Westminster diary w/b 13th September


I arrive at Westminster at 11:00. My first appointment is off the estate at Birdcage Walk with families who have lost loved ones to gambling related harm. It is as a very emotional meeting and is followed up with an interview for Channel 4 news with the focus being the Gambling Act review. There was a statement in the house on the lack of HGV drivers which has resulted in shortages of all sorts within industry and empty shelves in supermarkets. I was particularly vexed about this as I know the UK government blames COVID but is suspect it is more to do with Brexit. I had asked the Secretary of State for Transport a question about this in July 2019 and it appears that nothing has been done since to address the problem. There were votes up until 20:46.


This morning my hotel was full of men from countries around the globe wearing every conceivable military uniform you could imagine. There is a trade fair of military armoury on in London. I couldn’t help but wonder if these men, going to the same exhibition, staying in the same hotel, dining in the same restaurants were going to go home and start killing each other’s citizens with their new weapons. My select committee took evidence for the Minister for the constitution regarding the Elections Bill. There is a degree of scepticism regarding the need for much of it. And a genuine concern that voter ID will disenfranchise many people from the electoral franchise. I had the great privilege of joining the anti-gambling advertising in sport campaign group The Big Step to hand in a petition to number 10 Downing Street. I had meetings with the Scottish Whisky Association and the Bourbon Industry. There is an interesting tie between the two as many of the barrels used by the Bourbon manufacturers are used to age whisky. There is an issue with tariffs imposed on the USA which is adding to the cost and are detrimental to both industries.


Prime Minister’s Question actually became a pantomime this week, with the speaker intervening on the proceedings when the Prime Minister said, “I can see that panto season has come early” the speaker intervened to say “if it has, it is certainly behind him”, referring to his own members braying and bawling. Fortunately, there was a sensible debate in Westminster Hall on geothermal energy extraction. It was my job to sum up, which entails a quick run through the contributions from the previous speaker and a short addition of my own. The conclusion was that geothermal, like all clean green renewable energy, requires investment and it requires it now. Final vote was at 19:00.


My second select committee of the week was planned for this morning. It was the pre-appointment hearing for the position of the Public Appointments Commissioner. The role is to provide independent assurance that ministerial appointments to the boards of public bodies comply with the relevant rules. According to the Institute of Government this covers around 300 UK and 55 Welsh bodies. In truth these are appointments not interviews. By this stage there is only one candidate and it’s William Shawcross. However, with the cabinet shuffle resulting in a new Secretary of State (SOS) for Digital Culture Media and Sport (DCMS), I decided overnight to miss the committee and attend questions to DCMS. The plan was to ask the SOS to meet with families from Gambling With Lives as her predecessor has agreed to do. As it turned out I didn’t have to as Ian Duncan Smith managed to ask before me. It’s a swift reminder of the fluidity of work at Westminster when plans chop and change from hour to hour. In keeping with that we had a statement from the Prime Minister about ‘our friendship with Australia and the United States and the security of the Indo-Pacific’. The Prime Minister was very weak on the details and strong on the tub thumping. I took part in the COP26 debate and caught the 17:00 flight and was home by 20:00


The day starts with my regular catch up with Stuart McMillan MSP and SNP council group leader Liz Robertson. It always good to know what each other is doing so we don’t duplicate work but can help and support each other when appropriate. At midday I had a meeting with local activists and Keep Scotland Beautiful regarding plans we are hatching for Inverclyde. The afternoon is consumed by constituency case work.