Thursday, 30 April 2009

Moving House

Today I am moving house from Rugby - a Midlands town through which the River Avon (the same one that is associated with Shakespeare) flows - though its much smaller in Rugby than in Stratford. Rugby is the place where the game of the same name first began (and from which American Football is descended).

I will be moving to Milton Keynes - about 40 miles closer to London -and a city with a more American feel than the traditional English town or city. It has a grid road system which creates blocks of approximately one square kilometre. The new home will be in Furzton - a lovely district with a beautiful lake. Ice hockey is played at the Leisure Plaza by MK Lightning; American Football by MK City Pathfinders (Manor Fields, Bletchley) ; Baseball by BaseballMK; and Basketball by MK Lions (Bletchley Leisure Centre). The city was used for the filming of the Superman IV movie - with Milton Keynes Central Railway Station as the UN Building. http://www.movie-locations.com/movies/s/superman4.html
You can read more about the city at http://www.mkweb.co.uk/

As you can imagine, I'm going to be quite busy today and for the new few days. It will also take a little while for telephone and broadband services to be installed. Therefore Washminster will not reappear until next Tuesday - when I'll be back at work in Westminster.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Political Parties and Elections Bill

The Committee Stage of this Bill is due to start today in the House of Lords. The Minister who is guiding the Bill through the House of Lords is Lord Bach (pictured)

The Bill makes some amendments to the regulation of party funding and election expenditure that is set out in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. It will cover the whole of the UK.

The Bill aims to:
  • strengthen the regulatory powers of the Electoral Commission, to provide new powers of investigation and the option of civil sanctions
  • enable political parties to put forward four extra Electoral Commissioners and relax political restrictions on staff of the Commission
  • alter the definition of ‘election expenses’ and ‘candidate’ in the Representation of the People Act 1983 to take into account spending on elections prior to the dissolution of Parliament
  • place further requirements on parties and donors to clarify the source of donations
  • amend the Representation of the People Act to provide a more flexible system for adding to the register of electors when an election is called while the register is being updated.

The Research Paper prepared by the House of Commons Library on the Bill last September is available at http://www.parliament.uk/commons/lib/research/rp2008/rp08-074.pdf

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

House of Lords Reform

Lord Tyler asked the Government in a parliamentary question yesterday "when they expect to publish the planned draft clauses on House of Lords reform in the light of responses to the White Paper An Elected Second Chamber: Further Reform of the House of Lords."

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (pictured), the Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, replied, "My Lords, the Government have always said that they would consider the possibility of publishing draft clauses in the light of responses to the White Paper. We are still in a period of consideration." He added later "We intend to report in the summer on the results of the consultation."

The issue which excited their Lordships was proportional representatation for the election of Peers. Lord Tyler claimed "the Conservative leader has announced that he is now campaigning for the same vote, the same value, right across the country—in other words, for proportional representation" - which upset some of the Tories, Lord Strathclyde commenting, "My Lords, may I assure the Minister that the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, is clearly deluding himself? The Conservative Party has no intention of campaigning for proportional representation."

Monday, 27 April 2009

How Laws Are Made

Phil Willis MP who was Chair of the Joint Committee on the Draft Human Tissue and Embryos Bill has given an interesting presentation on the way that that bill made its way into Law. It gives a useful insight into the legislative process.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Book TV

So many books...so little time!

C-SPAN have, for some years, broadcast at weekends "Book TV" where authors talk, in depth, about the books they have written. I enjoy watching it - though it does hold the danger of additional expenditure!

Previous editions are available on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/booktv and the website (which includes details of forthcoming programmes) is http://www.booktv.org/

Saturday, 25 April 2009

The Week Ahead

The Budget debate continues in the House of Commons, concluding on Tuesday. Wednesday is an Opposition Day, with debates initiated by the Liberal Democrats. Amongst the debates in Westminster Hall John Mann will start a debate on the United Nations conference on anti-racism in Geneva. The Treasury select committee will hold hearings into the Budget. In the House of Lords there will be a number of defence related items of business taken, with two questions on Monday and a debate on Thursday afternoon.

Nineteen bills are expected to be considered under the suspension of the rules procedure plus

H.R. 1913 - Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 (Rep. Conyers – Judiciary)

H.R. 627 - Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights Act of 2009 (Rep. Maloney – Financial Services)

Conference Report on S.Con.Res. 13 - Setting forth the congressional budget for the United States Government for fiscal year 2010, revising the appropriate budgetary levels for fiscal year 2009, and setting forth the appropriate budgetary levels for fiscal years 2011 through 2014 (Rep. Spratt – Budget)

The Senate will continue consideration of S.386, the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009.

The details of this week's business can be found at
Westminster - http://services.parliament.uk/calendar/.
House of Representatives - http://democraticleader.house.gov/links_and_resources/whip_resources/weeklyleader.cfm?pressReleaseID=2971

Friday, 24 April 2009

We can see you!!!!

Yesterday in the House of Lords there was a debate on the "effect on civil liberties from electronic surveillance and the collection, monitoring, storage and loss of digital information about individual members of the public".

It is a debate worth reading, whether you are a student of law or a citizen. The House of Lords Constitution Committee issued a report - "Surveillance: Citizens and the State" which is available at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200809/ldselect/ldconst/18/18.pdf

The Report began -

"Surveillance is an inescapable part of life in the UK. Every time we make a telephone call, send an email, browse the internet, or even walk down our local high street, our actions may be monitored and recorded. To respond to crime, combat the threat of terrorism, and improve administrative efficiency, successive UK governments have gradually constructed one of the most extensive and technologically advanced surveillance systems in the world. At the same time, similar developments in the private sector have contributed to a profound change in the character of life in this country. The development of electronic surveillance and the collection and processing of personal information have become pervasive, routine, and almost taken for granted. Many of these surveillance practices are unknown to most people, and their
potential consequences are not fully appreciated.

