Westminster Diary 23 April

Monday

I attended a drop in event to highlight the Trade Union Congress campaign entitled ‘dying to work’. During defence questions I asked the Minister if he was doing anything to remove the ordinance left in the Clyde. He isn’t. My select committees report into the appointment of the commissioner for public appointments was presented to the house and I took the opportunity to put on record my disgust at the continued cronyism attached to these appointments. The last debate in the house was on brain tumour research.

Tuesday

My select committee took evidence regarding ex ministers appointments in the private sector. There was a great exchange between Paul Flynn MP and the Right Honourable Baroness Angela Browning (Chair of the advisory committee on business appointments). I would recommend viewing it on parliament TV. It is not often somebody gives as good as they get with Paul but the baroness gave a very good account of herself. In the house for statement on Libya. Attended All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on fixed odds betting terminals, followed by the APPG on betting and gaming. And to keep the balance a meeting with the Responsible Gambling Trust to discuss the issues of dormant betting accounts and gambling related harm. I attended the SNP Constitution group and the, in between lots of votes, I managed to sit down with an organisation called ‘Seeds of Change’. They provide counselling and help young adults back into education. Their engagement involves equine studies, which is new to me and extremely interesting.
The day came to a close after the SNP group meeting.

Wednesday

William Hill breakfast – I took the opportunity to ask about dormant accounts and charges on unused accounts after 24 months. PMQs I took part in the debate on Vellum. Or to be more precise the recording of parliamentary acts on vellum (pigs or goats skin). It was interesting because despite the House of Lords voting to end this practice, the commons want to keep it. This falls under the remit of my select committee so I took the opportunity to speak. I attended the Living Wage launch for water companies.

Thursday

I was due to meet with BT Openreach but I had a question accepted for culture media and sport and that took priority. During a week heavily influenced by gambling lobbyists it seemed only fitting to ask the Government minister how much funding was provided for research, education and treatment regarding gambling related harm. I attended a discussion on the “Ethics of nuclear war”. An engrossing explanation from activists and members of different religions as to why morally there is no place for Trident or its successor. Then I met up with the head of public affairs for Virgin Media. I was particularly interested to hear of a potential opportunity that may exist for Kilmacolm to get superfast high speed broadband.

Friday

Morning was all constituency work.
Afternoon campaigning for Holyrood election.

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Record Copies of Acts [20 April 2016]

You can watch me deliver this full speech here – http://goo.gl/sKecWW

I have been fortunate enough to represent Inverclyde in this House for almost a year. In that time I have welcomed a number of constituents to the parliamentary estate not only to give them a tour of these historic buildings, but to show them how this Parliament operates. While guiding my constituents through the Royal Gallery and Central Lobby, I have often thought that the Palace of Westminster would make a magnificent museum.

I am not against tradition and today I am proudly wearing my Innerkip Society tie. The Innerkip was established as a charitable organisation in 1798, and for over 218 years has survived to do its good work in the Inverclyde community by adapting and moving with the times.

Politically, Westminster means different things to different people, but this Parliament has had an undeniable influence on the history and culture of the UK’s nations over the centuries. Those centuries have led to the development of many important traditions, and I hope we can all agree that the history of any elected Chamber is worthy of respectful consideration.

However, I would caution that we should not let grand architecture and fine paintings distract us from the primary purpose of this building—as a functional centre of governance. It will be apparent to some Members that the UK Parliament does not always convincingly carry out that purpose. We need only look at the outdated estimates process, the antiquated upper House’s unelected bishops and hereditary peers or this Chamber’s box of complimentary snuff to see that every tradition is not worth continuing. Indeed, as Woody Allen said,

“Tradition is the illusion of permanence.”

It is in that context that we are here today to consider whether it is appropriate to continue recording public Acts of Parliament on vellum. Perhaps it is unsurprising that the modernisers in this debate are those advocating the use of paper—a writing material that has been available in Europe since the middle ages. Westminster politics has never been known for its ability to quickly adapt to changing circumstances.

