Business continues to be slow at Westminster so I took the opportunity to work in my constituency office in the morning and catch a later flight to London. Incredibly, at this point in time, when we are at the cusp of the United Kingdom’s relationship with the European Union business in the House lasted from 14:30 to 17:45. There are duties and responsibilities that drag me to London but in all honesty, there are days when my time would be better spent in my constituency.
Today started with the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee taking evidence about eating disorders and the Public health Ombudsman. The oral evidence was interesting, but the written evidence was harrowing. The lack of intervention and knowledge within the medical profession as a result of the lack of training is staggering. During a ten year training period the average GP in England will receive 2 hours training in eating disorders. It was a joy to then meet up with Ian Russell, Chair of the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland and hear about the long-term strategy for infrastructure that he is working on. Too often politicians are pulled into 5 year plans. So, to hear that he is developing a 30 year strategy at the request of the Scottish Government was encouraging. I dropped into the alcohol alliance Parliamentary reception and did an interview for Panorama. The minimum unit price, as part of broader strategy has been effective but there is a long way to go to improve Scotland’s relationship with alcohol.
I started at the end child poverty drop in where I was given the statistics on Inverclyde’s child poverty. 25% of children in Inverclyde are living in poverty and although that is far from the worst it is still a stark reminder of how far we have to go. I attended the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Bees. We are trying to encourage the development of pollinator strips. Fortunately, Inverclyde is already switched on to the need and we have excellent projects at Broomhill, Hector McNeil Baths and Belville Gardens leading the way. Prime Ministers Questions was a sorry affair of posturing with very little real engagement. I hosted a meeting with Ladbrokes Coral and was interested to hear their commitment to reducing gambling related harm. I remain unconvinced.
Up early to catch the tube then train to Heathrow as I am on the 8:55 to Stockholm along with cross party colleagues from the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on prostitution. We are on a fact-finding mission to Sweden to investigate the Nordic Model. It is a hectic two days. Today we had briefings from the ambassador at large for combating trafficking and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
An early start with an 08:00 meeting with the Swedish Police Authority. This takes up most of the day. One of the joys about these sort of events is the opportunity to meet experts in their field and mix with Parliamentary colleagues from other parties to seek out and find common ground on which we can work. Mia de Faoite is a survivor of prostitution and her knowledge, lived experience and intellect are hugely influential and a privilege to experience. She also has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Eurovision but nobody is perfect. I make my way home via the 18:05 Stockholm to Heathrow London and the 21:30 to Glasgow. I arrive home at 23:30.
I’m delighted to learn the Scottish Government has allocated more funding to support Active Travel of walking and cycling.
As the First Minister recently called for a climate emergency it’s important we utilise cleaner and greener methods of transport, such as cycling. E-bikes can provide a more sustainable alternative to single-occupancy car journeys.
I would encourage community groups and organisations in Inverclyde to consider bidding for funding to access the many benefits of e-bikes in a more affordable way.
The ripples of harmful alcohol consumption pass from individuals, through families and communities, and impact our society as a whole. These effects are substantial and wide-reaching as alcohol causes the death of 3 people a day in Scotland, is involved in 46% of violent crime and costs NHS Scotland £268 million every year.
Last May, Scotland led the way by introducing a 50p MUP, and Wales will do so this year. This policy, which means no alcoholic product can be sold at less than 50p per unit of alcohol, targets the highest strength, cheapest products and has little to no impact on pubs and moderate drinkers. MUP will also be introduced in the Republic of Ireland in the near future, but there are no current plans to do so in England.
While it is still too early to say what the impact of MUP in Scotland has been so far, it is expected to deliver significant health and social benefits. In Scotland the introduction of MUP is predicted to, in the long term, save 121 lives and 2,042 hospital admissions every year.
Alcohol can, in some circumstances, have a truly devastating effect on individuals and our communities. The most substantial recent development in alcohol policy has been the Scottish Government adopting of minimum unit pricing (MUP) as a measure to reduce alcohol harms,
We need to support targeted, evidence-based programmes that allow us to reduce alcohol harm. This can make individuals, their families, their communities, and our country safer and healthier.
Inverclyde and Scotland as a whole have been completely ignored by Westminster throughout the Brexit process.
When the UK Government Withdrawal Agreement returns to Parliament, SNP MPs will reject it and the devastating harm it would inflict on Scotland.
