Westminster diary w/b 11th December


I utilised the morning to answer emails and perform more general administrative tasks. The lunch time flight gets me to London in good time for my select committee on transport. The evidence session revolves around best practice to encourage commuters to cycle and walk. While recreational cycling is on the increase it is harder to get people to cycle or walk to work. Personally it has always been the issues around changing clothes and showering that have stopped me. To my great surprise the citizens of countries with similar climates to the United Kingdom commute by bike in greater numbers than we do. So that’s my argument destroyed. In the evening I attended a briefing on the European Union withdrawal process.  


My first event is the select committee on public administration and the constitution. We are currently putting together a report on the working of the PHSO (Public Health Service Ombudsman). When people believe they have been let down by the health service it’s usually because a loved one has died or not received the treatment they feel was appropriate. This makes such cases emotionally charged. We took evidence from the two most senior people in the PHSO and the public gallery was full. Hopefully we are moving towards a more open and approachable service and the evidence provided did suggest that but emotions did, understandably, come to the fore and the public gallery, very unusually, did raise their voices in discontent. In the evening we had four votes on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, the last one was at 22:04. 


This was always going to be an interesting day. Some Conservatives had put down an amendment to the withdrawal bill (amendment seven). For this amendment to go through it needed to attract support from Labour, Liberal Democrats and SNP. All day people were hurrying back and forward trying to add up the numbers and most importantly trying to assess how many Conservatives would rebel and back the amendment. The amendment was designed to give parliament a greater say in leaving the European Union. By 19:00 it was clear that the vote was going to be close and that’s how it turned out with 309 votes for the amendment and 305 against. The government lost that vote despite the support of ten DUP members and two Labour members because twelve Conservatives rebelled. There were two further votes at 21:00 which meant my working day finished at 21:28.


The plan was to get an early flight up the road and work in the constituency. But today of all days my flight is delayed and delayed and delayed. I spend the day, until mid-afternoon, researching and writing. Airports are not the ideal place for this despite providing the three main ingredients required, wi-fi, charging points and coffee. As the flights stack up, space is at a premium, so I am glad when we finally take off. Such are the first world problems that beset today’s commuters.  


I spent today doing constituency work and was delighted to be told that I was successful in ‘the shuffle’ and have a question to the prime minister next Wednesday.


Broadband Report

I welcome the news from Ofcom that more consumers in Inverclyde are receiving faster broadband speeds.  The quality of the product being provided is continuing to improve and I look forward to further developments.

This year’s report outlines progress on the availability and take-up of broadband and mobile services, which are crucial to people’s personal and working lives.  The average download speed in Inverclyde has increased to 62.1(Mbit/s) from a previous 52.3 (Mb/s).  The combined superfast and ultra-fast broadband availability in Inverclyde is now 93% from a previous 86.3%

This comes on the welcome announcement during the Scottish Budget that every home and business will have access to superfast broadband by 2021, as a result of a £600 million investment.


Young People & Gambling Statistics

It’s deeply worrying to learn that young people in Scotland are experiencing gambling in situations where the risks are not always explained.  Only last week, the GambleAware conference highlighted that over half a million in the UK are gambling each week.

The smart-phone generation have ready access to gambling, something which has not previously been available and the statistics from the Gambling Commission highlights that 11% of 11-16 year olds have played free gambling-style social games online. 

Loot boxes within computer games, such as Star Wars Battlefront, is increasing the opportunities for young people to inadvertently gamble and we must provide more education on the dangers of gaming and gambling.  Therefore, my office has contacted Inverclyde HSCP to make them aware of this information.


Written Question – Treasury [12/12/2017]

HM Treasury has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (117218):

To ask Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, what discussions his Department has had with the Financial Conduct Authority about the introduction of a duty of care for the banking sector to support people with cancer. (117218)

Tabled on: 04 December 2017

Stephen Barclay:

The government believes that the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), as the UK’s independent conduct regulator for the financial services industry, is best placed to evaluate the merits of a duty of care for financial services providers. We therefore welcome the FCA’s commitment to publish a Discussion Paper on the subject, which the FCA plans to publish after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

The answer was submitted on 12 Dec 2017 at 14:50.


