Westminster diary w/b 29th November

Monday

I was in the chamber for questions to the Department for ‘Levelling Up, Housing and communities. I wasn’t on the Order Paper but bobbed enthusiastically during topical questions. Unfortunately, I was not taken. I am seeking further clarity on the guidelines for round two of the levelling up fund so as Inverclyde council is best informed prior to our bid or bids. Other avenues exist and I shall leave no stone unturned. Levelling up exists because of the disparity in wealth and opportunity within the United Kingdom and it’s only right that Inverclyde should be prioritised during this process. One of the less glamorous tasks as an MP is participating in some rather humdrum Delegated Legislation committees. Today I sat on the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (amendment) 2021 and it was as exciting as it sounds. But needs must and I managed to abstain with style. Once again business in the house collapsed early, which is a continuing frustration. Not because I desperately want to be in the debating chamber until 10pm for the sake of it but because there is a lot to debate which isn’t getting the time it deserves. Tuesday being a perfect example.

Tuesday

Today was a day when the Scottish National Party get to choose the topics for debate. And we had chosen to cover two topics. First was ‘Cost of Living Crisis’ and second was the ‘Conduct of the Right Honourable Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip’ otherwise known as the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. Despite an early end to chamber business yet again yesterday, the UK government felt the need to take back the time for our first debate and replace it with ‘Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings) (England) Regulations 2021’. The second debate however was a lively affair, but the Member didn’t come to defend himself, he left that to his backbenchers. It did have one interesting historical note as the use of the word ‘liar’ is not permitted in the House of Commons. But the House staff that adjudicate over the chamber decided that the word could be used otherwise we couldn’t adequately describe the conduct of the Prime Minister. The deputy speaker made this clear before the debate started. Prior to all that, I met with a range of financial institutions to discuss what has to be done to protect people from experiencing gambling harm and in particular losing vast sums of money, extremely quickly.

Wednesday

The Prime Minister did turn up for PMQs, so did I. Nothing of note happened. I had a meeting with representatives from Link and the Post Office regarding access to cash. With high street banks closing branches and post offices following the same pattern we need to rethink how we can provide cash and the other services that post offices and ATMs provide. It has been announced that following a successful trial, 2,000 shops will offer cash to the penny without purchase. Along with bank hubs which are being trialled this is an interesting development. At 4pm I visited number 10 Downing Street along with Carolyn Harris MP and Ian Duncan Smith MP to meet with the government’s lead gambling adviser. We are seeking massive changes to the gambling act which has been an absolute disaster since Tony Blair introduced it in 2005. This follows a previous meeting with the government minister responsible. Hopefully the message is getting through. But I don’t underestimate the power of the gambling industry and their paid lobbying partners. One interesting incident was that Carolyn managed to switch on the Christmas tree lights at number 10 by accident. Much to everyone’s surprise as the official ceremony was scheduled for later in the evening! We had a couple of votes at around 6pm and the conclusion of the finance bill part two. Yet again the minister responding refusing interventions, citing a lack of time and then sits down well within the time allocated. This is a trend that should be questioned. Ministers are there on government time to be held accountable.

Thursday

In the morning I ring fenced some time to read. Not unfortunately the latest John le Carrè novel but the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee Chair’s draft report – the elections bill. It’s not a great page turner but at least nobody dies in it. The afternoon is consumed by constituency casework and catching up with my office team.

Friday

The day starts with a meeting with River Clyde Homes. Social housing is a major issue in Inverclyde and understandably an extremely emotive one. I visited St Columba Kilmacolm to talk with some of their modern studies pupils. This meeting was arranged after a couple of pupils emailed me with specific questions. I took the opportunity to expand the discussion by doing it in person and while I was there and I caught up with their Rector, Vicky Reilly. I dropped in to the Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland shop in Kilmacolm and in the evening attended (virtually) the local SNP branch meeting.

On Saturday I shall be getting my covid booster and flu jag.

