Friday, 31 July 2015


The paper I presented at Wroxton was called, ""Battles on Many Fronts: Education Scrutiny and Debate in the Twenty-First Century House of Commons". It was presented during a panel on "Westminster in Context" which also discussed papers by Meg Russell & Ruxandra Serban; Mark Shephard;  and Louise Thompson & Cristina Leston-Bandeira.

The paper describes the various opportunities open for parliamentary scrutiny of Education - and includes a table listing and giving examples of these. It looked in more detail at the scrutiny in the Education Select Committee and at the Public Bill Committee which undertook the committee stage of the Education and Adoption Bill. A further table was produced showing who had participated in Education Questions (which are held at 2.30pm on the Monday of every 5th Parliamentary week.

I'm happy to supply a copy of the paper, just email me.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

The Wroxton Conference

Last weekend I attended the Twelfth Workshop of Parliamentary Scholars and Parliamentarians. These are biennial conferences which have been held since the 1990s, and have settled in the Oxfordshire home of the North family. Lord North was the Prime Minister at the time of the American Declaration & War of Independence. Even the British Government website describe him as  "the man who lost Britain’s American colonies". It is now the home to an American University, Fairleigh Dickinson.

The workshop brought together parliamentarians from across the world, mainly from the countries who use the "Westminster Model" of legislatures, (Professor Meg Russell and Ruxandra Serban of the Constitution Unit put forward an excellent argument in a paper arguing that that term was in fact not useful, and should be retired.) and "parliamentary scholars". The workshops are organised by Lord Norton, whose textbooks and other writings have informed students of the British Parliament and UK politics for, dare I say it, generations.

I've attended a number of these conferences - and each time have returned home invigorated and inspired. There is some really good research going on, which is being put to practical use. The conference concluded with a discussion based with the IPU (Inter-Parliamentary Union) report on "Common Principles for Support to Parliaments". The Parliaments of Bahrain, Bangladesh, Flanders (Belgium), Greece, Kenya, Malaysia, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Romania, The Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, and of course the United Kingdom were all represented. Academics and practitioners of  Parliamentary development were also there in number.

I enjoyed reading some of the papers and attending the presentations and discussions. I have an extended reading list now to fill up the summer!

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Westminster has closed for the hols!

... but Washminster will continue through the summer. I've spent the last weekend at the Wroxton Workshop for Parliamentarians and Parliamentary Scholars - then headed off to Bristol.

I will return to blogging very shortly!

Thursday, 23 July 2015

APPGs and Select Committees

Sometimes a media report on Westminster will mention reports "by MPs", or by "committees of MPs". Such phrases don't highlight the nature of the group involved.

Select Committees are set up by the House of Commons. (There are also Select Committees in the House of Lords and Joint Committees). The most well known are the Departmental Select Committees, which are covered by Standing Order 152. Further related Standing Orders are 121-152K (2015 Standing Orders as amended by the Addendum of June 2015). One of the most well known, and influential select committees is the Public Accounts Committee - which I attended on Tuesday.

There is a video on committees - accessible here.

APPGs (All Party Parliamentary Groups) are set up by MPs and Peers themselves. They are wholly unofficial. They can range from APPGs promoting serious policy issues, to ones celebrating a particular leisure or cultural interest of its members (such as the Jazz Appreciation APPG). A register of APPGs is regularly published (the latest - March 2015 - is available here)

The range can be seen from the last 20 entries -

Weight Watchers
Wellbeing Economics
West Coast Main Line
West Midlands
Wine and Spirit
Women and Enterprise
Women in Parliament
Women in the Penal System
Women, Peace and Security
Women’s Sport and Fitness
Wood Panel Industry
World Governance
Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire
Young Disabled People
Youth Affairs
Youth Hostelling
Youth Unemployment
Zoos and Aquariums

A guide to the rules governing APPGs can be found here.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Spending Review

This morning's British newspapers & news websites are full of information about the Spending Review which Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced yesterday. (Guardian,  Daily Mail, (how's that for balance!) - BBC, SkyNews).

The document itself is available here.

The results will be announce on 25th November - keep that date for your diary!

