‘I spoke at the Hull Politics Sixth-Form Conference last September on ‘What’s right with Parliament?’ Parliament gets a great deal of criticism, some of it justified, but there are also developments which have strengthened it, not least in terms of scrutinising and influencing the executive. This past Parliament has been more effective than its predecessors. In my talk, I addressed the criticisms, but also drew out what was happening that was enhancing Parliament in fulfilling its functions.
This theme is one that I have developed in a forthcoming publication. I have written the chapter on Parliament for the 8th edition of The Changing Constitution, edited by Jeffery Jowell, Dawn Oliver and Colm O’Cinneide, and being published by Oxford University Press in June. The chapter is entitled ‘Parliament: A New Assertiveness?’ Here is the summary:
Parliament fulfils functions that are longstanding, but its relationship to government has changed over time. It has been criticised for weakness in scrutinising legislation, holding government to account and voicing the concerns of the people. Despite changes in both Houses in the 20th Century, the criticisms have persisted and in some areas Parliament has seen a constriction in its scope for decision-making. The 21st Century has seen significant steps that have strengthened both Houses in carrying out its functions, the House of Commons in particular acquiring new powers. Members of both Houses have proved willing to challenge government. Parliament has seen a greater openness in contact with citizens. Its remains a policy-influencing legislature, but a stronger one than in the preceding century.
To see the analysis, you will need to get hold of the book. Get your orders in….
There were some witty and innovative entries for the Easter caption competition. There was a natural tendency to focus on the cone, though others picked up on the leg, and the columns, appearing to be attached to my head. One or two picked up on the fact that I was in Glasgow. One may infer from Barry Winetrobe’s entry that the picture should have shown me wielding my sword to smite the enemy.
I was, yet again, spoiled for choice. The entries got off to a splendid start with Tony Sands’ contribution (‘Mental note: Ensure that one’s own commemorative statute in Hull is positioned rather higher than that one’), which was a real contender. Tony Sands’ other entry also made me laugh, not least for its reference to Croatia, but you have to follow me on Twitter to know why that was so funny. Jonathan’s entry was clearly based on a false premise, namely that Hull students may actually have some boring lectures.
After narrowing the choice down, I chose the winning entry on the grounds that it constituted a wonderful combination of the picture with what else I have been writing about recently. The winner is Adam with:
‘That’s the last time a pundit fails to understand the Fixed-term Parliaments Act’.
If Adam would like to get in touch, a copy of The Coalition Effect will be on its way.
A friend was keen to point out that it is time for another caption competition, so for this one I have selected a picture of a windswept me taken in Glasgow last year. I was on my way to speak at Strathclyde University. As usual, the winner will be the reader who in my view submits the wittiest and most appropriate caption.
A particular incentive for this competition is that the prize will be a copy of the just-published The Coalition Effect 2010-2015, edited by Anthony Seldon and Mike Finn.
This year I have been invited to give two public lectures, each addressing the life of a particular parliamentarian. Later this year, I shall be giving another Speaker’s Lecture at Westminster, this time on the remarkable Independent MP, Eleanor Rathbone. The other I shall be giving later this month, as part of the University of Hull Founder’s Day Celebration, taking place on 23 April at Holy Trinity Church, Hull.
For the lecture, I have chosen the subject of the University’s founder, Thomas Ferens (pictured), a great philanthropist and businessman. Without him, there would not be a University of Hull, or at least not one about to celebrate its 90th anniversary and certainly not one located on Cottingham Road in Hull. (Without Ferens’ endowment, no building would have been possible.) He was also a parliamentarian, serving as Liberal MP for East Hull. He was elected in the Liberal landslide of 1906 and served until defeated in the ‘coupon’ election of 1918. What he did for the city of Hull in terms of its cultural and educational life is fairly well known, and variously commemorated in the names of buildings and streets. Less well known is what he did at Westminster. The lecture explores his work as a parliamentarian.
There will also be singing as part of the Celebration. The good news is that none of it is by me. More details of the event are on the University website here.
Just over 21 years ago, I met the publisher Frank Cass to discuss the possibility of starting a new journal in the field of legislative studies. I felt there was a need for such a journal, especially one that was not limited by any particular methodological paradigm. The response was positive – Frank Cass was an ideal publisher – and we got under way with preparations in 1994, with the first issue being published in 1995. Since then, Frank Cass titles have moved to Taylor & Francis, but there has been one notable element of continuity. The editorial team – me as editor and Sally Clark as editorial assistant – has remained the same.
The journal has established itself as one of the two main refereed international journals in legislative studies. It has attracted a dedicated readership – I take it as a sign of the value of the journal that subscriptions have remained strong – and authors drawn from around the globe. Special issues have also normally been published in book form, the books selling well. We have also sought to act at the interface of theory and practice. We variously carry guest articles from practitioners and we encourage paper givers at the biennial Workshops of Parliamentary Scholars and Parliamentarians – where papers are designed to present research findings likely to be of practical interest to parliamentarians – to submit their papers as manuscripts for possible publication.
To mark this milestone, a reception is being held at the annual Political Studies Association conference in Sheffield. The publishers have also filmed a short interview with me. You can watch it here. The cameraman was clearly keen on action shots…
The final legislative business of the House of Lords last Thursday, prior to prorogation, was Royal Assent to several Bills. These included what is now the House of Lords (Expulsion and Suspension) Act. This gives the House the power to expel members and also to extend the power of the House to suspend members. It constitutes the second success of those of us who have been pressing for some years to achieve practical reform of the House. The first was enactment last year of the House of Lords Reform Act. This provides for the expulsion of members convicted and sentenced to a term of imprisonment of twelve months or more, thus bringing us into line with the House of Commons. It also provides that peers who fail to attend for a whole session (lasting six months or more) cease to be members. This will take effect in the new Parliament. The other principal provision is to enable peers to retire from the House. This has already started to be employed. Peers who give notice of their intention to retire are able to give valedictory speeches. Lord Jenkin of Roding made use of this facility, making a much admired speech, achieving an unprecedented round of applause. In addition to those who have already retired, such as Lords Grenfell and Cobbold, the session ended with eleven peers listed as having given notice of their intention to retire. They include Lord Joffe (who pioneered the Assisted Dying Bill), Lord Phillips of Sudbury, and Lord Eden of Winton. More peers are expected to be created at the start of the new Parliament, adding to what is already a very large House. It is important to recognise that there is at least some movement in the other direction.