Friday, 14 December 2007

House of Lords

Since the start of the new session I have been keeping a record of each day's business in the House of Lords. It is in the format of a blog. There may be a few days delay occasionally in the appearance of a report - because I need to use Hansard to compile it - which is easier on Tuesday through Thursdays.

Washminster will be taking a break and returning on January 2nd. Merry Christmas!

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Political Funding - A Blast from the past

The Chief Whip in the House of Commons was also once known as the Patronage Secretary. For many years the Chief Whip had charge of money paid from the Consolidated Fund for 'secret service'. No account of the monies was required. It originally began as a fund to use at critical times to purchase confidential information respecting intrigues or enterprises hostile to England.

In the Nineteenth Century the money was used to cover the routine expenses of the Chief Whip's office. A sum of £10,000 was paid to the Patronage Secretary in four quarterly payments. Sometimes all the money was used, more often a huge surplus was allowed to accumulate. There were accusations that the Liberal Chief Whip, Arnold Morley, had used the fund to pay election expenses of some of the candidates in the 1886 General Election.

As a result of the row, the incoming Tory administration abolished 'secret service money'

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Grand Committee

The Committee Stage of a bill in the House of Lords can either be taken on the floor of the House, or in "Grand Committee". Unlike the House of Commons there are no 'Public Bill Committees' and most bills are dealt with in the chamber.

The Companion to the Standing Orders says "A Grand Committee is a committee of unlimited membership. Any member of the House may participate in it. Only one Grand Committee sits on any one day. The place of meeting is usually the Moses Room." While amendments are discussed in Grand Committee, they are never voted on. A contentious amendment will be withdrawn after debate, to be re-introduced - and voted on - at Report Stage.
This week the Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Bill was considered in Grand Committee. The first day can be seen at http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/VideoPlayer.aspx?meetingId=633

and day two at http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/VideoPlayer.aspx?meetingId=634 . The third day has yet to be fixed.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

European Affairs

This afternoon in the House of Commons the matter for debate will be 'European Affairs'. There are regular debates - usually held before a summit. This week is particularly busy within the European institutions. The Treaty of Lisbon will be signed on Thursday (in Lisbon, Portugal) and the European Council (the summit of EU Heads of Government) will meet on Friday in Brussels. A plenary session of the European Parliament is also being held this week in Strasbourg.

The final text of the Treaty of Lisbon is available at

Monday, 10 December 2007

Second City

This blog normally deals with events and practices in the two capitals - Washington and London (although Westminster is a separate city from the City of London). Yet the capitals are very different from the rest of the country.

Yesterday I spent the day in Birmingham, Britain's second city. I grew up just outside Birmingham (born Coventry, lived in Walsall from the age of 7 until I went to Sheffield University and my parents still live there). The city itself has a population of just over one million persons and is at the heart of the West Midlands conurbation which has over two million. Birmingham rose to importance during the industrial revolution. President Clinton visited in 1998 when the G8 summit was held there.

The city has been transformed in recent years. The new vibrancy was evident yesterday. The centre was packed with Christmas shoppers, and a huge Christmas market spread across the central area. http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/frankfurtmarket.bcc. In the early evening we made our way through the International Convention Centre (where the symphony hall is http://www.thsh.co.uk/page/symphony-hall-birmingham/) to the canals. These were once in a very run down area but now are the jewel in Birmingham's crown. We saw the Canal Boat Light Parade - a fantastic Christmas occasion.

Birmingham has its own council http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

The Week Ahead

As Christmas approaches, all Houses are very busy. As well as business there are numerous social events.

House of Commons

  • MONDAY - 2nd Reading of the Planning Bill
  • TUESDAY - Debate on European Affairs
  • WEDNESDAY - Opposition Day (Debates chose by Liberal Democrats) (1) Northern Rock (2) The Military Covenant
  • THURSDAY - Topical Debate followed by remaining stages of the Crossrail Bill

