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

Wednesday 10 October 2007


If you want to understand mainstream British attitudes towards the USA - you will find last night's short debate in the House of Lords both informative and interesting. Speakers from all groups in the Lords spoke - Labour, Conservative, Liberal-Democrat and the Cross benches. The debate was initiated by Lord Saatchi and contributions were well thought out and based on a wide historical perspective. I recommend both reading the debate http://pubs1.tso.parliament.uk/pa/ld200607/ldhansrd/text/71009-0012.htm#07100962000003

and watching it on http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Player/index.aspx?Encoding=7388 (at 05:17 into the clip)
The consensus was that the USA has played an important and positive role in the world - but this has been overshadowed by the acts and words of the current administration. Anti-americanism has always existed, and always will do so - but we should not join the haters of America - rather we should encourage and support its fundamental values.

Tuesday 9 October 2007


Some of the most important work done by Parliament and Congress is only indirectly, if at all, linked to passing legislation. Debates in the chambers can be just as influential in their impact on public opinion and the feeling of the respective House.

Committees can also be very influential. While many play a part in the legislative process, others do not. In the Commons the select committees are involved purely in oversight of their respective Department. Henry Waxman, Chair of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee in the House of Representatives has said, "Simply by holding hearings, asking questions and releasing information, Congress can influence the direction of the nation even without passing legislation."

An important fact for all committee members; MPs; Peers; Congressmen; Senators and all observers of legislatures to remember.

Monday 8 October 2007


In the dinner break tomorrow (around 7.30pm - for an hour) Lord Saatchi will pose a question for short debate. He will "ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of anti-Americanism in the world."

It should be an interesting debate, and I hope to attend. I will report back on Washminster.

By the way this is the 200th post on Washminster.

Sunday 7 October 2007

No Election

It's official. Gordon Brown has no intention of calling a General Election for November 2007, or for the next few months. A reminder - no election is required until June 2010. The fever at Westminster - and amongst the media - can subside.

I shall not therefore be posting articles on the UK election process, for the time being. Instead the 'Westminster' side of this blog will concentrate on practice and procedure in the Commons and Lords - and in the next few weeks on how a session comes to its conclusion. The big date is November 6th, when the Queen opens the new session of Parliament.

That date is also election day in the US - as previous posts have mentioned, much interest will focus on the Virginia Elections. This Tuesday is the last day to register to vote. Candidate lists can be found at http://www.sbe.virginia.gov/cms/Election_Information/Cidate_Lists_Ballot_Issues/Index_new.html

Saturday 6 October 2007

The Week Ahead

Parliament finally returns on Monday. There will be statements on troop numbers in Iraq and the Comprehensive Spending Review. The Commons is due to debate the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill (Second Reading). Unless a General Election is announced the next month will be spent completing action on a number of outstanding bills.

The main business for the week ahead can be found at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmwib/wb070728/ahead.htm

Congress wil not sit on Monday, as Columbus Day is being celebrated. The Senate will not sit at all during the week, but the House returns on Tuesday. 19 bills are due for consideration under the suspensions procedures. The following will be considered later in the week (and will subject to a rule)

H.R. 2895 - National Affordable Housing Trust Fund Act of 2007 (Rep. Frank – Financial Services)
H.R. 3056 Tax Collection Responsibility Act of 2007 (Rep. Rangel – Ways and Means)
H.R. 2095 - Federal Railroad Safety Improvement Act of 2007 (Rep. Oberstar – Transportation and Infrastructure)

Thursday 4 October 2007

Awaiting Announcements

Conference season has finished, as the Tories have packed up and left Blackpool. Parliament is due to return on Monday. There is a busy schedule of bills to complete. The state of progress can be seen on a chart on the Leader of the House of Commons' website

The general rule is that bills fall if they are not passed by both Houses by the end of the session, with the exception of bills that have been agreed for 'carry-over' (see Standing Order 80A - http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmstords/416/41604.htm#a90). The session is due to end a few days before the opening of the new session, scheduled this year for November 6th.

Unless of course a General Election is called!

According to the House of Commons website "The (General Election) timetable runs for eighteen days starting with the dissolution of the old Parliament and the issue of writs on day 0 and ends on day 17, polling day. For the purposes of the timetable, weekends and public holidays are disregarded."

If November 1st is to be election day then Day 0 will be Tuesday 9th October! (By tradition polling day is a Thursday - but who knows if Gordon Brown will surprise us with a different election day)

So we await the next few days with interest.

Wednesday 3 October 2007

If Gordon calls a General Election....

Speculation continues that we are just days away from the Prime Minister calling a General Election. Of course all these rumours may be an attempt to unsettle the already unsettled Tory Party - or there may be some substance in them.

If an election is called Washminster will cover it!

The first step will be the Prime Minister's trip to see the Queen. Strictly, it is her Parliament and she decides when to dismiss MPs and request returning officers to advise her who the new representatives for each constituency (= district) are. By convention the Queen will accept the Prime Minister's advice.

Parliament needs to be dissolved - it does not need to meet in order for this to happen (this was the case in the second election of 1974) - but most observers expect Parliament to return on Monday - and if an election announcement is made, to act on essential business before the dissolution.

While I normally work at Westminster three days a week, I will stay in the Midlands during the election period. I live in one of the key marginals - Rugby. The constituency is significantly different from the current 'Rugby and Kenilworth' constituency which has been in its current form since 1997.

The MP from 1997 to 2005 was Andy King - a long term resident of the constituency, who had served for many years on behalf of Rugby people on Rugby Borough Council and Warwickshire County Council. Had the re-districting taken place before the 2005 election he would have held the seat (An independent analysis of the election suggests that on the new boundaries he would have had a 2,397 majority)

Andy King has been selected by the Local Labour Party to stand at the forthcoming General Election. His website is http://www.andyking4rugby.co.uk/ and already has two facegroup books set up by his supporters

Rugby is very much "Middle England" - it's geographically as close to the centre as it is possible to be; is a major rail and road junction (M1/M6) and is highly marginal. It'll make an interesting place to observe during a General Election!
[the picture is of the clock tower in the centre of the town)

Tuesday 2 October 2007

The New Supreme Court Term

The first Monday in October is the first day in the new term of the Supreme Court. The coming year promises to be interesting. Some of the cases and issues will be -

Boumediene v. Bush - Guantanamo detainees
U.S. v. Williams - 'virtual' child pornography
Baze v. Rees - lethal injections (capital punishment)
Washington State Grange v. Washington State Republican Party - primary election rules
Indiana Democratic Party v Rokita - photo ID for voters

Details of the briefs can be found at http://www.abanet.org/publiced/preview/briefs/home.html

The following have some interesting background

The Court's calendar (showing when the Court is hearing arguments) is available at http://www.supremecourtus.gov/oral_arguments/07termcourtcalendar.pdf

Monday 1 October 2007

New Year

Today is the first day of Fiscal Year 2008 (FY 08) [sometimes refered to as FY 07/08]. The fiscal year has begun in the USA on 1st October since 1976, when Congress pushed back the date from July 1st - to give it more time to complete congressional budget; authorization and appropropriation processes (it doesn't seem to have worked!!!)

In the UK the Government's financial year runs from 1st April to 31st March. The personal tax year runs a few days behind - beginning on 6th April. This odd date is a result of the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1752. March 25th (Lady Day) was the first day of the ecclesiastical year. This date was adopted as the start of the fiscal year, but when the Gregorian calendar was introduced 11 days were "lost" - so the start date was pushed back. A further lost day in 1800 led to the present date which is now fixed.