This week is UK Parliament Week. The aim to encourage and increase, knowledge of and participation in the democratic process. A number of schools in Inverclyde have been taking part and so my first event of the week was to visit Inverclyde Academy. The pupils quizzed me on a range of subjects including immigration, Universal Credit and children’s rights. I caught the midday flight to London and was in time to attend a Westminster Hall debate. It was a petitions debate in response to two public petitions on the proposal for a second Scottish Independence referendum. As you would expect it was heavily attended by MPs that represent Scottish constituencies. Others were caught up in select committees or chamber business but it was still well attended and lively affair. I am continually disappointed that unionists MPs reasoning mostly revolves around their belief that Scotland isn’t very good and they don’t like the SNP. I would have hoped the debate would have focused more on their perceived benefits of being in the union, like being in the European Union.
The Select Committee for public administration and the constitution took evidence from the United Kingdom Statistics Authority. Part of their role is to scrutinise statistics that organisations produce so as they are accurate and can be quoted. They can intervene when politicians misuse statistics. The most recent example was when they took issue with the Secretary of State for Foreign Office, Boris Johnson over his claim that voting to leave the European Union would return £350 million pounds a week to the NHS. A figure which has been widely discredited. We then took evidence in private from senior civil servants regarding their training programmes. I left early to attend the urgent debate in the House of Commons on tax avoidance and evasion. It was galling to listen to some Conservative MPs defend tax avoidance because it was legal and completely ignore that it is immoral. Whether it be corporations or individuals we all have a duty to pay into a system that provides, health care, education, armed forces and the infrastructure of our society as we all benefit from them. This debate was followed by the first day of debating the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. Votes continue long into the evening and I get home at ten to midnight.
The day starts with a 9am debate on a report recently compiled by the Lords Speaker’s committee on the reform of the House of Lords. Even this early the phrase turkeys voting for Christmas springs to mind. The proposal is for second unelected chamber of 600 members including 92 hereditary peers and 26 spiritual. Naturally, as I don’t live in the 18th century, I argued against this outcome. Prime Ministers Question time saw an unusually upbeat Prime Minister swipe away weak questioning from Mr Corbyn. She was evasive over a question from the SNP over the vat that police Scotland pay. We have been pursuing this for some time and shall continue to do so. I met with representatives of the multiple sclerosis society to discuss cannabis as a medicinal product. I had a meeting with narcotics anonymous and heard powerful testimony about addiction. I attended a briefing meeting from ‘missing people’ they work to reunite people who have gone missing with their family, friends and communities. A staggering 40,000 people go missing in Scotland each year. Many for a few hours or a day, some for much longer. I attended the All Party Parliamentary Group on Catalonia. Recent events in Catalonia have not shown up the Madrid Government in a good light. It was interesting to be briefed on the on-going situation by an ex Catalonian MP. In the evening I attended an event hosted by Peel Ports. They own the ocean terminal in Greenock along with other coastal land including the dry dock at Inchgreen. They were there to shout about their £750 million pound investment in Liverpool. I was there to take them to task over Inchgreen being moth balled for years when it could be generating jobs for the local community. Another late night.
At 9am I chaired the ‘Festival of social science’ discussion on Basic Income. It was well attended and the audience were extremely comfortable with the subject matter. I met with representatives of ‘Release’ and we discussed drug use and the legal implications of a heroin addiction treatment room. That was followed by a lively debate in the House of Commons chamber on the roll out of Universal Credit. I caught the 6 p.m. flight home.
To round off Parliament week I attended Port Glasgow High School and St Stephens High School to take part in question and answers sessions from the pupils. I met with senior council officers from the health and social care partnerships. As we have budget cuts forced on us from the failed Tory austerity programme, nobody is put under more pressure than HSCP. I finished off the week with constituency casework.