The SNP’s Martin Docherty-Hughes has been sworn-in as the Member of Parliament for West Dunbartonshire.
Following his re-election at the General Election on 8 June, Martin has re-dedicated himself to serving the people of Clydebank, Dumbarton and the Vale of Leven.
During the swearing-in ceremony, Martin continued his tradition of promoting West Dunbartonshire schools in parliament by wearing a school tie from Braehead Primary in Dumbarton.
Commenting, Martin Docherty-Hughes MP said:
“It is an honour and a privilege to have been re-elected as MP for West Dunbartonshire. I am hugely grateful to the voters for placing their trust in me once again.
“Over the past two years I have worked hard to represent our local communities in parliament. I am determined to continue representing the people of Clydebank, Dumbarton and the Vale of Leven to the very best of my ability.
“I am very fortunate to have been supported by a wonderful team of supporters and activists. We ran a positive campaign and every single person who volunteered their time during the election has my heartfelt thanks and appreciation.
“I re-dedicate myself to serving the people of West Dunbartonshire and will work tirelessly to ensure they have a strong voice in Westminster. I will not let you down.
“My ambition is to be the most accessible MP that West Dunbartonshire has ever had. I am here to represent all of my constituents regardless of how you voted in this election.
“I would encourage anyone with any issues they’d like to discuss to get in touch via email to email@example.com or by calling my constituency office on 0141 952 2988.”
MP CALLS FOR FIRE SAFETY REVIEW AT WEST DUNBARTONSHIRE TOWER BLOCKS
Martin Docherty-Hughes MP has expressed his sympathies for those affected by the tragic fatal fire at the Grenfell Tower block in London.
The SNP MP has written to the Chief Executive of West Dunbartonshire Council on behalf of local residents calling for a review of fire safety measures at high rise flats in the area.
Commenting, Martin Docherty-Hughes MP said:
“My thoughts are with all of those affected by this devastating fire at Grenfell Tower.
“Many people have lost their lives and I have been contacted by constituents in West Dunbartonshire who are deeply saddened by this terrible tragedy.
“Although investigations into the cause of the fire are still in their early stages, there are a number of high rise tower blocks in West Dunbartonshire and local residents are understandably concerned about fire safety in these buildings.
“It may be some time before the investigation into what caused the fire at Grenfell Tower is completed. In the meantime, I have written to West Dunbartonshire Council to ask that it works in conjunction with the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service to prioritise a review of its fire risk assessments for high rise buildings in the area.
“It’s important that we ensure the highest possible fire safety standards are being met. I have also asked the council to consider reminding local residents of the practical steps they can take to minimise the risk of fire such as the installation of fire alarms.
“For those who don’t have one, the Fire Service will fit a smoke alarm free of charge, and will recommend other fire safety measures they consider necessary. Further information is available by calling the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service on 0800 0731 999.”
Letter sent to West Dunbartonshire Council
14 June 2017
West Dunbartonshire Council
Fire safety in high rise flats
I write to you following the tragic fatal fire at the Grenfell Tower in London. At the time of writing we know that at least six people have lost their lives, with a number of individuals unaccounted for and many others seriously injured. My immediate thoughts are with the residents and families affected by this devastating fire.
Although it is still too early to know the cause of the fire, I have already been contacted by constituents who live locally in high rise flats who are deeply saddened by this incident and understandably concerned about fire safety in their own buildings.
As the investigations into the cause of the Grenfell Tower blaze continue – and I appreciate that these investigations may take some time – its implications for fire safety in tower blocks and multiple occupancy buildings will become clearer.
In the meantime, given the number of high rise flats in West Dunbartonshire, I believe that the council should work in conjunction with the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service so that all reasonable steps are being taken to ensure that these buildings meet the highest possible standards for fire safety.
I know that West Dunbartonshire Council takes the health and safety of local residents very seriously, so I would ask that the council considers undertaking a review of its fire risk assessments for each of the high rise buildings it manages. Furthermore, I would welcome a commitment from the council to reassure residents and remind them of the practical measures they can take to minimise the risk of fire including the installation and regular testing of fire alarms.
Please note that I have also copied this letter to Chief Fire Officer Alasdair Hay and would wish to reiterate my gratitude to the fire services across the country who put their own lives at risk to keep us safe.
A number of the issues being raised by the public are either specific to London, or would be a responsibility for Scottish local authorities. However, I am aware there are concerns on the taxation of fuel – which remains a matter reserved to Westminster for the time being. The SNP have long campaigned for fairer and more transparent taxation of fuel. Last year in advance of the Budget, we joined with FairFuelUK to oppose any hike in fuel duty at a time when the pockets of families, particularly those in rural communities that depend on a car, are squeezed. I am pleased that my SNP colleagues and I were successful in pressuring the Chancellor to keep fuel duty frozen on that occasion.
In this year’s Finance Bill, my SNP colleague Roger Mullin MP tabled an amendment that would have established a fuel duty regulator – a mechanism that would have stabilised fuel prices and made increases or decreases in the fuel price fully transparent. I am disappointed that the Tory UK Government did not take the opportunity to support our amendment. Nevertheless, my SNP colleagues and I remain committed to more transparent taxation of fuel.
It is important to also have regard to air pollution and for Government to take effective action to reduce pollution. The UK Government have failed to produce an Air Quality Strategy, which shows an alarming lack of urgency on a major public health issue. At present in Scotland, the SNP Scottish Government is committed to making Scotland’s air quality among the best in Europe and we are currently meeting both domestic and European air quality targets across much of Scotland. In 2013 the Scottish Government also published the electric vehicle roadmap, “Switched on Scotland”, which sets out our vision to significantly reduce emissions in Scotland’s towns and cities.
