Westminster diary w/b 16th May

Monday

Parliament is not sitting until after the Queen’s Speech on Wednesday so I take the opportunity to work from Inverclyde on Monday. This gives me the opportunity to meet with constituents and also to have a valuable sit down meeting with my own team. Usually it’s done over Skype. I catch the 18:50 flight to London and due to a navigational error (too busy talking to fellow passengers) I arrive in my flat at 22:00 after a short detour via Canary Wharf. It appears to be a very grey place that houses massive glass office blocks devoid of any warmth or charm.

Tuesday

Up at the crack of dawn so I can do the Big Ben tour before starting work. It’s basically a walk up 334 steps trying to ignore the terrible stench of the sewers that vent up the tower (renamed Elizabeth but previously known as St Stephens) like a giant chimney. The views from the top are spectacular. I was accompanied by MPs from various parties and Floella Benjamin who is now a Baroness. Lovely lady, her ancestors were slaves brought to Scotland on the back of the sugar trade. She was interested to hear that in Inverclyde we have a Jamaica Street and a Tobago Street amongst other links to the West Indies. I had a very interesting briefing from Alcohol awareness. Amongst the issues raised is that alcohol related illness has increased dramatically since the sales of alcohol swung from pubs to off sales. In 1994 the split was nearly 50:50 now 72% is sold from off sales. Of course by far the largest off sales are supermarkets.

Wednesday

The Queen’s Speech dominates today’s proceedings. Roads are closed, security increased ten fold and the media presence is extraordinary. The SNP MPs all wear a white rose but rather disappointingly it’s not the Burnet rose that Hugh McDiarmid wrote about. Next year we must find a florist that can provide the correct species. The quality of debate varies enormously. David Cameron disappointed, Jeremy Corbyn was poor but that’s expected, Angus Robertson was focused and assured, Christopher Chope (Conservative) blamed everything from parking and fisheries on the EU, Meg Hillier (Labour) spoke up well for the NHS in England, those on benefits and those struggling to get on the housing ladder.

Thursday

Day two of the Queen’s Speech debate. Business questions are usually the most entertaining of the week and today didn’t disappoint. Chris Bryant, the Labour shadow minister, tore apart the Queens speech in five minutes. Yesterday his party leader wasted forty one minutes and didn’t lay a glove on the government’s weak unfulfilled promises.

Friday

Starts with a meeting at ‘Moving On’ an addiction rehabilitation centre. Followed by an interview with the Tele to review my first year as the local MP. After that I was delighted to take part in a photo opportunity to promote the good news that the Clyde and Hebrides Ferries Network will continue to be operated by Caledonian MacBrayne. A quick dash back to my office to meet Morton legend Warren Hawke to discuss the Morton community trust. Then a drop in event for REACH for Autism and in the evening I attended the Inverclyde Sports Personality awards in the Town Hall.

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MP Welcomes Ferry Contract Decision

I am delighted to learn that CalMac, a Living Wage employer, have won the ferry contract to continue operating the Clyde and Hebrides Ferries Network. 

Having previously met with representatives of CalMac and Serco to discuss their bids it was pleasing to learn that both showed a commitment to Inverclyde.  It was reassuring to learn from CalMac that they guarantee their headquarters will remain in Gourock.

As constituency MP for Inverclyde I’m delighted the decision is now taken and I look forward  to continuing to work with CalMac.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-36330479

Picture attributed to Graeme

Concerns over Unexploded Ordnance in the Clyde

This week, I raised fresh concerns about unexploded ordnance in the River Clyde after the UK Government backtracked on a meeting to discuss the issue.

The UK Minister for Defence Procurement, Philip Dunn MP, offered to meet with me after concerns were raised in the House of Commons about the potential risk that unexploded ordnance posed to vessels in the Clyde.

The Ministry of Defence later wrote to me, stating that they take safety on the Clyde “very seriously”, but refused to meet.

The snub comes on the back of the UK Government admitting that following the two world wars, it was assessed that only 20% of the ordnance dropped in the sea had been accounted for.

