Sunday, 26 February 2012

Washminster will be taking a few days break....

Friday, 24 February 2012

Alan K Simpson

My current research is into Whips in the US Congress and the UK Parliament. Part of the study involves looking at the individuals who have filled the position of Chief Whip (UK) and Majority Whip (USA). Last week a book was published about the life of Alan Simpson, who was the  Majority Whip in the 99th Congress.

He appeared on C-SPAN last week - mainly to comment on the Budget (as a Co-Chair of President Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform - he can speak with some authority). He began by discussing his life.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

US Congress

Monday was President's Day - so this week will see the Chambers in the US Capitol Building silent. Actually that's not true, there will be regular tours (I've assisted with one tour - though my regular experience is with tours of the Palace of Westminster) going through the chambers - and as a former parliamentary staffer, I know that a "recess" doesn't mean that work halts (I remember the occasion when one MP walked into his office just as the House had risen for the summer recess and declared - "now that's that's over, we can get down to some work"!).

One of the values gained from reading the US Constitution is that a clearer picture can be gained of the 'architecture' of the institutions. The Constitution sets out the roles of each institution (Art 1 Section 1 - "All legislative powers shall be vested in..."); its powers - see Art 1 Sect 8; it's makeup (the bodies within the institution - Congress = House of Representatives + Senate) - and who is eligible to be a Member (both in terms of qualifications and election)...

Have a read of Article One

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Writing and Understanding Legislation

One of the key skills of an English lawyer is interpreting statutes. The more a prospective lawyer reflects upon the problems of drafting legislation; and learns from those who are regularly involved in interpretation - the better a lawyer they will become.

There are a number of books available, I have three to recommend. They are

This book is written by a former Parliamentary Counsel - one of the few individuals in Britain who write Government Bills. His experience and the examples he uses are an excellent aid to understanding how legislation is written.

Written by an academic - a very useful introduction to drafting

Well written book which takes examples from across the British Commonwealth, and helps the reader understand the problems and solutions in drafting.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Ministerial Responsibility

UK Constitutional textbooks often refer to a doctrine known as "Ministerial Responsibility". In fact there are two closely related, but different doctrines. One is the doctrine of "Individual Ministerial Responsibility", the other is "Collective Ministerial Responsibility"

Some interesting illustrations of the two different doctrines of Ministerial Responsibility were seen in the House of Commons on Monday 20th Feb.

After a Statement on the Border Agency, the Opposition Spokesperson - the "Shadow Home Secretary" made the following comments -

"The implications of that for our border are very serious, yet the Home Secretary continues to hide. She has hidden behind a report and not set out its full consequences, just as she has blamed officials, hidden from the media and hidden behind spurious statistics. In opposition, she said of a former Immigration Minister:

“I’m sick and tired of…government ministers…who simply blame other people when things go wrong.”

That is what she is doing now. It is time for her to stop hiding and to take responsibility for things that have happened on her watch: the unclear instructions from her office, the policy decisions to downgrade our border controls, the failure to monitor and check what was going on, and her failure to take responsibility. This mess escalated on her watch with every month that went by. Unless she accepts responsibility for this fiasco, she will fail to sort it out and she will fail to reassure the House that she can cope with future fiascos and that she is the Home Secretary to keep our borders secure."

Here Yvette Cooper was articulating the traditional view of 'Individual Ministerial Responsibility' - the Minister was responsible to Parliament for the actions of her Department.

Earlier the BIS Secretary (Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills)was being challenged on a decision to appoint Professor Les Ebdon as the 'Director of Fair Access'

The Opposition Spokesperson had said "the distinct impression has been given that this appointment has been secured as part of some trade-off in the ongoing turf war in Government over higher education policy. Is that the case? It has been well briefed that the Education Secretary is thoroughly opposed to this appointment and, indeed, to the Business Secretary’s continued responsibility for our universities. The sector needs certainty in order to plan, and this turf war is deeply unhelpful. We are firmly of the view that higher education policy should remain the responsibility of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. What assurances can he give us that that will remain the case?"

