. Electoral data from previous elections is only available at constituency level. Therefore it is difficult to compare directly the old and new seats. Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher have produced projections of change which are heavily relied upon. (C. Rallings & M. Thrasher, The Media Guide to the New Parliamentary Constituencies, (Plymouth: LGC Elections Centre, 2007)) A very sophisticated model is used, but exact data on a ward by ward basis is not published.

In British elections the concept of "swing" has featured heavily in analysis. (A wikipedia article explains the concept in more detail here). Essentially the formula is

Swing = ((A2 - A1) + (B1 - B2)/2)

where A2 is the percentage vote for Party A in election 2 (most recent election), A1 is the percentage vote for Party A in election 1,and similarly for Party B.

This works well when there are only two parties contesting a seat - but the vote has become more fractured over time. The next election is likely to see even more independents standing.

Many predictions for individual constituencies are based on a uniform swing across the country - which of course never happens.

There has been a crisis of confidence in the main political parties partly as a result of the expenses scandal, but which has deeper and older roots. This will make predictions very difficult for individual constituencies.

There are a number of computer websites that allow you to "predict" the results such as

As the General Election nears, this blog will (as it did with the 2008 Congressional Elections in the USA) give you the background to the key seats.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Background on Bills

The new session is underway - and the coming week will see the continuation in both Houses at Westminster of the debate on the Queen's Speech. But it will soon be time to start considering the legislation.

Already a number of bills have been given their first reading. This is a formality, necessary for the bill to be printed. More information (including a video) is available about first readings in the House of Commons and House of Lords.

Progress of all bills can be followed via this link. Further information and analysis of specific bills is available at

and Research Papers cover a number of subjects in depth, including current bills, from the House of Commons Library

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Healthcare Discussion

There's a very interesting blog - primarily for students of law and medicine - but which will be useful to all those thinking about the provision of healthcare at www.lawandmedicine.co.uk


With healthcare in the news - its worth considering how the matter is dealt with in Europe. Each nation state has its own system. In the UK we have the NHS (National Health Service) - which was founded - in the face of fierce resistance - by Labour Minister Nye Bevan. There is a webpage about the history of the NHS accessible here.

Citizens of the European Union can access the health services of other Member States. The photo shows my "European Health Insurance Card" (I was going to black out my details - but the photo was fuzzy) - It is the size of a credit card.

The NHS website describes the card -

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) allows you to access state-provided healthcare in all European Economic Area (EEA) countries and Switzerland at a reduced cost or sometimes free of charge.

Everyone who is resident in the UK should have one and carry it with them when travelling abroad. Remember to check your EHIC is still valid before you travel. Applying for the card is free and it's valid for up to five years.

Presenting the EHIC entitles you to treatment that may become necessary during your trip, but doesn't allow you to go abroad specifically to receive medical care. However, maternity care, renal dialysis and managing the symptoms of pre-existing or chronic conditions that arise while abroad are all covered by the EHIC.

Your EHIC will allow you access to the same state-provided healthcare as a resident of the country you are visiting. However, many countries expect the patient to pay towards their treatment, and even with an EHIC, you might be expected to do the same. You may be able to seek reimbursement for this cost when you are back in the UK if you are not able to do so in the other country.

The EHIC is NOT an alternative to travel insurance. It will not cover any private medical healthcare or the cost of things such as mountain rescue in ski resorts, repatriation to the UK or lost or stolen property.

Brits can apply for their card here

Friday, 20 November 2009

The Future of Europe

An enjoyable - and thought provoking conference - was held yesterday by Chatham House. The title was "The EU's prospects 20 years after the Fall of Communism". There were four sessions - after a keynote address by Maria Asenius (State Secretary to Minister for EU Affairs, Cecilia Malmstrom [recently nominated for European Commissioner by Sweden] ) -

  1. EU National Economies: Lessons from the past 20 years and models for the future
  2. The Future of the EU Single Market
  3. Domestic Security: A new frontier for European Integration
  4. Can Europe Hope to be a world leader?

