Child Cancer Debate [29/11/2016]

Ronnie Cowan MP

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate as we continue the fight against childhood cancer. I am aware that the petition, which is the subject of today’s debate, is primarily written with reference to the NHS in England. As a Scottish MP, Members will forgive me for using the debate as a chance to highlight some of the local champions in my constituency who have done so much to help raise awareness of childhood cancer. Whether we are in Scotland or England, and regardless of our party affiliation, I hope all Members can come together to provide constructive suggestions for the UK Government. I hope too that the Minister is receptive to those suggestions in the spirit in which they are given.

We know that childhood cancer is relatively rare, yet in Scotland around 150 children are diagnosed every year.

Stuart Donaldson MP (Intervention)

My constituent Sam Dorrance was five years old when he lost his battle with cancer earlier this year. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating Sam’s brother, Ethan, who has raised £10,000 for CLIC Sargent, and also Sam’s family and friends who have raised more than £65,000 for Super Sam’s fund for research into high-grade brain tumours?

Ronnie Cowan MP

Absolutely. I had the privilege of meeting the family when they were here for the British Red Cross event a couple of weeks ago. They are an inspiration and an example to us all.

The 150 individual cases that I mentioned means 150 new families having to deal with the devastating consequences of illness every year. It is not only the health aspect of cancer that families must overcome, but the immense emotional and financial turmoil that the diagnosis can bring. Many parents will face extreme pressure on their relationship, in some instances leading to a breakdown of the family unit. Others will be forced to give up work. Combined with the additional costs of caring for a seriously ill child, it may mean that the family is pushed into poverty.

At this point, I want to address the Minister. In the Government’s response to the e-petition, they say that children and teenagers with serious or critical illness such as cancer are also expected to apply for disability living allowance or personal independent payment. Is there some way we could have a simple process whereby a diagnosis becomes a tick in a box so that people do not have to apply for PIP or DLA? It should be a given that they need financial support. We know that and we should take one of those burdens off them.

Along with the child and the parents, siblings too will experience disruption in their own lives, including educational difficulties. Although we are able to quantify that there are 150 new cases in Scotland every year, we can never quantify the wide-ranging implications. It is encouraging that survival rates are improving, but I am sure we can all agree that we can always do more.

I am pleased that the Scottish Government are absolutely committed to providing the best possible care for children and young people with life-threatening illnesses in Scotland. I trust that different NHS bodies north and south of the border have a mechanism whereby they can share best practice on childhood cancer. Perhaps the Minister will outline whether that is indeed the case. Let us not stop at sharing best practice north and south of the border: we need pan-European, and in fact global, co-operation. It would be appalling to think that good substantial research anywhere in the world was not shared so that everybody could benefit from it.

In my constituency of Inverclyde, we have a champion who is helping to raise awareness of childhood cancer. Nathan Mowat was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia shortly before his fourth birthday. Since then he has endured hours of chemotherapy treatment and will need at least a further year of maintenance treatment. Chemotherapy can have a harsh effect on the human body. In Nathan’s case, it means that even a minor illness can now have serious ramifications for his health.

Nathan, with the support of his mum Gillian, his dad Paul and his sister Annabel, has managed to rally a huge amount of support within Inverclyde. In September, the Greenock Telegraph, Greenock Morton football club and a range of prominent local businesses and organisations pledged to glow gold and help Nathan raise awareness of childhood cancer. Glow gold was a great success, not only because it rallied community support, but because it made more people aware of the practical issues that people face as a result of childhood cancer. Whether in respect of bereavement, research, diagnosis or resources, we need an open discussion on how we can continue to improve our approach.

Finally, I thank Nathan for all his great work in Inverclyde. I look forward to seeing him fully overcome his illness. He will continue to inspire many people, and I am sure my parliamentary colleagues will join me in wishing him and his family the best for the future.

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Westminster diary w/b 21st November

Monday  

Business in the House of Commons was slow and not pertinent to Scotland so I worked in my constituency office and caught the 8pm flight. It was of course delayed and I reach my flat at midnight.

