Friday 31 December 2010

Happy New Year

2010 is finally on its way out - and 2011 beckons. I'd like to wish you a very happy New Year - and look forward to your visits to this blog. I have a lot planned for this blog in 2011. There will be almost a month in which the posts will come from Washington DC - as I undertake interviews and research into a couple of areas that I will be writing about during the year. If you haven't viewed (I use a lot of videos) some of my previous posts from Washington - do visit Washminster archive [Blog Archive - on right hand side]. My visits were in

September 2007
May 2008
October/November 2008 (for the Election Campaign)
January 2010

I also did some pieces on the history of Washington in August 2008.

I will be continuing my series on particular Congresses - so far 93rd (1973-5 - the Watergate investigations) & 94th (1975-77 the Watergate Babies) - and Parliaments - 45th (1970-74)

and we will look in detail at the new rules for the House of Representatives, to build on the ones discussed this year - I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII,

There will be more material particularly relevant to Law and Politics students - so do pass on the details of this to any friends who are studying. Most of all, I'll be commenting on the events of 2011 as they happen.

Thursday 30 December 2010

A useful Tool

In 2011, Washminster will make plenty of references to the US Constitution. It is central to the workings of the US Congress - and indeed all the institutions of US Government. In additional, the "Bill of Rights" - which are the first ten amendments to the Constitution - and subsequent amendments - are key to the individual rights of US Citizens.

Britain does not have, yet, a Constitution set down in a single written document. The US Constitution is a useful model (both in structure and substance) to discuss the "Constitution" the UK could ultimately adopt. For students of Constitutional Law it is a useful document for understanding the American system and comparing with other systems. So expect lots of references in this blog.

I strongly recommend getting a copy - they are available on various websites - such as the Senate (with explanation of key points) or at US Constitution.net (pdf version). The Document was not written in a vacuum - so other key texts  such as the Declaration of Independence; the Articles of Confederation are useful

There are a number of useful guides to the background and meaning of the Constitution. My most used sources include -

and my prized possession

Wednesday 29 December 2010

94th Congress

1974 was a dramatic year in American politics (it was pretty dramatic in the UK too - with two General Elections!). President Nixon was brought down by the Watergate Scandal - and President Ford's honeymoon came to a sudden end when he pardoned the former President. The Elections on November 4th brought in a wave of young Democrats - the "Watergate Babies". The Democrats gained a net of 49 seats in the House of Representatives and 5 seats in the Senate.

The new Congress met for the first time on 14th January 1975. The Democratic caucus had agreed a number of rule changes in December, including
  • stripping the Democratic members of the Ways & Means Committee of their power to make committee assignments (a power held since 1911). Instead the Steering & Policy Committee - a partly elected & partly leadership appointed body - got the power.
  • making the election of all Chairs by secret ballot. This was to be automatic
  • nominations of Appropriation sub-committee Chairs had to be approved by a caucus vote
  • the Speaker was given the power to nominate all Democratic members of the Rules Committee
In January the freshman class invited all the Chairs of committees to meet them. In the first few days of the new Congress three Chairs were not re-elected! (see post on Wright Patman)

Later in the Congress both parties in the House of Representatives opened their party meetings (Democrats - Caucus; Republicans - Conference). In the Senate the filibuster rule was modified on March 7th - bring the number required down from 67 to 60 (2/3rds to 3/5ths). It was supposed to reduce the impact of the filibuster! As a recent Washminster post outlines - it was not successful - and new moves may come in 2011.

Despite the large Democrat majority in the House, there were problems in getting legislation through. Partly this was due to internal divisions within the Democratic caucus - something President Ford was able to exploit in his use of vetoes. Farrell notes that "By Election Day, 1976, Ford would veto 59 bills and have but 12 vetoes overridden."

At the November 1976 the Democrats gained one seat in the House and one seat in the Senate.

Tuesday 28 December 2010

Welcome Back

I hope you had a good Christmas break. Washminster returns to close off a fascinating year in both British and American politics - and to look forward to 2011.

The Elections of 2010 have far reaching implications for both the UK and US. Major constitutional changes are being pushed through at breakneck speed in Britain. The 112th Congress will be very differenf from the ones that preceded it. It will be a year of interesting developments.m Washminster will be following them!

Looking back to 2010 we have lost some great people.

Lord (Richard) Acton
Robert Byrd
Elizabeth Edwards
Michael Foot
Alexander Haig
Brian Hanrahan
Richard Holbrooke
Anthony Howard
Lord (Andrew) McIntosh
Jimmy Reid
Dan Rostenkowski
Andrew Roth
Sir Cyril Smith
Stephen Solarz
Ted Stevens
Ted Sorensen
Alan Watkins
Charlie Wilson
Howard Zinn

Friday 24 December 2010

Happy Christmas

I should like to wish you every best wish for this Holiday season - however you celebrate it. I will spending Christmas Day in Milton Keynes with family - and other members of our family will be joining us in the next few days. We'll see what the weather in the afternoon is like, but after Christmas Dinner I enjoy a walk around the lake.

I hope you have a great time - and Washminster will take a short break returning on Tuesday 28th December.

Thursday 23 December 2010

Chet Baker

As my thoughts turn to the holidays - I'm starting to relax. One of the great aids to relaxation is music - and, as long time readers of this blog know, I love jazz. So today's post is not about Congress or Parliament - but instead, Chet Baker, who was born on this day in 1929.

Coming from a musical family, Chet learned to play a number of musical instruments. He is most well known for playing the trumpet. In his early years he played with both Stan Getz and Charlie Parker. He joined Gerry Mulligan's quartet - and I love listening to the interplay between Mulligan and Baker on the Carnegie Hall concert CD which I have.

A website dedicated to Chet Baker can be accessed here.

Wednesday 22 December 2010

New Rules for the House of Representatives

A summary of the rule changes which the new Republican majority will propose has been posted on the Politico website

* Former members of Congress who are lobbyists will be banned from using the House gym

* The so-called Gephardt rule, which allows the House to automatically pass a debt-limit increase upon adoption of a conference report on the budget -- without a separate vote -- will be eliminated.
* A bill reducing House operating costs will be made in order for Jan. 6.
* The names of three committees are changing: They will be the Committee on Ethics (which means reporters will no longer have to write out the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct -- ah, it feels good to say goodbye to that one), the Committee on Education and the Workforce, and the Committee on Science, Space and Technology.
* Committees will have to circulate text of legislation at least 24 hours before considering it, they will have to post members' attendance records online and they will post 'truth in testimony' statements identifying any potential conflicts of interest for witnesses.
* Democratic PAY/GO will be replaced with Republican CUT/GO, which requires spending offsets to be found for any increases in mandatory programs -- those like Social Security and Medicare which require the federal government to make payouts to an unlimited number of people or entities based on them meeting eligibility requirements. Tax increases won't count as offsets, according to the summary provided by House Republicans.
* Delegates and resident commissioners will no longer be allowed to vote on amendments on the House floor.
* The majority will reserve bill numbers HR 11 through HR 20 for the minority.
* The Constitution will be read aloud -- or at least may be read aloud -- on Jan. 6.

