Greenock Telegraph [24/05/2018]

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Gambling Policy

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.

 

Westminster diary w/b 14th May

Monday 

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.  

Tuesday 

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.  

Wednesday  

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. 

Thursday 

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.  

Friday 

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.

 

Fixed Odds Betting Terminals

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.

 

Westminster Brexit power grab

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.

 

Further Spending on Trident

The Tory Defence Secretary is today announcing a £1.5bn contract with BAE systems for a new Astute hunter killer submarine as well as contracts worth £960 million for the Dreadnought submarine programme. 

This comes following the House of Common’s public accounts committee’s criticism last week that the Ministry of Defence spending plans were simply “not realistic” and could be more than

With the escalating cost of renewing Trident increasing to over £200 billion, it’s clear this would be a wasteful and reckless spend on a weapons programme which is opposed by the overwhelming majority of parliamentarians in Scotland. 

The money would be far better dispersed via the devolved parliaments which would allow them to target education, health and transport rather than killing innocent men, women and children.                                                                                                               

 

The UK is putting £2.5 billion into its nuclear submarine programme

‘Delivering the defence estate’ – report published by National Audit Office

BBC report – ‘Run-down MoD estate threat to defence, says audit watchdog’

 

Tele column – 11th May 2018

The casework and correspondence a Member of Parliament receives from constituents is varied and a lot of the time my office will signpost people to the relevant organisation or service for support. Therefore, I welcome the recent launch of two projects, in Inverclyde, which will offer advice and support for people looking to get into work and also assist those with financial needs.

The first project, Fair Start Scotland is a new service which will aim to help at least 38,000 people further removed from the labour market. Fair Start Scotland is being delivered collaboratively across a range of private, public and third sector delivery partners including a range of specialist providers to ensure people receive the right type of support for them. The project is funded by the Scottish Government with Scottish Ministers committing an additional £20m in each year of Parliament – committing up to £96 million overall. For more information please contact 0300 303 3381 or visit www.thewisegroup.co.uk/fairstart.

Secondly, the Inverclyde Delivering Effective Advice and Support (I:DEAS) project is funded by the European Social Fund and the Big Lottery Fund. To take part in the service the individual needs to be one of the following – living in a workless household, low income household or single parent household. Through partners such as CVS Inverclyde, Inverclyde HSCP, Financial Fitness, Barnardos and others, each participant will have an allocated mentor who will assist them with improving their finances and ensuring they have the skills to be able to continue with positive finances through their life. For more information please contact IDEASreferral@thewisegroup.co.uk.

There is a lot of positive work taking place in Inverclyde and its vital people are aware of the services and support available. Therefore, my constituency office is happy to assist constituents with issues and signpost them to the relevant projects such as I:DEAS and Fair Start Scotland.

Written Question – Transport [09/05/2018]

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport, how much funding his Department has allocated to the introduction of autonomous vehicles onto UK roads. (139539)

Tabled on: 30 April 2018

Answer:
Jesse Norman:

Since 2014, the Department for Transport has allocated £10.85m to research and development relating to automated vehicles. This includes £7.75m of funding towards the 4 Cities Driverless Cars project, and £3.1m towards the lorry platooning trials on the Strategic Road Network.

Overall, the Government is investing over £250m in connected and autonomous vehicle technologies, up to 2021, with the remainder coming through the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy. This is being match-funded by industry: its purpose is to create a world leading testing and development ecosystem in the UK. To date, this funding is supporting 73 collaborative R&D projects and 4 capital testing infrastructure investments.

The answer was submitted on 09 May 2018 at 16:58.