Tuesday 30 June 2015

When Technology Raises Constitutional Issues

I have been attending the first two sessions of the Public Bill Committee on the Education and Adoption Bill. The afternoon hearing shuddered to a sudden halt, when it was realised that the witnesses' microphones weren't working. We had to wait until the correct button was hit before the 20 person committee and the 3 witnesses could start.

It was explained that without the microphones, there was nothing for Hansard to use in preparing a transcript. Without that record, legally the evidence did not exist - hence the delay. A number of suggestions were made about getting the witnesses to be heard, but that was not the issue.

Monday 29 June 2015

Coming Up

I'm sitting in Portcullis House working my way through Future Business for both House - some brief highlights

- Statements today on the events of the last few days - might not be out yet, but in any case the screen in Portcullis House for HoC is playing up
- 4th Question in Lords on performance of the Advertising Standards Authority
- Question tomorrow in HoL on whistleblowing in the NHS
- Short debate tomorrow in HoL (Dinner Break Business) on Children & Young People's Mental Health Task Force Report
- HoL question on Wednesday about publication (when???) of the Chilcot Report
- The Education & Adoption Bill will start its committee stage tomorrow and will have up to 4 meetings this week (Tuesday & Thursday)

The Ultimate Public Forum

This afternoon the nation will focus (some) of its attention on the House of Commons. After a long weekend of very serious developments - the House of Commons will hear statements from the Government - and have the opportunity to question and make suggestions about these events and how to deal with them.

Details of what statements will be made - from 15-30 (UK time) onwards - will be available by noon.

Major statements will be repeated in the House of Lords at the earliest convenient time AFTER the statements have been made in the Commons. Peers too will have the opportunity to ask questions.

There are live feeds from each chamber - available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/democracylive/. Tonight (as every weekday when Parliament is sitting) a half hour "Today in Parliament" will be broadcast. As I am unlikely to be fully awake at 11.30 on most nights, I benefit from the podcast which is available as separate episodes - or for subscription at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qtqd/episodes/downloads

Already this morning I have "prepped" for the day by listening to Friday's TiP (which is given to more detailed reports on issues) and yesterday's "Westminster Hour" (available at  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02nrs6c/episodes/downloads). There are free subscriptions available for the iPad app - search in "App Store" for  "Lords Business Papers" and "Commons Order Papers". A must read!

Wednesday 24 June 2015

House of Commons Library

Regular readers of this blog will know how much I admire the work of the House of Commons Library. With a relatively small budget and staff - it regularly produces high quality research material to better inform the work of our MPs. Fortunately, much of this work is available free to their constituents too (and others! It's a great for students; academics; and anyone interested in a particular subject) through the internet.

The Library has to be politically neutral - it may report opinions - but its role is to inform not to advocate. Advocates though have access to the data and the arguments put forward from all sides.

It's worth bookmarking this page - http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ - it can be searched by subject, or can be used to find a particular paper.

I recommend the Key Issues book. This is now prepared for the start of each parliament and gives an overview of issues likely to come up in that Parliament. Can you afford NOT to read it?

Tuesday 23 June 2015

Watching the House of Commons

Yesterday I enjoyed the, sadly all too rare, opportunity of sitting in the public gallery of the Commons to watch a debate. The Education and Adoption Bill was having its Second Reading - and I could watch the Frontbench speeches followed by a succession of speeches from backbenchers - including a number of maiden speeches. It is good occasionally to watch a debate in the chamber - without the usual distractions. Normally when "watching a debate", I am multi-tasking - part listening to the debate; part reading something else - or writing; or carrying out some other task (downloading some material from the internet and so on). In the gallery one's full attention can be focussed on what is being said - and what is going on in the chamber. It's also good to be able to follow a debate over a number of hours! (Reading Hansard isn't quite the same)

I think that it is wonderful that we can now watch the live, un-interrupted  feed from the Chamber. In the past - and when I first visited the House of Commons in 1975 - that wasn't possible - only the written report or a summary on the news was possible. Now with the internet it is possible to watch the television coverage on BBC Parliament or a live stream on Parliamentlive.tv. Podcasts are available of Today in Parliament. But the limitations of TV cameras only give you part of the picture - and there is much of interest to observe outside the zone covered. The interactions and reactions off screen are important too.

