Saturday 24 July 2010

I'm hip

As the recess beckons - a few moments of light relief. I first heard a recording of Blossom Dearie singing this at Ronnie Scott's in the 1960s (to be precise I heard it this week - the recording is from the 1960s)- the words have changed slightly, but it is still a super song

Friday 23 July 2010


The Workshop of Parliamentary Scholars and Parliamentarians is held every two years at Wroxton in Oxfordshire - and the ninth workshop takes place this weekend. Some of the papers will appear in The Journal of Legislative Studies.

Wroxton College is the UK campus for Fairleigh Dickinson University, an independent university in Madison, New Jersey. It has been known previously as Wroxton Abbey. Lord North, the Prime Minister at the time of the American War of Independence, lived here and after his death was buried at the local church.

A short biography of the man who lost America can be found at the No 10 Wesite - accessible here.
There is a fascinating blog about the history of the mansion at http://www.wroxtonabbey.org/

Thursday 22 July 2010

Unparliamentary Announcements

One of the criticisms made of (all) British Governments, is that they sometimes make announcements to the media, before informing Parliament. The House of Commons Library has produced a list (with inbuilt links to the statements themselves) of occasions on which the Speaker has commented on such extra-parliamentary policy announcements.

It is available here.

Wednesday 21 July 2010

The Academies Bill

The Academies Bill continues its high speed progress through Parliament. It completed its passage in the Lords on 13th July - and had its 1st Reading in the Commons on the same day. This week

Information on the progress and detail of the Bill is available on the parliamentary website. There are a couple of House of Commons Library papers

Opposition Spokesman, Lord Knight of Weymouth, has done a short video outlining the objections to the Bill

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Select Committees start their work

Last week the membership of the House of Commons Select Committees was finally agreed to. There were a number of private meetings of these committees, as members decided what inquiries they wished to pursue. Some of these inquiries begin in earnest this week.

Today the Health Committee is taking evidence from Andrew Lansley, the Secretary of State for Health. The inquiry is entitled "The responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Health". Meanwhile the Business, Innovation & Skills Committee meets Vince Cable (Secretary of State, LibDem) and Minister of State (David Willetts, Cons) for the committee's inquiry into "The work of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills". The Secretary of State for Wales, Cheryl Gillan, is meeting the Welsh Affairs Committee.

On Wednesday the Scottish Affairs Committee has an "introductory session with the Scotland Office" with the Secretary of State & Parliamentary Under Secretary (Ministers) and the Director of the Scotland Office (Civil Servant). The Lord Chancellor, who heads the Ministry of Justice, will meet the Justice Committee for their inquiry into "the work of the Ministry of Justice".

This type of inquiry into the work of a Department is a useful way of kicking off scrutiny by a committee early in the Parliament. More specific inquiries are also running - such as the Treasury Committee's inquiry into the Office of budget responsibility or the Defence Committee's session with the Secretary of State tomorrow on  "Current operations in Afghanistan, the Strategic Defence & Security review, and defence acquisition reform".

Monday 19 July 2010

Parliamentary Podcasts

Having just acquired an i-Phone, I've been able to take advantage of podcasts, using my train journey from Milton Keynes to London to listen to some background material on Parliament.

The BBC's "Today in Parliament" is available to transfer from itunes to the iphone before I leave my home. It is available as a podcast on iTunes or directly on the BBC's website. The Parliamentary website also has a podcast series to subscribe to - this morning I listened to programmes on Big Ben; Gladstone; The Budget & Biofuels - and as I type this I am finishing off listening to a half-hour podcast on robotics. Again free subscription is available through iTunes - or directly here.

Friday 16 July 2010

Improving Electoral Registration

As has been noted in earlier posts - there is much concern that a major boundary review is to completed before the next election, on the basis of an electoral register that misses a large number of people entitled to vote. The following written question and its answer have been published in Hansard

Elections: Registration

Mr Blunkett: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what steps he plans to take to seek to ensure 100% electoral registration; and if he will make a statement. [7026]

Mr Harper: The Government will be considering what steps can be taken to improve registration rates in the context of the implementation of Individual Electoral Registration in Great Britain.

