Written PQ – Nuclear weapons [31/10/2016]

Question:
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what discussions he has had with his counterparts in other (a) NATO member states and (b) Commonwealth countries on the upcoming discussions at the UN General Assembly on multilateral nuclear disarmament; and if he will make a statement. (49770)

Tabled on: 21 October 2016

Answer:
Sir Alan Duncan: The Foreign Secretary, my Rt Hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Mr Johnson) has had discussions with a number of counterparts on the important issue of multilateral nuclear disarmament. The UK Government firmly believes that the best way to achieve a world without nuclear weapons is through gradual disarmament, negotiated using a step-by-step aproach and within the framework of the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty.

The answer was submitted on 31 Oct 2016 at 16:22.

 

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Written PQ – Nuclear weapons [31/10/2016]

Question:
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what role he expects the UK to play in discussions at the UN General Assembly on multilateral nuclear disarmament; and if he will make a statement. (49768)

Tabled on: 21 October 2016

Answer:
Sir Alan Duncan: The UK plays a full and active role in the UN First Committee on disarmament and international security. We are considering nearly 70 resolutions covering the whole spectrum of First Committee activity working with other States to prevent proliferation and to make progress towards multilateral nuclear disarmament.

The answer was submitted on 31 Oct 2016 at 16:13.

 

Universal Basic Income

I welcome the news that the Work and Pensions Committee is holding a one-off oral evidence session on citizen’s income (also known as universal basic income) at the University of Birmingham on 12 January 2017.

A Basic Income (Citizen’s Income or Universal Grant) is an unconditional, non-withdrawable income for every individual as a right of citizenship. Similar to a. Child Benefit, it is for everyone, and is tax-exempt.

I has previously discussed the topic with representatives of Citizen’s Income Trust, RSA and Citizen’s Basic Income Network Scotland.  I lead a Westminster Hall debate on the issue on Wednesday 14th September.

After holding the first parliamentary debate on universal basic income (UBI), I am delighted to hear that the Work and Pensions Committee is holding a one-off oral evidence session on the subject.

As I previously indicated, if you had a blank sheet of paper and were asked to design a welfare system nobody, but nobody, would come up with the system that we have now.  The current system is complex and not fit for purpose.

I hope those putting the case for a UBI are given a genuine opportunity to explain their reasoning.

Link to  my  parliamentary debate on Universal Basic Income – https://hansard.digiminster.com/Commons/2016-09-14/debates/1B16BDDC-5BB5-40AB-93E0-A78D0A39BF5B/UniversalBasicIncome  

http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/news-parliament-2015/citizens-income-launch-16-17

 

Westminster Diary w/b 24th October

Monday

I started the week with one of my regular meetings with a council officer. These meetings are always beneficial and go a long way to creating a good working environment between elected members and the council management so we can work together for Inverclyde.

I then met a local stakeholder to discuss progressing our vision for a progressive positive Inverclyde and how best to regenerate the area. Parking issues are never far away and this week I met with representatives from ScotRail, Inverclyde council, Transport Scotland and the business community in Wemyss Bay to review the parking inside and outside the station and on the main road through the town. The remainder of the day was given up to constituents issues. The plan was to get an evening flight but as there were no votes I took the option to stay at home and make an early start on Tuesday.

Tuesday

As my alarm went off at 4am I realised that yesterday’s decision to stay at home was not my best. Fortunately my travel arrangements went to plan and I was on the estate for the start of my Select Committee at 9am. We took evidence regarding parliamentary standards and the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACoBA). Paul Flynn has returned to the committee after his stint as an opposition front bench spokesman and the committee is the better for it. The exchanges between Paul and Baroness Browning who chairs the ACOBA are always entertaining and charged with passion. I attended a debate on the return of the Chagossians to their homeland after fifty years of forced exile. It’s clear hypocrisy from the UK government that they are committed to keeping the Malvinas occupied but cleared the Chagos Islands to facilitate a U.S. Air Force base. I attended a briefing for SNP MPs entitled ‘The economic implications of leaving the EU’. It was delivered by Professor Andrew Hughes-Halley from St Andrews University. It was certainly not a laugh a minute. The last meeting was an internal SNP MPs group meeting.

Wednesday

The morning was given up to research and writing. Prime Ministers Questions started of looking as though it could be good but it wasn’t. We have an intransigent government led by a Prime Minister that seems determined to forge a reputation of being strong but wrong. I spoke in the debate regarding Concentrix and their handling of the tax credit issues. This goes far wider than one company and asks questions of HMRC, the government and the welfare system at large. During the following debate on the Yemen, Boris Johnson argued that war zones are bad but if one exists it benefits from British involvement. Imperialism at its worst. In the evening I attended Poppy Scotland’s launch in Dover House.

Thursday

I had an interview with the Sunday Herald regarding the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) event I am chairing in the Gamble Halls on Thursday 3rd November. They say no publicity is bad publicity but we shall wait and see. If it helps raise awareness around the scourge of drug addiction then that can only be a good thing. I had a briefing on Northern Ireland’s take on Brexit.