I am disappointed with the UK Government’s vague assurances and unwillingness to engage with me regarding an issue of importance to Inverclyde.

While unexploded ordnance poses a low risk, the sea mine found near Gourock last year shows why the UK Government mustn’t be complacent, especially as the Clyde is routinely used by Britain’s nuclear submarines.

It’s concerning that just a few years after the UK Government closed our coastguard station they are now refusing to meet with me regarding unexploded ordnance in the river. Inverclyde deserves better than the UK Government’s relaxed attitude towards our maritime safety.

Picture attributed to Colin Campbell

Queen’s Speech

Ahead of the Queen’s Speech, on Wednesday, the SNP Group at Westminster have put forward its progressive alternative to the damaging austerity policies of the UK government. We are calling for measures to make the UK fairer, more prosperous and more equal, and proving once again that it’s the only clear, consistent and effective opposition to the Tories at Westminster.

On the Constitution, the SNP would introduce:

1. A Scottish Home Rule Bill, providing meaningful devolution to Scotland including competence over employment law and industrial relations; broadcasting; the power to hold a referendum on Scotland’s constitutional future; the tax credits system and in work benefits; comprehensive responsibility for social security excluding pensions; the ability to legislate for incentives for renewable energy; comprehensive ability to tax income, wealth and capital including corporation tax; responsibility for the management of natural resources within Scotland and for revenue accruing from the management of natural resources within Scotland’s geographical territory; a formalised role for Scottish Ministers being consulted by the UK government in international representations and negotiations, including provision for Scottish Ministers to deputise for UK government ministers in the international fora.

2. A Parliamentary Reform Bill, modernising and reforming Westminster by abolishing the House of Lords and creating a democratically elected chamber. The party would also signal its wider intention to abolish English Votes for English Laws; introduce electronic voting in Parliament; create a House Business Committee to enhance the role of Parliament in scrutinising government; commission a report on maternity leave and job share arrangements for MPs; and commission a study on a new, purpose-built Westminster Parliament.

3. An Electoral Reform Bill, lowering the voting age to 16 and establishing an independent commission on proportional representation to report on possible models for Westminster.

We have shown ourselves to be a progressive alternative to a ‘business as usual’ continuation of the Tory government’s failed austerity project that has held back the economy, damaged public services, and hit the poorest and most vulnerable hardest.

Our Alternative Queen’s Speech calls for change that would stand up for Scotland’s interests and deliver the policies needed to build a fairer, more prosperous and more equal country.

Once again it falls to the SNP to provide the clear, consistent and effective opposition to the Tories – and that is what we will continue to do.

Westminster diary w/b 9 May

Monday

The plan was to have a day dedicated to constituency work but those plans changed on Saturday morning when I was told I was needed in Westminster early Monday evening. So I only managed a constituency meeting (a follow up to the Aerotoxic syndrome debate), the Texas Instrument task force, a team meeting for my office (one year since I was elected) and then a catch up with Stuart McMillan MSP before heading for the 15:30 flight to Heathrow. The evening consisted of the energy bill (the sort we debate not the sort we pay) and the Immigration bill. Votes took until after 11pm and it was midnight before I walked back to my flat.

Tuesday

Turned out to be one of those rare days when I get a morning to catch up on all the reading I have to do and spend time researching projects that I wish to develop. In the afternoon I met up with representatives of the gambling industry who oppose fixed odds betting terminals. This was followed by an extremely interesting drop in session hosted by the British Endodontic Society. Root canal treatment was never this much fun. In the evening I attended an internal SNP group meeting.

Wednesday

Up at 5:30 to do the paper review on Talk radio at 7am. I thought I spoke quickly but Paul Ross has a machine gun delivery and so even on a slow news day we managed to rattle through stories. I attended the All Party Parliamentary Group for Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) where we were informed that the Guardian were running a story the following day that revealed the new cost of Trident renewal to be £205 billion. Ironically in the afternoon I met and listened to Setsuko Thurlow tell her story of being in Hiroshima on the 6th of August 1945 when it was the target of the first atomic bomb. Between these events I attended Scotland Questions and Prime Minister’s Questions.