The Electoral Commission Report, "The completeness and accuracy of electoral registers in Great Britain", published in March 2010, reported that the registration rate in the United Kingdom was 91-92% (based on figures from 2000). The report also found that: "there was a decline in registration levels from the late 1990s to 2006. The same evidence base suggests that the registers have stabilised since 2006, although it is likely that the completeness of the registers has declined since the last national estimate in 2000."

The report also says the process of estimating registration rates is an "imprecise science" and says that "All current approaches to estimating the completeness and accuracy of the electoral registers at a national level are imperfect", but that "The completeness of Great Britain's electoral registers remains broadly similar to the levels achieved in comparative countries."

Thursday 15 July 2010

House of Lords Reform

The following written questions (and their answers) have been published in Hansard -

House of Lords: Reform

Zac Goldsmith: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister (1) pursuant to the answer of 16 June 2010, Official Report, column 478W, on House of Lords: reform, whether he plans to propose a power for electors to recall an elected peer; [6924]

(2) if he will include in his legislative proposals for elections to the House of Lords provisions for electors to recall a member of that House so elected. [7535]

Mr Harper: The cross-party Committee on House of Lords reform, chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister, will consider what options are necessary to bring about a more accountable wholly or mainly elected second chamber. The Government will publish their proposals in a draft Bill by no later than the end of this year.

Mr Bain: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister whether his proposals for the reform of the House of Lords will be revenue-neutral. [7522]

Mr Harper: The cross-party Committee on House of Lords reform, chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister, is considering the size of the reformed second chamber and other issues which will determine the overall cost of a second chamber. The Government will publish an estimate of the costs alongside a draft Bill.

Wednesday 14 July 2010

Judicial Impeachments

Attempts to impeach the President make news around the world - and the moves to impeach Nixon and Clinton are particularly memorable. But Article II Section 4 of the Constitution applies impeachment more widely - "The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." Judges have been held to come under the term "civil officers" and Art III says "The judges, both of the supreme and inferior courts, shall hold their offices during good behaviour".

There have been a number of impeachments of judges. CRS have produced a paper on Judicial Impeachment Proceedings which is available here.

Tuesday 13 July 2010

The working practices of the House of Lords

The case for reviewing the working practices of the House of Lords was the subject of a debate in the House yesterday. There have been a number of dramatic changes in the House recently - lots of new Peers have been created; the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition has a large working majority (compared to the position under the last Government in which Labour could (and was) frequently defeated - often with the winner of a vote dependant upon the way the Liberal Democrats or Crossbenchers voted). Some observers are claiming that "self regulation" isn't working as it used to.

A detailed Lord Library note on the background and issues of yesterday's debate can be accessed here.
The debate can be read in Hansard (dated 12th July - available from 8am UK time on 13th [if you are an early bird like me - before then you can access it here])

Monday 12 July 2010

NY Times on the Congressional week ahead

The return of Congress after the break for Independence Day celebrations - from NYT.

The Week Ahead

Financial matters will dominate the work of the Commons this week - with three days of consideration of the Finance Bill.

Monday 12 July 2010
2.30pm Oral Questions - Education, including Topical Questions
Legislation - Finance Bill - Committee of the whole House
Adjournment - Operation of the NHS in Cornwall - Sarah Newton

Tuesday 13 July 2010

2.30pm Oral Questions - HM Treasury, including Topical Questions
Ten Minute Rule Motion - Foreign Prisoners (Repatriation) - Mr Philip Hollobone
Legislation - Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill - First reading
Legislation - Finance Bill - Committee of the whole House (Day 2)
Adjournment - Issues arising from the 2007 floods in Hull - Diana R Johnson

Wednesday 14 July 2010

11.30am Oral Questions - Cabinet Office
12.30pm Prime Minister's Question Time
Ten Minute Rule Motion - Carers (Identification and Support) - Barbara Keeley
Motion - To approve the Draft Terrorism Act 2006 (Misapplication Of Section 25) Order 2010
Motion  - Police Grant Report
Motion - To approve a European Document relating to the European External Action Service
Legislation - Academies Bill [HL] - First reading
Adjournment - Role of retained fire fighters - Dan Byles

Thursday 15 July 2010

10.30 Oral Questions - Communities and Local Government, including, Topical Questions
Business Statement - Leader of the House
Legislation - Finance Bill - Committee of the whole House (Day 3)
Adjournment - Decent Homes programme in Hillingdon - John McDonnell

In the Lords (full business can be read here) - there will be a debate today on "the case for reviewing the working practices of the House of Lords". On Thursday Lord Grocott has a question down on "Procedures following a vote of confidence "

The agenda for the House of Representatives can be accessed here.

