Westminster diary w/b 25th March

Monday

It’s a morning flight this week as I am on the order paper for questions to the Defence department. With increasing concerns around the supply of medicines and food, post Brexit, I have been trying to clarify the situation regarding the legality of Government and Parliament deploying armed forces on UK soil. To the best of my knowledge this has only happened twice in modern history. During the troubles in Northern Ireland and in George Square Glasgow in 1919. Using the forces in an unarmed capacity is a completely different thing. The now weekly statement from the Prime Minister contained the staggering line “I cannot commit the Government to delivering the outcome of any votes held by this house.” This was a nod to the indicative votes that were being scheduled for Wednesday. My delegated legislation committee considered draft customs and security procedures. Yes, that’s right, customs and security, four days before the planned exit date. I spoke against the statutory instrument as it completely ignored the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. It actually said, “further details on the arrangement for trade between Northern Ireland and Ireland will be published as soon as possible.” That’s not good enough.

Tuesday

Coincidentally the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs select committee we were also looking at military deployment. We took evidence from three extremely senior members of the armed forces. The frustration at the military continually being thrown into conflicts ill prepared and with no exit strategy was shared by all three. When parliament votes on such things the voice of the armed forces but also be heard and their advice must be seriously considered. Of course, the difficulty arises if the armed forces are seen to be political and therefore they tend to be side-lined in the decision-making process. I think we least they deserve is an exit strategy and the correct care and support for veterans after they have served. I bobbed for questions to the Health department but didn’t get taken. I wanted to ask about the availability of medical cannabis. I took the opportunity to talk to the Secretary of State for Health later in the day during votes. I may as well put the archaic voting system to some good use. The All Party Parliamentary Group for Medical Cannabis met and took evidence later in the day. There were too many money men represented for my liking and I can see big business dominating and controlling the market place.

Wednesday

In for Scotland questions and the usual suspects from the Conservative and Unionists mocking the ability of Scotland to run its own affairs. Take one good look at Brexit and tell me Westminster function’s as a responsible parliament. Prime Ministers Questions was an appalling spectacle. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling related harm was hard going as we listened to evidence from people who have lost money and their health to gambling addiction. Particularly harrowing was evidence that people suffering from acquired brain injuries have been exploited due to their repetitive behaviour disorders. The evening was dominated by the eight indicative votes. None were accepted. A very good indication of what parliament doesn’t want but not very useful in trying to move the debate forward. We did manage to agree to bump the leaving date forward subject to approval from the EU. Amidst all this the Prime Minister offered to resign if her deal was accepted. I have never heard that technique used. Back my deal or I will resign is the usual stance but back my deal and I will resign! Strong and stable anyone!

Thursday

The political machinations moved into hyper-drive today as the dust settled on last night’s indicative votes. In some quarters there seems to be a lot of confusion around why I voted for, against or abstained on certain amendments. Indicative votes are a way of securing Parliamentary time for debate followed by a series of votes on various scenarios, to see which, if any, might command a majority in the House of Commons. They form opinion and may lead to motions that the government believes will have the support of the house. I used my votes to indicate my preferences. Had I voted for some that I abstained on that would have deflected from my priorities. As we move forward and we get to substantive motions then all consideration will be taken to supporting other amendments. Meanwhile business is sparse and all eyes are on the House for a declaration of business tomorrow. Flights are being cancelled, hotels booked, business cancelled and we are all hunkering down for another day in the chamber.

Friday

All my constituency work has been cancelled. My apologies to those I have had to let down at the last minute. Today the UK Government brought forward only the Withdrawal Agreement to be voted on and not the Political Declaration. There were a number of amendments and votes at 2:30pm and then I rushed to catch a flight home, sweet home.

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Tele column 29th March 2019

In nearly four years at Westminster I have heard a lot of things said that could be described as factually incorrect, fatuous nonsense, egotistical ramblings, misleading mutterings or simply inappropriate chat but this week the Prime Minister’s latest pontifications takes the biscuit. Theresa May said “I cannot commit the Government to delivering the outcome of any votes held by this House.” She made the comment as part of her statement on the European Council Summit and she said it because she knew that a cross party amendment was going to be voted on which would take control of the E.U. withdrawal agenda from the UK Government and would give that control to the MPs. We now have a Prime Minister that doesn’t control her own party or her own government and she doesn’t command the confidence of the House of Commons. She even managed to lose three more ministers in the process. The outcome was that on Wednesday eight amendments were voted on. These were indicative votes designed to better inform the house how a consensus could be agreed. The crushing irony that emerged was that the Prime Minister said, in an attempt to curry favour, she would stand down after her deal got through and therefore trigger a leadership race. But her deal did not get any closer to passing after eight indicative votes were voted down. The only indication we got was that Westminster is in complete disarray. A lot of House business is dictated by and arranged with what is known as ‘the usual sources’. That encompasses whips offices, Speaker’s office and government departments. Last week, that process broke down. Nothing is being scheduled and therefore members can’t be allocated to debates and diaries as well as chamber business is chaotic. My Friday should be in my constituency talking to organisations, companies and individuals. As of half past midnight on the morning of Thursday the 28th, as I write this, I have no idea what business is like for today or Friday. If Friday becomes a sitting day I shall have to cancel all my Friday appointments at a great deal of inconvenience to everyone. This is no way to run a government or parliament. It’s time to man the lifeboats as Westminster weighed down by its own incompetence sinks in the depths of Brexit.