Those arguing in favour of the continued use of vellum have cited its durability as one of the most important aspects of its use. I understand the point that original copies of records should survive so that future generations can enjoy them. I suggest, however, that the UK Government flatter themselves if they think that, 500 years hence, schoolchildren will clamour to visit this Parliament, eager to see an original copy of the Speed Limits on Roads (Devolved Powers) Act 2016. Whether or not legislation is written down on paper that is replaced over subsequent generations is inconsequential; it is the idea, principles and continued effectiveness of our laws, not the means of recording them, that are most worthy of our attention.

As Members are aware, the National Archives are one of two locations in which vellum copies of new public Acts are stored, and the National Archives, too, take the practical view that archival-quality paper is sufficient to maintain the public record.

Ultimately, there are risks associated with any form of recording, whether vellum, archival paper or full digitisation. We should be wary of anyone claiming that there is any one foolproof method of storage. Lack of foresight and unpredictable events have led to the destruction of records before and may do so again. It is worth remembering that the vellum records in the House of Commons archive were destroyed by fire in 1834, with the House of Lords records surviving only because they were housed in a separate building. Many nationally significant paper records have also been destroyed—particularly during the blitz.

Digitisation has also had its difficulties, as evidenced by the BBC Domesday project, which ran from 1984 to 1986, but which faced technological difficulties just 15 years later. My personal preference is for a combination of archival paper and digitisation. After all, the increased accessibility as a result of digitisation has undoubtedly improved the transparency of our public records.

I am sympathetic to those who argue that discontinuing the use of vellum would negatively affect the UK’s sole remaining producer. I would never argue lightly in favour of a measure that negatively impacted on the employment of any Member’s constituents.

None the less, Westminster is not a museum. It does not exist to propagate tradition for the sake of tradition. We are here to govern, to pass laws and to do so in a way that reflects the UK’s nations as they are today—not as they were in the past. For too long, this Parliament has doggedly refused to enter the 21st century. I therefore urge colleagues to vote against the motion.

Finally, if anyone from digital services is listening, could they please pop into my office and fix my printer? I have a sheet of vellum stuck in it—apparently vellum is not compatible with the 21st century.

Help For Those Affected By Gambling Related Harm

Today (21/04/16) I had the opportunity today to quiz the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on what his department is doing to help those who are affected by gambling related harm. Just yesterday I met with Responsible Gambling Trust (RGT) the leading charity in Britain committed to minimising gambling-related harm. The charity’s aim is to stop people getting into problems with their gambling, and ensure those that do develop problems receive fast and effective treatment and support.

I have taken an active interest in the issues surrounding gambling, including dormant betting accounts and Fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs). As we are aware, gambling is a multi-billion pound industry and it’s vital the all those involved continue to play their part in promoting responsible gambling. As indicated by the Responsible Gambling Trust, they receive around £7m from the betting industry towards providing research, education and treatment into gambling related harm.

Therefore, I’m keen to know what funding the Government provide to support those with gambling addictions and issues and will be writing to the Secretary of State for Culture for further clarification on the subject. We must ensure there is help available to those who have a problem with gambling and they receive fast and effective treatment and support.

Answers Needed Over Civilian Deaths in Syria

This week the SNP has built on work I started, calling on the UK Government to comment on reports linking civilian casualties in Syria and Iraq to UK airstrikes. Just last month I tabled an early day motion calling for clarity over the UK Government’s policy on reviewing reports of civilian casualties.

In a letter to Michael Fallon MP this week, Brendan O’Hara has asked if he would confirm independent reports on coalition airstrikes in Syria resulting in several civilian deaths. Non-governmental organisations such as AirWars and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights show that over 17th-18th February this year, 15 civilians were killed including three children.

With serious reports of civilian casualties, including children, it is time Mr Cameron gave a report to the house, updating us on the consequences of our involvement in Syria.

Both David Cameron and Michael Fallon made a commitment this year to ‘look at any evidence brought forward in open source reporting by other organisations’ stating that ‘if people make allegations we must look at them.’ The SNP has brought these reports to their attention it is time they responded.

We are dealing with children’s lives here, David Cameron must not hide behind secrecy but give a full and transparent report of our actions in Syria. We are currently involved in a war and with that comes great responsibility.

When we entered Syria we did so with the understanding that there would be regular updates and transparency over coalition airstrikes, these commitments must be honoured.

