My first event was the All-party parliamentary group on prostitution. We were launching a report with the title ‘Behind Closed Doors’. It deals with the sexual exploitation of woman trafficked across Europe to be abused in pop up brothels. The event include a speech from an incredibly strong, articulate and brave woman named Mia De Faoite. Mia survived prostitution and campaigns to promote the Nordic model which will decriminalise the seller and prosecute the purchaser. It’s a model I fully support and it was good to have an SNP colleague, Ash Denham MSP, also speaking at the event. I nipped into the chamber for questions to work and pensions. Most of the afternoon was spent in the transport select committee discussing the intercity east coast rail franchise.
I started the day taking evidence from Andy Street, the mayor of the West Midlands, in front of the select committee for public administration and constitutional affairs. He wants more powers devolved to the West Midlands post Brexit and even pursued the idea of the West Midlands staying in the customs union. He recently wrote a damning article describing the potential pitfalls to the supply chain for manufacturers after we leave the E.U. I then left the parliamentary estate to chair an infrastructure event in the Royal Aeronautical Society. In the afternoon I was briefed by the Minister for Defence Procurement, Guto Bebb MP. His brief covers shipbuilding so it was a lively discussion. I then had a meeting with the Minister for Sport, Tracey Crouch. This was a follow up to the announcement that the UK Government intends to set the maximum stake on fixed odd betting terminals at £2. We are now discussing the timeline for implementation. My last event of the day was a reception for Heathrow Airport where my colleague Alan Brown MP spoke.
I had a meeting with Highways England with my transport select committee hat on. We discussed major infrastructure programmes including a new tunnel under the M25 to accommodate the proposed new runway at Heathrow. I spoke at an event discussing the future of gambling in the U.K. It was good to see that some bookmakers attended the event and are prepared to engage with a programme of socially responsible gambling. I then ventured into the House of Lords to speak at the All-Party Parliamentary Group on drug policy reform. The focus on medical cannabis is becoming so time consuming that we agree to support the setting up of an APPG solely dedicated to medical cannabis. This frees up the existing group to focus on drug related harm and support.
I stood for topical questions on Transport and asked the Secretary of State if the bidding process for the eastern railway franchise, which has failed three times now, would include a clause to consider prosperity weighting. This is an idea the ministry for defence is considering for future defence contracts. I covered this in my column in yesterday’s edition. I stayed in the chamber just long enough to respond to the public accounts select committee report on Carillion. It still disappoints me that after three profit warnings the U.K. Government were still awarding Carillion contracts worth billions of pounds. It would appear they had adopted the attitude that Carillion were too big to fail and therefore more tax payer money was used to attempt to offset a cash flow problem which eventually brought them down.
First day of recess. Most of the day was spent on constituency casework however I managed to squeeze in a catch up with the local DWP and a council group meeting to discuss local development plans.
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Sometimes events at Westminster lend themselves to cross pollination. The themes discussed, the risks and solutions identified, cross over from one event to another quite comfortably. This week I attended three events that fell into that category. The select committee for transport took evidence around the collapse of the franchise for the east coast railway line. This is the third time it has collapsed. I chaired an event at the Royal Aeronautical Society on behalf of the Westminster Energy, Environment & Transport Forum with the snappy title ‘Next steps for planning and delivering major infrastructure projects in the UK’. And I attended a briefing from the minister in charge of defence procurement. All three events touched on the complexities of providing the correct outcome at the right price but also highlighted the potential social benefit to the communities where companies were granted the contracts. This is known as the prosperity weighting. We would all expect any government contract to provide value for money. After all they are spending tax payer’s money. But that reminds me of the saying “he knows the price of everything but the value of nothing”. We can no longer say that the lowest bid is the best bid because it saves a few bob. Or that in the case of the east coast rail franchise the most profitable to the government is necessarily the best choice. Taking into consideration the prosperity weighting allows companies to highlight the number of jobs created, the benefit to the local community, the strengthening of the supply chain and all these factors should be just as important as the cost. All these things add to the value. Too often we see a project and all we hear is that it cost so many millions but the value to the community is often far greater than pounds and pence.
