London Attacks

Proceedings in Parliament yesterday started with Prayers as usual and that was followed by a minutes silence to remember the victims of the terrorist attack on the Palace of Westminster on Wednesday. The Prime Minister then made a statement on the latest position which can be read here:

https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2017-03-23/debates/AF8D74DF-85B4-4BE6-9515-4E9A57EB2064/LondonAttacks

The Business Question followed and it was announced that the business that was being dealt with at the time of the attack will now be resumed next Wednesday.

Today Parliament is getting back to normal. The roads around Westminster were deserted yesterday as the police cordoned off the streets around Parliament. I had to access through the Chancellors Gate entrance at the House of Lords end of the Palace. This morning I was able once more to walk along in front of Parliament and enter my office block in the usual way. Sadly overnight news has emerged that the number of victims increased as another 75 year old man has died as a result of the injuries he sustained.

The main business in the Commons today is the consideration of Private Members Bills and there are, as usual at this stage of the Parliamentary year dozens on the list. The first is the Local Audit (Public Access to Documents) Bill which seeks to widen the category of people able to inspect the accounts of local Councils and a whole host of other public bodies.

Parliament Attacked

There is obviously a very great deal I could write this morning but I have much work to do after yesterday’s terrible events so I will just make a few brief observations and explain how I was involved.

My first thoughts are to remember the families of those who lost the lives and in particular the Policeman who lost his life. One can only begin to imagine how they must feel this morning. Also the injured who are in hospital with serious injuries.

As I set out yesterday I was due to attend a meeting of the Procedure Committee in the afternoon and so just before 2.30pm I arrived at Committee Room 5 for the meeting. we were meeting in private as we were discussing a draft report which will be published in due course. We knew a vote was due shortly and sure enough after around 10 minutes the division bell went and the Chairman asked us to be back in 10 minutes after the vote. I left my papers and ipad on my desk expecting to be back in a few minutes. I went down to vote where we were told three votes were expected so rather than head back to the Committee Room I went to my place in the Commons. It was at this time that I detected things were not quite as usual in the Chamber and seconds later the Deputy Speaker who was chairing proceedings at the time suspended the sitting. I have never known a sitting to be suspended right in the middle of a division so it was clear something serious had taken place. Fortunately I had my phone with me and gradually news began to filter through of the events outside the Chamber. Shortly after the whole building was locked down and those of us who were in the Chamber were kept there for just short of five hours before we were released. My phone soon began to run low on power. I had not expected to be away from the charger for that long.

Shortly after the sitting had been suspended business was abandoned for the day and the sitting was adjourned at 3.20pm

I understand proceedings will open with a minutes silence today and after the normal question time ( International Trade and Women and Equalities)  I expect there will be a statement from the Prime Minister followed by questions.

 

Trade debate

After Cabinet Office questions and then prime Minister’s Question time the main business will be the remaining  stages of the Pensions Schemes Bill which is a technical measure more details of which can be found here;

http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2016-17/pensionschemes.html

There will then be a debate on Exiting the European Union and global trade. I am chairing two debates in Westminster Hall this morning and attending a Procedure Committee meeting this afternoon.

B-Day

Talk of an early general election has been swirling around Westminster for some weeks now but the PM’s spokesman appeared to rule one out yesterday To be fair the Prime Minister has always said she intends to continue with the mandate given to the Conservatives less than two years ago and carry out the remaining pledges which were in the manifesto. Whilst the delivery of the manifesto is the main object of every government the government of Theresa May has of course another task the delivery of Brexit – respecting the outcome of the referendum on our membership of the European Union. It was announced yesterday that the official notification under Article 50 will be given a week tomorrow on March 29th. Meeting the PM’s longstanding promised deadline of the end of March. B-day – Brexit day – March 29th.

Yesterday the Prisons and Courts Bill was given an unopposed Second Reading and will now proceed to be considered in detail in a Public Bill Committee. Today, the main business is the remaining stages of the Intellectual Property (Unjustified Threats) Bill. I chaired the Committee stage of this Bill which reforms the law of unjustified or groundless threats as it applies to patents, trademarks and designs. Threats to sue for infringement are unjustified where they are made in respect of an invalid right or where there has been no infringement.