Monday 22 June 2015

The week ahead in the House of Commons

House of Commons - Main Chamber
Monday 22 June 2015
2.30pm  Oral questions
Work and Pensions, including Topical Questions
Education and Adoption Bill - 2nd reading - Nicky Morgan
Education and Adoption Bill - Programme motion - Nicky Morgan
Education and Adoption Bill - Money resolution - Nicky Morgan
Stone theft - Jason McCartney
Tuesday 23 June 2015
11.30am Oral questions
Justice, including Topical Questions
European Union (Finance) Bill - Committee stage - George Osborne - Committee of the whole House
European Union (Finance) Bill - Report stage - George Osborne
European Union (Finance) Bill - 3rd reading - George Osborne
High Speed Rail (London to West Midlands) Bill: Instruction (No.3)
Expansion of the Butec facility in the North West of Scotland - Ian Blackford
Wednesday 24 June 2015

11.30am Oral questions
Northern Ireland
12pmPrime Minister's Question Time
Opposition Day Debate
(3rd allotted day) - Subject to be announced
Future of Public Health England at Porton Down - John Glen
Thursday 25 June 2015
9.30amOral questions
Energy and Climate Change, including Topical Questions
Business Statement
Leader of the House
Reports into Investigatory Powers
National Gallery industrial dispute - John McDonnell
Friday 26 June 2015
No business has been announced for this day.
Westminster Hall Debates
Tuesday 23 June 2015
9.30am - 11amWestminster Hall debate
Government policy on support for pupils with English as an additional language - Mr Stewart Jackson
11am - 11.30amWestminster Hall debate
Reforming the House of Lords and the number of Peers - David Morris
2.30pm - 4pmWestminster Hall debate
Work of the Crown Prosecution Service - Teresa Pearce
4pm - 4.30pmWestminster Hall debate
Local government funding in Tameside and Oldham - Angela Rayner
4.30pm - 5.30pmWestminster Hall debate
BBC investment in the East and West Midlands - Mark Spencer
Wednesday 24 June 2015


9.30am - 11amWestminster Hall debate
Science and research in the UK and regional economies - Paul Blomfield
11am - 11.30amWestminster Hall debate
Leaseholders and housing association ballots - Jim Fitzpatrick
2.30pm - 4pmWestminster Hall debate
Superfast broadband roll-out - Matt Warman
4pm - 4.30pmWestminster Hall debate
Free childcare provision and nursery providers - Julian Sturdy
4.30pm - 5.30pmWestminster Hall debate
National Breastfeeding Week - Alison Thewliss
Thursday 25 June 2015
1.30pmWestminster Hall debate
Economic disparities in older industrial areas - Grahame Morris
3pmWestminster Hall debate
Cost of school transport - Mr Nigel Evans

Sunday 21 June 2015

Blank Cheques

For me, the most important event this week at Westminster will be the Second Reading Debate of the Education and Adoption Bill in the House of Commons. It is certainly not the biggest story that will dominate the news over the coming week - Greece is likely to dominate the headlines - and who knows what else may come along. So why am I so concerned about this bill?

I am a strong believer in parliamentary accountability (as an internationalist who believes in the central importance that legislatures should play in democracies - accountability by any legislature is important). Legislatures should write the laws (OK, pass them - even if the texts are proposed elsewhere - for example the Executive). The Executive's power should be approved and its use held to account by Parliament.

This bill grants the Secretary of State for Education powers that would have Dicey revolving in his grave - not at the speed of old LPs or singles (very dated reference for those of us of a certain age), but of CDs. She (currently the post is held by Nicky Morgan [NO relation]) is given extensive powers over a new "class" of schools; their existing governors and teaching staff; and local authorities. That might be justified - but she gets to write the criteria for "entry" into this class.