The Washington Post reports that the new rules will be posted online ahead of a Jan. 4 organizational meeting of the Republican Conference. At that meeting, House Republicans will be able to offer amendments to the new rules.

Capitol Ducks

This was taken earlier this year - when Milton Keynes was covered in snow - but I was walking from Arlington to Congress. MK is again covered in snow - bud sadly, this time I'm the wrong side of the Atlantic.

Working Peers

Lord Selsdon  asked yesterday - "in the light of the announcements by the Prime Minister to appoint a number of new life Peers as "working Peers", what is their definition of a "working Peer"".
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, the term "working Peer" has been used since the 1950s to refer to Peers appointed to the House of Lords following nomination by one of the political parties. Such nominations are subject to vetting for propriety by the House of Lords Appointments Commission.

Lord Selsdon: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for that little bit of history, but is he aware that the official advice given to me is that there is no term "working Peer" and that Members of your lordships' House, other than the 20 who hold positions and are paid from the public purse, do not work? Will he therefore explain to me whether I am right or wrong, and whether the only term of comparison that I can find in my research is correct; that is, that the nearest relationship is the worker bee? If we do not work, are we all known as drones?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I know that my noble friend speaks for himself in posing these questions. He said that he was glad of my little history lesson. I know that he has done endless research on this question. He is broadly right: there is no statutory basis for the term "working Peer". It does not appear in the Companion or in our Standing Orders. It has been used in the past as a term of convenience. My view is that all Peers come here to work; no Peer comes here except as a volunteer; and they fully understand the duties that they will have to perform when they get here.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord is right to say that all Peers come here to work, but is not the question whether there is enough room for them to come given the propensity of the Government to appoint many more of their own Peers to flood this place?

Lord Strathclyde: We know, my Lords, that there is not enough room. However, I am delighted to say that, very shortly, I shall be receiving from my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral a report on retirement from the House. I hope that will point us in the right direction of finding ways to reduce our numbers voluntarily or perhaps even otherwise.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Geddes: My Lords, is there not an implication in the style of "working Peer" that those of us who are not deemed to be such are idle?

Lord Strathclyde: That was certainly the view in the 1950s when the term was first introduced. I do not think that it is necessary to use the phrase "working Peer" any more. It is certainly not one that I will use from now on and I shall encourage others not to use it either. I do not think that Peers should encourage being described either as working or non-working Peers.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: Could I ask the Leader of the House about working Ministers? Is he satisfied that a significant number of his Front-Bench colleagues are not in receipt of a ministerial salary? Is that not an undesirable trend, which was started by the previous Administration and continued by this one? I declare an interest as someone who was for a considerable time unpaid and latterly was paid.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord deserved exactly what he got. The noble Lord tempts me. This is slightly beyond the scope of the Question. There is a statutory limit to the number of Ministers. I regret that there are Ministers who are unpaid in your Lordships' House but they are all volunteers. They all signed up and knew what they were getting when they started. It is a great honour and a privilege to serve Her Majesty's Government in this House.

Lord Campbell-Savours: When the next crop of Peers is finally in, what will be the proportion of Peers on each of the Benches?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, appointments are entirely in the hands of the Prime Minister, but the coalition agreement indicated that pending long-term reform of the House, we would gradually move towards appointments made more in proportion to the political parties in the House of Commons.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, after the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, reports on retirement arrangements, what does my noble friend think should be done, if anything, about those Peers who do not take the enticement, but do not speak, do not vote, do not serve on committees and often do not attend?

Lord Strathclyde: That is exactly why I will await the final report of my noble friend: to see whether or not he raises any of those issues.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, could a working definition of a working Peer be a Member of your Lordships' House who spends a lot of hours in the Chamber very properly scrutinising ill thought-out, badly prepared and excessive legislation such as the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill brought in by this Government?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, in many ways, that may well have been a definition of those Peers who worked bravely on behalf of the Opposition in the dark years between 1997 and 2010. However, I indicated in answer to an earlier question that I thought the term "working Peer" was now outdated.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that without financial inducements there is no possibility of any Peer-or very few Peers-retiring?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, when the leave of absence scheme was introduced, several hundred Peers-or in the low hundreds-took advantage of it without financial inducement, so I do not agree with the noble Earl's premise. I also think that the public would find it very hard to understand why many who had been given the honour of being a Member of the House of Lords should then be paid to leave it.

The nuts and bolts of making law

Below are some links to the Cabinet Office's documents for civil servants on the legislative process

Guide to Parliamentary work

Statutory Instrument Practice

Update on Filibusters

I share with you an email which has been sent out via the Daily Kos

Are you as angry about the broken Senate as we are? In the movies, in order to filibuster, Senators have to stand in the Senate and make their case to the American people. But in the modern Senate, a filibuster takes no such act of principle or courage. Senators can filibuster simply by placing a phone call to a clerk and heading off to dinner!

This January 5th, we have a chance to change the rules of the Senate, and make Senators engage in an all night talk-a-thon in order to block legislation or nominations. We can make the filibuster a real filibuster, and put an end to obstruction for the sake of obstruction. The key is to adopt new rules on the first day the Senate convenes next year, when only a simple majority of Senators is required for a rules change.

We’re fighting with some dedicated colleagues to make this happen, but to get across the finish line, we need members of the Daily Kos community to show their support. You can do so by signing the petition Daily Kos has created in support of making the filibuster real.

Senators need to hear from their constituents on this. As such, we will use your support of this effort to make the case to other Senators that we must reform the filibuster on January 5th.

Join us, and Daily Kos, in support of making the filibuster a real filibuster. We can put an end to obstruction for the sake of obstruction, but your support is key.

Keep fighting,

Senator Jeff Merkley

Senator Tom Udall

Tuesday 21 December 2010

2010 Census and the 2012 Elections

The details of the 2010 census in the USA were released today. The political significance of the apportionment of Representatives is

  • Some states will have more more seats in the House of Representatives - some will have less
  • The Electoral College for the election of the President changes - again giving more "Electoral College Votes" to some - and less to others
  • Texas +4
  • Florida +2
  • Arizona : Georgia : Nevada : South Carolina : Utah : Washington - all +1
  • New York : Ohio : each -2
  • Illinois : Iowa : Louisiana : Massachusetts : Michigan : Missouri : New Jersey : Pennsylvania - all -1
If these are compared with the 2008 Presidential Election - Obama would have only won 343 Electoral Votes and McCain would have increased his Electoral College tally to 168. On the face of it, not a great difference - but for 2012 it makes Florida more important (Obama only won it with 50.9% of the vote). Solidly Republican states gain in their proportion of the Electoral College seats [Texas (4) - 55% :  Arizona (1) 54% South Carolina (1) 54% Utah (1) 63%] while solid Democratic states lose their proportional strength [New York (-2) 63% : Illinois (-1) 62% : Iowa (-1) 54% : Massachusetts (-1) 62% : New Jersey (-1) 57% : Pennsylvania (-1) 54%. 

