Today my diary was dominated by two events. First the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on gambling related harm took evidence from medical experts relating to gambling harm. It was powerful testimony and all five experts, Dr Anna Van Der Gaag CBE – Chair, Advisory Board for Safer Gambling! Professor Dame Clare Gerada – Medical Director, Primary Care Gambling Service! Professor Henrietta Bowden Jones OBE – Director, National Problem Gambling Clinic! Dr Matt Gaskell – Clinical Lead, NHS Northern Gambling Service and Professor Jim Orford – Emeritus Professor of Clinical and Community Psychology, University of Birmingham were united in calling for a statutory levy on the gambling industry to fund the support, treatment and education that is required. They also supported the pushing out of treatment through the existing NHS services. My second major event of the day was speaking on a panel of MPs on the topic of Drug Law Reform. I spoke alongside Dr Dan Poulter of the Conservative Party and Christine Jardine of the Liberal Democrats. We pretty much agree on the next stages required, especially with regard to the need for greater medical cannabis research and development with the aim to producing licensed products for use in the UK.
The APPG on commercial sexual exploitation convened to re-elect the executive. We also briefly discussed our investigations going forward. Some of the evidence taken at these sessions is harrowing but it gives a voice to those who have been used and abused and empowers them to seek change. Therefore, it is the very least we can do to listen. The rest of the day was consumed by constituency case work and preparation for future meetings.
The APPG for Catalonia met with the Catalan Minister for Foreign Affairs, Victoria Alsina. She gave us an update of the current political situation between Spain and Catalonia. It is frustrating that while talks continue to improve the dialogue between both governments, people are still being arrested for promoting Catalonia’s right to self-determination. Persecution has no place in a modern democracy and political views must be heard even if we don’t agree with them. I went to Prime Minister’s Questions because I was elected to represent the entire community of Inverclyde, believe me, if I was just representing me I would not. The unedifying sight of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom calling the Leader of Her Majesty’s opposition names is appalling. It is like I remember a primary school playground, with apologies to all primary school pupils, it is my experience having visited many local primary schools that their behaviour these days is much better. In the afternoon I was at the Cross Party Parliamentary and Local Government (CPPLG) for Universal Basic Income (UBI). We heard from the UBI projects in both Wales and Northern Ireland about their proposals to run pilot schemes. Only by running them will we learn more of the pros and cons. And the United Kingdom government should be supporting these pilots. Policy should be evidence driven and pilot projects will provide evidence for robust analysis. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to developing a fair welfare system.
My select committee sat today and we took evidence from the Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Dunham and the Head of FOI Complaints and Appeals at the Information Commissioner’s Office, Andrew White. The answered questions primarily around freedom of information which will be part of a report on the Clearing House within the Cabinet Office. The outcome of the report is still to be considered but I was surprised to hear that the UK government is creating a new Environmental Agency which is not subject to inquiries under the Freedom of Information Act.
The adjournment debate on the subject of ‘Potential merits of ring-fenced funding for tidal energy generation’ was led by Ian Blackford. I took the opportunity to point out that we need to plant the seeds of clean green renewable energy now if we are to reap the fruits in years to come. The UK government must act now and throw all possible resources into providing better outcomes by investing now.
Today I had an Interview on a YouTube channel regarding medical cannabis. I met up with colleagues to discuss levelling up funding. I then I had a zoom meeting with Holistic Highland Hemp to discuss hemp and CBD products. This meeting came about as a result of a chance meeting with a third party at COP26. As is so often the case networking throws up some surprising opportunities. I had my regular meeting with councillors and Stuart McMillan MSPs office. In the evening I dropped into the Recovery café.
An unusual start to the week as a number of engagements are changed and cancelled which means a quick reshuffle of my diary. Business in the chamber also suffers from hasty rearrangements and the whips office has us all on our toes. The first vote of the day is to vote against the government motion which is a motion to disagree with the Lords amendment of the social security ‘up rating of benefits’ bill. Voting no to agree with the amendment seems counter intuitive, the doors of the voting lobbies are therefore heavily populated with whips from all parties to ensure nobody slips up.