Sunday 11 July 2010


With great authority Richard Nixon explains his view of constitutional law

Some other quotes which remind us of the need to control those who exercise power

Montesquieu - "When the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or in the same body of magistrates, there can be no liberty; because apprehensions may arise, lest the same monarch or senate should enact tyrannical laws, to execute them in a tyrannical manner."

Acton - "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

Chatham - "Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it"

Madison - "In time of actual war, great discretionary powers are constantly given to the Executive Magistrate. Constant apprehension of War, has the same tendency to render the head too large for the body. A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence against. foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people. "

But don't forget - “The tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy” Montesquieu

Saturday 10 July 2010

Highlights from Parliament

The BBC - Democracy website has a number of excerpts from parliamentary broadcasts. You can access the full collection from here.

Two bring back particular memories - Denis Healey's famous put down of Geoffrey Howe for ineffectiveness - and the same Geoffrey Howe being deadly effective.

Friday 9 July 2010

Times Guide to the House of Commons

I bought my first "Times Guide..." in 1975 in Hull, where the price of the October 1974 Guide had been reduced. I've been hooked ever since - and have even acquired some pre-1974 guides. As well as including biographical details of MPs - Election results are given in detail (with calculations done to provide information about swing and majorities. There is an analysis section (what a joy for nerds like me!) and written articles about the previous parliament and the election itself.

My biggest disappointment was that after the 1997 Guide (in other words for 2001 when I was first a candidate), they dropped the biographical details of defeated candidates!

My copy is on its way - for further details visit the website.

Thursday 8 July 2010

Whatever happened to serious & sober party political broadcasts?

Bid Protests

The GAO [The US Government Accountability Office] provides a forum for bidders and offerors seeking federal government contracts who believe that contracts have been, or are about to be, awarded in violation of the laws and regulations that govern contracting with the federal government. A bidder or offeror can file a bid protest with GAO, and GAO issues a decision on whether the federal agency has complied with statutes and regulations controlling government procurement.

CRS has produced a report about the background and procedures for these bid protests. It is available here.

A CRS report on the GAO itself can be accessed here.

Wednesday 7 July 2010

Private Members Bills - Elections and the Constitution

Bills to amend the way elections and referenda are held - and other constitutional issues are popular amongst those MPs who topped the ballot this year. First Readings (a pure formality) have been held for some - though the bills themselves might not be printed until much nearer the date of the Second Reading. Press on the name of the Bill - and you will be directed to the Parliamentary page about that Bill.

Elector Registration Bill
Electoral Law (Amendment) Bill
Referendums Bill

Legislation (Territorial Extent) Bill

Untied Kingdom Parliamentary Sovereignty Bill
European Communities Act 1972 (Repeal) Bill
European Union (Audit of Benefits and Costs of UK Membership) Bill
European Union Membership (Referendum) Bill

Public Bodies (Disposal of Assets) Bill
Taxation Freedom Day Bill

Thursday 1 July 2010

Capitol in danger (and not from the British!)

Politico reports

"Key parts of the antiquated U.S. Capitol campus are literally crumbling, desperately in need of more than $200 million in repairs.

Water is leaking through pin holes in the Statue of Freedom. Lead-based paint chips are flaking off the Rotunda walls and collecting on the tour route to the Capitol dome, putting visitors at risk. Last summer, a U.S. Capitol Police officer was injured when he was struck by a falling ceiling tile in the Cannon House Office Building. And in the garage of the Rayburn House Office Building, parts of the parking deck require a full concrete-slab replacement — and without it, vehicles could be damaged, according to previously unreleased committee testimony. ......

Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0610/39256.html#ixzz0sQX22otr