There were some first class presentations - and lots of food for thought. For me four main themes stood out

  1. The need to establish a European VISION for its own future. Europe needs to move beyond 'navel-gazing' and set out the unique and positive role it wishes to play in the emerging multipolar world. To sum up a number of contributions - we now have the institutions in place - it's time to think about the use of European power in the world - and to project a self confident idea of European values and power. One speaker said that we must work with the USA not as a follower, but as a player in our own right.
  2. The need to harness the WILL to "punch at or above our own weight". Europe is an economic superpower - with a large population; great wealth; and a huge single market - yet politically it remains in the Second Division.
  3. DELIVERY must become a reality, instead of too much empty rhetoric - and unfulfilled promises.
  4. There needs to be more ENGAGEMENT with European citizens. That will only happen if a vision can be articulated; the will to take a place in the first rank of the international community is evident - and there is delivery upon the promise.

Your observations would be appreciated. Is the European Union capable of achieving the above? Should it be aiming higher? What should our relationship with the United States be based upon?

Either comment on this post on 'blogger' or email me privately here

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Black Rod

A starring role in yesterday's State Opening was played by "Black Rod". His full title is "Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod". Despite his ancient attire, he has a very modern job to carry out. The Parliamentary website describes him as "responsible for security, controlling access to and maintaining order within the House and its precincts."

The first parliamentary appointment of "Black Rod" came in the reign of King Henry VIII, but the post can be traced back to 1361 when the Order of the Garter was created by Edward III. The rod referred to in his title is the short ebony rod of office surmounted by a golden lion rampant which he carries.

When first created the Gentleman Usher's job was to carry this stick and "if anyone offended against the Order of the Garter it was his duty to tap him on the shoulder with the Black Rod, whereupon the offender was expelled (from the Order)." Today the rod is used to bang on the door of the House of Commons - and the damage done over many years can be clearly seen if you take a tour of the Palace.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Royal Prerogative - why not hand everything over to Parliament?

A written question was submitted by Lord Lester of Herne Hill

To ask Her Majesty's Government why their Final Report on the Review of the Executive Royal Prerogative Powers does not propose placing all executive prerogative powers identified in the report under parliamentary authority. [HL6204]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): The Government believe that to place all the executive prerogative powers under specific parliamentary authority without detailed consideration of individual powers would considerably increase uncertainty, delay and the risk of legal challenges, to no significant advantage. Ministers are already accountable to Parliament for the exercise of all executive prerogative powers. The Government consider that there is nevertheless a case to be made for reform of some individual powers in order to increase the level of parliamentary scrutiny and control. For example, the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill would place management of most of the Civil Service on to a statutory footing and would increase the level of parliamentary scrutiny of treaty-making. The Government will also propose a parliamentary resolution dealing with the commitment of Armed Forces to armed conflict overseas.

The Geography of the State Opening

Today the final session of the 2005 Parliament (54th Parliament of the United Kingdom) begins. The three parts of Parliament meet at Westminster - House of Commons; House of Lords and the Queen in Parliament.

The action takes place at the southern end of the Palace of Westminster. The Queen arrives by coach at the Victoria Tower. She will proceed up a steep flight of stairs (which is flanked by the coats of arms of the early English monarchs) to the Norman Porch. At this point she will turn right to enter the Robing Room. Afew minutes later she will proceed northwards through the Royal Gallery. The procession will split in two upon entering the Princes Chamber - and she will walk into the chamber of the House of Lords. There she will sit upon the throne.

Black Rod (An official of the House of Lords) will be sent to summon the House of Commons. He will march in a northerly direction - through Peers Lobby; Central Lobby and Members Lobby - to the Chamber of the House of Commons. After having the door of the Commons slammed in his face - he will be admitted & the summons delivered. Members will then saunter down to the Bar of the House of Lords (not a place for drinking!). The discourteous behaviour is traditional - signifying that the Commons will not be pushed around by the Monarch.

At the end of the Speech, the Commons return northwards to their Chamber. The Queen returns southwards.

A map of Westminster can be accessed here

Further information on the State Opening is available at Parliament's website.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Political Conflict Explained

We are familiar with paintings depicting the solemn majesty of the Declaration of Independence. However the reality was that the individuals concerned argued passionality - there was real conflict. John Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse explain why the US Congress is held in low opinion by many people. (The same applies to the UK Parliament) - [from "What is Wrong with the American Political System" in 'Congress as Public Enemy'.]

"If open debate is seen as bickering and haggling; if bargaining and compromise are seen as selling out on principle...it is easy to see why the public is upset with the workings of the political system." But "What seems to escape many people is that democratic processes are practically by definition not procedurally efficient. The 'haggling and bickering' so frequently decried by the people could be very easily termed informed discussion..."

