Westminster diary w/b 9th March


9am flight and on the parliamentary estate by 11am. Just time to prepare for questions, which today are for the Department for Work and Pensions. I bobbed for questions but wasn’t taken. Not deterred I bobbed for topical questions and didn’t get taken. I was hoping to raise a Universal Credit case with the minister. I shall pursue other channels. There was a statement on the Corona virus (COVID–19). It’s not a time to panic but I am concerned about the scheduled cruise ships visiting the area. I have to say the Secretary of States response was disappointing. He was unable to explain any plan to contain a breakout on a cruise ship in UK waters. I was on a Delegated Legislation Committee to change the law on tax credits. It was not a controversial matter and was not challenged. I took the opportunity to ask the government to end the 2-child cap which will force another 20,000 Scottish children in to poverty.


This was a hectic day. The evidence session with the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs select Committee (PACAC) was very interesting. The witnesses were Sir John Manzoni KCB who currently serves as chief executive of the civil service and the Cabinet Office Permanent Secretary and Sir Mark Sedwill KCMG FRGS Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service since 2018. He has served as National Security Adviser since 2017. These two big hitters were there to explain the recruitment policy for special advisers (SPADS) at cabinet level and importantly who can hire and fire SPADS. The influence of Dominic Cummings was questioned but you don’t get to the heady heights of the civil service that these two gentlemen have reached by being phased by a mere select committee. They came, they saw, they told us nothing. It was just like the comedy programme Yes Minister but without the laughs. I went straight from there to the chamber to lead in a debate on the Telecommunications Bill. First, we debated amendments to the bill. One from Labour and one from the Conservatives were designed to omit Huawei from the digital infrastructure. Neither managed to get enough backing but there was a minor revolution in the Tory ranks and we shall revisit that when the next telecommunications bill is being debated. We then had the 3rd reading but that was uncontentious.


It’s UK Budget day. A budget long on promises but short on substance. It was almost like a pre-election (oh please not again) budget. Lots of sweeteners to keep folk happy but nothing to say where the money is coming from. As the saying goes, the devil and god are in the detail. I suspect as it unfolds, we shall see that a lot of these sweeteners will be on the never never or maybe the never at all. The red book will be poured over in the coming days.


I had the pleasure of meeting President of Catalonia, Roger Torrent. He explained the negotiations with the Spanish Government who are now recognising the conflict, recognising the Catalan cause and negotiating as equals. He is still pressing for an amnesty for the political prisoners and the 1,000 people who have been informed they could be prosecuted because of their part in the 2017 referendum. It was good to hear that the prisoners are allowed out to work up to 5 days a week. They are still prisoners, but they are strong. I caught a rather quiet flight home. Fewer people are travelling because of COVID-19 and I shall continue to monitor the situation regarding my travelling and the service provided by my constituency office.


A few engagements have been cancelled but I have constituent meetings to keep me busy along with an article for the ClydeLife magazine to write. If the event is not cancelled, I shall be planting trees up at the Coves Road Reservoir on Saturday.