A tale of a Government cat — Open Book

“The Exchequer Office in Parliament Close, Edinburgh, set up in 1708, initially had problems with records being ‘greatly damnified, eaten and destroyed by rates and myce’. After giving the matter some thought, doorkeeper Robert Morison decided that perhaps a cat might give the rodents pause.”

While the exploits of Whitehall Cats – Palmerston and Larry most recently – have been recently making the news, cats in Government employ are nothing new. In fact, here at National Records of Scotland, we have evidence of a feline curiosity – a cat tasked with protecting records more than three centuries ago. The Exchequer […]

via A tale of a Government cat — Open Book

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Directory highlight: Aberdeen University Library Special Collections & Museums

The Library holds extensive collections of UK and Scottish Parliamentary Publications. This includes House of Commons Papers and Bills, Command Papers, House of Lords Papers and Bills, House of Commons Parliamentary and Committee Debates, House of Lords Parliamentary Debates, House of Commons and House of Lords Journals and the Acts of Parliament. Scottish titles include Scottish Parliamentary Papers, The Official Report of the Scottish Parliament and all Parliamentary Committees, Bills and accompanying papers, Scottish Acts and the Scottish Executive/Government Papers. There are holdings of reports, policy documents and official statistics including Census documents from the UK and Scottish Governments.

Aberdeen University is a European Documentation Centre and receives copies of official publications from the European Union.

The collection includes publications from a wide range of international organisations including the United Nations, the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development, The Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights.

Thanks to Alison Steed for the update. Full details are available on the Aberdeen University Library Directory page

Directory highlight: Advocates Library

The Advocates Library has a  large collection of UK legislation, from Scottish Acts in Regiam Majestatem (published in 1597) and Acts of King Henry VIII (published in 1551) to the Acts of the Scottish Parliament / Public, General Acts available  today. We also have Local, personal and private acts from 1798-. We hold a collection of UK Statutory Instruments not reprinted in publishers bound volumes and copies of Draft Statutory Instruments.

In addition to this UK Official Publications material we also have legislation from a large number of foreign jurisdictions during colonial periods, as well as some of more recent dates.

For information on accessing Advocates Library materials via the NLS reading rooms see our full entry in the Directory

Directory highlight: Marine Scotland Science

The collection of Marine Scotland Science contains their own publications as well as Fisheries Research Services and Fishery Board for Scotland publications (previous names of Marine Scotland Science). These include sea fisheries statistics, Marine Research, Fishery Bulletin and annual reports of the Fishery Board of Scotland. It also includes copies of all reports published by the Marine or Freshwater Fisheries Laboratories. Publications from other bodies are collected where there is relevance to MSS’s work.

The collection is held at the Marine Laboratory in Aberdeen, with publications relating to freshwater held at the Freshwater Fisheries Laboratory near Pitlochry.

Thank you Helen McGregor for the update. Please see the Directory entry for full details

SWOP Directory highlight – Science & Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA)

The SASA collection contains publications by Science & Advice for Scottish Agriculture e.g. pesticide usage in Scotland surveys, pesticide poisoning of animals reports, annual reports. It also holds publications of other Scottish and UK bodies where relevant to SASA’s work e.g. DEFRA, Forestry Commission, Scottish Natural Heritage. Additionally it includes historical material from, for example, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland (DAFS) and Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries & Food (MAFF).

Thanks to Jill Tivey for the update. For more details visit SASA’s entry in the SWOP Directory

Birds nest manuscript – National Records of Scotland

Shredded historical documents used to line a birds nest.This is interesting …and weird!

FYI: the exchequer office was, I believe, located in the building which now houses the Supreme Courts Library. Maybe the SCTS Library Service should keep an eye out for jackdaws!

Or, you could have a look for yourself when you attend the next SWOP meeting being hosted there! (see what I did?)

Open Book

We have a number of curiosities in our archives, but one of the odder items is the contents of a birds’ nest.

