Tuesday 31 July 2007

An Irresponsible Media?

In 'Relations between the executive, the judiciary and Parliament' the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution concluded: -

"We believe that the media, especially the popular tabloid press, all too often indulge in distorted and irresponsible coverage of the judiciary, treating judges as "fair game". A responsible press should show greater restraint and desist from blaming judges for their interpretation of legislation which has been promulgated by politicians. If the media object to a judgment or sentencing decision, we suggest they focus their efforts on persuading the Government to rectify the legal and policy framework. In order to ensure more responsible reporting, we recommend that the Editors' Code of Practice, which is enforced by the Press Complaints Commission, be regularly updated to reflect these principles."

The Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport has recently published a report on Self-regulation of the press. It highlighted concerns about the behaviour of the British press.

"Certain recent events, however, have again led the public and politicians to question the integrity of methods used by reporters and photographers to gather material for publication by the press. Chief among these events were the conviction of Mr Clive Goodman, the royal editor of the News of the World, for interception of communications without lawful authority, and the hounding of Ms Kate Middleton, the then girlfriend of HRH Prince William, in the expectation that the two might shortly announce their engagement.

The system of self-regulation of the press constructed in 1991 in the wake of the Calcutt Inquiry in 1990 failed to prevent these lapses, and the image of the press was again damaged as a result."

John Lloyd has written a thought provoking book "What the Media Are Doing to Our Politics" .

I'd welcome your comments on what, if anything, should be done about the role of the press in politics.

Monday 30 July 2007

The Week Ahead

The British Parliament has now risen for its summer recess, and is not due to return until 8th October.

In Washington this week is expected to be the last before Congress breaks for a shorter summer break. Today there are 26 bills to be considered under the suspensions procedure. These include the Darfur Accountability & Divestment Bill; Iran Sanctions Enabling Bill and the NASA 50th Anniversary Commemorative Coin Bill. Later on the Eightmile Wild and Scenic River Bill and the Ledbetter Fair Pay Bill will be considered.

For the rest of the week the Agricultural, Rural Development, FDA & related Agencies Appropriation Bill; Defense Appropriations Bill; Children's Health & Medicare Protection Bill & the Energy Independence Bill will be considered.

Today in the Senate another cloture measure will be considered - this time relating to the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) bill.

President Bush and Prime Minister Brown meet today.

Sunday 29 July 2007

The branches of UK Government

Anyone with an interest in the functioning of the British Constitution will find the 6th Report of the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution "Relations between the executive, the judiciary and Parliament' useful.

Constitutional law sudents are treated to a useful guide to major developments in the first chapter. Specific issues in the relationships between institutions are to be found in Chapter 2 (Executive and Judiciary); Chapter 3 (Parliament and Judiciary) and Chapter 4 (Judiciary, Media and Public). The papers by

Kate Malleson on the Effect of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 on the Relationship between the Judiciary, the Executive and Parliament

Professor Anthony Bradley on (1) The New Constitutional Relationship between the Judiciary, Government and Parliament (2) further paper on that relationship about the recent changes in the machinery of Government.

Professor Paul Craig on the Rule of Law

are to be recommended. Appendix 6 lists all the 'declarations of incompatibility' made under the Human Rights Act 1998.

A feast for constitutional law students, which I would strongly recommend to my students.

Thursday 26 July 2007

Absences at PMQs

The House of Commons Library provides an excellent service to MPs, and some of their work is made available to all on the internet. In addition to their research papers which topic a wide variety of subject, they make available their Research Papers and Standard Notes on the topics of Parliament and the constitution at http://mirror.parliament.uk/works/notes_on_parliament_and_constitution.cfm

This week they published a standard note entitled 'Absence of a Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s Question Time', listing every occasion at which the Prime Minister of the day missed PMQs (No reasons given - but I'm sure there were good 'excuses' - attending summits, handling crises etc). Interestingly the percentage of missed PMQs are:

Mrs Thatcher 7.7%

John Major 11.8%

Tony Blair 5.0%

Wednesday 25 July 2007

This morning, as on many Wednesday mornings, the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords will meet at 09.45 in the Lords Chamber to deliver its judgement in a case.

The House of Lords is the highest Court in the English Legal System. Once all peers could participate in hearing cases and giving judgements, but those days are long past. The senior judges in the land are appointed as 'Law Lords', or 'Lords of Appeal in Ordinary' as they are properly known as. Currently there are twelve. They work full time at the judicial business of the House and receive a salary.This is not paid by the House of Lords but direct from the “Consolidated Fund” (the revenues held in the Exchequer account at the Bank of England). The reason is to ensure their independence from the legislative branch. Upon retirement judges keep their seats for the rest of their lives. Other Lords who hold or have held high judicial office can be called upon to assist the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary. A list of Law Lords can be found at http://www.parliament.uk/about_lords/the_law_lords.cfm

In 2008 a Supreme Court will be set up, so separating the judiciary from the legislature.

A very good fact sheet, produced by the House of Lords Information Office, is available at http://www.parliament.uk/documents/upload/HofLBpJudicial.pdf. Further details of the judicial committee can be found at http://www.parliament.uk/judicial_work/judicial_work.cfm

Tuesday 24 July 2007

Judiciary Committees

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales faces a difficult week with the two Judiciary Committees in Congress.

Today he appears once again before the Senate Committee. Tomorrow the House Committee will meet, and its Chairman, John Conyers has vowed to hold a vote on issuing contempt citations for the White House chief of staff, Joshua Bolten, and former White House counsel Harriet Miers. Both have been asked to provide information to the committee, but have declined. Chairman Conyers said last week about Ms Miers, ""Her failure to comply with our subpoena is a serious affront to this committee and our constitutional system of checks and balances,"

Despite the heated row between the Attorney General and Congress, and the problems within the Justice Department Gonzales will tell the Senate ""I could walk away or I could devote my time, effort and energy to fix the problems. Since I have never been one to quit, I decided that the best course of action was to remain here."