House of Lords

  • MONDAY - Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill - Committee (day 3); Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Bill Grand Committee (day1)
  • TUESDAY - Climate Change Bill Committee ; Climate Change Bill Committee (day 2)
  • WEDNESDAY - Consolidated Fund Bill 2nd Reading; Human Fertilisation & Embryology Bill - Committee (final day); Debate on the Report of the European Union Committee on European Wine: A Better Deal for All; Local Transport Bill Grand Committee (day 2)
  • THURSDAY - Debates on conflict in Africa; and the Severn Barrage FRIDAY - Private Members Bills
House of Representatives
  • MONDAY - Pro forma Session
  • TUESDAY - 22 suspensions bills and H.R. 2764 - Foreign Operations Appropriations/Consolidated Appropriations bill (Rep. Obey – Appropriations)
  • WEDNESDAY ONWARDS - Conference Report on H.R. 2082 - Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (Rep. Reyes – Intelligence); Conference Report on H.R. 1585 - National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (Rep. Skelton – Armed Services) Senate amendments to the bill (H.R. 2761 ) – Terrorism Risk Insurance Revision and Extension Act of 2007 (Rep. Frank – Financial Services) (Subject to a Rule)

  • The week will begin with consideration of the Farm Bill

Friday, 7 December 2007

New Republican lineup

As a consequence of Trent Lott's resignation, a new lineup has been elected for the Republican party in the Senate. The new Whip will be Senator Jon Kyl. Senator Kyl had been Conference Chairman.

Jon Kyl was a member of the House of Representatives from 1987 to 1995, when he became a Senator. He is considered to be a staunch conservative andwas ranked by the National Journal as the fourth-most conservative United States Senator in their March 2007 conservative/liberal rankings .

Kyl released the following statement after the vote: “I am honored that my colleagues have placed their confidence in me to serve as the new Assistant Republican Leader. Trent Lott is a dear friend of mine, and although no one will be able to fill his shoes, I have learned a great deal from his leadership and hope to continue in that spirit. I look forward to working with the Republican Leader and the entire conference to meet the significant challenges we will face in the coming year.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) is the new Conference Chairman. He fought off a challenge from Sen. Richard Burr to win by 31-16.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

More on Party Funding

Peter Kenyon has recommended reading information posted at

I noticed that the issue has also been under discussion at the European Parliament. reported that "MEPs have agreed (November 29th) on reform of European political party financing and the setting up of party-affiliated political foundations, paving the way for political campaigns designed to boost voter turnout ahead of the 2009 elections."

There was quite an ugly debate in the House of Commons debate yesterday. Much mud was slung! The debate can be read at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmhansrd/cm071204/debtext/71204-0005.htm#07120463000001 or watched at http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/VideoPlayer.aspx?meetingId=520 (01:45:21 into the recording)

Monday, 3 December 2007

Political Parties

Love them or loath them, political parties - whether as election organisations or as groups within the legislature - are important in a representative democracy. Party funding is one of the major topics of discussion at the moment within the UK - see for example(http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7122393.stm and its many links. In the United States 'campaign finance reform' is also a controversial issue.

The role of parties within a legislature has long attracted academic interest. Steven S Smith has published a very interesting book this year called "Party Influence in Congress". It's a very useful guide to a number of explanations for party behaviour, and I found it to be a thought provoking read

Further details can be found at:

Sunday, 2 December 2007

The Week Ahead

The House of Representatives returns from the Thanksgiving break on Tuesday. Twenty five bills are expected to be considered under the suspensions procedure. Major business will include conference reports on H.R. 2082 - Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (Rep. Reyes – Intelligence) and H.R. 1585 - National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (Rep. Skelton – Armed Services). There may be Motions to go to Conference should they become available and possible Motions to Instruct Conferees.

The Senate meets for legislative business on Monday. On Tuesday the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs , Investigations Subcommittee will hold a hearing to examine credit card practices, focusing on unfair interest rate increases.

In the House of Commons, highlights include

Monday 3 December
* Defence Questions: Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill - Remaining stages

Tuesday 4 December
* Westminster Hall Private Members' Debates - 13.00-13.30 Ministerial accountability to Parliament
* Transport Questions; Statement - Publication of the enquiry into the Nimrod crash Debate; Opposition Day (3rd allotted day) - i) Politicalisation of the Civil Service; ii) Performance of the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Wednesday 5 December
* Oral Questions - International Development; Prime Minister: Debate - Standards of conduct in public life

Thursday 6 December
* DEFRA Questions: Business Statement - Leader of the House: Consolidated Fund Bill - First, Second and Third readings - Topical Debate.

House of Lords

Monday & Tuesday - Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill (Committee Stage on the floor of the House)
Wednesday - debate on Europe, ahead of the summit next week
Thursday - debates initiated by the Conservative Opposition

Friday, 30 November 2007

House of Lords Bill

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

Thursday, 29 November 2007

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

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

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

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

This Day Six Months....