The Muppets portrayed the events of the Continental Congress in a sketch performed a few years ago. The truth they highlight is that democratic politics has ALWAYS been messy.

Monday, 16 November 2009

More From 'Barney Fife'

The Emancipation Proclamation is "explained"

For the record - According to Martin Luther King - "The Emancipation Proclamation had four enduring results. First, it gave force to the executive power to change conditions in the national interest on a broad and far-reaching scale. Second, it dealt a devastating blow to the system of slaveholding and an economy built upon it, which had been muscular enough to engage in warfare on the Federal government. Third, it enabled the Negro to play a significant role in his own liberation with the ability to organize and to struggle, with less of the bestial retaliation his slave status had permitted to his masters. Fourth, it resurrected and restated the principle of equality upon which the founding of the nation rested."

A Preliminary Executive Order was made on 22nd September 1862 - days after the Battle of Antietam. The final Executive Order was issued on 1st January 1863.

The Final Proclamation (also issued as an Executive Order" says -

By the President of the United States of America:

A Proclamation.

Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:

"That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.

"That the Executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States and parts of States, if any, in which the people thereof, respectively, shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any State, or the people thereof, shall on that day be, in good faith, represented in the Congress of the United States by members chosen thereto at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such State shall have participated, shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such State, and the people thereof, are not then in rebellion against the United States."

Now, therefore I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion, do, on this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and in accordance with my purpose so to do publicly proclaimed for the full period of one hundred days, from the day first above mentioned, order and designate as the States and parts of States wherein the people thereof respectively, are this day in rebellion against the United States, the following, to wit:

Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, (except the Parishes of St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson, St. John, St. Charles, St. James Ascension, Assumption, Terrebonne, Lafourche, St. Mary, St. Martin, and Orleans, including the City of New Orleans) Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, (except the forty-eight counties designated as West Virginia, and also the counties of Berkley, Accomac, Northampton, Elizabeth City, York, Princess Ann, and Norfolk, including the cities of Norfolk and Portsmouth[)], and which excepted parts, are for the present, left precisely as if this proclamation were not issued.

And by virtue of the power, and for the purpose aforesaid, I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.

And I hereby enjoin upon the people so declared to be free to abstain from all violence, unless in necessary self-defence; and I recommend to them that, in all cases when allowed, they labor faithfully for reasonable wages.

And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.

And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the eighty-seventh.

By the President: ABRAHAM LINCOLN
WILLIAM H. SEWARD, Secretary of State.

Can You Do Better?

This classic comedy piece deals with reciting the Preamble of the US Constitution. Don Knotts plays the character Barney Fife who asserts that he can recite, from memory, the Preamble - which sets out the purposes of the Constitution.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Parliament is Prorogued

The 54th Parliament of the United Kingdom continues its existence. It will either be automatically dissolved by the Septennial Act 1715 - giving a General Election on June 3rd 2010 - or an earlier dissolution will be effected by the use of the Royal Prerogative (by convention - upon the advice of the Prime Minister).

However last week it was 'prorogued'. All outstanding bills (save those which Parliament agreed to 'carry over') and motions from the 2008-09 session are terminated.

The new session will begin on Wednesday - when the Queen will come to Parliament to deliver the 'Queen's Speech'.

A factsheet on Prorogation can be found here.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Stennis Center for Public Service Leadership

Along Massachusetts Avenue in Washington DC is an important institution set up to "promote and strengthen public service leadership in America". It has a number of programs including -

For non-congressional staff there is also

The Center was established by the US Congress as a tribute to Senator John C. Stennis. The center was created by Public Law 100-458, October 1, 1988, and is codified in the United States Code under Title 2-The Congress, Chapter 22.

John Stennis served in the US Senate for more than 41 years. He chaired the Senate Armed Services Committee (1969-81) and was president pro tempore during the 100th Congress. He was a Democrat from Mississippi. He was responsible for writing the first ethics code for the Senate - and was the first ever Chair of the Senate Ethics Committee (1965-75). He was the first Democrat Senator to criticise Joe Mccarthy on the Senate floor.

Senator Stennis retired in 1989 - and died in 1995. He lost a leg to cancer during the 1980s and was almost killed when shot during a mugging in Washington DC.
The Center's website can be accessed directly from here.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Fast Track Legislation

Most bills take time to pass through each of the stages in the British legislative process. However, occasionally it is necessary to push a bill through quickly. In a report by The House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution instances of "fast track" bills were analysed; some concerns expressed - and a few recommendations made.

