Friday, May 29, 2009

Clandestine outlawries

I am a big admirer of long-kept traditions and I am always happy to see one survive or flourish. Thus, I was happy to discover a British Parliamentary tradition that has been kept for over three hundred years and has been exported to other Commonwealth countries as well.

When a new session of Parliament is opened the Queen (or her representative) makes a speech from the throne in the upper house of Parliament. (According to tradition she is not given entry to the House of Commons.) After the speech is read both chambers of Parliament demonstrate that the Queen is in no position to set the agenda of debate so in defiance they introduce a bill for a first reading (which means they first read the title of the bill and then decide whether to discuss it further in committees). For the last three hundred or so years this bill has been the same in the United Kingdom: in the Houses of Commons it is “A Bill for the more effectual preventing clandestine Outlawries” and in the House of Lords “A bill for the better regulating of Select Vestries”).

The Outlawries Bill basically sets up measures to prevent people from declaring their fellows “outlaws” in secret and also has some extra penalties for sheriffs doing this.

The Select Vestries Bill deals with the rights of “select vestries” to administer poor law.

In Canada the bills are titled “An Act respecting the Administration of Oaths of Office” and “An Act relating to Railways”. It is worthwhile to read the actual texts of these two bills that have been printed maybe for the first time ever in 2009. It is a good indication of the serious thought behind these pro forma bills is that the text stops after a short and one clause reading:

This bill asserts the right of the Senate to give precedence to matters not addressed in the Speech from the Throne.

After this pro forma bill, as far as I can see from the Hansard records I’ve seen online, the Speaker informs the members that he has obtained the Queen’s speech “for greater accuracy” and then a member moves to present an humble address to the Queen along the lines of:

Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament

After some long speeches by the mover and the seconder of this address, the actual work of Parliament begins.

Cheap access to information

In the last couple of weeks or so I have seen a huge increase in my access to information. Firstly, I subscribed for a second time to the Economist (currently they are sporting a 3 out of 4 issues delivered record), I found out that the Book Depository is quite cheap, but I also found some other great opportunities. Firstly, Népszabadság, one of the biggest Hungarian dailies keeps giving me free one-month subscriptions; moreover, the International Herald Tribune is also offering a free one-month subcription (no strings attached, as opposed to e.g. the Guardian Weekly's offer, where you have to subscribe for real and than cancel after your first 4 issues). Finally, the United States Army War College is willing to ship its publications on security studies to your home.
Now, I have cheaper and free access to contemporary information, studies and books, what remains is to find a service that ships DVD's with low or without shipping costs to Hungary...