Westminster diary w/b 24th January

Monday

I am on the rota today which means I need to be available to cover anything that comes up. Prior to the chamber sitting I have an interview from a journalist based in New York but originally from Aberdeenshire. The subject matter is substance use in Scotland, and we have a wide-ranging discussion. The first business of the day is questions to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. I bob on the back of a couple of questions about levelling up but don’t get taken. Not in a mood to take no for an answer and seeking clarification on the criteria and timescale of levelling up funding round two, I bob for topical questions and get in. Michael Gove’s answer was less than informative, and I shall pursue him further. We need clarity to enable Inverclyde to bid for local projects. The opposition day debate is led by the SNP and amidst all the distractions of Boris’s birthday parties we debate the cost of living. With the cost of food, fuel, energy all increasing the UK give should be protecting the most vulnerable in society but sadly we still protect the richest before the poorest. We called on the UK government to take immediate action with a package of measures to boost incomes and reverse rising poverty. The Liberal Democrats, Alba and the SDLP all voted with us, Labour abstained. The last vote was at 20:37.

Tuesday

My select committee takes evidence from academics and lawyers regarding the coronavirus act – two years after it was created. The lessons learned are that no country got it totally right, but Norway and New Zealand got it better than most and definitely better than the UK. When we legislate in haste gas, we did at the outset of Covid’s, it’s hard to legislate well. Therefore, rather than a two-year sunset clause (when we can debate keeping, changing or dropping parts of legislation), we should have much shorter ones and therefore speedier reviews. Three months is about right. And the finished legislation should be clear and understandable. There were two urgent questions. First on the Prime Minister’s latest party revelation. Presumably he recognised this one as a party because he had a cake with candles and people sang Happy Birthday to him. Then a question on Ukraine. It’s a worrying situation that we can’t allow to escalate.

Wednesday

Prior to Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) I was on the panel for Five Live’s politics show. Nicky Campbell is the host, and we covered the disgraceful behaviour of the Prime Minster throughout the pandemic, the increase in the cost of loving and the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. It was a lively discussion with listeners phoning in their questions. PMQs was a bit too lively for the speaker who continually had to remind Conservative and Labour MPs to quieten down so questions and answers can be heard. The lack of meaningful debates at Westminster is shocking and so I took the opportunity to come home early. There is always plenty to do in Inverclyde.

Thursday

I spoke with some local sports clubs about the availability of appropriate facilities. My playing days are over, but I love my sport and have never doubted the benefits to mental health that sport can provide. It’s not all about the mainstream sports and we need to see how we can accommodate the sport of choice for all.

Friday

I had meetings with ‘The Shed’ and ‘Man On’ and in the evening I was at The Beacon to watch Interiors. It’s a production by Vanishing Point and I am glad to see this world-renowned artist led theatre company are now located in Inverclyde.

Greenock Telegraph 28th January 2022

As a child growing up in the sixties the Cold War was a regular news item, and the picture was painted of a free Western Europe backed up by the USA. While behind the iron curtain was the cold heartless communist regime with Moscow at its centre and spreading throughout the United Soviet Socialist Republic. Locally the tensions and misconceptions were heightened by the presence of the American naval base in the Holy Loch. The USSR posed a threat to the freedom of the West. This was an excuse for arms race and a proliferation of nuclear weapons. But the Cold War ended, the Berlin Wall was torn down, and countries that had been consumed were once again free and recognised as independent sovereign nations. Amongst others Moldova, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Georgia, and Ukraine all emerged from under the control of Moscow. Russia embraced the accumulation of great wealth and infiltrated the economies of many countries, often with money of dubious sources. They were no longer perceived to be the enemy, not while they could pay top dollar for London property. Not while the tills rang out in Mayfair and Knightsbridge. And yet Moscow has grown uneasy over western influences on Russian domestic affairs. Their nervousness’s has resulted in incursions into Crimea after the Ukraine politically moved closer to Europe. And eight years later Crimea is annexed, the Ukraine is under threat, and we need to act. We must impose trade restrictions and hit the money men where it hurts then most, in their wallets. Russian individuals must be cut off from using the SWIFT banking payments system, a measure that will have real and measurable impact if imposed.