Written question – DWP/Employment [03/12/2021]

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what steps her Department is taking to help ensure that departmental staff who have underlying health conditions can continue to work from home and not mandated to return to the office on a hybrid basis. (81990)

Tabled on: 25 November 2021

This question was grouped with the following question(s) for answer:

  1. To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what steps her Department is taking to help support departmental staff who have been working from home since the outbreak of covid-19. (81991)
    Tabled on: 25 November 2021

Answer:
Guy Opperman:

We take the Health and Safety of DWP staff and customers very seriously. We have robust risk assessments and guidance to ensure all appropriate mitigations are in place to keep our people safe.

As part of regularly reviewing our risk assessments, working with our departmental and local trade union colleagues, we consult the legislation and guidance of the devolved administrations ensuring that any differences are reflected within the risk assessment and communicated to staff based in offices in Scotland and Wales.

Staff based in Scotland should be following the safety measures included in the DWP risk assessments that incorporate any differences in Scottish government guidance.

Since the start of the pandemic, DWP has rigorously followed guidance from the respective governments in the devolved nations, thus allowing people to work safely from the office, or at home. We are committed to continuing this approach as we learn to live with the virus and return more of our people to the workplace in a safe, steady and controlled way.

We are constantly reviewing our position as and when new government guidance is issued. No matter where our people are working now, or in the future, their safety and compliance with government guidance is our number one priority.

If your constituents remain concerned about their own, or their colleagues’ personal safety and / or any of the practices within their specific office, they can raise this with their line manager.

The answer was submitted on 03 Dec 2021 at 14:14.

Greenock Telegraph 3rd December 2021

This week I read about a man, Kevin Strickland, who served 43 years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. It is a tragedy, a life ruined by a jury with a predisposition of guilt when confronted by a young black man. We can be quick to judge those that don’t fit our own criteria or philosophies. We witness it everyday in acts of bigotry, racism, sexism or just plain bias.

We create groups that can be ostracised and marginalised, people with addictions, homeless people, immigrants, people of colour to name but a few, and the danger is, that we then become ensconced within our own bounds and more likely to be pass remarkable as a result. It’s casual, it’s lazy and it’s wrong.

The problem with that attitude and being quick to judge is that it can easily hurt and offend people. Innocent people. It leads to a mind set with a predilection to criticise and blame, to harangue and intimidate just like playground school bullies. And like school bullies the weak and the easily led are often brought into the gang to do the dirty work. Decrying somebody because you don’t agree with their religion, sexuality, culture or politics, or you don’t like the way they dress or the colour of their skin, serves nobody and no democracy well. It stains free speech, it undermines debate, it’s shoddy but thankfully not yet representative of wider society. Kevin Strickland’s life has been destroyed by prejudice and his incarceration represents the pinnacle of intolerance. We live at the grassroots of prejudice and ignorance and we should not tolerate it in our society, our mainstream media, our social media or on our doorstep. 

Written questions – Post Offices [02/12/2021]

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what steps his Department is taking to migrate customers from the Post Office card account. (81988)

Tabled on: 25 November 2021

Answer:
Guy Opperman:

This process has been ongoing for some time. The Department is writing to all Post Office card account customers to inform them that Post Office card accounts are ending and asking them to update their payment method to a transactional bank, building society, credit union or internet-based account. All Post Office card account customers receive two letters during the phased migration. Post Office card account customers who do not update their payment method to a transactional account are being migrated on a month-by-month basis to the new Payment Exception Service.

The answer was submitted on 02 Dec 2021 at 14:04.

Written question – Post Offices [02/12/2021]

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what (a) information and (b) support his Department plans to provide to people who use the Post Office card account in the context of the pending closure of that account. (81987)

Tabled on: 25 November 2021

Answer:
Guy Opperman:

The Department is writing to all Post Office card account customers to inform them that Post Office card accounts are ending and asking them to update their payment method to a transactional bank, building society, credit union or internet-based account. Those who are unable to access or use a bank account will receive a payment card for the Payment Exception Service along with information which explains how the service works. DWP’s Financial Inclusion Customer Contact Centre are also available to support and answer queries from claimants and pensioners, and arrange a home visit where required.

DWP’s most vulnerable customers have successfully been using the Payment Exception Service since it replaced the Simple Payment Service in 2018. It is a basic cash-in cash-out service and is easy for customers to use. For Post Office card account customers migrating to the Payment Exception Service they will be able to continue to collect their payments using a payment card at their local Post Office.

The answer was submitted on 02 Dec 2021 at 14:28.