Greenock Telegraph [31/10/2018]

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UK Budget – afterthoughts

On Monday at Westminster we had the UK Budget. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond MP, spoke for just over an hour laying out his financial vision for the United Kingdom. The red book goes into more detail and is available immediately after he concludes speaking. Along with the red book there are a number of other conventions that accompany the budget. The speaker does not attend, instead the deputy speaker is in charge. The speaking order is always, Chancellor, Leader of the opposition, Chair of the finance committee, third party leader. During these speeches interventions are not sought. The latter convention was lost on the Scottish Tories and some of their more senior backbenchers who harangued Ian Blackford MP throughout his speech. Normally one would expect the Tory party whips to be moving among the green benches explaining the process and maintaining party discipline. They were noticeably absent on this occasion. It’s not the first time that an SNP speaker has been disrespected in the House of Commons and I am sure it won’t be the last. In a place that prides itself in its capacity for deference and civility it is extraordinary that it can have such a lack of self awareness when its wants to. But the lack of respect shown to the SNP is nothing compared to the appalling attitude that successive U.K. Governments have shown to the Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) campaign. Since 1997 Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition, Conservative and now Conservative propped up by DUP, have ignored the plight of these woman fighting against state pension inequality. Their protest in the public chamber was born out of understandable frustration and anger. Yet another budget and yet again they are dismissed by the financial mandarins. I was pleased to hear from the Chancellor that the U.K. Government would be moving away from the ruinous PFI schemes that Labours Gordon Brown inflicted on us. It’s good to see the U.K. Government follow the SNP Scottish Government’s lead after we changed the finance model in 2007. And in that vein it was also good to hear that business rates would be reduced, another SNP Scottish government initiative. The Tories may make great play of not listening to the SNP in the House of Commons but even they occasionally recognise good policy when they see it. If only they could see the error of their ways in rolling out the flawed Universal Credit scheme. Another budget comes and goes. A few shiny baubles have been produced and a few back benchers placated but the big picture remains one of Brexit chaos and a Conservative party at war with itself. They shout at the SNP opposition at Westminster and the SNP government at Holyrood but the real anger and bitterness, the true vitriol and venom is reserved for their own inner party career defining battles and that does not serve any of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom well.

UK Budget

After a decade, Tory austerity is far from over and we must see an end to cuts which by 2020 will have slashed Scotland’s budget by £2.6billion.  In 2019-20 alone, there will be a real-terms cuts of £410 million. 

Universal Credit could cost some households up to £2400 a year and the Child Poverty Action Group estimate that a single parent with a disabled child is set to lose £10,000 this decade.

There was nothing in the Chancellor’s speech to support the 5,700 Inverclyde women affected by state pension inequality or the over 1,000 people who’ve been affected by the Equitable Life scandal.

This budget gives the people of Scotland face a choice of two stark futures – an isolated UK or a prosperous Scotland in the EU.

 

Written question – Defence [29/10/2018]

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, what estimate his Department has made of (a) civilian casualties, (b) damage to property, community facilities and infrastructure by RAF strikes in Mosul in 2016-17. (180811)

Tabled on: 17 October 2018

Answer:
Mark Lancaster:

The RAF does everything it can to minimise the risk to human life and to civilian infrastructure from UK strikes, through our rigorous targeting processes and the professionalism of the RAF crews. All RAF weapons are deployed in strict accordance with the Law of Armed Conflict and rigorous Rules of Engagement.

Thus all strikes we carried out in Mosul were designed to cause the minimum amount of damage, proportionate to the task of clearing the city of the terrorist threat posed by Daesh.

Given the ruthless and inhumane behaviour of Daesh, we must accept that the risk of inadvertent civilian casualties is ever present. We have not seen any evidence that we caused civilian casualties during the campaign in Mosul.

The answer was submitted on 29 Oct 2018 at 16:55.

 

Westminster diary w/b 22nd October

Monday

I was briefed by a company that develop innovative and long acting medicines for the treatment of severe and chronic pain, cancer and endocrine disorders. Naturally they are now interested in the potential United Kingdom market for medical cannabis. I am talking at an opioid conference soon and so their position is interesting. I had a question on the papers for defence and took the opportunity to ask about the private firms that are providing increasing services to the armed forces but are failing to do the job specified. The Select Committee for Transport took evidence from the Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling MP. The focus was the timetable roll out last May that caused mayhem on the east coast of England line. We also took evidence from senior management at the Office of Road and Rail, Industry Readiness Board and Govia Thameslink Railway. Between them they still seem to be pushing the problem around. December’s planned changes should be interesting.

