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.
The Chancellor changed course on the plan announced in the budget to increase Class 4 National Insurance Contributions for the self-employed. The manifesto did not differentiate between the different classes of contribution. The fact that the Act of Parliament that was passed in order to apparently enshrine this manifesto commitment into law only referred to Class 1 contributions does not change the impression self-employed people quite rightly had in my view that an increase would break the clear manifesto pledge. It is very encouraging the Chancellor as so quickly recognised this and reversed the plan. There is a long-term problem about the tax base but the self employed do take risks and have a different level of protection to those who are employed and this has quite rightly been reflected in lower contributions. It should also be remembered that Class 2 National Insurance Contributions which are paid at a fixed rate are still being abolished so rather than being faced with an increase the self employed will see their contributions reduced thanks to the Conservatives. They will also pay less income tax as the personal allowance is increased.
I guess it might not receive the national attention that the Parliamentary by-elections in Stoke-on-Trent Central and Copeland received last week but I see the Conservatives won a Council by-election last night. It was in Kersal Ward on Salford Council. I can claim no credit but I know several from Bury Conservatives went along to help in the campaign.
I had a long and useful meeting with representatives from the headteachers of Bury Secondary Schools yesterday when I was able to listen first hand to their concerns. I am very grateful to the Heads for attending and I will be ensuring their views are heard at the highest levels in the Department for Education.
Yesterday all the estimates were passed without a division. I attended a meeting of the Backbench Business Committee where we heard bids for debates on the proposed closure of some Jobcentre Plus offices, international trade and the situation in Turkey. All bids requested time in the main chamber but as at present the Committee has no unallocated time available in the chamber the best we could offer were shorter debates in the Westminster Hall debating chamber.
Today after Prime Minister questions the victor of the Copeland by-election will be introduced to the House of Commons, swear the oath of allegiance and take her seat on the green benches. My apologies for suggesting the by-election winners would both arrive on Monday. I was half right ( half wrong?) the winner of the Stoke-on-Trent central by-election took his seat but Trudy Harrison has waited until today. The main business in the House of Commons is the Bus Services Bill a Bill which has already been the Lords and more details of which can be found by clicking on the hyperlink. Talking of the Lords the focus of the media will inevitably be on their Lordships today as they seek to amend the Bill to authorise the triggering of Article 50. Whatever happens the government have made it absolutely clear they will ask the Commons to overturn any amendments.
It is Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent today and unless a major problem intervenes I will be attending the special service in the Chapel which takes place at lunchtime.
Following on from yesterday’s Estimates Day One today is the second day, These are essentially the days on which the House of Commons approves the top line figures for government spending. Huge figures are passed in a matter of minutes.
Yesterday, I asked my Local Government question as I was scheduled to do.
The exchange with the Housing Minister is here:
What steps is he taking to protect the green belt in Bury. 
The Minister for Housing and Planning (Gavin Barwell)
Our recent housing White Paper underlines the Government’s continuing commitment to the green belt. Local councils should remove land only in exceptional circumstances, and the White Paper clarifies what that means: when they can demonstrate that they have fully examined all other reasonable options for meeting housing need.
When a plan proposes large-scale development on the green belt, as in the case of the Greater Manchester spatial framework, will my hon. Friend assure me that he will carefully assess how realistic the various projections and assumptions are for things such as population growth and household size?
I assure my hon. Friend that the approach that is taken will be robustly tested by a planning inspector in public, and that he will be able to give evidence. My hon. Friend is right that before councils think about releasing green-belt land, they should consider brownfield land, surplus Government land, density and how their neighbours can help to meet housing need
One win for Labour in holding Stoke One win for the Conservatives in gaining Copeland.
All the political news this morning is dominated by the results of the two by-elections. Good news for the Conservatives and Labour MP’s are already describing the result in Copeland as a disaster for them. It was encouraging that the Conservative share of the vote increased in both seats.
Full details can be found on the BBC website here:
Interesting too that the Liberal democrats the self proclaimed by-election specialists came third in Copeland and fourth in Stoke not reaching ten percent in either seat.