A Week in Parliament

The Ship that didn’t sail

Readers may have read about the latest UK Government farce…the decision to award a ferry contract to a company that has no boats! I tried to get an urgent question on the subject, and one was granted, but in the name of the Labour Opposition. It has been established that the company has debts and no assets; no boats; no crew; the port of Ramsgate they are to operate from needs dredged before it can accommodate ferries; they have no licence yet or agreement that allows them to sail into Ostend Port which is supposed to be the end destination; one director had a company that was liquidated owing the taxman £600k; the chief executive ran a company that went bust with debts of £1.8m and one is under investigation by another UK Government department. And to top it all, their terms and conditions on their website was plagiarised from a pizza delivery company! Yet the Transport Secretary says that due diligence was done and he is happy to provide support to a new company!

Another twist is that under EU law contracts of this value need to be put out to EU wide competitive tender. The Department of Transport used a regulation for emergency procurement for unforeseeable circumstances. Given they say they have been planning for a “No Deal” Brexit for well over two years, then it cannot be an unforeseen outcome! I observed to the Secretary that if it is a contract for emergency purposes then it should go to a company with a track record. His response is that they won’t get paid if they don’t deliver and it is only 10% of the contract anyway. The whole point he misses is that it is a contract for an emergency situation so if the company doesn’t deliver then the emergency situation is not dealt with either! He could not explain to me what effect this 10% would have on the Port of Dover given how time sensitive it is. He also has not yet explained how such a company was identified for direct negotiation. This fiasco has more to run yet.

The Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, is responsible for delayed drone legislation which may have prevented the Gatwick incident; awarded an HS2 contract to Carillion even although there were signs they were going bankrupt; responsible for Northern Rail and Thameslink rail delays and timetable issues in England and allowed Virgin/Stagecoach to walk away from the East Coast Mainline owing the taxpayer £2bn pounds. How can one man be so incompetent?

Killie FC – 150 Years Old

Happy birthday to Kilmarnock FC. Many people will know I am a genuine fan, having ran a supporters bus for more than half my life and at one time, chair of the Supporters Association. It is great to see the improvements in the team under Stevie Clarke, the fans enjoying themselves again and the increase in attendances. There is no doubt that Killie doing well helps the local economy. Here’s hoping for success in 2019!

These views were first expressed in the Kilmarnock Standard.

A Week in Parliament

The Vote Chaos

So we have a UK Tory Government that is the first Government in UK history to be found in contempt of Parliament. Then a week later Teresa May pulls the vote on the EU Brexit “deal” because it is so bad a concept that she has no chance of getting it through Parliament. Anyone watching proceedings would see how coward like the Government were in their handling – they dared not put a votable motion to Parliament to allow them to suspend the debate/vote. Instead they used a procedure that their whip didn’t “move” the business of the day. Therefore the agenda simply collapsed. Imagine, such a critical vote delayed by such a weak tactic? This is further proof that the Prime Minister lives in a parallel universe – what took her so long to realise the vote would be lost? Yet in the same parallel universe she travels round Europe looking for concessions she has been told she won’t need. All she is doing is a reckless delaying tactic to try and scare MPs with what she thinks will be a literal Deal or No Deal choice as the clock ticks. What a way to deal with the biggest peacetime parliamentary decision. What should be remembered also is the UK fought in court to try and stop MPs having a vote on the outcome. We now know why – to stop any defeat and allow them to bulldoze anything through parliament.

The Backstop

Part of the deal is the Irish “backstop” arrangements – this means that there is a chance that Northern Ireland will get to remain in the single market and customs union and so be able to sell goods into the EU with no tariffs. Meanwhile in Scotland we will be subject to tariffs in such a scenario. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that Northern Ireland will have business advantages over the rest of the UK. Meanwhile, the Scottish Secretary David Mundell, argued specifically that Scotland could not get any such preferential status. He also recently wrote to the Prime Minister saying he would resign if Northern Ireland got treated differently from the rest of the UK. He hasn’t resigned and worse, he is now arguing we accept such a deal that the UK Government’s own analysis shows the UK will be poorer compared to the current arrangements. Why is he arguing we should back a deal that will make us poorer?