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

Lord Brabazon of Tara (Chairman of Committees) explained

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Trent Lott

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

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

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

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

Monday, 26 November 2007

National Assembly for Wales

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

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

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

Saturday, 24 November 2007

The Week Ahead

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

House of Commons

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

House of Lords

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

Friday, 23 November 2007

House of Lords Business

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 22 November 2007


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

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

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Opposition Days

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

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

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

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Second Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 19 November 2007

Dennis Hastert

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

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

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

Hastert's autobiography "Speaker" is very readable!

Saturday, 17 November 2007

The Week Ahead

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

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

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

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

Thursday - Sale of Student Loans Bill [Commons]

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

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

Friday, 16 November 2007

PMB Ballot Results

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

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

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

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Turning Westminster Green

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

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

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

European Union Committee in the House of Lords

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

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

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

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Private Members Bills

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

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

Monday, 12 November 2007

Government Bills Published

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


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


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

Sunday, 11 November 2007


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

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

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

Saturday, 10 November 2007

The Week Ahead

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

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

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

Friday, 9 November 2007

Changes in the House of Lords

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

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

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Yesterday in the House of Lords

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Update on Virginia Elections

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

The Washington Post reports -

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

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

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

The New Session

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Suspension Procedure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 5 November 2007

Guy Fawkes

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 4 November 2007

The Week Ahead

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

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

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

Other bills subject to special rules will be:

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

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

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Mt Vernon, Fairfax County, Virginia

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

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

Friday, 2 November 2007

A Big Day

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Unorthodox Lawmaking

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

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

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

The Coming Year in Parliament

Sadly, due to a power failure in the Palace of Westminster - and the consequent problems caused - BBC Parliament were only able to provide a live audio feed for yesterday's prorogation. At the moment the archive on http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Archives/ is not working.

The 2007/08 session already looks to be an interesting one. The draft legislative programme was published last July and is available at http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/upload/assets/www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/publications/reports/governance/governance.pdf

Constitutional Reform promises to be one area where much activity will be undertaken. The broad outline was set out in http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/cm71/7170/7170.pdf.
Last week three more detailed consultation papers were published, two by the Department of Justice:-

and from the Home Office

Your observations would be welcome here.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007


It is expected that Parliament will be 'prorogued' today. This will bring the 2006/07 Session to an end. The new session will begin with the State Opening of Parliament on November 6th. The parliamentary website states -

"Prorogation usually takes the form of an announcement on behalf of the Queen made in the House of Lords. As with the State Opening, it is made to both Houses. Unlike the Queen's Speech, the prorogation announcement receives relatively little media coverage.
The prorogation announcement sets out the major Bills which have been passed during that parliamentary session and also describes other measures which have been taken by the Government.

Prorogation brings to an end nearly all parliamentary business."

Unless there is outstanding business the ceremony will begin at 11.30am UK time (Note: Daylight Savings Time ended on Sunday - so time difference with Washington DC is 4 hours)

Monday, 29 October 2007


Yesterday's game was interesting to listen to and watch (I followed on BBC Five Live Sports Extra and the NFL 'Game Center' on the NFL Scores website. Later on BBC1 showed edited headlights). I then listened (via the internet) to New England Patriots v my favourite team (you guessed it!) Washington Redskins. It was interesting, but you'll understand if I don't want to talk about it!!!! (52-7 loss).

I've made a start on the autobiography of former Speaker, Denny Hastert. The Book "Speaker", is subtitled "lessons from forty years in coaching and politics". The former Speaker was a football coach at Yorkville High School before concentrating on coaching the wrestling team. President Ford was of course a star player for the University of Michigan and he turned down contract offers from the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers of the National Football League. Speaking of one game in the 1930s when Michigan had held the highly favoured Minnesota to a first half tie, the President said:-

During 25 years in the rough-and-tumble world of politics, I often thought of the experiences before, during, and after that game in 1934. Remembering them has helped me many times to face a tough situation, take action, and make every effort possible despite adverse odds.”