Thursday

I asked the Minister for Energy and Climate about the UK government’s lack of support (they are reducing tariffs) for the Biomass sector which indirectly employs 11,500 people. It is interesting to see what approach different ministers take. This one decided to play nice and try to placate me. She failed.

I had a conference call with IBMs director of government and regulatory affairs and their HR director regarding the redundancies in Inverclyde. I understand tough economic times can result in businesses having to make tough decisions and redundancies can occur but I stressed the effort and commitment made by IBM employees over many years to IBM and my dismay that although legally IBM are doing everything by the book, those being made redundant deserve better deals.

Business in the House finished early and we had the prorogation process which involves Black Rod banging on doors and the reading of acts in Norman French. This marks the close of parliament prior to the Queens speech next Wednesday. I managed an earlier flight home and attended the public meeting on the Community Empowerment Act in the Gamble Halls.

Friday

Surgeries and constituency work

Tele Column – 13th May 2016

I always think it’s nice when people ask for and respect your opinion. Maybe that’s why I find it infuriating that when folk have the opportunity to declare their support for a political candidate, to express their views, so many people don’t vote. Don’t get me wrong, I was delighted at the result of the Scottish Parliamentary elections. At the national level because we have an SNP Government and locally because we have a dedicated SNP MSP in Stuart McMillan but it frustrates me that 39% of the electorate still don’t feel engaged enough to turn out and vote.

We now have six weeks before the EU referendum and the turnout will be even lower. With a large percentage of the vote in England set to vote ‘leave’ it is even more important that those of us who wish to remain in the European Union get out and vote ‘remain’. The consequence of Scotland being ripped out of the EU despite the will of the Scottish electorate to remain would be interesting to say the least. But I wouldn’t go as far as the Prime Minister in saying leaving the EU could lead to a world war. The only wars I see are the internal battles within the Conservative and Labour parties.

Interestingly unlike the Scottish Independence referendum the mainstream media is on my side. I am not used to that. I have noticed, particularly at Westminster, that some politicians that benefited from mainstream bias previously are now irate at the BBC coverage.

So I appeal to you. It’s your democratic right to vote. That right has been fought for and protected, please don’t take it lightly. We all benefit from a motivated population that is prepared to engage in the decision making process. Politicians need to hear the voice of the electorate, don’t leave it up to someone else. Your vote always matters.

MP Questions Trident Renewal Costs

On Wednesday the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) reported the cost of renewing trident has now breached the £200 billion mark.

I was shocked to learn the exorbitant cost of renewing these weapons of mass destruction.

Nevertheless, the UK Government is determined to proceed with the project – even with this new extraordinary price tag – and plans to dump the nuclear arsenal on the Clyde for the next 50 years despite opposition from the Scottish Government, 57 of Scotland’s 59 MPS, churches, trades unions and civic society.

These figures are just staggering – and if even remotely accurate show the whole project is out of control.

The renewal of Trident has always been utterly indefensible – and these costs only serve to highlight the sheer folly of the UK Government’s decision to go ahead with the renewal. The money would be better spent on supporting the National Health Service, childcare and education.

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/may/12/replacing-trident-will-cost-at-least-205-billion-campaign-for-nuclear-disarmament

Lottery Funding for Inverclyde Project

I was delighted to learn from the Big Lottery Fund that MindMosaic Counselling and Therapy in Inverclyde have been successful in applying for a £122,329 grant from Big Lottery Fund’s Medium Grants Scotland.

This group will strengthen and expand their service which provides counselling and specialist therapy services. It will support 212 vulnerable children and their parents/carers in Inverclyde to cope with and move on from trauma (including grief, bullying, risky behaviours, sexual abuse, caring and addictions).

This announcement is a tremendous boost for the organisation and I wish them every success with utilising the funding and making further positive change in Inverclyde.

Hiroshima remembered

On Wednesday 11th May I had the privilege of listening to Setsuko Thurlow. Setsuko is a survivor of the Atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima on the 6th of August 1945.