Talents of the Tories

I have made observations on the quality of some of the Ministers. Another example is the current QC “forgot” to declare £400k of earnings he made outside his MP role. Yet he is deemed the correct candidate to be the top law advisor to the UK Government?!

Additionally, I was party to a current Government Minister telling one of my colleagues they should have “got the b**tards out the party when they had the chance”. What a damning indictment from the heart of the party trusted with ruling the UK. Is it any wonder I advocate a different direction for Scotland?

These views were first expressed in the Kilmarnock Standard.

A Week in Parliament

Contempt Motion

So in absolutely unprecedented times, this is the first UK Government found to be in contempt of Parliament. This is because they did not comply with a binding parliamentary motion to publish legal advice on the Brexit withdrawal proposals.

Apart from the historic vote, I can claim to have played a part in the whole saga – once all the opposition parties submitted a letter and suggested motion for consideration, a ruling had to be made by the Speaker. On Monday evening the main business of the house finished early so next up was an adjournment debate led by Stephen Gethins MP. We knew the Speaker was considering his options. However, in order for him to be able to report back to the House on his decision, we had to keep the debate running as long as possible.

After Stephen spoke for twice as long as he would otherwise have, taking loads of interventions, three additional speakers bobbed, including myself. I was the last speaker taken, and so I had the task of keeping the debate going until the Speaker returned to the chamber, without having any idea how long that would be. So this was a debate I was not due to speak in, hadn’t planned anything and had only the briefest period to scribble ideas. It ended up good fun, as colleagues helped with interventions. The debate was about Scotland’s foreign policy footprint. I made it my aim to get in as many local references as possible as well. So, as William Wallace had been mentioned, I took the opportunity to get back on record he was born in Ellerslie. I mentioned the Newmilns Anti-Slavery Society and the fact that Abraham Lincoln awarded the town a US flag in gratitude of their support. In briefly discussing the Scottish Enlightenment, I mentioned the biographer, James Boswell of Auchinleck. I mentioned the lace factories of Newmilns and that Johnston Shields set up factories in Gothenburg, founding football in Sweden and a factory in Barcelona where there was also an impact on football there. Alexander Fleming of Darvel got a mention as did Andrew Fisher of Crosshouse, who went on to become a Prime Minister of Australia.

I was almost disappointed when the Speaker returned to his chair as I had to wind up to let him speak! Had I not kept the debate going then the Minster would have spoken briefly and when finished the House would “rise” and a motion could not have been formally lodged for the next day’s business. What it did do was pave the way for the drama of the next day….except firstly, we then went into the bizarre position where the Government Minister then had to drag out the debate and Tory MPs were sent to the chamber to help him out with interventions. This was to give them time to craft and lodge an amendment with the Table Office. So what would normally have been a 30 minute debate turned into something like 2 hours! Such is the craziness of the current times, which I suspect will continue for quite a bit.

These views were first expressed in the Kilmarnock Standard.

A Week in Parliament

The Brexit farce continues with yet another Ministerial resignation. Has there ever been a more incompetent or unstable Government in recent times? Only the end days of the John Major Tory Government can be comparable. Yet, the Prime Minister is blithely touring the UK with stage managed media events to promote her “deal”.

Then you look at two of the senior positions within the Cabinet – Amber Rudd is DWP Secretary only months after being forced to resign after “inadvertently misleading “ parliament over deportation targets. The phrase the man on the street may have used was lying about this matter. Then there is Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary, who resigned previously for breaching the Ministerial Code, in his role as Defence Secretary. This was because he broke security clearance issues and conflicts of interest by giving government access to his friend and best man, Adam Werrity. I am all for rehabilitation, but it seems some politicians can just continue unabashed. Are these really the people to be trusted to be senior UK positions? Is it any surprise that Liam Fox’s past comments in his new role include slagging British businesses “for spending too much time on the golf course?” Or that a trade deal with the EU would be the “easiest in human history”? It seems his judgement still needs significant improvement, but the UK is reliant on him being able to negotiate skilfully.

