I've been a lecturer on EU Law for the last quarter of a century (I've also taught European Politics, been an assistant to a Member of the European Parliament, and dealt with EU institutions as an assistant in the UK Parliament and in my own political work). There are a lot of misconceptions about what the EU does - and how it does it. It is that widespread lack of knowledge amongst British citizens that was the necessary foundation for the Brexit result. Much misinformation has been spread - and I'm glad to hear that Wikipedia has evaluated thre Daily Mail - and found it to be a wholly unreliable source.
So where does one go to find out accurate information?.
At an academic level - there are some excellent textbooks - these two are my personal favourites.
These can be expensive - and are, by nature, complex. There is a lot of FREE information available.
A free booklet from the European Parliament is well set out & VERY informative. It was produced in 2013, so information about the results of the 2014 election (which led to the current party makeup in the EP) are not included. It is available here.
- membership (currently 28 members) - in the media the EU (and its institutions, especially the Court) is often confused with the European Convention on Human Rights. That is part of the Council of Europe - a wholly distinct organisation with almost double the number of members.
- the key institutions. Each have their own role - and personnel. The European Commission is the Executive. Despite false assertions in certain parts of the media - it is not an all-powerful body. It may propose legislation - but the Council of Ministers and European Parliament must pass that legislation. Its members are nominated by the (elected) governments of the member states. Before appointment the European Parliament holds hearings, and individual commissioners regularly appear the Parliament. The Council of Ministers is made of government ministers from each member state. (When Heads of Government/State meet - it is called the European Council, and together the democratically elected leaders of the 28 states set the agenda for the EU). The European Parliament is directly elected every five years. The Court of Justice of the EU is responsible for upholding the legal rules of the EU (interpreting and applying EU Law - and providing legal review of the acts of the institutions).
I subscribe to daily emails from 'Politico' (an American political-journalism company based in Arlington County, Virginia, that covers politics and policy in the United States and internationally.) Politico, European Edition Brexit
If your interest lies in following what is done in the UK Parliament - this is my guide to useful resources -
As with Congress, original resources from Parliament are the best way to follow activities, without the filters that the media put on. [I am NOT criticising the Media - their job is to take the raw material to present it to the public in a manageable form, and to explain what is happening - and I am a BIG user of the media myself!]
A snapshot of forthcoming business can be found here. We are currently on a short recess.
As I suggested in my previous post on Congress, the best way to discover the vast amount of available information is to explore the website tab by tab. Parliamentary Business is subdivided into sections on each House (Commons : Lords) ; What's On; Bills & Legislation (from this and previous Parliaments); Committees, Publications and Records and ParliamentTV - which provides live feeds (and recordings) of proceedings in the Chambers and committees.
The Links that I find most useful to use are -
1 To see what is coming up.
Commons Business Papers - If you click on 'Summary Agenda and Order of Business' (I have not linked - as it changes for each specific sitting day) - you can select 'Order Paper' [as a PDF, my preferred option - or you can choose a webpage with links to the various parts]. The PDF gives a summary of business and approximate timings. On subsequent pages there is much more detail - such as the questions set down for Question Time; subjects and relevant motions for the main part of the day; and the subject of the daily adjournment debate. If Westminster Hall is being used - details of the debates there are listed. Committee meetings - their location and subject (and witnesses) are listed. Future business is also listed.
Lords Business Papers - Click on 'House of Lords Business'. Again there is a choice of a webpage or a PDF. The style is very different - and the key things to read are the text of the 4 oral questions; and Business of the House (for that date). Future business is also set out. Many a Washminster post has been planned as a result of reading through this document (green in the printed edition). This is followed by a list of motions - which may or not be taken (most will be balloted for). There are also notice of Questions for Written Answer - the answers will eventually appear in the Lords Hansard. (I also like the practice of shaming Government Departments who have failed to give a response within 10 working days - the list follows the Written Questions). Bills in Progress (and their type) are listed on a subsequent page. Secondary legislation in the pipeline is also listed. Details of upcoming committee meetings are set out - and 'Minutes of Proceedings' of the previous meeting of the House are recorded. Finally papers and secondary legislation published since the last edition of the Business papers are listed. Peers can collect them from an office near the chamber, but they are generally available to the rest of us on other websites. I will post about accessing these in a future post.
2 To read what has been said
Hansard is the record of what is said in the Chambers (and also Westminster Hall [Commons] and the Moses Room [Committee stages of bills held out of the Lords Chamber]).
