Monday 31 March 2008

Sarkozy on the British Parliament

From President Sarkozy's speech at Westminster last week -

"It is indeed here, within these walls, that modern political life was born. Without this Parliament, would parliamentary democracy have ever existed in the world? Hasn't this parliamentary practice, begun in this place, become the best guarantee against tyranny?

The history of this institution today influences most contemporary political regimes. This Parliament has become what it is through the fight for the protection of essential individual freedoms and the principle of the consent to taxation.

These two fundamental conquests, which this Parliament was the first in the world to achieve, are still today the cornerstones of all our democracies. It is here that parliamentarians have gradually developed what is a party, an electoral programme and finally a majority.

It is through these institutions that the United Kingdom's greatness has emerged. And I am so honoured to address you precisely because the political heart of the United Kingdom is beating under this roof."

Friday 28 March 2008

Improving Legislation

An informative and important debate was held in the Grand Committee of the House of Lords on Thursday at 5pm. The 'QSD' (Question for Short Debate) was put down by Lord Butler of Brockwell (a former Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Home Civil Service) who asked Her Majesty’s Government "what steps they are taking to improve the preparation of legislative proposals to Parliament."

Contributions came from

Lord Howe of Aberavon - former Chancellor of the Exchequer; Foreign Secretary; Leader of the House of Commons - and longest serving Cabinet Minister under Margaret Thatcher.

Lord Richard of Ammanford - former MP; Leader of the House of Lords; UK Permanent Representative to the UN and a European Commissioner

Lord Norton of Louth - Professor at the University of Hull, described by the House Magazine as 'our greatest living expert on parliament'
Lord Lipsey - a former Special Adviser to Tony Crosland, and a well respected journalist and author of a book on the workings of the Treasury.
Lord Maclennan of Rogart - a founder member of the SDP, and its last leader before the merger with the Liberals. He was subsequently President of the Liberal Democrats. Whilst an MP he had served as Minister in the Labour Government of the 1970s.
Baroness Neville-Jones - Former Diplomat; Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet and Head of the Defence and Overseas Secretariat in the Cabinet Office; and Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee. Currently she is Shadow Security Minister in the House of Lords and National Security Adviser to the Leader of the Opposition

Lord Jenkin of Roding - former Cabinet Minister in Mrs Thatcher's administrations.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland - Current Leader of the House of Lords.

All that expertise - all within an hour! For students of the British Constitution and Parliament, it is worth reading the Hansard report of the debate http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200708/ldhansrd/text/80327-gc0006.htm#08032775000005

or watching the debate in archives at http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/VideoPlayer.aspx?meetingId=1431 (at 03:00:00)

Thursday 27 March 2008

America at Westminster

It's not only the Royal Gallery which has its undiplomatic reminders of past enmity between France and Britain. I once took a group of French students from Poitiers around the Palace - one was really impressed to see the coat of arms of that French city in a window on the stairs up to the committee corridor. Of course it turned out that this display of such symbols was a reminder of battles in which the English (or British) had defeated the French.

The Palace was decorated during the mid 19th century - and reflects the then current feelings. America comes off much better. By the time the new Palace was constructed we had got over the Declaration of Independence and the bad feelings of the early part of 19th century. There are paintings of the Pilgrim Fathers (an irony since they were political and religious refugees from England) and other images of our shared history.

Wednesday 26 March 2008

Don't Embarrass President Sarkozy

The President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, will address both House of Parliament today in the Royal Gallery (pictured above). As neither chamber is large enough, two venues are available for foreign Heads of State to make such addresses. One is Westminster Hall - the other is the Royal Gallery. It's a magnificant setting - but contains a major diplomatic problem. The two massive frescoes which dominate the room depict British victories over the French! (Waterloo and Trafalgar). We are assured that curtains will hide them from President Sarkozy when he speaks!

Tuesday 25 March 2008

Berwick on Tweed

Tomorrow, in the House of Lords, Lord Palmer will ask Her Majesty's Government "what assurances they will give that Berwick-upon-Tweed will remain in England".