No ordinary nest, this one, found in the roof of St Giles Cathedral in 1961, was lined with papers from Scotland’s exchequer records.

Shredded historical documents used to line a birds nest. The contents of a birds nest found in St Giles cathedral by Dr Athol Murray.

Keeper of the Records of Scotland from 1985-1990 Dr Athol Murray identified the documents. He takes up the story:

“In 1961 The Scottish Record Office received some papers found by electricians in the roof space of St Giles Cathedral.

“A few were complete, including a copy of the Edinburgh Court from the 1770s, and I recognised others as being torn bits of exchequer documents, mainly eighteenth century.

“I was sent up to have a look around and found more torn papers surrounded by masses and masses of twigs and general…

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The public and Parliament: more engaged, less satisfied – Hansard Society audit

One of the most positive findings for Parliament is that a clear majority believes that it is essential “to our democracy” (73% – equaling 2016’s record score).

However, people do not think that parliament is doing a good job for them. Fewer than a third of people were satisfied with the way that parliament works, and not many more think parliament is doing a good job of representing their interests (38%).

Knowledge of parliament fell in the latest study; 45% claimed to know a great deal or a fair amount about parliament, down from 52% last year. This is similar to the level of knowledge about politics in general (49%) and the European Union (43%).

Increasing engagement with parliament
There were positive indicators around engagement with Parliament: overall just over half the public say they have engaged with Parliament in some way in the last year – a ten point increase from 2015. Also:

  • The proportion of the public who report watching or listening to a parliamentary debate or committee meeting (online, on TV or on radio) has increased from 31% to 39%
  • The number saying they have signed an e-petition is up from 15% to 22%
  • 12% contacted an MP or Peer with their views.

Some if this could be down to the seismic political events of the past year – public interest in Brexit and high-profile e-petitions on topics like Donald Trump’s proposed state visit will have increased people’s appetite to engage.

Arguably the most positive indicator in the study is the score on certainty to vote. 59% of respondents said that they would be certain to vote in an immediate general election. This is the highest recorded score in the 14 years of the Audit (joint with 2016). We won’t have to wait long to see if this is borne out.

Engagement by age
The overall message of this year’s report could be “increasingly engaged, but not satisfied”. However, looking at the data for younger people, the picture is bleaker. Variables on engagement, knowledge and effectiveness all show lower scores for younger age groups.

Other data used within chapter 2 of our briefing on political engagement shows a similar pattern – in December 2015, 67% of 20-24 year olds were registered to vote, compared with 93% of 55-64 year olds. IPSOS-Mori estimate that turnout of 18-24 year olds was 43% at the 2015 General Election, compared with 77% for 55-64 year olds.

The test
Arguably, the key indicator for engagement with politics and parliament is turnout at a general election. In 2015, turnout across the UK was 66%, slightly up on 2010, but still well below levels seen in the 20th Century.

The Audit provides some grounds for optimism; a record percentage were certain to vote. But again, this score varies significantly by age, from around two in five for 18-24 year olds, to four in five for over 65s. There are also large variations by social grade (ABs are most certain to vote), by qualification level and by income.

There will be many groups working to encourage participation in June’s general election; the challenge for them is not just whether they can increase overall turnout, but also whether they can increase participation among the young and other less politically engaged groups. If we accept that politics and Parliament are more effective when they represent the views of all constituents, Parliament too has a job to do encouraging everyone to register to vote. It is likely that if you are reading a Commons Library blog post you’re probably already going to vote in June, but perhaps someone you know isn’t. The deadline to register is 22nd May – please motivate someone you know to register and use their vote.

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  • Founded in 1944, the Hansard Society is a non-partisan research and education charity working in the UK and around the world to promote democracy and strengthen parliaments.
  • The information in this year’s Audit of Political Engagement is based on a Political Engagement Poll undertaken by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the Hansard Society. The findings are based on a total of 1,771 face-to-face interviews with adults aged 18+ conducted between 2 December 2016 and 15 January 2017, which have then been weighted to the national population profile of Great Britain. This is the 14th year of the Audit, which began in 2004.
  • During the general election campaign, the Commons Library will not be publishing new briefings; Parliament’s Participation team will be encouraging people to register, to cast their vote on the 8 June and to continue to engage with Parliament following the election.

