It would be fair to say the flight or at least the landing on Monday was interesting. Storm Eunice was desperately trying to blow us onto runway 2 at Stanstead which was unfortunate as we were trying to land at the City Airport. Wind swept and interesting I made it into my Westminster office in time to meet up virtually with all my team and plan the coming week. I was in the chamber for question to the department for defence, once again no SNP members were on the order paper. I am beginning to think they don’t like us. We had the latest of a series of statements in the house on the unfolding situation in Ukraine. There is a sense of anger and frustration that we have stood back and watched the situation in Ukraine deteriorate over the years and now find ourselves on the brink of military involvement. In the evening President Putin made a very long rambling statement in an attempt to justify the situation.
I had a pre-meeting meeting (they are always the best) with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Small Business, Consumers and Labour, Paul Sully MP. We discussed the Post Office network, access to cash and the Horizon scandal. That was followed by the official meeting with others to discuss the Post Office action plan. Mr Scully seems to get it but as always, the Treasury will have the final say. I visited a drop in to get briefed on the Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill organised by Speed Up Britain. The All- Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Sexual Exploitation had our final evidence session on pornography. These sessions have been brutal to sit through and the last one was no exception. I had to leave before the last witness as I had to vote but I made sure my office was represented as it was a survivor of trafficking giving her testimony and they deserve to be heard.
Early start as the reading material gathered during the week is already taking over my desk. I was in the chamber at the start of business as I wanted to ask a question to the department for Women and Equalities. I bobbed on questions 1, 3 and 11 but was not taken. I was going to ask about the online safety bill and the government’s desire and ability to create a legal framework to prevent and address the harms associated with the production and consumption of pornography as this has been proven to be a major factor in fuelling violence against women and girls. Prime Minister’s Questions were boorish and suffer because of that. Caroline Lucas MP was barracked by the Conservative and Unionist benches and struggled to be heard as she pressed the Prime Minister on any Russian interference in UK elections. I then had a very constructive meeting with Maree Todd MSP to discuss gambling related harm support and education in Scotland.
My select committee met to take evidence from the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Sajid Javid. We are reporting on the ‘Coronavirus Virus Act two years on’. The act was made in haste to allow guidelines to be followed but the required laws by enlarge already existed in the Public Health Act 1984 and the Civil Contingencies Act 2004. We are focusing on the emergency legislation framework, ahead of the Act’s inbuilt sunset clause coming into effect on 25 March 2022. This will enable the Committee to ultimately make recommendations about whether the Act should be extended, the processes by which Parliament should be able to scrutinise any such extension, and reflection on the passage of legislation at pace to respond to emerging crises. The crisis in Ukraine weighs heavy on us all and the potential outcomes are truly frightening. As the Prime Minister takes to his feet to make his latest statement on the unfolding situation, Russian troops are closing in on Kyiv and the UK, NATO and a host of stakeholders are seemingly bereft of ideas as to how best influence the outcome.
I have an early morning brief on Ukraine and then a meeting with Michaela Jones from the Scottish Recovery Consortium to discuss drugs policy. The afternoon is consumed by casework.
There have been some very high-profile cases where parents of children suffering from rare epileptic conditions have called for medical cannabis to be provided on the NHS to treat their kids. As a result of this Matt Hancock said, in March 2019, it would be available on the NHS within six months. Medical use of cannabis was legalised in November 2018. Since then, two NHS prescriptions have been written. One already existed; therefore, three NHS prescriptions are in use for medical cannabis. In the UK there are 25 private clinics providing private prescriptions, there are 18 producers and 100 products. There are also 100 doctors prescribing. That would lead me to believe that the products exist, and the medical profession is prepared to prescribe it but only privately. The fact is that if you can afford it then your child can get it but its costly. Roughly £2,000 a month is required to fund the private prescription and the medicines. The benefit for the patients is clear for all to see. Children that suffered 50 fits a day and were tied into wheelchairs are now free from their fits, can ride bikes and go to school. The quality of life they experience and the relief for family and friends is undeniable. And yet we have 3 NHS prescription in over 3 years. Currently in the UK 1.4 million people are using cannabis for medical reasons. It’s obvious there is a huge difference between the supply and the demand on the NHS. It is cheaper to fund medical cannabis than it is for the other drugs the children are on and it avoids them being rushed int an ICU at £5,000 a day. We have the medicines, and they are cost effective. We need the governing bodies of the medical professionals to step up and publicly acknowledge the need and we need politicians to listen, learn and legislate.