Fishing Post Brexit

Future fishing quotas have become headline news. At times it seems this is the most important aspect of Brexit. There is no doubt that fishing is so important to the coastal communities that still rely on the industry. However, there is a reality that within the wider UK economy, the entire fishing and seafood industry only accounts for 0.1% of GDP. The actual marine fishing itself is 0.02% of UK GDP. This is why Ted Heath the Tory Prime Minister said the Scottish fishermen were “expendable”. From his perspective, he was more than happy to trade Scottish fishing quotas for other trade benefits. As a guilty hangover, this is why Tory MPs have made such a big deal about fishing, although over the years they managed to shift the blame to the EU and Common Fisheries Policy.

The actual position is much more complicated – 75% of fish caught gets exported to the EU. Therefore, a trade deal without tariffs is needed to allow that seafood to be exported. A customs agreement is required so the seafood gets exported without delay. These aspects are much more important to the majority of Scottish fishermen, who work in small boats. Yet, there is a risk these matters are overlooked because of the powerful lobby of the Scottish Fishing Federation (SFF), which can be dominated by the big players who have the supersize vessels that catch 80% of the fish, despite being small in number. This is also why the fishermen closest to our area, the west coast based ones have pulled out the SFF. These are aspects I will be weighing up as a member of the Fisheries Bill Committee.

These views were first expressed in the Kilmarnock Standard.

A Week in Parliament

Withdrawal Agreement

As we head towards the countdown to the so called “meaningful vote” on the EU withdrawal agreement, then there will be much debate about what it really means. For a start, it is not “a deal”. It is a withdrawal agreement, which confirms all the aspects that need to be decided before the UK can leave the EU. All the aspects that Teresa May says she has achieved – she hasn’t actually. These are the planned end agreements for her i.e. a free trade deal, ending of free movement, a customs arrangement. Not one aspect of this has been agreed as “a deal”.

The accompanying political agreement contains 144 paragraphs, most of which contain the word “should”. This is in the context of each party should explore options to..”, each party will discuss..” confirming all the outstanding dialogue and negotiations. A critical example near the start of the document is as follows:

“The future relationship should be approached with high ambition with regard to its scope and depth, and recognise that this might evolve over time. Above all, it should be a relationship that will work in the interests of citizens of the Union and the United Kingdom, “

Who can read this and conclude that Teresa May has actually secured a deal? It is also bizarre that for over two years she has blithely stated that “No Deal is better than a Bad Deal”. Now she says this deal is as good as it gets even if there’s stuff in it you don’t agree with it, and so therefore everyone just needs to back it as a No Deal scenario is so bad!

WASPI Debate

I spoke again in a WASPI debate, defending the fact that these women should be compensated for being misinformed about their pension retirement age. Only one Tory backbencher made a contribution – which was truly awful- and one of his key points is that to change anything is unaffordable. Knowing full well that has always been a Tory mantra, I got updated figures from the House of Commons library on what the likely affect has been of the tax cuts introduced in the 2017 and 2018 budgets. Cutting corporation tax, inheritance tax, higher tax thresholds and ISA giveaways is projected to cost £78.6bn by 2025. Think what this near £80bn could be used for instead of lining the pockets of the wealthiest in society. When you hear Tory MSPs calling in the Scottish Government to spend more money then remember they support their colleagues cutting these taxes at Westminster taking £80bn out of the economy.

William McIlvanney Visit

I was delighted to visit William McIlvanney Campus and speak to two Modern Studies Higher classes. It is always enjoyable to be put on the spot, and try to answer as honest as I can. It must be a sign of where the UK is heading when part of their topics are “poverty, health and wealth”.