For newer readers of Washminster - a short guide to following events in Congress.
The best resources come from the Houses and Senate themselves.
House of Representatives
The website can be found at http://www.house.gov There is lots of background information. Click on the tabs underneath the main header
- Members of the House [Representatives] - the district (UK - constituency); name; party; Office - do see the 'Key to Room Codes' on that page - and in future posts I will give some of the background to each of the Office Buildings); Telephone number; and the Committees that each member sits on. This page can be listed alphabetically either by State or by Members' last name.
- Leadership - Names (with pictures) of the leadership of each of the two parties. Currently the Republicans (also referred to sometimes as the G.O.P.) are the Majority, and the Democrats are the Minority.
- Committees - these are the powerful workhorses of the House. Woodrow Wilson (when writing as a scholar, before he became President) wrote that "The House sits, not for serious discussion, but to sanction the conclusions of its committees as rapidly as possible. It legislates in its committee rooms...". They are much more powerful than Westminster committees - although the power of the Leadership (the Speaker) has greatly increased in recent decades.
- A list of Senators, with key information about each. It also tells you which 'class' they are - this tells you when they are up for re-election. Class 1 Senators are up for re-election in November 2018.
Other red tabs take you to information about the Seanate's history; the art it contains; advice on visiting the Senate; and other reference material.
The Senate website is compact - so worth exploring the various links on the site - because there is a host of information to be uncovered.
To watch Congress - C-SPAN is the place to head to. Again it is a website worth exploring. As well as live streams from the House and Senate - there is a vast, searchable, video library. This not only covers proceedings within Congress - but programmes about history, the courts, and political issues. I hope to produce a post shortly just on C-SPAN.
Congress has three main newspapers devoted to it - and they each have websites. You can subscribe to newsletters and alerts from each of them. They are
To follow the debate on the European Union (Notice of Withdrawal) Bill (or ANY bill) in the House of Lords, you need to equip yourself with the version of the bill that the Lords will be using.
A quick word of caution here - a Bill goes through a number of printings; after any amendments have been made - and when it comes up to the Lords from the Commons. Helpfully, on the website - the 'latest bill' is always highlighted.
Amendments, if passed, would amend the text of that version of the bill. So you need to look at the wording of the amendment, to see what it would do.
Amendments tabled in the House of Lords [Note for my American readers - tabled in the UK Parliament is the OPPOSITE of 'tabling' in Congress. Tabling in the USA is the term used for killing off a bill or an amendment (by throwing it under the table). In the UK tabling means putting on the table. So in the UK "I am tabling an amendment means - "I am putting an amendment down for discussion"] are numbered then printed. You can access the amendments here. These amendment papers are the second (set) of documents needed.
Some amendments would ADD words to a bill - as for example Lord Lea of Crondall's Amendment to Clause 1 -
LORD LEA OF CRONDALL
Page 1, line 3, at end insert “while retaining membership of the European Economic
On the pdf version of the bill, you'll see the page number at the top.
Page 1, as you can see is numbered, but is not the first page of the whole document.
Not every line is numbered, in fact only lines 5, 10, 15 etc have the number printed on them. So a bit of basic maths is needed to find line 3. (Go to line 5 - go up two lines - and you have line 3)
so if Lord Lea's amendment was passed the bill would read
(1) The Prime Minister may notify, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European
Union, the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU while retaining membership of the European Economic Area (EEA)
A more complex amendment - which still is a simple "insert" is
LORD KERSLAKE Page 1, line 3, at end insert— “( ) No agreement with the European Union consequent on the use of the power under subsection (1) may be ratified unless a full report has been produced by Her Majesty's Government on the implications of that agreement for— (a) the future of the United Kingdom, and (b) the economic, social and political relations of the United Kingdom with the Republic of Ireland; and each House of Parliament has had an opportunity to consider this report.”
The effect of this amendment passing (as well as adding these words) would require that a specific report MUST be produced by the Government before any negotiated deal could be ratified.
A whole new clause could be added - (if the bill becomes an act it would be known as a 'section'), as with this amendment
After Clause 1 BARONESS HAYTER OF KENTISH TOWN LORD LENNIE LORD HANNAY OF CHISWICK Insert the following new Clause— “Parliamentary approval for agreements with the European Union (1) No Minister of the Crown may conclude an agreement with any institution of the European Union regarding the withdrawal of the United Kingdom under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union until— (a) the Government has laid a copy of the final draft of the agreement before each House of Parliament, and (b) each House of Parliament has passed a resolution approving the final draft of the agreement. (2) The requirements under paragraphs (a) and (b) must also be met where a Minister of the Crown proposes to conclude any separate agreement with the European Union pertaining to the future political and economic relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
(3) In the case of a proposed agreement setting out the arrangements for the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, the resolution under subsection (1) must have been passed by each House of Parliament before the proposed terms are agreed with the Commission, with a view to their approval by the European Parliament.”