Of further concern to the Democrats is that as a result of the 2010 state elections - more of the redistricting within the States will be in Republican hands - which could significantly affect the makeup of the House of Representatives.

The details of the census data can be accessed here.

A New Peer

Yesterday Michael Dobbs was introduced into the House of Lords. He has been a key player in the Conservative party for many years - but it is for his writing that he is best known.

In November 1990 the BBC ran the first episode of "House of Cards", written by Michael Dobbs, which began with a monologue by its chief character, in which he says "Nothing lasts forever. Even the longest, the most glittering reign must come to an end someday." - as he looks at a photograph of Margaret Thatcher.

Days later - long after the scheduling of the programme, Mrs Thatcher had fallen!

The series is available on DVD - and worth watching. It is a superb political thriller - and I rate it as one of my favourite fictional portrayals of British politics.

In addition to his writing - he was a Chief of Staff and later Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party. He has served as a special adviser to Margaret Thatcher.

Michael Dobbs is not to be confused with his namesame - journalist and author of "One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear war" - though both were born in Britain - and studied in the USA.

His website can be accessed here.

Monday 20 December 2010

Airports in Britain

Heathrow is the largest UK airport - and a number of carriers fly direct to Washington. However I usually fly to the USA's capital from Birmingham International. This avoids going into Central London or using the M25. Sadly there is no direct flight - but the avoidance of the hassle at Heathrow or Gatwick makes it worthwhile. If you fly into London (or are travelling from the UK to the USA), it's worth giving thought to Birmingham.

The West Coast line serves Birmingham International railway station. Although technically outside the airport perimeter - it is closer to the terminals than many so-called airport railway stations. SkyRail links the station to the airport terminal. It is free, operates about every 2 minutes when the rail station is open and the journey takes less than 2 minutes. Fast trains take 90 minutes to London Euston (Virgin) - other places are served by London Midland and Cross-Country Services. It's very easy for me in Milton Keynes - direct trains from both Virgin and London Midland; Direct coaches from the newly opened coachway; and by car straight up the M1 and M6.

The quickest route to Washington DC is via Newark by Continental. (CO27)
All possible routes are outlined here.

Other Airport websites
London Heathrow
London Gatwick

Sunday 19 December 2010

The week ahead

The House of Representatives returns on Tuesday. A Continuing Resolution will be the main business. The Weekly Leader is available here.

The House of Commons will debate firearms control on Monday; There will be a pre-recess backbench debate on Tuesday, as well as Westminster Hall debates and three select committee meetings. In the Lords six new Peers will be introduced on Monday and Tuesday - all coalition peers. It will be a busy schedules as a number of pieces of legislation are finally dealt with, while controversial Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill and Public Bodies Bill  continue their progress.

Flying into Washington DC

There are three main airports serving the Washington DC area. The most famous is Washington Dulles. It is situated 26 miles from downtown Washington in northern Virginia. It is named in honour of John Foster Dulles, Eisenhower's Secretary of State.

Dulles website

The closest to the city is National Airport, which was renamed the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in 1988 - though people refer to it as "National", "Washington National", "Reagan", or "Reagan National". It was built in 1940-41on mudflats alongside the Potomac. The yellow and blue lines on the Metro serve the airport.

National Airport website

To the north of the city, linked by a train service into Union Station is BWI (Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport ). It is about 30 miles from Washington and 10 miles from Baltimore. It became operational in 1950.

BWI website

Saturday 18 December 2010

The Filibuster in the Senate

The US Constitution requires special majorities for specific matters - perhaps I should make that the Christmas quiz - for what matters does the Constitution require a special majority in the Senate?  - answers to info@washminster.com. Sadly no prize of great financial value - but I'm happy to give an honourable mention to everyone submitting the correct answer.

In recent years the filibuster has been used, or merely threatened on a regular basis. Majority Leader Harry Reid complained only last week that the Republicans had launched 87 filibusters in this Congress (December 15th - Congressional Record p S10261). This has meant that in practice 60 votes are needed to progress ordinary business.Judicial nominations - which do not require a special majority - are in practice unable to proceed unless 3/5th of the Senate vote for cloture. (see Washminster post on cloture)

Senator Hatch in 2005 said "America’s Founders designed the Senate without the ability to filibuster
anything at all. The filibuster became available later but was restricted to the legislative process which we control.

It was not part of the appointment process which the President controls.

Allowing a minority of Senators to capture this body’s role of advice and consent will allow that minority to hijack the President’s power to appoint judges. I admit that we have control of the Executive Calendar, but the President has rights in that calendar, too.

We cannot hijack the President’s power to appoint judges. Doing so distorts the balance the Constitution establishes and mandates. That situation should not stand."

I understand that moves may be afoot to challenge the Senate rules which have given rise to this practical requirement for a 3/5th Supermajority. The issues involved in changing the rules are discussed in A CRS Paper  - "Entrenchment" of Senate Procedure and the "Nuclear Option" for change.

An alternative approach would be to challenge the constitutionality of the rules in court. There are a number of legal issues which would have to be addressed with this approach - but we may well see attempts to bring the matter before the courts - certainly something needs to be done - or the Senate will continue to be described as "broken, dysfunctional, gridlocked" (CQ.com).

More information and other CQ material can be accessed here.

What are your views - do share them on Washminster - either by posting a comment here - or emailing me.

Christmas in London

On Wednesday I published a post about Christmas in Washington. Sadly 3600 miles separate me from that great city - at least for the moment. London however is closer - and has a lively Christmas scene. It too has a giant national Christmas tree - in Trafalgar Square.

One of the most magical places is the South Bank Centre

The website is accessible here.

Westminster is worth a visit - there is a Christmas tree close to the Clock tower (also known [incorrectly] as Big Ben). Leading off Parliament Square is the shopping street of Victoria Street. There are many shopping areas within London - but you can't beat Oxford Street at Christmas.

Ice skating rinks are now well established near the London Eye and Somerset House.

One of the best guides to events in London is "Time Out"

Friday 17 December 2010

The path to war...

One Hundred and Fifty Years ago today, a Convention  which had been elected on December 6th, met in South Carolina to discuss secession. It had been summoned by the South Caolina's state legislature. Delegates from the several districts and parishes of the State assembled in Columbia. On 20th December - at 1.15pm they passed a resolution - unanimously, to secede.

It stated

"The State of South Carolina At a convention of the People of the State of South Carolina, begun and holden at Columbia, on the Seventeenth day of December, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty, and thence continued by adjournment to Charleston, and there by divers adjournment to the Twentieth day of December in the same year- An Ordinance to dissolve the Union between the State of South Carolina and other States united with her under the compact entitled "The Constitution of the United States of America"

We, the people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, do declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained. That the Ordinance adopted by us in Convention, on the twenty-third day of May in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, whereby the Constitution of the United States of America was ratified, and also all Acts and parts of Acts of the General Assembly of this State, ratifying amendments of the said Constitution are hereby repealed; and that the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States under the name of "The Constitution of the United States of America" is hereby dissolved. Done at Charleston, the twentieth day of December, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty."

