Thursday, 22 December 2011

Enjoy the Holidays

This post was posted (ok, allow me to let you into a little secret - it is possible to write a post, and to have it go live at some specific point in the future. This is an example of that) at the exact time of the Winster Solstice 2011 [05:30 UTC or as we Brits would prefer "GMT - Greenwich Mean Time"].

It is an appropriate time to sign off for the Christmas Holidays - which themselves were based on the dating of the winter solstice - the Biblical accounts of the birth of Christ giving no clues as to when it occurred. I should like to send my best wishes for the holiday season.

Washminster will return in the New Year - which promises to be an interesting one! I use the traditional greeting which includes the perhaps optimist wish for a "prosperous New Year", but UK, US, EU & French legislatures need to be addressing how to bring this about - or they will come under increasing challenge!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011


Today is the anniversary of the Pilgrim Father's arrival at Plymouth Rock - in 1620. Their journey had begun many years earlier. The first attempt to escape England was in 1607 when members of the separatist church in Scrooby, Nottinghamshire tried to (illegally) flee the country via Boston, Lincolnshire. They walked across country, paid the captain of a ship to take them to Holland - they were taken onto the ship, but he then betrayed them - which is how they came to be imprisoned in the town & brought before the court in the Guildhall.

The next year they successfully escaped to Holland - where the group (and worshipped) for over a decade. In 1620 - after much planning - they set out for America. The last place their ships left in England was Plymouth in Devon. A website dedicated to the Mayflower Pilgrims in Plymouth, Devon - can be accessed here.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Oh Christmas Tree...

A few photos of Christmas trees

Westminster - from the West

Outside Westminster Hall
US Congress
US Congress ...from afar
European Parliament (Brussels)

Monday, 19 December 2011

Migration to the UK

The first examinable chapter of "Life in the United Kingdom: A Journey to Citizenship" begins with a section called "Migration to Britain". It points out the long history of immigration - highlighting the safe haven given to refugees fleeing from persecution. The Huguenots (French Protestants who fled when massacres and  bans threatened their existence) and Jews (fleeing from Russia 1880-1910 and Germany under the Nazis) are mentioned - and Irish immigration resulting from famines is also discussed. (It would be ungallant of me to point out that Britain produced its own persecuted refugees - the Pilgrim Fathers didn't leave because Holland then New England had pleasanter climates! - or that the welcome received by some refugees was less than generous - see Anita Roddick's comments on the Daily Mail or the "No Irish Need Apply" notices which were rife in England. One may also wonder how much English mismanagement led to the economic problems that led to decades of exodus from Ireland).

Information is given about who has come in recent years, and where from - and unlike the popular image (thanks to the stereotyping of the likes of the Daily Mail and Daily Express) - major influxes of immigrants have come from countries like the USA and Australia.

The Book reminds those seeking to take the British Citizenship Test to

"Check that you understand:-

1 some of the historical reasons for immigration to the UK
2 some of the reasons for immigration to the UK since 1945
3 the main immigrant groups coming to the UK since 1945, the countries they came from and kind of work they did."

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Should Math(s) be taught at school?

This video has been circulating amongst Maths Education specialists

There have been a number of books appearing in recent - Al Gore's "The Assault on Reason"; Susan Jacoby's, "The Age of American Unreason". This video is, thankfully, a spoof (although it satirises the answers to a question really put to the 2011 Miss USA contestants - "Should evolution be taught in schools?") - the original can be found here.

Friday, 16 December 2011

The Washington Metro

I love travelling on the Washington Metro (OK there are times - in the rushhour when I've waited for a seemingly unending time in L'Enfant Plaza making the connection between the train from Capitol South on the Blue Line to the yellow line to Huntington, when loads of green trains come through & the platform is full - and when my train finally arrives there are no seats - that I have less than generous thoughts). Mainly it's good fun. On my early visits to the City I would ride the Metro discovering new areas on the weekends when Congress was closed. (I fell in love with Rockville as a result of riding the Red Line.

There is a very useful website - http://www.wmata.com/ which has details of the system and the various stations. As I write at my side is the very informative "StationMasters DC Area Metrorail Atlas".

