Written question – pensions [17/06/2019]

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, how many (a) individuals and (b) couples receive pension credits in Inverclyde. (263184)

Tabled on: 11 June 2019

Guy Opperman:

Information on the number of individuals and couples receiving Pension Credit in Inverclyde from most recent data (as of November 2018) is set out below:

Pension Credit recipients in Inverclyde

November ‘18
Individual 2,742
Couple 438

Source: DWP Stat-Xplore

This information is published and available at Stat-Xplore:


Guidance for users is available at:


The answer was submitted on 17 Jun 2019 at 15:42.

Westminster diary w/b 10th June


I attended the sod cutting ceremony at the new Scottish Government funded NHS clinic which is being built on the site of the old Wellington Academy. It doesn’t come cheap at over £20 million pounds but it will be a welcome replacement for the existing facility opposite the West station. I took the opportunity to have a meeting with Jeanne Freeman MSP (Cabinet Secretary for Health) and we covered a range of issues.


I caught an early flight which ensured I got to Westminster for a 9:30 start to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs select committee. We were taking evidence on managing major projects. The U.K. Government does not have a good track record with major infrastructure projects and there seems to be a reluctance to learn from failure. Primarily due to their reluctance to admit they failed and supported by political expedience. I made my way to the Chamber to listen to debate on TV licences being paid for by over 75s. Another example of the U.K. Government attempting to divest itself of responsibility. I met with representatives from the People’s Post Code Lottery. They have concerns around the capping of their income and that they would be adversely hit by a statutory levy on gambling companies. The People’s Post Code Lottery is a charity and so don’t pay tax but they do pass on a higher percentage of the money raised to good causes than other gambling organisations.


Mike Russell MSP (Scottish Government Brexit Minister) briefed the SNP group on the current state of play regarding Brexit brexit and the plans afoot to develop citizens assemblies in Scotland. I am particularly pleased that citizens assemblies are on the political agenda. The example that Ireland has produced could go a long way to providing a template for a Scottish version. I met with Charles and Liz Ritchie whose son Jack committed suicide as a result of his gambling addiction. They started a charity called Gambling with Lives and have very quickly built it to be a source of excellent research and a powerful lobby group for reform, education and support. Prime Ministers Questions was again poorly attended by the governing party as the Conservative and Unionist party are too deeply entrenched in inner party conflict to actually get on with doing the job they were elected to do. The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gambling Related Harm took evidence from a number of witnesses including the CEO of Camelot.

In the evening all 35 SNP MPs voted on an opposition motion to suspend standing orders on Tuesday 25th June to allow a backbench bill to be taken as the first item of business – with the presumption the bill would prevent the UK Government from allowing a ‘no deal’ scenario. This is similar to the mechanism used in April by Yvette Cooper MP and Oliver Letwin MP to take control of the parliamentary agenda. The motion was defeated 298 – 309. Which was a great shame as 8 Labour MPs voted against their own party.


I chaired a symposium on Infrastructure, accountability and meeting the needs of users. It was arranged by the Westminster Energy, Environment and Transport Forum and held in the Caledonian Club out at Hyde Park. It was particularly interesting to hear from experts from France, Switzerland and those representing the freight industry in the UK. After a quick walk in the pouring rain I made it back to Westminster where I had a meeting with John Coates the CEO of Bet365. This was part of the ongoing investigation into gambling related harm and the responsibilities the gambling industry has.


Today started with a meeting with Louise Hunter from Creative Inverclyde. It’s always good to meet people who believe that this area can and should be represented on a bigger stage. We need to encourage others to have the confidence to invest in Inverclyde. I then drove up to Whitelee Windfarm for a tour of the control centre and windfarm site. In the evening I attended Notre Dame High School’s production of Les Misérables. On Sunday I shall be supporting the Port Glasgow 10k run with my good friend Cappy the Cat.

MS Society

I am delighted to have attended the MS Society’s parliamentary exhibit and see first-hand how close we are to stopping MS.  The MS Society were the first charity to come out publicly in their support for medical cannabis something I fully endorse and welcome.