Currently the Secretary of State's powers are limited to "failing" schools - ones that have weaknesses identified by an Ofsted inspection. Now these powers are extended (in two ways - both to (1) schools and to (2) the extent of the orders she can issue and duties placed on the recipients of her orders).

It is not right that the Executive be given the power to make up its own definitions. It is Parliament's responsibility.

Clause 1 (A Clause in a Bill becomes a Section in a passed Act) of the Education and Adoption Bill says


(3)After section 60A [Education and Inspections Act 2006] insert—

60AB Coasting schools

(1) A maintained school is by virtue of this section eligible for intervention if the
governing body of the school—
(a)have been notified that the Secretary of State considers the school to be
coasting, and
(b) have not subsequently been notified that the Secretary of State no
longer considers the school to be coasting.
(2) The Secretary of State may by regulations define what “coasting”
means in relation to a school for the purposes of subsection (1).
Such regulations must be approved under the Affirmative resolution procedure - but that means little oversight in practice.
The Bill will get its Second Reading tomorrow evening, and will move to the committee stage in the House of Commons. Government Ministers and whips will have as their key objective NOT to accept any amendment other than ones the Government wants (so amending Clause 1(3) is almost impossible). Only the House of Lords stands a chance of defeating the Government on this - and it is rightly unwilling to do this except on rare occasions. Some lively criticism in the Commons Second Reading debate might embolden them.

I have other concerns about this bill - and its effect on centralisation of powers.
Sadly, the issue may just be left. The government may further extend its powers - with parents; local representatives and the public unable to act when these powers are used.
It isn't just the buildings that are crumbling at Westminster.

The Bill can be found here; Explanatory Notes (prepared by the Government) here and the House of Commons Library Briefing Paper here.

Friday 19 June 2015

A Lot of nonsense...

gets in the way of a grown up debate about Britain and Europe. Much of it involves either "euromyths" - made up stories or half truths which make the EU look ridiculous; or assertions about what Britain thought she was letting herself into when she joined in 1973.

In recent days I've heard people argue that all Britain wanted was a free trade area - but these "Europeans" have "subverted" that and "forced us" into accepting free movement of Labour, Goods and Capital. We were invited to join originally - but rejected that, to pursue a Free Trade area (which was known as EFTA). That didn't work for us - so we applied - and were rebuffed twice by De Gaulle - to join the "Common Market" (which always had at its core the Free Movement of Persons, Goods & Capital - any economist will distinguish levels of integration  - and such Free Movement distinguishes a mere Free Trade Area from a Common Market).

The other bit of nonsense is that a new political agenda has been forced upon what was originally a purely economic idea. Again this claim has no basis in fact. The objective of an ever closer union - with political objectives was there in the Treaty of Rome back in the 1950s. That's what we signed up for. If we were 'hoodwinked' it is because some people thought that the Europeans didn't mean what they put in their founding treaties.

This week the House of Commons Library published a paper about the "Ever Closer Union" in the EU Treaties and Court of Justice case law. It is available here. As the library paper says (and it is a politically impartial research service) - "The 1957 Treaty Establishing the European Community contained the objective of laying the foundations of an “ever closer union among the peoples of Europe”.

Thursday 18 June 2015

Human Rights

Back in the early 1980s I was a law student in Sheffield. One of my "legal heroes" then was a solicitor for the National Council for Civil Liberties, who had won an important case - Harman v United Kingdom. Now she is the acting Leader of the Labour Party, in office until a new permanent leader is elected.

This week she made a very important speech about Human rights. I've spoken to people who were there when she delivered it - they were very impressed by what she said. I've read the transcript - and would invite you to do the same. In this week of the anniversary of the Magna Carta - it makes some very important points.

Yesterday we celebrated the anniversary of Magna Carta which laid the foundations for our democracy, human rights and the rule of law in this country and throughout the world. Today we are determined to defend our Human Rights Act.

