Westminster diary w/b 17th December

Monday

My early morning meeting got cancelled at the last minute so a quick reshuffle of the diary sees me grab the next flight to London. The first notable event in the chamber is another statement from the Prime Minister regarding the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union. These increasingly regular statements remind me of the weather updates you see on the TV when the weather is particularly bad and everybody needs reassured but at the same time are being told to baton down the hatches. The most intriguing part of the statement was when in three sentences the Prime Minister changed position three times over the Irish border. “The backstop will not need to be triggered” was followed by “If the backstop were nevertheless to be triggered” which in the next line became, the EU would negotiate “a subsequent agreement that would replace the backstop”. It is that sort of muddled thinking that has got us in to the mess we are in now. Thankfully the select committee on transport was a more focused event. We are looking at ‘Active Travel’. It was interesting to hear how towns and cities are working towards increasing access for cyclists and pedestrians. There are more cars on the road now than ever before but we are using them less. The SNP Scottish Government recently announced an investment of £80 million annually in cycling and walking to encourage a greater shift towards active travel. This fits in nicely with work being undertaken in Inverclyde by Sustrans Scotland and Community Tracks. I should have been attending a reception in the Irish Parliament but events once again caused a change to planned business.

Tuesday

Jeremy Corbyn has lodged a motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister. It’s a complete waste of time as even if he were to miraculously win it, it is not a binding vote. To rectify the situation the SNP, Greens , Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru get together and lodge an amendment to completely replace the motion with a vote of no confidence in the government. That is compliant with the Fixed Term Parliament Act 2011 section 2 and therefore the outcome of that would be binding. If the government lost that vote they would have 14 days to form a government that had the confidence of parliament and if not we would have a General Election. With the SNP running high in the polls it is an outcome I would welcome. Meanwhile the day job involves the Select Committee on Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs taking evidence on strategic leadership in the civil service. The SNP secured a debate on Brexit under the standing order 24 (SO24). The debate was oversubscribed and easily filled the time allocated to it. I attended a drop in event to promote the campaign for votes at 16.

Wednesday

The Labour motion was not taken and therefore our amendment falls. Overnight the SNP, Greens, Lib Dem’s and Plaid Cymru launched our own motion of no confidence in the UK Government. It remains to be seen if they are prepared to pick up the gauntlet. Prime Minister’s Questions started with each side wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and quickly descended into the usual exchange of abuse. The irony seems to be completely lost in that place. The rancour continued into a series of points of order at the end of PMQs after Jeremy Corbyn was accused of calling the Prime Minister a “stupid woman”. The speaker came under extreme pressure from Conservative and Unionist MPs. It is just the latest in a series of examples of the abuse that flows back and forward in the chamber, including two aimed at SNP members in the last week. I stayed for the Home office statement on immigration post Brexit. A sorry state of affairs that will leave Scotland worse off as was pointed out by my SNP colleague Stuart C McDonald MP when he said “these policies will make the UK poorer economically, socially and in terms of opportunity. They do not signify a ‘global Britain’ – but an inward-looking Tory government and a Prime Minister obsessed with net migration targets.” An SO24 request from Keir Stammer MP was delayed by thirty two minutes of additional points of orders. Including points of order saying why are wasting time with points of order. Westminster has finally descended into bedlam. The request was granted and the debate on leaving the E.U. with no deal took place. A quick dash to the airport and I managed to catch the 19:30 flight home.

Thursday

My early return from Westminster allowed me to meet with Home-Start Inverclyde to discuss how they help to provide children with have a happy and secure childhood with the aim to help them achieve their full potential. In the afternoon I visited the Amnesty International Photographic exhibition in the Beacon Arts Centre.

Friday

Constituency cases took up most of the day and after work I had a catch up with my SNP Councillor colleagues.

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Tele column 21st December 2018

I recently used this column to highlight the many issues with Universal Credit (U.C.) and I make no apologies for returning to that topic again. And I shall continue to assert pressure on the Conservative and Unionist UK Government to halt the roll out and fix U.C. before it damages more households throughout the U.K. The lengthy delay in receiving your first payment and the issue around receiving your wages 4 weekly which means at least once a year you receive no U.C. payment as the system thinks you’ve had two wages in a month are just two fixable examples.