Sunday, 28 October 2007

NFL arrives in London

Tonight the first ever regular season NFL game will be played in London. Wembley Stadium will be the "home" venue for the Miami Dolphins as they take on the New York Giants. Visitors from Miami should note that London is a tad cooller this time of year than Miami!
Parliamentarians had a presentation about the NFL at a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Sports last Wednesday. Alistair Kirkwood from NFL UK and Ken Walters from the British American Football Association (BAFA) discussed the games future in the UK and answered questions from MPs and Peers. Afterwards there was a photocall with cheerleaders from the Miami Dolphins.
The Game will be broadcast live on Sky Sports - and higlights will shown on the BBC2 [11pm]. Radio 5 Sport Extra will broadcast radio commentary from 4.45pm.

Video about the game can be found at http://www.nfluk.com/nfluktv.php

Saturday, 27 October 2007

The Week Ahead

In the British Parliament most outstanding legislation has been completed and a number of bills await the Royal Assent. This will be done before prorogation which is expected on Tuesday morning. There will then be a brief break before the new session begins on November 6th, with the Queen's Speech.

The House of Representatives will again consider a number of bills (19) under the suspensions procedure. This include the naming of 4 buildings after noteworthy individuals; an
expression of support for designation of the month of October 2007 as "Country Music Month"; bills about Darfur and two bills drawing attention to breast cancer. Bills to be considered under special rules will be:

H.R. 3867 - Small Business Contracting Program Improvements Act (Rep. Velazquez – Small Business)
H.R. 2262 – Hardrock Mining and Reclamation Act of 2007 (Rep. Rahall – Natural Resources)
H.R. 3920 - Trade and Globalization Assistance Act of 2007 (Rep. Rangel – Ways and Means)

The Senate has made the following Unanimous Consent Agreements relating to next week

1.—Ordered, That on Monday, October 29, 2007, upon the conclusion of Morning Business, the Senate resume consideration of S. 294, a bill to reauthorize Amtrak, and for other purposes, and that all first degree amendments be filed at the desk by 3:30 p.m. Ordered further, That on Tuesday, October 30, 2007, at a time determined by the Majority Leader, in consultation with the Republican Leader, the Senate proceed to a vote on the motion to invoke cloture on the bill, and that the mandatory quorum required under Rule XXII be waived. (Oct. 26, 2007.)

2.—Ordered, That with respect to the cloture motion filed on the motion to proceed to H.R. 3963, to amend title XXI of the Social Security Act to extend and improve the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and for other purposes, the mandatory quorum required under Rule XXII be waived (Oct. 26, 2007).

3.—Ordered, That the veto message on S. 5, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007, be considered as read and that it be printed in the Record and spread in full upon the Journal.

Ordered further, That the message be held at the desk. (June 20, 2007.)

The way has been paved for consideration, perhaps during the coming week, for the Senate to consider the revised SCHIP bill - in an attempt to overcome the veto on the original legislation.

Friday, 26 October 2007

On Liberty

Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an important speech yesterday on the subject of liberty. I recommend reading it (particularly to my students, but it should be of interest to all). In it he discusses the British notion of liberty - and applies it to the discussion of constitutional change which he initiated immediately upon becoming Prime Minister. The full text of the speech can be found at http://www.number10.gov.uk/output/Page13630.asp

Of further interest to Washminster readers is his contrast of US and UK concepts of liberty. I reproduce his remarks for your interest; reflection - and comment.

"One view of the American tradition of liberty manifests itself in the 'leave me alone' state. But while concern for privacy is central in our tradition, the British conception of liberty which runs though and defines much of our national experience has not led, at least for most of our history, to notions of the isolated individual left on his own --- it is privacy not loneliness that British people seem to value. Nor did it lead to selfish individualism.

Instead, throughout the last three hundred years in Britain, as Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has eloquently described, the progress of the idea of liberty has gone hand in hand with notions of social responsibility: 'the active citizen', the 'good neighbour', and civic pride, emphasising that people are not just self interested but members of a wider community - sustained by the mutual obligation we all feel to each other."

No plans to Commemorate!

Answers to Written Questions

Leader of the House
Anniversaries: Oliver Cromwell

Mr. Kidney: To ask the Leader of the House what plans she has for Parliament to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the death of Oliver Cromwell.