Westminster Hall was overflowing with MPs as we debated the unlawful detainment of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in Iran for over 2,000 days. I met Nazanin’s husband Richard recently while he was on hunger strike but tragically it was over 5 years ago that I first met him regarding this injustice. Despite meetings and platitudes from the Foreign Office there has still been no promises and no real commitments from the UK government. It was shocking to listen to the government minster refuse to answer questions, read a prepared statement and refuse interventions. Government ministers responding to debates and not taking interventions is becoming a feature of debates at Westminster. I stayed in Westminster Hall for the debate on the retiral age of prison officers. As a result of having Greenock prison in my constituency I have been contacted by a lot of officers who either live and work in Inverclyde or live-in neighbouring constituencies and works in HMP Greenock. There is no logical reason why prison officers should be expected to carry out their duties until they are 68. It is a physical and stressful job and should attract the same retirement rights as the emergency services.
Will I never learn? Full of hope I filed in to Prime Minister’s Questions and it was a horror show. I was hoping that a Parliament which has been shamed by scandal after scandal in recent weeks and a Prime Minister who has been at the very heart of it would show contrition and display courtesy and professionalism in the workplace. Instead, I witnessed the Prime Minister being berated by the Speaker for his behaviour. Not once, not twice but three times. The arrogance and conceit from the U.K. government benches knows no bounds. Fortunately for my blood pressure I had a constructive meeting with the Parliamentary under Secretary of State at Digital Culture Media and Sport (DCMS). I am looking for big changes in the gambling act. I live in hope. I spoke in the second of the Labour debates ‘Strengthening Standards in Public Life’. All the standards or conventions in the world won’t fix the problem if the U.K. government does not have a mindset that respects the seven (Nolan) principles of public life. Yet again a U.K. government minister in his summing up speech refused to take any interventions.
I bobbed for questions for DCMS but didn’t get taken. The speaker indicated he would take me during topicals, and he did. I pressed the UK government on the lessons learned from the investigation into the Football Index collapse which robbed many people of large sums of money. Hopefully it’s a lesson learnt by the UK Government but we also need to recompense those that have been cheated. I had a meeting with Public Health England to hear about their report into gambling harm. In the afternoon I met with Cardtronics to discuss access to cash.
I had meetings with Citizens Advice Scotland and the Chief Executive of Inverclyde Council, Louise Long.
On Saturday, I shall be attending the Inverclyde Faith in Throughcare prisoner’s week which is supported by the artist Gerard M Burns.
COP26 has come and gone from Glasgow but did it make a difference? Much was made about people flying in and out, the disruption to traffic and the protests but was it all worth it? The expressed ambitions from the combined governments were not as ambitious or binding as I would have liked but outside the blue (political) zone there was a massive engagement of people and organisations. The green and yellow zones were where it was happening. Networks were made and strengthened. Collaborations forged and shared ventures planned. It’s the planting of these seeds that may just save us from ourselves. We have heard before of crisis and conflicts which apparently, we were all in together, although it never feels that way and inevitably the richest in society weather these storms better than others. Given the undeniable evidence even the richest and most insular must surely now be aware that we all share a planet and once it’s gone it’s gone for good. There will be no hiding place from the climate crisis, all the wealth and privilege won’t stop the inevitable. We have to ensure that is understood and that we don’t delay until it’s too late. Once we pass the tipping point there is no way back. We need to convince governments, multi nationals, global players that we won’t forgive them if they walk away from COP26 with a pocket full of promises and nothing else. And we must do everything we can within our own communities to plant seeds, encourage change and when necessary lead by example. We should make Inverclyde an exemplar of a community willing to change. And if that’s too ambitious for some folk, then move aside and let those willing to lead, take centre stage.