Tuesday 

My select committee took evidence pertaining to our report on the Public Health Ombudsman and in particular the NHS handling of the Sam Moorish case. Sam was a toddler that tragically died from Sepsis. We were scheduled to close off a report about inter parliamentary relationships but I had tabled so many amendments that we carried that business over until next week. I attended a meeting with Narcotics Anonymous which proved interesting and worthwhile. Jess Phillips (Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley) and I will be looking to bring forward a debate around this topic sometime in the future. I then had the great pleasure of attending a reception hosted by BT to promote their broadband service. It’s not a great service locally but I was pleased to meet Val Lawrence who is busy making a great success of her business (Stella and Dot) with the help of a BT fibre to the premises (FTTP) connection. It’s that level of service we should all be experiencing. 

I rounded the day off with a Scottish constitution meeting and an internal SNP group meeting. 

Wednesday 

Parliamentary CND meetings are always a good start to the day, following them with questions to the Secretary of State for Scotland is not so good. The Secretary came mob handed this week with all his Ministers and as a result hardly answered any questions himself, preferring to remain in a sedentary position and nod a lot. Prime Ministers Questions was no better than last week, which avid readers will remember was appalling. But all of this was merely a prelude to the Autumn Statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer during which he manoeuvred his position away from his predecessor and confessed that the UK will not have a debt of almost two trillion pounds. This is the debt George Osborne told us he was wiping out. I get the feeling George bailed out just in time. 

In the late afternoon I attended a drop in session to launch the ‘target ovarian cancer pathfinder study event’. I heard testimony from woman who had survived ovarian cancer but were highlighting how lucky they had been to get diagnosed early. They believe and the study confirms that not enough GPs are aware of the symptoms and many woman are missing out on an early diagnosis.  

Thursday  

I start with an interview with the people who run the lobbying site 38 Degrees. We agree to disagree that they are a lobbying site. They are looking into problem gambling and attended the recent session where MP’s took evidence regarding Fixed Odds Betting Terminals. We are discussing the viability of a campaign to raise awareness amongst my fellow MPs. The rest of my day was given up to research and I caught the 6pm flight. 

Friday

I had a meeting with two local stakeholders in a project I am working on. A great deal of my job involves networking and it’s always gratifying when I can help put people and organisations together so they can collaborate on ventures within Inverclyde.

I attended and spoke at the Careers Rights Day in the Tontine Hotel. Many people who care for a friend or loved one would not recognise themselves as careers and therefore don’t seek the support they are due. We are working towards resolving this. Carers input is estimated as being worth nearly £11bn a year to the NHS in Scotland alone although the value goes way beyond money. In the evening I spoke at a St Andrews dinner in Ayr.

On Saturday I shall be talking all things Universal Basic Income at the Pearce Institute in Govan.

 

Tele column – 25th November 2016

I have often said that if I could solve, flooding, parking and broadband issues in Inverclyde my correspondence from constituents would drop dramatically. I don’t expect the Chancellor to address flooding or parking in Inverclyde in his Autumn Statement, but I do expect he will have something to say about broadband.

As I am writing this on the evening before the Autumn Statement I can only predict what the chancellor will say. If he promised broadband funding for rural and underserved areas (as the German government did in August) then that’s good. If he promised to bring everyone up to a basic universal service level of 25 megabytes per second (bearing in mind that superfast broadband delivers that service and is currently available to 26 million homes but only 6 million have bought into it) then that’s good too. But if as I suspect he did neither and made lavish 5G promises to a few, that already receive 4G and has continued to neglect those at the other end of the scale then that only goes to show that the UK Government has completely missed the point again. Broadband access is about inclusion. We should be rolling it out by delivering to the most remote and hardest to supply areas first. Give the providers contracts where they make their money in urban areas but tie them to contracts that guarantee they only get the pot of gold once they have done the digging in the less profitable areas first.

I am available to pick your lottery numbers.

 

Autumn Statement

Philip Hammond’s Autumn Statement has revealed the full ‘Brexit bombshell’ as economic growth will be slower, there will be higher inflation, higher borrowing, and higher debt.