As a replacement for the current welfare system it is massively underfunded and contains serious logistical flaws that need fixed. I am raising a petition at Westminster to ensure that U.C. stays on the agenda. Obviously, the more publicity I can get the better for the cause but what I will not do is use a vulnerable individual or family who are already being punished by this system to get a front page story.

My office will continue to handle the growing number of U.C. cases that people bring to me. This is the single biggest issue, away from Brexit, which is affecting people in Inverclyde. The facts are that in Inverclyde we have over 4,000 people on U.C. with another 7,000 on legacy benefits and my office is receiving cases on a daily basis. Last week, I met with Citizens Advice Scotland to discuss the policy and the funding which is required to assist and support people in Inverclyde.

Finally, if you would like to add your name in support of the public petition then please visit my constituency office (20 Crawfurd Street, Greenock, PA15 1LJ) or contact my office on 01475 721 877 and we can send you out a copy of the petition.

Written question – Advertising [17/12/2018]

To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, if he will include alcohol products in the proposed consultation on a 9pm watershed on the advertising of unhealthy foods. (200726)

Tabled on: 10 December 2018

Answer:
Margot James:

In the second chapter of the Government’s Childhood Obesity Plan, published in June, we committed to consult by the end of 2018 on introducing a 9pm watershed on TV advertising of HFSS products and similar protection for children viewing adverts online – with the aim of limiting children’s exposure to HFSS advertising, and incentivising sugar and calorie reduction.

Alcohol advertising is not in scope for this work because the consultation is focused on products that children consume.

As with HFSS advertising, alcohol advertising in the UK is regulated by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the industry’s independent regulator, who enforce the Advertising Codes through a system of self-regulation and co-regulation with Ofcom. The Codes apply to all media, including broadcast and online, and set standards for accuracy and honesty to which advertisers are expected to adhere, including specific conditions on advertising to children, causing offence and social responsibility.

The Codes recognise the social imperative of ensuring alcohol advertising is responsible. They are regularly reviewed and updated by the industry to ensure they remain effective, and proposed changes to the Codes are routinely subject to public consultation. The Codes currently state that alcohol advertising must not be targeted at people under 18 and “should not imply, condone or encourage immoderate, irresponsible or anti-social drinking.

The answer was submitted on 17 Dec 2018 at 13:10.

 

HMRC – Christmas phone and online scamming

HMRC recommends that if you cannot verify the identity of a caller, do not speak to them. You can check GOV.UK for information on genuine HMRC contact and on how to avoid and report internet scams.

I would encourage Inverclyde residents to be aware of potential fraudsters who try to spoof legitimate HMRC phone numbers.

If you notice anything suspicious then please email phishing@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk and send suspicious texts to 60599

Westminster diary w/b 10th December

Monday

All of today’s plans got wiped as the UK Government decided after three days of debate and 164 speeches that the next two days of debate would not take place and that the Meaningful Vote scheduled for Tuesday wasn’t that meaningful after all. The Select Committee for Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs met to consider our latest report. The timing of our report ‘Confidence motions and the Fixed Term Parliament Act’ could not have been better. As of Monday the future of the current Prime Minister, Government and Parliament were all tenuous. Erskine May (the big book of Parliamentary process) became very popular in the House of Commons library while the plotters and schemers huddled together in corridors and lobbies. Amidst the nonsensical rhetoric and political posturing, work did continue. I met with the Minister for Defence Procurement regarding the Type 31e frigate programme. Three consortiums have been given £4.5 million pounds each to bring forward a design. The winning design will then get the contract to build five type 31e frigates, each with a value of 250 million pounds. Ferguson Marine are represented in two of the three consortiums and I continued to lobby for them to be part of a winning bid.

Tuesday

I was in the chamber to support Norman Lamb’s ten minute rule bill, ‘Cannabis regulation and legislation’. The purpose of the rule is to facilitate a debate on the subject, unfortunately that opportunity was voted down. The SNP had a free vote but Labour were whipped to abstain. Why they won’t even debate the subject is beyond me. We then had a debate on the reason for cancelling a debate. This was not Westminster’s finest hour. As the evening drew to a close it was becoming clear that the Prime Minister was going to face a vote of no confidence from her own party. The process demands that 48 Conservative and Unionists MPs have to submit a letter asking her to resign. This number was reached with apparent ease. Whatever happened to ‘strong and stable’?