Helen Goodman: My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has no plans for such a commemoration, which would primarily be a matter for the House.
I understand my hon. Friend will receive a substantive reply to this question from the hon. Member representing the House of Commons Commission.
The 350th anniversary of the death of this remarkable man will occur on 3rd September 2008. It won't be the first time that he has been disrespected since his death [His body was dug up & he was posthumously 'executed'.
Cambridge County Council's website gives the following details
Cromwell's corpse "was dug up along with those of his son in law Henry Ireton and John Bradshaw, who had been the judge at the trial of King Charles. The bodies were removed from Westminster Abbey on 26th January 1661. Four days later, on the anniversary of the execution of Charles I they were dragged to Tyburn. They were hung from the gallows all day before being taken down and having the heads severed from the bodies. It took more than one blow to remove Cromwell's head. There are several descriptions of the events of 30th January 1661. A merchant, Samuel Sainthill wrote... "they were hanged by the neck from morning. Cromwell in a green seare cloth, very fresh embalmed; Ireton....hung like a dried rat" From warning to curiosity Cromwell's head is known to have been on display for over twenty years. The last account of it on Westminster Hall was in 1684."
Details of the Cromwell Society can be found at http://www.olivercromwell.org/

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Lords Expenses

The expenses of members of the House of Lords should be published today. No doubt Friday's newspapers will include claims of the outrageous amounts paid to some members. The articles might not mention that members of the Lords (other than Ministers) receive NO salary for their work as legislators.
Members can claim for the cost of travel to the House, and members whose main residence is outside Greater London can claim for nights spent away from their only or main residence in order to attend the House of Lords. Office costs of £71.50 for every day attended plus a further40 days can also be reclaimed. Members must attend to claim any of the expenses.

There aren't many jobs which only pay expenses - with no opportunity to earn commission. Another "quaint" aspect of the British system?

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Lord's Chief Whip

The person popularly known as the Government Chief Whip in the House of Lords has the title of "Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms" . The current Chief Whip is Lord Grocott, formerly known as Bruce Grocott - who was the MP for Lichfield and Tamworth (Oct 1974-1979); The Wrekin (1987-97), and after boundary changes, for Telford (1997-2001). Whilst an MP he served as Minister for Planning and Local Government (1975-76), Minister of Agriculture (1976-78);Deputy Shadow Leader of the House and Deputy Campaigns Co-ordinator (1987-92) He was an Opposition Frontbench Spokesperson for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in 1992-93; He was PPS to Tony Blair from 1994 to 2001.

In 2001 he stood down from the Commons and was made a Peer. He took over as Chief Whip in 2002. A whip in the House of Lords is in a very different situation from whips in any of the other Houses of Parliament and Congress - he has limited rewards to encourage his members to attend and vote - many have already held ministerial posts and have no desire to return to office. He cannot threaten them with losing their seat - by backing another contender for the party's nomination in a constituency, or persuading the local party to deselect the 'offender' - since Peers have a seat for life!

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

What is "Constitutional"

I've been exploring with my law students at Leicester University, the subject of what constitutes a 'constitutional' issue. The tutorial question invited them to bring in 5 recent newspaper articles "that appear relevant to the UK's constitution."

One thing is clear - constitutional issues dominant the news - because the relationship between the citizen and the state - and the rules governing the makeup and operation of the institutions of the state - are matters which are key issues for people. So what stories did my students point to?
  • whether there should be a referendum on the EU treaty?
  • should courts be made more open - by televising them?
  • Is it right that one person should have the sole right to select election day?
  • what sanctions should be applied to a person who tells parliament something that might not be true?
  • What will the effect of the EU reform treaty be on Britain's constitutional set-up?
  • The rights of non-citizens
  • the impact of the EU treaty on devolved government

Monday, 22 October 2007

The House Rules?

Last week the Constitution Unit of UCL published a report on the House of Commons. The report is described on the Constitution Unit website

"The House Rules? is the final output of a two-year Constitution Unit research project investigating who runs, and who should run, the House of Commons. In a year in which the Prime Minister and both major opposition parties have expressed concern about government dominance of parliament, this report seeks to inform the debate by looking at how much autonomy the Commons has over its own affairs – in particular its agenda, its committee system, and its procedures. The authors draw ideas from the legislatures of Scotland, Germany, New Zealand and Australia to set out a programme of reform that would strengthen the control exercised by backbench MPs and committees over their own institution."

The report asks:

Should MPs and committees have more influence over the parliamentary agenda?
Would a ‘business committee’ of the kind existing in other parliaments be a good idea?
Could the power of the Speaker or others to ‘speak for parliament’ be enhanced?
Could the way that committee members are chosen be improved?

The report calls for a new logic of parliamentary control and makes 60 recommendations for change. But it also argues that there is much to celebrate at Westminster compared to other parliaments, so future reforms must build upon rather than undermine the healthier aspects of British parliamentary democracy.