MS is an unpredictable and challenging condition, which can be painful and exhausting. I want to see investment in this area of research continue to rise so everyone living with MS in Inverclyde and across the UK has access to effective treatments.

The MS Society is the UK’s leading not-for-profit funder of MS research and is currently supporting over 70 active projects worth more than £20 million. To find out more about the MS Society and the vital research it is funding visit www.mssociety.org.uk.


PoliticsHome article – UK drugs policy

Some say confession is good for the soul. Whether it is or is not it does seem to be the latest chic accessory to the Conservative and Unionist Party leadership pageant. Candidates have been rushing to admit that in the past (it’s always in the past) they have taken an illegal controlled drug. But this new-found honesty must be a quandary to them. How can they confess to breaking the law? More than that how can they confess to breaking a law they continue to support? How can a person admit to taking a class A drug for which the maximum sentence for possession is seven years in prison and not ask if it is time to review the law? I can only presume they sought some heavy legal advice before feeling confident about the need to come clean. And let us be absolutely honest, if the candidates were not going to tell us, there are plenty of supporters of other candidates that would have. This is not a case of remorse or guilt. No one is defending their action other than to say it was a mistake and I won’t do it again. And most shockingly no one is saying I did this, it is not a big deal, we should be debating the UKs drug policy. Because, in the current climate, that would be as good as admitting you were dropping out the race. These confessions are dripping in hypocrisy. These are politicians that have fought to maintain the pernicious and discriminatory drugs policy that the U.K. has maintained since 1971 and yet they don’t believe it applies to them or their friends. And that is the problem at the heart of the matter. The possession and use of illicit drugs is a UK Government policy used to persecute those living in areas of social deprivation. When we should be looking to help people with problematic use through harm reduction, treatment and wrap around support, we are instead focusing on opportunistic politicians scrambling up the greasy pole with their naked ambition on show for everyone to see. They will say that theirs was a victimless crime but that requires ignoring the brutality of the supply chain and the destruction of human lives at every stage of it. Not just the users but the growers, traffickers and dealers. The violence used to enforce control continues to escalate and human trafficking is supported and financed through it. A kid in a council estate caught with a few grams of cannabis for personal possession is faced with a criminal conviction that will harm his employment opportunities for the rest of his life but rich men in penthouses can snort cocaine until they pass out safe in the knowledge that their peers are doing the same and a that the law of the land is only for those that can least afford it. It is time to address the glaring anomalies and take a fresh look at the UKs drug policy. Ninety percent of people who use recreational drugs do not live chaotic lives. Of the ten percent that do, the majority have suffered physical, psychological or sexual abuse. We can’t continue to persecute people that are self-medicating to offset the pain they are experiencing and but we must start to change the mindset of many by demanding that those and such as those that deem themselves fit to be the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom acknowledge that the drug policy of the U.K. is deeply flawed and that they have demonstrated this already by their own action.


Cycle to Work Scheme

Recently, I raised the issue of the cost of specialist or adapted bikes, which usually exceed the £1,000 cap, with the Minister for Transport.  I urged him to ensure the scheme was extended to make it easier for employees to take up cycling

Therefore, I hope the new guidance will makes it easier and simpler for employers to offer the scheme to their employees and, therefore, easier for employees to get on a bike.  It’s important we promote the many benefits of Active Travel and encourage people to take up cycling in Inverclyde.

My office has two bikes kindly donated by Community Tracks who also provided me with a bike, which I’m grateful for, and I continue to liaise with the Cycle to Work Alliance on this important subject.


Westminster diary w/b 3rd June


I spent the last day of Whitsun recess in my Greenock office dealing with constituency cases and reading briefing papers for the coming week. To be honest there were not many as business is so light at Westminster. First Brexit and now the Conservative and Unionist party leadership campaign have brought progress to a halt. The usual method of progressing bills is by voting. A successful vote ensures the next step in the process takes place. We haven’t voted since the tenth of April.


I got a morning fight down to Westminster and embarked on a series of meetings regarding the provision of medical cannabis. Most notably I catch up with End Our Pain. Together we are trying to develop a safe and legal way that parents of children with severe epilepsy can access Bedrolite.   Currently if you can afford private medicine and the cost of purchasing the medicine you can get it but not everyone can afford the tens of thousands of pounds that are required.


