Thursday, 30 June 2011

The most significant President?

One of our "Washminster community" posed the following question - "who do you consider to be the most significant US President post WW2?" (full comment here)

What an interesting question - and I'll happily publish any comments that you might make. Our original contributor wrote "Personally I think Nixon is very significant - a man who was in many respects a successful president, but unfortunately isn't always regarded in this manner. .. Whilst being significant at the time, was Watergate really as big a presidential faux-pas as historians would like us to believe in the light of more recent political scandals and failure - I think not."

I have to say I find Nixon endlessly fascinating. I probably agree that "Watergate" is actually one of the lesser criticisms that can be made of the man. I'm currently looking at the other conflicts he had with Congress - over impoundment (where Congress authorised certain expenditure and voted to appropriate it - but Nixon refused to comply with the decision of the legislative branch) and over War Powers (back yet again!). These are serious constitutional issues - about the proper roles of the Executive and the Legislative branches - and of course there were his claims about the extent of Executive Privilege.

LBJ was another fascinating President - I have to say, I don't think I could have stomached him personally, but he certainly got things done!

I'll return to the question soon - but in the meantime - do let me have YOUR comments

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Redistricting - English Style

The process of redistricting has begun in the United Kingdom, though it is referred to as a "Boundary Review". The Boundary Commission for England has produced a 30 page document which explains the process - and the way that it will be approached in the next few months.

If you are in the USA, you might this interesting as a comparison to the process being undertaken in your State. In the UK we have separate Boundary Commissions for each of the four nations in the United Kingdom - England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. However they are required to work using the same principles - the key one being that elected politicians are kept at arms length. The Commissions are non-partisan - and it is not allowed to work for the Commission, let alone be a Commissioner, if you have had any partisan political involvement in recent years.

If you are in England - then this is a guide to how the process which will determine the makeup of our next few Parliaments will operate. I know friends who will be reading this document VERY CAREFULLY. I have read it, but am no longer chairing a local Labour Party committee which has been considering the Milton Keynes approach to the process.

The Boundary Commission for England's Guide to the Review is available here.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Law in the Commons

This week MPs will be thinking about the law!
Tuesday -
Oral Questions : Ministry of Justice, including Topical Questions
then a 10 Minute Rule Bill on Bail.
10.30am  Fourth Delegated Legislation Committee
Subject: Draft Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 (Commencement No. 3) Order 2011 and the draft Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 (Amendment) Order 2011
Location: Committee Room 10, Palace of Westminster
10.30amFifth Delegated Legislation Committee
Subject: Draft Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007 (Extension of duration of non-jury trial provisions) Order 2011
Location: Committee Room 11, Palace of Westminster
& 4pm
Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Bill Committee
Subject: to consider the Bill
Location: Committee Room 12, Palace of Westminster
Wednesday - Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill - Second reading


10am Political and Constitutional Reform
Subject: The prospects for codifying—or not codifying—the UK Constitution
Witness(es): Rt Hon Tony Benn and Richard Gordon QC
Location: The Wilson Room, Portcullis House
& 4pm
Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Bill Committee
Subject: to consider the Bill
Location: Committee Room 12, Palace of Westminster

Monday, 27 June 2011

The Truth about McDonald's hot coffee....

I republish this article written by Gerald R Shargel which was published on the Daily Beast. I commend it to all my law students - and to anyone who is concerned that debate is being manipulated by those who have their own agenda -

Scalding Takedown on Tort Reform

A new documentary about the McDonald’s ‘hot coffee’ lawsuit takes aim at corporations and conservatives seeking to restrict liability in the name of tort reform.

