First day back at Westminster after the winter recess. It’s always good to catch up with friends and colleagues at Westminster after any break but there is a palpable air of disbelief and great concern hanging over the place now. The constant echoing of “happy new year” ringing round the halls sounded a little hollow, as at this moment it looks like anything but a “happy” new year. The Brexit vote had been delayed with the hope that the one and only deal that is on offer could be improved but it hasn’t so instead more time has been wasted. I was on the order paper for oral questions to the Department for Work and Pensions. I took the opportunity to raise a specific local Universal Credit case and the minister has agreed to discuss this with me. The reaction from some heartless folk in social media has been appalling. They have been very quick to jump to the wrong conclusions and sit in judgement on a person they have no knowledge of. There was an urgent question on some legal aspects of the European Union Withdrawal Bill. A great deal of the focus was on the awarding of a ferry service contract in the event of a no deal, to a company that has no ferries and has never operated any. The usual methods of scrutinising such contracts was waved under regulation 32 which can only happen in extreme unforeseeable circumstances. Given that the UK Government has admitted to having people working on scenarios for two years now I am more than surprised that they can’t reveal what the extreme unforeseeable circumstances are. It’s almost like they are incapable of following their own rules. In the evening I attended and spoke at the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Catalonia. The deputy speaker Josef Costa also spoke and the following day met with his counterpart at Westminster.
The Select Committee for Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs took evidence on the Parliamentary & Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO), in-particular aspects gas of how the ombudsman handles complaints against the NHS in England and Wales. I had a private meeting Charles and Liz Ritchie whose son Jack tragically committed suicide as a direct result of his gambling addiction. Charles and Liz have launched an organisation (Gambling with Lives) to work as a pressure group to change the laws around gambling, gambling advertising and gambling education and support. I wish them well with this venture and I shall continue to give them as much support as I can. The end of the evening was dominated by one vote. The outcome is that the UK government will have to come up with a new plan within three days if the EU withdrawal deal is rejected next Tuesday.
My first engagement was a Delegated Legislation committee. This was mostly rubber stamping changes from the Finance Bill to improve the investment in the oil and gas sector. It doesn’t go as far as I would like but we have to work with what we have so I was t about to oppose the amendments.
Prime Ministers Questions was another poor event but that was made up for at least in entertainment value by the subsequent rash of points of order. For the best part of an hour the Conservative and Unionist Party and then the Labour Party ripped into each other over the legitimacy of the speaker allowing an amendment to the Withdraw Bill. Conservatives in particular were apoplectic with rage each adamant that they were right and anything else was a constitutional outrage. When I was leaving the chamber a very senior ex Conservative cabinet minister said to me “once again the only party that gained anything from that was the Scottish National Party”. He wasn’t wrong. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) met and changed our name to the APPG on Gambling Related Harm. This allows us to extent our areas of investigation. The FOBT campaign has moulder us into an effective campaigning group and we are not going to stop now.
Due to the change in chamber business and the rescheduling of the meaningful vote, Thursday suddenly became very quiet. I took the opportunity to catch up on select committee reports. Sometimes, because I am on two select committees, it’s beneficial to take time away from Westminster and read up on the ongoing enquiries otherwise it can all rush past in a blur. I caught the four PM flight home.
I visited the newly opened dentist surgery in Kilmacolm. This is one of the latest ventures by Puneet Gupta. It’s great to see local people investing in local businesses. Last time I was there it was a bank. I never know which is more uncomfortable, a visit to my financial adviser or a visit to my Dentist. Given that they are both my daughters I should say they are both pain free and beneficial. In the afternoon I visited the police command and control centre in Govan.
On Saturday I shall be attending the beach clean-up at Lunderston Bay and then working on various town centre stalls where I am gathering signatures for a petition to halt the roll out of Universal Credit.