All of the current amendments seek to add to the provisions in the bill. (It is such a short bill, that removing words or clauses - at this stage is near impossible. But should any of amendments be passed, we would expect amendments at later stages, particularly at "Ping-pong" stage - to take words or clauses out.)
"Leave out" is the key phrase to remove words in a clause, or the clause itself - as in
Page 2, line 10, leave out subsection (1)
Page 2, line 10, leave out “, or the Director (or his deputy),”
Page 2, leave out line 10
"Leave out..... and insert" is the wording to remove and replace by new wording.
Page 1, line 10, leave out “may” and insert “shall”
The effect of that would be to turn a power to do something into a duty!
*** All these points relate to amending the Act itself. That will start at the Committee Stage. But first, 2nd Reading must be held. That will be on the MOTION "that the bill be now read a second time." Such a motion can be amended or rejected. (Both are very rare).
The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill has been passed by the House of Commons (the language can be a bit confusing - each House passes a Bill by completing 1R, 2R, Committee Stage, Report Stage (only if amendments made in committee) and 3R); if there are any differences between the 'bills' passed - "Ping-pong" takes place - and when the two Houses have agreed on the same text - the bill goes to the Queen for Royal Assent. That is what most people think of when they say a bill has been passed.)
The bill was taken up to the Lords on Wednesday - where it had its first reading. This was a pure formality. The 2nd Reading debate starts on 20th February (both Houses have a short recess).
If you are a long-time reader of the Washminster post, you'll know that I have a love of jazz. One of the attractions of living in Milton Keynes is The Stables - a venue set up by Johnny Dankworth and Cleo Laine. Last night I treated myself to a visit - to see 'Charlie Parker On Dial'
In 1946 and 1947 Parker made a number of recordings on the Dial Label. The evening involved Alex Webb (who was also on the piano) giving us the background to those recordings. The band were good - with Nathaniel Facey on the alto sax and Steve Fishwick on trumpet. There were some superb vocals from Vimala Rowe. I recommend the show.
Alex finished by recommending that the audience listen to the original recordings - I will be getting out my "Bird" CDs!
There's more jazz coming up at the Stables. Next Sunday the Georgina Jackson Quartet are playing at the "Sunday Sessions" which kick off at 11.30am. On Sunday 18th, there is an evening dedicated to Tubby Hayes. The first half will see a screening of a film about Hayes - the second well see the Simon Spillett Quartet play some of the music associated with him.
When I was teaching Law to undergraduates in Northampton, I would regularly take small groups of my students for unofficial tours of Westminster. Part of the day involved sitting in the hearings of the Law Lords. It was both interesting and informative - and a useful introduction for aspirant lawyers to legal argument. We even got to see both argument and the decision in Pepper v Hart.
Sadly, I no longer have the opportunity (the time) to listen to hearings before the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. However, since the 1990s we have the internet - and hearings can be viewed on the Supreme Court website - though in recent years I've relied on reading the decisions - rather than viewing the hearings.
However a friend asked whether I had watched this weeks hearing in the Isle of Wight v Platt case. I hadn't, but took the opportunity to watch (some) of the hearing. It's a wonderful resource for anyone wishing to understand how legal argument is conducted, especially when it is a matter of statutory interpretation.
The case concerns the legal duty of a parent to ensure that their child attend school regularly. In this case the parent fulfilled that duty well - except that they withdrew their child from school for a few days in order to take the child on holiday. They were fined - but never paid. The case looks at what the legislation means in practice.
The Justices are now considering their decision - keep an eye on the Supreme Court website, and once the decision iOS delivered, the full law report will be available.
If I were still teaching, I would use this case to illustrate legal argument; and how statutory interpretation is undertaken. At one point one of the justices identifies what he thought the ratio decidendi of an earlier case and invites the lawyer to respond. If you are studying law this case is worth watching.
Le Monde has published this short video (in French) which may be of great interest if you are following the French Presidential Elections. To date - Marine Le Pen and François Fillon are facing investigations. The Parti socialiste has chosen Benoît Hamon - and some PS deputés are threatening to quit the party.