GoRemy has written and performed a great song about the Metro - a little critical - but tongue in cheek, and I enjoy watching it out of affection for the Metro.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

The Making of the United Kingdom

The first chapter of "Life in the United Kingdom" - which is non-examinable - deals with the meanings of the various terms often applied to the country - UK; British Isles; Britain; Great Britain. Although used interchangeably, they have precise meanings.  The "United Kingdom" is the correct name of the State. The British Isles also include the independent state of Ireland, whereas Great Britain strictly refers to the main island (excluding therefore Northern Ireland - a part of the UK and other offshore islands)

A high speed history is given in the following sections

- Early Britain: from the arrival of man to the Norman Conquest in the 11th Century
- The Middle Ages: from late 11th Century to 1485
- The Early Modern Period: from the accession of Henry VII (accession is the polite term - he invaded England & overthrew Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth. (see my post of April 2011), his right to the throne by blood was pretty weak) to 1688.
- Stability and the Growth of Empire: from the reign of William & Mary (another Foreign led and financed invasion to replace a King who had outlived his welcome) to the outbreak of the First World War
- The Twentieth Century: mistitled section, as it only covers 1914 to 1945! (though an important period)
- Politics in Britain since 1945: from Labour taking power in 1945 to the last Labour Government (remember that the current edition is from 2007. I'm sure a new edition can't be far off)

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Things to do in Washington

One of my friends is preparing to spend a few months working in Washington DC - and asked if I had any special recommendations for places to see or visit (or eat at). I could fill a year's worth of Washminster posts on the subject - and have already written much -

I wrote a post in October 2009 about my favourite places to eat.

St Elmos Coffee Pub isn't actually in DC - it is in the Del Ray area of Alexandria (nearest Metro stop - Braddock Road). I've posted a few times about this coffee shop that I could while away many hours in. The staff are friendly; it has a vibrant atmosphere - and great coffee and food. My favourite post was made in
Jan 2011

There are many branches of Starbucks which I have enjoyed visiting - the one on Capitol Hill has a very special atmosphere - I posted about this in Jan 2010. I have enjoyed many breakfast coffees at the branch closest to Bob Carr's office (Starbucks - 2109 M Street Northwest, Washington).

Ben' Chili Bowl is a must visit - see my post from October 2009 - and Chef Geoff has a wonderful jazz brunch - at which I have celebrated a couple of birthdays.

The city is full of interesting Monuments - I've often stood at the side of the Washington Monument (see video) but have never been up. Each time I visit I say I will - after the earthquake - I'm not going to put it off again (assuming it has reopened). A dramatic video of the earthquake seen from inside is available here - nothing happens for quite a while - and then!

Both the Jefferson Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial are inspirational. I always visit the graves of the Kennedy's, but Arlington Cemetry itself is a very special place.

As I wrote in February 2009 -

"There is so much history there - if you stand at the base of the Washington Monument you can see - just by moving your eyes, not even your head - the White House; Congress; the Lincoln Memorial and Arlington Cemetery. Scenes of some of the most important events in our lifetimes. A visit to see the Senate and the House of Representatives is a must! Thanks to my friends I have become interested in the US Civil War - and as well as researching the role of the Committee on the Conduct of the War during one of my visits - most of the key battlefields are within easy driving distance.

For more information on visiting the area go to


Tuesday, 13 December 2011

An interesting Legislative History

Last night I received this email as a member of APSA's Legislative Studies Section - and I thought it might be of interest

I'm happy to post the message below at the request of Prof. Arthur Hellman (law, Pittsburgh), who thought legislative studies scholars might be interested in what he has to report. Like a relatively recent previous post, this concerns statutes involving court jurisdiction, not exactly the sort of thing that legislative studies scholars usually study, but what Prof. Hellman has to say about the process involved makes it very relevant, and it expands as well the topics at which we look.  Prof. Hellman modestly fails to point out that this is the second time this year in which legislation containing some of his ideas has been enacted; most of us would feel fortunate to have that happen once in our lifetime.  If you wish further details or havequestions for Prof. Hellman, e-mail him at hellman@pitt.edu.   

Steve Wasby

(Stephen L. Wasby, professor emeritus, University at Albany; residing at Eastham, Mass.)

* * * * * * * * * 

President Obama has just signed H.R. 394, the Federal Courts Jurisdiction and Venue Clarification Act of 2011 (JVCA). The new law – officially Pub. L. No. 112-63 – embodies the most far-reaching package of revisions to the Judicial Code since the Judicial Improvements Act of 1990. The amendments deal primarily with removal and venue. From a legislative studies perspective, the bill’s greatest interest may lie in its long and convoluted history and particularly in the unconventional process that shaped its final content. It’s also noteworthy that the new law is the product of a collaboration between Congress and the Federal Judiciary.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, but it was largely drafted by a committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States. The history is nicely summarized on pp. 2-3 of the House Judiciary Committee Report (linked below). The following are some highlights of the legislation, which will apply to newly filed actions starting 30 days after enactment.