The BIS Secretary reasserts the Doctrine of Collective Responsibility - "On the hon. Gentleman’s first, rather desperate, point about turf wars, let me make it absolutely clear that this is a Government appointment that is supported by all my colleagues, and that responsibilities for higher education will remain exactly as they are."

The US Civil War

Some songs about the US Civil War (1861-5), these were (at the time) favourites of mine, long before I became interested in the history of the Civil War.

 Paper Lace - from 1974. I always associate with a holiday we had that Easter in Pontins Holiday Camp, Brean Sands (near Weston super Mare).


 Rolf Harris - from 1969. The record was a Christmas present - along with an antique telescope. I always believed it was about the American Civil War, though some say that the song, written in 1902 may have its roots a century before that.

As a youngster, I also found this a rousing hymn.

Monday, 20 February 2012


This word is often used - for many law and politics students in the context of "Parliamentary Sovereignty".

One of the first writers to discuss the concept was Jean Bodin (1529/30 - 1596), who published in 1576 "Les Six Livres de la Republique". Cambridge University Press have taken some of the chapters and published them as "On Sovereignty" which was edited by Julian Franklin

The context was that the idea of being "English" or "French" was changing from the feudal idea of being the subject of a particular king (as in "I am English because I owe my allegiance to the King of England") to being from a particular geographic area (the modern idea of "I am English because I was born/live permanently in England). Ideas of states based on geography, and have a single source of constitutional power began to develop.

Parliamentary Sovereignty is a concept based on that idea of there being a single source of power. Once the King was sovereign (this is not a pun!) - but after the English Civil War, and certainly after the "Glorious Revolution" in which Parliament 'chased James II out of town' and chose William and Mary to be the new Monarchs - it was recognised that power derives from Parliament. It can make or dissolve any institution (it can create, and subsequently abolish a Scottish Parliament; institutions of local government; Courts...); and define who can become King (Act of Settlement 1701).

Dicey is the most well known academic who sought to describe and define the principle. To slightly paraphrase him - it means

1 Parliament can pass any law it wants (unlike the US Congress which can have its laws struck down by the Supreme Court if in conflict with the Constitution)

2 A Parliament is not bound by its predecessors (so there can be no entrenched legislation which forces a later Parliament to use special procedures to change specific laws - like a 2/3 majority, or a referendum)

3 What Parliament has done cannot be questioned in the Courts (another aspect of the first meaning)

But Parliamentary Sovereignty has been challenged. It sits uneasily with British membership of the European Union. By passing the European Communities Act 1972. Our membership involves agreeing to limit our legislative freedom - and to be subject to decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union.In the Thoburn case it was recognised that the usual principle of "implied repeal" didn't apply to the European Communities Act. Of course the answer to a claim that Parliamentary Sovereignty is dead - is that Parliament retains the sovereign right to repeal the European Communities Act.

Dicey is not the only view of the doctrine. There is an excellent, thought provoking book by Jeffrey Goldsworthy

Most Constitutional Textbooks rehearse the various arguments. If you are a law student - be sure that you are able to define the doctrine and discuss the various arguments about its strength today. Don't forget the importance of critically evaluating the arguments put forward by the various commentators.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Tours of the Palace

One of the things I enjoy about working at Westminster is that I can look around an incredibly important and interesting historical building - and occasionally take small tours. There is so much to see.

I often start my tours by putting the site in context. Unlike the US Congress it was not planned as a national legislature. It doesn't consequently stand on a hill dominating the capital city. Like so much at Westminster, it's position is due to accidents of geography and history.

Watling Street ran from Richborough and Dover (Kent) to Wroxeter (Shropshire), but makes some odd turns in the London area. The line from Kent turns sharply north across the original London Bridge into the Roman town of Londinium (excellent iPad app from the Museum of London) entering from the south but exiting to the West. It continues along Colchester Road and Oxford Street (see map above) then turns sharply northward.

London was in effect a "New City" - the original route, without diversions - went straight to the lowest ford on the River Thames - at Westminster. That ford ran through what is now the Terrace of the Houses of Parliament.

Most of the streams that flow into the Thames run straight down from the hills to the north and south of the River.