I am always up for any school visit, and happy to try and assist with any enquiries regards school assignments- just get in touch with my office.

These views were first expressed in the Kilmarnock Standard.

A Week in Parliament

The Deal

At last we have a draft Brexit deal. Or we don’t actually as all the things that the UK haven’t been able to reach agreement is kicked into the transition period to be further agreed or fall apart again which is more likely. With only four additional cabinet resignations, then that seemed almost calm given that both wings of the Tory party hate the proposals.

I have heard a few people say they feel sorry for Teresa May because of the difficulties she has had to put up with and all the infighting. On a human level that is true. However, she was the one who called a general election when she didn’t need to and run the worst campaign ever. She is the one who triggered Article 50 without a plan. She is the one who created “red lines” that she couldn’t deliver on. She is the one who has kept her cabinet on a 50/50 split of extreme right wing Brexiteers and “soft” or remain MPs. She is the one who did a grubby deal with the DUP. She is the one responsible for the Windrush immigration scandal. She is the one not listening or caring about the effects of Tory policy and the hardships they are causing. Therefore, she does not have my sympathy as she has created the entire mess.

The effects of Tory Policies

While I can be politically bias when complaining about UK Tory Government policy, it is an eye opener when the UN Rapporteur, Professor Alton has said that he had encountered "misery”. That the policies are “cruel and misogynistic” and that UK Ministers “are in denial” about the scale of this misery. How damning does evidence need to be before the Tory Government changes some of their policies?

To Resign or Not

David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary threatened to resign if Northern Ireland got treated differently in the Brexit deal. They did and he didn’t resign, and now complains about the colleagues who did resign, as they are ignoring collective cabinet responsibility. I think it fair to say, any talk of resignation from him is all bluff, which doesn’t bode well for him being a strong representative for Scotland within the cabinet.

Stewarton Yuletide

As part of advance preparations for small business Saturday, I visited a number of businesses on Stewarton’s main street. It was thoroughly enjoyable, and all the shops were excited about the forthcoming Yuletide, Thursday 22nd November. With the shops all opening late as well, I recommend a visit to Stewarton – you will not be disappointed!

Kris Boyd

I was delighted to see Kris Boyd get a well-deserved testimonial with Killie. It is also fantastic he is donating any money he makes to his Scott Boyd foundation. The number of goals he has scored is incredible, and I have always thought it unfortunate he has played in some of the poorer Killie teams during his career. We can dream that he might yet end up with silverware at Killie under the tutelage of Steve Clarke.

These views were first expressed in the Kilmarnock Standard.

A Week in Parliament

Armistice Remembrance Events

In the build up to the 100 year anniversary of the end of WW1 and the signing of the Armistice, I was delighted to attend the official opening of East Ayrshire’s Remembrance Garden. It is a fantastic turnaround of the former sunken garden at Holehouse Road, Kilmarnock. A poem was specially commissioned and it is engraved into the impressive entrances to the park. I was struck by the language in the poem – very much our local vernacular. It transpires this was because phrases were taken from letters from local people that were written during the war. A great way of localising the tribute.

I attended a remembrance event at William McIlvanney Campus, consisting of poems, song, drama and music.  It was fittingly emotional and respectful. I also got to saw the research undertaken by the various pupils and there was even a full uniform of a soldier from Kilmarnock on display. A great effort.

On Armistice Sunday, I laid a wreath at Kilmarnock Cenotaph. I am aware that there were many extra special efforts being made this year at memorials all over East Ayrshire, but as they all tend to take place at the same time, then it is not possible to attend the others. I did manage to Rugby Park where there was an afternoon service to remember the football players of the club who lost their lives in both wars. Well done to Ray Montgomerie for organising this.  One that has grown considerably in the past few years.