Labour values are about social and economic rights. And they are also about the civil and political rights embodied in the Human Rights Act. British values – evolved over centuries.
But these are not just Labour values – they are British values and universal human values.
The horrors of the Second World War inevitably made people think afresh about the rights to which every human person is entitled by virtue of their humanity - and how those rights could be protected.

An international endeavour - including Britons - set out a Charter which aimed at nothing less than establishing the norms of international decency, which would apply everywhere and protect everyone.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights – adopted in 1948 – and the European Convention on Human Rights agreed in 1950, and which we ratified in 1951, embodies those efforts.
Simple but powerful, enshrining:
• The right to life, liberty and security
• The right to a fair trial
• Protection from torture
• Freedom of thought, conscience, religion, speech and assembly
• The right to free elections
• The right not to be discriminated against

The Human Rights Act inherits and embodies those universal values, and people around the world are still fighting for the rights it contains and we enjoy today. It has done an immeasurable amount to raise standards across European countries who suffered so much in WW2 which was its aim.

The impact of the Human Rights Act has been profound.
It gives individuals rights which they can enforce here, in our courts, without having to traipse to Europe and wait years. But its impact has been much more far-reaching than the giving to individuals litigable rights - important though that is. It has precipitated good cultural and organisational change. It has changed the way public authorities reach decisions – both in respect of policies and individuals. It requires them to think not just about their own organisational exigencies but also about the rights of the individuals and communities affected by what they do.

When difficult judgements have to be made The Human Rights Act sets the framework for what has to be taken into account. The competing rights which have to be weighed in the balance. Like balancing the right of an individual to privacy against the right of freedom of the press.
Or when considering the qualification of those rights. Where there is a right but it is not absolute – such as the right to family life which is protected except where it is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security public safety or the economic wellbeing of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.  

Often there is no easy right or wrong decision. But The Human Rights Act makes the thought process right. That thought process is important for the individual but it is also a reassurance for institutions who make desperately difficult decisions because it allows them to demonstrate, that in making a decision, they did give proper weight and consideration to the relevant rights.

Believing in those rights is one thing. But their application is quite another. It’s hard. What those founding signatories knew – and what remains true today – is that defence of those rights has to be uncompromising. Defence of those rights will not always be popular. And sometimes will be deeply unpopular. As US Chief Justice Frankfurter observed as long ago as 1950:
“The safeguards of liberty have frequently been forged in controversies involving not very nice people”

We must defend the rights of every individual - those we don’t agree with or approve of, as well as those we do agree with and approve of. We have to protect the minority from the majority.
And we have to protect the individual from the state when it gets it wrong. I’ve experienced this myself when I was the individual whose rights were trampled by the state.

In 1981 when I was legal officer at Liberty, acting for a prisoner in a case against the Home Office, the government prosecuted me for contempt for allowing a Guardian journalist, David Leigh, to come to my office to look at Home Office documents which had previously been secret but been read out in open court as part of our case. Despite the fact that they’d been read out and were therefore in the public domain, the Home Office were so keen to suppress what they showed that they used the power of government to throw everything at me.  I didn’t think I’d done anything wrong as the documents had been read out in court. But at that time Liberty was loathed by the establishment – not least for our strong stand against internment in Northern Ireland.  So my solicitor told me frankly that there was no chance I’d get off. He said, “who do you think the courts will prefer – you or the Home Office?” He was right. The High Court found me guilty of contempt. My appeal to the Court of Appeal was turned down by Lord Denning. And it was only when my case was heard in The European Court of Human Rights seven years later – that I won and was totally vindicated.

The moral of my case is that if we’d had the Human Rights Act then I don’t think they would even have taken the case against me. And if they had, I’d have won in the British courts because the judges would have had to take my Convention Rights into account.