The SNP have long been a champion for international development. In 2010, we successfully pressured the UK Government to meet the UN recommendation that 0.7% of national wealth be devoted to international development. As a result of our pressure, the UK became the first G7 nation to write a commitment to the 0.7% target into law. This will help achieve our commitment to the Millennium Development Goals, to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, to make sure everyone in the world can have a primary education, to reduce infant mortality, to combat diseases and to ensure the world’s environment remains habitable.
It is important to recognise some of the major advances that have been made possible as a result of international aid. For example, aid spending has contributed to the eradication of smallpox. Since the last smallpox death in 1978, between 60 and 120 million premature deaths have been prevented. We are also now close to the global eradication of the debilitating disease polio.
Questions have been raised in the last few weeks about the continuing commitment of the Tory UK Government to international development. The SNP supports the cross-party consensus expressed in the 2015 International Development Act for the UK to meet the UN target of spending 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) on international development. Rest assured, that my SNP colleagues and I will continue to press the UK Government to maintain this commitment.
Certificates of Equivalent Competency and the Merchant Navy
A number of people have expressed their concern about unemployment amongst British Merchant Navy Officers and the wider problems of low wages and conditions in the industry.
My SNP colleagues and I believe that it is of utmost importance to ensure that the future of the Maritime industry is guided by a strong vision and plan vis-à-vis employment, fair conditions, business and safety. Indeed, my colleagues, Drew Hendry MP, Chris Stephens MP and Martyn Day MP, spoke on this issue in Parliament in January of this year. In Scotland, the RMT and Nautilus International have welcomed actions brought about by CalMac with regards to pay and conditions. Some operators do engage in exploitative practices which abuse the complexities of the national minimum wage regulations. The SNP therefore joins in the disappointment of the RMT and Nautilus International who have highlighted that the UK Government rejected the recommendation of the Transport Select Committee for an independent review of how the MCA will take on new responsibilities without a proportionate increase in its resources.
The SNP is also concerned by the ageing profile of UK seafarers and the lack of young people pursuing a career in the industry; it is important that more is done to reverse this trend and reduce the risk of loss of skills among our home-grown seafarers. The UK Government’s UK Seafarer Projections 2016 – 2026 report states that fewer young people are choosing a career at sea and as a result the supply of UK officers is set to fall by 18% between 2016 and 2026. While this underlines the fact that the UK Government must do more to address this problem, it also means that CEC officers are important, particularly in terms of safety, to ensure UK-vessels do not suffer from a shortage of qualified officers in the future.
I am disappointed that no agreement has been reached at ACAS and that industrial action is taking place. The Scottish Government is committed to National Bargaining, which was included in our 2011 manifesto. Indeed, the Minister for Further Education has met separately with EIS and representatives of the sector’s employers’ association regarding this dispute and encouraged both bodies to work together constructively to reach a resolution. Significant progress towards reaching a settlement has been made so far and we encourage the EIS and employers to negotiate, agree and deliver a way forward so that the sector can focus on delivering the high-quality education that its students expect.
Disputes such as these are nobody’s interests and my SNP colleagues and I are particularly concerned about the impact on college students, their learning and the successful completion of their courses. EIS and employers clearly have a difference of view. However, it is a matter for them to negotiate, agree and deliver a way forward.
SNP MPs have consistently opposed the Higher Education Bill since it was introduced by the UK Government in July last year. In regards to your comments on the Lords Amendments, I agree with you that the TEF should not be linked to tuition fees and it is something my SNP colleagues and I have consistently opposed. As you will be aware, the SNP believe that education should be based on the ability to learn and not the ability to pay and it is a fundamental principle of mine that tuition fees should be scrapped entirely.
It seems, though, that the arguments made by the Lords regarding the speed at which the TEF is being introduced and the need for further review of the scheme have been taken into consideration. Any future increases in tuition fee limits would automatically require the approval of both Houses of Parliament and I can guarantee that SNP MPs will always vote against tuition fee rises as a matter of principle.
There will also be an independent review of the TEF to commence in 2018. This review would have to consider: the process by which ratings are determined; whether the metrics are fit for purpose; whether the classifications awarded are appropriate; the impact of the scheme on higher education providers; and whether the TEF is in the public interest. As we have done throughout the Bill, SNP MPs will be holding the UK Government to account on this review and working hard to ensure that both the Scottish Government and Scottish HEIs – including staff and students – will have an input into this review.
My SNP colleagues and I have also been consistent in our opposition to the increasing marketization of the higher education sector, which would have a detrimental impact on Scotland’s world-renowned higher education sector.
Finally, I fundamentally disagree with the UK Government on their student immigration policy and continue to call on the UK Government to take international students out of the net migration target. The policies of the UK Government are already making it harder and harder for our education institutions to attract the best talent from abroad. International students make an important contribution to Scotland’s economy and we must do everything we can to ensure they are welcome into the UK and to Scotland. While this Bill will not address this situation, rest assured that SNP MPs will be fighting hard for international students, including calling for the reinstatement of a post-study work visa when the future immigration legislation is brought forward by the UK Government.
I share the public’s deep concern and I am alarmed by the reported violations of human rights in Chechnya. My SNP colleagues and I fully endorse Amnesty International’s call to action to protect those at risk in the region. The international community has a responsibility to raise concerns about human rights violations with Russia at the highest level.
I believe that more generally, we require a way to ensure that in our interactions with other countries, we have particular attention to their treatment of human rights and specifically LGBT+ rights. Indeed, the SNP manifesto called on the UK Government to establish the position of a special envoy to promote the rights of LGBT+ people around the world as an integral part of UK foreign policy.