An ITV poll of 2000 locals showed that by a margin of 60% to 40% they would like their town to be in Scotland, and this has prompted a lively debate. Three EDMs are currently circulating in the House of Commons - 938 (with 3 amendment EDMs); 952; and 996. http://edmi.parliament.uk/EDMi/Default.aspx. As evidenced by tomorrow's question, some of their Lordships are concerned too.

Berwick is the northernmost town in England - but between 1147 and 1482 the town changed hands between England and Scotland more than 13 times. Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III) captured the town in 1482 - and the English have administered it ever since.

An attraction of returning to Scotland is that under the Barnett Formula much more generous payments from the public purse are given to that country. Consequently some of the charges paid by English citizens are not levied on people living in Scotland.

Saturday 22 March 2008

The Week Ahead

Congress continues its Easter Break (although the Senate will meet in pro forma session - in order to ensure that there are no abuses of the recess appointments system).

Westminster returns on Tuesday.


Tuesday 25 March
The House will sit in Westminster Hall between 9.30am-2.00pm

Westminster Hall Private Members' Debates -
09.30-11.00 Remploy
11.00-12.30 Prison policy
12.30-13.00 Mission in Helmand Province
13.00-13.30 Rural development overseas
13.30-14.00 Town and village greens and planning

The House will sit at 2.30pm

Oral Questions - Foreign and Commonwealth Office, including Topical Questions
Presentation of Bill - Sustainable Energy (Local Plans) Bill - Alan Simpson
Debate - Opposition Day (8th allotted day) - Iraq Inquiry
Motion - To approve the Local Government Finance Special Grant Report (No.129) [HC 256]
Adjournment - Tina Thompson and war widows pensions - Lynda Waltho

Wednesday 26 March

The House will sit in Westminster Hall between 9.30am-5.00pm

Westminster Hall Private Members' Debates -
09.30-11.00 Government policy on park home sites
11.00-11.30 Delivery of public services in the South West by Southwest One and IBM
14.30-16.00 Development of nuclear weapons at Aldermaston
16.00-16.30 Changes in planning law affecting high street shops
16.30-17.00 Recycling of plastics

The House will sit at 11.30am

Oral Questions - Northern Ireland; Prime Minister
Legislation - Local Transport Bill [HL] - Second reading
Adjournment - Co-operative model in education in Portsmouth - Sarah McCarthy-Fry

Thursday 27 March

The House will sit at 10.30am

Oral Questions - Innovation, Universities and Skills, including Topical Questions
Business Statement - Leader of the House
Topical debate - to be announced

Motions - relating to House of Commons Business:
i) Parliamentary Contribution Pension Fund
ii) 7th Report of the Standard and Privileges Committee on Employment of family members through the staffing allowance, Session 2007-08, [HC 436]
Adjournment - Boston's road infrastructure - Mark Simmonds

The House will sit in Westminster Hall between 2.30pm and 5.30pm for a Debate on Strategic Export Controls: 2007 Review, First Joint Report from the Defence, Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, International Development and Trade and Industry Committees, Session 2006-07, HC 117, and the Government's response, Cm 7260


Tuesday 25th March

Children and Young Persons Bill [HL] - Third Reading
Health and Social Care Bill - Second Reading

Wednesday 26th March

Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill - Report

Thursday 27th March

Lord Harries of Pentregarth to call attention to financial inequality in the United Kingdom; and to move for papers. (Balloted debate, 2½ hours)

Lord Howarth of Newport to call attention to the case for encouraging high-quality architecture in the United Kingdom and for ensuring that design quality is taken into account by local planning authorities; and to move for papers. (Balloted debate, 2½ hours)

Alcohol Labelling Bill [HL] - Committee

Thursday 20 March 2008

Easter in the UK

Parliament will rise today - but Members will only take a long weekend for Easter. The proper "Easter" recess will begin when the houses rise on 3rd April. That recess ends on April 21st.

The reason is that in 2008 Easter is almost at its earliest date. Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after March 21st (according to the Western Calendar). Confusion reigns around the country as local education authorities and universities have chosen different dates for their Easter vacation.