The River Tyburn is different. It's source is at Shepherds Well, south of Hampstead. It flowed normally through the sites of Swiss Cottage to Regent Park to near Marble Arch - but roughly on the site of Buckingham Palace it begins to split. One branch flows south to the site of Vauxhall Bridge. The other further splits to form "Thorney Island"

which mean "the place of blackberries" (sorry for the awful pun). This low lying, marshy - and often misty place is where Westminster now is. The streams are now underground. But it was from early times regarded as a place of religious significance. There are stories that the Druids had a "college" there  [the name "Toot Hill" is claimed to be a pagan religious site]. Tothill Street runs close to Parliament Square.

View Larger Map

There is also a local story which has a temple of Apollo on the site of Westminster Abbey. In the Second Century one of the first British Christians, Lucius, was converted when an earthquake destroyed that temple. He built a church there. In 785 the Benedictines, under St Dunstan built a monastry there.

Lucius was said to be a "British King", but the first royal in residence that we have evidence for was King Canute. He built a palace on Thorney Island in 1016. It was Edward the Confessor who was to play a critical role in Westminster's development. He was a deeply religious man - and sought to (and succeeded) in building a mighty Abbey. Sensibly he decided that the best way to ensure that work proceeded satisfactorily was to move close to the building site. He made the "Palace of Westminster" his home.

It remained as a principle royal residence for centuries. Where the tidy building is now, buildings were thrown up without any kind of planning. Westminster Hall is the oldest part remaining -  but by 1834 there were a hotch potch of buildings of different sizes, ages and purposes. The Palace remained a royal residence until 1512 when a fire caused Henry VIII to move out. As the institution of Parliament developed the "Houses" gained permanent buildings. However it wasn't until 1547 that the House of Commons gained St Stephen's Hall as their permanent place of meeting.

Most of the Palace areas was destroyed by fire on the night of October 16th 1834. (the painting by Turner is reproduced in my post of last Wednesday)

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Where are you reading this?

Earlier this week I was able to do an analysis of visits to the Washminster Blog (since the blog began in March 2007) - by country. The results were

United Kingdom     46.10%
United States     37.09%
Germany     5.25%
France     3.22%
Russia     2.72%
Italy      1.56%
Netherlands     1.17%
South Korea     1.07%
India      1.00%
Australia     0.80%

Do drop me a line - jdavidmorgan@washminster.com - and let me know where YOU are.

Friday, 17 February 2012

What kind of Law?

I once worked in a bank. In one branch, in an area where you might expect a high level of unauthorised overdrafts, our Manager achieved a very low level. I found out why - he told errant customers that it was "illegal" to write cheques that were postdated. He conveyed to his customers the impression that it was criminal - which it isn't. He justified his use of the term "illegal" by saying that s73 of the Bills of Exchange Act 1882 defined cheques as an instrument which was payable on demand. As a postdated cheque is not an order to pay on demand, but on a set date, it falls outside the legal definition of a cheque. Therefore it was NOT legal. VERY dubious reasoning.

A "law" is any rule which the Courts will enforce. In both the UK and US the two major forms are legislation and case law. Legislation is made by the legislative branch (Parliament or Congress). In Britain we use the terms "Act of Parliament" and "Statute" interchangeably. Case law arises from decisions of the courts. Both the US and UK have (not exclusively - Scotland and Louisiana have civil law roots) common Law systems - where the doctrine of precedent is both central and a key aspect of legal argument.

Law can itself be classified in a number of ways - but beware of the same words meaning very different things in different contexts. For example the term "Common Law" can mean
(1) the law of the entire land, as opposed to local law
(2) court made law, contrasted with statute law
(3) the system which puts precedent at the heart, in contrast with the civil law systems of continental Europe - where cases, though an aid to understanding what the law is, is not crucial to legal argument as it is in Common Law systems.

Civil Law too has meanings which change with context
(1) contrasted with Common Law - as a legal system
(2) contrasted with criminal law (being about relationships between individuals, and the provision of remedies rather than sanctions)

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Recent Developments in the European Union

One of this afternoon's debates on the House of Lords is on a motion to take "note of recent developments in the European Union." EU matters are frequently discussed in the main chamber and there is an extensive and active subcommittee structure of the EU Select Committee. Further details here.