Periodic Spending Reviews have become a regular part of the British political scene. The most recent (with links) were in 2004, 2007, 2010, 2013.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Health Select Committee

Over the last year I have been attending sessions of the Education Select Committee - and for the last few weeks the Public Bill Committee for the Education & Adoption Bill. Yesterday I attended a Hansard Society event on select committee (which I will post about later this week).

Today, I hope to watch another committee in action - the health Select Committee. Here are the details -

The House of Commons Health Committee will be hearing oral evidence from Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England, from 9.30 am.

The Committee is expected to question Mr Stevens on a variety of matters affecting the NHS, including the financial performance of the NHS, prevention and public health, the NHS workforce and staffing, urgent and emergency care, mental health services, and the post-Francis Review progress on changing culture in the NHS.

Ahead of the session, the Committee has received a brief statement from NHS England on progress with the NHS Five Year Forward View, published last October. The text of that statement can be found below.

Overview of progress on the Five Year Forward View

When the NHS came together to produce the Five Year Forward View our ambition was to reframe the terms of debate: to set out a shared view of the challenges ahead and the choices we face about the kind of health and care service we want in 2020. Working with patient groups, clinicians, local government and national partners, we tapped into a widespread consensus on the need for change, and a shared ambition for the future.

It’s a future that empowers patients, their families and carers to take more control over their own care and treatment: a future that dissolves the artificial divide between family doctors and hospitals, between physical and mental health and between health and social care. One that no longer locks expertise into outdated buildings, with services fragmented, patients having to visit multiple professionals for multiple appointments; one organised to support people with multiple conditions not just a single disease.
e now have a consensus about the challenges ahead, a commitment to at least £8bn of additional funding and support for the changes needed to shape the future NHS. Our shared challenge is to close three gaps in health care: the health and wellbeing gap, the care and quality gap, and the funding and efficiency gap. In the months since the Forward View’s publication, we have made progress in all three areas.

Closing the care and quality gap

As a catalyst to create new ways of delivering care that are better suited to modern health needs, we have initiated a ‘Vanguard’ programme to develop, implement and learn how to replicate the new care models outlined in the Forward View. 269 localities came forward with their ideas on how to design new models of care, and following a period of peer assessment, 29 were selected to form the initial cohort. We have since initiated two further Vanguard groups.  The first invites expressions of interest from hospitals across England to develop new ways of collaborating and sharing resources.  The second seeks areas covering five million people to become Urgent and Emergency Care Vanguards. The successful areas will be announced shortly.

Our aim is not just to improve services in the Vanguard areas, but to develop models that can be replicated elsewhere, so that all patients can benefit in the future. However, there are a number of local health and care systems where the conditions for transformation do not yet exist. In these challenged areas, we will implement a ‘Success Regime’. The first cohort includes North Cumbria, Essex and Northern, Eastern and Western Devon. These areas will benefit from short-term improvement in current performance, support for medium and longer term transformation, and a greater focus on leadership capacity and capability.
We have also established independent taskforces on Cancer, Mental Health and Maternity services, to identify further opportunities for improving these specific services.

Closing the health and well-being gap

To meet the needs of patients in a sustainable way, the NHS can no longer simply respond to the forecasts of ill health and increased costs; the NHS must become a pro-active agent of change, taking bold action in partnership with individuals, local government and third sector bodies to ‘bend the curve’ on predicted trends. To drive this increased emphasis on prevention, we have established a national prevention board, chaired by Public Health England, and with an early focus on diabetes prevention.

The Diabetes Prevention Programme, together with Diabetes UK, aims to halt the predicted rise in this disease, by delivering at scale lifestyle interventions that have been shown to help individuals at high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Seven local demonstrator sites have been developing the early stages of the programme and over the next few years we roll out the programme out across England.

Closing the funding and efficiency gap

The Forward View highlighted that if we continue with the current model of care and historic trends continue, it is likely we will face a substantial funding gap between projected health spending requirements and available resource. So the NHS needs a combination of new investment and new efficiency to create the headroom to manage increased demand and continue to improve care. To achieve these savings there are three main areas where the NHS is taking action:

Preventing and managing demand – reducing, wherever possible, the need for health care in the first place by supporting people to keep healthy, through actions like the Diabetes Programme.
Maximising the value of our £115bn spend – driving up productivity and reducing inefficiencies so that more of our budget is spent on patients who need our care, with early action to reduce agency spend and consultancy services.