Wednesday 19 March 2008

Lords of the Blog

A new blog has been set up - which is written by a number of Peers in the House of Lords. The Hansard Society has promoted this initiative - and it involves Peers from all sides of the House. The blog can be found at http://www.lordsoftheblog.net/

Monday 17 March 2008

Ireland - and the Westminster Parliament

The Houses of Parliament were largely rebuilt in the mid nineteenth century (all of the Palace,save Westminster Hall was destroyed in a great fire on 16th October 1834). Ireland was at the time of the rebuilding an integral part of the United Kingdom. Southern Ireland gained its independence in 1922 - but Northern Ireland remains part of the UK.

As a result much of the art in the Palace reflects the Irish connection. In Central Lobby a huge mosaic panel shows St Patrick - accompanied by St Columba - representing the North of Ireland - and St Bridget. Shamrocks are evident around the palace, and statues can be found of St Patrick is various places.
A Happy St Patrick's Day to all Washminster readers.

Sunday 16 March 2008

Next Week (and beyond)

Both the Commons and Lords will sit until Thursday - when they take a long weekend for Easter. The business for the week can be found at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmwib/wb080315/15.03.2008.pdf
p 4. Main business in the Commons will be the continuing debate in the Chamber on the Budget.

House of Representatives: next due to meet on March 31st

Senate: next due to meet on March 31st (though will meet in pro forma session throughout the Easter period)

Friday 14 March 2008

Voting Systems

The House of Lords yesterday discussed the "Review of Voting Systems: The Experience of New Voting Systems in the United Kingdom since 1997" - a document which deserves to be a major work of reference for all those interested in the practical workings of different electoral systems.

Since 1997 the United Kingdom has experimented with various ways of voting. The 'First Past the Post' system had come in for much criticism. It works best when there are only two parties - wheras in recent years small parties have seen their support grow. A winner take all system usually benefits the larger parties - and penalises those parties with a small and widely spread support base. Some have argued for a proportional system - but that has its own dangers - the greatest being that generally the representatives are less directly connected with those they represent. It can also be unbalanced, concentrating power in the hands of minor parties who can hold the balance. As one wit observed "Proportional Representation of votes often leads to Disproportional Representation of those who appeal only to a tiny minority"
As Lord Norton of Louth commented yesterday "My Lords, the fact that 30 per cent of the voters vote for party A and 20 per cent for party B, and after the election parties A and B get together, does not mean that they have 50 per cent of popular support. They have zero per cent because not one person voted for the arrangement. Let us look at Wales in the previous National Assembly elections. There was a 43.5 per cent turnout and not one voter had the chance to vote for a Labour plus Plaid Cymru coalition."

Tuesday 11 March 2008

Europe heads for the Lords

There will be quite a European flavour in Westminster today. The House of Commons will take the remaining stages of the European Union (Amendment) Bill - after which the bill will move to the House of Lords. Unlike the Commons, there are no powers which the Government has to limit debate. A small number of Peers, if they were so minded, could bring business to a standstill.

Already their Lordships have Europe on their mind. Lord Lyell has a question on the Government's definition of a Constitutional treaty, while Lord Eden of Winston will ask a question about changing Parliamentary scrutiny of European Union legislation.

Monday 10 March 2008

One Year Old

Washminster celebrated its first anniversary this last weekend. Can I thank everyone who has visited the blog, particularly the regular visitors - and look forward to the next year, and beyond - with this year's Presidential Elections in the US and forthcoming European (which I will be contesting as a candidate in the East Midlands) and UK General Elections - there will be much to discuss. Please make your comments - or suggest any topics of interest that you'd like to read more about concerning these two fascinating legislatures.

Best wishes


Sunday 9 March 2008

The Week Ahead

A big week ahead at Westminster. On Wednesday Chancellor Alistair Darling will present his Budget to the House of Commons. His speech is due to begin a little after 12.30 GMT. The remaining stages of the European Union (Amendment) Bill will be taken on Tuesday in the House of Commons. It will then move to the House of Lords.

