I was on the order paper for questions to the Home Office. I asked about the process that EU residents, many of whom have been in the U.K. for years, are having to go through to try and remain in the UK after Brexit. SNP MPs highlighted the case of Lizanne Zietsman, who has returned to South Africa after the Home Office ordered her to leave Britain. Lizanne has lived on the Isle of Arran since April 2015. She ran a sandwich shop with her husband. The local community supported her campaign to stay and despite a petition signed by more than 17,000, people the Home Office refused her leave to remain. The process is clearly flawed but the UK Government can’t see that or won’t admit to it.
My morning started with the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs select committee taking evidence on electoral law reform. It Is not as dry a subject as it sounds, especially when you consider the funding issues around the LEAVE campaign in the EU referendum and the possibility of a General Election on the horizon. I caught up with the members of the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Global Sex Trade and we discussed how to take forward our campaign to introduce the Nordic model in the UK This involves prosecuting the purchaser but decriminalising the seller. I spoke in a Westminster Hall debate on drug services. It was especially significant today as the latest drugs related deaths statistics had just been released. Scotland and Inverclyde are both particularly hard hit. While everyone that made a speech asked for a health-based approach and a change in the law to facilitate Drug Consumption Rooms (DCR), the minister responding maintained the UK government stance that DCRs encourage use. A view not shared by any country that has introduced them.
I started my day with an 8am breakfast meeting along with Virgin Airlines. They were keen to discuss aviation and the climate crisis while promoting a third runway at Heathrow and their allocated slots. I see a contradiction in that, but it is just the start of an on-going discussion. Appropriately my next event was the select committee for Transport and we took evidence from the Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling. That was followed by Prime Minister’s Questions. The leader of the opposition challenged the Prime Minister on the government’s climate record and she responded by accusing him of failing to stamp out racism in the Labour party. PMQs did not improve after that. The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Drug Policy Reform (DPR) held its Annual General Meeting (AGM) at which point I was overloaded with acronyms. The group shall continue to pursue its campaigns for compassionate policies that treat problematic drug use as a health issue.
The day started with Transport Oral questions. I bobbed but wasn’t taken so didn’t get the opportunity to ask what action the UK Government was taking to reduce toxic emissions from HGV and LGVs. I met up with representatives from GamCare. They provide training, help and support around gambling related harm. They are funded via the gambling commission who in turn are funded by a voluntary levy from the gambling industry. We disagree on a few issues but we agree that a voluntary levy is not good enough and that to allow continuity and long term support a statutory levy is a must. The late afternoon was taken up by votes and I caught the 19:35 flight home.
My office combined with Stuart McMillan MSPs office and we helped at the clean-up of the Murdieston Dam. In the afternoon I met with the Head of Policy & Public Affairs at BT Scotland. We discussed, 5G, Universal Service Obligation & EE in Inverclyde. My last meeting was with REACH for Autism.
On the 20st of July 1969 Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the Moon and on the 14th of December 1972 Eugene Cernan and Jack Schmitt, as part of the Apollo 17 mission, became the last men to ever walk on the moon. I know where I was during the first walk, sleeping in my bed at 56 South Street. I had stayed up all night but eventually Morpheus took me away. I was gutted but I have no recollection of the last moon walk. I suppose that is for two reasons. Firstly, moon walking was becoming ordinary. Nothing new was happening. We had seen walking, driving and even golfing (Alan Shepard Apollo 14) it was becoming blasé and secondly, I didn’t know it was to be the last or I may have paid more attention. In total 12 men have walked on the moon and I doubt I could name half of them. The Apollo programme did come under justified criticism and it is an argument that stands true to this day. How can we spend so much money on space exploration when there I so much poverty and disharmony on planet earth? The writer and poet Gil Scott-Heron (whose dad was the first black player to play for Celtic) wrote a piece called ‘Whitey on the moon’ which asked that very question. The Vietnam war raged, and people went hungry throughout the duration of the Apollo project. Was it the right thing to do? Did it engender innovation? Did it encourage national pride? Is that a good thing? These questions remain unanswered, but I do know that even as a wee boy in Greenock the moon landings made me realise just how small earth is, just how unique our planet is, how precious it is. If it is unique and precious then maybe it is time we started looking after it better. Maybe that should be the legacy of the Apollo missions, not to go boldly but to be bold about saving our own planet.
It’s going to be a long week at Westminster and its starts with my 5am alarm. Most of the day is taken up by meetings and briefings and the voting started at 5pm and lasted until 8pm wit a short break when a debate broke out.
I start the day with debate on Active Travel. It’s a Westminster Hall debate but better attended than the main chamber. This is becoming a feature at Westminster. I make the case for cycling and walking while stressing the need for government investment. I dropped in to the Scottish Select Affairs Select Committee to listen to Joe Fitzpatrick MSP give evidence on drugs policy. Joe is the Scottish Government minister with that responsibility. I have to leave early as I have a meeting along with Carolyn Harris (Labour MP for Swansea East) with Lord Michael Grade. He is chairing a Lords Committee on gambling related harm and we are sharing our evidence gathered from our All-party parliamentary group. I then catch up with Joe in my office to share our views and discuss policy reform.
The Transport Select Committee had a closed door review of our future programme and our impending meeting with the Secretary of State. That is followed by Prime Minister’s Questions. It is till notable for the sparse attendance of the government MPs and there sudden support for their Prime Minister now that they have forced her out. The All-party parliamentary group on gambling related harm took evidence from clinical experts and members of GamCare around the funding and provision of support for people with gambling addictions. I then spoke in another well attended Westminster hall debate. This one was on HS2. Ten billion pounds spent, ten years since it was first announced and not one mile of new track. It’s an infrastructure project that has gone massively wrong.
I have an 8:30 meeting with representatives of William Hill. While I am pursuing a mandatory levy on bookmakers and I am critical of some aspects of the gambling industry, I am always open to hear their views and their solutions in areas that we agree. This was followed by an internal trading course run with House of Commons staff. These courses are extremely well prepared and are part of on-going training to make sure that MPs are good employers and that we understand our role and the responsibility it brings. I finish the working day by talking in a debate in the main chamber on 20 years of devolution. It was a good debate but rather tainted by the usual suspects that make their speech and then feel the need to constantly intervene on others. This takes time away from the speakers at the end of the list. So for that reason I refused all interventions.
A beautiful sunny day in inverclyde and I took advantage of that by holding street surgeries and distributing contact details to households.