A full Washington Post article can be found at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/23/AR2007072300579.html

Monday 23 July 2007

The week ahead

The UK Parliament rises after Thursday's business for its Summer Recess.

On Monday the House of Commons will debate and vote upon a report from the Committee on Standards & Privileges concerning George Galloway.

Recommendations to the House

75. On Mr Galloway’s failure to register and declare his interests, he has recognised his shortcomings. As to his use of parliamentary resources to support his work for the Mariam Appeal, he maintains that this was relatively modest in scale. We disagree and find that it went beyond what was reasonable.

76. Had these been the only matters before us, we would have confined ourselves to seeking an apology to the House. However, Mr Galloway’s conduct aimed at concealing the true source of Iraqi funding of the Mariam Appeal, his conduct towards Mr David Blair and others involved in this inquiry, his unwillingness to cooperate fully with the Commissioner, and his calling into question of the Commissioner’s and our own integrity have in our view damaged the reputation of the House. In accordance with precedent, we recommend that he apologise to the House, and be suspended from its service for a period of eighteen actual sitting days.129 As the House is shortly to go into its Summer Recess, we further recommend that Mr Galloway’s period of suspension should begin on October 8, the day it resumes.

It will then consider a number of Statutory Instruments and the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill.

There will be a debate on the Government's draft Legislative Programme on Wednesday, and on Thursday there will be a debate on the motion for the adjournment for the summer recess. This allows members to raise issues of concern to them. The House of Lords will continue clearing legislation - as the final stages of key bills such as the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill are reached, and ping pong continues in both Houses.

In the House of Representatives there will be 29 bills considered under the suspensions procedure on Monday and one on Tuesday. Three major bills will be considered during the rest of the week - the Appropriations bills for the Departments of Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development; and the Departments of Commerce and Justice, and Science - plus the Farm Bill.

The Senate's Calendar of business for Monday reads -

1.—Ordered, That at 2:00 p.m. on Monday, July 23, 2007, the Senate proceed to the
consideration of S. 1642, a bill to extend the authorization of programs under the Higher Education Act of 1965, and for other purposes. Ordered further, That there be 8 hours of debate on the bill and any amendments thereto with 2 hours of the time equally divided and controlled by the Senator from Massachusetts (Mr. Kennedy) and the Senator from Wyoming (Mr. Enzi) or their designees; provided that time on any first degree amendment be limited to 30 minutes equally divided and controlled and there be an additional 15 minutes equally divided and controlled for any second degree amendment.
Ordered further, That the only amendments in order other than the committee-reported
substitute amendment be a total of 12 first degree amendments which must be relevant to the matter of S. 1642 or the committee-reported substitute, with 6 for each manager, and an additional managers’ amendment which has been cleared by the managers and the Leaders, with no other first degree amendments in order; provided further, that second degree amendments be in order and be relevant to the first degree amendment to which they are offered.
Ordered further, That upon the use or yielding back of time and the disposition of all amendments, the substitute amendment, as amended, if amended, be agreed to, the bill, as amended, be read a third time, and the Senate proceed to vote on passage of the bill.

2.—Ordered, That on Tuesday, July 24, 2007, upon disposition of S. 1642, the Senate
proceed to the consideration of H.R. 2638, an act making appropriations for the Department
of Homeland Security for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2008, and for other purposes.

Friday 20 July 2007

The Fabian Approach to Reform

Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus (c 275BC - 203BC) was a Roman General who overcame the military superiority of the Carthaginians by a policy of determined attrition. In England his name was taken up by a group of socialists who argued that slower parliamentary change would be more effective in the long run than revolutionary action. The Fabian Society has played a key role in the establishment and development of the Labour Party.

Jack Straw didn't say it, but he has adopted a Fabian strategy for Lords Reform. Cross-party talks will continue, with a White Paper expected at the turn of the year. Consultation within parliament and outside should allow the Government to "to formulate a comprehensive reform package which we would put to the electorate as a manifesto commitment at the next general election, and which we hope the other main parties will include in their manifestos. There may of course be areas upon which each party takes a different view, but I believe that there is the potential to reach a degree of cross-party consensus which could lead to the completion of Lords reform."

The broad approach of the reform was set out - "we have to proceed with remodelling our work based on an 80 per cent or 100 per cent elected House of Lords. While there is agreement on some of the areas outlined in the White Paper, there is still some way to go on others. So the group will be discussing the outstanding elements of the reform package, including powers, electoral systems, financial packages, balance and size of the House, including diversity and gender issues. We will also need to discuss the transition towards a reformed House in detail, including the position of existing life Peers and the need for action to avoid gratuitously cutting Conservative Party representation in the Lords when and if the remaining hereditary Peers are removed.

Let me now turn to the powers of a reformed House. The Government have always said that the balance of powers between the two Houses described by the excellent and recent Cunningham report should apply to a reformed House. These powers are currently underpinned by some statutory provisions, standing orders and conventions. We undertook to look further at whether the current conventions were adequate to ensure the desired relationship with a reformed House after the free votes. Over the coming months, we will be looking at how best to deliver a substantially or wholly elected House, based on the principle that this House is the primary Chamber and that an elected House of Lords should complement the Commons and not be a rival to it. As part of that programme of work it is vital that the relative powers of a reformed House are made clear. We will therefore be looking at ways to enshrine in a constitutional settlement the current balance of powers and the different roles of the two Houses."