An important step had been taken, which led to the outbreak of hostilities on 12th April at Fort Sumter. South Carolina's actions were followed by Mississippi (Jan. 9th), Florida (Jan. 10th), Alabama (Jan. 11th), Georgia (Jan. 19th), Louisiana (Jan. 26th), and Texas (Feb. 1st) -- and the threat of secession by four more -- Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina.

There are a number of good websites dedicated to providing information about the civil war - they include

The Civil War homepage (Civil War Net)
Civil War Preservation Trust

One year later this "news item" appeared


The first newspapers from London printed after the “Trent Affair” had exploded there, reached the former colonies in America today, and reactions were strong and immediate. Capt. Charles Wilkes, U.S. Navy, had stopped the British mail ship “Trent” on the high seas by force of arms, and had removed the Confederate commissioners Mason and Slidell, who now languished in a prison in Boston Harbor. To which the London Times commented: “By Capt. Wilkes let the Yankee breed be judged. Swagger and ferocity, built on a foundation of vulgarity and cowardice, these are the characteristics, and these are the most prominent marks by which his countrymen, generally speaking, are known all over the world.” In more diplomatic circles, Lord Russell was debating whether to demand an apology or just declare war.

Thursday 16 December 2010

Fixed Terms Parliaments Bill

The Constitution Committee in the Lords has published its report on the bill - it is available in full here.

It has - in the polite language of the Lords - a pretty damning conclusion

We take the view that the origins and content of this Bill owe more to short term considerations than to a mature assessment of enduring constitutional principles or sustained public demand. We acknowledge the political imperative behind the coalition Government’s wish to state in advance its intent to govern for the full five year term, but this could have been achieved under the current constitutional conventions.

The 1970 Parliament (45th Parliament of the UK)

Ted Heath won the 1970 General Election with 330 seats, in a House of 630 members. It was a surprise victory for the Tories. Link to BBC report on the 1970 Election. But the first few years of the 1970s had proved difficult for the Government. It took Britain into the Common Market (which has subsequently become the European Union). This was a long held desire of Ted Heath, a committed European - but he met resistance on his own backbenches. 39 Conservative MPs voted against on the vote for approval of the negotiated terms. The following year the European Communities Act 1972 scraped through Parliament. The Government - despite its majority lost votes on 6 occasions. Philip  Norton describes the considerable increase in backbench dissension in his book -'Conservative Dissidents'.

There was also growing industrial unrest, including two miners strikes. The Industrial Relations Act of 1971 proved controversial and provoked opposition.

The winter of 1973-74 was the worst. The worldwide oil crisis, plus a work to rule by the Miners Union (NUM) led to the imposition of the "Three Day Week", which took effect on the first day of 1974. Commercial consumption of electricity was limited to three consecutive days each week, requiring factories to shut down to conserve fuel supplies. A webpage about the industrial troubles of 1973-4 from the National Archives, is available here. The troubles in Northern Ireland intensified - with Direct Rule imposed on Northern Ireland, Internment and the Bloody Sunday shootings.

Ted Heath called a snap election - which he fought with the slogan "Who Governs Britain?". The answer came after the general election of 28th February 1974. Heath lost his majority - losing a net 37 seats, and Labour became the largest party - with 301 seats to the Tories 297. For a weekend britain didn't know whether it would have a Conservative-Liberal coalition, or a minority Labour Government. The Monday following the election, Heath acknowledged that he had failed to form a coalition - and Labour's Harold Wilson was invited to form a government.

I've always found Ted Heath to be an interesting character. He dominated the Tory Party during the sixties until his surprise defeat for the leadership - when he was defeated by Margaret Thatcher. He remained on the backbenches for a quarter century - a constant critic of his successor.

There are a number of useful biographies of Mr Heath

Wednesday 15 December 2010

Cabinet Manual

is now available via the link below, happy Christmas reading!!!!

Christmas in Washington

I'm tempted to write about the excellent book "One Christmas in Washington" - a book which describes Churchill's visit to the US capital in 1941 for the "Arcadia" conference - to discuss with Franklin Roosevelt the strategy for the Allies. I really enjoyed reading it - and it describes key events in the development of the Anglo-American relationship.

But my intention was to write about THIS Christmas - and what's on in the Washington area.

The National Christmas tree - with nightly concerts
Kennedy Center - a host of special events - by the potomac (and Watergate Building)
Downtown market in Chinatown.

Mount Vernon - very festive at any time around Christmas, with a special "Mount Vernon by Candlelight" this weekend.

Alexandria - see here

More details about Washington events on the Washington Post website.

Parliamentary Accountability

Asked by Baroness Royall of Blaisdon
To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to ensure that Parliament is able effectively to hold them to account.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, it is primarily for Parliament itself to determine how it can best hold the Government to account. However, I have sought to help that process in this House by setting up a Leader's Group to consider our working practices.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I warmly welcome the establishment of the Leader's Group, and I am sure that it will have some fruitful deliberations. Do the Government view the Cabinet manual, which we understand that they will be publishing later this week-possibly even tomorrow-as a first step towards a written constitution for this country, as was postulated in today's Daily Telegraph? How will the Cabinet manual improve government accountability in Parliament?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the Cabinet manual has yet to be published, so I will not comment on it. As to whether or not it is a precursor to a written constitution, no, I do not think so.

Lord Boston of Faversham: While I normally find myself in accord with what the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, says, is it not a rather strange concept that Her Majesty's Government would wish to be called to account?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I always admire the noble Lord for his questions. However, I think that the Government have an interest in the generality of being held to account by Parliament; that is part of our support for the parliamentary process as a whole. I have to say that in this Parliament, I think that noble Lords opposite-the Official Opposition-are doing a very good job.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I welcome this Question. In the previous Administration, the Executive were far too powerful and the legislature so weak. Had it been the other way round, perhaps there would have been better scrutiny of war with Iraq. That said, does the Leader's Group intend to look not only at the composition in terms of reform of the House but at the functions of both Houses and how they relate to each other, bearing in mind that in a fully elected House the Salisbury convention would no longer apply?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, a Leader's Group led by my noble friend Lord Goodlad is looking at the working practices of the House. There is another committee led by the Deputy Prime Minister looking at reform of the House of Lords; that will report early in the new year. As for the previous Government, I think that after 1997 there was a move away from good parliamentary governance, and the relationship between the House of Commons-another place-and the Government changed. We have sought to put that back.

Lord Morgan: My Lords, is not parliamentary governance and accountability a total fiction at present? To have parliamentary accountability, you need, first, a Government with a clear mandate. This Government do not have a mandate. They were not elected by the people; they were elected by six people in a closed room without consultation of the electorate. Nor do they have an agreed programme. There is no constitutional coalition manifesto; we have a mysterious document called the coalition agreement. Is that not a reinvention of the constitution much to our damage?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I completely disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, in almost everything he said. He does not have a long enough memory. There have not been many coalitions, but the whole point about the Government is that they are made up of whoever controls the majority in another place, and the coalition clearly does that.

