PACAC Report – Devolution and Brexit

Today, the cross-party Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC), of which I am the only Scottish member, published a report highly critical of the UK Government’s attitude and engagement towards Scottish devolution.

Some of the key findings of the report include:

  • The UK Government does not understand devolution and takes little account of the realities of devolved power.
  • Inter-Governmental relationships within the UK are in need of overhaul and it would be preferable to have them established in law.
  • The UK Government’s lack of consultation with the Scottish Government over Brexit was “highly regrettable”.
  • The Scotland Office may no longer be necessary and at the very least it may need reformed.

In my view the report highlights a lack of trust, confidence and understanding within the UK Government. The UK Government should have approached the devolved parliaments immediately after the vote to leave the European Union and initiated a grown up conversation that allowed for input and constructive criticism. Unfortunately they did not engage with the Scottish Parliament in a respectful or meaningful way.

The evidence collected for this report also showed that when confronted with valid concerns, the UK Government simply retreated into an internalised and disjointed discussion within their own government.

It is concerning that despite the Scottish Parliament’s prominent role within Scottish society over the past 20 years, the UK Government still does not understand devolution.

A full copy of the report can be found [here].

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Westminster diary w/b 23rd July

Monday

The main business of the day was a debate on strengthening the union. You couldn’t make this stuff up. In the previous weeks and months Westminster has ridden rough over the devolution settlement with absolutely no regard for the will of the people of Scotland. They failed to provide chamber time to debate the devolution aspects of the EU Withdrawal Bill but now they want to debate the strength of the union. It was a bun fight with Tory after Tory talking down Scotland and Labour resurrecting all the old myths around how Thatcher came to power. Blaming the SNP for their infighting and ineptitude in standing up for Scotland. Nothing has really changed. I had a catch up with Baroness Meacher regarding medical cannabis. Molly is one of those peers who give the House of Lords a good name. She is a cross bencher with a solid career in social work and a political conscience. In the evening I attended a showing o documentary on medical cannabis for children with cancer. It is called ‘weed the people’ and will be out Netflix in the Autumn. I returned to the chamber for the adjournment debate on ‘mamba’. I was concerned it was going to be an excuse to call for tougher sentencing and it was. I put the case for education and support.

Tuesday

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee met to finalise our latest report around Brexit. It is published next Tuesday. We then took evidence in public on referendums. I had to leave before the end as I had a question on the order paper for the Secretary of State for health and social care. I asked the U.K. government would make drug policy reform a health based issue rather than an issue for the home office as it is currently. The basis for my question was the latest statistics that show the U.K. has 64 deaths per million because of drug related harm while Portugal has 3 per million. Portugal handed over its drug policy to their health department years ago. My last business in the house before summer recess was supposed to be a debate on gambling advertising aimed at children but unfortunately the debate was withdrawn. So instead my summary of the cost of the Wyfla nuclear power station was my last contribution.

Wednesday

First day of recess. Catch up with casework and then a trip to visit CVS in Cathcart Street. I was there to learn about the programme that has community link workers working in GP surgeries. It is a methodology that elsewhere has helped reduce the burden on GPS and given valuable support to patients too. It’s early days in inverclyde but all the signs are good. In the afternoon I met with Scottish Enterprise to learn about their investment levels in the area and their plans for the future.

Thursday

Along with my caseworkers I met with representatives of Inverclyde Council to discuss the Scottish Welfare Fund and in particular discretionary payments. I visited a constituent at home to better understand the problems he has encountered with anti-social behaviour from youths in the area and I had visits to two of the excellent organisations we have locally that support children and young adults with autism. Both the Inverclyde A-team and Reach for Autism do a tremendous job and could always benefit from financial support.

Friday

I had a meeting with Taylor Wimpey regarding their proposals to build houses at Planetreeyetts in Kilmacolm and the rest of the day was consumed by casework. During recess I shall be meeting up with as many companies and organisations as I can but there will always be time to talk and listen to individuals that want to bring their cases to my office.

Written question – Finance [26/07/2018]

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, what infrastructure projects were built in (a) 2017 and (b) 2008 using Private Finance 2; and how much funding there was for each such project. (166220)

Tabled on: 19 July 2018

Answer:
Robert Jenrick:

In 2017 the North West, Yorkshire and Midlands batches of the Priority School Building Programme (PSBP) and the Midland Metropolitan Hospital were in construction and using Private Finance 2 (PF2). In 2018 the Yorkshire batch of the PSBP and the Midland Metropolitan Hospital were in construction using PF2. No specific funding was made available by HM Treasury for these projects. They were funded from general departmental resources.

Full details of all PFI and PF2 projects can be found at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/private-finance-initiative-and-private-finance-2-projects-2017-summary-data

The answer was submitted on 26 Jul 2018 at 10:06.