But it’s also the case that if we’d not been part of the ECHR – which is what the government now seems to want – I’d never have been able to clear my name in Europe.
I know what it’s like to be an individual at the mercy of an overbearing state as a young lawyer, who’d done nothing wrong but with my whole career and reputation threatened. But I can understand why it’s easy to criticize the Human Rights Act and why people can feel uncomfortable about it. I know what it’s like from the other side too.

I’ve been a Cabinet Minister and I know that The Human Rights Act is always going to be a nuisance to those in power because you want to get on and do things.
But it’s right that as a government minister that you should have to look over your shoulder and that your power is constrained by other people’s rights.

And it is challenging because we believe in the sovereignty of parliament - and human rights law tempers parliamentary thinking. But it should. Its right that the question is always asked - and the answer certified - “this proposal is compliant with our commitments to human rights.”
But remember that unlike other Bills of Rights in other parts of the world, the Human Rights Act does not allow judges to strike down Acts of Parliament. It creates a conversation between the judiciary and legislature, parliamentary sovereignty is preserved.

Sometimes we all know that defending the Human Rights Act can feel challenging because it can involve European judges protecting the rights of an unpopular individual from an elected authority, or protecting the rights of an unpopular minority from a popular majority.
But it is the right thing to do. As Supreme Court Judge Brenda Hale said:
“Democracy values everyone equally even if the majority does not”
We have to recognise that there is an inherent susceptibility for those who have power to extend it, to over-reach, and ultimately abuse it. And that is irrespective of how legitimate that power is and how they acquired that power and how strongly they believe they are doing the right thing.
So we do need to have our executive and our legislature set within a framework of human rights.
And, individuals do need to be able to court to directly enforce their convention rights.
And we do need to have an international framework for our own judiciary. Our judiciary is independent and uncorrupt. It is admired around the world. But it is not infallible and it does get pressurized by government.

Having judicial oversight from a group of judges from outside our country is a check on them but also an important bulwark for our judiciary against the temptation of any government to tamper with them. Each individual jurisdiction benefits from the constant dialogue between the national and the international judiciary.

We here understand that there can never be any complacency - there has to be eternal vigilance in defending these rights. No country should ever feel so confident that it can regard itself to be in a “post-human-rights era.” Compliance with basic norms of human rights is not a state that you reach, and then you don’t need anymore. It requires constant vigilance for the rights of individuals, constant guarding of the rights of minorities, constant restraint on those who have power.

The government can’t “amend” some of the convention rights but still keep our place in the Convention. And leaving the convention would have serious and far reaching consequences.
As I’ve said, I think it’s important - for our own sake - that our human rights framework is set within an international system. But it’s also important for the human rights of those in other countries.

Our commitment to human rights has to operate here at home. But our commitment is equally to human rights for people in the rest of the world. If we were to walk away from our international human rights treaty obligations, we would deprive ourselves of the ability to press other countries to accept high levels of human rights compliance. And we cannot say to others in Europe - particularly Eastern Europe - that they should stay within a European framework but we have somehow outgrown it, or don’t need it anymore.

One of the most important aspects of the international framework of human rights law is precisely so that governments can’t have their own definition of human rights. In seeking to do this, our government will be giving the green light to countries who abuse human rights to do the same.
The European Convention on Human Rights is just one of a network of treaties we have entered into enshrining the same rights such as the UN convention against Torture and the UN Convention on the rights of the child. To leave the European Convention raises questions about our willingness to comply with those other commitments on human rights.
But standing up for human rights goes beyond our moral authority abroad. It’s about our character and identity as a country. Do we really want our country to no longer consider it necessary to adhere to and shape common norms of decency and justice abroad. I would say no.

We are here today not only because we care about human rights but because we feel they are under threat. The Government has signaled that they want to fundamentally undermine the Human Rights Act. This is what lies behind the announcement in the Queens Speech that they would be consulting on a “British Bill of Rights”. We think that even the consultation is the start of a slippery slope.

You can’t be a bit in favour of human rights and a bit against it. You have to be clear and resolute about it.