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, in the interests of accountability, would the Government consider attaching where appropriate measurable numerical targets to legislation-for example, numeracy and literacy targets to legislation affecting primary schools?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, we in this Government have been trying to get away from targets. I am not entirely certain what point the noble Lord was trying to make, but perhaps I could look again at his question and, if I can think of a better answer, I will write to him.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, the Leader of the House was telling us how much he appreciated the Opposition being very good in this Parliament. Does he not realise that the Opposition could be much better if we had a Speaker with power who could call Members to speak?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the reason I thought the Opposition were doing so well is that out of 24 Divisions, the Government have lost six. We have been defeated in 25 per cent. That is why I think they are doing a very good job. I remember the Opposition of the 1980s and 1990s, when the Labour Party here was considerably smaller. They did a very good job then, which leads me to believe that Labour really is very good in opposition and is probably better in opposition than in government.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, is there much point in Parliament trying to hold the Government to account when the Government themselves are largely controlled from Brussels?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I had a feeling that the noble Lord was heading that way. Whatever the realities of the relationship between this Parliament and Europe, what is of primary importance to this Government is that Parliament itself is in a fit state to scrutinise the Government.

Lord Elton: My Lords, my noble friend was very welcoming and supportive of the idea of parliamentary control of government, which I am sure we all welcome. Will he bear in mind that this enthusiasm is common in every incoming Opposition and cools in the first 18 months, so can he get on with it?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend, with his long experience, is almost certainly right. The basic principle of parliamentary accountability of the Executive is an important one that we should never let go lightly.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

Diagnosing the problems

Excellent day in London. A day's conference at the British Library - organised by the American Politics Group - main theme, is the American political system - especially the Presidency and Congress working? If not, what can be done to address the issues. Then down to Westminster for the launch of the Hansard Socity's "Making Better Law". Some excellent "meat" to feast on. I'll be raising & commenting on the issues in upcoming posts. The other piece of news is that the "Cabinet Manual" draft has now been published.

Census and Apportionment Announcement

From RollCall

The U.S. Census Bureau will release the new Congressional apportionment figures at a Dec. 21 news conference at the National Press Club, making official the number of Congressional districts each state will have for the next 10 years.

The new figures will be based on the populations of each state as found in the 2010 census. Population changes affect not only the size of each state’s delegation but also its number of electoral votes.

93rd Congress

Election Day (November 7th) 1972 saw a massive landslide for the incumbent President, Richard Nixon. He carried 49 States - winning 520 votes in the Electoral College. His Democratic opponent, George McGovern gained just 17 Electoral College votes on 37.5% of the popular vote. He didn't even win his own state of South Dakota.

On the face of it, Nixon couldn't have done better - but problems were not far from the surface. The greatest, the Watergate Scandal, was growing - and just 20 months later Nixon had become the first US President to resign in disgrace. The Vice President elected that November day (Spiro Agnew) was himself out of office after being charged with bribery and pleading "no contest"  to a single charge that he had failed to report $29,500 of income received in 1967.

The Watergate scandal involved the bugging of the Democratic National Committee office in the Watergate Building in Washington DC. The arrest of the burglars in the office occured on June 17th - and the conversation which was to bring down Nixon occured on June 23rd - accessible here. Watergate was to dominate the work of the 93rd Congress.

The elections of November 7th 1972 had not been as bad for the Democrats as the disastrous Presidential Election. They lost 13 seats in the House of Representatives, but still held a comfortable position with 242 seats to the Republicans' 192. (51.7% of the popular vote - down a mere 1.3%). In the Senate the democrats gained a net two seats - resulting in a 56-42 split. Joe Biden was one of the newly elected senators who defeated a Republican. The Senate results though saw the Democrats' popular vote fall by 6.9% while the Republicans increased their popular vote by 12.5%.

Before the Congress came into existence, the ruling Democratic caucus had elected Tip O'Neill as the new Majority Leader. It has also made changes to the seniority rules which were to be further reformed at the start of the 94th Congress. New members entered the House which set the scene for major changes in the House's  practices. In February the Democratic caucus voted to to require all House Committee hearings to be open (unless for National Security or Personal matters). A bipartisan committee was set up under Richard Bolling to consider reforms to the House Rules - which recommended major changes, but this was sidelined by the Democratic caucus. Instead the matter was referred to the Hansen Committee - which was more modest.

Congress had already attempted to investigate aspects of Watergate. An earlier Washminster post has considered the investigation in the summer of 1972 by the Committee on Banking and Currency. It ended its investigation - but the 93rd Congress saw the establishment of the Ervin Committee in February 1973. The hearings were televised. In 1974 the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee were authorised to investigate whether sufficient grounds existed to impeach President Nixon.

It was also in Congress that the fate of Agnew was sealed. He had come under investigation in August 1973 after a federal Grand Jury looking at claims that Maryland public officials had received kickbacks from architects and engineers who had gained contracts for public works projects, had found evidence of payments to the (former) Governor of the State. In order to forestall indictment, Agnew came up with the idea of submitting his case to the House of Representatives. While he could face impeachment, the process could have been dragged out for many months. In late September he called on the Speaker, Carl Albert, and requested that the House, rather than the Baltimore grand jury, judge his case. There was an 1826 precedent for this. Tip O'Neill, who was later to be Speaker, was sceptical of the request. An attempt by Albert to the Judiciary Committee was out-manouevered by O'Neill. Days later Agnew resigned the vice-presidency. A detailed description of the events can be found in John A Farrell's "Tip O'Neill and the Democratic Century".

The 93rd Congress also passed much legislation - the most well known today being the War Powers Resolution. It was vetoed by Nixon - but the veto was overridden on 7th November 1973. A Congressional Research Service paper on the topic - prepared in 2004 - is available here.

Monday 13 December 2010

RollCall - Briefing on Today in Congress

THE SENATE: Convenes at 2 p.m., with a procedural vote scheduled for 3 p.m. on a bill that largely reflects the tax deal that Obama cut with Republicans. The vote will be held open for a few hours as senators stream back into town from the weekend, but no surprises are expected. The legislation will advance, and a vote on passage will occur as early as Tuesday night. The measure then heads to the House, where Pelosi faces some tough decisions about how to handle it.

Key "Constitutional" Document to be published?

This story appeared in Today's Daily Telegraph - if accurate, it will be an important source for academics; students - and most importantly - citizens - describing how the British system of Government actually operates.

The Government is set to publish the 150-page ‘Cabinet Manual’ which will detail for the first time in one document where power lies in Britain, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.

It will set out the how relationships work between the Government, the Monarchy, Parliament, councils, and the devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and Europe.

Britain does not have a single written document setting out rights, principles and powers but a collection of statutes, court judgments and treaties. This is why the country is said to have an "unwritten constitution".