Westminster Recess

Yes, there was yet another Westminster recess – a November recess that actually only consists of two extra days that the Parliament is not sitting. It does seem strange and I know many members of the public view these things as additional holidays. However, an extra couple of days in the constituency and working in my office was welcome as it allowed me to catch up on casework with my hardworking staff.

Where I do take some issue, is that with Parliament only sitting on a Monday and Tuesday, then the Government tends to make business non-voting, allowing many MPs not to require to turn up. For example, to pad out business, they put on a general debate on Road Safety. A topic that is not unimportant, but there had been a Road Safety debate just two weeks previously in Westminster Hall, and another one programmed as backbench business. So how can this be a good use of parliamentary time in reality? As Transport Spokesperson I made these observations and challenged the Minister to provide updates on any actions from the recent debate on road safety, but from the non-answer it would seem any suggestions for improvement aren’t exactly being taking on board. Another example of UK Government inefficiency.

No.23

And the next weekly Ministerial resignation, number 23 out of the Government is Jo Johnson. I wonder when the farce will end? Given Jo is at the opposite political spectrum to his brother, I do wonder what family dinners will be like for the Johnsons!

These comments were first expressed in the Kilmarnock Standard.

A Week in Parliament

Killieween

Once again I was delighted to take part in the Spooky walk. Another fantastic effort by the volunteers. I also noticed how busy Kilmarnock was that night with loads of the young generation out and about in the pubs all dressed up. It is great to take ownership of the fact that our area is the only part of Scotland that celebrates Halloween on the last Friday of the month. And big kudos to David and staff at the Brass and Granite for organising the festival at the Howard Park on the Sunday, with free kids rides and face painting. If the crowds were anything to go by this is an event that grow in future years so well done to all involved. 

PMQ

I had the luck of being first in a PMQ session. The chance to set the tone for the day. From nowhere I initially stated “DUP” instead of “DWP” which was personally frustrating. However, the substance of my question was the DWP deciding my constituent Laura Nani who has stayed here since 1984, and has a British mother “does not have a right to reside”. When I challenged the PM on this and the impact of other EU citizens, the PM boldly stated that the UK Government are not rejecting anyone. Not only does she have no empathy, she “inadvertently mislead the house”. I would use stronger words, but this is the ridiculous code of the House of Commons and I would breach it by saying a fellow MP told lies.

Small Business Saturday

I managed to secure the visit of the small business Saturday promotional bus to Kilmarnock and was frustrated when I couldn’t attend myself as I was in London! However, it is worth checking out the interviews with local business people – they are the real lifeblood of our high streets, and even more so when we see the struggles of national chains. It might be clichéd, but shopping, eating, drinking and socialising locally is the only way to protect our town centres. 

Tracy Crouch

So the 22nd Minister to resign or be sacked was Tracy Crouch which makes a mockery of “strong and stable” Government. Hers was one of conviction due to the UK Government delaying a reduction in the fixed odds betting limits. She was widely regarded as nice and genuine politician so it is a shame to see her go.

Ministerial Response

After highlighting my frustration on having Ministers respond poorly in debates, I took part in a debate about aviation post Brexit. There is a Minister for Aviation but as she is a member of the House of Lords, she cannot speak in an MP debate, so MPs cannot question her directly or challenge her in a debate. What kind of Government system is this?!

Proclaimers

People often ask me what it is like living in London – usually because they assume I can go sightseeing and/or attend shows etc. The truth is I am too busy working. However, one Thursday I took the opportunity to stay on and see the Proclaimers in concert. They were fantastic, and rounded the night off by finishing their set with “Joyful Kilmarnock Blues”. I can only imagine because I had been shouting for it all night! It would be great to see them back at Killie too.

These views were first expressed in the Kilmarnock Standard.

