Prior to business starting in the House I had a meeting with LINK to discuss Access to Cash. It is an ongoing concern that people who still rely on cash are increasingly finding it harder to access cash. This is predominantly the oldest and most vulnerable in society. While I acknowledge the path towards electronic transactions and the benefits to many, but it is not for all, and we must take cognisance of that. I bobbed in the house for a question during topicals to the Home Office and when taken I pushed the need for a better licensing agreement around growing industrial hemp. The minister agreed to meet me along with industry representatives. Hopefully he can be persuaded to take a common-sense approach to this issue. Following my meeting with Link I took part in the Westminster Hall debate on ‘acceptance of cash’. I pressed the point that everyone needs to be comfortable with the direction of travel and a government education programme akin to that which we had on the road to decimalisation is imperative, if people are not going to be left behind.
I attended an event to highlight the introduction of voter identification. I did a quick BBC interview and mentioned the dangers of ostracising sections of our community as the electoral commission fear over two million people who don’t have photo identification may not vote. Voter identification will be required in the local council elections in England this May. It will be interesting to see if the turnouts falls and why. The Online Safety Bill is currently in the House of Lords and amendments are being considered. I met with representatives of the Lords and the Samaritans to discuss amendments to make the internet safer for people who may be considering suicide. Currently the U.K. government is allowing sites that are deemed ‘legal but harmful’. It is our intention to address this language and remove all harmful material.
The Samaritans amendment will hopefully be brought forward once the bill has returned from scrutiny in the House of Lords. In the evening and at the conclusion of the budget debate we had two votes. The second one was on an SNP amendment opposing the planned 10.1% rise in whisky duty. The Labour Party and a Liberal Democrats abstained. Along with the Conservatives they won’t be happy until they have bled Scotland dry.
A week after the budget and one day after the debate and vote, the leader of the opposition has caved and didn’t mention it once during Prime Minister’s Questions. Later in the afternoon we voted on the Windsor Framework. This provides a nice deal for Northern Ireland. Usually, my select committee sits on a Tuesday or Thursday morning but this week we sat on a Wednesday, and we took evidence from Michael Gove regarding the intergovernmental relationship, changes to electoral law and levelling up funding. It was at time a lively affair and Mr Gove is as always well briefed and prepared to fight his corner but too often he goes for an answer that shows off that depth of knowledge and misses the point of the question. The session was interrupted by votes on the Public Order Bill. Normally a session like this with a Secretary of State giving evidence would attract media attention but not today as the media scrum was focused on the ex-Prime Minister Boris Johnson giving evidence to the Standards Committee. The question to be answered is, did he knowingly lie to and so mislead the House? The select committee may report before summer recess.
On the back of the latest announcement of a delay in the delivery of the Glen Sannox and hull 802 by Ferguson Marine, I met with David Tydeman to hear the facts. It wasn’t such a surprise that there was a delay but hopefully we are now in the final straight of what has been a torturous journey for all involved. As the local MP, I get very protective of local businesses and when I read about the overspend on the Dart railway line, the Elizabeth line, aircraft carriers, Ajax tanks, nuclear energy stations and there are many others, I do wonder why national media isn’t reporting them with similar zeal. What I do know is that the yard is in the best shape I have seen it in, and the workforce are gainfully employed. The yard is working with BAE and other projects are already underway. A recent job advert for 15 apprenticeships was massively oversubscribed and the current batch of apprentices are working towards concluding their course. In the past many a career has its foundations in a lower Clyde shipyard and Ferguson Marine is carrying on that tradition. In the afternoon I was put through my paces by two student journalists. One from the City university in London and the other from the University of Sheffield, both studying journalism and writing about gambling.
I took advantage of a day in my office to catch up with local issues and the associated case work. I am not the first person to press the need to put the Green back into Greenock, Councillor Jim Hunter was doing it back in the seventies. If only we had listened to him. Continuing that theme I am always asking people, when is the best time to plant a tree? And the answer is ten years ago. But if you didn’t do it then, do it now. I mention this because I know a man that has 30,000 trees that he wants to plant, just in-case you were interested.
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