Westminster diary w/b 4th December


An early start and at the airport for the 7:20. It’s a long day in the chamber debating the European Union (withdrawal) bill. Today the focus is on devolved powers which can only mean clause 11. I am fortunate that my select committee covers the constitution so I have been in the privileged position of talking to experts on this subject for some time. Scotland could benefit from 111 powers being repatriated upon Brexit but clause 11 removes that certainty and instead we need to go cap in hand to Westminster. I mean, who is best to make decisions for Scottish fishermen? The Scottish Government, apparently its Whitehall. I write my speech in the morning and bob dutifully until about ten pm (I think. It was a long day). The debate runs until after midnight, there are three votes (each take about 15 minutes). I stumble into my bed at 2am.


My alarm goes off at 5:15 and I catch the 7:30 to Glasgow. I have private engagement back home.


Duty calls and it’s another 5:15 start. I catch the 7:20 and I am at my desk in Westminster for 9:30. 

I am bobbing for questions during questions to the Secretary of State for Scotland. I don’t get taken. Given the fiasco of the previous few days regarding Brexit, the Irish border and the DUP I am expecting the prime minister to get a rough ride from the leader of the opposition at Prime Ministers Questions. I am wrong. The PM was strong and well in command of her brief. Jeremy Corbyn was all over the place. The PM got a very easy ride until Alan Brown MP pointed out since her 12 New Tories that represents Scottish seats had been elected Scotland had lost out on the equivalent of 256 million pounds for each one. She didn’t know where to go with that. I attend a meeting of the cross party group on drugs, alcohol and justice. It’s good to meet up with the folk from VolteFace and Addaction again. They always bring such clarity to proceedings. There are votes at night and the last one is at 20:30.  


I am speaking in the Fisheries debate at 15:00 so the morning is spent going over my speech and matching it up with the briefing papers that industry experts have sent me. I get a leisurely five minutes to speak and business finishes at 17:00. I get the 19:30 flight home.


I meet up with representatives of Peel Ports at 9am and we discuss their commitment to Inverclyde.

I have constituency meetings for the rest of the morning and I host the irrepressible WASPI women in my office in the afternoon. It’s been a long week and by close of day I am utterly exhausted. There will be no alarm clock ringing tomorrow morning (it’s still the best job in the world).


Tele column – 8th December 2017

The DUP is not just for Christmas

What about the DUP then? The phrase ‘tail wagging the dog’ springs to mind. The United Kingdom (that is of course the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) had actually managed to broker a deal with the European Union over the border between the north and south of Ireland. The difficulty that has occurred is that once the UK leaves the EU we don’t want a hard border between the north and south of Ireland. We want goods and people to be able to flow back and forward just as they currently do. This is one of the major stumbling blocks in the European Union withdrawal process and Theresa May’s team seemed to have cracked it. Much joy was consumed in the Westminster bars and smug Tories indulged in copious back slapping and self-congratulations, until someone told their compadres, the Democratic Unionists. And then the castle, built on sand, fell into the sea. It’s not just a billion pounds that the DUP have in their pocket, it’s the UK government and apparently the EU withdrawal negotiations too. To be honest I was surprised the border deal could be done at all but apparently, where there is a will there is a way. Remember that next time we are told an independent Scotland would need a hard border with England and that families would be torn apart, parents from their children and grandparents from their grandchildren. One by one the Scottish referendum lies are being exposed. And then, after midnight on Monday, to add injury to insult, the DUP trooped through the voting lobby four times with the UK government effectively killing off any amendments to clause eleven of the EU (withdrawal) bill that could have repatriated one hundred and eleven EU powers to Scotland. Instead they now lie with the UK government. This action shows a total disregard for the Scotland Act of 1998 (schedule 5) which defines the powers that are reserved to Westminster and that all others are devolved to Holyrood. Monday provided two great opportunities to move Brexit forward but by combining political naivety and DUPlicity both opportunities were lost.