Picture from Defence Images

Too Much Information Campaign Launch

Last week I was one of nearly 100 MPs who attended an event organised by The National Autistic Society who recently launched their Too Much Information campaign. I am backing the charity’s new campaign to improve public understanding of autism. As part of the campaign, the charity has released a report (Too Much Information: why the public needs to understand autism better) which revealed how poor public understanding of autism is pushing autistic people and their families into isolation.

According to a survey of over 7,000 autistic people, their families and friends, and professionals:
• 87% of families say people stare and 74% say people tut or make disapproving noises about behaviour associated with their child’s autism
• 84% of autistic people say people judge them as strange
• 79% of autistic people and 70% of family members feel socially isolated
• 50% of both autistic people and family members sometimes or often don’t go out because they’re worried about how people will react to their autism

This is why the National Autistic Society is calling on the public to find out more about autism so they can respond to autistic people with more understanding.

More than 1 in 100 people are on the autism spectrum. This means that someone sees, hears and feels the world in a different, often more intense, way to other people. Autistic people often find social situations difficult and struggle to filter out the sounds, smells, sights and information they experience, which means they feel overwhelmed by ‘too much information’ when out in public.

In 2015, a YouGov poll found that over 99.5% of the people in the UK had heard of autism. However, just 16% of autistic people and their families said that the public had a meaningful understanding of autism. This means that while lots of people have heard of the word autism, very few actually understand what it means to be autistic.

The charity has also released a short film, shot from the point of view of a child on the autism spectrum experiencing ‘too much information’ as he walks through a shopping centre. It shows how painful and overwhelming it is for the boy – and how much more difficult it is when people make nasty remarks or throw judgmental glares at him and his mother. The film concludes with the words: ‘I’m not naughty: I’m autistic’.

The National Autistic Society’s important report shows why we must work harder to improve public understanding of autism. No-one should ever feel so misunderstood that they sometimes can’t leave their home. That’s why I’m pleased to support the Too Much Information campaign and am encouraging my constituents to learn a little bit more about autism. A basic understanding of autism could help open up the world for autistic people and their families in our community and across the UK.

Dying to Work Campaign in Parliament

Yesterday I attended the cross-party event in Parliament to support the TUC’s ‘Dying to Work’ campaign which is seeking to change the law to provide additional employment protection for terminally ill workers.

Dying to Work was set up following the case of Jacci Woodcook, a 58-year-old sales manager from Derbyshire, who was forced out of her job after being diagnosed with terminal breast cancer.

People battling a terminal illness deserve choice and shouldn’t be forced to undergo stressful HR procedures with the risk of losing the positive stimulation and distraction of work.

It is shocking to think that if people with terminal illnesses are dismissed or forced out of their jobs that their loved ones will lose the death in service payments that the employee has planned for and earned through a life-time of hard work.

In addition to support from across the political spectrum, the campaign has also been endorsed by a number of trade unions and charities, including Breast Cancer Care and Second Hope. Furthermore, the company, E.On have today (Monday 18th April) become the first company to sign the Dying to Work voluntary charter to provide support to their employees and the campaign in a ceremony in College Green.

Westminster Diary 16 April

Monday

Early start and off to Westminster. I attended an event with the Italian Minster for the Constitution, Maria Elena Boschi, where she outlined the wide ranging changes to the Italian Constitution. During questions to the Home Office Minister I was keen to ask the Minister a question regarding UK visas on behalf of a constituent so I dutifully bobbed up and down as is required but unfortunately I didn’t get taken. This was a small inconvenience compared to the hoops my constituent has jumped through to try and satisfy the home office and UK embassies. I attended a drop in for World Autism Day and finished off the day with a late vote on the Finance Bill.

Tuesday

My Select Committee meeting beat its own longevity record and lasted four and a half hours. It culminated in an unsatisfactory appointment being made to the position of Public Appointments Commissionaire. The day improved during the internal group meeting and finished with a really interesting talk from Richard Murphy, author of ‘The Joy of Tax’, about taxation and why Scotland as an independent country should have its own currency.