Commenting on these developments in August 2004, the Information Commissioner Richard Thomas warned against the possibility of the UK sleepwalking into what he referred to as a “surveillance society” In particular, he expressed concern about a raft of new Government proposals, including the establishment of a national identity card scheme, and the creation of a database containing the name and address of every child under the age of 18.

The years that have followed these comments have seen an expansion in the National DNA Database (NDNAD), the introduction or development of new databases for a variety of public services, and a steady increase in the use of CCTV in both the public and private sector. There has been a profound and continuous expansion in the surveillance apparatus of both the state and the private sector. In the past, computer databases and data sharing, the monitoring of electronic communications, electronic identification, and public area CCTV surveillance were relatively uncommon. Today these technologies are ubiquitous and exert an influence over many aspects of our everyday lives. The expansion in the use of surveillance represents one of the
most significant changes in the life of the nation since the end of the Second World War, and has been shaped by a succession of governments, public bodies, and private organisations. Furthermore, surveillance continues to exert a powerful influence over the relationship between individuals and the state, and between individuals themselves. The selective way in which it is
sometimes used threatens to discriminate against certain categories of individuals.

In 2006, the Information Commissioner commissioned the Surveillance Studies Network to compile A Report on the Surveillance Society. The Report was published in November 2006, and focused on surveillance in everyday life in the UK today and in the future, and on how it might be regulated. In March 2007, the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) produced its report,
Dilemmas of Privacy and Surveillance: Challenges of Technological Change,which also made a number of recommendations for regulation."

During the Easter Recess a review of RIPA (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000) was concluded - which revealed many uses of powers for trivial purposes - which the Home Secretary has announced she will crack down on.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

The Supreme Court

To most readers of Washminster the term "Supreme Court" will immediately bring to mind the magnificant white building opposite the Congress Building in Washington DC. Soon there will be a rival. This autumn the highest court in the English Legal System will cease to be the "Judicial Committee of the House of Lords" - and instead the new Supreme Court will meet across Parliament Square, in what used to be known as Middlesex Guildhall.

In a press release from the Ministry of Justice it was stated that

"The creation of a world class building for a world class institution will underscore the independence of the judiciary from Government, while emphasising the focus on justice, truth and democracy...

The renovation will restore the building to its original grandeur, as additions from the 1980's are being peeled back and removed to reveal original features, such as ornate ceilings. The historic integrity of this important building is being preserved while a modern functional and publicly accessible court space is created."

Middlesex Guildhall was built in the early years of the 20th Century in the art nouveau gothic style. It is decorated with mediæval-looking gargoyles. It incorporates in the rear a doorway dating from the seventeenth century, which was part a prison which used to stand on the site. It served originally as a County Council headquarters - but in recent years was a Crown Court.

In the House of Lords today Earl Ferrers will ask Her Majesty’s Government what is to be the postal address of the new Supreme Court. An easy enough question to answer - but of course the real interest will be in his supplementary.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Budget Day

This afternoon Alistair Darling will present his budget. It will be a day of great excitement and tradition at Westminster. The purpose of his statement is to report to Parliament on the current and future state of the economy; and to announce changes in taxation measures.

A fourteen minute recording is available on the parliamentary website about the history and traditions of the Budget - http://www.parliament.uk/about/podcasts/budget.cfm. A factsheet is available at http://www.parliament.uk/documents/upload/p05.pdf.

The Hansard Society have done a lot of work on the current process - and proposals for reform. Their book, 'The Fiscal Maze' is downloadable at http://www.hansardsociety.org.uk/blogs/downloads/archive/2007/09/17/the-fiscal-maze-jul-2006.aspx

Budget resolutions are passed to give effect to any tax changes announced - and these are then permanent effect after the Finance Bill is passed.

The Treasury maintains a Budget website at http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/bud_bud09_index.htm

Tuesday, 21 April 2009


It hasn't been a good time recently for civility between legislators - but then was there ever a golden age? Physical fights have broken out in the past on the floors of the chambers.

Senator Mark Pryor discusses how to improve civility in the senate

Monday, 20 April 2009

The Return

Parliament and Congress return - as does Washminster! The next few weeks will be a hard working period for both legislatures - and this blog will cover both the subject matters under discussion - and the procedures which will be followed.

In the UK the main event this week will be the Budget statement in the House of Commons, and the debate which follows it. This afternoon the Commons has a debate on defence procurement. The Lords continue the marathon committee stage of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill tomorrow. Today they consider the controversial Postal Services Bill.

The House of Representatives return on Tuesday. There are a number of bills to be considered under the suspension procedure - including a joint concurrent resolution "Providing for the acceptance of a statue of Ronald Wilson Reagan from the people of California for placement in the United States Capitol " and H.R. 1694 - Revolutionary War and War of 1812 Battlefield Protection Act. In the Senate on Monday they are due to consider a "motion to proceed to S. 386, a bill to improve enforcement of mortgage fraud, securities fraud, financial institution fraud, and other frauds related to federal assistance and relief programs, for the recovery of funds lost to these frauds, and for other purposes"

The details of this week's business can be found at

Monday, 6 April 2009


Both Congress and Parliament are on recess. Washminster will next be published on April 20th.