Tuesday 20 June 2017

The Queen's Speech 2017

After the Queen's Speech, each House will adjourn then start a series of debates on the content of the Speech and the legislative programme which the Speech has set out.
The House of Lords debates will involve a short session on Wednesday afternoon, where formal (often amusing) speeches will be made. The serious, in depth debate will begin on the following day, Thursday June 22nd. House of Lords Briefing Papers on each debate can be accessed by clicking on the links underlined for each day.

The robes will have disappeared and Peers will wear their usual working clothes.

Queen's Speech 2017: Day 1 - covering Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs; Defence; International Trade & International Development. (Thursday 22nd June)

Queen's Speech 2017: Day 2 - Business; Economic Affairs; Transport; Energy and the Environment and Agriculture . (Monday 26th June)

Queen's Speech 2017: Day 3 - Home Affairs; Communities & Local Government; Justice; Constitutional Affairs; Devolved Affairs. (Tuesday 27th June)

Queen's Speech 2017: Day 4 - Exiting the European Union (Wednesday 28th June)

Queen's Speech 2017: Day 5 - Education; Health; Welfare; Pensions and Culture. (Thursday 29th June)

The Speakers' list for each day is available for each day at calendar.parliament.uk

Thursday 15 June 2017

What is Obstruction of Justice?

From the Washington Post

Magna Carta Day

802 years ago, King John was forced to do a deal with rebel barons on the meadows of Runnymede. They had become exasperated with his abuse of executive power - and demanded a halt.

I|n doing so they forced him to concede a principle which is central to the modern British Constitution - that the Executive must operate within the bounds of its legal authority.

It was a start - and although John sought to renege on it (and provoked a civil war which ended with his death)"., the principle remains. It has been developed further.But today we can rightly celebrate what happened on those Surrey meadows over eight centuries ago.

Wednesday 14 June 2017

A City Shining on a Hill?

There has been much to admire about the United States

- a revolution based on the principle of "no taxation without representation"
- a Constitution which enforces a strict separation of powers
- a Constitution, as amended, which includes rights that Citizens can enforce
- the assertion in their 'Declaration of Independence' that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed"
- fantastic technical innovation - including sending men to the moon; playing a leading role in the development of and use of computers and information technology
- its' "can do" attitudes
- some excellent academic institutions and think tanks.

I have loved visiting the United States, especially Washington DC and NoVa (Northern Virginia). I'm an American Football fan; and an addict of American politics.

John Winthrop, in a speech made as the Pilgrim Fathers approached their new land, is credited with applying this phrase taken from the Bible to the role that 'America' could play in the world. Presidents, including John F Kennedy - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uaXt7GE0aUo  and Ronald Reagan have made stirring speeches on this subject.

Yet, I write this post in great sadness. In recent years there has been coming out of certain quarters in the USA a poison which we in the UK and Europe need to protect ourselves from. It was prompted by the news that a gunman had opened fire in an area I deeply love, the Del Ray area of Alexandria, Virginia - injuring (as far as we know as I write this) a number of people, including the Majority Whip of the House of Representatives. It is reported that between 50 and 100 shots were fired from a set-automatic rifle (The Hill : Rep Mo Brooks [quoted in a BBC Report]).

The effort to weaken gun control has been part of the poison - each time I stay in Virginia, I hear of new changes to the law of that State which make it easier for anyone to get hold of some deadly lethal weapons - I've sat in gallery of the House of Representatives as very limited measures to improve safety were opposed and thrown out. THE NRA has been on the offensive - and despite the number and frequency of mass shootings, have gained the support of some Members of Congress, and of State legislatures - not only to reject sensible restrictions, but to push away restrictions that had existed.

We've seen the rise of a rabid populism - and fake news, culminating in the election of a man wholly unfitted to be the President of the United States. Last night I was appalled at the poor performance of the Attorney Officer of the United States - as he displayed a worrying inability to remember certain things as he testified before a Senate Committee.

We've seen a determined push to make it more difficult for certain parts of the American electorate to register to vote - for purely party political objectives.

We've seen the World Economy (as well as the American economy) taken to the brink by some Congressmen who threatened to let the USA default on its debts. We've seen the USA pull out of the Paris Climate Accord - and restart activities which threaten to further degrade the state of our planet.

There is a common theme. The push towards these developments has come from a particular part of the American political spectrum. A movement calling itself "conservative" has been behind a determined effort to push very radical ideas. Fifty-three years ago Barry Goldwater was their standard bearer - and he was given a beating at the Presidential Election. But the movement kept on planning, and spending, and removing Republican moderates. The election of Donald Trump was the, perhaps inevitable, result of their activities. Moderation was hunted down - some very black (political) arts were used to achieve the takeover of the Republican Party - and the country. Some of its fellow travellers were even overtaken by the monster they fed (Eric Cantor, John Boehner). - as Kennedy said in his inauguration speech - "those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside."

The damage to the American system is vividly described in the books of Norman Ornstein and Thomas E Mann ("The Broken Branch" 2006, "It's Even Worse Than It Looks") and many others.