Hot Coffee, a documentary by first-time filmmaker Susan Saladoff, is sure to stir (pun intended) the decades-old debate about limiting money judgments in civil cases. The title of the film stems from the widely-reported and commonly-mocked $2.9 million jury verdict awarded in 1994 to Stella Liebeck, an 81-year-old woman who claimed that she was injured because McDonald’s served its coffee too hot. In some circles, the McDonald’s coffee case became the paradigm of frivolous lawsuits brought by greedy plaintiffs and greedier trial lawyers who were unfairly affecting the profit margin of model corporate citizens. Saladoff sees things differently. In this informative, persuasive documentary, she sets out to prove the harsh unfairness of the relentless conservative campaign to dilute or diminish the 7th Amendment right to a jury trial in civil cases, all in the name of “tort reform.”

To demonstrate that the McDonald’s case was actually not frivolous at all, she carefully and cleverly debunks the myths, false accounts and misperceptions that surround the infamous coffee spill. At first, her “man on the street” interviews produced the expected result: the McDonald’s case was shameful, and emblematic of American greed and abuse of the court system. But then, with the very same people who were contemptuous of the lawsuit, Saladoff pulls out her ace: graphic, highly disturbing photos of the burns suffered by Lieback that cause the doubters to instantly change their minds about the merits of the lawsuit and conclude that the victim’s claims were well-founded.

Saladoff is no neutral, detached observer. Before turning to filmmaking, she was a plaintiff’s lawyer for 25 years, profiting from litigating civil tort claims. In light of that fact, you might argue that using shocking photographs to change the mind of an interview subject was a trial lawyer’s sleight of hand. The photographs show the horrific injuries suffered as a result of the spill, but they don’t tell the whole story. In the eyes of many, there remains the question of whether McDonald’s should have been found responsible or held liable for those burns. Although the McDonald’s jury found Lieback 20 percent responsible for her injuries, questions linger about acceptance of responsibility for one’s own actions—Lieback was struggling to get the top off a recently purchased container of coffee while sitting in a parked car, balancing the coffee between her legs.

Saladoff admits that she made the film to advance her anti-tort reform point of view. And with this perspective, she takes Michael Moore-ish aim at those who lobby for tort reform, those who seek to limit access to the courts or the dollar amount a jury can award, no matter how catastrophic the injury. File footage draws the cultural divide. President George W. Bush, in his familiar awkward syntax, speaks out in favor of tort reform with Karl Rove literally and figuratively at his side. Corporations that fund the lobbyists who promote tort reform are the bane of liberal existence: Halliburton, Pfizer, Dow Chemical, and Philip Morris, to name just a few. On the other side of the chasm, Hot Coffee includes a parade of trial lawyers, public interest lawyers and lobbyists who oppose tort reformers stealth efforts to compromise the rights of aggrieved parties.

In an interview earlier this year, Saladoff noted that corporations have spent enormous amounts of money to get their tort reform messages across and that few people understand the other side of the issue “until they’ve tried to access the system and discovered they can’t.” Saladoff illustrates this point with the case of Jamie Leigh Jones, who at age 19 took a job in Iraq with KBR, then a subsidiary of Halliburton. Although promised living quarters that would provide both privacy and security, Jones was housed in an all-male dormitory where, four days after her arrival, she was drugged and brutally gang-raped by KBR employees. Seeking to bring an action against her employer, Jones discovered that her employment contract contained a mandatory arbitration clause that prevented her from redressing her claims before a court and jury, a forum in which she would understandably place greater confidence.

Through the torturous stories of Jamie Leigh Jones and others, Saladoff shows with incandescent clarity that the unabashed aim of the “reformers” is to shield large corporations and medical professionals from being held accountable, allowing those who commit negligent or wrongful acts to escape meaningful responsibility.

“ Saladoff shows with incandescent clarity that the unabashed aim of the ‘reformers’ is to shield large corporations and medical professionals from being held accountable.” For years, conservative proponents of tort reform have argued that unlimited money judgments, both compensatory and punitive, are tearing at the fabric of American society—retarding corporate growth or discouraging those who may wish to become doctors. The tautological blame always comes back to the claim that frivolous or even fraudulent lawsuits are commonplace.