Prisons and Courts Bill

The main business in the House of Commons today is the Second Reading of the Prisons and Courts Bill which seeks to modernise the Courts and legal system by making it easier to use new technology, places a greater emphasis on rehabilitation of prisoners and seeks to restrict damages for whiplash and similar claims after road traffic accidents. I expect most of it to be welcomed on all sides but I have my reservations about Parliament interfering in the ability of civil Courts to award damages for injuries suffered as a result of the negligence of someone else. I appreciate the desire to stamp put fraudulent claims but there are already a number of measures in place to achieve this and I think further time should have been given to see if these measures were successful before taking further action. Whilst some people may exaggerate their injuries or make fraudulent claims it does not seem right to punish the majority because of the actions of the minority.

Petition Response

Readers may recall I presented to Parliament the petition about the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework which many local residents had signed.

I have now received the official government response which I have set out below. As one might expect it summarises what the present legal position and current policy is and encourages petitioners to continue to engage in the process which I have no doubt people will do.

The following is the petition and the official response:

​Declares that the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework should avoid large-scale residential development on the greenbelt, which is a valuable barrier to urban sprawl and is hugely valued by local people; and further declares that brownfield land should be prioritised for residential development provided that proper infrastructure is in place.

​The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and the Department for Communities and Local Government to make such provisions in the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework.

​And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Mr David Nuttall , Official Report, 13 December 2016; Vol. 618, c. 763 .]
[P001994]

​Observations from The Minister for Housing and Planning, (Gavin Barwell):

​Green Belts are created by local authorities, who are expected to protect them in line with policy set out in the National Planning Policy Framework. The Framework states that a Green Belt boundary can be altered only in exceptional circumstances, using the Local Plan process of public consultation followed by examination in public of the draft Plan.

​Local authorities, working with their communities, are responsible for determining the best location for the new homes needed in the area. The Framework recognises that, in exceptional circumstances, a local authority may find it necessary to review the extent of its Green Belt. In the Housing White Paper, Fixing our broken housing market, the Government reaffirmed their commitment to Green Belt protection, but also proposed a strengthening of the test of the exceptional circumstances in which Green Belt boundaries can be adjusted. This proposal is that local authorities should amend Green Belt boundaries only when they can demonstrate that they have examined fully all other reasonable options for meeting their identified development requirements, and that any impact of removing the land from Green Belt should be offset by improvements to the environmental quality or accessibility of the remaining Green Belt land.

​When any Green Belt alteration is proposed, the revised draft Plan with the supporting evidence is submitted for examination by a planning inspector. The inspector, who exercises independent judgement in the name of the Secretary of State, will consider whether the draft Plan is sound. A Plan will be found sound only if it is properly prepared, justified, effective and consistent with policy in the Framework.

​The Framework encourages the re-use of brownfield land, if not of high environmental value. Brownfield sites differ greatly, and local authorities are best placed to assess their suitability, viability and availability. If desired locally, a local authority may consider having its own Plan policy to increase the take-up and prioritisation of brownfield sites.

​To support development of brownfield land, the Government have accelerated disposal of public sector brownfield suitable for housing, and extended permitted development to give new life to thousands of under-used buildings. We are also introducing Brownfield Registers and Permission in principle. Brownfield Registers will provide up-to-date accessible information on the brownfield sites suitable for housing in each local authority area, giving developers, communities and investors more certainty about the potential of these sites. Permission in principle will give certainty from the outset that the fundamental principles of redevelopment are acceptable. Moreover, the £3 billion Home Building Fund will provide loans for small and medium-sized building firms, custom builders and offsite construction, and help to make more land, much of it brownfield, available for new homes. An additional £1.2 billion will be available to enable starter homes to be created on brownfield land.

​I encourage the Petitioners to contribute to the preparation of Greater Manchester’s Spatial Framework for the period to 2035, and to support creation of a plan where growth can be accommodated sustainably.

Fake News

I am always intrigued as to how a new word or term can become part of daily use so quickly. It is not so long ago that whilst the two words ‘fake’ and ‘news’ were obviously frequently used on their own there were not used together. It seems the combining of the two words started in America but I may be wrong on that point. Either way the term is clearly in fairly frequent use now. But what does it mean? As far as I can we should call a spade a spade fake news is simply lies. It is where someone states things have happened or ascribes views to others which are simply untrue. 

It seems to me the reason for this explosion of so called fake news is the internet. This is the vehicle through which fake news seems to get off the ground. Anyone can start a website and start posting their own ‘news’ there is no one to check how accurate it is. On a bigger scale it can often be in the interest of  an organisation to have people believe the facts are not what they actually are. I do know that I have to spend a lot of my time explaining that what someone had read and then complained to me about is simply not true.