Active Travel

I’m delighted to learn the Scottish Government has allocated more funding to support Active Travel of walking and cycling. 

As the First Minister recently called for a climate emergency it’s important we utilise cleaner and greener methods of transport, such as cycling.   E-bikes can provide a more sustainable alternative to single-occupancy car journeys.

I would encourage community groups and organisations in Inverclyde to consider bidding for funding to access the many benefits of e-bikes in a more affordable way.

https://www.gov.scot/news/wheels-in-motion-for-further-e-bike-support

 

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Impact of alcohol on health

The ripples of harmful alcohol consumption pass from individuals, through families and communities, and impact our society as a whole. These effects are substantial and wide-reaching as alcohol causes the death of 3 people a day in Scotland, is involved in 46% of violent crime and costs NHS Scotland £268 million every year.

Last May, Scotland led the way by introducing a 50p MUP, and Wales will do so this year. This policy, which means no alcoholic product can be sold at less than 50p per unit of alcohol, targets the highest strength, cheapest products and has little to no impact on pubs and moderate drinkers. MUP will also be introduced in the Republic of Ireland in the near future, but there are no current plans to do so in England.

While it is still too early to say what the impact of MUP in Scotland has been so far, it is expected to deliver significant health and social benefits. In Scotland the introduction of MUP is predicted to, in the long term, save 121 lives and 2,042 hospital admissions every year.

Alcohol can, in some circumstances, have a truly devastating effect on individuals and our communities. The most substantial recent development in alcohol policy has been the Scottish Government adopting of minimum unit pricing (MUP) as a measure to reduce alcohol harms,

We need to support targeted, evidence-based programmes that allow us to reduce alcohol harm. This can make individuals, their families, their communities, and our country safer and healthier.

 

Brexit – Withdrawal Agreement

Inverclyde and Scotland as a whole have been completely ignored by Westminster throughout the Brexit process.  

When the UK Government Withdrawal Agreement returns to Parliament, SNP MPs will reject it and the devastating harm it would inflict on Scotland.  

As is now beyond doubt, there is no such thing as a good Brexit. Any form of Brexit would destroy thousands of Scottish jobs and be catastrophic for living standards, our public services and the economy.

 

Pension Credits

Inverclyde pensioners living on a low income with a partner of working age to urgently check their eligibility for Pension Credit and Housing Benefit and put in a claim before the UK Government changes the rules on 15th May.

The UK Government’s change, snuck out during the first ‘meaningful vote’ on Brexit in January, will see the right to claim Pension Credit and Housing Benefit – important tools in the fight against pensioner poverty – withdrawn from future claimants who happen to have a partner who hasn’t yet reached their own pensionable age.

Age Scotland are urging anyone who may be entitled to claim benefits to call the Age Scotland helpline on 0800 12 44 222 for a free benefit and entitlements check before 15th May.

 

UK Government delay disability back payments

While the Tory government continue to delay these repayments, each day thousands of the most vulnerable people in society are missing out on the money they need to live and the money they are entitled to.

The UK government must stop kicking this issue into the long grass and imminently reimburse the thousands of people who have missed out on vital disability payments.

This is the third back payment scandal the DWP has overseen in two years – it seems the Secretary of State has not learned any lessons and fails to deliver on the promises she has made.

The Tories committed to reimburse the 7,000 people who had missed out on vital payments in July 2018, who have now been told they may now have to wait up to six months until MPs vote in the summer of 2019. It is outrageous that thousands of disability claimants have to wait this long to receive what they are owed.

The DWP must follow up on its promise and make the repayments immediately – failing that, there should be a separate debate and vote on the issue next week to avoid any more delays.

Westminster diary w/b 1st April

Monday

My first business of the day in the chamber was Questions to the Home Office. I bobbed but didn’t get taken. A lot of members expressed their concerns that there continues to be a rise in right wing extremism in the United Kingdom. We have to be careful to not feed the beast but at the same time highlight the concern. It doesn’t help when hard line Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg MP retweets the far right neo-nazi AfD (Alternative Fur Deutschland).