The report can be accessed here.

Key recommendations include -

1 that the Minister responsible for the bill should be required to make an oral statement to the House of Lords outlining the case for fast-tracking. This should take place when the bill is introduced to the House in order to allow a debate, as early as possible on the justification for fast-tracking the bill, which does not detract from the Second Reading debate. The details contained in the oral statement should also be set out in a written memorandum included in the Explanatory Notes. The parliamentary time allocated for the statement should not in any way impinge upon the time available for consideration of the bill.

In the light of the evidence we have received about the potential problems and issues pertaining to the use of fast-track legislation, we recommend that the Ministerial Statement should be required to address the following principles:
(a) Why is fast-tracking necessary?
(b) What is the justification for fast-tracking each element of the bill?
(c) What efforts have been made to ensure the amount of time made available for parliamentary scrutiny has been maximised?
(d) To what extent have interested parties and outside groups been given an opportunity to influence the policy proposal?
(e) Does the bill include a sunset clause (as well as any appropriate renewal procedure)? If not, why do the Government judge that their inclusion is not appropriate?
(f) Are mechanisms for effective post-legislative scrutiny and review in place? If not, why do the Government judge that their inclusion is not appropriate?
(g) Has an assessment been made as to whether existing legislation is sufficient to deal with any or all of the issues in question?
(h) Have relevant parliamentary committees been given the opportunity to scrutinise the legislation?

We recommend that in its consideration of whether to allow a bill to be fast-tracked through its legislative stages, the House should bear in mind whether the Government’s Ministerial Statement justifying fast-tracking has adequately addressed these principles. We will do this in the course of our scrutiny of any bill that it is proposed should be fast-tracked.

2 there should instead be a presumption in favour of the use of a sunset clause. By this process, a piece of legislation would expire after a certain date, unless Parliament chooses either to renew it or to replace it with a further piece of legislation subject to the normal legislative process.

3 any legislation subject to a fast-track parliamentary passage should be subject to post-legislative review, ideally within one year, and at most within two years.
Appendix 5 lists the bills subject to fast-track passage since 1975.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Louis Brandeis

One of the greatest Supreme Court Justices was Louis Brandeis. He was particularly known for his defences of the freedoms of speech and privacy.

William O Douglas, the longest-serving justice in the history of the Supreme Court, said of him -
Brandeis was a militant crusader for social justice whoever his opponent might be. He was dangerous not only because of his brilliance, his arithmetic, his courage. He was dangerous because he was incorruptible. . . [and] the fears of the Establishment were greater because Brandeis was the first Jew to be named to the Court."

Melvin Urofsky, had has previously written extensively on Brandeis has recently published "Louis D Brandeis: A Life". He was interviwed about the subject of his book on C-SPAN's "Q&A"

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

The Legislative Process

How does a bill become a law? The Parliament website now has a very useful guide to the process - illustrated by examples and linked to all the relevant language used. I regard it as a very informative guide - useful for students of constitutional law and politics - as well as those who want to gain a better understanding of the legislative process.

The guide can be accessed here.

Your comments on this resource would be much appreciated by the parliamentary authorities - and I would urge you to take part in the online survey.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

The Spy at Bletchley Park

Winston Churchill once described the people who worked during World War Two at Bletchley Park as "the geese that laid the golden eggs - but never cackled". This remained until the mid 1970s one of the best kept secrets of all time. Researchers have discovered couples who had worked at the codebreaking centre - who honoured the instruction not to reveal what they had done, to the extent that they never even talked about it to each other - and so did not know they they shared a common past.

But there was a Russian Spy who worked there. John Cairncross - the "fifth man" in the Cambridge spy ring. He worked in Hut 3 (the main reporting centre for all Enigma on German Army and Air Force communications). He had previously been private secretary to Lord Hankey, a member of the War Cabinet. Michael Smith described his esponiage in 'Station X'. - "Cairncross smuggled decrypts that were due to be destroyed out of Hut 3 in his trousers, transferring them to his bag at the (Bletchley) railway station before going on to London to meet his KGB contact"

Cairncross passed information which has been credited with helping the Russians to win the Battle of Kursk. A sanitised version had been supplied by the British to the Russians, but the source had been disguised.

The Independent's Obituary of Cairncross can be read here.