My SNP colleague in Westminster, Hannah Bardell MP, spoke on this issue in the House of Commons last week (20th April). She emphasised that we must use our voices to condemn this horrific brutality, and called on the UK Government Minister of State to act on the proposal for a special envoy and put as much pressure as possible on Chechnya and Russia to put an end to these abuses. Despite the forthcoming General Election, I hope that the UK Government will pursue this matter assiduously in their relations with Russia.
“The Prime Minister’s announcement is timed to take advantage of a Tory surge in the polls south of the border. The ineffective and contradictory leadership of the Labour Party has been extremely damaging, and it is clear that the Labour Party will lose yet more seats to the Tories in the coming election.
“In contrast, SNP MPs have been effective at challenging the UK Government on many of the worst excesses of the right wing of their party, and we are opposed to their hard Brexit plan that will be devastating for our economy. My colleagues and I also continue to represent our constituents, providing help to thousands of people in our constituencies, hit hard by Tory austerity and the on-going dismantling of the Social Security system.
“I will stand on the SNP’s record and my own personal work in the constituency, and I welcome this opportunity Scotland has to reject the Tory Government and re-elect a strong SNP Opposition, fighting for Scotland’s interests.”
Statement from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP
“This announcement is one of the most extraordinary U-turns in recent political history, and it shows that Theresa May is once again putting the interests of her party ahead of those of the country.
“She is clearly betting that the Tories can win a bigger majority in England given the utter disarray in the Labour Party.
“That makes it all the important that Scotland is protected from a Tory Party which now sees the chance of grabbing control of government for many years to come and moving the UK further to the right — forcing through a hard Brexit and imposing deeper cuts in the process.
“That means that this will be — more than ever before — an election about standing up for Scotland, in the face of a right-wing, austerity obsessed Tory government with no mandate in Scotland but which now thinks it can do whatever it wants and get away with it.
“In terms of Scotland, this move is a huge political miscalculation by the Prime Minister.
“It will once again give people the opportunity to reject the Tories’ narrow, divisive agenda, as well as reinforcing the democratic mandate which already exists for giving the people of Scotland a choice on their future.
“The SNP will always put the people of Scotland first — and between now and June 8, we will work harder than ever to retain the trust of the people.”
Vale of Leven Hospital: Joint Statement from Martin Dochetry-Hughes MP & Brendan O’Hara MP
Following our meeting with both the Chair John Brown CBE and new Chief Executive Jane on NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, the Chair has issued a letter to local media confirming some of the points raised in our discussion.
It was an extremely positive meeting where all present agreed that the Vale of Leven Hospital is an asset to NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and that it will continue to deliver vital services to our communities for the foreseeable future.
We were delighted to see that our request for clear communication with the public about current issues relating to the Vale of Leven Hospital and other local health services has been acted upon so swiftly, and look forward to working with them to see continuous improvement to communication with our community.
Further to the content of the letter, the Chair and the new Chief Executive also confirmed / agreed to the following:
Despite what unofficial sources have been saying, the Dispensing Pharmacy at the Hospital is not under threat of closure.
The issues with the out of hours GP service are being caused by a problem with GP contracts. They hope to have this resolved soon, which will have a positive impact in terms of the future of the service operating from the Vale of Leven Hospital. The current review and proposals are at the earliest stage and haven’t yet taken any possible future contract changes into account.
The Board will keep the public informed about services in the local area through the press, Facebook and their website.
The Board will update their Vale of Leven Hospital page on the website to bring it up to date with a list of the services available at our hospital.
The Chair and Chief Executive are aware that NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde must improve its lines of communication with our community and I am glad that we are starting to see swift and appropriate action to make that happen.
MARTIN SLAMS UK GOVERNMENT FOR “DEVASTATING” CUTS TO DISABILITY BENEFITS
Martin Docherty-Hughes MP has criticised the Tory UK Government for the introduction of devastating benefit cuts for sick and disabled people.
From 1 April 2017, new claimants for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) – which offers support to people unable to work due to illness and disability – have had their benefits cut by £30 per week.
The SNP MP has said that these cuts will cause severe financial hardship for the most vulnerable in West Dunbartonshire and called on the UK Government to make good on its promise to introduce a support package to help disabled people meet the additional costs of disability.
Commenting, SNP MP Martin Docherty-Hughes said:
“The Tory Government has decided to press ahead with these cruel welfare cuts despite strong opposition from MPs, Lords and third sector organisations representing disabled people.
“The Tory party’s misguided justification for these cuts is that they will somehow help more disabled people into employment. The truth is that no evidence exists for the claim that reducing benefit payments actually helps people into work.
“What we do know is that people with chronic illnesses and disabilities face significant barriers to finding employment and are much more likely to be living in poverty. These ESA reductions are counterproductive and risk exacerbating ill health and pushing disabled people further from the workforce.
“Here in West Dunbartonshire, more than half of local residents living with a disability are unemployed. At a time of rising food prices and inflation due to Brexit, these cuts will put a further financial burden on the most vulnerable people in society.
“The UK Government must recognise that this is no way to treat its citizens and act urgently to ensure that adequate support is delivered for sick and disabled people when they are unable to work.”
CUT TO CHILD TAX CREDITS TO INCREASE CHILD POVERTY BY 10%
SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT SPEND £400 MILLION MITIGATING IMPACT OF TORY CUTS
SNP MP Dr Eilidh Whiteford has said it is clear the UK government “remains wedded to austerity” as independent analysis finds new cuts to child tax credits will single-handedly increase child poverty by 10% by 2020.