Hot Coffee includes historical footage of President Reagan calling for tort reform, isolating the case of an unidentified man who was struck by a drunk driver and seriously injured while on a roadside call in a Los Angeles phone booth. Reagan humorously reports to his audience that, “you may be startled to hear” that the victim not only sued the driver, as expected, but an action was also brought against the telephone company, as if to suggest that a lawsuit against the telephone company was preposterous. Saladoff follows the Reagan clip with the facts: The telephone booth was erected too close to the highway and had been hit by cars several times before, damaging the phone booth door, which was never properly repaired. The victim in the case lost his leg because the door to the booth was stuck closed, rendering it impossible to escape the oncoming car. The case against the telephone company was hardly frivolous.

While there may be no reliable data about the number of frivolous lawsuits filed each year, the civil justice system is largely self-regulating and the vast majority of frivolous lawsuits are weeded out early. The initial filtering process is the assessment of the case by lawyers who often take cases on a contingency basis, earning a fee only if there is a recovery; lawyers understandably will avoid a case where the claim is unlikely to succeed. Even after a jury verdict, a judge has the right to modify a jury’s damage award if the evidence does not support it. In Lieback’s hot coffee case against McDonald’s, the trial judge reduced the $2.7 million punitive damages verdict to $480,000, while compensatory damages were reduced from $200,000 to $160,000.
Tort claims serve the public good. More than simply compensating victims, meritorious lawsuits can force corporate or individual defendants to change or modify the behavior that caused the harm or injury. Hot Coffee lends a strong voice to those who favor fundamental fairness in redressing well-founded claims.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Open Learn

The Open University has a website dedicated to providing free online courses.  These cover a wide range of subjects - the full list of topics can be accessed here.

There are a number of courses relevant to politics and law - I'd encourage you to explore the full site, but here are a few that are of particular relevance to Washminster.

Parliament and the Law 
Foreign Policy under Obama

The meaning of crime
What is Europe?
Engendering citizenship

I must declare my own interest in the Open University. My parents both studied for their degrees in the first years of the University. I was given the privilege of growing up in a home where study in the evening (and in the very early morning - in the pre-video age, it was necessary to watch OU programmes at unearthly hours!) was normal. The OU programmes broadcast on TV also helped me in my studies. For the last 13 years I have been an Associate Lecturer, tutoring on the W200 and W201 Law courses. These are elements of the LL.B. Law Degree which is offered by the OU. I also teach on the Y166, "Starting with law" Openings course. As Walton Hall is just a short bus ride away - I sometimes make use of the excellent library there. Even at home - or while working elsewhere (even on a coach or train with wifi) - I have, as do all OU tutors and students, access to their online library.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Introducing Legislation

An article on the legislative process on the House of Representatives says -

"Any member in the House of Representatives may introduce a bill at any time while the House is in session by simply placing it in the “hopper” at the side of the Clerk's desk in the House Chamber. The sponsor's signature must appear on the bill. A public bill may have an unlimited number of co-sponsoring members. The bill is assigned its legislative number by the Clerk and referred to the appropriate committee by the Speaker, with the assistance of the Parliamentarian. The bill is then printed in its introduced form."

The "hopper" is attached to the side of the Clerk's desk -  The term derives from a funnel-shaped storage bin filled from the top and emptied from the bottom, which is often used to house grain or coal. The photograph above is of the hopper used between 1991 to 2003. See if you can spot the current hopper next time you watch the House live on C-SPAN

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The American Congress Reader

Last week I strongly recommended The Oxford Handbook of the American Congress. It is an invaluable 2011 update on research in specific areas concerning the US Congress. Each of the essays reviews recent developments and points out areas where research is needed.

That book now sits (though is pulled off the shelf frequently), next to my copy of The American Congress Reader, published by the Cambridge University Press. The editors are Steven S Smith, Jason M Roberts and Ryan J Vander Wielen. It brings together some of the most important texts on the US Congress by academics. Some are full articles which have been published in scholarly journals, whilst others are extracts from books. There are 42 separate contributions.