Macron is doing well in the polls - this video suggests some reasons
1 He has positioned himself outside the main political parties parties (as, if not more, unpopular than the parties in other countries) - and established his own movement 'En marche!
2 He has successfully distanced himself from the unpopular legacy of François Hollande
3 He is running an American-style campaign
4 He has developed his international credibility
5 He has not yet revealed too much detail about his policies - so hasn't suffered the detailed criticism that would follow closer analysis.
I've always been passionate about Parliament. It has been my main interest in research and teaching. I love to watch the debates, and particularly the activities in the Select Committees. I've fought two parliamentary elections as a candidate, and worked in the Palace of Westminster - both on a voluntary and (low) paid basis. The history of Parliament inspires me - and I maintain the highest regard for the institution and many of its members and staff - who work long hours, often doing work for which they get no thanks - and which poorly rewards skills that they have chosen to use in the service of others when they could have been much better rewarded elsewhere.
But I'm rather sad today. I fear that tonight will be one of the House of Common's low points. It has had its high points - it has stood up to tyrants; established rights that we should cherish; created institutions which have served the people well; - most of all it has been the scene of many significant victories in the march towards liberty for all.
Yet tonight - despite having had the principle of parliamentary sovereignty upheld only a few days ago in the Supreme Court - it will probably hand the Executive a blank cheque.
Don't underestimate the significance of the Second Reading of a bill. It is the point at which the House gives its approval in principle to a legislative measure that has been proposed to it. After ceding the agreement in principle, it can make amendments to the details - but the principle has been adopted.
We had hoped that before the House of Commons did that a White Paper would have been produced - so that the Members of the House could see where the Executive was going with the power the House was about to give it. Well - and this adds insult to injury - it will NOT be published until the House has voted to cede power to the Executive.
The Bill is short - it is the worst kind of enabling bill - this is what a blank cheque looks like in parliamentary language.
Be it enacted by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:— 1 Power to notify withdrawal from the EU (1) The Prime Minister may notify, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU. (2) This section has effect despite any provision made by or under the European Communities Act 1972 or any other enactment. 2 Short title This Act may be cited as the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017. Good legislation, when granting powers, should state any restrictions that Parliament thinks necessary, any requirements for reporting back or when parliament should be consulted when the power is used. There are none here.
I hope I'm wrong. But within hours the House and its members will decide. Your member of Parliament owes a duty to you. Edmund Burke.
"I am sorry I cannot conclude without saying a word on a topic touched upon by my worthy colleague. I wish that topic had been passed by at a time when I have so little leisure to discuss it. But since he has thought proper to throw it out, I owe you a clear explanation of my poor sentiments on that subject. He tells you that "the topic of instructions has occasioned much altercation and uneasiness in this city;" and he expresses himself (if I understand him rightly) in favour of the coercive authority of such instructions. Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion. My worthy colleague says, his will ought to be subservient to yours. If that be all, the thing is innocent. If government were a matter of will upon any side, yours, without question, ought to be superior. But government and legislation are matters of reason and judgment, and not of inclination; and what sort of reason is that, in which the determination precedes the discussion; in which one set of men deliberate, and another decide; and where those who form the conclusion are perhaps three hundred miles distant from those who hear the arguments? To deliver an opinion, is the right of all men; that of constituents is a weighty and respectable opinion, which a representative ought always to rejoice to hear; and which he ought always most seriously to consider. But authoritative instructions; mandates issued, which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgment and conscience,--these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our constitution. Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament. If the local constituent should have an interest, or should form an hasty opinion, evidently opposite to the real good of the rest of the community, the member for that place ought to be as far, as any other, from any endeavour to give it effect. I beg pardon for saying so much on this subject. I have been unwillingly drawn into it; but I shall ever use a respectful frankness of communication with you. Your faithful friend, your devoted servant, I shall be to the end of my life: a flatterer you do not wish for." Some will say that the Referendum result gags MPs today. But declining a Second Reading to this bill - is NOT a rejection of that result. This bill, if passed, will cede the right to oversee our departure from the European Union from Parliament to the Executive. If you feel strongly about this - then contact your MP straight away. If you don't know who your MP is - then this LINKtakes you to a page that will help you find him or her.
An experienced lecturer, tutor & researcher with practical experience of working in the UK and European Parliaments.
I have a keen academic and practical interest in the workings of both the UK Parliament and the US Congress.
Over the years I have broadcast on both UK & US Politics for BBC local radio stations.