Written Question – Young People [30/06/2017]

Department for Culture, Media and Sport
Internet: Young People
To ask the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, when the Government plans to publish a green paper on online safety for young people.
Answered by: Matt Hancock
Answered on: 30 June 2017

Work has started on the DCMS led cross-government internet safety strategy which will give us the opportunity to consider issues of online safety for children and young people. We are considering how this will be taken forward under the Digital Charter.

Written Question – Treasury [30/06/2017]

HM Treasury
Equitable Life Assurance Society: Compensation
To ask Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, what progress the Government has made on allocating the Equitable Life Payment Scheme funds to policyholders.
Answered by: Stephen Barclay
Answered on: 30 June 2017

The Equitable Life Payment Scheme is closed to new claims and the government issued the final progress report in November 2016. This report sets out the details regarding the volume and value of payments made, and a copy can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/equitable-life-payment-scheme-final-report.

Inverclyde Disproportionately Hit by UK Government Welfare Cuts

I’ve joined with Stuart McMillan MSP to highlight a Scottish Government report that shows Inverclyde will be disproportionately affected by damaging UK Government welfare cuts.

The statutory report, which was submitted to the Scottish Parliament, estimates the impact of all welfare measures passed by the UK Government between 2010 and 2017 drawing upon independent analysis by the Office for Budget Responsibility.

Based on the latest forecasts, it is expected that the UK Government annual social security spend in Scotland will reduce by £3.9 billion by 2020/21. In addition, hundreds of thousands of people have lost or will lose some of their benefit payments.

Local authority level analysis suggests that Inverclyde will see one the most significant falls in welfare spending by 2020/21 relative to their working-age population size, with a £15m cut overall – the equivalent of £298 per working age adult.

Over the past year, my constituency office has seen a 52% increase in the number of welfare and benefits cases. Changes to Personal Independence Payment in particular have been extremely damaging and many disabled people will have a lower quality of life as a result.

I have been approached by constituents with severe disabilities or mental ill health and told how they were deemed as being fit-for-work by private companies acting as assessors on behalf of the Department of Work and Pensions.

This lack of compassion and dwindling financial support from the UK Government is entrenching poverty in Inverclyde at a time when many residents are in desperate need of assistance.

My colleague Stuart McMillan MSP said:

“These cuts are damaging our people and they are harmful to our communities.  Every pound taken away from those entitled to financial support not only affects those individuals and their families, it is also a pound less that is spent locally in Inverclyde.

“Shockingly, with many of the harshest cuts still to come, the reforms will reduce spending on welfare in Scotland by nearly £4 billion a year by the end of this decade.  This is in addition to the 9.2% (or £2.9 billion) real terms cuts between 2010-11 and 2019-20 that the Scottish Government will see in the day-to-day budget that pays for public services.

“That will obviously have an impact on the amount of money the Scottish Government has available within its budget to spend. The Scottish Government have used over £350 million since 2013/14 to mitigate against the worst damage, however it is simply not possible to for us to mitigate all of the UK Government’s welfare cuts without major reductions in our expenditure in other vital public services, in growing our economy and in providing real opportunity to our young people.”

A copy of the report can be found [here]


Written Question – Business [27/06/2017]

Asked by Ronnie Cowan

Asked on: 22 June 2017
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Small Businesses: Inverclyde
To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, if the Government will bring the Small Business Saturday 2017 roadshow to Inverclyde.
Answered by: Margot James
Answered on: 27 June 2017

The organisation of Small Business Saturday is managed by Small Business Saturday UK. To request a visit to Inverclyde you can contact them via their website https://smallbusinesssaturdayuk.com.

The Department is fully supportive of the Small Business Saturday campaign and recognises the role it plays in highlighting the importance of small businesses to the local community and the UK as a whole.

Brexit Negotiations [26/06/2017]


Ronnie Cowan MP

I add my congratulations to Members who have made their maiden speeches this evening—particularly those who have hung around and listened to the rest of the debate.