The Prime Minister has already indicated that their plans will be delayed – so no bill in the Queen’s Speech but a promise of a consultation paper in the Autumn. No doubt this delay is not just because they have a slim majority and know there’s a lot of opposition to their plans. It’s also because their plans are incoherent. As I’ve said, they can’t opt out of some human rights but still be in the European Convention.

They are also politically and constitutionally destabilising. The complete incorporation of the European Convention is written into the Good Friday Agreement and The Human Rights Act is written into the devolution settlement for Scotland. Amending the Human Rights Act would destabilise those settlements and have serious constitutional consequences undermining the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland and the devolution settlement in Scotland.

We will protect human rights. We are determined
• that human rights legislation should not be watered down,
• that its limits should not be narrowed,
• there should not be any circumstances where there should be a “opt out” from some of the human rights contained in the European Convention
• and that we should remain within the framework of the European Convention on Human Rights

There is a broad alliance of people and organisations in this country who will defend human rights. We will be part of that but we will work with those of other political parties because support for the Human Rights Act is not just the preserve of the Labour Party. There are those in the Tory party who believe in this just as strongly as we do and articulate it clearly – as did William Hague when he said

“The belief in political and economic freedom, in human rights and in the rule of law, are part of our national DNA.  Where human rights abuses are seen to go unchecked, our security and our prosperity suffer as well. And how we are seen to uphold our own values is a crucial component in our influence in the world.”

He articulates how human rights are part of, not at variance with, our British values and matter for our place in the world.

There are MPs in all parties who support human rights. There are peers of all parties and who are in no party who will defend the Human Rights Act.
In my role as interim leader of the Labour Party I give you my assurance that we are going to be clear with the Prime Minister that he must not go ahead with this. I’ve today written to the Prime Minister demanding that he drops these plans and I’d like to invite you to co-sign the letter.

Together we can send a strong signal that he mustn’t publish the consultation paper, he mustn’t publish a draft bill, he mustn’t entertain the idea of leaving the ECHR.

What an irony that yesterday the Prime Minister was presiding over the celebration of Magna Carta at the same time he’s planning to undermine the Human Rights Act. No wonder that though he mentioned human rights in South Africa – and preyed in aid Nelson Mandela – and mentioned human rights in India – and preyed in aid Ghandi – he could not bring himself to mention Europe and our Convention.

But we believe that, together, we can prevent the government eroding human rights. Their policy is intellectually incoherent and, worse, it’s wrong in principle.

Though Labour is in opposition, not in government, we believe that in this case, on an issue of such profound importance, they can and should be held back.

Wednesday 17 June 2015

Back to Westminster

Last Tuesday I was on Capitol Hill, popping into a Congressman's office - before taking lunch with a former member of Congress - then to National Airport to fly home. Yesterday I was in the Palace of Westminster - my first visit of the new Parliament.

In the United Kingdom, Parliament's are usually referred to by the date of their election. So most people will refer to this as the "2015 Parliament". But, like Congress, Parliament's can be known by their number. This is the 56th Parliament of the United Kingdom. The first met in 1801, after the formation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. There was no General Election, but its members were those who had sat in the 18th Parliament of Great Britain, which was elected in 1796. Prior to the numbering of Parliaments of Great Britain (from 1707), Parliaments were known as the xth Parliament of the sitting Monarch. Some of the earlier Parliaments even had nicknames - such as the "Parliament of Devils", which was the 21st Parliament of Henry VI (1459), or the "Parliament of Bats" (1426).

Whilst down there I was able to read some of the excellent material produced by the House of Commons Library - which is also available online. I find the library to be a superb resource - both for academic study of parliament & for following business. More details - and links can be found here.

I didn't go into the gallery for the first day of the committee stage of the European Union Referendum Bill (Day 2 is tomorrow) - but I found the following very useful

Briefing on the Bill
EU exit: impact in key UK policy areas

Monday 15 June 2015

Magna Carta - 800 years!