Ukraine is an independent sovereign nation and should be recognised and respected as such. This is not the Cold War reds under the beds, mentality. One premise of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act is that state borders should not be changed by force and although Ukraine is not part of NATO it must be protected. Diplomatic channels should be working night and day to avoid conflict as the continuation of Ukraine to function free from threats and external influences is paramount to avoiding a war on European soil.

Westminster diary w/b 17th January

Monday

An early start and off to Westminster with a spring in my step. Today is the day that we hold the UK Government to account over their simply appalling Elections Bill. It’s the only debate of the day and therefore should be at least 6 hours with votes added at the end. Two select committees have ripped into it and organisations such as Age UK, MENCAP, Sense, RNIB, Stonewall and the Runnymede Trust have all warned that this bill will place barriers in the way of their members which will reduce the number of people voting. Similar legislation in Northern Ireland saw a downturn which if extrapolated across the UK would see a reduction of voters in the region of 1.1 million. Experience has taught me that I should prepare no more than six minutes. Upon arriving I am staggered to see that three statements have been tabled. That’s three hours gone. My six minutes becomes 5 then 4 then none. And my exasperation grows. The Tory vote is carried in six votes. All opposition amendments are defeated, and the bill is passed. Democracy is weakened. My earlier jaunty demeanour is reduced to a sad hunched figure wandering back to my hotel at 22:30 in a bitterly cold London clutching an egg and cress sandwich and a pint of milk.

Tuesday

My select committee took evidence from the National Audit Committee regarding expenditure in the Cabinet Office. I don’t know if it was tiredness or the numbers that were being quoted but something made my eyes water. The number of people employed in the cabinet office in 2015-16 was 2,300 and by 2020-21 it had grown to 9,800 and now costs £0.7 billion a year. Another cost is the £8.4 million to lease the Prime Ministers jet, that is before additional sortie costs. The Prime Minister’s self-gratification just goes on and on. In the afternoon the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sexual Exploitation, heard from experts about children being exposed to pornography and the damage it has on them. The internet is a prime facilitator of much of it and serious regulation is required to protect children from inadvertently being subjected to pornography at an early age. Exposure to this material normalises violent and abusive behaviour and leads to stress, anger and sexual aggression later in life.

Wednesday

The usual Finance and Economy meeting is followed by Prime Minister’s questions. But not before we are treated to the spectacle of Christian Wakeford ‘crossing the floor’. The Conservative and Unionist MP for Bury South joined the Labour Party. The same MP who criticised the Labour Party for not representing working class communities and believes that the Conservative government has delivered for the people of this country. And to put a tin hat on it, he is the same MP that said if an elected member changes party then that should trigger a by-election. I agree with him on that, but I am not holding my breath. Much to some people’s surprise, it is the same Prime Minister as last week. Given the Prime Minister’s behaviour there were expectations that his own party would rip him down, but they are the same people that put him in power in the first place and so the circus continues. His performance was bullish and energetic. This is a man that clearly thinks he has been let off the hook. During the subsequent covid statement I questioned the Prime Minister’s ability to lead by showing a responsible attitude. No doubt the political manoeuvres shall continue but for the moment the Prime Minister looks to be safe. That is until the media reveal the next scandal.

Thursday

PACAC was scheduled to take evidence from Alex Chisholm (Cabinet Office Permanent Secretary and the chief operating officer of the United Kingdom’s Civil Service) and Steve Barclay MP

(Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office) around the workings of the Cabinet Office including their handling of freedom of information requests. But before we started the chair issued a statement saying that Conservative and Union MPs had been bullied and blackmailed into supporting their Prime Minister. The allegations are that money, designated for important projects in their constituencies, could be withdrawn if they exercise their right and express discontent with the prime minister.  We also heard that they are being threatened with smear stories. Understandably this took most of the headlines, but the evidence session also went well.

