Friday 14 December 2007

House of Lords

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

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

Thursday 13 December 2007

Political Funding - A Blast from the past

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

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

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

Wednesday 12 December 2007

Grand Committee

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

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 A contentious amendment will be withdrawn after debate, to be re-introduced - and voted on - at Report Stage.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

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

Tuesday 11 December 2007

European Affairs

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

The final text of the Treaty of Lisbon is available at

Monday 10 December 2007

Second City

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

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

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

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

Saturday 8 December 2007

The Week Ahead

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

House of Commons

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

House of Lords

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

  • The week will begin with consideration of the Farm Bill

Friday 7 December 2007

New Republican lineup

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 5 December 2007

More on Party Funding

Peter Kenyon has recommended reading information posted at

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

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

Monday 3 December 2007

Political Parties

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

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

Further details can be found at:

Sunday 2 December 2007

The Week Ahead

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

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

In the House of Commons, highlights include

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

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

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

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

House of Lords

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