Wednesday 2 May 2007

Commemorating the Abolition of the Slave Trade

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I was able last night to watch debates live from the House of Representatives from my home in Rugby, England.

A number of bills were being considered from the Suspensions Calendar. [Bills considered on the Suspension calendar are debatable for 40 minutes; may not be amended; and require a two-thirds vote for passage] - including

H.Res.272 - Commemorating the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade (Rep. Lee – Foreign Affairs)

H.Res.158 - Observing the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the British slave trade and encouraging the people of the United States, particularly the youth of the United States, to remember the life and legacy of William Wilberforce, a member of the British House of Commons who devoted his life to the suppression and abolition of the institution of slavery, and to work for the protection of human rights throughout the world (Rep. Pitts – Foreign Affairs)

It was interesting to watch. The House of Commons held a similar debate on Tuesday March 20th. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmhansrd/cm070320/debtext/70320-0004.htm#07032055000001 The House of Lords will do so on Thursday 10th May.

The different ways that debates arise can be seen. In the House of Commons the issue was discussed on a motion to adjourn the House - a procedural device regularly used to hold a debate but rarely ending in a vote. John Prescott began at 3.44pm and the debate concluded at 10pm [the Moment of Interruption] when the motion lapsed without the question being put.

In the Lords next week Baroness Howells of St Davids will rise "to call attention to the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade and to the United Kingdom’s role in tackling its legacies; and to move for papers." - this device is explained in the House of Lords Companion -

The words "; and to move for papers" are added to a subject for debate so that the mover of the motion has the right to reply to the debate. It is recognised that at the end of the debate such a motion should normally be withdrawn, since it is treated as a neutral motion and there is neither advantage nor significance in pressing it. The opinion of the House is expressed in the speeches made in the debate rather than on a division.

The House of Representatives discussed the subject as legislative business - the Resolutions were discussed and voted on (by voice vote).