  • The independent OBR has revised down GDP growth for next two years – next year growth will be just 1.4% (down from 2.2%), and 1.7% for 2018 (down from 2.1%).
  • Overall, GDP is set to be 2.4% lower than if the UK had voted to remain in the EU.
  • Inflation is set to rise to 2.7% next year, according to the Bank of England.
  • Borrowing is set to rise from previous predictions. Overall, there will be over an additional £100 billion of borrowing. It will total £68bn in 2016/17, £59 billion in 2017/18, £46.5 billion in 2018/19.
  • As a result, national debt will peak at a modern record of 90.2% of UK GDP in 2017/18. The OBR has forecast that this represents a £220 billion increase in national debt by the end of this Parliament. Total national debt will equate to over £1.9 trillion by the end of this Parliament.

We have had the Brexit Bombshell – growth will be slower, there will be higher inflation, higher borrowing, and higher debt.

The Conservative government promised to make deficit reduction the centrepiece of their economic policy but due to their continued mismanagement, the OBR (Office for budget responsibility) has forecast a £220 billion increase in national debt by the end of this Parliament and the total national debt will equate to over £1.9 trillion by the end of this Parliament.

It’s quite evident from the economic forecasts that the policy of austerity is not working and its only serving is to plunge the country into further misery and heap more pressure on those less fortunate.

This contrasts dramatically to the Scottish Government who have announced a £100m economic stimulus plan and a £500m Scottish Growth Scheme, to mitigate the immediate effects of the EU referendum.

The major threat to the economy remains a hard Tory Brexit and Scotland being dragged out of the Single Market.

Clyde Life article – Boundary Changes

When I was elected as the Member of Parliament for Inverclyde, I was only the 3rd person to have that title, as the current border definition was only created prior to the 2005 general election. Prior to that we had Greenock and Inverclyde which had been created prior to the 1997 general election and excluded Port Glasgow and Kilmacolm. Prior to that we had Greenock and Port Glasgow which was created prior to the 1974 general election and before that it was just called Greenock.

Therefore, given its history of shape shifting it should come as no surprise to anyone that the proposal is to, once again, redraw the constituency boundaries. This time some bright spark has created, Inverclyde and Largs. This latest creation encompasses the existing constituency of Inverclyde, that consists of Kilmacolm, Port Glasgow, Greenock, Gourock, Inverkip and Wemyss Bay and continues south as far West Kilbride. It also includes the Isle of Cumbrae. This is, of course, all part of the process to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600. Scotland will lose 6 seats and some, amongst the remaining 53, will be made bigger. There are a number of political issues here but putting politics aside, the logistics of covering an area that has doubled in size presents a number of problems. Currently my office is in Greenock. Geographically it is at the heart of the constituency. It is also in the biggest town and it is close to transport links. Is it fair and reasonable that people from North Ayrshire should have to travel to Greenock to meet their MP? If I am to cover an area then the larger that area the more time I spend traveling and the less time there is to spend with constituents. I shall admit that up until now, compared to some, I have been spoiled. Inverclyde is a good size and can be covered easily. I only have to work with one council and that makes life easier too. Many of my fellow MPs are not so lucky. Dr Paul Monaghan represents Caithness, Sutherland and Eastern Ross. His constituency is currently the same size as Belgium! And the plan is to increase it. An inner city Glasgow seat can be twenty one square kilometres, Dr Monaghan’s will be over twelve thousand square kilometres. Brendan O’Hara represents Argyll and Bute which includes 23 islands and that is also going to get bigger.

The role of an MP is to represent their constituents. We should be making that easier not more difficult. I rotate my surgeries to cover the six towns. If I have to cover down to West Kilbride then I have to add at least three more surgeries to the rota but more importantly my team of four will be expected to manage the expectations of an extra 20,000 people from one central office.

In summary, it doesn’t suit anyone and doesn’t improve representation for anyone. At a time when people are demanding better representation and the citizens of Scotland are more engaged than ever with the parliamentary process, we should not be taking actions that potentially weaken their voices.