The manual will be the first time that all existing legal convention and precedent on how the UK is run are codified in a single document.

Its expected publication was described last night by Lord Hennessy, the constitutional expert, as “a very, very significant step”, in effect transferring guidance to how Britain is run from “the back of an envelope to a manual or a code”.
 Sir Gus O’Donnell, the Cabinet secretary, has admitted that the new guide will be seen by some as a starting point towards a written constitution.

He said: “I think those who are in favour of a written constitution will start with it… It has never existed before; we’ve been waiting decades and decades for this.”

Over around a dozen chapters, the manual will set out in writing the roles for the Monarchy, the Government, the Prime Minister and ministers, and ministers and the civil service.

Chapter nine was published February this year ahead of the general election to offer guidance as to how the Queen could stay above the political process in the event of a hung Parliament.

Graham Allen MP, chairman of the Commons’ Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, has described the document as a “blockbuster” and “the closest thing we have to a written constitution”.
 He said: “This is a pretty important document. We don’t have a written constitution and this is as close as we are likely to get.”

A draft copy of the manual has been scrutinised for the past few weeks by the Cabinet Office’s home affairs committee, chaired by Nick Clegg, the deputy Prime Minister.

Then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown asked Sir Gus to start work on the document in February this year. Sir Gus is set to publish it in draft form in the middle of next week and ask for members of the public to comment on it in a consultation.

One of the proposals is likely to be whether the final version of the manual should published in a hard copy form, or on the internet where it can be amended.

Its “ownership” will also be called into question – should Parliament, or the Cabinet Office, be responsible for it?

Rule VIII House of Representatives

This rule deals with the procedures to be followed when a subpoena is served on a Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, Officer or Employee of the House - relating to the official functions of the House or for the production or disclosure of any document relating to the official functions of the House

A subpoena is a "a writ requiring appearance in court to give testimony". It derives from the Latin phrase "under penalty", signifying that it is not merely an invitation to which one might or might not RSVP!

The Speaker is to be nofied in writing "promptly" - who will notify the House.

House Practice states -

The service of judicial process on a Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, officer, or employee of the House has long been perceived as a matter relating to the integrity of House proceedings and as constituting a basis for raising a question of the privileges of the House. 7 Cannon § 2164; Deschler Ch 11 §§ 14.1–14.10. Rule VIII governs the procedure for House response to a judicial or administrative subpoena served on a Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, officer, or employee of the House. Manual § 697; § 9, infra.

The privileges of the House are invoked whether the recipient was served with a summons as a defendant or a subpoena as a witness and whether service of process was issued by a State or Federal court. Deschler Ch 11 § 14. For example, the privileges of the House have been held to apply to service of process as follows:
  • Civil actions, criminal proceedings, or courts martial. Deschler Ch 11§§ 16.7, 16.9, 16.12, 16.17.
  • Grand jury proceedings. Deschler Ch 11 § 15.
  • Orders to appear and show cause for the failure to comply with a prior subpoena. Deschler Ch 11 § 14.9.
  • Orders to appear for depositions or to answer interrogatories. Deschler Ch 11 §§ 14.10, 16.18.
  • Preliminary proceedings in criminal cases. Deschler Ch 11 § 14.5.
  • Administrative proceedings before Federal agencies. Manual § 697.
Under rule VIII clause 6(b), minutes or transcripts of executive sessions, or evidence received during such sessions, may not be disclosed or copied in response to a subpoena. A subpoena duces tecum [ subpoena for production of evidence] requesting production of executive session records of a committee from a prior Congress may be laid before the House pending a determination as to its propriety. 97–1, Apr. 28, 1981, p 7603.

Service of Process on Officers or Employees

Examples of service of process on officers include those on the Speaker, the Clerk, and the Sergeant-at-Arms. Deschler Ch 11 §§ 16.2–16.4, 16.7–16.9, 16.11. Examples of service of process on employees include those on current and former employees of a committee, an employee of the House Republican Conference, and a former employee of a former House select committee who was subpoenaed to give a deposition about his recollection of certain executive session transactions. 93–2, Sept. 30, 1974, p 33020; 94–1, Sept. 23, 1975, p 29824; 97–1, Jan. 22, 1981, pp 694, 695.

§ 9. Procedure in Complying with Process under Rule VIII

Rule VIII provides general authority to a Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, officer, and employee of the House to comply with a judicial or administrative subpoena or judicial order directing appearance as a witness, or the disclosure of documents, relating to the official functions of the House. Such compliance must be consistent with the rights and privileges of the House. Accordingly, the Speaker is promptly notified upon service of a subpoena or judicial order, and the Speaker lays the notification before the House. Rule VIII does not require the text of the subpoena to be printed in the Congressional Record. Manual § 697.

Rule VIII was added initially in the 97th Congress. Until the 95th Congress, the House would authorize a response to a subpoena by adopting a resolution raised as a question of the privileges of the House. This case by case approach was changed in the 95th and 96th Congresses, when general authority was granted to respond to subpoenas and a procedure was established for automatic compliance without the necessity of a House vote.

This standing authority formed the basis for the present rule. Manual § 697.

§ 10. — Resolutions Authorizing or Precluding Response

Although rule VIII establishes a procedure for automatic compliance with subpoenas without the necessity of a House vote, a question of the privileges of the House still may be raised to address the response of the House to a subpoena in any particular case. Manual § 697. For example, in the 102d Congress, the House considered as questions of the privileges of the House resolutions responding to a subpoena for certain records of the House, and to a contemporaneous request for such records from a special counsel. The resolutions authorized an officer of the House to release certain documents in response to the requests from the special counsel. Manual § 703.

Duration of Authorization

Resolutions authorizing a response to a subpoena or other judicial order are effective only during the Congress in which they are adopted. If the judicial proceedings in question extend into the next Congress, it may be necessary to seek another authorizing resolution, which may be offered as a question of privilege. Deschler Ch 11 §§ 18.1, 18.2.