-- The Act revises the statutory provision dealing with the removal of civil actions that include both federal and unrelated state claims.  To protect the defendant’s right to remove the federal claims – and to avoid constitutional problems that some courts have perceived – the new provision requires severance and remand of claims not within the original or supplemental jurisdiction of the district court.

-- The Act codifies the judicially created “rule of unanimity” for removal in cases involving multiple defendants and gives each defendant 30 days to initiate removal. This resolves resolving a longstanding conflict in the lower courts over the deadline for removal when different defendants are served at different times. (Within the last year, three circuits have issued published opinions on the question, dividing two circuits to one.)

-- It resolves several issues relating to the determination of the amount in controversy when the defendant removes a civil action based on diversity.

-- It adopts a carefully-crafted “bad faith” exception to the statutory provision prohibiting removal of a diversity case more than one year after filing.

-- It completely rewrites the statute's venue chapter, finally abolishing a the hairsplitting distinction between backup venue in diversity and federal-question cases and also doing away with a separate provision dealing with “local” as opposed to “transitory” actions.  It will be of interest to political scientists that this change partially abrogates the Supreme Court decision in Hoffman v. Blaski, 363 U.S. 335 (1960), by authorizing transfer of venue to a district where the action could not have been brought initially, as long as all parties consent.

-- As to the original jurisdiction of the district courts, the Act revises the resident-alien proviso to avoid the interpretative and even constitutional problems generated by the current language, added by a 1988 amendment to the Judicial Code. With unusual candor, the House Judiciary Committee Report acknowledges that the purpose of the vetting process in the latter stages of the bill’s evolution was “to identify and delete those provisions that were considered controversial by prominent legal experts and advocacy groups.” I particularly regret the deletion of two provisions that would have allowed a plaintiff to avoid removal based on diversity by filing a “declaration” (i.e. stipulation) reducing the amount in controversy below the statutory minimum, now $75,000. One of the provisions would have applied in state courts to forestall removal; the other would have operated in federal courts to encourage remand. Perhaps these provisions will resurface in future jurisdictional legislation.

For those who are interested in the technicalities of legislation: Final passage of H.R. 394 was delayed by the need to resolve a conflict with the “Holmes Group fix” enacted as part of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA) that President Obama signed in September. The AIA added a new section 1454 to Chapter 89 authorizing removal of state-court actions involving patent and copyright claims. H.R. 394 also added a new section 1454, this one specifying the procedure for removing criminal cases.
 (The contents of the new section are currently included in section 1446.) A Senate amendment to H.R. 394 changed the number of the criminal removal section to 1455. Link to House Report on H.R. 394:

Monday, 12 December 2011

Life in the UK - The Book

The current edition of "Life in the United Kingdom: A Journey to Citizenship" applies from April 2007. The tests are only based on chapters 2 to 6 (I've highlighted them below in bold).

The stucture

Chap 1 - The Making of the UK: a brief history of the lands which today make up the UK

Chap 2 - A Changing Society: looks at how UK society is changing as a result of immigration; the changing role of women and the growth of a new generation.

Chap 3 - UK Today: A profile: looks at population; the nations and regions; religions and some customs and traditions.

Chap 4 - How the United Kingdom is governed: deals with the institutions encompassed by 'the British Constitution' and relations with the rest of the world.

Chap 5 - Everyday Needs: a brief overview of how everyday needs - Housing; services in and for the home; money and credit; health; education; Leisure; travel and transport - are delivered.

Chap 6 - Employment: overview of how it is looked for and summary of main employment laws.

Chap 7 - Knowing the Law: an introduction to the legal system and rights and duties not covered in earlier chapters.

Chap 8 - Sources of Help & Information: useful quick guide

Chap 9 - Building Better Communities: a brief guide to the contribution that individuals can make to improving life in Britain.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

The British Citizenship Test

In order to acquire British citizenship and settle in the UK permanently, it is now necessary to pass the "British Citizenship test". This is a 24 multiple choice test (the questions are randomly selected by computer) and 18 questions must be answered correctly in order to pass (75%). A book "Life in the United Kingdom: A Journey to Citizenship" is the basis for the test. Officially produced materials are available from The Stationery Office.