Sadly I won't be around to watch the debate. Instead I'm heading for Rugby - where I'll be discussing the question “US election 2012: Can Obama do it again?” with the Warwickshire Fabian Society. The meeting is at the Friends Meeting House, 28 Regent Place, Rugby, CV21 2PN. It begins at 7-30pm. You'd be welcome to join us.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Citizenship Education

Further to my earlier post, the question was raised in the House of Lords yesterday

asked By Lord Harries of Pentregarth
    To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their evaluation of current policies on citizenship education.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford): My Lords, Ofsted reported in 2010 that citizenship education is improving. Our reforms are designed to build on this by giving greater autonomy to schools. The national curriculum review is aiming to prescribe a core of essential knowledge, enabling schools to teach a wider curriculum that meets their pupils' needs. Our recent publication Positive for Youthwill help to ensure that young people have opportunities to realise their potential, including through becoming active and responsible citizens, as will the development of the national citizen service.
Lord Harries of Pentregarth: I thank the Minister for his reply and particularly for reporting that citizenship education in schools is apparently improving. Does he not agree, that at a time when the world is so turbulent and our own societies are under such strain, it is more important than ever that our young people should have a solid grounding in the responsibilities and rights of citizenship within a democratic framework? Further to the Prime Minister's Answer to a Question in the other place on 11 December, what assurance can the Minister give that this can actually be achieved when there is such widespread suspicion that, as a result of changes to the curriculum, citizenship is going to be marginalised and downgraded?
Lord Hill of Oareford: I agree with the noble and right reverend Lord about the importance of citizenship. Although the expert panel that reported to us in December suggests that citizenship should form part of the basic curriculum rather than the national curriculum, the first sentence in its report emphasises the importance of citizenship and I very much share that view. The issue-and this is true of a number of subjects that are subject to the national curriculum review-is the extent to which we need to be prescriptive around programmes of study. We will reflect upon what the expert panel has said and take other representations into account, and then bring forward our proposals in due course in the light of that.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, given that the Secretary of State for Education has said that citizenship courses are pregnant with powerful knowledge, is there any possible excuse for not insisting that every child has the right to study this subject, especially since we are trying to get more of them to use their vote?
Lord Hill of Oareford: I agree with my noble friend that we should want every child to be able to study citizenship. One aspect is the importance of knowing about voting, as my noble friend says, but there are many other benefits of learning about citizenship as well. The issue is not its importance as a subject but how it is best delivered in the curriculum.
Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a severe overlap between personal, social and health education, and citizenship? Where exactly do we stand in relation to the delivery of PSHE and citizenship? How will they both be inspected so that evaluations can be made?
Lord Hill of Oareford: I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, that there is an overlap between the two, particularly at primary level. On where we have got to with our review, I know that she is keen for us to get to the sticking point. However, because of our need to take into account the report from the expert panel, the timescale for responding has moved back a little and we need to dovetail the PSHE review with the overall national curriculum review. We will bring that forward in due course.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, what steps are being taken to increase citizenship education in young offender institutions and other places where children are held in custody?
Lord Hill of Oareford: On the specific details of what is happening in institutions-I recognise the noble Lord's concern about that, and I agree with him on the importance of this in prisons and young offenders institutions-if I may, I will follow this up with my colleagues to see if I can help him with some more specific information about those programmes.
Lord Morgan: My Lords, is the underlying problem here not the general lack of discussion of citizenship as an idea in this country? Citizenship as a concept is absent from our standard textbooks on the constitution. This is very different from the republics of the United States and France. Is this not a serious matter?
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, your Lordships' House is a good example of an institution where we frequently discuss questions such as the meaning of citizenship and its importance. I know that many Members of this House take part in the Lords outreach programme and explore exactly these issues with children; so far about 30,000 pupils have been seen by Members of your Lordships' House as part of that programme. We need to explore these issues. The thought at the back of the noble Lord's mind is probably the distinction between us being subjects and citizens, and I would be happy to explore that with him on another occasion.
Lord Laming: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a connection between the first two Questions that have come before the House today? Some of the issues that were addressed by the first Question relate to second and third-generation children. Would it be possible to include in citizenship education the rights of children in this country and, more particularly, the ways in which they can get help if they are subject to exploitation or abuse?
Lord Hill of Oareford: I agree with the noble Lord that there is a link between the two Questions: they are linked fundamentally by our values as a society and the values that we want our children to have. Part of that can be explored through the teaching of citizenship, part of it is done through civil society generally and part of it through families. Part of the answer to the question-and to the last part of the question about inspection asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, which I failed to answer-is that the requirement to look into the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of a child through the Ofsted framework provides an opportunity to explore these issues.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, has the Minister undertaken any evaluation of the citizenship ceremonies that take place when people qualify for UK citizenship, which were quite rightly introduced by the previous Administration, and what has been the outcome of that evaluation?
Lord Hill of Oareford: I will need to follow up on evaluation with my noble friend. I agree with him that those ceremonies should be able to play an important part in addressing some of these questions. I am not sure what the precise evaluation is but I will ask and write to him.