Picture credit: The British Parliament and Big Ben by MauriceCreative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC by 2.0)

 

Wash-up: What Happens to Bills before Parliament is Dissolved

This House of Lords Library briefing provides information about what happens to public bills before the dissolution of Parliament in the period known as ‘wash-up’.

Public bills cannot be carried over from one parliament to the next in the same way that they can be carried over from one session to the next within the lifetime of a parliament. The period of the last few days of a parliament, during which unfinished business must be agreed by both Houses or lost at dissolution, is known as ‘wash-up’. During this period, because there is not enough time to complete parliamentary consideration in the usual way, the Government is reliant on the cooperation of the Opposition to secure its legislation. The Government and the Opposition reach agreements on the bills—or parts of bills—that should be hurried through their remaining parliamentary stages to reach the statute book before dissolution. Sometimes the Government is willing to drop certain bills, or certain provisions, to secure the passage of others. Sometimes parliamentary time is also provided during the wash-up for private member’s bills.

Following the House of Commons’ vote on 19 April 2017 by 522 votes to 13 in favour of the Prime Minister’s motion that there should be an early general election, Parliament is now in a wash-up period. Parliament must be dissolved 25 days before the proposed date of the general election, meaning that for the election to take place on 8 June 2017, Parliament will be dissolved at one minute past midnight on 3 May 2017. All outstanding public bills must be dealt with before then (or before prorogation if that takes place earlier than dissolution) or they will fall at dissolution.

This Lords Library briefing provides background information on what happened during the wash-up periods before the 1987, 1992, 1997, 2005, 2010 and 2015 elections. (A more detailed analysis of the 1987–2010 period, prior to the passage of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011, is available in the joint House of Lords and House of Commons Library note on Wash-up 2010

It also gives details of bills to be dealt with in the 2017 wash-up, including:

  • Government bills that are still before Parliament, the stage they had reached as at 21 April 2017, and the latest schedule for completing their remaining parliamentary stages.
  • Private member’s bills which have completed their passage through the House in which they were first introduced and are currently before the other House; and
  • Bills which have completed their passage through both Houses and are currently awaiting royal assent.

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General Election 2017: a short guide

A short guide to what this snap election means for parliament – via Second Reading

General Election 2017: a short guide

The Government intends to seek an early election. Here is our short guide to what it all means for Parliament.

How are early elections called?

There will be a motion in the House of Commons tomorrow to trigger an early election using the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. The Act set the date of the last general election on 7 May 2015 and set all future general elections for the first Thursday in May in every fifth year. The next election was therefore scheduled to take place on 7 May 2020.

The Act states that an early election can be held if a motion for an early general election is agreed either by at least two-thirds of the whole House (including vacant seats) or without division (i.e. if it is agreed unanimously.) So tomorrow’s motion will need 434 MPs to agree it to pass. Our Fixed-term Parliaments 2011 paper has more detail on the Act.

When will Parliament be dissolved for the election?

Parliament has to be dissolved 25 working days before Polling Day. The Prime Minister has announced an 8 June election. This means that Parliament will be dissolved on Wednesday 3 May.

The House may Prorogue (suspend but not dissolve) before then.  The Leader of the House has indicated today (18 April) that talks regarding prorogation will follow if the motion is passed tomorrow.

What will happen to Bills currently before Parliament?

Bills can’t be carried over through a dissolution. Any Bill before Parliament that has not received Royal Assent by dissolution will fall. To ensure that essential or non-controversial legislation is passed a ‘wash-up’ period takes place – when the Government and the Opposition reach agreements on the bills or parts of bills that should be hurried through their remaining parliamentary scrutiny. The wash-up procedure is enabled by motions, agreed by the House, which allow for the expedited progress of certain Bills.