Some were not happy with the slowness of this approach. In the Lords Lord Tyler noted, "In Cornwall, we have the word “dreckly”. It is much used by plumbers and others in the sense that the Spanish use the word “mañana”, but with less urgency. After 95 years, it is fair to say that today’s Statement does not take us one step further. It fulfils the promise made by the Prime Minister that there would be a Statement, but scarcely takes us further than that."

But others though it went too far. Lord Howe of Aberavon was troubled. "Does the Minister appreciate that, although the response of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde in that context may be admirable for its courage, it is the response of a suicide bomber? He is prepared with all his hereditary colleagues to proclaim their destruction provided that all the rest of the plans go through. I hope that both the Minister and my noble friend will take account of the fact that, if the hereditaries are doubtful about following my noble friend into suicide, the great majority of the rest of us have even less enthusiasm for that cause.

Does the Minister understand that, in the Green Paper and his Statement today, to describe the Conservative Party as being committed to a substantially elected House of Lords is wholly unfounded? The actual words of the manifesto are:

“We will seek cross-party consensus for a substantially elected House of Lords”.

Does he appreciate that the difficulty of that task for the Conservative Party, if it understands its own Back Benches as my noble friend wishes to do, is expressed in the fact that an overwhelming majority of the party in this House and a majority of the party in the other House do not wish to see a substantially elected House of Lords? Does he not appreciate that that deserves to be regarded as a substantial obstacle? Is the obstacle not worth respecting?
Everyone who has spoken so far has paid tribute to the immense quality of the work done in this place. The suicide bombers, therefore, are suicidal not merely in reflecting themselves; the suicide bombers, as so often, are going destroy the building in which they are found, without any rational argument at all having been advanced for that action being taken. Suicide bombers generally are insane as well."

It's going to be an interesting, if long battle, but Jack Straw was clear, "The Government are determined to proceed with this programme of reform with a view to its completion."

Thursday 19 July 2007

Forthcoming Business - On 'Facebook'

If you use Facebook - you can access a calendar with forthcoming business at both the UK Parliament and the US Congress on my personal profile (below 'Mini Feed')

My facebook name is 'J David Morgan'


A Person given to uttering terminological inexactitudes

The phrase 'terminological inexactitude' was coined by Winston Churchill to get around the House of Commons rule which bans the use of the word 'liar'.

A similar rule applies in the House of Representatives. The Manual states:-

Personal abuse, innuendo, or ridicule of the President, is not permitted (VIII, 2497; Aug. 12, 1986, p. 21078; Oct. 21, 1987, p. 8857; Sept. 21, 1994, p. 25147). Under this standard it is not in order to call the President, or a presumptive major-party nominee for President, a ``liar'' or accuse him of ``lying'' (June 26, 1985, p. 17394; Sept. 24, 1992, pp. 27345, 27346; Nov. 15, 1995, p. 32587; June 6, 1996, pp. 13228, 13229; Mar. 18, 1998, p. 3937; Nov. 14, 2002, p. ----; July 15, 2003, p. ----; Mar. 24, 2004, p. ----). Indeed, any suggestion of mendacity is out of order. For example, the following remarks have been held out of order: (1) suggesting that the President misrepresented the truth, attempted to obstruct justice, and encouraged others to perjure themselves (Feb. 25, 1998, p. 2621); (2) accusing him of dishonesty (July 13, 2004, p. ----; June 29, 2005, p. ----), charging him with intent to be intellectually dishonest (May 9, 1990, p. 9828), or stating that many were convinced he had ``not been honest'' (Mar. 5, 1998, p. 2620); (3) accusing him of ``raping'' the truth (Apr. 24, 1996, p. 8807), not telling the truth (Oct. 29, 2003, p. ----), or distorting the truth (Sept. 9, 2003, p. ----); (4) stating that he was not being ``straight with us'' (Nov. 19, 2003, p. ----); (5) accusing him of being deceptive (Mar. 29, 2004, p. ----; Mar. 31, 2004, p. ----), fabricating an issue (July 6, 2004, p. ----), or intending to mislead the public (Oct. 6, 2004, p. ----; June 9, 2005, p. ----); (6) accusing him of intentional mischaracterization, although mischaracterization without intent to deceive is not necessarily out of order (July 19, 2005, p. ----).

Representative Mel Watt (D-NC) fell foul of this rule when he said in the Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee - “He’s the same president who lied to Congress and to the American people about the easons for going to war, the president who put people in jail without even bringing any charges against them and rendered them to other countries for questioning,” . The video of the offending remarks and a discussion with Representative Watt is currently available at http://www.c-span.org/VideoArchives.asp?z1=&PopupMenu_Name=Congress&CatCodePairs=Issue,C; (under the title 'Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC)' - 7/18/2007: WASHINGTON, DC: 35 min.). A Rollcall Article is available at http://www.rollcall.com/issues/53_6/news/19376-1.html?CMP=OTC-RSS

I look forward to any suggestions to help Al Franken - if he is elected to Congress (http://www.alfranken.com/) he'll need the appropriate euphemisms should he wish to refer to his book "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them"!

(Note: "the Senate rules on decorum and debate do not prohibit personal references to the President. Senate Rule XIX governing decorum and debate is applied only to fellow Senators and “does not extend to the President, the Vice President, or Administration officials and a Senator cannot be called to order under rule XIX for comments or remarks about them...” (Senate Procedure, p. 741). The Senate rules also provide that Jefferson’s Manual is not part of the Senate rules (Ibid, p.754). "

Footnote: You might be entertained by the audio of some unparliamentary language and its consequences at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/a-z_of_parliament/t-z/81999.stm (Dennis Skinner MP asked to withdraw on 02-07-92).