§ 11. — Conditions or Limitations on Response

Prior to the adoption of rule VIII, when the House authorized a response to a subpoena by resolution on an ad hoc basis, the House occasionally imposed various conditions or limitations, such as:
  • Permitting copies, but not original documents, to be produced. Manual § 291a; Deschler Ch 11 § 18.
  • Limiting disclosure to certified copies of relevant documents. Manual § 291a.
  • Prohibiting disclosure of information acquired in one’s official capacity. Deschler Ch 11 § 17.6.
  • Prohibiting disclosure of information not previously made public. Deschler Ch 11 § 17.10.
  • Limiting disclosure to certain files and specified documents and only for inspection and copying. Deschler Ch 11 § 17.9.
  • Permitting disclosure only on a determination of relevancy. 94–2, Mar. 31, 1976, p 8885.
  • Permitting disclosure of certain documents but barring personal appearances. Deschler Ch 14 § 15.14.
  • Permitting personal appearances but barring production of certain records. Deschler Ch 11 § 18.
  • Permitting production of original documents for laboratory examination but providing for their return. Manual § 291a.
  • Permitting a Member to respond only when the House is not in session. 94–1, Dec. 1, 1975, p 37888.
§ 12. Disclosure of Executive-Session Materials

The House traditionally has required that executive-session materials be released only when specifically permitted by authorizing resolution. Deschler Ch 11 § 18.4. This practice is continued under rule VIII clause 6(b), which states that under no circumstances shall any minutes or transcripts of executive sessions, or any evidence of witnesses in respect thereto, be disclosed or copied. Manual § 697. Before the adoption of rule VIII, the House by resolution asserted the privileges of the House against the release of executive-session materials or permitted the disclosure only after a judicial finding of relevancy. Manual § 291a

Sunday 12 December 2010

Westminster - the week ahead

Full details available here

  • Monday & Wednesday - The Lords further considers the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill
  • Tuesday - the Lords considers the tuition fees motions
  • Wednesday - House of Commons puts the Loans to Ireland Bill through ALL its Commons stages
  • Thursday - bankbenchers business in the Commons while Lord Moynihan initiates a debate on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico

Saturday 11 December 2010

House of Representatives - the week ahead



On Monday, the House will meet at 10:00 a.m. for pro forma session. No votes are expected in the House.


On Tuesday, the House will meet at 12:30 p.m. for Morning Hour debate and 2:00 p.m. for legislative business with votes postponed until 6:00 p.m.

Suspensions (14 Bills):

1) S. 2906 - A bill to amend the Act of August 9, 1955, to modify a provision relating to leases involving certain Indian tribes (Sponsored by Sen. Cantwell / Natural Resources Committee)

2) S. 1609 - Longline Catcher Processor Subsector Single Fishery Cooperative Act (Sponsored by Sen. Cantwell / Natural Resources Committee)

3) Senate Amendment to H.R. 1061 - Hoh Indian Tribe Safe Homelands Act (Sponsored by Rep. Dicks / Natural Resources Committee)

4) S. 1405 - Longfellow House-Washington's Headquarters National Historic Site Designation Act (Sponsored by Sen. Kennedy / Natural Resources Committee)

5) S. 1448 - A bill to amend the Act of August 9, 1955, to authorize the Coquille Indian Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, the Confederated Tribes of the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw, the Klamath Tribes, and the Burns Paiute Tribe to obtain 99-year lease authority for trust land (Sponsored by Sen. Merkley / Natural Resources Committee)

6) S.Con.Res. 72 - A concurrent resolution recognizing the 45th anniversary of the White House Fellows Program (Sponsored by Sen. Brownback / Oversight and Government Reform)

7) H.R. 6205 - The "Private Isaac T. Cortes Post Office" Designation Act (Sponsored by Rep. Crowley / Oversight and Government Reform Committee)

8) S. 3794 - FOR VETS Act of 2010 (Sponsored by Sen. Leahy / Oversight and Government Reform Committee)

9) H.Res. 1743 - Congratulating Gerda Weissmann Klein on being selected to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom (Sponsored by Rep. Mitchell / Oversight and Government Reform Committee)

10) H.R. 5446 - The "Harry T. and Harriette Moore Post Office" Designation Act (Sponsored by Rep. Posey / Oversight and Government Reform Committee)

11) H.R. __ - To make technical corrections to provisions of law enacted by the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010 (Sponsored by Rep. Oberstar / Transportation and Infrastructure Committee)

12) H.R. 6510 - To direct the Administrator of General Services to convey a parcel of real property in Houston, Texas, to the Military Museum of Texas (Sponsored by Rep. Jackson-Lee / Transportation and Infrastructure Committee)

13) S. 3984 - Museum and Library Services Act of 2010 (Sponsored by Sen. Reed / Education and Labor Committee)

14) S. 1275 - National Foundation on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition Establishment Act (Sponsored by Sen. Warner / Education and Labor Committee)


On Wednesday and Thursday, the House will meet at 10:00 a.m. for legislative business.

On Friday, the House will meet at 9:00 a.m. for legislative business.

Suspensions (12 Bills):

1) S. 3036 - National Alzheimer's Project Act (Sponsored by Sen. Bayh / Energy and Commerce Committee)

2) H.Res. 1600 - Supporting the critical role of the physician assistant profession and supporting the goals and ideals of National Physician Assistant Week (Sponsored by Rep. McCollum / Energy and Commerce Committee)

3) S. 30 - Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009 (Sponsored by Sen. Nelson (FL) / Energy and Commerce Committee)

4) S. 3386 - Restore Online Shoppers' Confidence Act (Sponsored by Sen. Rockefeller / Energy and Commerce Committee)

5) S. 3199 - Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Act (Sponsored by Sen. Snowe / Energy and Commerce Committee)

6) H.Res. __ - Supporting a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and condemning unilateral declarations of a Palestinian state (Sponsored by Rep. Berman / Foreign Affairs Committee)

7) S. 987 - International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act (Sponsored by Sen. Durbin / Foreign Affairs Committee)

8) H.Res. 20 - Calling on the State Department to list the Socialist Republic of Vietnam as a "Country of Particular Concern" with respect to religious freedom (Sponsored by Rep. Royce / Foreign Affairs Committee)

9) H.Res. 1757 - Providing for the approval of final regulations issued by the Office of Compliance to implement the Veterans Employment Opportunities Act of 1998 that apply to the House of Representatives and employees of the House of Representatives (Sponsored by Rep. Brady (PA) / House Administration Committee)

10) H.Res. 1377 - Honoring the accomplishments of Norman Yoshio Mineta (Sponsored by Rep. Honda / House Administration Committee)

11) S. 3860 - A bill to require reports on the management of Arlington National Cemetery (Sponsored by Sen. McCaskill / Veterans' Affairs Committee)

12) H.R. 4337 - Regulated Investment Company Modernization Act (Sponsored by Rep. Rangel / Ways and Means Committee)

Possible Further Action on H.R. 3082 - Making Further Continuing Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2011 and the Food Safety Enhancement Act (Sponsored by Rep. Obey / Appropriations Committee)

Possible Further Action on H.R. 4853 – Middle Class Tax Relief Act of 2010 (Sponsored by Rep. Levin / Ways and Means Committee)

Possible Motions to go to Conference : Instruct Conferees : Conference Reports

Growing Concerns

The house of lords will spend around Seven and a half minutes on the question that Baroness Royall of Blaisdon will put on Monday, asking "Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to ensure that Parliament is able effectively to hold them to account"

Baroness Royall is the Leader of the Opposition in the Lords - having previously served as the Leader of the Lords and a Cabinet Member  in the previous Labour Government.

The question might focus on a number of current concerns -

It might focus on the way that the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government is seeking to ensure that it has a working majority in the House of Lords. Until the election there had been an apparent consensus that no Government should have sufficient members in the Lords to enable it to get its way alone. The Labour Government could be, and was frequently, defeated by the main opposition parties voting together. This, it was argued, enhanced the House's ability to require the Government to think again. It might be able to force its will on the Commons - but it could not rely on bulldozing the Lords. Now the coalition wants a working majority - proportionate to its support in the country.