Brexit – Indicative votes

Dear Constituent,

I am further writing to provide an update on the Brexit process as you have previously contacted me about this subject.

As you may be aware, last night there were a series of votes on possible Brexit outcomes, as alternatives to the Prime Minister’s disastrous deal.  I want to take you through the options that were before us last night and the reasons I voted the way I did.

These were the first round of indicative votes on potential options and we voted knowing some of them will come back, hopefully modified on Monday for further consideration. Our priority last night was therefore to ensure our first preference regarding Brexit – no Brexit at all – was supported. Should these options prove not to work we will then consider whether there are further compromises we need to make to stop a hard Brexit outcome.

Firstly the SNP put forward an option that would mean the UK could not leave the EU on any deal without first having received consent from the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. I am sure you will agree that this should be an important principle for the UK Government to follow. Indeed, the EU operates by having to achieve consensus of all its nation states, sadly the UK is not such a union of equals. Unfortunately, our motion was not selected by the Speaker to be voted on.

Turning to the votes that did take place:

Option B from Tory MP John Baron was to leave the UK without a deal, the SNP obviously voted against this deeply damaging proposition.

Option D from Tory MP Nick Boles regarding a type of customs union. The SNP abstained on this as it did not go far enough on the critical issues of freedom of movement nor did it cover the need for membership of the single market. This may be an issue that is returned to in a modified form on Monday.

Option H from Tory MP George Eustice regarding EFTA and EEA. The SNP voted against this as it is simply not going to happen.

Option J from Kenneth Clarke regarding a UK wide customs union was another we abstained on for similar reasons to that of the Nick Boles option and is one that may return on Monday.

Option K from Jeremy Corbyn was about Labour’s alternative plan which we abstained on as it supports Brexit taking place and has a rather woolly and unrealistic proposition for the future relationship.

Option L from my colleague Joanna Cherry was supported by the SNP as it would mean stopping Brexit if we were within days of a no deal Brexit. It would give us a way out.

Labour MP Margaret Beckett proposed option M, which meant that no Brexit deal could be passed by the House without being put to a referendum first. This again would have been a route to stopping Brexit.

Finally option O from Tory Marcus Fysh was opposed by the SNP as it was another that sought a damaging no deal Brexit.

Unfortunately, no option considered last night achieved a majority, but I hope this helps to explain not only the SNP’s strategy last night, but also the reasons I voted the way I did.

My SNP colleagues and I will continue to fight hard to stop Brexit, to protect the interests of the people of Scotland and to provide rational arguments in the face of the collapsing Tory Government and Labour opposition parties. It remains the case that in spite of our best efforts and arguments we may not be able to save the UK from itself. If Brexit does come to pass the people of Scotland will need to consider carefully what options we have open to us to protect our interests and move on to a more positive destination.

Yours sincerely,

 

Ronnie Cowan MP

Member of Parliament for Inverclyde

No Minister for Disabled People in UK Govt

The UK Government are completely failing to do the day job – as Theresa May’s government collapses into crisis and chaos at the expense of the whole country.

At a time when Scotland and the UK face the greatest threat to jobs and living standards with Brexit, the Tories are selfishly focused on their own narrow party interests and bitter internal divisions.

The fact that this UK Government thinks it’s even remotely acceptable to leave the role of Minister for Disabled People unfilled, for more than two weeks, will add insult to injury to all those people in Inverclyde who have suffered under the shameful treatment of disabled people.

‘Brexit: Tory vice-chairman says there will be no minister for disabled people until crisis resolved’ –https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-disabled-minister-replacement-james-cleverly-sarah-newton-a8842371.html

 

Lack of U.K Enterprise

Captain’s log. Day 1,422. I have returned from my latest expedition to planet Westminster. I have to report there is still no sign of intelligent life. The native tribes continue to war with each other and internal struggles are rendering them useless. Power struggles take precedent over the common good and common sense is in short supply. False idols are many but sacrifice is not common. While their leaders insist they must boldly go (or to be correct, go boldly) where no person has gone before, there is a reticence amongst many to explore these new frontiers. Confidence is at a low ebb and bravado is a poor substitute. Meanwhile those that should know better continue to cling on. 

