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.
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.
Scotland has a history of welcoming immigrants, just as many Scots have emigrated all over the world. We understand that people may relocate to other countries and that can be driven by many factors and circumstances. From people fleeing from economic destitution, poverty and persecution to people seeking better employment, education and love. The Scottish diaspora is over 28 million. The British diaspora is over 200 million. We should never forget that we have been taken into many countries and become part of them. Today we find ourselves being whipped into a frenzy by the current Conservative and Unionist UK government and their punitive immigration policy. They justify turning people back in boats on the English Channel, forcibly repatriating people to war zones and detaining them in internment camps, by associating them with people trafficking and warning of the cost to the British taxpayer to host them. The truth is that if the U.K. had an immigration system that was fit for purpose, we could process asylum seekers quicker and then we wouldn’t have over 17,500 waiting on average over 540 days to complete the process. If we allowed them to seek gainful employment rather than saying they must be here for a year and then only work in a limited list of occupations, they would happily pay their own way and pay tax in the U.K. But the U.K. government is using the plight of these people to whip up an anti immigration argument and that breeds fear in communities and that allows them to bring in legislation that contravenes the human rights act. This U.K. Government knows exactly what atmosphere it is creating and it will capitalise on that by changing the laws to give them more power and give you less freedom of speech and movement. That’s a dangerous road they are taking us on. It’s a road that leads to radicalism. We must learn from the past and work to remain a tolerant society. On Monday I shall be opposing the U.K. Government’s immigration bill.
To ask the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, what steps his Department is taking to fund (a) moves to low-carbon heating and (b) other home improvements in energy efficiency. (155165)
Tabled on: 28 February 2023
The Government is investing £6.6 billion over this Parliament on clean heat and improving energy efficiency in buildings, including through the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund, Home Upgrade Grant, and Boiler Upgrade Scheme. In addition, £6 billion of new government funding will be made available from 2025 to 2028.
The new ECO+ scheme will be worth £1 billion and run from Spring 2023 – March 2026. The scheme will target a broader pool of households in the least efficient homes in lower council tax bands as well as the most vulnerable.
The answer was submitted on 08 Mar 2023 at 12:46.
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