Prime Minister’s Questions is only notable because the Prime Minster, Leader of the opposition and SNP Westminster Group Leader are all absent while attending the D-Day commemoration events. Noticeably Emily Thornberry MP would stand in for Labour but more in fighting led to here being demoted and replaced by Rebecca Long-Bailey MP. Rebecca is seen by many as a possible successor to Jeremy Corbyn MP. A great deal of PMQs was given up to the concerns that the NHS will be traded after Brexit and ultimately privatised. Even though Scotland’s NHS is devolved this is of great concern, not just because I would hate to see England have its NHS privatised but the less UK government money spent on it means less for Scotland through the Barnett consequentials and public procurement is not devolved which a real worry. I had a meeting with the General Medical Council so as I can learn more about the guidelines for prescribing medical cannabis. It was a very informative meeting. I attended a debate in Westminster Hall on Universal Credit and Debt. This should be debated in the main chamber but was dumped in the lesser chamber. It was massively over-subscribed and was even interrupted for a vote in the main chamber where there was a small fraction of MPs compared to Westminster Hall. The matter was covered by English votes for English laws so I didn’t vote. I got the 18:20 flight up the road.


A day of reading and writing. These tend to be welcomed days in amongst the frantic goings on at Westminster but recently they are becoming more frequent, so I undertake street surgeries in the afternoon and had a quick catch up with the hardest working McEleny (Marie) in the mobile Alzheimer’s van in Cathcart Square. I would also like to say how sad it is to hear of the death of Sean Caulfield who worked so hard and brought so much to the local Alzheimer’s organisation. His sudden and tragic death at such a young age is a great loss.


I had constituency surgeries in Port Glasgow in the morning and Greenock in the early afternoon. I also undertook street surgeries and attended a charity quiz night in the evening.

Tele column 7th June 2019

The Beatles told us that “Money can’t buy me love” (for younger readers the Beatles were a boy band back in the day). And we all know money can’t buy happiness and yet the vast majority of us pursue it doggedly, day in day out. In that respect I am as guilty as anyone. Since I was 17 I have worked and saved and spent and worked and saved and spent. The ideology that the acquisition of money is the end game is not a new one and most cultures embrace it in some way or another. At an individual level I fully understand that life is easier if one has a disposable income which buys comfort and engenders peace of mind but at what point do any of us say enough is enough?

At a national level we measure Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a guide to how well the country is doing. This entails measuring the monetary value of products and services produced in a country.

Recently the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, has charted a different course for her country. She wants to measure success based on happiness and wellbeing rather than wealth and growth.

When my partner died last year, I promised myself that I would concentrate more on enjoying the passing of time rather than worrying about the future. I am discovering that is easier said than done. But maybe if the aspirations of success are defined differently at a national level it will be easier for us all to step off the treadmill and enjoy a walk on the beach. I shall be watching what happens in New Zealand with interest. It will be interesting to see what a small independent country with a population of five million can achieve.

Written question – DWP [07/06/2019]

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what steps she takes to ensure market research conducted for her Department has provision for deaf people to respond. (257774)

Tabled on: 23 May 2019

Justin Tomlinson:

The DWP uses the Research Marketplace Dynamic Purchasing System to contract its social research. All service providers registered on the System are obliged to operate within the stipulations of all prevailing disability legislation in operation within the UK.

In addition, all social research the Department undertakes complies with the principles laid out in the Government Social Research ‘Ethical Assurance for Social Research in Government’ framework. This includes Principle 3 (Enabling participation), which states that:

‘The potential impact of choices in research design (such as sample design, data collection method and so on) on participation should be considered. In particular, the effect of research design on such groups as ethnic minorities, those with caring responsibilities, and those with physical or mental impairment should be considered. Consideration should be given to issues likely to act as a barrier to participation, and reasonable steps taken to address these.’

Accessibility requirements are therefore considered on a project by project basis in accordance with this Principle.

The answer was submitted on 07 Jun 2019 at 15:07.