As I left the room I confess to being tearful and slightly numbed by what I had just heard.
Setsuko’s testimony reached back in time and opened a window to 1945 which allowed me to look into a dark day in history that should never be forgotten and never repeated. She described the atrocity in great detail and I know that my words will not do justice to her story.

At 13 years of age Setsuko was being trained by the military, along with 30 other young girls. She was being trained to decode top secret military messages. That is how desperate the Japanese military were. As a fighting force they were beaten and demoralised. Despite this we dropped an Atomic bomb on Hiroshima and three days later a variation of the same bomb on Nagasaki. The greatest military experiment of all time was unleashed on the civilian population of two large Japanese cities with huge populations and no military significance what so ever.

Setsuko was in her military class room when she saw a blue flash of light. When she regained consciousness it was completely dark but it was still morning. The dust and debris sucked up by the explosion had polluted the atmosphere so much that it blocked out the light from the sun. As she staggered amidst the ruins she saw many dead bodies burnt and twisted. She saw moving figures, like ghosts in the gloom. As she got closer she could see people stumbling, burnt and bloated, some had their hands outstretched in front of their faces, they were carrying their own eyes. Some fell to the ground and as they did so their stomachs exploded and their intestines spilled out.

Her parents came looking for her the following day. Her father had been fishing out at sea and saw the mushroom crowd. He came back to find his family. Her sister lived outside the city but had come back the night before to visit. They were reunited but her sister and her sister’s child had swollen to three times their normal width. Their internal organs were blackened and leaking out of their bodies. Her sister and her four year old child died, three painful days later. Her Sister in law was never found. Given her location in the city, when the bomb explode, it is believed she was vaporised. Those that survived were often ostracised by society because they were horribly disfigured.

When the allies reached the city, General MacArthur promised to demilitarise and democratise Japan. Their first act in democracy was to close down all media coverage that reported on the aftermath of the bombing. The human suffering was not to be known. Diaries, letters, poems, pictures were confiscated. The victims were not allowed to testify and the world was not allowed to bare witness. There was a seven year close down of information. Without this it’s questionable if the nuclear age would have happened at all.

The aid that was supplied in the aftermath was not to ease the pain or help the suffering its sole purpose was to study the effect on human bodies. Setsuko believes they were used as Guinea pigs, twice. First as targets and then as specimens.

When asked, why after all these years, she still tells her heart rendering story she said
“We feel a moral responsibility to warn the world. This is a global issue. Let’s work together. This is my desperate plea.”

She was then asked how she would describe such a weapon and she replied.

“Weapon is not appropriate it’s a method to massacre indiscriminately. It’s immoral. Let’s live together, don’t spend and squander our resources on such things”.

The Conservative government insists that it supports nuclear disarmament – with the proviso that it has to be multilateral not unilateral. And yet it boycotted the multilateral nuclear disarmament talks in Zurich earlier this year.

As President Obama nears the end of his tenure he is going to visit Hiroshima. To put this gesture in context we must remember that the USA boycotted the Zurich talks and is committed to spending one trillion pounds on furthering weapons of mass destruction. And as a chilling footnote when the President visits Hiroshima he will have in his entourage what is known as the atomic football, that is the device required to unleash Nuclear warfare once again on the innocent and the defenceless.

‘Keep the ban on bee harming pesticides’

This week in Parliament I added my name to a growing list of MPs who are opposed to lifting of the ban on bee harming pesticides.

Neonicotinoids have been restricted across Europe since 2013 due to mounting evidence that they pose a risk to bees. Bees are responsible for pollinating two thirds of the food we eat. But the National Farmers Union (NFU) has applied to the government to lift the ban in some parts of the country. Ministers are currently considering their application.

I took the pledge to oppose the lifting of the ban at a Parliamentary event held this week, organised by 38 Degrees and Friends of the Earth. MPs heard new evidence from scientists and from a Lincolnshire farmer who had stopped using these pesticides before the ban.

The message is loud and clear from people in Inverclyde keep the ban on bee harming pesticides.

I have listened to their concerns and I’ll be making my opposition very clear in parliament to any plan to lift the ban.