But why does it threaten the UK and Europe? The same crazy ideology is being pushed over here. So called "conservative" ideas have gained a foothold in the British Conservative Party. While the Conservative Party has given public support to the continuation of the National Health Service for over sixty years - there are some now suggesting that the market based approach of US health insurance would be better (!?!?!?). Brexit has its strong supporters - and funders - amongst the American 'conservatives'. We've seen the advocacy of similar barriers to voter registration,

We need to look closely at the tactics they have used to push their ideas to such prominence and power in the USA. We also need to prepare our counter-offensive. Many in the US failed to take them seriously - we must not make the same mistake.

Tuesday 13 June 2017

House of Commons Library - A Resource for Citizens

The House of Commons Library is not just a collection of books. It provides a first class research service to MPs. MPs can seek answers to specific questions - but they also produce a range of non-partisan research briefings on a multitude of subjects.

These papers - ranging from short 'Standard Notes' to lengthy, in depth research papers, are made available to the public on the Parliamentary website - and you can subscribe to email notifications about new publications.

Yesterday, I received a number of emails from the Library announcing publication of a number of papers - across all policy areas. As a lecturer in Constitutional Law, I have recommended many of their papers which explain the workings of our Constitution and Parliament. As a researcher, House of Commons Library Papers have provided useful background information - and the starting point for further research. As someone with specific policy interests - they are invaluable for keeping myself informed about the issues.

Do visit http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/offices/commons/commonslibrary/
All their publications are free - and of a very high standard. The page above is easy to use for searching particular issues - and includes a link to sign up for notifications of new (and updated) publications) - https://subscriptions.parliament.uk/accounts/UKPARLIAMENT/subscriber/new?.

Monday 12 June 2017

Empowering Citizens

Britain should be proud of its constitutional history, and its Parliament which has developed over the centuries. Yet we make limited efforts to enable citizens to understand how our political system - and Parliament itself - actually works.

In many countries school pupils are required to learn about the institutions and practices of all levels of government. Here, it can rely on an enthusiastic teacher - or on citizen's finding out for themselves. I acknowledge the fantastic work that is done by some teachers, by organisations promoting greater knowledge - such as the Hansard Society and by Parliament itself. But the fact is, it is not easy for citizens to get the full picture of how our democracy operates - and how we can play our part.

If we are to empower citizens - we need to make access to information about our system more readily available. Who do they go to if they have a problem - or want to have their opinion heard? How can they make sense of the procedures which seem so strange?

Since Washminster Blog began in 2007, I have sought on the blog to explain the workings of Westminster (and other systems) to students and interested citizens. In the months ahead I will be posting about all areas of the British system of Government - from Parish Councils to the influence of international bodies. I will be linking to websites and other resources that explain how things work - and how citizens can use the power they have. If you have any questions, suggestions or comments - please post a comment. (The link is at the end of every post - where it states how many comments have been made).

This is a good week to watch Parliament in action. Many MPs are already at Westminster, and tomorrow (Tuesday 13th June), the Speaker of the new Parliament will be elected - do see the link in yesterday's post to the FAQs about the Election of a Speaker.

The Parliamentary Website is a fantastic resource. It has background information - as well as the tools to follow what will be happening. You can read details of forthcoming business at http://calendar.parliament.uk. The Business papers for each House are also available - so when a Member rises to "ask the question standing in my name on the order paper" or says "Question four, Mr Speaker"- you can read what the question is.

Please do subscribe to Washminster - and share with your friends.

Saturday 10 June 2017

Washminster is back....

The June 2017 election is over (will this be another Parliament - like those of 1974 - to be known not only by their year, but by their month?) - and lots of questions about constitutional rules and political practice arise. Now that I've stopped walking the streets of Milton Keynes (which armfuls of leaflets and letters) and calling on peoples' doors - I am back to write about the events as they unfurl.

Next week MPs will head for Westminster - as the new Parliament begins to swing into action. The key events will be -

MPs take their oaths - which is done on an individual basis. Forward thinking MPs elected for the first time in this election will be keen to be amongst the first of their group - if they wish to be "father of the House" in a few decades time. [The longest serving MP gets that honour - and where a number arrive at the same time, the first of them to have taken the oath is deemed to be the longest serving] - http://www.parliament.uk/about/how/elections-and-voting/swearingin/

State Opening of Parliament - due on Monday 19th June. The Queen's Speech will set out the legislative plans of the Government. It is followed by days of debate - and a vote. In the past a defeat on the Queen's Speech would lead to the fall of the Government. In 1924 the Conservative Government fell, and the next day the first Labour (Minority) Government was formed. If the Government were defeated this time - the Prime Minister would be expected to resign - and the Queen would invite the person most likely to form a new Government to become her Prime Minister. We are then into delicate issues of who that might be - could it be the leader of the next largest party? (Labour) or could another Conservative stand a better chance of pulling together sufficient support? The Queen would rely heavy on advice - but there could be a danger of the Monarch being involved in controversy. An immediate General Election is unlikely, and the loss of the vote, on the Queen's Speech is not mentioned in the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011 - so either a vote of no-confidence would have to be lost or two thirds of MPs would have to vote to dissolve Parliament would be needed. http://www.parliament.uk/about/how/occasions/stateopening/