The table of contents, introduction and summary of recommendations can be viewed here. "

Sunday, 21 October 2007

The Week Ahead...

... should be very interesting! On Wednesday the House of Representatives will meet to take evidence from and question the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, on 'US Policy in the Middle East'. In the House of Common's the Modernisation Committee's report on the role of the backbencher will be discussed on Thursday.

Other business -

House of Representatives: 31 bills under the suspensions procedure - plus

H.R. 1011 – Virginia Ridge and Valley Act of 2007 (Rep. Boucher – Natural Resources)
H.R. 1483 – To amend the Omnibus Parks and Public Lands Management Act of 1996 to extend the authorization for certain national heritage areas, and for other purposes (Rep. Regula – Natural Resources)
H.R. 3685 – Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2007 (Rep. Frank – Education and Labor)
H.R. 505 – Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act of 2007 (Rep. Abercrombie - Natural Resources)
H.R. 3867 - Small Business Contracting Program Improvements Act (Rep. Velazquez – Small Business)

The Senate will begin the week by resuming consideration of H.R. 3043, the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill.

At Westminster oustanding bills are moving to their conclusion. The Commons will deal with the remaining states of the Serious Crime Bill, whilst the Lords have the third reading of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill. Outstanding amendments will 'ping-pong' on other bills.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Who's to blame?

President George Bush told a press conference - “There’s little time left in the year, and Congress has little to show for all the time that has gone by,” He was asked if it was all the Democrats’ fault that bills are not moving, especially with regard to veto threats from the White House on several key pieces of legislation, Bush said he believes it is. “I’m not part of the legislative branch,” the president said. “All I can do is ask them to move bills. It’s up to the leaders to move the bills.”

Any comments?

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Who is responsible for hornets?

Life doesn't always conform to the structure of Government. This was illustrated yesterday in the House of Lords when Lord Rooker answered a question on hornets. Baroness Masham of Ilton had asked "Whether there has been a recent increase in the number of hornets coming into the south of England from Europe, either as a result of climate change or in imported wood; and whether the sting of such hornets is a significant risk to health and safety"

Lord Rooker is the Minister of State within DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs). He revealed "I learnt more about hornets listening to the “Today” programme today than I did from Defra. Basically, they are not part of the food production chain." When pressed on "which department or agency does record the rise in numbers in species such as hornets?" he replied "There is no Minister for hornets. The Government simply do not have any information. I have asked the National Bee Unit—we have a bee unit, as bees are part of the food production chain—but there is no hornet unit and there is no Minister for the hornet...Defra is responsible for the health of the planet and the health of animals, and others deal with human health."

The exchanges continued -

Baroness Masham of Ilton: "My Lords, does the Minister think that his department and the Department of Health should come together and do more research on insects as a whole?"

Lord Rooker: "My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness and the House that I shall be drawing this matter to the attention of the two Permanent Secretaries who could not come to an agreement about who would answer this Question in the first place.. "

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Menzies Campbell Resigns

Twenty years ago today a hurricane hit England - the weather was much calmer yesterday, but political storms continue to unsettle Westminster. After a day of growing rumours around Westminster, it was announced that Liberal Democrat leader, Menzies Campbell, a former Olympic sprinter (1964) who held the British 100m record from 1967 to 1974, was resigning.

The gains in the opinion polls by the Tories have been at the expense of the Lib-Dems - both Labour and the Lib-Dems were concerned at this trend, and Menzies (pronounced 'Ming') - 66 years old, had to go.

So within days we have gone from election fever; to a horrendous week for Gordon Brown, to an even more dreadful day for Sir Menzies - when will the storms subside?

Monday, 15 October 2007

Phil Burton

Sometimes you can read a book which is so interesting, that it is difficult to put down. One such book, which I have just finished reading, is "A Rage for Justice" by John Jacobs. It is the story of Phillip Burton a US Congressman from who represented the San Francisco area between 1964 and his early death in 1983.

Burton was a larger than life character, in many ways like Lyndon Johnson - in fact Jacobs reports that "Burton even visited the Johnson ranch and met Lady Bird, who was so taken with him - "he reminds me of my Lyndon," she said - that she loaned him "Lyndon's" bathrobe to wear, which fit."