The structure of this book of readings is
I The American Congress: Modern Trends
II Representation and Lawmaking in Congress: The Constitutional and Historical Context
III Congressional Elections and Policy Alignments
IV Members, Goals, Resources & Strategies
V Parties and Leaders
VI The Standing Committees
VII The Rules of the Legislative Game
VIII The Floor and Voting
IX Congress and the President
X Congress and the Courts
XI Congress, Lobbyists, and Interest groups
XII Congress and Budget Politics
XI Further Readings on Congressional Politics

I used this book a lot in directing my thinking and reading - and still do. Obviously some areas are more relevant to my own particular research interests - but this is a book to keep picking up, and extending one's knowledge.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Cabinet in Exile

On my way to Aylesbury College, my bus stops at the bus stop pictured to the left. I normally don't take much notice of bus shelters, but one morning I noticed the sign attached.

The shelter had been paid for by the exiled President of Czechoslovakia. In these two obscure villages in the very heart of Buckinghamshire the cabinet of occupied Czechoslovakia had found refuge.

President Benes fled after the Nazi Government of Germany had forced his resignation in the wake of the Munich Agreement. He came first to London, then moved to Aston Abbotts, some of his staff moved to nearby Wingrave.

Monday, 20 June 2011

The Legislative Process at Westminster

On Saturday I looked at the US legislative process, highlighting the fact that the traditional description of the stages in the process may not necessarily reflect what really happens.

We haven't yet reached the stage when a British "Unorthodox Lawmaking" is necessary - but the study of the various Readings is merely the starting point.

But let's start with the traditional model. The parliamentary website has an excellent resource which goes through the various stages, illustrating them with video clips. This is accessible here. It makes the textbook description come alive!

There is an excellent series of podcasts from Oxford University about the process, called "Statute Law: Making Legislation" - it is available on iTunes U or it can be accessed here.

The Hansard Society has produced some excellent material on the legislative process.
Law in the Making contains a number of case studies - I strongly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in the legislative process - or a practical interest in getting bills changed before they are finally passed

There most recent large report on the legislative process, Making Better Law, looks at ways of improving the process.

It is worth spending some time exploring the parliamentary website - as details of bills - including the text and explanatory notes - can be found there.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

How Laws are Really Made

The legislative process in the US Congress is not quite as the "traditional how a bill becomes a law diagram" describes. Instead in recent years new practices have developed. Barbara Sinclair has documented these changes in her book "Unorthodox Lawmaking", which is about to come out in its fourth edition.

In the book examples are given of different procedures which have been substituted. There are also two books which describe in detail the process by which particular legislation made it to the statute book.

In 1973 Eric Redman's book "The Dance of Legislation" came out. It is an insider's account of how the National Health Service Bill (S 4106) was drafted and passed. The most recent edition includes a postscript written in 2001 reflecting on the changes inn practice.

A few years later Paul C Light wrote a similar book - this time dealing with the passage of the Department of Veterans Affairs Act in the late 1980s.

One of the best ways of improving understanding of the legislative process in the US Congress is to use the resources of C-SPAN. Details of key bills in Congress can be accessed here. C-SPAN 1 carries the live feed from the House of Representatives while C-SPAN 2 carries the live feed from the Senate. Archive material is available at C-SPAN Video Library.

Friday, 17 June 2011

The Oxford Handbook of the American Congress

It's rather expensive - but incredible value. This year the Oxford University Press has brought out "The Oxford Handbook of the American Congress". It is a hardback book, full of useful essays giving both an up to date summary of research in particular areas, plus some areas where research is needed.