Wednesday

I was on Talk Radio at 8am to discuss dormant betting accounts and fixed odd betting terminals (FOBTs). The host is Paul Ross, brother of Jonathan, and I have been invited back to do the paper review slot. I accepted before they told me it went on air at 7am. The CND parliamentary group was very productive and I look forward to a briefing we have commissioned on the number of jobs that are dependent on the support of weapons of mass destruction. PMQ was, not surprisingly, dominated by the Panama Papers story. The highlight of the day was a hugely interesting all party group on biomass fuel systems. It was encouraging to see the depth of support and hunger for renewable energy across the UK. I also participated in a demonstration calling for more support for those who have been affected by contaminated blood. The demonstration took place whilst a backbench debate took place in the Chamber.

Thursday

There were two interesting debates in the house; the Chilcot Report and more specifically the national security checking of the Iraq Inquiry Report. We wait to see how much shall be redacted. The final debate was about diversity in the BBC.

Friday

My day is filled with meetings in Inverclyde.

Tele Column – 15th April 2016

The media has been buzzing with rumours, speculation and a few truths regarding the Panama papers. These papers list companies, trusts and individuals that have been avoiding paying tax in the UK. This is not illegal but certainly, when we are being subjected to austerity following the banking crisis, is immoral. Bankers led us into financial meltdown, the poorest and most vulnerable feel the pain, and bankers help the richest in society avoid paying their fair share of tax.

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The PPP (public private partnership) scheme that the SNP government inherited, from the previous Labour/Liberal Executive, was quickly brought to a halt and replaced with a not for profit scheme. Under PPP the tax payer will be paying for public buildings for a very long time. In fact, we shall continue to pay for them and their maintenance to ridiculous levels. The scale of the issue is highlighted by the fact that one of first acts Finance Secretary undertakes when compiling the Scottish budget is to include the interest payments to the public balance sheet from PPP and PFI projects.

It is a damning indictment of PPP that many of the buildings built under this scheme are now being examined following defects being identified in similar builds. Hopefully those built under this scheme in Inverclyde are safe and therefore don’t become a further drain on public finances and most importantly do not pose a risk to the public. I welcome the statement from Councillor McEleny who has called for immediate assurances regarding the safety of schools in Inverclyde.

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The new road layout in Gourock continues to illicit differing opinions. It would appear that the car park sections that are split into ‘time restricted’ and ‘no restriction’ are the wrong way round which encourages drivers to grab the first space available which is the ‘no restriction’ area and therefore it fills up first leaving residents to use the ‘time restricted’ area. A step in the right direction would be to provide residents parking permits.

#MPforaWeek

Throughout all of next week the House of Commons is inviting people to participate in their #MpforaWeek in Campaign. From the 18th to the 22nd of April this campaign is highlighting the range of and value of MPs’ work in order to build better public understanding of the role of a Member of Parliament. The campaign is designed to tie in with the release of the updated ‘MP for a week’ game.

I like to do everything I can to bring about a greater understanding of what goes on down in Westminster. People rarely see what goes on outside of the chamber which is why I am more than happy to take part in the #MPforaWeek campaign.

My days are filled with tabling questions and debates, raising constituency matters in and out of the House, researching ahead of debates, preparing for my committee sessions, meeting constituents and external bodies.

Helping people understand the systems and structures in Westminster will contribute towards a more political engaged population and a greater willingness of people to engage with me as the MP for the whole of Inverclyde.

Picture from UK Parliament

More Support Needed for Those Affected by Contaminated Blood

I participated in demonstrations earlier this week calling for more support for those who have been affected by contaminated blood. The demonstration took place yesterday whilst a backbench debate took place in the Chamber.

Over 6,000 people contracted HIV or hepatitis C from infected blood products used by the NHS up until 1991. More than 2,000 have so far lost their lives. There is currently a UK Government Consultation underway looking at how the system of support for victims can be reformed. Those affected have made their anger clear this week after it was announced that patients in Scotland would receive part of a £20m handout over the next three years.

There must be a proper support package to ensure that those affected and their families are protected. Their needs must be at the center of any decision made. The government consultation must do everything it can to right this historical wrong. Those affected should not be worse off and shouldn’t have to rely on charitable funds.