Monday 22 February 2021

Protecting Public Money

One of the oldest Committees in the House of Commons is the Public Accounts Committee. 

The PAC scrutinises the value for money - the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of public spending. It does this by holding short enquiries - often calling witnesses - of those who spend taxpayers - YOUR money. Now there are Select Committees which oversee the work of Government Departments - and they may deal with the question of whether a particular policy, or institution is an effective user of public money - but the PAC is perhaps the best equipped to scrutinise the use of that money. It’s an all party committee, by tradition, chaired by an experienced member of the main Opposition Party. Lord Hennessy - now a member of the House of Lords - but who made his mark as a professor specialising in the workings of Government has described it as "the queen of the select committees...[which] by its very existence exert[s] a cleansing effect in all government departments.”

The process begins with the National Audit Office. This is an independent body. It’s staff are not civil servants and they don’t answer to Minister - or Special advisers. The Head of the NAO goes by the glorious title of “The Comptroller and Auditor General.” He is an officer of the House of Commons. He answers only to the House. The C&AG certifies the accounts of all government departments and many other public sector bodies. He has statutory authority to examine and report to Parliament on whether departments and the bodies they fund have used their resources efficiently, effectively and with economy. The Reports of the NAO can be very valuable for background reading. It does regular “Departmental Overviews”, as well as consider specific projects and working practices. It’s website is nao.gov.uk

The Public Accounts Committee is charged by the House of Commons Standing Order number  148 -  to examine "the accounts showing the appropriation of the sums granted by Parliament to meet the public expenditure, and of such other accounts laid before Parliament as the Committee may think fit”. At the moment there are 53 inquiries in progress - It’s already published 44 reports in this session. It takes written evidence and holds hearings. 

That hearing resulted in a report, published in July 2019 - and that report is available on the PAC’s website 
That report, like all PAC Reports - has a summary of findings and recommendations. The full report itself and information about witnesses and copies of the written evidence. 

These reports can be valuable sources of information - about specific projects, Departments and publicly funded bodies; lessons that can have a wider application; and can give you an idea of the approach of the committee - should you ever want to, or have to - give evidence to the PAC"

Wednesday 10 February 2021

What was said in the Trial?

Did you watch the first day of the Impeachment trial of Donald Trump? It was compelling viewing - and was interesting on so many levels. The contrast in style and substance of argument between the two legal teams was stark. 

I was busily taking notes - but I don't (can't, to be honest) do shorthand. As both a semi-retired academic and about to return to radio on my new programme "PPS" on Elite Live Radio - the conduct of the Trial is of direct interest to me and my work. Thankfully, I don't need to rely on my notes or memory - a transcript is available - and it is available to everyone - for free.

The Congressional Record is the equivalent of the British "Hansard" (there are some significant differences, but I'll tackle those in a future post). If you want to review, or just read, what was said - you can download that one or more sections of that day's Congressional Record.

The pdf of the Congressional Record for Day 1 of the Trial of Donald Trump can be found here.

Monday 8 February 2021

The (Second) Trial of Donald Trump

 We are hours away - as this is published - from the start of the Trump trial in the Senate. There are links to a number of useful resources in my post of Wednesday 3rd February

It was reported in the Washington Post that the proceedings are likely to begin with debate over whether the Constitution permits the trial of a former President. The Congressional Research Servic discuss the various arguments here. This document has also inbuilt links to a number of documents relevant to the trial.

There are a number of ways to follow the trial - directly and indirectly


Senate Floor Proceedings


Live Coverage is also expected on many TV websites (and on your TV) but these will cover proceedings at their editor's discretion.


Reports on the trial will also be posted on News websites -  these may require subscriptions! My main sources will be

Thursday 4 February 2021

Watch it Live!


I still remember as a youngster (in the 1970s) reading the report of debates in the House of Commons in the Times newspaper. "Today in Parliament" had reports about debates - but in those days you couldn't listen to the speakers themselves. Much has changed. The Times reports ended in 1990s, Radio and then TV became available from the Chamber  - and whereas reading Hansard once required a subscription or a visit to a HMSO office - today we can get our information direct from legislatures from a tablet or desktop - FOR FREE! 

My most used sites include (and please free to Bookmark these sites for your own use - and do explore them! - it isn't just live feeds from the main chamber - but also from committees - and the more you get used to the sites, the easier it is to navigate.

UK Parliament : both chambers (Commons & Lords) plus committees - https://parliamentlive.tv/

US House of Representatives - https://live.house.gov (Chamber) - most committees have their own channels (often on Youtube - visit your preferred committee website on the House Website for more details. I like to watch the Rules Committee (I'll explain why in a future post).

US Senate - Floor - similarly individual committees have their own channels.

European Parliament

Assemblée Nationale (France) - Plenary - Live Recordings of Plenary, Committees, Events 

Bundesrat (Germany)

National People's Congress of the People's Republic of China - see Special Reports

Canada's House of Commons 

Welsh Senedd

Wednesday 3 February 2021

Trump's Trial

The Trial Memorandum of the House of Representatives is available here. It sets out the case against the former President.

Trump's defence Memorandum can be accessed here.

There are a number of Congressional Research Papers about the Impeachment of a President - these include -

Impeachment and the Constitution

The Impeachment & Trial of a Former President

The Impeachment Process in the Senate

Obtaining Witnesses in an Impeachment Trial

Click on the relevant name of the paper - and this will give you access to the CRS Papers.

When the trial is in progress, I'm sure that the major news channels such as CNN and BBC News, and of course C-SPAN will give lots of live coverage. Again, just click on the relevant link to take you there. Or if you want the live feed from the Senate itself press here.

As a former lecturer in Constitutional Law, with a deep and specific interest in what happens in the US Congress (scroll through previous posts on Washminster - I can't guarantee that the law and practice remain the same (the blog covered 2007 to 2017 - and much has happened since)) - I'm sure that the next couple of weeks will be filled with reading and watching.

There's a new impetus for me to keep abreast of the news - I start broadcasting on a new internet radio station which launches a fortnight on Friday. It's called Elite Live Radio. My programme is to be called PPS (I'll explain why on air - and later write a post for Washminster) - and is due to air for the first time on Monday February 22nd at Noon, GMT. I hope you'll listen in - the web address is https://www.eliteliveradio.com. We are currently broadcasting a trial service for the next couple of weeks. Do listen in - and let me know what you think.