Part I is an introduction by the two editors of the 900 page volume, Eric Schickler and Francis E Lee. Part II contains five essays on "Studying the Congress", looking at

Behavioral Approaches to the Study of Congress - Bruce Oppenheimer
Formal Approaches to the Study of Congress - Craig Volden & Alan E Wiseman
Measuring Legislative Preferences - Nolan McCarty
Interviewing and Direct Observational Studies of Congress - Ross K Baker
Historical Approaches to the Study of Congress - Ira Katznelson

If only the Handbook had been available when I was starting my Literature Review for my Ph.D! The essays are succinct, very informative, and idea-provoking.

Part III deals with Elections and related matters. Part IV deals with Representation and Responsiveness. Parts V to VI were of particular interest to me. Six essays, each averaging 20 pages, deal with Congressional Institutions and Procedures in Part V. Randall Strahan writes on Party leadership (I found this article to be expensive - I've subsequently ordered a couple of the books he summarises); C Lawrence Evans  describes developments in the study of Congressional Committees. Other articles deal with The Supermajority Senate (Gregory J Wawro); Managing Plenary Time (Gary W Cox and Mathew McCubbins); Congressional Reforms (E Scott Adler) and the Congressional Budget Process (John B Gilmour).

Part VI deals with Politics and Policymaking and Part VII Congressional Development. Part II is entitled "Congress and the Constitutional System" and the volume concludes with two essays by Giants of political science, Morris Fiorina and David Mayhew.

There is both a Name index and a Subject index. All the essays have extensive bibliographies. There isn't much room left in the 'library' within my office at home - and not as much money as I'd like in my bank balance - but this is a book that is well worth the space and the price.

You can buy the book using the link below -

Recess curtailed

Baroness Anelay of St Johns, the Government Chief Whip in the House of Lords announced yesterday -

"The House will return from the Summer Recess on Monday 3 October, not on Monday 10 October. That is a limited adjustment and I look to all sides of the House to achieve reasonable progress both before and after the summer to enable us to hold to the other dates already announced. Subject to the progress of business, we will still rise for the Summer Recess at the end of business on Wednesday, 20 July."

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Alan Turing

Alan Turing worked during the war at Bletchley Park - a short biography and details of the memorial at Beltchley Park can be found here.

The cententary site can be accessed here.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Lord Speaker

Baroness Hayman's five year term as Lord Speaker is about to come to an end. She announced in May that she would not seek re-election. The timetable for the election of her successor is -

23 June Candidatures to be registered (by 5pm).

27 June List of candidates published.

29 June Ballot papers sent to those requesting a postal vote.
13 July Voting from 10am to 8pm. Postal votes must be returned by 5pm.

18 July Result of the election reported to the House at the start of business.

1 September The new Lord Speaker takes office.

5 September The new Lord Speaker will sit on the Woolsack for the first time at the start of business.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Milton Keynes

This post's home is now Milton Keynes - though previously it was in Rugby (2007 to April 2009). As I mentioned yesterday it has also been written in the Palace of Westminster, Washington DC and various other places I have visited. Thanks to mobile technology some posts have even been written on a bus or train.

My home in Milton Keynes is in Britain's "New City". A little over 40 years ago the whole of this area was an obscure part of Buckinghamshire. There were four main towns - Wolverton, Stony Stratford, Bletchley and Newport Pagnell. Also there were a number of small, rural villages - of which one was called "Milton Keynes". I live in the parish of "Shenley Brook End" - once a village that was the wartime home of Alan Turing, the genius who was one of the codebreakers at Bletchley Park (which is very close to Bletchley Railway Station - a video of a visit former Congressman Bob Carr and I made to BP can be viewed here). My "estate" is called Furzton - but if the name conjures up images of dreary, uniform rows of terraced housing - you'd get a completely false idea. Like the rest of the grid area of Milton Keynes - the 'estates' have lots of variety and green areas. A particular attraction of Furzton is its lake. I walk round it most days. It is teeming with wildlife, particularly birds. Earlier this month I made this slideshow of my walk

The city has one large railway station - Milton Keynes Central - as well as smaller stations at Wolverton (which has just begun a major rebuilding) and Bletchley. A coachway close to the M1 Jnt 14 links MK to many cities across the UK.