Or the concern highlighted might be about the speed at which substantial, and Constitutional, legislation is being pushed through the House - allowing limited time for both reflection and debate. The breaks between stages (the various Readings and Committee/Report Stages) is as important as the debates themselves. Some of their Lordships feel that there has been constant bulldozing of the House since May.

The designation of the Savings Accounts and Health in Pregnancy Grants Bill as a Money Bill has many of their Lordships smarting - because it limits the role the House of Lords can play in the legislative process.

We will see on Monday which of these issues - or other concerns - are raised during Question Time. One thing is certain - the value of the House of Lords as a scrutinising body is coming under challenge - and many of their Lordships are deeply concerned about it.

Friday 10 December 2010

Rule VII House of Representatives

Provision is made for archiving records of the House - and making them available to the public.

A presentation prepared by Robin Reeder - the House Archivist is available below

Slides One to Seven give an introduction to the House and legislative procedure.

Slide 7 - "Since the beginning of the House, 1789, the Clerk of the House is responsible for the official records of the House. The Rules of the House specify this duty. The official records are considered the records of the committees and select officers of the House."

Slide 8 - "Here are some examples of legislative files that are permanently retained as part of the House’s records: 1. Hre is a markup of a bill, which means the language is changed and added to or deleted: Wade-Davis bill: If the Wade-Davis bill had become law, the South would have been run by a military governor appointed by the President. Fifty percent of the state’s voters would need to swear allegiance to the Union as well as swearing that they had never assisted the Confederacy. . 2. Joint Resolution – 1941 – establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday. 3. "Petition of Amos A. Phelps and 31 others, citizens of Boston, Mass. for the rescinding of Res. of December 21," February 14, 1838- also known as the gag rule – which prevented anti-slavery petitions from being submitted to Congress. 4. Discharge petition – when a piece of legislation is bottled up in a committee for more than 30 days. A It requires 218 signatures in order to place it on the Discharge Calendar – where it remains for 7 days before being considered by the House. Discharge petition for the Equal Rights Amendment – 1970. 5. Hearing on the Economic Security Act – 1935. 6. Memorial from the Seventh Day Adventists against Sunday legislation – which consisted of several bills banning businesses be open on Sunday."

Slide 9 shows some oversight files, and slide 10 a copy of the Records Management Manual. Slide 11 shows boxed up committee records.

Slide 12 describes the role of NARA "The records are preserved, maintained, and made accessible through the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives and Records Administration. Their staff is responsible for the records of the House and the Senate. The National Archives is responsible for the permanent records of the executive branch, and once these records are transferred to the Archives, they are owned by the Archives. This is different for the records of Congress – which although reside there and are made accessible by the NARA staff, the records always belong to the House and to the Senate."

Slide 14 points out that the papers of Members are the personal property of the relevant Member - this is the ADVICE which is given to members - who are encouraged to deposit them at "a respository, such as a college, university or historical society".

The final slides deal with resources for finding Congressional collections - I will deal with that in a forthcoming post.

Thursday 9 December 2010

Farewell Speeches in the Senate

It is expected that today, the Senate will hear farewell speeches from Bob Bennett (R-Utah); Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota); and Jim Bunning (R-Kentucky).

The speeches will be broadcast on C-SPAN 2, and will shortly be available in the C-SPAN Archive.

How to Prep yourself about a current Bill (Westminster)

What's the most effective way of understanding a bill currently before Parliament? There are a number of organisations which, for a fee, will offer to summarise/explain a bill to you - but can you do it itself?

The Parliamentary website brings together the key tools to use. Lets say you want to understand the Fixed- Term Parliaments Bill.

First go the the current bills webpage - http://services.parliament.uk/bills/ (a page worth bookmarking). Find the Bill - our example would take you here

On this page you can see where the bill is in the legislative process - highlighted visually, in black - and there is also "Last Event" and "Next Event". The Link - "All previous stages of the Bill " allows you to go directly to the Hansard for the stage of the Bill. Reading the Opening speech in the 2nd Reading allows to you see the Minister's (or the sponsor of a Private Member's Bill explanation of the need; the objectives and the structure of the Bill).

The Bill page also has links to the Current Version of the Bill (It is important that you read the up to date version - clauses can be added or deleted - and this means the numbering can change). and the Explanatory Notes. It is useful to read the Introduction: Background and Summary - then read the commentary on the clauses in conjunction with the Bill itself. The Explanatory Notes are helpful - but are merely the civil servants explanation of what they see the bill meaning - it is NOT an authoratative source. Lists of amendments can be found under the link to "All Bill Documents"

The House of Commons Library often supplies material to assist with the understanding of the Bill. This too can be found under the link to "All Bill Documents" - I sugeest this is a 'must read'. In our example the Research Paper is here. There may be updates from the Library - sometimes as further Research Papers and sometimes, more briefly, as Standard Notes.

These tools will give a good background understanding of the Bill. Note that a "clause" in a Bill becomes a "Section" in the Act of Parliament.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Rule VI House of Representatives

The sixth of the current rules of the House of Representatives deals with Official Reporters (1) and the Galleries set aside for the News Media (2, 3). The Standing Committee of Correspondents for the Press Gallery, and the Executive Committee of Correspondents for the Periodical Press Gallery. The House Radio-TV Gallery caters for the broadcast media. There is a useful resource for members of the press - which is available here.

The Official Reporters, according to the House Clerk, transcribe House proceedings verbatim for publication in the Congressional Record and provides stenographic support to committees for all hearings, meetings, and mark-up sessions.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Books on the American Civil War

There are a number of excellent books on the American Civil War - Below are links to my personal favourites

The DVD set of Ken Burn's documentary


Mr Speaker: Well, I think that someone once said of the honourable Gentleman that his mind climbs mountains without any molehills. He is always thinking ahead of himself and I am not surprised, as he has a great elasticity of mind, but he is seeking to draw me into matters beyond where we have reached and he is absolutely right in his initial supposition that we do not discuss security matters on the floor of the House. He has registered his concern that the Home Secretary should be ready to make a statement if the eventuality he fears could happen, but should not, actually happen. I have a strong feeling that her office reads Hansard. I think that will probably do for today.

What he could have said…

Mr Speaker: We do not discuss security matters on the floor of the House. The member has registered his concerns.

Commemorating Battles

2011 is the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War - and there will be a succession of commemorations of the great battles, and more localised ones.

Further details can be found via the following links
Fort Sumter
Manassas (Bull Run)
Balls Bluff

Today a House Resolution is to be considered under the "Suspensions" procedure in the House of Representatives - but the subject isn't a battle a mere century and a half ago. Instead H.Res. 1704 seeks to commemorate the Battle of Marathon - 2500 years ago! (490 BC).

An earlier Washminster post deal with one of the great English Civil War battles - Naseby.