Bletchley Park contains a well stocked bookshop, which sells a number of books and monographs about the history of the codebreaking centre.

Monday, 9 November 2009

The Special Relationship

On Saturday I went with Bob Carr, former Member of the House of Representatives from Michigan, to Bletchley Park - the Codebreaking centre which was vital to the conduct of the Second World War - and was the place where the first programmable computer was constructed.

For more information on Bletchley Park press here.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

John Brademas Center for the Study of Congress

Another academic centre named for a leading congressman, the John Brademas Center for the Study of Congress , provides access to important research work on Congress. It is based at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.

John Brademas served in Congress from 1959-1981. He was House Majority Whip in the period 1977-81. As well as being a congressman, he had a passion for education and played a key role in the development of many educational bodies within the USA. He co-sponsored the legislation establishing the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Brademas was the first Greek-American member of Congress.

The Center, of which John Brademas is President Emeritus, has been involved in a two-year “Congress and the Future Project" which resulted in a bipartisan 'White Paper' which is available here entitled "Looking to the Future: The Challenge to Congress".

The website also contains transcripts of interviews with a number of retiring members of Congress. The purpose of the Center's Reflection Project is "to establish a public record of the first-person accounts, opinions, anecdotes and reflections of Members who retire from office each term". These transcripts can be accessed here.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Health Care Vote in House

Today the House of Representatives is due to debate and vote on the Healthcare Bill. There will be extensive coverage over the internet. Some of the key sites will be -

C-SPAN - for a live broadcast of House proceedings

CQ and The Hill have promised a regular feed ot tweets. The House of Representatives (Office of the Clerk) has a feature "Currently on the House Floor" and you can

Read the Bill - H.R.3962

Read the Republican Bill

See the Special Rule Governing the Debate.

The House is due to meet at 09.00 EST (14.00 UK).

Friday, 6 November 2009

Former Members

Former members of both the US Congress and the UK Parliament have organisations which enable them to keep in touch with their former colleagues. The United States Association of Former Members of Congress was founded in 1970 and now has around 550 members. It organises a "Congress to Campus" programme - which takes former members into schools and universities to share their experience and explain how Congress works. There are other programs described on its websites - and details of two books in which former Members experience and insight into the working of Congress is described.

Inside the House, Former Members Reveal How Congress Really Works brings to life the inner workings of the Congress via 44 essays by 35 former Members, a congressional spouse, and two congressional staff members.

Political Rules of the Road is a collection of over 500 political rules by almost 200 former Members of Congress, including several presidents. The authors explain the rules that guided them during their political lives and explain via anecdotes how they best applied.

In the United Kingdom "The Association of Former Members of Parliament" exists for former MPs. It has a newsletter which is published on its website.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

The Queen's Private Secretary

Most of the key players in the British constitutional system are well known. The leading members of the Executive are the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. The current list can be found here. Details of senior civil servants can be found here. Members of the Legislature are listed at Parliament's website. The Supreme Court, which is the highest court of the judicial system has a very informative website which can be accessed here.

The British Constitution is not set out in a single document. Many key 'rules' are known as conventions. These have been described as non-legally binding (in other words they would not be enforced by the Courts) - but which the political actors regard themselves as bound by. For example it is now a convention that the Queen will sign any bill presented to her which has been passed by both Houses of Parliament. If she failed to do so, she could not be ordered to sign by a Court, but - if asked - the Queen would say that she has no alternative but to sign.

What happens if a constitutional crisis arises? Who would sort things out? The key to understanding the British constitution is that such crises would be resolved - not by a legal solution (for example in the USA the Supreme Court might be regarded as the final arbiter in a dispute over the Constitution) - but by a political solution.

When there was controversy over Edward VIII's proposed marriage to a divorcee (1936) - or when there was a constitutional crisis over the House of Lords blocking the Budget (1909-10) - the key political actors, between themselves, sorted out a solution.

One individual who has often played a key role is the Private Secretary to the Monarch. Vernon Bogdanor devotes a whole chapter of his 1995 book "The Monarchy and the Constitution" to this office holder. He claims that "the office...has become crucial to the working of constitutional monarchy in Britain." It is a chapter worth reading!

