A downside of the fading of the pandemic and return to normalcy is that a lot of the institutions which had taken to putting on virtual meetings have now reverted to doing them in person only. Since these events are in many different locations around the world, far away from each other and from me, my ability to attend is severely limited.
One particular frustration has been been the Lyon Court, which for the last few months has been commemorating the 350th anniversary of the Lyon Register. Many times I have seen these lectures advertised on EventBrite, but I have not been able to go to them.
Now, belatedly, there is happy news, for the Lyon Court’s formerly-sparse YouTube channel has in the past fortnight seen a flurry of uploads from this lecture series. It is a little disappointing to have to catch up months later instead of taking part live, but getting to see them at all is still a great improvement compared to what would have been expected three years ago.
Developments in England have been less encouraging – there has been no newsletter from the College of Arms for this July. Upon inquiry, Portcullis told me that they hope to publish one later in the year. The heraldic decisions of Amess, Amos, Blair and Hoyle remain elusive.
This was another session with the Constitution Unit of University College London.
The topic of “skeleton bills” and “Henry VIII powers”, which have been highlighted a lot in recent political blogs and podcasts, was also prominent here. Although this problem is said to be particularly bad in the post-referendum era, it has been in the making for many decades. I asked the panel (at 1 hour and 35 seconds in):
“If the trend towards skeleton bills and secondary legislation gas been noticed for many decades, does this indicate a problem with the permanent government rather than the politicians?”
It was put to the panel simultaneously with two other questions. I will try my best to disentangle the answers.
Doctor Tom West said: Absolutely this is a long-running trend. The Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006 had very wide powers and people called it the “Abolition of Parliament” Bill. There are all sorts of examples of this being an issue, such as the financial crisis of 2008. Ministers, once they’re no longer in power, will come clean that there is an issue – Theresa May mentioned it at an IfG lecture last week. It’s very difficult while you’re in power to give up these very convenient ways of making law through secondary legislation. Brexit and COVID have raised the profile of this problem, but it is not exclusive to them. That’s what our Delegated Legislation Review Programme is looking at – we think there’s a need for a reset of the whole system of what these powers can be used for in the first place and how they can be scrutinised. We are in the middle of developing proposals.
Ruth Chambers said: This trend towards framework bills has been going on a long time. I’ve worked on environmental legislation for over twenty years. Just to give one practical example – it used to be that when governments would state consultation requirements on the face of the bill they would be quite explicit about which sorts of people and groups the minister should consult before taking powers forward. Now the more standard construction says the ministers can consult whoever they think they need to. Obviously that has consequences – bills often lack the future-proofing edge. It doesn’t matter how many times you have that conversation with ministers while they’re passing legislation, it doesn’t quite register that at some point in the future someone else will be wielding those powers. It also has huge implications for the public – the public businesses and civil society organisations really need to stay the course and engage with the secondary legislation not just the bill.
Today’s virtual outing took an unusual turn, featuring the London Natural History Society. The title proved a little misleading as the lecture was less about the streets and railways themselves than the plants growing on them.
At about 50:45, I asked Dr Spencer which species were most advantaged or disadvantaged by the presence of a railway line. He said the most advantaged were wind-dispersed plants, such as the “classic story” of Oxford ragwort which was confined to the walls of that town from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century when the railway arrived to blow its seeds around the country.
Another date with the Scottish Historic Buildings Trust, this time concerning the tour taken by James Gibbs and the Earl of Mar in 1712. The presenter was Professor Margaret Stewart.
A PDF of the slides was supplied.
This was a presentation by Dr Sophie Oosterwick for the Church Monuments Society, who subsequently put the recording online.
A conference with the Constitution Unit.
Rob Lanphier, senior editor, interviewed by Data Umbrella.
In this video I claimed that the Lithuanian Wikipedia had once been captured by fascists. I must correct the record now – it was actually Croatian.
A talk at the Paul Mellon Centre.
A lecture by Dr Christina Faraday for the Church Monuments Society.
A presentation by David Picker-Kille for the Roman Roads Research Association.