Westminster diary wb 24th October

Monday

Early start and a chat with Dame Annabelle Goldie on the journey down. Safe to say we don’t agree on everything but we can still have the conversation. I dialled in to the Inverclyde Task Force meeting from my office in Westminster. Good to hear we are going to invest in creating careers in a social work in Inverclyde. And good to see Scottish Government represented by Ivan McKee MSP on the call. We need the vision and the plan but we also need financing to create the environment required to attract private investment. I attended the APPG for Catalonia to hear from the President of the Catalan National Assembly, Dolors Felieu. Two of the previous presidents, Carme Forcadell and Jordi Sanchez were among nine Catalan leaders jailed for ‘sedition’ following the independence referendum. I visited Jordi in his prison cell. Dolors spoke in great detail about the demand for greater autonomy for Catalonia and the persecution of those that took part in the 2017 referendum. Over 4,000 people that facilitated the referendum or actively supported it have been prosecuted. And yet not one person that used violence against the electorate has been charged with any crime. The Conservative and Unionists  have announced Rishi Sunak as their new party leader. 

Tuesday

A break in my routine as I travelled to Norway today with my select committee. We are investigating the Norwegian political system. The journey is Westminster to Paddington to Heathrow to Oslo. I could have flown from Glasgow to Oslo but parliamentary rules won’t allow me. More Westminster madness. During my flight to Oslo there seems to have a been the beginning of a purge of the previous Prime Minister’s cabinet. I fully expect there will be more before the week is out. It’s a 45 minute transfer into Oslo from the airport and I have just enough time to freshen up before launching into a meeting with the U.K. ambassador to Norway, Richard Wood. The ambassador is well liked in Norway. He is fluent in Norwegian and has worked very hard to engage with all aspects of Norwegian society. He would be a good U.K. ambassador to an independent Scotland. I enjoyed a very nice dinner with the ambassador, there were no Ferrero Rocher.

Wednesday

The first meeting of the day was with the Storting Vice President Svein Harberg.

Followed by a visit to the debating chamber to observe the Norwegian Parliament’s Prime Minister’s Question time. It was nothing like Westminster’s. It was quiet, respectful and cooperative. Interestingly the members are seated in a semi circle chamber in their geographical groupings. Therefore the parties are all interspersed. Much like the Scottish Parliament they vote electronically, work Tuesday to Thursday to allow two days in their constituencies and there is child care provision provided. I then had meetings with the standing committee on business and industry, the Europe consultative committee, the standing committee on scrutiny and constitutional affairs and then the committee on foreign affairs and defence. Finally I met with State Secretary Erling Rimestad. That was the end of the official engagements for the day but I had taken the opportunity to meet up with Dagfinn Hessen from Safer Drugs Policy. It’s always  interesting to see a different approach to drug use.

Thursday

The official meetings continued with Trade, Industry and Fisheries. A briefing from Inge Lorange Backe, Professor Emeritus of Law. Finally I met with representatives of the trade unions and business owners. My final meeting of the trip was with the representatives from the trade unions and business organisations that sit on the EFTA committee. The most striking thing about this visit has been the repeated message from the government ministers, elected members, civil servants and non governmental organisations that they all exercise and expect trust, responsibility and cooperation between each other to create a better Norway. Norway an independent sovereign nation of 5 million people in Northern Europe with a written constitution, it’s own currency and capable of negotiating its own trade deals and international treaties.

Friday 

I have a couple of swift meetings in London and then travel back to Scotland. It’s been a very informative week and these trips which are both exhausting and stimulating always make me appreciate both the wider world and the joy of coming home. 

Westminster diary wb 17th October

Monday

It is always nice to bump into constituents while in Westminster. This week I had a quick chat about medical cannabis. If any of my constituents are paying a private prescription for medical cannabis, then please get in touch with me as I am happy to fight your cause for funding. I had a chat with a representative of the Union for Maritime Professionals regarding the re-skilling and transition of employees to avoid the outcome that P&O forced on almost 800 seafarers when their jobs were taken from them and were then replaced with people who are being paid less and working in poorer conditions. As a seafaring nation we should take pride in our seafarers and protect their employment rights and career progression.

I was on the order paper for questions to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. I sought clarification regarding the amount of levelling up funding still to be allocated and when we would know if Inverclyde’s bid has been successful? I didn’t get a straight answer and the accepted timeline of the ‘end of November’ has now become ‘before Christmas’. There was an Urgent Question on the replacement of the Chancellor. A perfectly valid question seeing as the last one lasted 38 days. Liz Truss sent Penny Mordaunt to answer, and she spent the time saying it was a waste of time to even answer the question and that the Prime Minister was engaged elsewhere in more important business. The new chancellor then came to the house accompanied by the Prime Minister! He assured us that he was pursuing compassionate Conservative policies. An oxymoron if ever there was one. In the evening I attended an event at Dover House to lend my support to the Poppy Scotland launch.

Tuesday

My select committee took evidence in private regarding international treaties.

A suspicious package resulted in the evacuation of my office. I met with a healthcare provider to discuss their kidney function testing kits. We are hoping to establish a pilot programme to test their effectiveness in early diagnosis of kidney disease.