That Commons Financial Privilege Debate

The Lords Hansard is now available here. Lord Strathclyde began

"My Lords, I beg to move the Motion on behalf of my noble friend Lord Freud. I also felt that it might be a useful opportunity for me as Leader of the House to say a few words about the relationship between the two Houses and, in particular, the financial privilege of the House of Commons. After all, this being Valentine's Day, it is not a bad time to talk about relationships.

Perhaps I may begin by commending to the House the statement made by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, on 10 February 2009. Everything I say today is based on that material and I am grateful that there is not an inch between us. I also commend the paper on the subject by the Clerk of the Parliaments of 10 February 2009 (see appendix 2 of this document), yesterday's update by the current Clerk of the Parliaments, and the note published by the Clerk of the House of Commons last Thursday. All three documents are available in the Library and online. They all accord with each other and clearly set out the position, which I shall now try to do with something approaching the same clarity and accuracy...."

As you will see it was a likely discussion with some serious concerns raised. Baroness Royall said:

"The Government's majority in the Commons means that politically in practice the Government have a huge influence on whether the Commons waives its financial privilege. It is therefore appropriate for this House to consider these issues and the issues arising in relation to the role of this House in the legislative process. However, I suggest that today is not the time to have such a discussion. I know that many Members from all sides of your Lordships' House-very much including those on the government Benches-are concerned about these wider matters and want to debate and discuss them. I know this because many noble Lords have come to see me about this issue."

Baroness Boothroyd, the former Speaker of the House of Commons, said:

"I certainly do not challenge the primacy of the elected Chamber and its control over financial policy. Neither do I intend the role of this House to be neglected as the revising Chamber with special responsibilities for the scrutiny of the legislation that comes to us.
The constitution of our country operates by convention. The Leader of the House talked about relationships on this special day, but I remind him that this is a bicameral Parliament; it operates by negotiation, by the ways and means of getting things done. Where were the usual channels during all this? The usual channels assist good relations not only between political parties but between the two Houses. By good will and by negotiation, they might have arrived at some compromise on the amendments to this Bill rather than have the Government behave in what I regard as the very heavy-handed manner that we witnessed the other week."
It may have been a skirmish - but there is a real war going on over the British Constitution. Legislation was rushed through extending the length of Parliaments (from a MAXIMUM of 5 years - not often reached to a fixed term of 5 years); this Session - which would normally only last 12 months - but has often been extended by a few months in the first session previously - will now last an incredible TWO YEARS. A massive programme of radical change has been pushed through the Commons with debate curtailed by "Programme Motions" - and the House of Lords threatened when it has sought to exercise the scrutiny that the Commons has been barred from giving. There are interesting times ahead...

Ike wants your vote

Sixty years ago - this was a cutting edge political ad - but the message has a certain 2012 feeling!