There is, for £3.99 "The Official Life in the UK Test" app available (press here).
Of course, if you were born a British citizen - then you NEVER have to take the test. I guess it's true of many countries - often citizens by choice know more about the country - and how its government works - than many who are entitled to citizenship by birth and who have always lived here. My fear is that in the UK ignorance of our system is regarded as both acceptable - and even taken pride in. (As a political campaigner I've heard so many times the comment "I don't know anything about politics" - often accompanied by a look that implies - "and I couldn't give a ****"). Who benefits from this rejoicing in ignorance? Not the individuals who express it - but it's useful for politicians and the others who actually get to exercise power. If people knew, they might be less willing to put up with what is done in their name.

An attempt was made to encourage the teaching of citizenship in schools. It became a statutory part of the 11-16 curriculum - but that is now under review by the Government. There are many concerns about its future. (For further information see here).

Are you British? How would you fare on the test? Try it here

Over the coming weeks I will be exploring some of the topics in the Life in the 'United Kingdom: A Journey to Citizenship book'

Friday, 9 December 2011

How much does a Parliamentary Question cost?

As a former Organisation & Methods Analyst, I approach giving a figure with a certain amount of trepidation. Costing involves calculations based on certain assumptions. It needs to take into account the costs of the individual(s) involved's time to do the work and the costs of the infrastructure needed for the task to be accomplished. I used to be horrified when colleagues would propose "savings" of millions of pounds based on eliminating a handful of steps in a procedure carried out in all our branches. The savings were illusory - the employees worked the same hours and received the same annual income - AND new costs might arise from not doing those steps, or from new steps or procedures which might become necessary. Risks of things going wrong might arise - but the bland claim of "savings" was still made. (and when I was a Councillor, I found that the same thing happened - claims of savings were made - but the inevitable costs (and few of them were truly 'unforeseeable consequences') were not mentioned.

So do take with a pinch of salt the claims that the average cost of written answers is £149 and £410 for an oral question. The figures include an element which would be paid whether there were few or many questions.

But, however the cost is calculated, it is true that dealing with and answering questions is expensive. Whoever said that democracy and accountability comes cheaply. We would be better concentrating upon the quality (in terms of usefulness of the information provided and scrutiny achieved) than on relatively meaningless headline "costs".

Thursday, 8 December 2011


Last night I enjoyed watching the "Party Games" episode of "Yes Minister" (the Christmas Special of 1984 - in which the climax is the phonecall that confirms that he is to be the new Prime Minister.)Well worth buying the complete set of 'Yes Minister' and 'Yes, Prime Minister' (a much better guide to how British politics and government works than many textbooks on the subject!)

In this episode in order to gain popularity he misrepresents a European Directive - and promises to stand against it. It's a tool that 'Yes Minister' was satirising 27 years ago - and is still a staple part of the British political scene. (Just look at the media & parliament in the last few days as we approach the European Summit.)

It is an effective technique (and I'm sorry to say even some pro-Europe politicians have used it for short term gain) - but has unfortunate consequences. Euroscepticism has flourished - and misunderstandings about the EU (the classic is the confusion between the EU Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights - which as a law lecturer I have to deal with frequently.)

I recently made a complaint to the BBC about a short item on the Steve Wright Show in which Dr Hilary Jones had attacked the an "EU directive" (and Steve Wright had joined in)

My complaint read:

Complaint Summary: Dr Hilary Jones' comments on EU (1 hr 39 mins)

Full Complaint: Yet another euromyth is being repeated by an "expert" on the BBC. In responding to a tabloid story about water Dr Jones stated "The EU directive is complete nonsense, it is absolute madness" The listening public might assume that this was a considered opinion based on reading the report. This would not appear to be the case. It is no wonder that people have a poor view of the EU. My concern is that inaccurate descriptions and glib uninformed remarks have political consequences. Our national dialogue about the EU ang government in general is being corrupted by this sort of nonsense which you have broadcast. The Regulation in question can be accessed at http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2011:299:0001:0003:EN:PDF Further background can be found at http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/the-lay-scientist/2011/nov/18/1?newsfeed=true

I received this response yesterday

Dear Mr Morgan

Reference CAS-1118986-L5VWYF

I have listened to the Steve Wright Show and the comments you have raised.

The item was slightly tongue-in-cheek but was based on an EU report designed to prevent commercial bottlers from profiting from claims. The BBC did not report the story although the Daily Telegraph did:

The Telegraph has its own standpoint on Europe of course, but the angle they took is interesting. Clearly story headline is designed as an attention grabber.