Redesigning services – investing in new ways of providing joined up care in a more clinical and cost-effective way for patients and their carers through the development of New Care Models.

Delivering together

We have established an NHS Five Year Forward View Board to bring together the CEOs of the national NHS bodies to ensure oversight and delivery of the vision. Because the scale of the required changes cannot be driven by the centre nor delivered by the NHS alone, we have also launched a programme of engagement, led by the NHS Confederation, NHS Providers and other partners such as the LGA, National Voices, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and the Royal College of GPs. The results of our engagement and the Spending Review process will inform the service’s national and local planning processes in autumn, providing the foundation for the next phase of delivery.

Further information

The oral evidence session will be open to the public and will take place in the Thatcher Room, Portcullis House. The session will also be broadcast live on www.parliamentlive.tv and on BBC Parliament.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Hansard Society

Today the Hansard Society will hold its AGM in the Palace of Westminster. The Society has been a great advocate and educator about the Westminster Parliament and beyond (and as Parliaments have been established in the other nations of the UK, it has been active within them). It's website states -

"The Hansard Society believes that the health of representative democracy rests on the foundation of a strong Parliament and an informed and engaged citizenry. Founded in 1944, we are a charity working in the UK and around the world to promote democracy and strengthen parliaments. An independent, non-partisan political research and education Society our work is devoted to:

1. Exploring the evolution of representative democracy: offering evidence-based ideas for reform of political and parliamentary institutions, processes and culture to help foster democratic renewal.
2. Educating citizens, particularly young people: so that they have the knowledge and confidence to play an active role in our democracy and be future leaders in civic and political life.
3. Connecting citizens with parliamentarians and policy-makers: through innovative on and off-line initiatives to address the democratic deficit.
4. Convening debate on topical political issues: providing a non-partisan forum for the exchange of ideas about our democratic future.

The website is well worth exploring. It has some excellent resources. Each year they produce their "Audit of Political Engagement", which is taken very seriously by Parliamentarians and academics. Those who don't use it deny themselves much useful information about what is going on in the minds of electors. Can anyone wishing to be an MP afford not to read it?

It has also played a key role in encouraging Parliamentary Reform during its history - and Parliament is all the better for it.

After the AGM some of the newly elected select committee chairs will discuss how committees organise their work, their role in the scrutiny process, the challenges the committees will face over the coming year, as well as their aims for this Parliament and what they would consider a successful outcome.

I'm really looking forward to going.

For further information about the Hansard Society visit http://www.hansardsociety.org.uk/


Saturday, 18 July 2015


It's that time of year again - renewal of my subscription to the American Political Science Association. Why does a Brit like myself join APSA? (I am a member of the UK's Political Studies Association). There are some excellent resources for any academic interested in US Politics. There are three journals which are supplied to all members.

The American Political Science Review
Perspectives on Politics
PS: Political Science and Politics

To date I have been receiving the physical versions - and there are regularly articles of interest to me as a researcher into the US Congress; Elections & Political communication. My home though does not have enough storage space - and from now on I'm only going to get the pdfs.
In addition there are Organised Sections -  I'm a member of the Legislative Studies Section - and have had membership in
Political Organizations and Parties
Political Communication
Political Psychology
Elections, Public Opinion, and Voting Behavior
Due to pressure of time, I am doing less in those areas now, so leave them at the end of this month.

There are various conferences put on by APSA - and perhaps one day I will get across to attend one.

In my view, if you are serious about studying US Politics, APSA membership is a must!

Friday, 17 July 2015

European Scrutiny at Westminster

My apologies for a lack of posts in the last week - I've been completing and writing up a study of scrutiny of Education by the House of Commons. More details on that to come....