Friday

Today was mostly constituency casework briefings and an opportunity to catch up with local councillors.

£3million Home Heating Support fund

The Home Heating Support fund has been launched to help Scots struggling with their energy bills amid a growing cost-of-living crisis. The Scottish Government scheme, administered by Advice Direct Scotland, is designed to prevent households falling into fuel poverty. The fund is open until 31 March and applications can be made on behalf of individuals by ‘referral partners’ through www.homeheatingadvice.scot. If you are aware of constituents who are struggling with their energy bills, their local council or housing association – or a charity who is supporting them – can refer them to the scheme.

Westminster diary w/b 10th January

Monday

It does seem ridiculous in the current health climate but to do my job I am required to travel to Westminster as the previous facility that allowed me to take part remotely has been removed and so it’s back to crowded rooms and packed voting lobbies. What could possibly go wrong? There were six votes in total today, for three of them I was a teller and therefore I don’t get to vote. I wasn’t alone in not voting to oppose the Tories welfare cap as only 14 Labour MPs opposed, and the rest abstained except for one that felt so strongly about it that she voted for it ! On nights like this food is grabbed whenever one can and the public impression of MPs enjoying fine dining at subsidised restaurants plays out as an unholy scramble for chips and beans in a mouse infested canteen. The last vote was just after 10pm and I scurried away through the London rain to check in to my hotel. 

Tuesday

My select committee started at 9:30 and we only had one witness. Lord Evans is the Chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life and his remit, amongst other areas, covers elected members. His career was spent in the security services, initially in counter espionage and later in counter terrorism. In 2007 he was appointed director general of MI5. I am currently reading John Le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, so it was hard not to see George Smiley sitting in front of me. He was an excellent witness and I pressed him on how the Prime Minister can be held to account for his disgraceful behaviour when the Prime Minister is the person who is supposed to impose the ministerial code. There was an Urgent Question in the house regarding the party held in the Downing Street Garden to which 100 people were invited during a period when the rest of us were in lockdown. The Paymaster General was despatched to defend the indefensible. I was taken and reiterated my view that the Prime Minister has demeaned his position and should be held to account by his colleagues. Last votes were at 7pm. 

Wednesday

First meeting of the day was with the Finance and Economy team. We liaise regularly with our Holyrood colleagues to ensure our voice is consistent and focused on issues affecting Scotland and our constituents. Energy is definitely high on the agenda with the Conservative Party’s nuclear fixation undermining clean, green renewables. Unfortunately, this week the Labour Party have by en large supported the Conservative Government on this issue, with only six Labour MPs voting against the Nuclear Energy (Financing) Bill at the third reading while 148 voted for it. Scotland’s energy future should be within the clean, green, renewable sector and only through sufficient investment and a singular determination will we get there. Westminster does not share this view. 

Thursday 

I made it back into Inverclyde last night which makes it easier to do my constituency work. My office continues to adhere to Covid guidelines but with suitable hand washing, mask wearing and working within a rota we can utilise the office and support each other. Unfortunately, we cannot open the doors to the public yet. We have witnessed a huge increase in cases with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). There have been several issues which seem to be resolved but the DVLA is now working through a large backlog. In the evening I attended the Inverkip and Wemyss Bay community council via zoom.

Friday

The Elections Bill is back in the House of Commons on Monday, and I hope to speak to several amendments. To help me to do this in a constructive fashion I read through all the marshalled amendments today, never an easy read but fortunately my select committee also produced a report and recommendations therefore re-reading that helped enormously. Normally a full day given over to reading is a pleasure. Today it was definitely challenging. On the upside I have managed another week of daily lateral flow tests, all negative.