The Representation of the People Act 1918 was a vital step towards the rights women have today, and the centenary of the Act is an incredibly important opportunity for us to reflect on how far we have come, thanks to the extreme bravery and sacrifice of the women who fought – and in some cases died – for equality.
In Scotland, the Scottish Government are committed to equality and have a gender-balanced cabinet, whilst also legislating for gender balance on public sector boards.
Whether it’s chatting about the issues over a cup of tea, or engaging with one of the many exciting events as part of this year’s UK Parliament Week, there are countless opportunities for schools and community groups across Inverclyde to get involved in this key anniversary.
We all know that there is still more to do, and I look forward to working with people across Inverclyde to ensure we create an even more equal society.
I was pleased to have the opportunity to host Cancer Research UK at Parliament in recognition of World Cancer Day.
Cancer is Scotland’s biggest killer and here in Inverclyde there are around 6,800 cancer cases per year. However, cancer death rates in Scotland have fallen by a fifth over the last twenty years.
I hope people will continue to support charities such as Cancer Research UK in their work to save lives.
I spent the morning in my constituency office catching up on casework and in the afternoon I attended the launch of the International Space School Educational Trust at the University of the West of Scotland. The event covered the work carried out in the space stations in particular the medical research. I was particularly pleased to see the work being done on tissue growth as it was a discussion I had with Kidney Research just the week before. I also got to meet a real life astronaut Mike Foale. Mike has spent more than 370 days in space and taken part in 6 space walks.
I pay the price for not traveling last night by starting the day at 4:45 am. The benefit is that I am on the estate in plenty of time for my select committee on public administration and the constitutional affairs. We took evidence from Lord Burns about the proposal to reduce the House of Lords to 600 members. The report contains no justification for 600 members and retains the 90 hereditary peers and 26 bishops. Needless to say it was an interesting exchange. I had to leave early as I had a question in the chamber to the minister for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy. I was on the papers as question 22, so I was never going to get taken. My question was around renewable energy so I stood on an earlier question on the same topic and got taken. The games we play! There was an urgent question on Personal Independent Payments (PIP), I stayed for that as I was speaking in a debate the following day and wanted to gauge the minister’s commitment to current policy. In the evening I attended the Parliamentary Space Committee winter reception. It was not as engaging as Monday’s event at UWS.
I spoke in the PIP debate. It was very well attended and almost everyone attacked the callous process currently in place. Everyone except the Scottish Tories that came to heckle and intervene and then left without attempting to add anything productive to the debate. This is a routine they have fallen into and even their English colleagues are getting a bit fed up with their constant negativity. I attended a drop in session with Centrica revolving round business competitiveness in Inverclyde. Prime Minister’s Question time was bereft of the Prime Minister and therefore the leader of the opposition. This gave David Lidington and Emily Thornberry an opportunity to shine. They didn’t. What was very interesting was a discussion with representatives from the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. The Baltic and Nordic states can be great friends and trading partners to Scotland. It was a pleasure to listen to their aspirations for their own small Northern Europe countries. A busy day continued with a private briefing session from John Manzoni, chief executive of the civil service and permanent secretary at the cabinet office, about the collapse of Carillion. I finished the day with an evening reception organised by Citizens Advice Scotland.
It was my privilege to host and sponsor an event for World Cancer Day (Sunday 4th February). Cancer research has major concerns over funding and also sharing research post Brexit. Sorting out the laws around drug regulation has to be a priority for the negotiation team. This echoes information I received from Kidney Research recently. Life sciences are hugely important, not just for jobs but for the future diagnosis and treatment of many major illnesses.
Was a very busy day with constituency surgeries and a meeting with the Scottish Drugs Forum regarding the use and availability of Naloxone.
To boldly go…
Those of you that have been paying attention will have noticed that I have a healthy interest in space and in particular the Apollo missions. I remember as a kid trying and possibly failing to explain to my Gran why space travel was important and how it would benefit humankind (to be honest in the sixties we said mankind, we were less politically correct). Her reluctance to embrace it was well founded in common sense. Why spend money on going to the moon when we could spend it on issues that matter on Earth. Or as Gill Scott Heron the black American soul and jazz poet wrote “No hot water, no toilets, no lights but Whitey’s on the moon.” I admit I was just a little star struck by rockets and science fiction but ultimately, was I right?
We gained satellites and therefore GPS and telecommunications networks the likes of which we never had before. Artificial limbs are being developed based in robot technology developed by NASA. Water purification systems developed to provide astronauts with clean water are now used in third world countries. We have developed, materials, instruments, manufacturing techniques and foods. And never to be forgotten or underestimated, international collaboration between the USA, Europe, Russia and China.
But, in the end, I think what makes space so inviting is that it’s all about taking on challenges and coming up with solutions. If we could bottle that mentality and focus it on Earth we could eradicate poverty, provide food, water and shelter for everyone on this planet. We could harness the energy from clean renewable energy and decontaminate what we have already poisoned. To do that we would need to start each new project with a blank piece of paper and not be tied to the current systems and processes that perpetuate the problems. Space may be the final frontier but the lessons we learn there must bear fruit on Mother Earth if any of it is going to make sense. Live long and prosper.
Ronnie Cowan MP
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie. I shall keep my remarks short, out of respect to the other Members who want to speak. I congratulate the hon. Member for North West Durham (Laura Pidcock) on securing the debate, which is of particular importance to my constituents. I have to say that I am slightly disappointed at the state of the two Scottish Conservative Members who turned up to the debate with a clear intention to disrupt the opening speaker. They have now left the Chamber and not stayed for the debate.
This is a timely debate, given the announcement that the UK Government are to review PIP claims, at a cost of £3.7 billion, by 2023. It is hardly a surprise that the High Court concluded that the Government’s changes to PIP were “blatantly discriminatory” to those with mental health conditions. That has been self-evident for some time. Of course, this disaster is of the Government’s own making: they tried to rip off the most vulnerable people in society and now we are all paying the price. The taxpayer will have to foot the bill for those mistakes. What is the human cost? Claimants pushed to the edge and living their lives on the brink. When will the Government get anything right first time?
This fiasco could have been avoided had the Government approached disability benefits with humanity and compassion, rather than—as usual—as a cost-saving exercise. By the time we get to 2023, the UK Government will have delivered the worst possible outcome: a more expensive system that delivers less for applicants. Other Members will be aware—we did not need a court case or reams of statistics to know—that the changes to PIP are having a negative impact; the many distressed constituents who have visited our constituency offices or surgeries in tears are testament to that. They have spoken of feeling humiliated and degraded. They have been made to justify their disability through an intrusive, pseudo-medical assessment conducted by officials working with ambiguous criteria.
Ultimately, we in Scotland can be relieved that PIP is one of 11 benefits being transferred to the Scottish Government. I have no doubt that that will mean a noticeable improvement in the way people are treated, as that Scottish Government seek to create a Scottish social security system that gives claimants dignity and respect. For example, they have announced that claimants in Scotland are to be given the right to have a supporter with them in meetings and assessments. That small but noteworthy change is proof that Scotland will do things differently. Perhaps this Tory Government could yet again learn from the Scottish Government’s example.
Given that the DWP will continue to manage Scottish PIP cases until 2020, will the Minister outline whether this crisis will affect the smooth transition of PIP to the Scottish Government?