How long does this take?

Normally the House of Commons will spend most of a day (or more) on a stage of a bill. However, during the wash-up, when several bills need to be considered in two or three days this is not possible. After consultation with the Official Opposition, the Leader of the House makes a statement indicating how the Government wishes wash-up to proceed. However, the House has to agree to this timetable.

Our briefing Wash-up – Election 2010 explains what happened before the 2010 election.  There was no substantial wash-up period before the 2015 general election as the date of the election was known in advance.

What is purdah?

The term ‘purdah’ means the period of time immediately before elections or referendums when specific restrictions on the activity of civil servants and Ministers are in place.  The preface to the General Election 2015 guidance for civil servants, issued on 30 March 2015, sets out the general principles:

  • During an election campaign the Government retains its responsibility to govern and Ministers remain in charge of their Departments.
  • Essential business must be carried on. In particular Cabinet Committees can continue to meet and consider correspondence if necessary, although in practice this may not be practical. If something requires urgent collective consideration, the Cabinet Secretary should be consulted.
  • It is customary for Ministers to observe discretion in initiating any action of a continuing or long-term character.
  • Decisions on matters of policy, and other issues such as large and/or contentious procurement contracts, on which a new Government might be expected to want the opportunity to take a different view from the present Government should be postponed until after the Election, provided that such postponement would not be detrimental to the national interest or wasteful of public money.
When will purdah start and how long will it last?

Purdah is likely to start on the day that Parliament is dissolved until after Polling Day on 8 June 2017.

The purdah period before general elections is not regulated by law, but governed by conventions based largely on the Civil Service Code. Guidance is issued to civil servants ahead of the election. For the 2015 general election it was issued and took effect on 30 March 2015 – the day that Parliament was dissolved.

Conversely, there is statutory guidance for local authorities about publicity during the period just before local elections, whilst the purdah period before referendums is regulated by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.

Our briefing ‘Purdah’ before elections and referendums (13 April 2017) provides further details.

What about select committees?

A 2017 election means that those select committee chairs who were elected on 10 June 2010 (a list is here) must, if still holding that position, cease to be chair of their select committee on 10 June 2018, unless the House orders otherwise.

An early election and shorter 2015 Parliament means that some select committee chairs will have shorter terms than expected. Standing Order 122A states that: ‘no select committee may have as its chair a Member who has served as chair of that Committee for the two previous parliaments (of whatever length) or a continuous period of 8 years, whichever is the greater’.

A 2015-2020 Parliament would have allowed those chairs elected in 2010 to have a 10 year term.

Will the Manchester Gorton by-election go ahead?

David Lidington MP, Leader of the House, said today in the Commons that he expected that the Returning Officer would cancel the by-election. As it was due on 4 May and Parliament is likely to be dissolved on 3 May, the new MP would be elected to a Parliament which no longer existed.

Erskine May, the guide to Parliamentary procedure, indicates that there is “no statutory provision for cancelling a by-election when a general election is in progress”

The procedure for a by-election starts with a Writ being sent from the Clerk of the Crown (triggered by a Warrant from the Speaker) to the relevant Returning Officer. It is presumed that an acting Returning Officer would consider the Writ to have been superseded if the by-election were due to take place at a date when Parliament had been dissolved, since the MP could not be elected to a Parliament which no longer existed.

Commons Library Briefing Election Timetables, March 2015 (p.16-17) provides more detail.

Will the local elections go ahead as planned?

Yes, the local elections are on a statutory timetable (see our Election Timetables briefing for more info).

Will new constituency boundaries apply?

No. The four boundary commissions (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) are still working through the set cycles of consultation and analysis for their respective boundary reviews. They must complete their reviews and hand their reports to the Government by 1 October 2018.

This process is explained in Commons Library Briefing Parliamentary Boundary Reviews: Public Consultation (November 2016)

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