The major employers in the city are listed here (note that Abbey National is now Santander). It is the home of the Open University - an incredible institution which has produced, and continues to provide first class opportunities for study. My parents both studied (at home in Walsall) through the OU, getting the chance for a degree which they were denied earlier in their lives. I grew up as a teenager in a study atmosphere where they followed their OU courses as I did my school studies. Both my wife and I are associate lecturers - and our daughter is about to start working at Walton Hall. As an academic I make extensive use of their online library - as well as frequently visiting the physical library. In line with their philosophy of being Open, many of their resources are available beyond the student community - much excellent material broadcast by the BBC is actually made with the OU - for example "Coast", and there is an extensive website called "Open Learn"

There is a lot more about the city at the MK Web site.

One word on terminology. Legal "city status" is granted by the Monarch by letters patent. (further details here). In that sense Milton Keynes is not a city. However, this represents a wholly outdated and inappropriate view of what makes a city. Milton Keynes is applying for "city status", an application that I think should be boycotted. Milton Keynes IS already a city - it is its citizens, the community who live in the area, who make it a city. It is not an "honour" to be granted by some un-elected individual who has her position not on merit or the free choice of her "subjects" (another term I have problems with - can I recommend Thomas Paine's excellent "Common Sense" on the absurdity of a hereditary Head of State).

So that's a little about the city in which I live - and one I am happy to remain in!

Monday, 13 June 2011


This is the 1500th post on Washminster - a blog which has been going since March 2007. Some of those posts are close-up eye witness accounts of events now part of history - such as the day in Westminster when Tony Blair handed over to Gordon Brown (You can relive the day starting here & then by pressing 'later posts'); or Obama's rally in Manassas on the eve of his election to the Presidency (videos can be viewed here). It has profiles of districts/constituencies for General Elections in both the UK and USA - as well as history series on Washington DC (August 2008) and the Westminster/Whitehall (August 2009) areas. There are pieces (including videos) of US Civil War battlefields - plus lots of material useful for studying law and politics. There are posts written at Westminster, in Washington, at party conferences describing what has been going on there and posts about conferences and seminars I have attended.

The search engine can be used for specific words - and the blog archive lists in date order every post (with direct links to). I hope that you will find this blog to be a useful resource for your needs.

I will be writing the 1501st post tomorrow - and hope to carry on long into the future.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Ouster Clauses

Sometimes language will be put in UK legislation to keep the Courts out of disputes involving the application of a statute. A typical clause will say that a determination "shall not be called in question in any court of  law."

This is what is refered to as an 'ouster clause'. As you might imagine, the Courts do not take kindly to such clauses.

The case of Anisminic v Foreign Compensation Commission dealt with an absolute ouster clause - and found a way around it. The statute granted powers to the body, the exercise of which could not be challenged in court. However where the body acted illegally, it was clearly acting outside the power granted by the Statute. That exercise of power, because it was outside the statute, was not subject to the limitation on review which applied when the statutory power is used. The full judgment can be read here.

Friday, 10 June 2011


There's been a lot said and written abot the ethics rules in the House of Representatives this week. The Rules and guidance can be found in two main places - The Rules of the House themselves, especially

XXIII.— Code of Official Conduct

XXIV.— Limitations on Use of Official Funds
XXV.— Limitations on Outside Earned Income and Acceptance of Gifts
XXVI.— Financial Disclosure
XXVII.— Disclosure by Members and Staff of Employment Negotiations
In addition there is a large House Ethics Manual (456 pages in pdf!). A summary guide can be found here. CRS have produced a number of reports, including
House Committee on Ethics: A Brief History of its evolution and jurisdiction

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Law in Action

The BBC legal series "Law in Action" is back. The next broadcast is at 8pm tonight when Joshua Rozenberg will take a detailed look at superinjunctions.