I once drove through a snowstorm to get from Darlington to Jedburgh. I clearly remember driving up Carter Bar, which leads over the border between Scotland and England. When I reached the top, I was chuffed to bits: I had manoeuvred a rear-wheel-drive automatic through difficult terrain in a snowstorm. Then the reality dawned on me: the second half of the journey would be the hard bit. A steep decline, twisting and turning with no road markings and every chance of running off the road—that is what lay ahead, and that is my Brexit allegory.

The Prime Minister and her cohorts, blinded with power, have marched us to the top of the hill, only to discover that in this case it is a cliff edge. Over time, plenty of people have negotiated difficult journeys but I fear that the Brexit journey that lies ahead will be particularly dangerous. Those leading it will not admit just how hard it is going to be. They should be seeking out every pitfall and identifying all the hazards—instead, we are being fed a diatribe of jingoistic clichés.

The situation was a mess before the Prime Minister called a general election but now her selfish actions have complicated matters beyond anyone’s wildest nightmare. No one will form a coalition with this precarious Government; the Democratic Unionists have chosen to provide their votes when it suits them, supplying a billion pounds’ worth of tissues when it all goes wrong.

This brave new world seems to be based on an, “We did it before and we can do it again” empire mentality, flag waving and patriotism. As we turn our backs on the European Union and seek to create new trade agreements, we will require diplomacy and negotiating skills, which so far have been conspicuously absent in the whole Brexit mess. That is one reason why I have been delighted to hear that politicians across the EU have in increasing numbers been prepared to add their support for Scotland to remain in the EU and the single market. While the UK was committed to the EU, those same voices remained silent: they respected the UK and its position. However, by serving article 50 to leave the EU, the UK has turned its back on the EU and the single market. As a result, the loyalty of previous partners has been lost.

Where is Scotland’s influence in these negotiations? While Scotland makes up only 8.6% of the population of the UK, the Scottish fishing zone represents over 60% of UK waters—the fourth largest sea area in EU core waters. Scotland has 32% of the UK’s land area. We provide 40% of wind, wave and solar energy production; 47% of the open cast coal production; 62% of the timber production; 65% of the natural gas production; 81% of the untapped coal reserves; 92% of the hydro-electric power; 96.5% of the crude oil production; and 100% of the Scotch whisky industry. Yet we have no voice. If these negotiations are to have any credibility, the Scottish Government must have a place at the negotiations. Anything less is a flagrant disregard of the democratic standings of the United Kingdom.

Westminster diary w/b 19th June


Parliament has not yet got back up to speed following the aberration of a General Election and so I took the opportunity to meet with constituents in my office during the morning and catch a later flight to London. Offices are still being allocated and so to make a potential move easier I did a quick spring clean and threw out all unnecessary paperwork that I had acquired over the last two years. In the evening I attended a law enforcement against prohibition event which featured the comedian Marcus Brigstocke. He spoke about his addictions and his approach to dealing with them. I particularly struck by his food action. Any preconceived notions I had of a man binging on cream cakes were quickly dispelled as he recounted stories of eating food from bins while crying inconsolably. Eating disorders can often be conveyed as a physical thing when they are serious mental health issues.


There was no business in the chamber today as we are waiting for the Queen’s speech tomorrow. I managed to catch up with Paul Flynn and Kelvin Hopkins. They are both Labour MPs who both enjoyed comfortable victories. Despite our different parties we have always worked well in committee together and it was good to see those two old war horses back. In the afternoon we had the internal SNP group meeting and elected our new group leader.


My walk into Parliament is usually a relaxing stroll lost in whatever music I have chosen that day but when there are armed and unarmed police officers at every corner, roads are closed and passes are being checked well before entering the building it’s clearly not just another day. The extra high-visibility security in place for the Queen attending parliament just seems to add to the excitement for many of the guests who, given the extremely hot weather, have chosen bright colourful summer clothing. Many are, just like the Queen, en-route to Royal Ascot. Prince Phillip is indisposed and so the Queen allows Prince Charles to sit on the throne beside her. He does look distinctly uncomfortable and as one observer put it “it’s like bring your child to work day”.

