Westminster diary wb 13th March


I visited the office of the U.K. government’s cabinet office in Glasgow with my select committee colleagues. This is part of the U.K. governments proposed solution to moving 22,000 civil service jobs out of London.

In the afternoon, I attended an event at Glasgow University hosted by ex-Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale. The main speaker was Alex Chisholm. He is a British civil servant and regulator, who has served as Cabinet Office Permanent Secretary and the chief operating officer of the United Kingdom’s Civil Service since April 2020. I have to say the exact purpose was not clear and the students seated beside me were not taking many notes.

Once again travel disruption meant a speedy change of travel plans and a mad rush to get to Westminster in time for votes.


The All-Party Parliamentary Group on medical cannabis held its annual general meeting and we are in the process of appointing next year’s secretariat. Once that is done, we shall be putting together a programme of work progressing to providing medical cannabis m the NHS. I took part in the adjournment debate on psychedelic drugs to highlight the need for psilocybin research. It has proven to be very successful in treating post-traumatic stress disorder and we can’t allow not to get caught up on red tape. 


It’s budget day but before that my select committee has a private session under Chatham House rules with Simon Case. He is a British civil servant who is the current Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Home Civil Service since 9 September 2020. The exchange between Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition at PMQs was dire and we speedily moved on to the main event. The chancellor spoke for an hour but said very little. He did promise to ramp up the Universal Credit sanctions and he did scrap the energy bill support scheme. The outcome is that the U.K. is facing the biggest fall in living standards since record began in the 1950s. Meanwhile for viewers in Scotland he announced a 10.1% hike in Scotch Whisky Duty which goes straight into the U.K. coffers. And the forecast is that the U.K. treasury will continue to take tens of billions of pounds of tax from the Scottish based oil as gas industry every year. Next time you hear a U.K. government representative say they are giving money to Scotland remember what they really mean is giving money back. In the evening I took part in another adjournment debate. Today the topic was Openreach and its proliferation of poles to increase the roll out of ultrafast broadband. Unfortunately, the communications between Openreach and the council to the community has been poor. Which given that Openreach is a communications company is ironic.


I was in the Chamber for Cabinet Office questions. During this session we learnt that the cabinet office has a department that tracks all media comment by all MPs and keeps a dossier on every MP. The speaker was intrigued by this and hinted that a request for an urgent question would be looked upon favourably. There were two Urgent Questions and then a Statement before we got done to the main business of the day, the budget debate. Each day of the three days are assigned a theme but in truth these are very wide-ranging debates and anything with a financial thread running through is deemed suitable. I went on the need to licence the industrial hemp industry. Don’t confuse it with cannabis. The hemp plant is a different species. It’s good for the environment when it’s growing, it’s good for the ground it grows it, it can be used to make biodegradable plastics, cloth, food, insulation panels, food, paper and biofuels. It’s a multibillion pound industry being hindered by the Home Office’s reluctance to licence farmers to grow it. They are missing a trick because the tax they could raise would be substantial.


I met with Louise Long, the CEO of Inverclyde Council, to give and receive updates on a plethora of issues that affect Inverclyde. And I met with constituents to hear about their concerns over the Openreach approach to expanding broadband by erecting poles outside people’s houses.