The Law in Action website can be accessed here. Next week the planned topics are "Inquests and public inquiries: and Joshua Rozenberg explores how the government's sentencing reforms will work in practice."

This is an excellent series - whether you are a law student, a politics student, or a citizen reflecting on the way the country is governed. It is possible to subscribe to the programme's podcasts.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011


is now available in web and mobile format.

As the summer approaches I am preparing a programme to expand Washminster - providing a greater number of posts and links to source documents. I'd appreciate any comments you have on the blog - on what you would like to see the blog cover - and suggestions for particular posts. Do let me know what you like about Washminster, and anything you don't like. It would be particularly useful if you'd say why you read the blog - and what you get from it.

Please send your comments to me - David Morgan, at jdavidmorgan@googlemail.com

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The value of PROPER scrutiny

You may recall that last year I drew attention to the frantic attempts of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committees to draw attention to the complete lack of scrutiny that was being allowed into the new Coalition's constitutional reforms. In particular they were concerned about the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. On 27th July the Chair wrote to Nick Clegg saying -

You wrote to me last week about the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, and the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill.

The bills were published on 22 July. Both are to receive their second reading in September. For the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, this gives my committee a grand total of two clear sitting days in which to consider and take evidence on the bill before second reading. The time that we have to scrutinise the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill is only marginally less inadequate.

Both bills are, as you say, "fundamental to this House and to our democracy". Contrast this with your approach to House of Lords reform, where a draft bill will be published before the end of the year, which will then be subject to full pre-legislative scrutiny by a joint select committee over several months before a bill is formally presented to Parliament. On what principle can you justify this different treatment of legislation affecting the two Houses?

The Leader of the House has told the Liaison Committee that your government remains committed to pre-legislative scrutiny, and that proper pre-legislative scrutiny requires at least twelve weeks. Even though these two bills clearly deserve this degree of proper pre-legislative scrutiny, I have made every effort to adjust the committee's schedule to meet the government's legislative timetable, and I have written to you twice, on 25 June and 6 July, to try to find a window, however small, within which some reasonable level of committee scrutiny of the government's bills could take place. I have had no reply to either of my letters.

Your legislative timetable has put me and my committee in an extremely difficult position. When the House agreed to establish the committee, it did so, in the words of the Deputy Leader of the House, "to ensure that the House is able to scrutinise the work of the Deputy Prime Minister". In the case of these two bills you have denied us any adequate opportunity to conduct this scrutiny.

The legislation was then rammed through the House of Commons - and attempts were made to indimidate Peers into speeding the process through in the Lords. Opposition - and Crossbench - Peers complained - but the Government pushed on. Again you may recall the Washminster posts in January and February.

The bill - now an Act of Parliament - was a compromise between the Conservatives - who wanted to slash the number of MPs - and the Lib-Dems who wanted a referendum on a change to the voting system. It was key to the coalition agreement.

So what did Nick Clegg gain for his party? The referendum was held - and lost, killing the chances of electoral reform for a generation or more. But now a study by Democrat Audit suggest that the results of the boundary review could be devastating for the Lib-Dems

The Guardian reports that the study suggests that "Labour would lose 17 seats (6.6% of their constituencies), the Tories 16 (5.2%) and the Liberal Democrats 14 (24.6%). The Tory lead over Labour would remain stubbornly unchanged but the Liberal Democrats fundamentally weakened."

The Guardian report from Monday can be accessed here - and the more detailed information from Democratic Audit can be found here.
FIRST LESSON IN LAWMAKING - legislation needs scrutiny. Rushing things through and curtailing proper consideration often backfires. Nick Clegg may have condemned his own party to an electoral disaster (and that's not taking into account the current unpopularity of the party) by being the Minister who rushed this ill-thought out piece of legislation through.

When will some politicians learn?