House of Lords Reform

Jack Straw will make a statement about House of Lords Reform today.

Later today I will add a further post giving further details and comments about the statement.

In the House of Lords tomorrow, Lord Steel's 'House of Lords Bill' will be considered. The text of that Bill can be found at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200607/ldbills/052/2007052.pdf.

It is a bill "to make provision for the appointment of a Commission to make recommendations to the Crown for the creation of life peerages; to restrict membership of the House of Lords by virtue of hereditary peerage; to make provision for permanent leave of absence from the House of Lords; to provide for the expulsion of members of the House of Lords in specified circumstances; and for connected purposes."

It is a private Members Bill. We should see further reaction from the Lords to Jack Straw's statement. The first response is likely to come as the statement is repeated in the Lords this afternoon.

Wednesday 18 July 2007

All Night Long - and beyond

It's very unusual to be writing this blog with C-Span's coverage of the Senate also playing on the computer - particularly at 9.40am UK time!

The reason of course is the all night sitting which Senator Reid has organised to discuss the Levin-Reid amendment to withdraw US troops from Iraq. In order to highlight the filibustering by the Republicans, a thirty hour debate is being conducted. Democrats want a vote on the amendment, which they would probably win - as some Republicans are backing the amendment. But while the Republican leadership is backing filibustering - 60 votes (as opposed to 51) are needed to end debate. Hence the public protest.

Senate Majority Whip, Richard Durbin said - "It's time to really make that point that if the Republicans are going to filibuster and try to stop the debate on the War in Iraq, then frankly, they have to stay here and pay the price," said Durbin. "Too many times we've sanitized these filibusters so that members can go out to a nice dinner, go home, go to sleep, get up in the morning, and say 'well, the filibuster's over.'"

There's an interesting take on the mechanics of an all night sitting - the need for mattresses for individual Senators to take a nap at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/07/17/AR2007071702163.html?hpid%3Dartslot&sub=AR

Monday 16 July 2007

The role of money in politics

The form may be different - but the issue of the role of money in politics troubles participants and commentators in both Washington and Westminster.

There's a very interesting article in today's Washington Post by Shankar Vedantam, which I would recommend.


There are some valuable comments which have been posted in response - they can be found at


One of the 'friends of Washminster' Bob Carr, a former Congressman from Michigan, has posted his response:-

"Bravo. This is the first article I have seen in a long time that puts the relationship of money and politics in perspective. Please devote more time to delving into the subtleties of this relationship. And equally important make sure your journalism colleagues understand these subtleties and refrain from money-buys-votes stereotype writing - at least in the print media where we expect more.

As other comments have said the constituent relationship is paramount. Another subtly: money is often used to alter the officeholder's perceptions of which constituents represent the public interest. The effect of this is even more subtle depending on the competitiveness of the district.

But the real distortion does not come on a Daschle-type prioritization of dairy issues over international hunger issue (a priority I share). And keep in mind the prioritization was what Prof. Hall worked on, not what Tom Daschle cared about. Plus, there could have been non-money, non-constituent factors dictating that shift in Hall's work priority.

Rather the real distortion comes on the effect of money on Leader-type prioritization of what gets to the top of the collective agenda, whether subcommittee, committee or floor action. It impacts most heavily where the "constituency" is not the folks back home, but the members of the caucus. Time and time again, bills, motions, amendments are made the order of the day because the money on one side or the other says it should be there.

So, please stay with this topic. I'd like to see more like it. And thank you for this one."

Sunday 15 July 2007

Lord Roberts of Llandudno will ask the Chairman of Committees on Monday “Whether he will arrange for a committee of the House to consider whether representatives of churches and faiths in addition to the Church of England might take part in the prayers read at the start of each sitting of the House "
The Church of England is the State church, and so prayers are led by the Speaker’s chaplain in the House of Commons and one of the bishops in the House of Lords. Even the form of prayer is laid down. In the Commons the main prayer is as follows:

"Lord, the God of righteousness and truth, grant to our Queen and her government, to Members of Parliament and all in positions of responsibility, the guidance of your Spirit. May they never lead the nation wrongly through love of power, desire to please, or unworthy ideals but laying aside all private interests and prejudices keep in mind their responsibility to seek to improve the condition of all mankind; so may your kingdom come and your name be hallowed. Amen."

In the Lords the Bishop leading prayers (there is a rota and normally the same Bishop takes prayers each day of that particular week) uses one of the prayers set out in the Companion –

Our Father, which art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done, in earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

O Lord our heavenly Father, high and mighty, King of kings, Lord of lords, the only Ruler of princes, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers upon earth; most heartily we beseech thee with thy favour to behold our most Gracious Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth; and so replenish her with the grace of thy Holy Spirit, that she may always incline to thy will, and walk in thy way: Endue her plenteously with heavenly gifts; grant her in health and wealth long to live; strengthen her that she may vanquish and overcome all her enemies; and finally after this life she may attain everlasting joy and felicity, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Almighty God, the Fountain of all Goodness, We humbly beseech thee to bless Philip Duke of Edinburgh, Charles Prince of Wales and all the Royal Family: Endue them with thy Holy Spirit; enrich them with thy Heavenly Grace; prosper them with all happiness; and bring them to thine everlasting kingdom, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Almighty God, by whom alone Kings reign, and Princes decree justice; and from whom alone cometh all counsel, wisdom, and understanding; we thine unworthy servants, here gathered together in thy Name, do most humbly beseech thee to send down thy Heavenly Wisdom from above, to direct and guide us in all our consultations; and grant that, we having thy fear always before our eyes, and laying aside all private interests, prejudices, and partial affections, the result of all our counsels may be to the glory of thy blessed Name, the maintenance of true Religion and Justice, the safety, honour, and happiness of the Queen, the publick wealth, peace and tranquillity of the Realm, and the uniting and knitting together of the hearts of all persons and estates within the same, in true Christian Love and Charity one towards another, through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. Amen.