 

Medical cannabis

I welcome the announcement from the Home Secretary that medical cannabis under prescription is to be placed in Schedule 2 and available from the Autumn. 

As I’ve previously said, it’s time we reappraised our attitude to cannabis and moved forward utilising a fact based strategy that does not harm society but benefits it.

The Home Office have said they will develop additional frameworks and clinical guidelines to ensure that cannabis-derived medicinal products can be prescribed safely to patients.  This must happen at pace to ensure those who require medical cannabis can access it in a timely manner.

I will be looking over the detail of the Home Secretary’s announcement to ascertain what this means in practice. 

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/cannabis-derived-medicinal-products-to-be-made-available-on-prescription

 

Type 31e frigates

The announcement by the Ministry of Defence of delays to building the Type 31e frigates is a complete and utter shambles.  To sneak this announcement out on the last day of parliament before the Summer recess highlights how this government is failing in its responsibilities and shying away from proper scrutiny. 

This has deeply serious consequences for our naval defence capabilities and the future of the shipbuilding across the UK and including here in Inverclyde.  I will be meeting with representatives of Ferguson Marine to discuss the UK Government announcement and what this means for shipbuilding on the lower Clyde.

 

Westminster diary w/b 16th July

Monday 

I met with representatives of the National AIDS Trust and we discussed the increased numbers of drug related deaths and within that AIDS related deaths in Glasgow and Scotland. One of the major reasons for the increase is the lack of safe drug consumption rooms. While needle exchanges are closing, more people are sharing needles and HIV along with Hepatitis C is spreading. The U.K. Government could change this but actually choose not to. I stood for questions to BEIS and asked if the U.K. Government would follow the Scottish Government’s lead and provide more attractive business rates to help stimulate business. I wasn’t alone in pursuing this line of enquiry but the short answer is that they won’t. We voted long into the night and we watched the Conservative and Unionist Party tie itself in knots as their MPs were threatened and bullied into backing Brexit amendments that they do not support.

Tuesday  

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Fixed Odds Betting Terminals met to decide our strategy to try and force the U.K. Government to implement the £2 maximum spin that they have committed to, next April and not later as they wish to. We then took evidence from people who had lost fortunes on FOBTs and parents of young men that had committed suicide after developing an addiction to these machines. No Minister from the treasury has ever listened to these people. This isn’t about taking tax from FOBTs, this is about reducing gambling related harm. The Treasury should put its calculator in its pocket and do the decent thing. I met with CapBal who are a company that are installing three battery storage devices in Inverclyde. An interesting project with potential for engaging in other renewable projects. 

Wednesday  

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on drug policy reform met for our AGM and plan the year ahead. I bobbed up and down at Prime Minister’s Questions to try and get in in the back of Alison Thewliss question about lack of U.K. Government support for safe Drug Consumption Rooms. But I didn’t get picked. Still it was good physiotherapy for my knees. I dropped in on the Marine Energy Showcase. It’s always refreshing to mingle with people who see the possibilities of renewable energy and work so hard to maximise its potential. The APPG for Medical Cannabis under Prescription provided a drop in session for other MPs and staff to become better informed in the debate. That was followed by a reception organised by the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) for those attending a drug policy reform event at Chatham House the following day. 

Thursday 

Today was one of those days when it is an absolute joy to be an MP. I spent the day listening and talking to parliamentarians from all over Europe and the USA to learn about their experiences of drugs, medical cannabis and psychoactive substances.

So many European countries are so far ahead of the U.K. and the 32 US states that have medical cannabis all have different approaches. We can learn and we can make this happen.

Friday 

Started with watching the Victoria Derbyshire Show on BBC where the discussion was on medical cannabis. I then had a catch up with Inverclyde Council officers and then up to Glasgow for a meeting with Robin McAlpine of the Common Weal. I attended a Basic Income workshop and at in the evening I attended a talk by Karl Wilderquist, organised by the RSA. My faithful reader will be familiar with Karl as I have previously heard him talk at the RSA in London.

 

ESA underpayments

During an Urgent Question in the House of Commons the Minister for Disabled People indicated that an error had resulted in some claimants being underpaid employment and support allowance between 2011 and 2014 while their claims were being converted from incapacity benefit, a legacy disability payment. 

The UK Government estimate that 70,000 people were affected.

This is another shambles from the Department for Work and Pensions which will have affected my constituents.  To learn that at least 70,000 people have been underpaid on their ESA claim is startling. 

It comes on the back of the National Audit Office (NAO) indicating that Universal Credit has many problems.  Alongside the NAO writing to the Secretary of State because she misled parliament when saying the rollout of Universal Credit should be sped up. 

This is a department going from one crisis to another and with this it’s leaving people in Inverclyde who claim welfare support worse off.  It’s time the UK Government got their house in order. 

Urgent Question on ESA underpayments –  http://bit.ly/2O2hcDg