He was a master of Congressional procedure and managed to get legislation passed that others could never had done. He is best known for his championing of environmental issues. He ran for, but lost by a single vote, the post of Majority Leader, in December 1976.

The book describes a fascinating man, who was both feared and admired. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin said "I spent thirty-two years in elective office, and I only met one absolute political genius. That was Phil Burton."
I would strongly recommend the book to anyone with an interest in US history in the 1960s-80s; congressional practice or Californian politics.

Jacobs, John. A Rage for Justice: The Passion and Politics of Phillip Burton. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995

After his death in 1983 his seat was won by his widow, Sala Burton. On her deathbed Sala asked Nancy Pelosi to succeed her. Phil himself had asked the current Speaker to run for Congress when his own brother stood down from Congress.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Titles of Legislation

Legislation passed by the House of Commons has both a short and a long title. It is the short title which is popularly used. For example

- Concessionary Bus Travel Act 2007 (short title) has a 'long title' - "An Act to make provision about travel concessions; and for connected purposes." It may also be refered to by its Year and Chapter - "2007 CHAPTER 13" - which means it was the 13th bill to be given Royal Assent in 2007.

In the United States the final result of legislative action is a Public Law - these are numbered by the number of the Congress which passed the bill - and by order of enactment. The PATRIOT Act, passed in 2001 is "PUBLIC LAW 107–56" (56th bill enacted by the 107th Congress).

Many laws have their title worded in such a way as to provide a 'popular' name - hence "Uniting and Strengthening America by
Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism"

Saturday, 13 October 2007

TV (via the Internet) Schedules

The weekly schedules are


Please note the times are LOCAL times (BBC - UK; C-Span - Eastern US)

The week ahead

The 2006-7 session draws towards its close at Westminster. The massive 'Legal Services Bill' will be considered by the Commons on Monday, where the Report and 3rd Reading will be taken. Any amendments made will be considered by the Lords on Wednesday. Their Lordships will also be continuing the Report Stage of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill; the 3rd Reading of the UK Borders Bill and Commons Amendments to the Greater London Authority Bill. The Commons, between dealing with any amendments sent down from the Lords, will hold a series of debates including (Tuesday) Defence Policy (Wednesday) Opposition motions on 'Foot & Mouth and Blue Tongue' plus 'Dealing with Bullying in Schools' (Thursday) Review of the Third Sector.

In the House of Representatives 22 bills will be considered under the suspension procedure plus

H.R. 2102 – Free Flow of Information Act of 2007 (Rep. Boucher – Judiciary)
H.Res.___ - Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives regarding the withholding of information relating to corruption in Iraq (Oversight and Government Reform)
H.R. 2095 - Federal Railroad Safety Improvement Act of 2007 (Rep. Oberstar – Transportation and Infrastructure)

H.R. 3773 - Responsible Electronic Surveillance That is Overseen, Reviewed, and Effective (RESTORE) Act (Reps. Conyers/Reyes - Judiciary/Intelligence).

There will be a vote on Overriding the President’s Veto of H.R. 976, the Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2007

The Senate will Resume consideration of H.R. 3093, the Departments of Commerce and Justice and Science Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2008 on Monday.

Friday, 12 October 2007

The European Treaty

A major story which will continue to dominate British politics in coming weeks is the proposed Reform Treaty. After the so-called 'Constitution' was rejected in referenda held in France and the Netherlands, a new treaty was proposed that would amend the existing treaties - and provide the institutional reform needed for an enlarged Union.

The debate in the UK has centered upon how far this proposed treaty corresponds to the failed “Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe” (the Constitutional Treaty). This week the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee brought out a report which concludes
"As far as the substance of the Reform Treaty and its comparison with the Constitutional Treaty are concerned, we accept that references to the “constitutional concept” or “constitutional characteristics” in trying to distance the present proposals from the creation of a Constitution are less than helpful. What matters is whether the new Treaty produces an effect which is substantially equivalent to the Constitutional Treaty. We consider that, for those countries which have not requested derogations or opt outs from the full range of agreements in the Treaty, it does, and refer readers to the table in the Annex to this report."

As you would imagine this has stimulated a lively debate. The eurosceptic press have stressed the 'substantially equivalent' point, and ignoring the qualification "for those countries which have not requested derogations or opt outs from the full range of agreements in the Treaty" - of course the UK has sought and gained such derogations and opt-outs.

The current draft text of the treaty can be viewed at http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cmsUpload/cg00001re01en.pdf