The big event of the day was of course the UK Budget. In just over an hour the Chancellor, Phillip Hammond MP, laid out his plans for the United Kingdom as we rush towards Brexit. Once the Chancellor has sat down, MPs can get copies of the Red Book which goes into more detail. I obtained my copy along with the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) report Economic and Fiscal Outlook. The OBR was established to provide independent and authoritative analysis of the UKs public finances. It didn’t take much reading of the OBR report to find a problem. On page 2 of 253 the OBR state that the treasury had repeatedly failed to observe the forecast timetable and that the OBR could not certify as reasonable the package of measures affecting universal credit on the basis of the information provided. The U.K. Government continues to plough a lone furrow and seems to find it impossible to engage with other bodies, devolved powers and EU members, instead they continue to adopt an alright on the night stance. I don’t share their optimism.
The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee met to discuss our future programme. I left before the evidence session as I was chairing a session at the Opioid Addiction Summit. The summit was an engaging and informative event and during my session I endeavoured to get as much interaction with the audience as possible. They were not backward in coming forward. The overall feeling was that until we make drug policy a health issue we will not make the progress required. In the evening I attended a briefing from Alyn Smith MEP regarding Brexit negotiations.
The Transport Select Committee had a private session with Andrew Haines, Chief Executive of Network Rail. I then met with representatives of ABTA to discuss visa, passports, driving licences, cruise ship bookings and a host of other aspect of post Brexit U.K. and tourism which as yet are unresolved. Prime Ministers Questions was particularly poor. The PM and her supporters were in a belligerent mood with cheer leading to the fore and policy left far behind. I met up with Joe Fitzpatrick MSP after his meeting with U.K. government ministers. The SNP MPs and MSPs often take the opportunity to meet and talk even if it’s just half an hour over a coffee. That way we build good inter Parliamentary relations. The All-party Parliamentary Group for drug policy reform met to sign off our work plan and then we heard from Nuna Capez Vice President, commission for the dissuasion of drug addiction in Portugal. It was good to meet up with Nuna again. He always brings clarity through experience to the intricacies of implementing a drug policy with healthcare at its heart.
I attended questions to Digital Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) and I was planning on bobbing for a question but kept my powder dry for the fireworks that ensued during an urgent question on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals instead. The U.K. Government have decided, under pressure from bookmakers, to not implement the agreed £2 maximum stake until October 2019. This is six months later than was hoped for and is a dereliction of the U.K. government’s duty to protect those effected by gambling related harm. The centre for medical cannabis had their Parliamentary launch. They are attempting fill a void of knowledge that is required for medical practitioners to prescribe medicinal cannabis. A recent survey showed that 13% of the UK population would consider approaching their GPs for medical cannabis. That’s over six million people. The current system will not fulfil their needs. I caught the 19:30 flight home.
I caught the 6am train to Edinburgh via Glasgow to attend a Post Brexit common frameworks meeting hosted by the Royal Society of Edinburgh. There were presentations from politicians, academics, the National Farmers Union and of course the Royal Society. I was there to represent the select committee for Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs. It is glaringly obvious that inter-parliamentary decision making is not well served by the current system and there is a real danger that the devolved parliaments will be underrepresented when decisions regarding Brexit are taken.