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Gambling related harm is an issue which rightly continues to receive more attention and it’s vital the UK Government continue to listen to the many people, such as Dr Henrietta Bowden Jones and organisations who are highlighting how gambling is becoming more prevalent, especially with young people.
The Campaign for Fairer Gambling estimate that in Inverclyde, alone, cash inserted into FOBTs in 2016 was £11,527,602. These figures put into perspective the challenges we face in Inverclyde when it comes to gambling.
During the meeting with the Minister, I raised the link between young people and gambling, alongside the need for a statutory levy on bookmakers to fund GambleAware and their activities to tackle gambling related harm.
Hopefully, this can be a platform to implement more legislation that can help those affected by gambling and those who may become problem gamblers.
This was my first day back at Westminster since the death of my partner, Linda, and it was always going to be difficult. I prepared for it, almost like a first day at school. Shining my shoes, laying out clothes and packing a bag the night before. Fortunately it was a day short on confrontation and spent listening and learning instead. I met with Marc Etches from Gamble Aware to talk about a range of ways to address gambling related harm, including a statutory levy on bookmakers and restricting advertising target audiences. The Select Committee on Transport took evidence on ‘Mobility as a Service’. MaaS is designed to join up different methods of transport to allow a person to utilise a combination of bike, car, bus, ferry and train to plan their journeys with a central payment method along the line of the system currently available in Helsinki. I attended a debate in the chamber on the effect of Brexit on haulage permits and trailer regulations.
I dropped in on an event organised to highlight Scotland’s Declaration on Human Rights. This event highlights it is 70th years since the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Select Committee on Public Administration and the Constitution took evidence on the methodology and scrutiny behind the pre-appointment process within Whitehall. In the chamber there was an urgent question on the murder of civilians in Palestine and a vote on the recommendations from the Leveson inquiry.
Started with oral questions to the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the cabinet office. I bobbed for a question. I was going to ask him to explain how he claimed to be preserving the integrity of the United Kingdom while he refused to acknowledge the Scottish Parliament vote that was supported by all parties except the Tories, not to a pass a legislative consent motion regarding Brexit. But as I was not selected, we shall never know. In the afternoon I attended an extremely interesting event that explained how the island of Orkney has become a centre for excellence for renewable energy. Orkney has overcome many obstacles to achieve this but they used an island mentality of getting on with the job and recognising the community value that their hard work has brought to fruition. I sat in on the latest Brexit debate on customs. It’s truly frightening how poorly prepared the United Kingdom is for leaving the European Union and it won’t be cabinet ministers that suffer it will be the ordinary citizens of the entire U.K. When so many manufacturing companies work with the ‘just in time’ process that means any interruption to their supply chain will grind production to a halt, we need to get customs regulations agreed across the European Union now.
I had been given the heads up that the U.K. Government were going to announce a change to the betting limits on fixed odd betting terminals (FOBTs) so I was planning on being in the chamber to hear the news and possibly talk to the statement. As it turned out I was given the privilege to respond from the front benches by the SNP. This change to set the maximum bet at £2 per spin is extremely welcome and it was achieved by cross party cooperation. I worked hand in glove with Carolyn Harris (Labour) and Ian Duncan Smith (Conservative) to get this through and my hope is that we can continue to work together to reform gambling policy and improve the support provided for those affected by gambling related harm. I bumped into Gordon Brown (ex-Labour Prime Minister) at the airport. I was going to remind him that he said in April 2015 that Labour would never lose Inverclyde to the SNP but the poor man looked miserable enough without me annoying him, that and the fact he had two armed guards at his side.
I have meetings with West College, a visit to the site of the new demolished Inverkip power station and meetings with constituents. And finally can I just thank everyone who has helped and supported me during a most difficult time, especially my office team, my friends and my family. Love and respect.