Prevent us, O Lord, in all our doings, with thy most gracious favour, and further us with thy continual help, that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in thee, we may glorify thy Holy Name, and finally by thy mercy obtain everlasting Life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us all evermore. Amen.

In Congress, in addition to the chaplain of each House, prayers may be read by an invited clergyman. Last Thursday Senate prayers were interrupted as “Christian” activists interrupted a prayer being led, for the first time in the Senate’s history, by a Hindu.

Saturday 14 July 2007

The Week Ahead

At Westminster the final two weeks before the summer recess beckon. As a result both Houses schedules are dominated by 'ping-pong' as Bills that have passed both Houses move between them until both agree the same version. If you stand in Central Lobby you might see a bill being carried between one House and the other.

This week the following bills are subject to 'ping-pong' - Pensions Bill; Statistics & Registration Service Bill; Tribunals, Courts & Enforcement Bill; Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Bill; and the Corporate Manslaughter & Corporate Homicide Bill.

Monday is a Liberal-Democrat Opposition day, and two debates will be held and the remaining stages of the Parliament (Joint Departments) Bill will be taken on Tuesday. The EU Select Committee in the Lords will hear from the Portuguese Ambassador about that country's presidency of the EU's Council of Ministers. The Lords will be the only chamber sitting on Friday, as it considers Lord Steel's private members Bill on the House of Lords.

In the House of Representatives Monday will be given over to "suspensions" bills. Two appropriations bills (Energy & Water; Labor, Health & Human Services and Education) will be considered during the rest of the week. The Senate will on Monday resume consideration of H.R. 1585, the Defense Authorization bill.
(Note to non-UK readers of this blog - the cartoon of the sun is ironic - we have had a very wet summer and there are further severe weather warnings for Sunday and Monday)

Friday 13 July 2007

Sent to the Tower

The original use of this term refers to, I believe, the Tower of London - the prison for a number of high profile prisoners during Britain's history. But there is another tower - the Clock Tower which contains 'Big Ben' and is often referred to by that name. In the lower third of the clock tower is a room which was used as a cell for holding MPs committed into the custody of the Serjeant at Arms of the House of Commons.

The House still retains the power to imprison. In theory an MP committed by the House could be detained in the clock tower until the end of a session (could be a long time - a person committed on the first day of the 2005-06 session would have entered in May 2005 and been released on 8th November 2006) - in practice the rule was that the person was held until both Houses had finished their business that day.

The last MP committed to the cell in the Clock Tower was Charles Bradlaugh, who spent the night of June 23rd 1880 there.

"(Bradlaugh) was informed by the Speaker that the House had decided against him and that he was authorised by the House to request him to withdraw. This Bradlaugh refused to do and repeated his refusal after the House had formally voted to exclude him. The Speaker ordered him into the custody of The Sergeant at Arms, Captain Gossett, who assisted by Police Inspector Denning took him to The Prison Room. There he remained in the charge of a Doorkeeper and PC 162 A McKay, until he was released at 5.30pm the following day. His imprisonment ended following Sir Stafford Northcote moving successfully for his discharge. This, however, was not prompted by sympathy as Northcote was a firm opponent of Bradlaugh and a prime mover in most of the action the House subsequently took against him. Evidently he considered that Bradlaugh at large to disrupt the House would suit his case better than Bradlaugh confined as a prisoner of conscience."

Thursday 12 July 2007

The Queen's Speech 2007

The date of the Queen's Speech has been set for 6th November. That will mark the start of the 2007-08 Parliamentary session. Parliament will be prorogued a few days before. As the summer recess lasts from the rising of the houses on 26th July until 8th October, there are precious few days for bills to complete their passage before the end of the session.

Already there are a number of bills which are moving between the two Houses - with amendmends being considered by the other House. This process is referred to as 'ping-pong' Last night the Lords sent back to the Commons (after completing all readings in the House of lords) the Pensions Bill - with amendments.

According to "House of Lords Business" the current status is -

Waiting for consideration of Commons amendments and reasons

Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement [HL] - to be considered 17 July
Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress [HL] - to be considered 18 July
Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide - to be considered 17 July

Returned to the Commons with amendments and reasons

Statistics and Registration Service

Tuesday 10 July 2007

Pre-empting the Queen

Until July 11th 2007 - it had been the practice for the Queen to announce the legislative programme for the coming session in her speech at the State Opening. In recent years leaking of selected titbits to the press had become the norm. But there will be a statement after PMQs setting out the draft legislative agenda.

The report of the Afternoon press briefing on July 10th from No 10 says

"Asked what the purpose of tomorrow's pre-Queen's Speech was, the PMS replied that the purpose of tomorrow's debate was to set out the main legislative priorities for the Government. There was discussion at Cabinet on this, and the overarching theme was how the Government responds to the rising aspirations of people by providing better opportunities for the future. So the priorities for the legislative programme would be: Housing, and the measures we needed to take to make housing opportunities more widely available; Education opportunities, taking forward some of the measures announced by Ed Balls today; and responding to people's concerns about better health care.

Asked if much would be made of the fixed rate mortgage plan tomorrow, the PMS replied that it would be best to wait for the statement on that, but detailed announcements on this would come from the Treasury.