There are some excellent studies suggesting ways that the effectiveness and quality of legislation could be improved -

Hansard Society's "Making Better Law"
The Institution for Government's "Government by Explanation"
The Better Government Initiative "Good Government"

Monday, 6 June 2011

Course on Game Theory

On Saturday I posted about game theory in politics. On iTunes U there is a video course from Yale on the subject - which I have been working through over the weekend. It is an economics class - but counted at Yale as a Political Science course for those whose major was Poli Sci. It certainly used lots of examples relevant to politics.

The lectures are given by Ben Polak, Professor of Economics and Management.

I found the 24 lecture course on iTunes U, but it is also available here. On the Open Yale Courses website there are links to the lecture handouts and notes made on the blackboard.

The first lecture can be viewed below

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Game Theory in Politics

I am currently reading Bruce Bueno de Mesquita's book "Prediction" (ebook downloaded from Random House on my iPad). In this video he explains 'game theory' - and how it can be used to predict political behaviour.

In addition to being a Professor of Politics at New York University, he has been consulted by the US Government.

I found this presentation, and the book, to be engaging - which is quite an achievement - as much of the literature on Game Theory looks too mathematical to be attractive to me. I think after this I might try dipping into the maths a little!

Friday, 3 June 2011

Politics in America

I have been buying CQ's "Politics in America" since the start of this century. It's a VERY useful guide to Members of the House and Senate and their districts.

I understand that the 2012 edition has now been sent to the printers. For further information about publication date and costs in the USA contact CQ Press at http://www.cqpress.com/product/pia2012.html.

In the UK Sage will be publishing in August at a price of £58. Further details at http://www.uk.sagepub.com/iPad.sp

Thursday, 2 June 2011

All off on holiday?

Neither the House of Commons nor the Lords are sitting this week, but does that mean Westminster is deserted? Far from it, a tweet from Laura Kuenssberg (Chief Political Correspondent for the BBC News Channel) yesterday noted how many MPs were around in Portcullis House despite being in the middle of recess. There is a myth that MPs have long holidays - and so work less than 'ordinary folks' (one version of this myth points out that on Mondays and Tuesdays they don't start work until 2.30 in the afternoon - and now go home 'early' the rest of the week). The reality is of course very different.

So what do MPs (and for that matter, Peers) do with their time? There are lots of meetings - with constituents (nowadays most MPs have regular and frequent 'surgeries' in their districts - as well as meeting constituents who have come down to Westminster; with experts; with lobbyists (all claiming to be working for the interests of a Member's constituents); with Ministers - most MPs have pretty full diaries! There are interviews to give to local (and if the MP is known nationally, or a spokesperson on a national issue) national and even international) media.Working at Westminster, I would often see members arriving, or even going off to their first meetings around 7.00. A couple of days a week there may be votes at 10pm - as well as the Select Committees, Public Bill Committees; All Party Parliamentary Groups and so on...

There's a game aimed at young people that takes them through some the activities that MPs that MPs engage in. Have a go here.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011


It is a principle of Administrative Law in the UK that only the person or body given the power to make a decision, can take that decision. Where it is passed on to someone else, the decision can be challenged on the grounds of "unlawful delegation".

One example of this would be where a committee is given a statutory power to make a decision, but appoints an advisory committee or an individual to make recommendations. That in itself is fine. The problem arises if the committee merely rubber stamps the recommendation. There needs to be evidence that they have considered the recommendation - and come to a decision themselves that the recommendation merits being adopted.

One "exception" to the rule is that a senior civil servant can make decisions on behalf of the Minister. This was established in the Carltona Ltd v Commissioners of Works case. [1943] 2 All ER 560. Martin Stanley in his note "How to be a Civil Servant" explains "It is essential to note at the outset that a person exercising a power for and on behalf of another does so as the ‘agent’ or ‘alter ego’ of the person in whom the power is vested. That is, the act of the authorised person is, at law, the act of the person in whom the power is vested. This is fundamentally different to the act of a delegate which, at law, is the delegate’s and not the delegator’s act."