The report, published by Policy in Practice, used national data collected every year by the Family Resource Survey to estimate that across the UK 104,000 third or additional children will be born to low-income families in receipt of tax credits in the next 12 months – and that the UK government’s two child policy alone will drive an increase in child poverty of more than 10 per cent, with 266,000 additional children living in poverty by the end of the parliament.
The report also estimates that more than a quarter of a million children – 256,000 – who are already living in poverty will fall deeper into poverty as a result of this policy and 609,000 children in ‘just about managing’ or low to middle income households will be pushed closer to the poverty line.
The Scottish Government has spent £400 million since 2013 mitigating the impact of Tory cuts in Scotland with £152 million spent on the Scottish Welfare Fund and £125 million on Discretionary Housing Payments among other mitigation measures.
Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP, Social Justice Spokesperson, said:
“It’s clear that this Tory government remains wedded to austerity and these latest cuts – which fall on already stretched low and middle income households – will actually increase child poverty and exacerbate the deep-rooted injustices that exist in our society thanks to a bombardment of cuts from Westminster.”
Martin Docherty-Hughes MP said:
“Universal Credit will leave families with children worse off by an average of £960 a year in 2020 and single parent families by a huge £2380 on average. The UK government continues to shirk its responsibility to protect children from poverty. Instead of portraying poverty as a lifestyle choice, the Tories must ditch austerity and stop pursuing policies that disadvantage people on low and middle incomes.”
Gil Paterson, MSP for Clydebank & Milngavie, added:
“The SNP Scottish Government is determined to deliver a more equal, fair and inclusive society and that’s why they are committed to using every ounce of the limited powers we have to reduce poverty and tackle inequality.
“But it should not fall to Scotland to mop up the devastation left behind as a result of the Tories’ ideological obsession with cuts – a party with only one MP north of the border – and the SNP will always work to support the most disadvantaged in our society.”
Scotland’s Freedom of Information regime is internationally recognised and we are determined to continue developing a culture of openness and transparency across our public services. My colleagues in the SNP Scottish Government have recently closed a consultation on extending Freedom of Information rights to Registered Social Landlords, on the basis that they undertake functions of a public nature, as part of our ongoing commitment to ensuring that Scotland’s Freedom of Information legislation remains robust and up-to-date.
You make a number of important points about public access to the Royal Archive which are worth examination, but ultimately any extension of the freedom to access information should balance the public interest of the information being public, and the need for a private space for governance.
I would, however, make the point that The National Archive is not Britain’s official archive; rather it is the archive of the UK Government, and of England and Wales. The equivalent for Scotland is the National Records of Scotland, successor to the National Archives of Scotland. I would find it difficult committing to agree with proposals that would result in an England and Wales body having greater custody of records pertaining to Scotland. I would rather such proposals involved The National Records of Scotland.
TORIES MUST END SPECULATION ON POWERS RETURNING TO HOLYROOD Following a national press report that ‘Holyrood is at risk of a grab for power by the Tories’, the SNP is calling on the UK government to urgently rule out any attempt to use Brexit as a cover for the appropriation of devolved powers. In a letter to Scottish Secretary David Mundell, the SNP’s Ivan McKee – who sits on Holyrood’s Finance and Constitution committee – also pressed for a detailed strategy for the orderly return of any powers currently exercised by Brussels to the Scottish Parliament, alongside a guarantee that this process will not be subject to interference by the Westminster government. Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson has indicated that she wants to see powers over agriculture on fishing taken away from Holyrood, despite being prescribed as devolved areas of legislation in the Scotland Act. Commenting, Martin Docherty-Hughes MP said: “The report confirms that the UK Government are planning a Scottish power grab in an attempt to reverse the gains we have made from devolution and hand power back to Westminster. “We must not allow a Tory government with only one MP in Scotland to trample all over our national parliament, undermining the very foundations on which it was established, under the guise of Brexit. “The SNP has often asked the question, what is the purpose of the Secretary of State for Scotland? The role should be to fight Scotland’s corner in the House of Commons and ensure our interests are protected, not damaged. “To leave such fundamental questions hanging indefinitely just won’t wash with my constituents, whose futures are at stake, and further betrays the commitment to a powerhouse parliament at Holyrood. “When the Tories are done picking fights with Spain and picking their favourite shade of blue for new passports, perhaps they could turn to the more serious matter of what Brexit will mean for the Scottish Parliament.”
Notes to editors: Herald front page story (04/04/17):“Holyrood at risk of grab for power by the Tories” – http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/15201060.Holyrood_at_risk_of_grab_for_power_by_the_Tories__MPs_warn/ “Ruth Davidson raises prospect of power grab over farm subsidies”: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/davidson-raises-prospect-of-power-grab-over-farm-subsidies-bssr50nr9 Text of letter from Ivan McKee MSP to David Mundell MP, Secretary of State for Scotland: Dear David, You will be aware of the Exiting the European Union Committee report published today, which has received widespread attention in the media. The report warns “there is a real issue… of the protection of the position of the devolved nations in relation to decisions taken in London”. You will be fully aware of the SNP’s clearly held position that all powers to be repatriated from the EU in areas that are currently wholly devolved – agriculture and fisheries for example – must come to the Scottish Parliament. The publication of this report gives an ideal opportunity to you, as Secretary of State for Scotland, to rule out any suggestion to the contrary and provide a guarantee over which powers will be returned to Holyrood. As things stand, Westminster cannot legislate on Scottish farming and fishing policy. The question is whether that will remain the case under your Brexit plans – yes or no? Professor Nicola McEwan of Edinburgh University is cited in the Committee’s report describing your government’s current prevarication on the repatriation of competences as “ambiguous” and “an obvious source of tension as the negotiations get underway”. A clear statement that Westminster will not seek to take back control of powers currently within the competence of the Scottish Parliament would bring a welcome end to such tension. Furthermore, your government’s white paper on the Great Repeal Bill offers little in the way of clarity over how you will work with devolved administrations on a plan and timescale for the repatriations of powers. Indeed, rather curiously, the document does not refer to Scotland at all. Perhaps you would be kind enough to set out the detail of that strategy? I look forward to your response in early course. Yours, Ivan McKee MSP
I share your concern regarding neonicotinoid pesticides and the potentially detrimental effects which could be caused to bees, if the current restrictions on these pesticides are lifted.