In listening back I think the light-hearted tone was appropriate (this is an entertainment programme) and was not misleading as they did mention the commercial angle which the report and ruling were designed to address. However, taken at face value it does seem to be a report that would naturally attract ridicule. Although there is no anti-EU bias that I am aware of, I will pass your comments to the producer so that he is reminded that we do need to maintain balance, especially at the moment.
Lord Reith's aim was that the BBC should to "educate, inform and entertain" - do they have the balance right today? In "Yes Minister" they exposed the deliberate misrepresentation of European affairs as a political strategy, today are they pandering to it?

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Update on LASPO

This blog has been following the Legal Aid; Sentencing & Punishment of Offenders Bill in the House of Lords. The committee stage will begin just before the House breaks for the Christmas Recess. As amendments are submitted for consideration (and unlike the House of Commons where the selection of amendments for debate is a matter for the Speaker or the Chairman presiding over that Public Bill Committee - all amendments can be discussed - though by mutual consent they may be put together in group of similar amendments and debated together) - they are listed under Amendment papers (here).

It's worth reading through some of the amendments. In order to see how they make changes - you will need to download a copy of the Bill (download here)

Amendments make reference to clauses - these are the main building blocks of a bill (and become "Sections" when the bill becames an Act of Parliament.

For example clause 27 is preceded by

27 Position of providers of services

On the right hand side of the page are numbers (5, 10, 15....). These are the line numbers.

So to find The following amendment -

Clause 11

Page 8, line 18, leave out “may” and insert “must”

Go to page 8 of the bill - and on line 18 (which is in clause 11) the word currently in the bill is "may", Lord Bach & Lord Beecham which to delete the word may (which gives a discretionary power) and replace it by "must" (an obligation)

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Mind Mapping

During the "revision season" for my W200 and W201 Open University, I extolled the advantages of Mind Maps and used them to illustrate some key revision topics. I will be doing the same in the New Year when the courses begin for 2012.

If you are going to be a student next year (or continuing your studies) - it's worth considering now whether they would work for you.

I wrote in August "I have MindMaps loaded on my home PC and on my iPad.

It may work for you - it may not. Each of us has our own learning style. For me it works - and works VERY well. In fact I am now using my computer mindmaps to draw together the research I have collected - as I write up my thesis for my Ph.D. So I have quite detailed MindMaps for each of the Congresses and Parliaments since 1974 - and for each of the Chief/Majority Whips; and for the key theories I have been using and developing. It has made the process of writing up so much easier for me. I also find it an invaluable "thinking device".
 Previously, I found them most useful for exam revision - thankfully I'm not facing any exams in the near future - but if you are - or you have a friend who is - then it's worth considering whether Mind Maps can help."

For further information - and a free trial press here.

Monday, 5 December 2011

The Daily Digest

If you thought that reading Hansard took a long time - try the Congressional Record. Not only does it record what was actually said - but Members can have "Extensions of Remarks" inserted - allowing them to put on record reports, letters, books - in fact anything they want.

However help is at hand if you want a summary of what was done on a particular day - and what is coming up. Each sitting day (and remember that the House of Representatives and the Senate do not necessarily sit on the same days) the Daily Digest is produced. It can be read in PDF format (which I find very useful).

The Digest sets out, for each chamber, a summary of "Chamber Action" and "Committee Meetings" - references to the page numbers in the Congressional Record are given. When available, details of "Next Meetings" are given.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Prelude to the Magna Carta

On Tuesday I was able to spend a day in the beautiful and historic Bury St Edmunds. If you are in the area, it is well worth a visit. It has that lovely "olde Englishe towne" feel (plus a Starbucks!).

On November 20th 1214 (according to Roger of Wendover), a number of the Barons met in the Abbey Church and swore an oath to force King John to sign a charter of Liberties - which they did a few months later on the banks of the River Thames at Runnymede. An oath was taken at the High Altar next to the shrine of St Edmund (who was at the time recognised as the patron saint of England - he was replaced by St George less than 6 years later). Archbishop Stephen Langton (Archbishop of Canterbury) administered the oath.

The Abbey and the many monastic houses that surrounded it are now in ruins - but they can be visited in the Abbey Gardens adjacent to the current Cathedral. Historical details can be found here.

A map of historic Bury St Edmunds can be accessed here and a virtual tour of the town is here.