Friday

Starts with constituency meetings and then a quick review of the disability confident event I am co-sponsoring on the 4th November. This is followed by a visit to the Parklea Branching Out farm shop opening. Which is good timing as I have run out of their jam. I then met up with a company regarding funeral and bereavement policy and welfare. I dropped in to the opening of Stuart McMillan MSPs new office and then on to ‘Pools of Thought’ at the Beacon. In the evening I dropped in for a question and answer session with the 3rd Gourock Boys Brigade.

Saturday I shall be attending the Nordic Horizons event in Edinburgh and on Sunday the Rum Retort exhibition in the Tobacco Warehouse.

Tele column – 28th October 2016

Almost a year ago I attended a Private Members Bill debate at Westminster. It was designed to change the law regarding off-patent drugs. It was shamelessly talked out by the UK Government. Talking out a debate prevents a vote and therefore halts the progress of a bill. It’s undemocratic, cynical and an abuse of the parliamentary process. The Government to its increasing shame employed the same tactic last Friday and talked out the Turing bill that was brought forward by the SNP. The Turing bill was designed to pardon men convicted of crimes related to homosexual activity. Crimes that are no longer crimes. There is an indication that after a year Westminster may actually be reconsidering the off-patent drug bill which is an issue controlled at U.K. level but the Turing bill can be implemented in Scotland and it will. Within a few days of Westminster sinking the bill the Scottish Government has reached a cross party agreement to grant automatic pardons. At some point the UK Government may catch up. It often feels like wading through treacle to achieve anything at Westminster. The Chagossians, forcibly expelled from their homes in the Chagos Islands fifty years ago and still seeking justice can testify to that.

One potential green shoot of progress is that after years of lobbying and pressure from many MPs, including myself, the UK government may act to reduce the maximum stake on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) to £2. These victories go a long way to reenergising me when it comes to the day to day slog that can be Westminster. The fight goes on.

 

Disability Confident Event

Local employers from Inverclyde are grouping together to support more disabled into jobs. This event is the first Disability Confident Employer Event in Inverclyde. This is part of a Government pledge to halve the disability employment gap and create opportunities for all.

I’m delighted to both support and attend the upcoming Disability Confident event which is to be held in Greenock Town Hall.

I hope this event will be an opportunity to encourage more Inverclyde businesses and organisations to hire people with a disability.  It’s vital everyone has the same opportunity when it comes to work.

I look forward to meeting local employers and learning more about the benefits to businesses of recruiting disabled people.

 

It is one in a series of events that are part of the Government’s Disability Confident campaign. Led by Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work Penny Mordaunt, it exists to highlights the benefits to businesses of recruiting disabled people and how employers can achieve this. The campaign addresses misconceptions about disabled people in the work place and highlights the benefits of hiring them.

The event will take place on Friday 4/11/16,  Drop in between 9.30 am-12.30 pm, Keynote address at 10.00 am, Greenock Town Hall PA15 1LS

 

Scrap the Rape Clause

I am calling upon my constituents to help reject plans from the UK Government to restrict tax credits to two children and introduce a “medieval” rape clause for vulnerable women who have been raped.

Last year, the UK Government announced plans to restrict tax credits to two children and force women to provide evidence of exceptional circumstances, such as rape, to claim tax credits for a third child from April next year.

I believe that women having to prove that they had been raped to DWP employees in order to receive social security payments is morally wrong and would cause needless additional trauma, as well as being completely unworkable in practice.

I urge constituents to email; CAXTONHOUSE.CHILDELEMENTCONSULTATION@DWP.GSI.GOV.UK and place on record their fundamental opposition to the policy.  The full consultation document can be viewed at www.gov.uk.

For fifteen months, the SNP has been fighting this Tory government’s medieval plans to introduce a rape clause and a two child policy, which is tantamount to social engineering.

It has been suggested by the Government that a letter be issued to survivors of rape which they could keep to prove they were exempt from the two child policy and could be presented as and when required.  This is totally unacceptable and I’ll be making that point in my own submission.

One question this Government can’t answer is how limiting tax credits to two children per family fits in with its family test for policy.  Put simply, this policy is anti-family and will stigmatise children.

Faith leaders across Scotland also believe that this policy would directly discriminate families who, for religious reasons, might have larger families.  There are just far too many unanswered questions and concerns around this policy.

I am hopeful that by putting this out to consultation, the UK Government will finally realise that this policy is unworkable and immoral.  I would therefore encourage everyone to respond and help defeat this appalling Tory proposal.

More information on the campaign can be found here: www.scraptherapeclause.co.uk

Concentrix Debate [26/10/2016]

Ronnie Cowan MP

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate. Like other Members, my constituency casework is full of examples of the mismanagement of the tax credits contract. I thank my constituency team back up the road—Iain, Colin, Jenn and Louise—who have dealt with a large volume of cases, always with great sensitivity and professionalism.