Two important bills are likely to be considered in the House of Representatives

H.Res. 895 – A resolution establishing within the House of Representatives an Office of Congressional Ethics (Rep. Capuano – Rules)

H.Con.Res. ___ – Revising the congressional budget for the United States Government for fiscal year 2008, establishing the congressional budget for the United States Government for fiscal year 2009, and setting forth appropriate budgetary levels for fiscal years 2010 through 2013 (Rep. Spratt – Budget)

House of Representatives:


[House of Commons p12 & 13][House of Lords p16 & 17]

Friday 7 March 2008

Public Bills

The Library of the House of Commons put on an illuminating seminar this week called "The Legislative Process". In particular the workings of the new Public Bill Committees was described.

While there are exceptions, there are generally four evidence sessions. Oral evidence may be requested by the committee or written evidence submitted by interested parties on their own initiative. Most evidence-taking sessions have been held in the Boothroyd or Grimond Rooms in Portcullis House - these rooms are the only ones large enough for all the members of a Public Bill Committee to sit in a horseshoe formation.
Once the evidence taking is completed, the traditional practices of 'Standing Committees' are reverted to. Members face each other as in the main chamber, and the bill is considered clause by clause.

Thursday 6 March 2008

Videos of Former British Prime Ministers

The Number 10 Website has much of interest - including podcasts of the Prime Minister

http://www.number10.gov.uk/output/Page10617.asp; A History of 10 Downing Street http://www.number10.gov.uk/output/Page175.asp; and biographical details of British Prime Ministers http://www.number10.gov.uk/output/Page123.asp

For those with a taste of nostaglia (Remember again the Thatcher years? (perhaps not)) or a wish to see Prime Ministers from before you were born visit


Wednesday 5 March 2008

Multimedia Clips from the House of Representatives

In addition to the service provided by C-SPAN (on TV and at http://www.c-span.org/) A number of members of Congress make their muktimedia clips available on the internet. The list includes

Leader of the House of Representatives: http://democraticleader.house.gov/media/multimedia.cfm

(Republican) Minority Leader of the House http://republicanleader.house.gov/Multimedia/?MediaID=97

Tuesday 4 March 2008

Selecting the Candidate

Today may be a crucial day in the selection of the candidates for November's presidential election. Procedures for candidate selection can differ considerably according to the post being filled; the country; the party - and many other factors.

Currently in the East Midlands (and in other regions in the UK) the Labour Party is in the middle of its process for choosing its candidates for the European Parliament elections due in June 2009.

As one of those candidates, can I outline the procedure.

Labour Party members can apply to be a member of the National Parliamentary Panel. Before a person can be selected as a candidate for the Westminster or European elections, they must have been approved to be on the panel. Interviews are conducted - not to assess the person's ideological position - but to assure the Party that the person has sufficient knowledge about the work they aspire to undertake and are suitable to be an MP or MEP.

Members of the panel were invited to apply for consideration as potential MEPs, and the party in each region drew up a long list for interviews. These involved both a presentation by the aspiring candidate and quick fire questionning by a selection panel. From this the final list of candidates was drawn up.

All Labour Party members in the region have the opportunity to rank the candidates in order of preference. This is being done by a postal ballot. For most regions the count will be undertaken this weekend. [In the East Midlands ballots must be returned by Friday - and these will be verified and counted in Regional Office - with the candidates and their representatives present - on Sunday]. In my region there are five seats up for election in 2009. Voters will select their favoured party and seats allocated in proportion to the number of votes gained by each party. So, if Labour got around 60% of all votes it would get 3 seats (subject to some complex maths to deal with results that don't neatly reach exactly a multiple of 20) - and the top three names on Labour's five person list would become MEPs for the East Midlands.

Monday 3 March 2008

A Little Light Reading

Harry Barnes posted a comment in response to the entry for 29th February. Harry was the Labour MP for Derbyshire North East, and is now an active, and thoughtful, blogger. His blog can be found at http://threescoreyearsandten.blogspot.com/

His comment drew attention to the document "Towards a Grand Strategy for an Uncertain World: Renewing Transatlantic Partnership" due to be discussed at the Bucharest Summit of NATO in April


The Week Ahead

The impact of Tuesday in Ohio and Texas should be the big story this week! In the legislative chambers, the business can be found at

House of Representatives: http://democraticleader.house.gov/links_and_resources/whip_resources/weeklyleader.cfm?pressReleaseID=2237


[House of Commons p11 & 12]
[House of Lords p15 & 16]