An interesting (short) report on reforming the scrutiny of EU matters has been written by Agata Gostyńska-Jakubowska and  published by the Centre for European Reform. Your comments would be welcomed.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Fundamental Constitutional Principles Explained

If you are a law student (or about to study Constitutional Law - perhaps the W201 Open University course, which begins in October), or are interested in the workings of the "constitution" in a country which does not have a "Constitution" in the sense of a single written document - then I recommend looking at the session held yesterday by the House of Lords Constitution Committee. It contains two evidence sessions. The first involved Ministers from the Cabinet Office; the second two members of the UK's Supreme Court. It covers a number of key principles - and discusses them. Any student watching this will gain an important advantage when exams come, and it really was a fascinating session. I lost sleep over it!!!

BBC iPlayer: http://bbc.in/1IKOqQM (available in the UK for 28 days)
Parliament Live: http://goo.gl/FdruzX

Witness(es): Rt Hon. Oliver Letwin MP, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and John Penrose MP, Minister for Constitutional Reform, Cabinet Office; Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, President, and Baroness Hale of Richmond, Deputy President, The Supreme Court.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Emergency Debates

Yesterday the Speaker granted a request for an emergency debate, which will take place in the House of Commons today, on the issue of using Standing Orders, rather than legislation, to introduce a new system to give "English votes on English laws" [EVEL]

The procedure for calling such emergency debates is set out in Standing Order 24 -

(1) On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday a Member rising in his place at the commencement of public business may propose, in an application lasting not more than three minutes, that the House should debate a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration. If the Speaker is satisfied that the matter is proper to be so debated, the Member shall either obtain the leave of the House, or, if such leave be refused, the assent of not fewer than forty Members who shall thereupon rise in their places to support the motion, or, if fewer than forty Members and not fewer than ten shall thereupon rise in their places, the House shall, on a division, upon question put forthwith, determine whether such motion shall be made.
(2) If leave is given or the motion is so supported or the House so determines that it shall be made
(a) the debate shall be held on a motion that the House has considered the specified matter; and
(b) the Speaker shall announce either
(i) the length of the debate and the time at which it is to be held; or
(ii) that he will make such a statement at a later named hour during that sitting.
(3) Proceedings in respect of a debate under this order may last not more than three hours and, at the conclusion of the time allocated to them, pursuant to paragraph (2)(b) of this order, the motion, unless otherwise disposed of, shall lapse.
(4) A Member intending to make an application under this order shall give notice to the Speaker by twelve o’clock on a Monday, halfpast ten o’clock on a Tuesday or Wednesday or nine o’clock on a Thursday, if the urgency of the matter is known at that hour. If the urgency is not so known he shall give notice as soon thereafter as is practicable. If the Speaker so desires he may defer giving his decision upon whether the matter is proper to be discussed until a named hour, when he may interrupt the proceedings of the House for the purpose.
(5) In determining whether a matter is proper to be discussed the Speaker shall have regard to the extent to which it concerns the administrative responsibilities of Ministers of the Crown or could come within the scope of ministerial action. In determining whether a matter is urgent the Speaker shall have regard to the probability of the matter being brought before the House in time by other means.
(6) The Speaker shall state whether or not he is satisfied that the matter is proper to be discussed without giving the reasons for his decision to the House.
(7) If the Speaker announces that the debate will take place on the same day as the application is made, proceedings on any business postponed as the result of that announcement, may continue, following the conclusion of proceedings on that debate, for the same time beyond the moment of interruption as that taken by the debate, and shall not be interrupted, except as provided in paragraph (2) of Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business).
The House of Commons Library has produced a list of emergency debates granted since 1979 - which is available here.
Yesterday's Hansard report records the application and its grant -
5.19 pm
I seek leave to propose that the House should debate a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely the means by which the Government seek to deliver the objectives outlined by the Leader of the House in his statement on English votes on English laws.
Last Thursday the Leader of the House outlined a scheme that goes well beyond anything the Government have previously proposed or on which they have consulted, including an exclusion of Scottish Members from voting on parts of the Budget. Their wish is effectively to set up an English Parliament within this United Kingdom House of Commons and to do so by inviting the House to amend its Standing Orders. The substantive issue will be debated in due course, but that is not what I seek to bring to the House now. Rather, it is the process that I submit is specific and important and that should be given urgent consideration.
I am not one of those who has ever sought to avoid answering the West Lothian question. On the contrary, I long for the day when the English members of my family may benefit from devolution in the way that we have done in Scotland since 1999. This, however, is not the way to do it.
In this Session alone, we have already spent four days debating a Bill giving extra powers to the Scottish Parliament. We still have more to come, after which consideration will move to the other place. Addressing the democratic position of the people of England, however, is apparently to be done from scratch, in one day, in this Chamber alone. Obviously, I am concerned about the message this proposal sends to the people of Scotland, but, quite apart from that, I happen to think that the people of England deserve better treatment than this.
Let there be no doubt: we are dealing with a major constitutional change. It is one that undermines a fundamental principle of the workings of this House, namely that no matter where we come from, once we get here we are all equal. To seek to do this in one day by amendment to our Standing Orders may be technically competent, but it is, I would suggest, an abuse of process. It is constitutionally outrageous and I fear that it puts a further unnecessary strain on the Union. That is what the House must consider and what the country must hear debated before we go any further.
The right hon. Gentleman asks leave to propose a debate on a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely the means by which the Government seek to deliver the objectives outlined by the Leader of the House in his statement on English votes on English laws. I have listened carefully to the application from the right hon. Gentleman and I am satisfied that the matter raised by him is proper to be discussed under Standing Order No. 24. Has the right hon. Gentleman the leave of the House?
Application agreed to.
Leave has very clearly been given. The right hon. Gentleman has the leave of the House. What remains is for me to communicate to the House the necessary details. The debate will be held tomorrow, Tuesday 7 July, and in conformity with normal practice on these occasions—albeit these occasions are relatively infrequent—it will be held as the first item of public business. It will last for three hours and it will arise on a motion that the House has considered the specified matter set out in the right hon. Gentleman’s application.
The Parliamentary website published this statement -
The House of Commons has agreed to an application for an emergency debate on the means by which the Government seeks to deliver the objectives outlined by the Leader of the House in his Statement on English Votes on English Laws.