Westminster continues to be a drama of which ever genre you choose. When a Prime Minster says “I cannot commit the Government to delivering the outcome of any votes held by this house” something has gone very wrong. The United Kingdom faces a challenge, the likes of which it never has before. And this one is solvable. All it needs is constructive dialogue, respect, understanding, compromise and the interests of the citizens of the United Kingdom to be put before all else. And those are all things that have been sadly lacking since the European Referendum in June 2016. They were posted missing during the campaigns when overly simple propositions were put forward by both sides. Nearly three years later we are all wiser but that is of no value unless we put that knowledge to good use. Knowing what we know now would the United Kingdom vote to leave? I don’t think it would and if that is the case then it must be given the opportunity to throw itself a life line. Otherwise, beam me up Scotland.                  

 

Westminster diary w/b 18th March

Monday

I caught the red eye to London as I was scheduled to do one of my regular tours of Westminster. On a number of occasions I have welcomed constituents and walked them round the estate. Citizens’ engagement is extremely important in maintaining a true democracy and everyone should feel comfortable engaging with their elected members and the mechanisms of government. At midday it was my turn to be hosted as I visited the Imperial War Museum (IWM). Diane Lees (Director General) and I had a lengthy and illuminating discussion around the possibilities of the IWM lending some Stanley Spencer paintings to Inverclyde. My initial idea was for a mini exhibition around Spencer and the wars years in general. Unfortunately, at this time we don’t have a building suitable to host this. The delay to the completion of the McLean museum is a great disappointment. 

Tuesday

An early start to take part in a Delegated Legislation (DL) committee. Regular readers will by now be familiar with the purpose of DLs. Today’s was ‘Draft Railways, licensing of railway undertakings’. The select Committee for Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs took evidence from economists on the governance of national statistics. The United Kingdom’s Statistics Authority came under heavy criticism. At SNP conference in April the local branch will be putting forward for a Scottish Statistics Agency. The gathering of accurate statistics, free from political influence can be an invaluable tool in making good policy. I attended an event for ‘End our Pain’. They are a lobby group for medical cannabis and many of the attendees were parents of children who desperately need access to Bedrocan. Alfie Dingley’s mum has fought tirelessly to get him the correct medication. Sadly many are still being denied. I met with Lisa Quarrell mother of Owen and Karen Gray mother of Murray. Both these kids would benefit greatly but the flaws in the current system makes it impossible for them to legally access it. I had a quick dash to Victoria Tower gardens for an interview with Radio Clyde as a precursor to my debate on gambling related harm. The debate took place in Westminster Hall and was very well attended. Along with the front bench spokesperson, seventeen MPs spoke and the message was loud and clear, the gambling companies need to fund organisations that can provide support for their customers that are experiencing gambling related harm and advertising has to curtailed.  

Wednesday

I spent the morning writing two articles. One on drugs policy reform for the Daily Record and one on gambling related harm for Politics Home. Prime Minister’s Question time saw the Prime Minster put up a very poor show. The undoubted pressure she is under and unending hours dedicated to compounding the problem are taking their toll. Jeremy Corbyn was ineffectual. He had some good questions this week but his delivery was off and he still can’t chase down the poor responses from the PM. An interesting addition to PMQs is the input from the ‘independent group’ or the TIGs as they are called. Hearing the tory members shouting abuse at their former colleagues is an eye opener. One by one they get ridiculed. Brexit is indeed a tangled web of deceit, ambition, greed and incompetence. What should have been a short day became longer than necessary when an application was made for an emergency debate under Standing Order 24. Granting such a thing is at the speaker’s discretion, as are it is apparent are a number of things. He granted it and a three hour debate took place covering all the same ground of Article 50 EU withdrawal. I grabbed a six pm flight home.  

Thursday

The morning was consumed by case work and media and in the afternoon I dropped in to the RIG arts driven green arts activities project at the Broomy Bees Garden in Ann Street. Lots of bees being made by kids and tie dye for the adults.

Friday

My first appointment was with Kevin Scarlet at River Clyde Homes. We had lots to discuss. I then caught up with the senior management team at Ferguson Marine. Another event packed with information and the ups and downs of trying to run a business during these very complicated times. When I was first elected I found it very hard to get suitable office accommodation in the area and therefore with a change of landlord I was keen to have a quick sit down to go through the contract and ensure I am in a position to continue to serve the community form my current location on Crawfurd Street. I look forward to a constructive relationship with my landlord for as long as I am required.

 

Medical cannabis under prescription

The law was changed for good reason and the public are rightly outraged that the new policy has been introduced in a way that means these medicines are legal, but no-one can get them.  The stories of the families are heart-breaking.  All have been refused access.  Some have been told to go abroad!  Some have even proved that medical cannabis works for their child but have still been blocked. 