At present in Scotland, significant restrictions are currently in place regarding the use of three neonicotinoids on plants which are attractive to bees; clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam. These restrictions derive from EU legislation which came into force on 1 December 2013. Although in 2015 the UK Government temporarily lifted the ban on the use of these pesticides in certain counties, none of these counties were in Scotland.
As previously mentioned, legislation pertaining to the use of neonicotinoid insecticides has its basis in EU regulations, which has one of the strictest regulatory systems in the world with regards to the approval of pesticides. In fact, following an opinion issued by the EFSA late last year which confirmed that neonicotinoids pose a significant threat to pollinators such as bees and bumblebees, the European Commission is currently considering a total ban on neonicotinoids. The UK Government, however, while it has implemented the current restrictions, have it made it clear that they do not support them. Therefore, the UK’s withdrawal from the EU may not only result in the current restrictions lapsing, but the UK would also not be obliged to act on future EU legislation banning neonicotinoids. My SNP colleagues and I are concerned about a great number of sectors and issues which will be impacted negatively by Brexit, and the future of environmental legislation is one such issue. However, as the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said, we will do all that we can to protect Scotland’s place in the EU and the benefits of EU membership that the people of Scotland enjoy.
I am of the view that we must take a precautionary approach to neonicotinoids, something which is shared by my SNP colleagues. Therefore, allow me to reassure you that the SNP Scottish Government will not support any relaxation of the restrictions which are currently in place unless there is clear scientific evidence that neonicotinoids do not pose a threat to insect pollinators.
I believe that a free, open and diverse press is vital to a healthy and vibrant democracy.
A takeover bid of this magnitude should always be properly and robustly scrutinised and it is important that this is done in a fully transparent and thorough manner. Earlier this month, the UK Government’s Secretary of State for Culture, Karen Bradley, asked the media regulator Ofcom and the competition regulator, the CMA, to explore the detail of the proposed takeover.
These investigations will examine whether the deal leaves sufficient plurality of the media and whether the commitment of the proposed takeover to attaining broadcasting standards objectives. I welcome this decision, which means that the proposed takeover will be examined in a wholly proper and non-political way, and I look forward to hearing of the findings of these reports when they are submitted in mid-May.
My SNP colleagues and I take the issues of funeral costs – and the related problem of funeral poverty – very seriously.The SNP Scottish Government funded the report “Funeral Poverty in Scotland”, published by Citizens’ Advice Scotland in February 2016, looking at this problem, before holding a national funeral poverty conference in November 2016. This will lead into the Scottish Government’s funeral costs plan, which will be published later in 2017.
There has been a 90% rise in the cost of funerals over the last decade. The additional costs are placing an unbearable burden on the already stretched finances of bereaved families, many of whom are getting into serious and unmanageable debt when they lose a loved one. Because of this, my SNP colleague Neil Gray MP in December 2016 attempted to bring forward measures to improve financial regulation of funeral plans.
There is already a Funeral Payment for those who have difficulty paying for funerals that anyone can apply to and when powers are devolved to the Scottish Parliament, the SNP will be making sure this payment is made within ten days.
Please be assured that my SNP colleagues and I will continue to support and work to minimise the financial burden to people facing loss.
I believe the people of Scotland deserve a choice over our future.
In the EU referendum there was a 24-point margin in Scotland for Remain. Despite this, the Scottish Government put forward compromise proposals that would have reluctantly meant leaving the EU if we could at least stay in the Single Market.
Unfortunately the UK Government decided to reject this compromise and is insisting on a course of action that it said before the EU referendum, would make us “permanently poorer”.
The Scottish Parliament has now voted and agreed that an independence referendum should be held – not now but when the terms of Brexit are clear and while there is still time to change course. That means a referendum could be held between October 2018 and March 2019, when the UK will be leaving the EU or shortly after.
The First Minister has been clear that Scotland’s choice must be informed and, as such, we will be frank about the opportunities and challenges of independence. We have been clear that we’ll set out a plan for an independent Scotland well in advance of a referendum so that people will have an informed choice between Brexit and becoming an independent country.
I hope the UK Government will respect the wishes of the Scottish Parliament. The First Minister has said she will return to Parliament after Easter to set out the steps the Scottish Government will take to progress the will of Parliament.
The next two years are hugely important. They’ll determine what kind of country Scotland will be – so I believe it is important that the people of Scotland should have the final choice on our future, once the terms of Brexit are clear.
SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT SPENDS £400M FIGHTING TORY WELFARE CUTS
The Scottish Government has spent nearly £400m since 2013 in an effort to alleviate Tory cuts to household incomes, new figures reveal. The figures were revealed in response to a parliamentary question by SNP MSP Ruth Maguire, and show that £152m was spent on the Scottish Welfare Fund and £125m on Discretionary Housing Payments over the past four year period. The Scottish Welfare Fund provides a safety net for vulnerable Scottish families, while Discretionary Housing Payments covers households affected by the UK Government’s Bedroom Tax making sure no–one has to pay. The Scottish Government has increased funding in 17/18 to £47 million to fully mitigate the Bedroom Tax for more than 70,000 households. Commenting, Martin Docherty-Hughes MP said: “These figures show the extent to which the SNP Scottish Government is having use vast sums of money from the Scottish budget to mitigate the Tories’ ideological attack on vulnerable people. “That this £400m has had to be spent mitigating the effects of the inhumane Tory welfare cuts, rather than being spent fighting the root causes of poverty in communities across Scotland, is outrageous. “The UK Government seek to undermine the work of the Scottish Government at every turn, and they don’t seem to care that my constituents, and hundreds of thousands of people in communities across the United Kingdom, are suffering.” “A mere 15% of welfare powers are being devolved to Scotland, but even with these limited devolved powers, the SNP are committed to creating a Scottish Social Security system with dignity, fairness and respect at its heart.
“I would encourage anyone who has experience of the UK Social Security system to sign up to be on the Scottish Government’s User Experience Panel. Your knowledge of the faults and flaws in the current system will be vital in shaping the new Scottish Social Security system, not just for yourselves, but for generations to come.” ENDS Notes: Question S5W-07259: Ruth Maguire, Cunninghame South, Scottish National Party To ask the Scottish Government how much it has spent on mitigating the impact in Scotland of the UK Government’s welfare reforms.
Answered by Angela Constance: The Scottish Government has invested considerable resource directly mitigating the impact of the UK Government’s welfare cuts. The following table sets out the amount invested to date in a range of different mitigation activities.
Welfare Reform Mitigation activity
Investment made March 2013 to March 2017 (£ million)
Scottish Welfare Fund
Discretionary Housing Payments
Council Tax Reduction Scheme
Welfare Advice Provision
Addressing Food Poverty
Other welfare mitigation projects
In addition, the Scottish Government has made investment across a range of portfolios to tackle poverty and inequality. This includes increasing access to free childcare, the provision of free school meals and a range of community-led regeneration activity. Much of this will provide additional support people affected by welfare reform.
I have been contacted by the Coal Authority to confirm that they will finish their cavity in-filling and stabilisation works next week.
The Council have confirmed to me that they have plans in place to get on-site as soon as the Coal Authority give them the go ahead, to start road reinstatement works. The Council expect to finish this work by the end of June.
When the Council take over, they will still have a 5m by 15m hole to fill with concrete. They will then have to reroute some of the electric, gas, sewer and water services, some of which have been temporarily diverted during the in-filling, before undertaking reconstruction of all layers of the road (this is far more involved than simple resurfacing).
I will continue to post updates on this website and my Facebook Page as I get them.
JOINT COMMITTEE SESSION HELD ON SOCIAL SECURITY POWERS FOR SCOTLAND
MPs and MSPs from the House of Commons’ Scottish Affairs Committee and the Scottish Parliament’s Social Security Committee took part in a joint session last Monday (20th March 2017) to discuss the devolution of social security powers to Scotland.
MPs and MSPs questioned Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green and Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Securities and Equalities Angela Constance on the transfer of 13 benefit payments from Westminster to Holyrood – which represents control of around 15% of social security spending.
Margaret Ferrier MP, who is a member of the Scottish Affairs Committee, said:
“The SNP has consistently raised concerns about the roll-out of Universal Credit and what appears to be some very deep flaws right at the heart of the Tory’s flagship benefit.
“The UK Government must act now to ensure that our most disadvantaged families and individuals are protected – new claimants of Universal Credit are forced to endure a six week wait for Universal Credit payments. It is vital that steps are taken to make sure disadvantaged people do not fall into rent arrears and are not forced to rely on foodbanks or payday loans simply to get by.”
Local SNP MP Martin Docherty-Hughes added:
“The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Damian Green MP, is out of touch with the misery facing my constituents if he thinks the catalogue of failures with the payment are just ‘teething problems’ or that they are over. He must act now and introduce a full review and immediate reconsideration of the arbitrary six week waiting period.
“It would be unacceptable if the Scottish Government provided help to individuals and families in Scotland, for example, by mitigating the impact of the UK Bedroom Tax, only for the UK Government to negate that support by imposing the benefit cap on the 85% of benefits being kept under UK control.
“We still need a firm guarantee that the UK government remains committed to the fiscal framework established by the Smith Commission and will not, in any circumstances, take with one hand while the Scottish Government seeks to give with another.”
TRIGGERING OF ARTICLE 50 SHOWS UK WIDE APPROACH “SHATTERED BEYOND REPAIR”
Martin Docherty-Hughes MP has commented on this week’s triggering of Article 50, which formally begins the process of the UK leaving the EU.
Any notion of a UK-wide approach, as promised by the Prime Minister following the referendum, is “shattered beyond repair”, and leaves Scotland and Northern Ireland in a position where we are being dragged out of the EU against our democratically expressed will.
Martin Docherty-Hughes MP commented:
“This week’s decision to unilaterally trigger Article 50 shatters beyond repair any notion or position that the Prime Minister is seeking UK-wide agreement.
“For nine months since the EU referendum, there has been no attempt by the UK government to seek a meaningful discussion or agreement with the devolved administrations, despite all efforts being made by our First Minister to facilitate a compromise.
“Scotland is a nation within this United Kingdom of nations and yet is it being treated as a region; worse than that, it is not even being given the same consideration as private companies such a Nissan, to whom the UK Government have been happy to give special consideration.
“Scotland is at a hugely important crossroads and we cannot be in a position where we are ripped from the EU and Single Market despite voting against such a move.