Wednesday

My day started at a Delegated Legislation committee. It was not contentious as it was simply moving existing laws regarding merchant shipping’s recognised organisations from the jurisdiction of the European Union to United Kingdom Parliament. There have been a host of these committees doing the same thing for hundreds of laws. All these laws that Brexiteers were so opposed to, have been accepted by the U.K. and nobody batted an eyelid. The Tory rebels got there vote but failed to remove their leader. The Prime Minister won by 200 to 117 votes and lives to stumble on. She has said she will not stand at the next election. Now all we have to sort out is Brexit! Because Westminster has become a moving feast we have regular briefings on the state of play at the procedures that may or may not be applicable. Westminster continues to prove that every day is a school day.

Thursday

Disaster as I manage to pull out a temporary filling while flossing. It is a timely reminder that amidst the ruminations of constitutional legislation and having the privilege of participating and witnessing history unfold, everyday life goes on. It’s a slow day in the chamber and most of my day is given up to reading and writing. It’s another privilege of this job that affords me days like this. In the evening I attended a reception and private dining (as much as my lack of tooth would allow) with ex-President of the Government of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont. I got the badly named ‘sleeper’ train up the road.

Friday

Early arrival at Glasgow Central on the overnight train from London. Quick change of platform and down to Greenock. Home for a quick shower and change of clothes and my first meeting is with Peel Ports. Lots to talk about. I meet up with Citizens Advice Scotland. We need to ensure that money allocated to aid the roll out of Universal Credit which is being given to Citizens Advice still comes to Inverclyde despite the fact that we don’t have a Citizens Advice Bureau. In the afternoon I have a number of constituency meetings.

Universal Credit public petition

Inverclyde has had full service Universal Credit for over 2 years now while at the same time it has lost one of its jobcentres in Port Glasgow.  The House of Commons Library highlights that 4,810 households in Inverclyde currently claim Universal Credit and there are still 7,250 on legacy benefits.

My constituency office has dealt with hundreds of welfare cases and the vast majority of these are in-relation to Universal Credit.  Some of the stories that constituents have told me regarding their Universal Credit claim are scandalous and highlight the many flaws in the current system which need addressing quickly.  For example, the length in delay of receiving your first payment, or the issue of receiving your wages 4 weekly which means at least once a year you receive no Universal Credit payment as the system thinks you’ve had two wages in a month.

The Trussell Trust tell me that in Inverclyde between 1st April 2018 and 30th September 2018 in Inverclyde, 3,013 three-day emergency food supplies were given to local people in crisis.  Meanwhile welfare spending on poor people dropped by 25% during the decade of austerity, cuts to benefits that disabled people receive were significant.

It’s time the UK Government listened to the concerns being raised by constituents, charities and local organisations who are saying the current Universal Credit provision is not fit for purpose and it needs fixed. 

Therefore, I hope people in Inverclyde will sign the public petition, which is available in my constituency office, as this will allow me to take it to Westminster and demonstrate the strength of feeling against the UK Government policy.

 

Ofcom’s “Boost Your Broadband” campaign

Superfast broadband is available to more than nine in ten premises in the UK, but Ofcom want to help more people take up faster services. 

The campaign can help find out if they could:           

•           upgrade to a faster service with their current provider;

•           get a better deal for their current package;

•           switch to a new deal with a different provider; or

•           stick with their current deal. 

A dedicated website (www.BoostYourBroadband.com) will offer consumers tools including an availability checker for broadband services, information on what they need to ask their provider, and a jargon buster.

 

Scot Govt Funding for Active Travel

During the Scottish Government’s Draft spending and tax plans for 2019-20, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Derek Mackay MSP announced £80m for Active Travel

I’m delighted to learn the Scottish Government is continuing its investment in active travel and this announcement of £80m is to be welcomed.

Having recently met with both Community Tracks and Sustrans Scotland I know work is being undertaken to improve cycling links through Inverclyde.  This is something I very much support and will be promoting both locally and at Westminster in my role on the Transport Select Committee, through our Active Travel inquiry.

I would encourage more people to take up, or start again, cycling as a leisure activity and also as a way of staying healthy.  Inverclyde has some beautiful scenery to offer and this funding announcement should hopefully allow further investment in our cycling routes.