Tuesday

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee took evidence from the United Kingdom Statistics Authority. The gathering of accurate data without political interference is vital to allow politicians to make good policy decisions. With that in mind there are grave concerns over how the retail price index and the consumer price index are developing. These indexes are used to guide pensions and inflation figures. I attended the UK Parliamentary Awards in the Speaker’s rooms. Earlier this year, I was a judge in this event. The award winners all managed to engage with parliament and elected members to raise awareness of specific issues in their communities. They were also actively seeking solutions. I met with a cycling lobby group to discuss the transport policy and the funding of cycling from a UK level as well as the requirements of Inverclyde.

Wednesday

I met with a range of organisations with concerns over the increase of Hepatitis C and HIV. While we discussed the UKs drug policy in general it was unanimously agreed that Drug Consumption Rooms were required and would have a beneficial effect on a range of drug related issues. I look forward to hosting a debate on drug policy reform at the SNP conference in Edinburgh later this month. The First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, briefed all 35 SNP MPs on the Scottish Government’s plans regarding Brexit. Prime Ministers Questions was extremely dour. Despite the planned talks between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition they continue to act like two spoiled brats fighting over their toys. The continuing debacle over Brexit causes a great deal of disruption to the workings of parliament. Today, colleagues and I from across the House researched and prepared for a debate on the topic of ‘50 years of an at sea deterrent ‘. The debate was cancelled at the last minute as result of a vote that changed all the business for today. The non-political anoraks should skip to Thursday but for the rest of you this is a summary of what happened on Wednesday. The Bill, promoted by Yvette Cooper, requires the Prime Minister to bring a motion to the House of Commons to approve an extension to the Article 50 negotiating a period for withdrawal from the EU. Hilary Benn proposed an amendment to provide for another day of ‘indicative votes’ on Monday. SNP voted AYE and the vote was tied 310-310. The Speaker used his casting vote in line with precedent to maintain the status quo, so the amendment was defeated 310-311. At 7:00pm we had the second reading to allow the Bill to progress to the committee stage for amendments. SNP voted AYE and the Bill was carried 315 – 310. At 10:00pm we then had the ‘Committee of the Whole House’. There were a host of amendments and votes. At 11:00pm we had the third reading – to give the Bill final approval and send to the House of Lords. SNP voted AYE and the Bill was carried 313 – 312.

Thursday

I was on the Order Paper for questions to the Department for Exiting the E.U. so I was guaranteed (if there is such a thing at Westminster) to be taken. I asked what consideration had been given to freedom of movement regarding Scotland’s requirements post Brexit. The answer was that Scotland is just a small part of the UKs consideration. An accurate and enlightening response. Says it all really. I met with a statistics company to gain insight into how they operate within the political world. We agreed that all good policy is based on an evidence based approach, I was slightly surprised that they so readily agreed that Scotland needs its own statistics agency. I quickly went into sales mode and promoted Inverclyde as the location. And just as I thought there was an air of normality descending we realised there was water was running into the chamber from a burst pipe around the area of the press gallery. The rest of the day was consumed by covering chamber and ancillary work as I was on the rota for the day. I caught the 19:35 flight home.

Friday

The first Friday of every month is a planned surgery day. I was at the Auchmountain Halls, my constituency office and Wemyss bay station where I met with many constituents. After the shenanigans of the last few weeks and knowing the expected workload for next week it was a real joy to spend time back in Inverclyde.

Ofcom – Broadband & landline support

Today, Ofcom announcement that broadband and landline customers will get money back from their providers when things go wrong, without having to fight for it.

The UK’s largest broadband and landline providers have agreed to compensate customers when they experience these delays, without having to ask.

Previously, only around one in seven broadband or landline customers who suffer delayed repairs, installations or missed engineer appointments have received compensation from their provider; and even then, only in small amounts.

Ofcom release – https://www.ofcom.org.uk/about-ofcom/latest/media/media-releases/2019/money-back-broadband-landline-customers  

Universal Credit – Help to Claim

Help to Claim service offers independent, tailored and practical support to help people make a Universal Credit claim, and receive their first full payment on time. It is available through our free phone line, website and local Citizens Advice Bureaux.  Support is available through our free phone line and web chat from 8am – 6pm Monday to Friday:

Phone line:                 0800 023 2581

Webchat:                    www.cas.org.uk/helptoclaim

Fixed Odds Betting Terminals

The campaign to see the reduction of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) to a £2 maximum unit stake has been a long fought one and I’m pleased to see the implementation of these changes as a measure to address gambling related harm.  According to the Gambling Commissions own figures, the gross gambling yield (GGY) on these machines is £1.7 billion and the total losses that individuals have suffered have been millions of pounds.