Today, the UK Government finally announced its findings to the Consultation on proposals for changes to Gaming Machines and Social Responsibility Measures. A consultation which launched back in October 2017, it has taken the government over 6 months to respond and highlight their actions on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs).
However, I welcome the announcement by the UK Government to reduce the maximum unit stake on FOBTs to £2 per spin. This is something I have strongly campaigned for in my role as vice-chair of the All-party parliamentary group on FOBTs alongside other MP’s such as Carolyn Harris and Iain Duncan Smith. I would like to put on record my praise for the Minister for Sport, Tracey Crouch MP for her action on this issue and her acknowledgment of the harm these machines can do.
I have heard numerous testimonies and stories from individuals, who lives have been ruined by these machines. This is why Carolyn Harris MP (Chair of the APPG on FOBTS) Iain Duncan Smith MP and I have wrote numerous letters to the UK Government to highlight our concerns and urge the Government to reduce the maximum unit stake on FOBTs to £2. The issue of gambling related harm was too great for any Government department to block a reduction on the unit stake on FOBTs to £2. Politicians from across the chamber recognise this and thankfully the Government now too.
The wider issue of gambling related harm has rightly received more coverage as we learn the true extend of problem gambling. One of the emerging challenges I believe, and which requires further action, is the link between young people and gambling. Over half a million children are gambling per week and according to Gambling Commission statistics, for 2017, 0.9% of 11-16 year olds are problem gamblers, 1.3% are ‘at-risk’ gamblers and 15.5% are non-problem gamblers. These are startling figures and demonstrates the problem we face. The advances in technology mean young people are able to use smartphones to download betting apps and open accounts with little verification checks. Alongside this, it’s clear that bookmakers have been targeting their online advertising, using browser history and cookies, at young people. A welcome step in addressing these concerns was during the two day GambleAware conference, which took place in December 2017, and focused on young people and gambling. The conference highlighted how the internet has become a new way for young people to gamble, as access is more readily available and the appeal, through loot box games, is increasing. I believe an important factor in addressing gambling related harm in young people is to educate parents of the dangers of problem gambling and how easy it is for their children to access gambling. As was mentioned at the conference, problem gambling is a public health concern. This is why I welcome the work being undertaken in collaboration between GambleAware and the Royal Society for Public Health on young people and gambling.
Also, another area which I believe will assist in promoting social responsibility and safeguarding vulnerable groups is for the introduction of a compulsory levy for bookmakers to fund GambleAware and their activities to tackle gambling related harm. Currently, bookmakers contribute just 0.01% of their profits to support research into gambling related harm, which is an outrage and highlights their mind-set when it comes to putting profits before people. I believe they are doing a complete disservice to punters and reneging on their duty to ensure responsible gambling and also addressing gambling related harm. My views are somewhat echoed by the Minister for Sport and Civil Society, Tracey Crouch MP, who is on record as saying “gambling operators should step up on funding for research, education and treatment. If not, government will consider other options, including introducing a mandatory levy on gambling operators. We believe this approach is the necessary action required to protect people and wider communities, whilst also making sure those experiencing harm receive the help they need.” This is something which I fully support.
Gambling related harm is an issue which rightly continues to receive more attention and it’s vital the Government continue to listen to the many people and organisations who are highlighting how FOBTs, in particular, are having a detrimental effect on society. It’s time further action on the areas I’ve outlined above are taken to help both those who have been affected by gambling and to also prevent others who may become problem gamblers.
The Scottish Parliament has refused to give its consent to the UK’s main piece of Brexit legislation.
The UK Government must not perform a power grab where powers over devolved competencies are taken away from Scotland. Therefore, repatriated EU powers must return to the Scottish Parliament in areas where it is wholly or partly responsible such as agriculture and fisheries.
Scotland’s interests are best protected by remaining in the Single Market and Customs Union. This is something I will continue to raise at Westminster alongside my colleagues.