Asked if this legislation was for pre-legislative scrutiny ahead of being formally included in The Queen's Speech, or was it just Bills, the PMS replied that we would not be publishing draft Bills. We would be publishing a list of Bills with some explanation of what the main items in those Bills will be, for consultation prior to The Queen's Speech.

Asked where this left The Queens' Speech, the PMS replied that it left The Queen's Speech as The Queen's Speech. This whole process had been conducted in full consultation with the Palace."

Behind the Headlines

The Daily Mail has some shock! horror! news.

"Mr Blair's decision to put his close friend forward is likely to provoke accusations of cronyism at a time when prosecutors are deciding whether to press charges in the cash-for-honours affair."

The claim is that Tony Blair will submit Peter Mandelson's name as part of the 'resignation honours list' to become a member of the House of Lords. It is a long established tradition that a retiring Prime Minister has one final list of honours he proposes that the Queen bestows.

Of course, a European Commissioner being given a peerage isn't exactly news - Currently the House of Lords has amongst its membership - Leon Brittain (1989-99) Chris Patten (1999-2004); Christopher Tugendhat (1977-85); Stanley Clinton Davis (1985-9); Neil Kinnock (1995-2004); Ivor Richard (1981-85) - in fact, of the 12 British citizens who have served as European Commissioners only Peter Mandelson and Bruce Millan (1989-95) have not yet become Peers.

In researching for this post I came across a number of blogs from Conservatives who were already attacking Mr Blair for a honours list that has yet to appear. Perhaps the following from the Churchill Society's website will sober them up

"Margaret Thatcher, was the first woman to become Prime Minister holding this office from 1979 to 1990. Sadly she will also be remembered as the Prime Minister who, with the exception of Lloyd George, exploited the honours system quite ruthlessly to raise funds for the Conservative Party."

In 'The Queen has been pleased', John Walker reviews her political awards only from 1979 to 1985. But her policy towards the use of honours can be judged from the two tables he produced. In the first he lists the names of :-

11 private sector industrialists given peerages all of whom, directed companies which gave total donations of £1.9 million pounds to the Conservative Party funds'

Here are examples listed by Walker in his book, of the larger amounts paid out by companies:-

Sir Edwin McAlpine, Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd, £205,000.Victor Matthews, Trafalgar House, £210,000.Sir William Cayzer British Commonwealth Shipping £410,531.Sir Frank Taylor Taylor Woodrow £367,510.Sir James Hanson Hanson Trust £217,000.

Another 64 industrialists were given knighthoods, including 44 men who directed companies which gave a total of £4.4 million to Conservative Party funds. Among those who contributed major sums are names such as:-

The late Patrick Meaney of Thomas Tilling and Rank Organisation £190,000.Keith Showering Allied Lyons, £424,000.Nigel Broakes Trafalgar House:, £210,000.

Margaret Thatcher continued as Prime Minister for a further five years, during which even larger amounts of money flowed into her party's funds in exchange for honours to industrialists.
And we learned from the Public Enquiry and Report of the Nolan Committee on Standards in Public Life, (now chaired by Lord Neill), that during John Major's period as Prime Minister massive contributions were made to Conservative party funds from overseas businessmen seeking government grants for industrial bases in the UK for their operations.

Paul Johnson again:
'Not too many politicians or business people do good deeds by stealth because there is no chance of honour in it. Honours are now given to rich men who have used their - or their companies' - riches to buy them'.

Monday 9 July 2007

The New Lord Chancellor

Jack Straw, formerly the Leader of the House of Commons, is now the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor. Previously the Lord Chancellor had to be a member (if he wasn't already a member when appointed, he was immediately given a peerage) of the House of Lords. Until the new post of Lord Speaker was created the Lord Chancellor originally the presiding officer of the House of Lords by right.

Jack Straw will continue to sit in the House of Commons. Some traditionalists are saddened by the decline in the position of the Lord Chancellor. Only a few years ago he was the speaker of the House of Lords; A Senior Cabinet Minister and took part as a judge in House of Lords judicial committee decisions (the Highest Court in the English Legal System). Now the occupier of this ancient and once powerful post sits in the Commons and the title is secondary to Secretary of State for Justice.

On July 5th Andre Mackinlay asked the Secretary of State for Justice what the purpose was of the ceremony he attended at the High Court on 4 July; what undertakings he gave; what oaths he swore; and if he will make a statement.

The reply given was "On 4 July I attended a formal ceremony of the public acclamation of my appointment to the office of Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. At that ceremony I took the Oath of Allegiance, the Official Oath of Office as required by the Promissory Oaths Act 1868 (“the 1868 Act”) and the new Oath required by section 17 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 (“the CRA 2005”) in open Court in the presence of the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales and the senior judiciary.

The Oaths were:

Oath of Allegiance:
"I John Whitaker Straw do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her heirs and successors, according to law."

Official Oath:
"I John Whitaker Straw do swear that I will well and truly serve Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second in the Office of Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain."

The new Oath:
"I John Whitaker Straw, do swear that in the Office of Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain I will respect the rule of law, defend the independence of the judiciary and discharge my duty to ensure provision of resources for the efficient and effective support of the courts for which I am responsible. So help me God."

Prior to the coming into force of the CRA 2005 the Oaths taken, were those prescribed in Part 1 of the 1868 Act. The Oath of Allegiance and Official Oath are still taken in accordance with sections 2, 3 and 5 of the 1868 Act. However the requirement that the Lord Chancellor take the Judicial Oath in the form prescribed by section 6 and the second part of the Schedule to the 1868 Act was obviated by section 17 and Schedule 17 of the CRA 2005 which prescribed a new Oath as set out earlier in this answer. The long-standing format of the ceremonial was therefore amended to take account of the legislative changes which reflect the fact that the holder of the office of Lord Chancellor is no longer head of the judiciary and safeguards the interests of the judiciary as set out in the new Oath.