A Week in Parliament

Ministerial Responses

One of the supposed advantages of securing debates at Westminster is that it is obligatory to have a Minister respond at the end of the debate. This is intended to provide Government thoughts and answers to the person leading the debate and other points raised in other contributions. What this means in reality is that you are completely at the mercy of the competence and knowledge of the Minister responding. My colleague, Gavin Newlands, secured a debate on the HELMS mis-selling of the Green Deal leaving hundreds of my constituents out of pocket and tied to long term loans. However, the Minister responding didn’t have a clue about it and more or less waffled. During her speech she highlighted how many individual complaints have been lodged about HELMS installations. I was able to work out that was only about 10% of the installs. So I put it to her that is 90% of people have not complained - likely because they don’t know how to, or worse, may not be aware they have been potentially ripped off. Then the UK Government have a duty to contact these people to try to understand the bigger picture and provide assistance. She advised that she didn’t know if the UK Government had undertaken an investigation, but if they hadn’t they might consider it. The whole thrust of the debate was MPs calling on the UK Government to take action and therefore not leave it to individuals to act alone and to date, the UK Government have refused to look at collective action. So it is really worrying that a Minister cannot even listen to what is being said and process it logically.

Later that day, another colleague, Ronnie Cowan secured a debate on drugs policy. The Minister responding however advised that she “recuse” herself on issues to do with cannabis and synthetic cannabinoids due to her husband’s business interests. What is the point of a Minister responding when she cannot talk about matter which might come up in a debate? Constituents often complain to me about the poor answers Ministers give back to me after I have asked a question, this can be very annoying. However, I understand there is often a wider political game and the Ministers try not to give concessions in their question responses. Despite this, not being able to provide answers or detail in a debate that lasts an hour and a half is unforgivable. It also shows the real lack of talent within the UK Government at the moment. If these Ministers cannot provide policy detail in debates it means they do not know what is going on in the departments they are responsible for. It really is quite damning.

These views were first expressed in the Kilmarnock Standard.

A Week in Parliament

I tend to use twitter for straightforward updates on my parliamentary work or visits I undertake. In a slight change of tack I highlighted what I thought was pretty absurd – a Scottish MP submitting a question to the Church of England Commissioner. However, as the matter related to an enquiry about commemorating WW1, it managed to cause a backlash as somehow it meant I do not think such commemoration important.

There are so many aspects of why I think there is no merit in a Scottish MP asking questions of the Church of England Commissioner. For a start, it is out with our locus. What if the answer that came back was the Church of England will be doing nothing? What could a Scottish based MP do between mid-October and November 11th to change things? Clearly nothing.

Also, the question was a staged one suggested by the person who was answering: every time the Church of England session is approaching, the Church of England Commissioner puts out suggested questions that an “MP might want to ask”. Therefore, if you submit one of these questions, it is in the knowledge it’s something they think is a good news story.

As for the fact I do not think commemoration important – I have laid a wreath every year I have been an elected official and for many years took part in the Newmilns parade as a member of the Scouts. I am well aware we are nearing the 100 year anniversary of the end of World War One. 2018 is also 100 years since the death of my great uncle in the war. I have had a portrait of him hanging in my house as a mark of respect to his sacrifice. Anyone checking my bookcase will also see a large number of books on World War One, many of which are about the experiences of those who participated in the war. So I am sorry if I offended people but my conscience is clear about the respect I give those who participated in that war in the armed services, medical services and all the other support workers. There is a disappointing irony in other politicians and accusing me of being blinded by nationalism but then use dead soldiers as part of their faux outrage.

 

Dover Trip

As we head towards Brexit I took a parliamentary trip to Dover to see first-hand how the port operates. The turnaround of ferries in such a short space of time and the number of lorries going in and out was incredible. All based on the fact that they do not necessarily need customs checks because of the current EU Customs arrangements. It has been well trailed that a no deal will cause havoc. They also confirmed that the UK Government’s current preferred option still leaves unresolved issues. As Transport Spokesperson I thought it worthwhile seeing and hearing things directly – it was also confirmation that I cannot take any glib assurances from the UK Government seriously.

These views were first expressed in the Kilmarnock Standard.