The official description of the post on the UK Monarchy's website can be accessed here. The photograph accompanying this post is that of Lord Knollys - Private Secretary to Edward VII and George V.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Flying - with less hassle

I've already booked my next flight to Washington DC. As usual I will be avoiding travelling through the centre of London and Heathrow Airport. My preferred airport is Birmingham International. There are good rail links from Milton Keynes (and most other places in the UK) as well as being at the centre of the UK's motorway system. I was told by an American friend that the airport should stress that while the rail station is not technically part of the airport - it is in fact much closer than many airport's train stations. The Air-Rail link takes less than 2 minutes from the station to the terminal.

As yet there is no direct flight between BHX and any of the Washington airports. Continental fly to Newark (CO 27 to USA; CO 26 from USA) , where there are connecting flights to Dulles and National Airports. My favoured alternative is to fly from Birmingham to a continental European Airport (Schiphol, Amsterdam; Paris or Frankfurt).

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Election Day

Once again it's the "Tuesday after the first Monday in November". The New York Times explained why that date had become "Election Day" in an article published on 1st November 1910 -

"The State of New York in 1841 was the first to adopt "Tuesday after the first Monday in November" as its election day. Most of the States at that time held their elections on the first Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday in November. The congressional act of March 1, 1792, had prescribed that elections for Presidential electors be held "within thirty-four days preceding the first Wednesday in December, every fourth year."... The quadrennial election day was made uniform after a act was passed in 1845. Originally the date was to be the first Tuesday in November - but this amended when it was realised that the 1792 act would also need to be amended because, in some years the first Tuesday in November would be outside the 34 day period."

Elections are being held today in

California 10th District - Special Election for House of Representatives seat.
New York 23rd District - Special Election for House of Representatives seat.
New Jersey - gubernatorial and General Assembly elections.
Virginia - gubernatorial and House of Delegates elections.

There are also gubernatorial and state legislature elections in the Northern Mariana Islands (a terrority) and numerous municipal elections throughout the USA.

I will of course, as ever, be watching the results in Fairfax County, Northern Virginia (from the UK - but I'll check online the following morning - I don't intend to stay up all night watching as I have in the past! - I have to be in Westminster early on Wednesday). You can see a sample ballot for Virginia's District 44 here.

Monday, 2 November 2009

John Bright MP

Just over 151 years ago (October 27th 1858) the new MP for Birmingham , John Bright made his first speech in a campaign for parliamentary reform. He sought to reduce “the fabric of privilege” by campaigning for the vote for all working men.

As G.M. Trevelyan noted: “That great audience swayed, like a cornfield beneath the wind, under the gusts of cheering and laughter that shook them as he spoke... And the magic that swayed them was not some hard appeal to the lower part of their nature, but drew its compelling virtue from the simplest invocation of moral principles in words which survive the speaker as part of the wealth of our mother tongue. No class ever had nobler teaching than the working men of this island during the years while Bright was their champion.”

Bright’s belief in political freedom and reform inspired both Abraham Lincoln and Joseph Chamberlain

Bill Cash, a Tory MP I agree with on hardly anything, save this, made these points (edited - I have removed the europhobic comments with which his comments are usually laden)

So if Bright were alive today what would he be fighting for? His absolute priority would be to restore respect and authority to the Commons. The man who coined the phrase “the Mother of Parliaments” believed that the most precious thing that a person possessed was the right to vote for the laws that governed him and his country. ...

Bright's first allegiance was to his conscience. He would have no truck with the modern whips system and the surrender of parliamentary business to the executive, nor the fixing of timetables to prevent debate....

... We need the spirit of John Bright to walk the corridors of Westminster again.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

The Carl Albert Center

The University of Oklahoma established the Center in 1979 in honour of one of its alumini, who was Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1971-77. At 5 feet 4 inches tall, Albert was often affectionately known as the "Little Giant from Little Dixie". On his way to that top job he was House Majority Whip (1955-62) and Majority Leader (1962-71).

The archives at the center contain a number of important collections - including those of Helen Gahagan Douglas (a liberal who was the first victim of a Nixon smear campaign); Senator Robert S Kerr; Senator Fred Harris (Harris' run for the Presidency in 1976 had at least two unusual features. For one, in order to keep expenses down, he traveled the country in a RV and stayed in private homes, giving his hosts a card which was to be redeemable for one night's stay in the White House upon his election. For another, he placed unusual stress on issues affecting the working class.) and Dick Armey (House Majority Leader 1995-2003). A link to the archives can be found here.

The Center produces a journal which can be accessed online called Extensions. It has included a number of interesting articles.

The Center's website is http://www.ou.edu/carlalbertcenter/