I’ve offered them my continuing support and previously met with the Minster for Public Health, Steve Brine MP, to press the UK Government to intervene and break this deadlock. I was pleased to be one of over 100 co-signatories on the letter to Matt Hancock urging him to intervene.

End Our Pain can be contacted on campaign@endourpain.org

 

Written question – Medical cannabis [21/03/2019]

To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, pursuant to the Answer of 18 January 2019 to Question 207185 on Cannabis: Medical Treatments, whether data on prescriptions of cannabis-based medicinal products will (a) be published in the public domain, (b) include UK-wide data and (c) include the numbers of people obtaining a such a prescription. (232047)

Tabled on: 13 March 2019

This question was grouped with the following question(s) for answer:

  1. To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, pursuant to the Answer of 18 January 2019 to Question 207185 on Cannabis: Medical Treatments, whether data on prescriptions of cannabis-based medicinal products will include (a) the type of product prescribed, (b) the indication that product was prescribed for and (c) the number of those such prescriptions by NHS clinical commissioning group area. (232048)
    Tabled on: 13 March 2019

Answer:
Steve Brine:

NHS England is using extant systems to monitor use of the newly rescheduled unlicensed cannabis-based products for medicinal use in England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are in the process of setting up similar systems.

In England, these systems monitor the number of items dispensed and associated costs in primary care and the volume of products used and associated cost in secondary care. NHS England Controlled Drug Accountable Officers are also collecting local intelligence in both the National Health Service and independent sector. We expect this data to be available by end of March 2019.

The answer was submitted on 21 Mar 2019 at 16:18.

Gambling related harm

When we think of harm that can be caused by drugs, alcohol and tobacco we may have very specific ideas of what that harm looks like.

When it comes to gambling, the harm may not be obvious. But it’s there.

The Responsible Gambling Strategy Board (RGSB) propose the following definition of gambling related harm should be used in British policy and practice.

“Gambling-related harms are the adverse impacts from gambling on the health and wellbeing of individuals, families, communities and society. “

Debt incurred from gambling creates instability, insecurity and can lead to bankruptcy and in the extreme, result in criminal activities.

Relationships can be disrupted and often leads to emotional and social isolation. This can lead to mistrust and erodes cohesive relationships.

The consequences can include psychological distress such as feelings of shame, stigma and guilt. Anxiety levels increase, depression and even suicide can be the final outcome.

According to Gambling with Lives, around 4-11% of suicides were related to gambling, the equivalent to 250-620 deaths per year in the UK.

These figures are based on research carried out by Paul Wong, which appeared in the Journal of Affective Disorders (2010) and research from Louis Appleby at the University of Manchester (2017).

The harm is real and it is growing while the research and support is massively underfunded.

Currently the industry pays a voluntary levy which raises around 10 to maybe 14 million pounds a year. That money is used to fund support for problematic gamblers and campaigns to educate and hopefully reduce harm.

The total gross gambling yield for Great Britain between April 2017 and March 2018 was £14.4 billion, a 4.5% increase from the previous year. The annual sum which gambling firms win from their customers has risen by 65% since the Gambling Act 2005 (came into force 2007).

A statutory levy of 1% would guarantee 140 million pounds a year and that sort of money, in the right hands, could do some good.

Additionally, because it is voluntary, the amount raised can vary from year to year and therefore budgeting for long term treatment is extremely precarious.

Let me be clear, I am not asking for financial recompense from gambling companies just to improve their public image.

A sponsorship deal here and a charitable donation there. These are no more than fig leaves to hide their own embarrassment. And they should be embarrassed.

How can you recompense a family that have lost their son? Or a child that has lost their father. I am not asking for token gestures.

I am asking gambling companies to stop doing the damage in the first place. Rather than just asking punters to gamble responsibly, run your organisations responsibly.

And while we are talking about responsible working practices, companies are gathering data pertaining to the habits of online gamblers. And astonishingly they are closing down accounts of people who are successful and winning, even very small amounts, while targeting and encouraging vulnerable gamblers that are losing to continue.

This callous disregard for the welfare of their customers is tantamount to gross negligence.

And where to start when it comes to advertising?

Live televised sporting events are swamped with betting adverts and inducements. The impression is given that the sporting event in its own right is not sufficient entertainment unless we take a punt on the outcome.

And while punters are being encouraged at every turn, the ease with which gamblers can sign up to an online operator is of great concern.

Punters can gamble twenty four seven and 365 days a year. There is no cooling off period.

Credit cards, pay pal accounts and phone accounts are accepted as a means of payment.

To make it perfectly blunt the gambling companies have stacked the odds against the punters and the damage that is being done needs redressed.

 

https://www.politicshome.com/news/uk/culture/opinion/house-commons/102646/ronnie-cowan-mp-gambling-companies-have-callous