“That is why it is more crucial than ever that the Scottish Parliament is able to give the people of Scotland a fair, legal and informed choice on the direction this country takes.
“The SNP agree with Theresa May that now is not the time for a new referendum on Scottish Independence. That is why we are proposing a referendum at a time, some years in the future, when we know what the Brexit deal will mean for Scotland, but before it’s too late for Scotland to choose a different path.
“I believe it is for the communities of Scotland to decide our future, not politicians. The Prime Minister must allow the people of Scotland make their voice heard.”
‘Protection for Ancient Woodland’ is a devolved matter, and the UK Government’s Housing White Paper does not apply in Scotland, and therefore my SNP colleagues and I will not vote on measures which have no impact on Scotland.
The Scottish Government is streets ahead of Westminster on housing, having abolished the unaffordable Right to Buy, which has allowed the SNP to deliver thousands of new homes available for social rent. Moreover, the Scottish Government are investing over £3 billion over the lifetime of the current Scottish Parliament in affordable homes and if the Scottish Government had built at English rates since 2007 we would have around 20,000 less affordable new build homes right now.
The Scottish Government continue to be committed to maintaining, protecting and enhancing our environment. Scotland was the first country in the world to establish a natural capital asset index (in 2011). Scotland leads the UK on woodland; currently around 83 per cent of woodland planting in the UK takes place in Scotland. We are very lucky in that many of our habitats and wildlife are internationally important.
Scotland’s peatlands, mountain landscapes, coastal cliffs and seas, machair and diversity of woodland ecosystems are exceptional by European standards. These support a fantastic range of species, as well as being key assets for public health and wellbeing. My colleagues in the SNP Scottish Government are working to improve the state of nature across Scotland and to ensure more people draw on its many benefits.
Rest assured that Scotland’s natural heritage is safe in the hands of the SNP Government.
As you may be aware, students affected by the sell-off will be those students who entered repayment between 2002 and 2006 and only those living in England at the time they applied for their student finance. This decision will not impact Scottish students and the SNP Scottish Government have no intention of following the UK Government down the same privatisation path, that will ultimately be a bad deal for students.
While this decision does not impact Scottish students – and ultimately this matter is within the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament – there is a fundamental belief to ensure students get a good deal during their education. This is why the SNP Scottish Government scrapped tuition fees, making sure that education was based on the ability to learn and not the ability to pay, while also ensuring students are not worse off financially just for making a decision to go into higher education.
Thank you to my colleague Chris Stephens MP for securing this cross-party debate on Job Centre closures, which are affecting constituencies across the UK. We are all working together to keep pressure on the Minister and wider Department for Work and Pensions.
Speech from House of Commons debate on UK Government Budget
Martin Docherty-Hughes MP (West Dunbartonshire) (SNP)
I want to focus on a couple of issues: the Chancellor’s assault on the Scottish whisky industry and the ill thought out increases in national insurance contributions for the self-employed. Let me declare an interest as the treasurer for the all-party group on Scotch whisky—a position that has offered me the opportunity to establish a close working relationship with this vital industry, which is very local to West Dunbartonshire.
As I am the Member for West Dunbartonshire—a constituency that is home to two well-known distilleries, Auchentoshan and Loch Lomond, and that has seen massive investment over recent months in a new bottling plant by Chivas Regal—the House will understand why I have strong reservations about the impact of the Government’s decision to increase excise duty on spirits by 3.9%. That money grab has been described by Loch Lomond distillery as a
“spectacularly poor decision by the chancellor”
and by the Scotch Whisky Association as a “major blow” to the industry which will undermine the progress that the industry has made in recent years. I therefore urge the Chancellor to use the opportunity to carry out an urgent review of the UK’s alcohol taxation system to give the industry—described by the Prime Minister only a week and a half ago as
“a truly great Scottish and British industry”
producing “the world’s pre-eminent spirit”—the support it requires to remain competitive in this vital global market.
I turn from the ill thought out increase in excise duty to the potentially disastrous impact on the self-employed of the increase in class 4 national insurance contributions by nearly 11% over the next two years. In my constituency, the local community and economy are built on a strong foundation of small businesses, and I have serious concerns—similar concerns have been expressed by many Members in the House—about the long-term impact and pressure of these increases on small businesses.
In a briefing that it sent to my office, the Federation of Small Businesses Scotland voiced its concerns about the proposed policy and stated:
“The risk that the self-employed face makes them fundamentally different to employees. This is why the proposed National Insurance tax grab on this group is an absolute kick in the teeth, just at a time when we need to create more entrepreneurs, not fewer.”
The fact that Members on the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s own Benches do not support this policy—we hear them in the Lobby all the time—sends a strong message to the Chancellor and the Treasury that the business community must be understood and consulted before any drastic changes are made. There is still time for the Chancellor to see sense and give small businesses the respect and support they deserve. To fail to do so would be a dereliction of duty and a show of no confidence in those who ensure that the economy is built on a strong base.
Finally, the utter failure in the Budget to even mention the WASPI women shows that the Treasury has failed to grasp the reality facing women born in the 1950s: poverty, destitution and a political state unwilling—not unable, but unwilling—to offer them equality in the 21st century.
MP ISSUES CALL TO HELP SHAPE SCOTLAND’S NEW SOCIAL SECURITY SYSTEM
RESIDENTS URGED TO SIGN UP TO SOCIAL SECURITY EXPERIENCE PANELS
Martin Docherty-Hughes MP has called on his constituents in West Dunbartonshire to sign up and help shape Scotland’s new social security system – with the Scottish Government seeking to learn from the experiences of those currently using the service
At least 2,000 people with experience of the current social security system are being recruited to help shape Scotland’s new system – allowing the Scottish Government to learn from mistakes made in the past. The panels will work with the expert advisory group on disability and carers’ benefits.