The Speaker has decided that this debate will take place on Tuesday 7 July, after Questions, any Statements and the Presentation and Ten Minute Rule Bills, for up to three hours. The scheduled opposition debate will be held afterwards.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Threat to Order?

I apologise for the lack of posts in recent days - I've been very busy. Central to this burst of activity has been Hansard (which I've been reading online in order to gather evidence for a paper I am preparing on scrutiny at Westminster on Education matters.) Pretty heavy going at times - but I came across this little gem -

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): What sort of spell has the Secretary of State cast on her Front-Bench team? I have never seen a bunch of numpties with such a lack of vision and passion. I went to five schools in my constituency on Friday. They are crying out for new teachers. They cannot recruit. What will she do about that?


Mr Speaker: Order. For the record, the use of the word “numpties” is arguably tasteless and a matter of subjective opinion, but I do not think it constitutes a threat to order.

Thursday, 2 July 2015


A slight trip, and the British railway network falls flat on its face.

On Tuesday evening, as I was returning to Milton Keynes for my French conversation class, after a day at Westminster, Euston descended into chaos. At least three separate incidents were causing problems on the line between London Euston and Rugby.

I wrote the draft for this post (in longhand) yesterday while awaiting the arrival of a friend from Lutterworth who was travelling via Coventry. The train had been have problems for most of its journey from Scotland. It finally gave up the ghost in Rugby. In the meantime a freight train breakdown shut down the route via Northampton.

Even the best networks suffer occasional problems (and to be fair, reading the news from France this morning, alerted me to the problems their network had suffered due to the heatwave). 100% punctuality is an impossibility - so much can happen that is outside the control of the track operators and the train operators.

But for regular users of the trains, service disruptions occur all too frequently. The annual average for London Midland is 87.9% of trains arrive within 5 minutes of schedule. Virgin trains had 89.4% of trains arriving within 10 minutes of schedule in May 2015. (Btw it would be nice if at a station COMPARABLE statistics were available!)

Train travel is very expensive in the UK - and this isn't good enough. ANSWERS (rather than apologies & the occasional refund) is what passengers want - in other words ACCOUNTABILITY.