Tuesday

The Select Committee for Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs was a hard slog through the technical aspects of the House of Commons procedure. I did get the feeling that some committee members were using the extremely well versed witnesses as free legal advice to be used somewhere down the Brexit line. I led in a drugs policy debate in Westminster Hall. It was well subscribed and apart from the Scottish Tories doing their usual SNPBAD it was a good debate. That was until the Minister allocated by the Home Office opened her speech by saying she had to recuse herself from talking about cannabis due to her husband’s business interests. What is the point of sending someone to reply to speeches on drugs if that person can’t talk about cannabis. Having said that I asked the Minister five questions on other drug related matters and she didn’t answer them either. After the debate I attended a briefing from the House of Commons library on the roll out of Universal Credit. Inverclyde has had full roll out since November 2016 but we now face a migration period of the remaining people who are not on it yet. Despite the hard work and dedication of our local jobcentre I expect this next stage to be difficult for many.

Wednesday

I talked to the good folk from the ‘faces and voices of recovery’. They are a small but highly thought of organisation that has developed some very good ideas around alcohol and drug recovery. I attended a briefing and question and answer session with the Right Honourable Chloe Smith MP. This session was designed to encourage better intergovernmental relations. Pity it’s taken this long before someone at Westminster realised they need to work better with the devolved administrations. It was Welsh Questions in the chamber and I went to hear the minister’s answers to questions around the shared prosperity fund. I was not convinced. There is a real danger that money currently spent in Wales and Scotland by the EU will go elsewhere. PMQs was a non-event except for Ian Blackford who questioned the U.K. continued arms deals with Saudi Arabia. The recent murder of the respected Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is the latest in a line of atrocities perpetrated by the Saudis. We need to use whatever diplomatic or financial force we have end these atrocities. The SNP finance and economics group was interesting and was quickly followed by the All-party Parliamentary kidney group. The current focus of the group is to encourage live donors. Living donors currently represent 40% of donors. I finished my day with a visit to the onshore wind generation forum. Lots has been done and there is still a lot we can do.

Thursday

I was on the order paper again and eventually (after 50 minutes) got my question to the Minister for exiting the European Union. We need to know what the U.K. is doing during Brexit negotiations regarding the single market and customs union. I had another delighted legislation committee. More EU law being converted to U.K. laws. I went to the launch of UK Parliament Week. This is always well organised and I like it as it encourages people to engage with democracy. I am pleased that some local schools are getting involved. I was the SNP lead on the last debate of the day on inclusive transport. Councillor Jim McLeod fed into my speech and I was delighted to acknowledge that in the House. Jim has worked tirelessly on the subject for years. I caught the 19:30 flight home.

Friday

I visited Inverclyde Academy to see the restored war memorial. I met with Craig Berry from the Common Weal to discuss automation and I met with the young folk at I-zone to talk about the young people as ambassadors.

Tele column 26th October 2018

The weather experts are predicting a winter of discontent. Discontent, that is, for those of us who enjoy the first day of snow and then quickly get fed up with the disruption and increased fuel bills. Unlike Richard the 3rd we can’t rely on the son of York to brighten our winter. But we do have places we can turn to.

The Scottish Government, through Ready Scotland, have created a website where you can find out more on preparing for and managing disruption to our daily lives. This includes advice on how to create an emergency household plan and prepare an emergency kit. For further information please visit www.readyscotland.org.

Alongside this, the Energy Saving Trust Scotland website provide you with free, expert and impartial advice. Their website allows you to complete a home energy check as well as find out what grants or loans may be available for support at home. Simply visit www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/scotland or call Home Energy Scotland on 0808 808 2282.

Inverclyde Council recently announced they are planning to introduce a fleet of 4×4 vehicles to beat the bad weather this winter. Also, the local authority have published their Winter Maintenance Documents which can be viewed on their website, alongside a link to grit bin locations and an advice leaflet, provided by Transport Scotland, on clearing paths and driveways.

Finally, it also helps to be a good neighbour and keep an eye on each other, especially if you have an elderly or infirmed neighbour. Wrap up warm, take care and remember its only 146 days until spring.