Marcel Berlins is not impressed. See his comments in the Guardian at http://politics.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,2121854,00.html

Friday 6 July 2007

Two very different Cities

The title of this blog is taken from the two cities at the heart of British and American Government.

Westminster (a city in its own right - distinct from London), has developed almost by accident. Once a low lying, marshy island bounded by the branches of the River Tyburn and the Thames - it was first a royal residence in the time of King Canute [Some say that it was at Westminster that the King's inability to order back the tide was proved]. Edward the Confessor build a more extensive palace in order to be close to his pet project - the building of Westminster Abbey. Kings moved out in 1512 after a fire, and during the sixteenth century it finally established itself as the permanent seat of Parliament. The Fire of 1834 almost completely destroyed the old palace (Westminster Hall was saved - under the personal direction of the Prime Minister) and the opportunity arose for a new legislative building to be built almost from scratch. The surrounding area is now impressive and well kept - but prior to the fire was a crowded, unplanned mess.

The site of Washington of course was specifically chosen as the federal capital. There are some interesting books around about the building of this (relatively) planned city. I hugely enjoyed Nicholas Mann's "The Sacred Geometry of Washington, D.C. " (2006) - which has some interesting theories and leaves you with a much better idea of how the city is structured. My current bedtime reading is "The Washington Community 1800-1828" by James Sterling Young. It was published in 1966 and gives insights into both the geography of the city and the dynamics within the different communities who first lived in Washington. At one stage there were very distinct 'legislative' and 'executive' communities.

Thursday 5 July 2007

Which branch of Government does the Vice President belong to?

The Vice President is elected at the same time as the President (US Constitution Art II). He has an office in the West Wing and a set of offices in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB). In the event of the death or incapacity of the President he would assume the powers of the President, he is also the President of the Senate. So, in a system based on separation of powers, to which branch does he belong?

Just a trivia question suitable for a pub quiz? No longer. The Vice President appears to be arguing that he does not have to comply with an executive order on classified information because he is not in the Executive branch.

He gets his pay check from the Senate.

There is a certain irony in Cheney's argument - he has regularly claimed executive privilege. He has also been reported as making the following remarks:

April 9th 2003, to the American Society of Newspaper Editors he spoke of "the legitimate authority of the executive branch, the President and the Vice-President"

April 14th 2004, to students in China, he explained that it was President Eisenhower who first gave the vice president an "office in the executive branch"

Wednesday 4 July 2007

Schedule for the House of Representatives

Bob Carr, former Congressman from Michigan maintains an annotated schedule for the House of Representatives. It can be found at


The Fourth of July

Greetings to American readers of this blog - I hope you have an excellent time celebrating your Independence Day.

I missed my annual visit this year to Sulgrave Manor - the home of George Washington's ancestors. A day of entertainments are laid on in this historic home which is jointly owned by the American and British people. It was yet another wet day in England! The website of the Manor is http://www.sulgravemanor.org.uk/

The English Midlands, where I live, have many links to the founding of America. Washington's family have many Northamptonshire connections (Sulgrave; Althorp - the Washington family and the Spencer's (Princess Diana) were closely related and George's Great Great Grandfather was helped out financially by his Spencer relatives who gave him a home in Great Brington) Ecton (just to the East of Northampton) was the home of Ben Franklin's ancestors, and visited by the great man himself. Flore, to the East Has 'Adam's Cottage', reputedly the ancestoral home of the 2nd & 6th Presidents. Many of Jefferson's ancestors lived in Northamptonshire.

I'll be spending the day at Westminster - very close to the site of the original House of Commons, where the debates raged over the events leading to and subsequent to the Declaration of Independence. Despite the position of the then government, many Englishmen were supportive of the Americans and their claim of "No taxation without representation"

For me, one of the great heroes of the American Revolution is Thomas Paine. Can I recommend - to English, American and all other readers of the blog his excellent book "Common Sense" - available at http://www.earlyamerica.com/earlyamerica/milestones/commonsense/text.html

For more on Independence Day visit http://www.usa.gov/Topics/Independence_Day.shtml

BIG Changes

Chapter Three of "The Governance of Britain" is entitled "Re-invigorating our democracy". At its heart is "Renewing the accountability of Parliament".

  • House of Lords reform - the Government is committed to removing the 92 remaining hereditary peers. Cross party discussions are continuing over the makeup of the House of Lords. A statement is expected before the summer recess.
  • House of Commons - the Modernisation Committee Report has been welcomed by the Government.
  • The Structure of the United Kingdom - the principle of a single class of MPs has been forcefully restated. A campaign by opponents of the Government to have Scottish (and Welsh) MPs excluded from participating in matters affecting England is rejected. Devolution of powers is supported and Mr Brown has already appointed Regional Ministers. The Green paper describes their role and suggests the establishment of nine regional select committees.