Since I was elected to parliament, back in 2015, I have strongly campaigned for more action to address gambling related harm and the impact it has on individuals and their loved ones.  The change to FOBTs has been a cross party led campaign and through the All-party parliamentary group, alongside Carolyn Harris MP and Iain Duncan Smith MP, we’ve managed to get the government to listen and ultimately act.

The wider issue of gambling related harm is rightly received more attention as we learn the true extent of problem gambling in the UK.  Some of the emerging challenges I believe, and which requires further action, is the link between young people and gambling, particularly on loot boxes and skin games.  Added to this, the online gambling market and gambling advertising are areas which also need addressed.

I hope the FOBT decision has served as a wake-up call to the UK Government that further action is required on gambling related harm and I will continue to campaign on this subject, working with both the industry and charities, such as Gambling with Lives, to ensure more is done to protect vulnerable people who are exposed to gambling.

 

Brexit – Indicative votes

Dear Constituent,

I am further writing to provide an update on the Brexit process as you have previously contacted me about this subject.

As you may be aware, last night there were a series of votes on possible Brexit outcomes, as alternatives to the Prime Minister’s disastrous deal.  I want to take you through the options that were before us last night and the reasons I voted the way I did.

These were the first round of indicative votes on potential options and we voted knowing some of them will come back, hopefully modified on Monday for further consideration. Our priority last night was therefore to ensure our first preference regarding Brexit – no Brexit at all – was supported. Should these options prove not to work we will then consider whether there are further compromises we need to make to stop a hard Brexit outcome.

Firstly the SNP put forward an option that would mean the UK could not leave the EU on any deal without first having received consent from the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. I am sure you will agree that this should be an important principle for the UK Government to follow. Indeed, the EU operates by having to achieve consensus of all its nation states, sadly the UK is not such a union of equals. Unfortunately, our motion was not selected by the Speaker to be voted on.

Turning to the votes that did take place:

Option B from Tory MP John Baron was to leave the UK without a deal, the SNP obviously voted against this deeply damaging proposition.

Option D from Tory MP Nick Boles regarding a type of customs union. The SNP abstained on this as it did not go far enough on the critical issues of freedom of movement nor did it cover the need for membership of the single market. This may be an issue that is returned to in a modified form on Monday.

Option H from Tory MP George Eustice regarding EFTA and EEA. The SNP voted against this as it is simply not going to happen.

Option J from Kenneth Clarke regarding a UK wide customs union was another we abstained on for similar reasons to that of the Nick Boles option and is one that may return on Monday.

Option K from Jeremy Corbyn was about Labour’s alternative plan which we abstained on as it supports Brexit taking place and has a rather woolly and unrealistic proposition for the future relationship.

Option L from my colleague Joanna Cherry was supported by the SNP as it would mean stopping Brexit if we were within days of a no deal Brexit. It would give us a way out.

Labour MP Margaret Beckett proposed option M, which meant that no Brexit deal could be passed by the House without being put to a referendum first. This again would have been a route to stopping Brexit.

Finally option O from Tory Marcus Fysh was opposed by the SNP as it was another that sought a damaging no deal Brexit.

Unfortunately, no option considered last night achieved a majority, but I hope this helps to explain not only the SNP’s strategy last night, but also the reasons I voted the way I did.

My SNP colleagues and I will continue to fight hard to stop Brexit, to protect the interests of the people of Scotland and to provide rational arguments in the face of the collapsing Tory Government and Labour opposition parties. It remains the case that in spite of our best efforts and arguments we may not be able to save the UK from itself. If Brexit does come to pass the people of Scotland will need to consider carefully what options we have open to us to protect our interests and move on to a more positive destination.

Yours sincerely,

 

Ronnie Cowan MP

Member of Parliament for Inverclyde