Martin has said that it marks an important step on the Scottish Government’s plans to build a social security system based on dignity and respect.
Commenting, SNP MP Martin Docherty-Hughes said:
“The Scottish Government has been clear that it intends to build a fairer and more respectful social security system once the full powers are devolved over this area – and it is good to see them continue to make good on this promise.
“I hope people across West Dunbartonshire take the opportunity to sign up to the Scottish Government’s panels and play their part in creating a social security system with fairness at its heart.
“Any government system, be it in education, health, immigration or social security, needs to take fully into account the views and experiences of the people who have used this service at the frontline – and asking 2,000 people with service experience for their views is a clear example of the Scottish Government doing exactly that.
“We have seen for too long the damage that has been wrought by the callous and ideological system operated by the Tories at Westminster – putting the needs of people last and doing all they can to scapegoat and stigmatise those that need the safety net of welfare.
“The Scottish Government’s is committed to building a new social security system based on dignity and respect for people across Scotland, and this development is an important step on the way to achieving this.”
You can find out more about social security in Scotland and how to join the Experience Panels at: www.gov.scot/socialsecurity. You can apply online or by phoning freephone 0800 029 4974. Deadline for registration is 12 May 2017.
I am aware of the substantial economic contribution made by pubs, breweries and microbreweries in Scotland. The brewing and pub industry supports the employment of 60,000 people in Scotland, contributing £1.6 billion to the Scottish economy and generating £972 million in tax revenues. It is part of a wider food and drink industry which is a vital sector of Scotland’s economy.
For that reason, I believe it to be important that the sector is supported appropriately. My SNP colleagues and I have long supported a wider overhaul of the alcohol duty regime, towards basing it on the alcohol content of drinks. This would represent a better, fairer, evidence-based way of taxing alcohol. The SNP Treasury Spokesperson Stewart Hosie tabled an amendment to the Finance Bill in 2009 that would have allowed for evidence-based policy making, making the level of alcohol liquor duty required to be levied on each type of drink on an equitable basis based on the alcohol content.
This tax remains reserved to Westminster and I am disappointed that the Chancellor did not take the opportunity that the Budget offered to review the approach to taxation of alcohol.
Where the Scottish Government does have power, we have made an effort to support small pubs and breweries. In February, the Scottish Government announced a one year cap on business rate increases in Scotland for the hospitality sector, which the Scottish Beer and Pubs Association suggest will save Scottish pubs around £6 million, with Scottish pubs standing to benefit by an average of £4,700. Many microbreweries in Scotland will also benefit from the Small Business Bonus Scheme, which provides 100% rates relief on business property up to a rateable value of £15,000, and will benefit 100,000 businesses in Scotland this year.
I recognise the strength of feeling that many people have on this issue.
I should say at the outset that the vast majority of Private Member’s Bills are not successful in becoming law, owing to the very little parliamentary time that is dedicated to their consideration.
The current regulations on abortion are governed by the Abortion Act 1967. This legislation makes it legal to have an abortion in Scotland, England and Wales during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy provided that the abortion is carried out in a hospital or licensed clinic, and that two doctors agree that continuing with the pregnancy would be more harmful to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family than if the pregnancy was aborted. Under this Act, an abortion may also be considered if medical professionals assess that there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped. In my view, this Act puts in place sufficient control so that abortion can only ever take place when there is a clear medical reason, either for the pregnant woman or the foetus, for doing so.
You may also be aware that the Scotland Act 2016 has devolved control of abortion law to the Scottish Parliament, and so SNP MPs did not feel it would be appropriate for us to vote on this matter. The First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has made her view clear that the Scottish Government is not inclined to make any changes to existing abortion laws.
MARTIN MEETS TAOISEACH ENDA KENNY ON MP DELEGATION VISIT TO DUBLIN
APPG ON IRELAND & THE IRISH IN BRITAIN DISCUSSES BREXIT AND THE RIGHTS OF IRISH CITIZENS
Martin Docherty-Hughes MP has met with Taoiseach Enda Kenny as part of a delegation of MPs on a visit to Dublin to discuss matters of concern to the Irish diaspora in Scotland and in the UK.
The MP for West Dunbartonshire, who is also vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Ireland and the Irish in Britain, joined a cross-party group of MPs during an historic visit to Dublin organised by CHAMP.
CHAMP, which promotes peace and prosperity in Ireland and the UK, arranged a series of meetings between MPs and senior politicians in Ireland to discuss British-Irish relations, Brexit and the Northern Ireland elections.
Martin Docherty-Hughes MP said:
“As vice-chair of the APPG on Ireland and the Irish in Britain, I was very pleased to have the opportunity to meet with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and a number of TDs and Senators to discuss the rights of Irish citizens in Scotland and in the UK.
“There is a large Irish diaspora here in West Dunbartonshire and many of my constituents tell me they are concerned about what Brexit will mean for their rights to live and work in the UK.
“This is an issue I have been pursuing with the UK Government in parliament for a number of months. Whilst Brexit Secretary David Davis has offered me his assurances that the special status given to Irish citizens through the Ireland Act (1949) will be protected and there will be no hard border, I will continue to press this government on the importance of ensuring there’s no change to the rights of Irish citizens post-Brexit.
“During the visit we held very positive meetings with the Taoiseach and leaders of the opposition parties and I took the opportunity to raise a number of issues on behalf of the Irish diaspora in Scotland. It’s more important than ever that we work to protect the rights of Irish citizens here in Scotland and further strengthen the links between our countries, critically during Brexit.”