Today we will be celebrating the 800th anniversary of events that occurred in a meadow by the River Thames. Historians tell us that they actually took place over a few days - and the exact sequence is unclear - but today's date is the one that has gone down in history.

There are some excellent websites with great resources - I list a few (with hyperlinks)

* British Library
* Previous Washminster Posts: 2007, 20092010, 2011, Feb 2015,
* US - National Archives and Records Administration
* Lincoln Cathedral
* Salisbury Cathedral
* BBC - Taking Liberties (note - some content may only be available in the UK)
* CBC News

"No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled . nor will we proceed with force against him . except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice."

Sunday 14 June 2015

Visit to Washington

I arrived back this week after a superb fortnight in Washington DC. As long time readers of this blog know, I love the city - its history, its buildings, its coffee shops - and its political activity. I was able to indulge myself with all these during my stay.

For me the highlights included

* watching the special Sunday session of the Senate on May 31st -
( To watch the video follow the links: C-Span video - Part 1 ; Part 2)

* sitting in two hearings of the House Rules Committee ( Rules Committee website - which has videos of all meetings 'Committee Hearings Archive')

* many hours watching the House of Representatives from its gallery

* A tour of Congress, led by a good friend of "Washminster", Bob Carr (a former Representative from Michigan, who served as Chairman of the Transportation Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee), and from whom I have learnt a lot about the workings and recent history of the House.

* Two events at the Bipartisan Policy Center . One on improving health and healthcare - focussing on avoidable lifestyle chronic disease (a particular interest of mine - and a political priority) - video available here and the other about  the challenges for leadership in the second term of a presidency.
C-SPAN 3 plans to broadcast the meeting on Sunday, Jun 28 at 4:30pm EDT (9-30pm UK)

* A visit to the battlefield of Gettysburg

* some great time spent with friends who live in the Washington area.

But now, I am back home - and will be commenting on events in the British Parliament (I will make my first visit to the 56th Parliament of the UK, later this week) - as well as events and issues in the USA, EU & France.

Saturday 13 June 2015

What's On in the House of Representatives

Each weekend the Leader of the House of Representatives sends an email of the weekly schedule. Next weeks schedule can be found here.

This week Steny Hoyer (Minority (Democrat) Whip) launched an app, which I am already finding useful.

He wrote on his webpage "The app includes real time updates on what’s happening on the Floor; access to the House calendar, which is updated in real time; access to House Floor schedules for both the day and the week ahead; access to press releases and videos from the Whip’s Office; and, for the first time, the ability to view job openings in House Democratic offices. Users can customize how much information they want – and when they want it – by setting notification controls."

Currently it is only available for iPhone and iPads - and can be downloaded from the App Store - search for "Whip Watch"

By the way - Happy Birthday to Steny Hoyer - who celebrates his birthday today.

Friday 12 June 2015

Washminster - at a slower pace

Washminster is to be revived - but not at the pace that has been seen in the past!

It will still concentrate on describing and explaining the British Parliament and the US Congress (with some European Parliament and the French Assemblee nationale thrown in). As ever, I will bring my background as a political scientist and law lecturer to bear, as well as first hand observations of the legislatures concerned. [I have worked at Westminster for a number of years as a staffer to members of both the House of Commons and house of Lords - and continue to visit "the Palace" for current research. I have been a frequent visitor to Washington DC and Congress - in fact I returned on Wednesday from a fortnight's visit - which allowed me to sit in on the Sunday session of the Senate; a couple of House Rules Committee meetings - and many hours in the gallery of the House of Representatives].

I hope you will continue to follow this blog - and do share with friends.


Next Week in Westminster

A big week in the House of Commons next week - Two important bills are having their committee stage taken on the floor of the House (most bills are dealt with by a Public Bill Committee, in one of the committee rooms)

The Scotland Bill on Monday - (as with the next bill, there is a hyperlink in the name to the Bill itself)

and on Tuesday and Thursday the European Union Referendum Bill.

The business for the week can be found at -