The difficulty of balancing life in Inverclyde and Westminster was highlighted today as I tried to attend events in Inverclyde which were cancelled, rearranged and the cancelled again. Each time travel arrangements were changed and changed again. Eventually, I managed to attend a briefing from Ofgem on the energy price cap and the fuel crisis that is facing the UK. I was disappointed in what they had to say but had to remind myself that although they are not ministerial, they are a UK government department. The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Gambling Related Harm met for a catch up and to discuss strategy as we push the UK government to radically overhaul the Gambling Act (2005).
Select committee had a good session taking evidence on international treaties. Not the most obviously entertaining subject but expert witnesses that know their topic inside out can often spread their enthusiasm in the room and despite the fact they were on zoom, they still managed to do that. In the afternoon the APPG for Commercial Sexual Exploitation continued our enquiry in pornography. It is a brutal arena, and the education of young men is paramount if the damage it causes is to be addressed. It harms those who are being exploited and the audience that it desensitises, often producing aggressive and entitled young men.
I had an early start as I was chairing the Westminster Policy Forum discussion on Tackling Drug Dependence and Improving Delivery of Services. We had an excellent panel from a wide knowledge base, and they all contributed to an informative discussion. The principal speaker was Dame Carol Black, and she covered her Independent Review of Drugs that was published last year. I managed to catch the second half of Prime Minister’s Questions, after which the Prime Minister appeared in the tea-room and worked the tables with his many admirers in the Conservative and Unionist party fawning over his every word. The afternoon consisted of the APPG on Medical Cannabis where Dr Nathan Hasson explained the difficulties that the medical profession faces in prescribing medical cannabis. Most of the issues he has faced came from the British Paediatric Neurology Association. It is remarkable that a body that exists to represent doctors who specialise in the care of children with neurological disorders is so blind to the evidence that doctors are putting in front of them. Long term we need research and knowledge to base policy on but short term we need to find the money to fund the private prescriptions that are keeping kids alive. My last meeting was the CPPLG on Universal Basic Income. Andy White was a member of the body that put together the report for a basic income pilot in four Scottish councils and he walked us through the process. We also heard from similar projects in Northern Ireland and Wales.
I was on the Order Paper for questions to the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and asked about implementing the solutions to problems identified in the Gambling Act review, now rather than wait for the gambling act review to finish. I was primarily referring to advertising in football. I met with representatives of the Cancard system. Cancard is a validated indication to the police, or any third party, that you are consuming cannabis for medical reasons.
I visited Peel Ports for a catch up on all things Inverclyde including the on-going saga of Inchgreen. I was scheduled to host a remote question and answer session with pupils from St Columba’s High school but due to Covid restrictions their tour to London and Westminster was cancelled.
On Sunday, I shall be joining the gambling charity ‘The Big Step’ to walk from Hamilton football club to Hampden via Celtic, Patrick Thistle and Rangers, to raise awareness of gambling advertising in football.
Recently, two high profile cases have once again shone a light on men’s violence against women and in particular sexual violence. At the root cause of this is a growing feeling of entitlement in men to abuse women physically, psychologically and sexually. Young men and boys are being exposed to harmful sexual content, often illegal, on the internet and it is normalising certain acts to the point where they are not recognised as abuse. Young women are being subjected to choking, spitting, bruising and often feel the need to accept it to feel worth. Young men see this as the norm and therefore see it as their entitlement. The UK is the second highest consumer of pornography in the world. If we are to break this cycle, then men need to take responsibility. We can’t turn a blind eye to fact that women and girls are being trafficked, raped, and abused for entertainment. Men are the consumers. Fifty percent of boys aged 11 to 13 and 66% of boys aged 14 to 15 have accessed online pornography. The impact of this is that they experience increased stress and dissatisfaction. The outcome is sexism, misogynism and sexual aggression. We need to be able to provide the appropriate level of education at different age groups and encourage young men to take responsibility for their actions. We cannot pretend the problem doesn’t exist. In my capacity as an M.P. I shall be looking to improve the digital Online Safety Bill and support Baroness Kidron’s Age Assurance Bill. Along with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Commercial Sexual Exploitation, I shall be looking to expand the definition of harmful content. And as a man I shall always speak out against men’s violence against woman in whatever form that takes.