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Popular with Students

There's an excellent article on the "Online Colleges" blog about "10 Presidential Candidates who were popular with College Students" - it brought back happy memories of following earlier campaigns - and is also informative.

Thanks to Dr Jill Rooney.

The post can be read at http://www.onlinecolleges.net/2012/02/13/10-presidential-candidates-who-were-popular-with-college-students/

Commons Financial Privilege

I've just come down from the gallery in the House of Lords after watching a fascinating (OK, I can be a bit nerdish on procedural issues - but this IS an important issue!) statement by the Leader of the House of Lords and subsequent debate on Commons privilege. Tweets as it happened were posted on WM_Alert.

Relevant background documents include

Money Bills and Commons Financial Privilege - Lord's Constitution Ctte Report
Clerk of Commons guidance - Waiving of Financial Privilege

I will post the Hansard report on the debate tomorrow

Citizenship Education

Lord Harries of Pentregarth is due to ask a question in the Lords today - "what is (Her Majesty's Government's) evaluation of current policies on citizenship education"

I will report back

What's the point of law?

A big question indeed - and there are many who argue that Congress and Parliament should actually do LESS legislating. I don't agree with the premise which lies behind some expressions of that view. There is a belief that the less government the better. My take on history is that when government has been inactive, the economy has gone bad (1930s & recent years); lack of regulation has led to disastrous scandals (see the Banking Crisis) and the powerful and unscrupulous have been free to exploit everyone else. But I'm entitled to my opinion - as you are to yours.

However it is a legitimate concern that "poor legislation" has been produced - or that the Courts (who also make Law) produce decisions which can have a serious detrimental impact on society and democracy.

But why do we use law? It is a tool to regulate, even change behaviour. Actions which society wishes to discourage can be prohibited (or failure to do positive actions discouraged) by providing for criminal sanctions. It can provide a framework for relationships - such as the law of contract. It can be a useful exercise to analyse legislation.

What is the provision doing? - does it grant a power; or impose a duty. Does it prohibit certain actions?
Why is the provision there? - what was Parliament/Congress seeking to achieve?
How else could this objective be met? - is a law the only answer? could economic incentives lead to similar results?

Monday, 13 February 2012

The President's Budget

The documentation relating to the Budget will be published at 11-15 EDT (4-15pm GMT) at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget

Unlike the UK Budget - when the Chancellor's announcements are certain of being enacted by Parliament (If they weren't, the Government could fall!) - the Executive's Budget in the US is a request which Congress can decline to give effect to.

Health and Social Care Bill

This afternoon - from about 3-05 GMT, the House of Lords will be debating - and taking votes on amendments - to this controversial bill. The PDF of the bill can be found at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/2010-2012/0119/2012119.pdf and amendments that will be discussed are at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/2010-2012/0119/amend/ml119-ii.htm and http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/2010-2012/0119/amend/su119-iia.htm I will be in the gallery watching the debate. You can "join" me by watching http://news.bbc.co.uk/democracylive/hi/house_of_lords/default.stm

Magna Carta

The Great Charter was the subject of a lively, informative and sometimes amusing exchange in the House of Lords last week. Here is the transcript from Hansard.