Tuesday 3 July 2007

An Important Day in Britain's Constitutional History

The Prime Minister has made a very significant statement on Constitutional Reform (available at http://www.pm.gov.uk/output/Page12274.asp and the Ministry of Justice has produced a Green Paper (Consultation Paper) called 'The Governance of Britain' giving further details. It is available at http://www.pm.gov.uk/files/pdf/TGoB_print.pdf

Many of the proposals will be familiar to those who follow the American system

  • (paragraph 25) There are few political decisions more important than the deployment of the Armed Forces into armed conflict. The Government can currently exercise the prerogative power to deploy the Armed Forces for armed conflict overseas without requiring any formal parliamentary agreement.
    (26) The Government believes that this is now an outdated state of affairs in a modern democracy. On an issue of such fundamental importance to the nation, the Government should seek the approval of the representatives of the people in the House of Commons for significant, non-routine deployments of the Armed Forces into armed conflict, to the greatest extent possible. This needs to be done without prejudicing the Government’s ability to take swift action to protect our national security, or undermining operational security or effectiveness. The Government will therefore consult Parliament and the public on how best to achieve this.
    US Constitution Article I Section 8. "The Congress shall have power to ... To declare war" - see also The War Powers Act of 1973 (Public Law 93-148)

  • (31) Every year, the UK becomes party to many international treaties. These result in binding obligations for the UK under international law across a wide range of domestic and foreign policy issues. It is right that Parliament should be able to scrutinise the treaty making process.
    (32) The Government’s ability to ratify treaties is currently constrained in two ways. Treaties that require changes to UK law need the enactment of prior legislation which, of course, requires the full assent of Parliament. Examples in recent years have included the Statute of the International Criminal Court6 and European Union accession treaties. Many other treaties are covered by a convention, known as the Ponsonby Rule...
    (33) The Government believes that the procedure for allowing Parliament to scrutinise treaties should be formalised. The Government is of the view that Parliament may wish to hold a debate and vote on some treaties and, with a view to its doing so, will therefore consult on an appropriate means to put the Ponsonby Rule on a statutory footing.
    US Constition Article II Section 2 (The President) "shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, ..."

  • In addition there are proposals for

Confirmation style hearings - paragraphs 74-78

A National Security Strategy - paragraph 97

A National Security Committee - paragraph 98 "to ensure that its policies and their delivery are coordinated and appropriate to the changing nature of the risks and challenges facing us in the 21st century. The Committee will meet regularly, under the Chairmanship of the Prime Minister, and omprise senior Cabinet colleagues from relevant departments, supported by relevant senior officials and a secretariat in the Cabinet Office"

The Prime Minister said to the House of Commons "In Britain we have a largely unwritten constitution. To change that would represent a fundamental and historic shift in our constitutional arrangements. So it is right to involve the public in a sustained debate whether there is a case for the United Kingdom developing a full British Bill of Rights and Duties, or for moving towards a written constitution."

There's much more in the Green Paper - and many consultation papers to come. How much will Westminster learn from Washington?

Ratifying Treaties

In the United States, the President "shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur" (Art II Section 2). In the UK the ratification of treaties is a matter of the Royal Prerogative. The Executive decides whether or not to ratify a treaty, Parliament has no right to decide.

In practice, the 'Ponsonby Rule' has been applied. Mr Arthur Ponsonby (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs) announced in 1924 that "It is the intention of His Majesty's Government to lay on the table of both Houses of Parliament every treaty, when signed, for a period of 21 days, after which the treaty will be ratified and published and circulated in the Treaty Series. In the case of important treaties, the Government will, of course, take an opportunity of submitting them to the House for discussion within this period. But, as the Government cannot take upon itself to decide what may be considered important or unimportant, if there is a formal demand for discussion forwarded through the usual channels from the Opposition or any other party, time will be found for the discussion of the Treaty in question." - in other words, for important treaties, or when parliamentarians request it, a treaty may be discussed before it is ratified.

It is anticipated that today Gordon Brown will announce an important change. Parliament will be given the RIGHT to ratify treaties (and, another import from the USA, will be able to hold confirmation hearings for appointments to senior public positions)

Monday 2 July 2007

Coming Legislative Business

The two Houses of Congress will not be sitting this week, as they are both on a break for the July 4th Holiday.

It was going to be a busy week anyway in Parliament, with a statement on Constitutional Reform on Monday - and the first full week of the new Government. Events have of course intervened. The discovery of two car bombs in London and the attack on Glasgow Airport which has led to the level of security being raised to "Critical" ['an attack is expected imminently'] - will dominate this weeks proceedings. The Constitutional Reform statement has been postponed and the new Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, will make a statement on the events at 3.30pm (10.30am Washington time) this afternoon.

Sunday 1 July 2007

The New Government

The full list of the new Government has been published, and is available at http://www.number-10.gov.uk/output/Page12240.asp

There are three main levels of minister

Secretary of State - the most senior minister, usually a member of the Cabinet. Has overall responsibility for a Department

Minister of State - the second level of minister.

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State - the most junior level of minister.

Most ministers are paid a salary - but Statute limits the number of paid ministerial positions, so a small number receive no pay

Ministers may be supported by a PPS (Parliamentary Private Secretary). This is an unpaid position - sometimes described as the 'ears and eyes of the Minister'. Their job is to communicate with other MPs and carry out other tasks for the Minister. It is often seen as a position where potential ministers are tried out - and if they prove to be good, paid appointment as a Minister may follow.

One of my favourite pieces of dialogue in 'Yes Minister' deals with positions within a Government Department.

James Hacker: Who else is in this department?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Well briefly, Sir, I am the Permanent Under Secretary of State, known as the Permanent Secretary. Woolley here is your Principal Private Secretary, I too have a Principal Private Secretary and he is the Principal Private Secretary to the Permanent Secretary. Directly responsible to me are ten Deputy Secretaries, 87 Under Secretaries and 219 Assistant Secretaries. Directly responsible to the Principal Private Secretary are plain Private Secretaries, and the Prime Minister will be appointing two Parliamentary Under Secretaries and you will be appointing your own Parliamentary Private Secretary.
James Hacker: Do they all type?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: No. Mrs. McKay types. She's the secretary."