The continuing decline of parliamentary snail mail

Each year. I table a parliamentary question asking how many items of correspondence were received in the Palace of Westminster in the previous year (and, of these, what proportion was received in the House of Lords).  I have just received the answer to the one for 2017. The data demonstrate a clear trend.  There has been a notable decline over time, with marked reductions in some years, but with the volume of correspondence in each year being smaller than in the previous year. In 2005, there were over 4.7 million items of correspondence. This past year, it was just over 1.6 million.

The figures for 2005 onwards are (with the percentage going to the Lords in parenthesis):

2005  4,733,000 (estimate) (20%)

2006 4,789,935  (no % given for the Lords)

2007  4,199,853 (20%)

2008  4,135,144 (15%)

2009  3,540,080 (25%)

2010  3,082,187 (25%)

2011  2,691,576 (25%)

2012  2,544,019 (25%)

2013  2,490,256 (25%)

2014  2,234,763 (25%)

2015  2,200,504 (25%)

2016  1,652,317 (30%)

2017  1,633,770 (30%)

The decline in snail mail has been more than compensated for by the increase in e-mail.  Individuals and organisations wanting to contact MPs and peers have recourse to electronic rather than paper communication, replete with attachments. No data are kept on the volume of e-mails flowing into the Palace, so it is not possible definitively to show the increase, but parliamentarians are conscious of the mounting volume of electronic mail that now clogs in-boxes and makes it difficult to discern the important from the not so important, the irrelevant and the bizarre.

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Christmas caption competition: the winner..

There were some remarkably varied and inventive entries for the Christmas caption competition.  I was spoiled for choice in selecting a winner.  I enjoyed both entries by Tony Sands, not least his first which some may think was at attempt at flattery (and therefore was a strong contender).  Others built on the Christmas theme.  However, in the end, I narrowed it down to three before selecting the runner up and the winner.  The runner-up was barry winetrobe with ‘Is this what “The Scream” would have looked like had Edvard Much had been happier?’ which made me laugh.  The entry that I thought the funniest in the context of the picture, and is therefore the winner, is Gerry McMahon with:

‘Yet another former boy band attempts to return for a final tour, I just hope they can still do the dance moves’

I did reflect on the fact that my singing would empty a room quicker than shouting ‘fire’ and my dance moves would be seen as bizarre were I ever to do any, but then hearing and looking at some boy bands…

If the winner would like to get in touch, a prize will be in the post.

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Christmas caption competition

As promised, a Christmas caption competition.  The picture shows me with colleagues at a recent University Open Day.  Readers are invited to contribute a witty and appropriate (and in reasonably good taste) caption.

I tend to think the pictures are challenging, but readers regularly come up with wonderfully inventive and ingenious captions.  As usual, the one that in my judgment has produced the wittiest and most appropriate caption will be the winner.  The prize will be one of my publications.  It is possible that runners-up may receive prints of my portrait.  Well, it is Christmas.

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Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to readers.  I hope you are having a restful time.  I will be doing some posts over the next few days.  By popular demand (well, one or two friends have inquired, clearly keen to compete) I will be posting a Christmas caption competition.  I am not sure the picture will be particularly festive, but it may help keep the little grey cells exercised…

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Parliaments and courts: the importance of place

The year ended with the arrival of the latest issue of JICL (Journal of International and Comparative Law) in which I have an article that addresses the importance of where institutions of the state are located.

Such institutions are studied primarily in terms of behaviour, powers and outputs.  Little attention has been paid to their location and how this affects relationships between them.  Some are located close to one another and some are in separate cities.  Some share or have shared locations.  The US Supreme Court was located in the Capitol Building until 1935 and the UK’s highest domestic court of appeal, the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords, resided in the Palace of Westminster until 2009, when the law lords decanted the Palace to cross Parliament Square to the new UK Supreme Court.

The article examines the effects of the move of the law lords to the new court.  It addresses the perceived benefits of the court and Parliament sharing the same space and the consequences of separation.  The move from within the Palace of Westminster has effected a shift in judicial-legislative relations from one of respective autonomy to one of democratic dialogue.  Perhaps counter-intuitively, having the highest court within the Palace of Westminster enhanced the functional separation of the legislature and the courts.  Each observed and understood the role of the other (fitting therefore the respective autonomy model).  The separation meant that each needed to develop a form of communication (the democratic dialogue model) in order to reduce the potential for misunderstanding and conflict (the competing authority model).  As a result, various mechanism have been created to facilitate such dialogue.  In part, the House of Lords Constitution Committee plays an important role in this process.

The move from the Palace to the new court is particular to the UK (the law lords having been formally part of the legislature), but the point of the analysis is to show that location matters.  As regular readers will be aware, I have also been researching the importance of social space in legislatures.  In terms of the analysis of the difference made by state institutions, such as legislatures and the courts, political scientists have tended to neglect the importance of place and space.  Both make a difference.

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Responding to select committee reports – naming and shaming

The Government seeks to respond to reports from House of Lords select committees, and joint select committees, within two months of publication.  However, this deadline is not always met.  Thus, for example, the Constitution Committee published its report on The Union and Devolution on 25 May 2016.  The Government published its response on 7 March this year.  I also served on the Joint Committee on the Draft Voter Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill, which reported in 2013.  We are still waiting for a substantive Government response.  Furthermore, when responses are published, the content is not always such as to make you think it was worth waiting for.

Given this, I tabled questions last month to ask what the Government was doing to improve the quality and timeliness of Government responses and, over the past seven years, how many reports had not received responses within the two-month deadline.  In replying, the Leader of the House, Baroness Evans of Bowes Park, did not respond on the point of quality, but did say she had written to Lords ministers to remind them of the importance of providing timely responses.  She did not have the data for the past seven years, but she did reveal that no fewer than 15 select committee reports were still awaiting a response after the two-month deadline.

Given this, I followed up with a further question to ask what consideration had been given to including in House of Lords Business (our daily publication listing forthcoming business, written questions, and other data) the names of Government Departments that had failed to respond to reports of Lords select committees, and joint committees, within two months.   The names of Departments that have failed to reply to written questions within the stipulated ten working days are listed – in effect, named and shamed – so I thought it would be appropriate to do the same for a failure to respond in time to select committee reports.  The response from the Leader of the House was encouraging:

The question includes a proposal which in my view is worth consideration; I am not aware of the proposal having been made previously. Accordingly, as any change to House of Lords Business would be a matter for the Procedure Committee, I intend to submit such a proposal for consideration at its next meeting.

So far, so good.  Now for seeking to address the quality of responses…

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The grand unveiling

I have already done a post on the unveiling of my portrait last week.  Here is a shot of the actual event, just after the Lord Speaker, Lord Fowler, had performed the task.  He already knew what was coming, having checked the website of the artist, Alex Debenham.  Others attending did not know what to expect.  The moment the portrait was unveiled it drew immediate applause.  Word clearly spread, as since the event I have had to keep a picture of it on my Smartphone to show peers who keep asking to see it.  (The portrait is rather too big to carry round with me!)  The most asked question is: ‘Is that a photograph?’

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