To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta in June 2015.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, plans to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta in June 2015 are being co-ordinated by the Magna Carta Trust, an independent organisation chaired by Sir Robert Worcester. I am keeping in close contact with the trust and I hope that as many people as possible will join in the commemorative activities and events that are being planned for the run-up to 2015 and on the anniversary itself.
Lord Lea of Crondall: I thank the Minister for that reply. There are of course very special reasons to commemorate in this House what happened at Runnymede in June 1215 and, indeed, the evolution of our constitutional arrangements between the Lords and the Commons over many centuries since. Does the noble Lord agree that in addition to weighty documents being published and speeches being made, there could be something of a more popular nature? For example, the pageant that preceded the tournament in 1215 was itself preceded by a ceremonial exchange of hostages between England and Scotland. What does the noble Lord think about a replay of that? Other events might also intrude, such as an inconclusive outcome of the general election. In those circumstances, would one way forward be a series of ceremonial jousts between the parties in which the noble Lord himself might be called upon to participate?
Lord McNally: What excellent ideas. It is strange how the same thoughts go through our minds. Just as the noble Lord was speaking, I was looking at the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, and thinking what a perfect hostage he would make in the circumstances. Not long ago, I went to a ceremony at Runnymede and pointed out something that may surprise some Members of this House in view of my views about reform-that at Runnymede, the Barons did very well.
Lord Cormack: My Lords, does my noble friend think that the Barons who look down upon us daily from their plinths above this Chamber would be best pleased if, a month after the next general election, they looked down upon a hybrid Assembly with a group of senators in it?
Lord Strathclyde: Progress.
Lord McNally: Indeed. I am sure that the Barons would be as revolutionary in 2015 as they were in 1215, but I defer to my noble friend because, sometimes when listening to him, I think he must have been at Runnymede for the signing.
The Lord Bishop of Chichester: My Lords, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, played a decisive and formative role in the formulation of Magna Carta, and that was not the first or the last occasion in our history when the Church has, so to speak, helped to keep the feet of the powers-that-be to the fire in matters of constitutional freedoms. Will the Minister take the opportunity to acknowledge the continuing contribution that people of faith are still making today in defending human dignity that transcends temporary political arrangements, and will he further let us know whether he is prepared to advise the independent commission to which he referred to invite the Church of England to play a particular role in the 2015 celebrations?
Lord McNally: I would certainly hope so. As the right reverend Prelate pointed out, Archbishop Langton played an important part at that time. I shall draw the idea to Sir Bob Worcester's attention. I believe that this is an opportunity for us to celebrate a significant part of our history. I know that historical purists will cavil at the importance of the Magna Carta, but I always remember Eleanor Roosevelt, when she published the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, saying that it was a Magna Carta for all mankind. Nobody needed to translate what she meant by that. Magna Carta carries a resonance that has come down to us through the ages.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, may I invite the Minister graciously to disabuse himself and all others who fall prey to the misconception that Magna Carta was ever signed? It never was. As a charter, and as the name implies, it was sealed by the royal seal of King John, as the facsimile mounted in the Contents Lobby makes very clear. May I apologise for making such a pettifogging legal point?
Lord McNally: Not at all. I have long considered the noble Lord a master of the pettifogging legal point, but his question gives me the opportunity to put on the record, for noble Lords who want to get involved in the build-up to the Magna Carta celebrations, that my honourable friend Eleanor Laing in the other place is chairing an All-Party Magna Carta Group. I am sure that it would benefit from membership from this House.
Baroness Benjamin: My Lords-
Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords-
Noble Lords: Order!
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, there has not been a question from the Liberal Democrat Benches.
Baroness Benjamin: Thank you, my Lords. A favourite expression often used by British citizens is, "It's a free country". Thankfully, so it is, but many are not aware that our freedoms are the greatest legacy of the Magna Carta. What are the Government doing to ensure that children and young people use and appreciate this precious gift of freedom with respect and responsibility? Perhaps they could do so by establishing an annual Magna Carta day to raise awareness and celebrating on the underused Parliament Square, as suggested by the Hansard Society.
Lord McNally: Again, I am delighted by the enthusiasm with which the House is approaching this and I shall feed that idea back to Sir Robert.
Lord Howarth of Newport: Will the Minister confirm that Clause 29 of Magna Carta, which enshrines the right to due process, remains part of the law of England and Wales, but that it is under attack by the Government? Would it not be seemly if the Government were to celebrate the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta by withdrawing Part 1 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which removes legal aid from people on low incomes who are in dispute about their benefits entitlement or with their employer or with their landlord? If the Government should be less than gracious about this, will it not still be for the Barons to insist on the ancient constitutional principle that:
"To no man will we sell, or deny, or delay right or justice"?
Lord McNally: The noble Lord once again confirms that one should never take that final question.

* I would also note that Sir Robert Worcester is a native of Kansas. While I'm thrilled that Americans honour this important development in British History - I wish that the English would do more themselves to celebrate Magna Carta. The monument at Runnymede was of course paid and built by the AMERICAN Bar Association *