Wednesday

I heard one side of the Biomass argument from those that support the Drax powers stations actions as recently highlighted in a Panorama documentary. At PMQ the backbenches were very quiet and stony faced. The PM spent a lot of time blaming the opposition for not solving problems that they have no power to solve. This rather disjointed approach continued and multiple times the PM said she has delivered on the energy price cap, but she hasn’t. Her plan was for 2 years it’s now planned to end in April. To cheer myself up I went for my flu jag before engaging with the Betting and Gaming Council at a ‘Safe Gambling’ event. My issues with them is they don’t want a levy on the industry and they don’t want to ban advertising on football shirts or anywhere else. And they are funded by the gambling industry. The Secretary of State for the Home Office resigned while I was being briefed by the other side of the biomass argument, those that don’t agree with the actions Drax are taking. Things went from bad to worse for the U.K. government when tempers flared during votes in the fracking bill. Very unparliamentary language was heard and there are reports of physical intimidation being used to encourage Conservative MPs to vote with their party. This, amidst a lot of confusion around whether it was a three-line whip for them or not. The government chief whip resigned (or maybe didn’t). Meanwhile the man responsible for a lot of this chaos is reported to be on holiday in the Caribbean.

Thursday

I was in the house for questions to DCMS. I wasn’t taken. I attended a briefing on Evusheld, at the request of a number of my constituents that have compromised immune systems and require to shield. The long and short of it is that the drug is available in the U.K. and has been deemed suitable by the MHRA but not by NICE. The difference being that MHRA say it isn’t effective, but NICE won’t say it is cost effective. Like an increasing number of drugs of you can afford it you can buy it privately, if you can’t afford it then you go without. Then as I was preparing for my second select committee session of the week, the Prime Minister went and resigned. When you build your career as an opportunist on shifting sands then don’t be surprised when it all comes tumbling down.

Friday

I had meetings with Inverclyde Council CEO Louise Long and in the afternoon my office team along with SNP councillors received training on Naloxone administration from the Scottish Drugs Forum.

Greenock Telegraph 21st October

As we stumble into another week of economic chaos at Westminster the unionist mantra of ‘strong and stable’ has been reduced to ashes. Burnt to a crisp by a bonfire of vanity that started with Boris Johnson and continued with a leadership race for the Conservative and Unionist party that consisted of one outrageous promise after the other. The outcome was a Prime Minister that nobody, including her own party, wanted and a financial statement that crashed the pound, inflated mortgage rates and put the frighteners on the financial markets. Those most affected are, as always, those who have already cut their budgets to the bone. Having made such a catastrophic start to her leadership, the Prime Minister sacked her Chancellor and appointed a new one who notably had opposed all her financial plans in the first place. Which begs the question, who is running the U.K. now? When a country is in turmoil and change is required to repair all the damage caused by Brexit, Covid, energy prices and Boris Johnson, strong and stable is exactly what we need and what we have been promised but once again Westminster has failed to deliver.

Hot on the heels of the financial statement and the chancellor being despatched, the new Chancellor has written off and backtracked on everything that was in it bar the national insurance changes and the banker’s bonus being uncapped. The energy support package that the Prime Minister promised was for two years will now be scrapped in April. In an attempt to, once again, offset the damage being wreaked on Scotland by Westminster, the SNP brought forward an amendment on Monday evening to try and tie the government to a two-year package, but we lost the vote while the Labour Party unbelievably abstained.  

We have had four Chancellors is four months. Strong and stable has transpired to be weak and wobbly. It’s time to take to the lifeboats Scotland, Britannia is sinking.

(For info: The column was written before the Prime Minister resigned)

Written question – Gambling [19/10/2022]

To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, if she will take steps to prevent football clubs making money from gambling losses. (59286)

Tabled on: 10 October 2022

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

  1. To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, if she will make an estimate of the number of football clubs in the English Football League operating as affiliates for SkyBet. (59277)
    Tabled on: 10 October 2022
  2. To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, whether she has made an assessment of the implications for her policies of EFL football clubs receiving from bookmakers a share of money lost by their fans while betting. (59281)
    Tabled on: 10 October 2022

Answer:
Damian Collins:

Football clubs can enter a wide variety of commercial partnerships but all partnerships with gambling operators must be conducted in a socially responsible fashion and never target children or vulnerable people.

Specifically the EFL and its clubs operated an affiliate scheme as part of their partnership with Sky Bet from 2013 to the 2019/20 season. The scheme has not been active since the 2019/20 season and the Department does not hold detailed estimates of club revenues.

The current impact of gambling sponsorship in sports is in scope of the government’s wide-ranging Review of the Gambling Act. We are considering the evidence closely and a white paper setting out our conclusions and next steps will be published in the coming weeks.

The answer was submitted on 19 Oct 2022 at 08:58.

Written question – Employment [18/10/2022]

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, how many Jobcentre Plus employees are waiting to be paid their entitled Enhanced Holiday Pay. (59881)

Tabled on: 10 October 2022

Answer:
Victoria Prentis:

Where voluntary overtime is worked with sufficient frequency and regularity, this normal remuneration should be reflected in pay in respect of the statutory annual leave. However, current legislation provides no definition of regularity. As DWP is still determining the elements that will form the basis of enhanced holiday payments and how regularity and frequency will be defined within DWP, it is not possible at this time to confirm exactly how many employees based in Job Centres are awaiting payment.

The answer was submitted on 18 Oct 2022 at 16:41.

Inverclyde Council – budget consultation

A consultation on Inverclyde Council’s budget has been launched and runs to 31 October. The purpose of this budget consultation is to seek views on the priority areas and on a range of proposed budget savings to assist councillors in their review of the budget, to examine those views against the proposed budget offer from the Scottish Government, which is expected in December. This will then give councillors the information they require to work together to set a balanced budget and the Council Tax levels which is usually expected in February or March each year.

https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/InverclydeBudget2022/