Tuesday, 21 October 2014


I'm down at Westminster to attend a couple of hearings of the Education Select Committee (for some research I hope to present at next year's Political Studies Association conference). Whilst drinking a coffee at the "Despatch Box" in Portcullis House, I looked through the weekly "Select Committees: Meetings in Public in week beginning...."

And there are a number of potentially interested meetings that I might attend - though some clash, and others are on days when I will be elsewhere - thank goodness for the archive on the parliamentary website which allows people to watch the meeting at a time of their convenience.

So what tempts me?

Of course, the meetings today & tomorrow of the Education Select Committee - two ongoing inquiries, and tomorrow has the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan (no relation), appearing for the second week running - this time on the subject of Academies & Free Schools.

Also at 9-30 this morning, so I can't attend, is the Justice Committees hearing on "Impact of changes to civil legal aid under LASPO";  The Culture, Media & Sport Committee will hold a hearing on the Future of the BBC at 10-30. Former MP & and now reader in Law at Cambridge, David Howarth, will give evidence, along with Jack Straw & James Arbuthnot on "The Standards System in the House of Commons" at 13-30.

Tomorrow the Public Accounts Committee will take evidence from the leading Treasury Civil Servants on "The Whole Government of Government Accounts", not very sexy, but of key importance! In the afternoon the Procedure Committee wil hear from a Minister on "Written Parliamentary Question-answering performance in 2013-14". Finally ( in the sense of hearings that I have a particular interest in) there is an evidence session on "What next on the redrawing of parliamentary boundaries" to be held on Thursday.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Westminster Hall

In typical British fashion - changes to our political institutions come slowly. Yet in recent years there have been a number of very positive improvements to the working of Parliament. One has been the introduction of "Westminster Hall Debates". These allow for debates outside the main chamber. There is usually more light than the heat associated with Chamber debates.

Further small reforms have been proposed - and the House of Commons Procedure Committee sets out the history of the committee and the rationale for the reforms it proposes. It's a short report - and well worth reading.

The report is available here.

Despite the name - the debates are not held in the magnificent Westminster Hall itself (one of the finest and largest medieval halls in Europe), but in a committee room off the Hall.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

The 1964 Elections

It will shortly be fifty years since the election of 1964. This trailer for an hour long documentary explains the significance of that election. It has also reminded me to put Theodore White's "The Making of the President, 1964" on my reading list for the next few days (I have just physically popped up to the library annex (otherwise known as the 2nd bedroom in our home) to get my copy.

Friday, 17 October 2014

A Select Committee in action

This week I attended a hearing by the Education Select Committee. The Secretary of State (the senior minister in a Government Department - and usually a member of the Cabinet) for Education, Nicky Morgan (no relation!) answered questions about the "Trojan Horse Affair" - an attempt to take over some schools in Birmingham.

The Chair is a Conservative MP, but he presses the Conservative Minister at particular points and is quite critical. There are two other Conservative MPs present; one Liberal Democrat and Four Labour MPs.

Further information about the committee can be found at http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/education-committee/

The recording can be viewed here - http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=16059
(warning - you can see my arrival as the public are admitted, just after the DfE officials have entered - wearing my red tie!)

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Oversight in Congress

The Congressional Research Service is part of the Library of Congress. It is a fantastically useful resource for members of both Houses, enabling them to have quality; well researched materials to aid them in their work. As long-term readers of this blog will be aware, I am a huge fan of CRS - and much appreciative of the quality of their staff and their output.

One of their most useful documents is the Congressional Oversight Manual. It both explains the tools of oversight, and is a practical manual. It can be downloaded from -


It is also a useful document to reflect upon - how can legislatures (or for that matter any body which exists to ensure that government services are accountable to the people they should be serving - and that includes local councils as well as national legislatures) be effective in their work. What are the issues and the tools?