Today is the first day of a short recess for Parliament as Parliament does not sit again until a week on Monday.
A big thank you to all those who attended the public meeting at Radcliffe last night. The meeting followed an afternoon drop in session where representatives from bodies such as the Council, the Environment Agency, Six Town Housing and United Utilities where all on hand to answer questions.
I am back in the office today catching up with casework and constituents queries.
Tomorrow, I am departing the UK to visit Salt Lake City in Utah USA where I have been invited to give a lecture to some of the students at the University. I will be endeavouring to keep my blog up to date but apologies in advance if for any reason this is not possible.
The main business today in the House of Commons was determined by the Backbench Business Committee which I sit on. After Energy questions there will be debates on the compensation being paid to Equitable Life policyholders followed by a debate on the sea bass stocks.
This evening I am scheduled to attend a meeting in Bury South on the progress of the clean up operation following the terrible Christmas floods.
As often on a Wednesday no doubt the main centre of attention today will be on the weekly session of Prime Minister’s Questions. This is followed by the introduction of two new Bills for the House to consider in the weeks ahead. One which implements the new agreement which was reached a few weeks ago between the parties in Northern Ireland and the other which amends the law relating to police and certain aspects of criminal law.
As it is Ash Wednesday I will be attending one of the two services scheduled in the Chapel today. Then I have a meeting of the Procedure Committee which I need to attend. meanwhile in the main chamber there will be the annual debates on the police and local government grants.
Yesterday the two motions to uprate benefits were duly passed without a division.
I chaired a meeting of European Committee A which was considering an EU document relating to vehicle emissions ( where incidentally there was a division).
In the evening I attended a dinner where the latest position on the Vote Leave campaign was the principal topic of discussion.
Today, the main business has been chosen by two of the minor parties. The Democratic Unionist Party from Northern Ireland and the Liberal Democrats. Both have 8 MP’s in this Parliament. They have chosen to debate housing and the timing of the referendum on our membership of the European Union.
I have a meeting of the Backbench Business Committee to attend in the afternoon.
Back to London today for the last week before the half term recess next week.
After questions which today are to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government the main business is the annual uprating of social security benefits. This is followed by a debate scheduled by the Backbench Business Committee on the future of Great Western Railway.
There seems to be a good deal of comment in the Sunday papers about the way the referendum campaign is developing. For anyone outside of the Westminster bubble it must all seem fairly confusing. It is certainly confusing to me and I go down to Westminster every week Parliament is sitting.
Basically, the position is this. There are two main groups trying to build up an organisation that is sufficiently strong to meet the criteria laid down by the Electoral Commission. The Electoral Commission will designate just one organisation as the Lead Campaigner. They then get taxpayers money to promote their side of the argument and other special rights during the campaign. The two main groups are VoteLeave and Leave.EU – the first is mainly Conservative the latter mainly UKIP. I should stress that this is very much a simplification but it gives you an idea of how to interpret developments.
I, and indeed many others, have argued that the two campaigns should come together as soon as possible. The problem is despite the best efforts of many they have refused to do so. The position has been complicated in recent weeks by the emergence of Grassroots Out which claims to be involved with neither side but is only interested in campaigning.
It is all very complicated. I have simply said I will continue to make the case for us to leave the EU and I will work with anybody and share a platform with anyone to make that case. I really do not care who gets the designation as long as the arguments for leaving are properly presented.
It was not a good day yesterday for all those who say that there is no point in having Private Members’ Bills anymore because not one but two completed their passage through the House of Commons. Firstly, the Riot Compensation Bill which updates the centuries old law on the amount of compensation payable to those whose property is damaged as a result of a riot. The old Act was passed before even motor cars had been invented. The new Act modernises the law and introduces a £1 million cap on claims.
The second Bill to complete its progress removed an anomaly in the law relating to the Criminal Cases Review Commission. This is the independent body which looks again at claims from convicted criminals that there has been a miscarriage of justice. At present the Commission can send for documents from public bodies but not private bodies and this Bill provides that a Court can now order a private individual or company to hand over documents relevant to their investigations.
Now, admittedly both these bills are what MP’s refer to as hand out Bills. In other words they are Bills which have been given out by the government. So, right from the start they have the support of government. I proved in the last Parliament that where an MP comes forward with a change to the law which makes sense the government can be persuaded to support a Private Members’ Bill and the process can be used to change the law.