We debated the speech (as we shall do next week too) and at ten pm there was an adjournment debate on the cost of phone calls to the DWP. The social welfare system is as we all know in a terrible state and the UK government would do well to consider the social security bill brought forward by Jeanne Freeman MSP in the Scottish Parliament as a better way forward. Only this week the high court in England described the UK government policy as ‘causing real harm’ for ‘no good purpose’.


The morning gives me the opportunity to work on articles for politics home and house magazine before getting a midday flight home. Unfortunately it is delayed and I use the time at the airport to catch up on some reading. In the evening I attend an SNP planning meeting.


The morning is consumed by paperwork and administration and in the afternoon I have meetings with River Clyde Homes regarding constituents housing issues. My last meeting of the day is with senior council officers. Over the weekend I shall be attending the P1 powerboat events.

Tele column – 23rd June 2017

Occasionally, I find myself guilty of referring to politics as “this game”. It’s an easy mistake to make because it’s competitive, there are rules and there are winners and losers but it’s not a game. That would be too trivial a description. This was made crystal clear during the recent General Election when ninety one MPs lost their jobs. The media pontificated at length about who would retain their seat but didn’t give a passing moments thought to the MPs staff members whose jobs were also on the line. In the end around four hundred also lost their jobs. It’s particularly cruel this time around as Parliament was convened on the understanding that it was for a fixed term of five years. Across the U.K. people made life choices based on the known facts and then Theresa May rampaged through them. What I found distressing was the glee with which these job losses were received by those not affected. Labour activists cheering a Tory win because Alex Salmond lost. My own staff being asked at the count “what will it be like when you lose your job on Monday?” The dehumanising of people in public service is not a new thing but the advent of reality TV and social media has encouraged everybody to express their opinion, no matter how ill-informed or spiteful it is. We all sit in judgement, often from the comfort of our own homes, wielding a keyboard and too often we are quick to judge.

The public image of politicians with jobs to fall back on and expense accounts dripping with expensive lunches, living the high life, isn’t one I recognise. I lost good colleagues, many that gave up careers or took a drop in salary to get elected. I know too many of their staff too well to not recognise their hurt at being discarded with the minimum of redundancy. Politics has its fat cats, I don’t doubt it. But the majority of MPs are only in their post for a short period and their mortgages and bills require paying regardless. Their parliamentary staff serve the public, they work long hours, often under difficult circumstances, they don’t judge and they don’t discriminate. They have earned respect. The day we take the humanity out of politics, that’s when we reduce it to a game and that’s the day we all lose.

Tours of the Houses of Parliament

With parliament now in session and MPs back at Westminster, the tours of the Houses of Parliament are available to residents of Inverclyde.

The tours of both Houses is an ideal opportunity to witness the workings of parliament and how the business and traditions of both Houses contribute to the day to day workings of the UK Parliament.

If Inverclyde residents are planning to be in London, after the summer recess ends, then please do not hesitate to contact my office to see if a tour can be arranged.


Queen’s Speech

The Queen’s Speech is a very glitzy affair. Crowns, robes, uniforms, best bib and tucker is the order of the day and one might expect a speech of great importance to accompany such an event, but it did not happen.

Rather like the ermine robes held together with safety pins the speech was tawdry and disappointing. Manifesto promises did not get a mention. If the social welfare reform has disappeared then that has to be a good thing.

Amazingly there was nothing in this programme to try and turn around the faltering economy, or how to support our under-pressure public services. Brexit is of course looming large on the horizon but the UKs negotiation team has already been blown off course and nobody at the table is looking after Scotland’s interests.

Years of Tory infighting have left this government fractured and impotent. A speech that could have healed wounds, offered a hand of encouragement, provided guidance and support was instead bland and uninspiring.

All in all it was just another day at the office.