Westminster diary wb 20th February


I was expecting the Northern Ireland Protocol to be front and central of business this week, but it appears that three years after leaving the European Union, the U.K. government is still making it up as it goes along. There is nothing substantial to debate or vote on. I used the time in Inverclyde dealing with case work and writing my column for the Greenock Telegraph.


I was in Edinburgh at the Cornerstone Centre in Saint John’s Church on Princes Street. The centre is a modern conference facility with a café, but the church is a magnificent neo-gothic protected category A listed building dating from 1816. The stained-glass windows are breath-taking. I am there to discuss the Scottish drug policy around cannabis. The event was hosted by the Scottish Psychedelic Research Group, the Scottish Cannabis Consortium and Recovering Justice. It was a wonderful opportunity to network with the farming community who are growing cannabis in Scotland, academia that are studying it, medical professionals who are open to its use and people with lived experience. As always at these events I came away wiser than I went in. I used the excellent tram system to get to the airport and caught the 8pm to London.


I was in the Order Paper at question number 12 for questions to the Secretary of State for Scotland.  My question was grouped with question 5 so I knew I would definitely be taken. I reminded the minister that Scotland is a net energy exporter but, as a consequence of being in the UK, we face electricity costs which are 30% higher than those in the Netherlands or Germany. And asked him if he thinks it is right that while Scots face the highest energy bills in Europe, the UK Government allows energy companies to make billions in profits? He replied saying he didn’t accept my analysis but couldn’t or wouldn’t say what part he didn’t accept. I hung around in the chamber for Prime Minister’s Question which was a lacklustre affair. Fortunately after that I had a meeting with Scotland’s Drugs Minister, Angela Constance MSP. And along with other SNP MPs we had an interesting discussion around the development of drugs policy in Scotland. It’s always good to engage with people with a can do attitude, even if their brief is as tough as it gets. I dropped in on the Age U.K. Big Knit event that they run in partnership with Innocent Drinks. They have been running this event since 2003 and raised over £3 million pounds. I managed to acquire a tiny bobble hat in the Morton colours. I met up with Cruise Lines International and spoke with Karen from Barrhead Travel. It’s always good to hear a different perspective and she highlighted a few issues that I shall take up with the port providers. My final event of the day was the Electric Vehicle pavement tax event. They are campaigning to reduce the 20% VAT charge that is attracted to chargers for public use, while people charging from their own home only pay 5%. If we are to encourage people to purchase electronic vehicles, then we need to provide a public charging infrastructure that doesn’t disincentivise its use. Only 46% of households in Inverclyde can charge from their homes if they so choose.


My select committee took evidence from the Prime Minister’s recently appointed ethics adviser, Laurie Magnus. It’s a strange job being the ethics adviser to the Prime Minister when only the Prime Minister can hire you, approve or direct you to what should be investigated and determine what actions should be taken following your report. It certainly makes it very hard for an ethics adviser to hold the Prime Minister to account without losing his job. Maybe that’s why the two previous advisers both resigned. In the afternoon I attended the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform to discuss experiences of cannabis regulation in the United States, with a focus on models that incorporate social and racial justice principles.


Back in the constituency today and I went on a site visit with Link Housing to see their development of the old Ravenscraig Hospital site. This was always a controversial scheme and it’s important that the developers continue to engage with the community during and after the completion of the project. I am reminded of the need for good broadband on a regular basis by constituents. To that end, I frequently meet with a range of providers, not just Openreach and Virgin. Today I met with CityFibre to discuss their contribution in this area.