When I ran my own business I knew how much a worry the business rates bill was. The bill always seemed to increase at a faster rate than I expected. Re-valuation was a further worry. In the next few weeks all businesses in England will start receiving their bills based on a new valuation of their premises. Whilst overall the renewal is fiscally neutral in other words gainers are balanced by losers because the government has introduced some specific help as part of a £6.5 billion package of reliefs across the Country around three-quarters of all businesses will see their business rates either fall or stay the same. 600,000 will stop paying business rates altogether. the good news for Bury is that there will be an average reduction of 9.1% in bills primarily because of the number of small businesses we have.
As regulars readers will know I always caution against putting too much store by any single poll. What matters is the long term trend. It is also important to ensure any comparisons are done so as to ensure apples are being compared to apples and not pears!
So, what do we know from the recent polls? Clearly it seems the Conservatives appear to be a few points ahead. The increase in their rating has come from UKIP who have slipped back since the referendum. Equally, Labour seem to have slipped back a little since the referendum and the Liberal Democrats have been the main beneficiaries. Of course, on reality the churn will be far more complex, some Conservative supporters will have switched to Liberal Democrat, some Liberal Democrats to Labour and so on but overall that seems to be the position. As ever remember all polls are a snapshot of opinion not a prediction!
I know from the many letters I have had that the government’s decision to end the enquiries of the costly Iraq Historical Allegations Team will be widely welcomed. Our Armed Forces deserve our support and whilst of course individual allegations of misconduct will and indeed always have been investigated it is good that what has been described as a ‘witch hunt’ is now to be concluded.
Yesterday I had a typically varied day. With Parliament have risen for a half term recess I was back in the constituency. In addition to the usual casework emails and the like I gave an interview to someone who is undertaking the daunting task of trying to interview all MP’s. Then I attended a funeral of a friend who passed away at the end of January. Then, I finished the day by speaking at a dinner at the Asia Lounge marking Kashmir Martyrs Day.
The first question yesterday at Questions to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport was about the future of Channel 4. Now I do not doubt that they broadcast some interesting programmes and programmes which some people enjoy watching but my concern is with their ownership. Channel 4 is a relic of a bygone era it is a nationalised company. It is owned by the government. The same government of course which also owns the BBC the biggest of all broadcasters with a guaranteed source of income, still enforceable by the criminal law. The question I posed was that if it was a private company which owned a broadcaster which was the size of the BBC and had the reach and dominance of the BBC and that private company wanted to takeover another broadcaster the size of Channel 4 what would the view of the Competitions and Markets Authority be? I think we all know it would not be allowed and yet the government is clinging on to ownership of both BBC and Channel 4.
We had no less than 17 votes in the House of Commons yesterday. Whilst I do not keep records I can not recall ever having had that many votes in a single day before. 7 of the votes were deferred divisions included 6 on Statutory Instruments which had been debated in Committee and one was on the Canada EU Trade agreement. the other ten were all votes on the Brexit Bill. The government defeated all the amendments which were put forward by the opponents to the Bill. Considering the government only has a majority of 12 the smallest majority last night was 39. On every single vote last night the government secured a vote higher than 325 ( ie half the total size of the House of Commons which is 650). On the crucial final vote on the Third Reading the majority was 372. The Bill now passes to the House of Lords. I hope they reflect on the fact that we have now had a referendum where a majority of voters voted to leave the EU by a margin of over one million votes and now after five long days of debate and dozens of votes the House of commons has approved the Bill to give Notice of our intention to leave the EU. It would be bizarre in the extreme if the House of Lords now tried to stand in the way of the will of the people and the will of the elected House of Commons.
In reality there was not much doubt that the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill would clear its first hurdle. We had three votes. The first was on the Scottish National Party’s amendment which would have killed the Bill. This was defeated by 336 votes to 100. Some Labour and Liberal Democrat MP’s voted with the SNP. The second was on whether to give the Bill a second reading ( what one might call the main vote ) this was passed by 498 to 114. So including the two tellers who incidentally unusually included the Government Chief Whip 500 MP’s voted for Brexit. Finally there was a vote to approve the timetable for next week. This was passed by 329 to 112. So the attention now turns to the hundreds of amendments which the opponents have tabled to try to change the Bill.
The critical Bill to give the government authority to exercise Article 50 and give notice we intend to leave the European Union was debated for the whole day yesterday. Many of Parliament’s biggest names took part in the first of two days of debate. There were dozens and dozens of backbenchers wishing to speak and a time limit of six minutes on speeches which had been imposed was reduced to just four minutes by Mr Speaker as the first day of debate entered its last lap. It was shortly before midnight when I was called. Having had several hours to ponder on what to say I thought when all was said and done it could be summed up in a few words. Ten to be precise:
The people have spoken. This House must now act accordingly.
Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Stephen Barclay.)
Today at 7pm if the debate runs its course the final votes on whether to give the Bill a Second reading will take place. The Speaker selected one amendment for debate and voting on, the one from the Scottish National Party (SNP). It is likely therefore that there will be at least two votes one on the SNP amendment and one on whether to give the Bill a Second Reading