Westminster diary wb 6th March


I had an online meeting with council officers to discuss the culture quarter development. This is a project that the council and I have pushed and have managed to attract funding for. It is in it infancy but we have some incredible talent in Inverclyde and I would hope that their knowledge and ability combined with a can do attitude will bring phase one of this project to fruition. Meanwhile back at Westminster, I bobbed during DWP questions but wasn’t taken. There was an urgent question on the appointment of Sue Gray (former senior civil servant) as Chief of Staff to the leader of the opposition. In many people’s minds this brings into question the impartiality of the civil service. Of course, she is not the first to take this path but it’s important that these things are scrutinised. I was taken and asked that the Advisory Body on Business Appointments (ACoBA) body who oversee such appointments, are given the powers to block such moves or implement restrictions such as garden leave. The clue to the answer is in the name, it’s an advisory body. Which is why so many people have bypassed it in the past, including George Osborne and Boris Johnson.


My select committee took evidence on the civil service people’s survey. This survey is supposed to help guide the development of the civil service and highlight any issues that need addressing. That only works if it is, carried out properly, taken seriously and acted upon. That’s what we are trying to gauge. I bobbed on health questions. I wanted to follow up on a question from Tonia Antoniazzi MP (Labour, Gower) about the provision of medical cannabis but I wasn’t taken. It’s four years since the then Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock, promised that children with intractable epilepsy would have access to the medicine on the NHS and we are no further forward. There was a statement on immigration and I was taken. The process for asylum seekers has become a terrible mess and the Conservative and Unionist government are ramping up the fear of migrants. It’s a deplorable tactic rooted in discrimination and bigotry, that plays on the concerns of individuals. We have many young men detained in hotels that want to work but because of the Home Office rules they can’t. The government then moans about the cost of keeping them. My request is that they expand the criteria that allows people to seek employment while they are still classed as asylum seekers. It’s my experience that these men want to work and want to contribute to this community.


The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Industrial Hemp was very interesting and the engagement from farmers was extremely encouraging. The hemp plant has been grown in the U.K. for centuries but over the last fifty or so, because of its connotations with recreational cannabis it has been wrongly classified and therefore the ease of growing for such things as, biodegradable plastic, recyclable clothing, insulation panels and a host of other products has been massively hindered. The farming industry is now awakening to the opportunity of growing hemp and is looking to the U.K. government to change the category of cannabis to allow them to do so. Back in the more enlightened times of the sixteenth century farmers were legally obliged to use one quarter of their arable land to grow hemp as it was used to produced sails and ropes for the navy. We have fallen a long way and now forty countries are ahead of us in this area. It’s an industry with massive potential and both the Scottish and U.K. government should be doing more. From the highs of hemp (pun intended) to the lows of Prime Minister’s Questions. How two grown men can think slagging each other off like school playground bullies is a good look is behind me. Sunak and Starmer were disgraceful. Stephen Flynn asked a very specific question of the Prime Minister but as we know he isn’t big on details so couldn’t answer but rather than treat it with the seriousness it deserved he answered a different question. It’s simply not good enough. After PMQs I met up with some of the wonderful WASPI women who continue to fight for their pension rights. I attended the Basic Income group and we discussed the possibilities that many arise after next week’s budget. Because of the poor weather my journey was severely disrupted. Flights were cancelled, all trains were full and at one point I was going to be held over in London overnight, however I managed to get back to Edinburgh at 11pm and made my way home from there. Despite the thousands of fellow travellers whose day was disrupted and the lack of communication that seems to dog these occasions, I never heard one voice raised in anger at the airport staff who were left to sort out the mess in the most difficult of roles, facing the public.


I had an extremely interesting and hopefully productive meeting with the management of local firm Berry BP packaging solutions and Scottish government minister Ivan McKee. BP were extremely accommodating during Covid and I hope the working relationship between them and the NHS continues. We also looked at the DRS system which despite having its problems has led to far less littering in other countries that have similar schemes. The rest of my day was spent in my office.


I had a meeting with representatives of The Shed and discussed all the wonderful things they are doing while looking to help them attract funding for future ventures. To that end send we talked to the National Heritage Lottery who are very keen to invest in Inverclyde but we have to produce the appropriate projects. The afternoon was given over to annual internal reviews for my long suffering team members who put up with me all year long.