The United Kingdom Independence Party have had a difficult time of late. At the last general election they lost 50% of their Members of Parliament and failed to make a single gain anywhere – despite all the forecasts and speculation. The delivery of the Conservatives manifesto pledge to hold a referendum on our membership of the European Union and respect the result has somewhat dinted their ‘Unique Selling Point’. With the departure of the UK from the EU it is difficult for them to identify their USP now.
Then there is the problem of the leadership. Regardless of ones view of Nigel Farage few would doubt that he is a charismatic character and was the one person who the general public could be able to name as a UKIP politician. Since his most recent departure the leadership has been a problem. The election of Diane Evans lasted longer than her leadership. Her replacement Paul Nuttall (no relation) failed despite being leader in his bid to gain a seat in Parliament. One of their chief funders Aaron Banks has quit to form a new political party of his own and now a new loss. Their sole MP Douglas Carswell the MP for Clacton has resigned and has said he will sit as an independent. It is difficult to see how they are going to break out of this downward spiral.
Today marks the sixtieth anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome the founding document which brought what is now the European Union into being. In 1957 only 6 countries were party to the agreement. There are now 28 members including the UK. Soon of course to fall to 27 and understandably I believe the leaders of the EU were anxious not to receive our notice to quit on the day their celebrate their 60th anniversary. Keen no doubt to maintain friendly relations with our European neighbours we were happy to agree and we know the Article 50 notice will now be served next Wednesday.
I can appreciate the EU leaders being upset at the departure of the UK not least because we pay a sizeable chunk of the bills every year. If they are sensible they will ask themselves why it is we are leaving and why it is there are so many around the EU who are concerned about the direction of the EU. It seems to me the fundamental problem they need to address are the inherent strains within the Eurozone. The single currency with a single interest rate is too low for Germany and too high for countries like Greece. I am not sure the richer countries are prepared to transfer the funds that would be necessary to help the poorer ones. In essence that is what is required for a single currency to work in the long term. The EU keep putting a sticking plaster over the problems of the Eurozone but unless a long term solution is reached I suspect other countries will in due course follow our route.
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:
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.
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.
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;
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.
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.
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.