Over a long period, Her Majesty’s Government have created a system that they charge Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to administer. HMRC outsources the process but not its responsibility, and this time its chosen enforcer was Concentrix. However, it is unfair to lay all the blame at the door of Concentrix staff, or, indeed, HMRC staff. The current welfare system, as designed, is flawed—seriously flawed—and while we continue to support it, the blame is ours. Far from enabling people and giving them the financial security to build their own lives, the welfare system has made life more complicated for those who need support.

Dealing with poverty is an ongoing struggle in constituencies such as mine, where deep-rooted inequality continues to stifle ambition and opportunity. Yet, as with so many other policies, my constituents are once again disproportionately affected by the UK Government’s inadequacies. We have heard excellent contributions from Members who outlined specific examples of how the tax credit contract has been so appallingly mismanaged. However, the saddest indictment of UK Government welfare and tax policy is that there are still so many people in desperate need of tax credits in the first place.

Concentrix is clearly not blameless in this situation; its faults and mistakes are well documented. However, while the UK Government may solve the problems inherent in this contract by bringing it back in-house, we are still left with the wider problem of Government services being delivered by private companies. Private companies should never be in the position of delivering vital public services. Citizens and Governments should have a direct relationship with each other. Taxpayers contribute directly to the Government, but when the money is going in the other direction, it should not be filtered through a private company before it gets to the individual.

Jim Cunningham MP (Intervention)

I agree that these human issues are far too sensitive for private companies to be profiting from. Interestingly, when I first raised this in January with the Leader of the House in asking for a debate or a statement, I was told, “Just send me information about the problem with a case.” Why did it take eight or nine months and the involvement of the BBC to finally get a Minister to the Dispatch Box to do something about this?

Ronnie Cowan MP

The hon. Gentleman makes his point very eloquently.

Companies bid for UK Government contracts not on the basis of how they can deliver a fairer and more equal society, but of how they can save money for the Government. Companies are incentivised to deliver these results, and ultimately their first loyalty is to owners and shareholders. By off-loading services to private companies, the UK Government and HMRC are trying to absolve themselves of responsibility when there is a problem. We have seen these problems appear time and time again. G4S, Atos and Concentrix are not names that inspire public confidence in the delivery of high-quality public services. How many more disasters is it going to take before the UK Government realise that corporations should not be delivering public services? My constituents have no interest in Government reviews, PR exercises or ministerial statements about the issue—all they want is to be paid what they are due, on time, without the risk of its being arbitrarily removed.

The existing welfare system needs to be ripped down and replaced with something suitable for the 21st century. A couple of weeks ago, we had a debate in Westminster Hall about a universal basic income. There is support across parties for a serious investigation into this. We should stop treating the symptom and start treating the entire patient. Maybe, just maybe, the time for a universal basic income has come.

Drugs Policy Event

Next month, I will be hosting an event in Inverclyde to talk about drugs policy in Scotland.  The discussion will take place on Thursday 3rd November from 7pm in Gamble Halls, Gourock.

The event will see LEAP UK (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) hosting an evening of discussion on Scotland and Inverclyde’s drug strategies.

On the panel we have:

• Jim Duffy – Serving in the police for 32 years and retiring as a Police Inspector, Jim was the Chair of Strathclyde Police Federation, he is now a prominent member of LEAP UK.

• Jolene Crawford – Jolene is a member of Anyone’s Child, a group composed of bereaved family members who now work to reform drug laws from a unique and personal perspective.

• Stephen Malloy – As a board member for INPUD (International Network of People Who Use Drugs), Stephen represents the health and interests of those who consume drugs.

• Alex Nicol – Working as Service Manager at Moving On Inverclyde, Alex and his charity assist residents with potential addiction and the overlapping issues of drug dependency.

 

There is a substantial body of evidence coming from law enforcement experts that the current drug enforcement methods are not achieving their stated aim.

I wish to encourage any discussions that can constructively move towards a greater understanding of the problems and takes steps towards resolving them. 

Alex Nicol, Service Manager at Moving On Inverclyde said; 

“Moving On Inverclyde (MOI) has provided a locally based day-care support service since 2001 to Inverclyde residents seeking recovery from problematic substance use.  Many of our service users have experienced the criminal justice system in some form along the way. Consequently some of our service users progressing to education and employability have found this to be a potential barrier for career options.  

“In terms of national policy we do not advocate for any particular view but are aware of the genuinely held views of many on all sides of the debate and the challenges related to these views.

“A wise person once stated… “for every complex problem there’s a simple answer – and its wrong!” and at MOI we believe that of all the problems facing our society, the complex bio/psycho/social nature of addiction and the wider social fallout from it requires well thought solutions with emotionalism and subsequent knee-jerk reactions removed.

“Complex problems will generally require complex solutions and at MOI we believe that the way forward will be led with a genuinely seamless multi-agency approach supporting the desires, aspirations and safety of substance users at the heart, countered with the concerns of the wider community.  We believe that meaningful pilots should be developed with support of key stakeholders and evaluated to inform the way forward.”

To sign up to attend the event please visit – https://www.eventbrite.com/e/reform-and-regulate-drugs-should-scotland-lead-tickets-28669970654