As is now beyond doubt, there is no such thing as a good Brexit. Any form of Brexit would destroy thousands of Scottish jobs and be catastrophic for living standards, our public services and the economy.
Much has been said about the regeneration of Dundee. As today was a public holiday I visited the V&A and the Dundee Contemporary Arts (DCA) centre to see them for myself. The water side regeneration is impressive and both venues were extremely busy. The V&A building is stunning but the exhibition space seemed small. The addition of a canteen and a souvenir shop in the grand entrance hall look very much like afterthoughts. The DCA which is comparable to our Beacon Arts Centre, has combined exhibition space with cinemas, restaurants and bars. It struck me as less touristy than the V&A and a well-liked well used facility by local people. The port of Dundee looks across the silver Tay To Fife and it can be beautiful and moody but it doesn’t compare to the stunning beauty that we enjoy in inverclyde looking across the Clyde to Argyll and Bute.
An early flight was required to get me on the Westminster estate for the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs select committee which started at 9:30. We took evidence from senior civil servants about the leadership programmes and how the most senior civil servants are trained. There was a lot of management speak banded about and I am not convinced that the outcomes are measured in any meaningful way.
The Transport select committee took evidence from the department of transport parliamentary under Secretary of State, Andrew Jones MP and Polly Payne, director general of the Rail Group. It was mostly about franchising and accessibility. Neither of which were answered convincingly. I had to leave early as I was on the Order Paper for questions to the Secretary of State for Scotland. Mr Mundell continued his attempts to muddy the waters over the sovereign right of the people of Scotland to determine their own future. It appears the Claim of Rights and the four parliamentary elections since 2014 mean nothing to him. Prime Ministers Question’s saw the Prime Minister and the leader of her majesty’s opposition use the NHS in England and Wales as a political punch bag. Taking it in turn to criticise the one run by each of their parties. Tory England versus Labour Wales. The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Gambling Related Harm was, as ever, extremely well attended and we took evidence from organisations that provide education modules for children and adults to raise awareness of the potential pitfalls of gambling. We also heard the story of how a young man’s suicide had motivated his mother to form an education organisation and the difficulties they have in funding it. They are currently active in over 1,000 schools and 5 universities but to grow they need more money over a longer period of time. This is just one example where a statutory levy on the gambling industry could be put to good use. The for Drugs, Alcohol and Justice cross-party group was also very well attended and its focus was learning lessons from Scotland. Minimum pricing of alcohol was high up on the agenda as were, safe drug consumption facilities, diversion techniques and static needle exchanges. My flight home was delayed and I got home at 23:30.
I had an early start as I was on BBC Radio Scotland at 8:05. Sometimes these interviews can be done over the phone but they wanted to record some TV too so I drove up to Pacific Quay instead. On the back of a report just released by Glasgow University, the topic of conversation was gambling related harm. The rest of the day was consumed by research and writing.
A good day of street surgeries and engagement with the people of Inverclyde. Top of their agenda was Brexit and the European Union elections on the 23rd of May. It was good to have Margaret Ferrier along with me in her capacity as an ex MP and candidate for MEP.
While the Conservative and Unionist government continue to pursue their austerity policy, in
Inverclyde we have benefited from European Union funding to offset the damage. Projects including financial inclusion designed to increase the financial capacity and therefore improve the social inclusion of the most disadvantaged along with employability schemes that provide a five-stage pipeline to those with multiple barriers coupled with supporting 16 to 29 year olds into education, training and employment, are EU funded. They are not the most visible uses of money and therefore may not be fully appreciated by everyone. But in many ways that is how the EU works.
Unlike the United Kingdom the European Union is a true union of equals. From Malta (the smallest landmass) to France (the biggest landmass), when it comes to voting every country has the same rights. In the E.U. the member states work together and through collaboration gain a better understanding of each other. They trade with each other and together form the third biggest trading block in the world. Foreign students study in other member states and can live, learn and love without fear of deportation. And it’s a two-way street, while we welcome E.U. nationals to live, study and work in the U.K. our citizens are doing the same in other E.U. countries. Maintaining this level of mutual understanding, collaboration and shared benefit is the best way to ensure peace and prosperity. It is almost inconceivable that while our nuclear at sea deterrent is creaking at the seams and the cost of replacing it continues to grow, we are being pulled out of the biggest peace keeping organisation Europe has ever had.
Often in life we don’t appreciate what we have until its gone. I hope we don’t make that mistake with the European Union.