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Category: Campaign Emails

Diesel Tax Hikes

Diesel Tax Hikes

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.

UK Aid

UK Aid

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

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.

Strike Action in Colleges

Strike Action in Colleges

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.

Higher Education & Research Bill

Higher Education & Research Bill

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.

LGBT+ Rights in Chechnya

LGBT+ Rights in Chechnya

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.

Royal Archive

Royal Archive

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.

Bees

Bees

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.

Proposed Takeover of Sky

Proposed Takeover of Sky

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.

Children’s Funeral Fund

Children’s Funeral Fund

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.

Independence #ScotRef

Independence #ScotRef

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.

Protections for Ancient Woodland

Protections for Ancient Woodland

‘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.

Sale of English Student Loans

Sale of English Student Loans

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.

Beer Duty

Beer Duty

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. 

Diana Johnson MP’s Abortion Bill

Diana Johnson MP’s Abortion Bill

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.

Statement on Independence Referendum Announcement

Statement on Independence Referendum Announcement

Scotland stands at a hugely important crossroads but the position we find ourselves in isn’t one of our choosing – 62% of people in Scotland voted to Remain in the EU referendum last year but we now face being taken out against our will and against the promises that were made in 2014. In common with most people across Scotland, I wish that we weren’t in this situation. The Prime Minister has set her course towards hard Brexit, without listening to Scotland’s voice at all and the collapse of Labour means we face a prolonged period of uninterrupted and unchecked Tory government at Westminster. We can’t drift along for the next two years and hope for the best.

 

Since the referendum in June, the Scottish Government’s extensive and genuine attempts at compromise with the UK government – attempts to protect Scotland’s interests – have fallen on deaf ears. All of this has massive implications for Scotland – for our economy, jobs, public spending, and living standards. That Scotland can be ignored on an issue as important as our membership of the EU and the single market, only serves to highlight that our voice and our interests can be ignored at any time and on any issue.

 

However, the SNP believe that it’s not just our membership of the EU at stake, but the kind of country we want to be. That’s why, after careful consideration, Nicola Sturgeon has set out a plan for the way ahead – to allow the people of Scotland, as best she can, to be in control of events, not just at the mercy of them. The SNP believe it is important that Scotland has the right to choose our own future at a time when the terms of Brexit are clear, but before it is too late to decide on our own path.

 

In our manifesto the SNP stated,

 

“We believe that the Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold another referendum if there is clear and sustained evidence that independence has become the preferred option of a majority of the Scottish people – or if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will.”

 

Scotland is being dragged out of the EU against the will of not just our nation as a whole, but every voting community across the country, and the UK Government is still refusing to even consider and discuss in a constructive manner, Scotland’s future within the single market.

 

Having been elected to serve an historic third term in Government based on our manifesto commitments, the SNP now have a clear mandate and responsibility to call a new independence referendum.

 

That is why the Scottish Government is taking the steps necessary to make sure that Scotland will have a choice – whether to follow the UK to a hard Brexit, or to become an independent country able to secure our relationship with Europe, build a stronger and more sustainable economy and create a fairer society. That choice will not be taken by MPs, the Scottish Government, the UK Government or political Parties but will be decided by the people of.

Changes to Personal Independence Payments

Changes to Personal Independence Payments

The SNP are very concerned about the impact of these changes on disabled people. It has been estimated that these changes will negatively affect the financial support that some 160,000 people rely upon.

 

We reject arguments that these amendments to the regulations are necessary and I understand the strength of feeling in Scotland against these changes given their far reaching impact on disabled people. My SNP colleagues and I are particularly concerned by some of the comments made in relation to these changes to PIP by UK Government Ministers.  Those comments showed a real misunderstanding of mental ill-health and the serious impact it can have on people’s lives. We have further concerns that these amendments have been introduced without any consultation.

 

The SNP have joined with other cross-party MPs to prevent these changes by signing EDM 985. We continue to call on the Secretary of State to abandon these changes and to act urgently to bring the regulations before Parliament to allow real scrutiny of their impact to take place. The SNP know the real value of PIP and how it is needed to help cover the extra costs that disabled people face every day.

 

My SNP colleagues and I will continue to press the Tory UK Government to reconsider the changes that will result from these amendments to the PIP regulations so that disabled people can be guaranteed the support that they need to live independent lives and to ensure they are treated with dignity and respect.

Ticket Touting

Ticket Touting

The SNP Scottish Government is working hard to protect consumers in Scotland, to ensure that they are given a fair and just deal. In Scotland, ticket touting in a public place is an offence under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982.

 

I am aware that the issue of secondary ticketing – although not illegal – is causing problems for consumers as they are faced with paying over and above the price at which the ticket was originally sold. Professor Michael Waterson published a report last year into secondary ticketing and made a number of recommendations to the UK Government which would strengthen the rights of consumers in relation to secondary ticketing. I am disappointed that the UK Government have not responded to these recommendations – which were made almost a year ago – and I am concerned that the UK Government are not treating this issue with the urgency that it demands. My SNP colleague Patricia Gibson MP, the SNP’s Spokesperson on Consumer Affairs, has now written to the UK Government to ask them to update her on their progress in strengthening consumer protection in this area.

 

I should also highlight that the EU also provides regulatory frameworks and guidelines for consumer protection, and I am deeply concerned about the adverse consequences of the UK’s decision to leave the EU on consumer protection. The EU protects consumer rights by guaranteeing the safety and quality of products and services purchased within the European Union, and the UK Government must provide a commitment that these protections will not be rolled back after the UK leaves the EU.

National Audit Office Report – Benefits Sanctions

National Audit Office Report – Benefits Sanctions

The Tory UK Government’s benefit sanctions regime breaches the principles of dignity and respect. The SNP continue to call on the UK Government to scrap their current regime.

 

The National Audit Office report found that the Tory sanctions regime costs more than double the money that the DWP say its saves. The costs of administering the cruel system is £285 million a year, and is on the back of the £132 million removed from JSA and ESA payments. When the report was released the SNP reiterated their call to the UK Government to scrap their current regime, which is a deeply flawed, ideological approach to claimant conditionality and is simply not fit for purpose.

 

The SNP are taking action where we can to oppose the Tories sanction regime. Last year the SNP’s Mhairi Black MP brought forward a Private Members Bill in Westminster which would require Jobcentre staff to consider whether a person is at risk of homelessness or suffer from mental ill health before them impose a sanction. This ask was strengthened by the fact that in February this year the UK Parliament Department of Work and Pensions Committee made a very similar recommendation to the UK Government.

 

The SNP Government in Scotland is building a social security system with dignity and respect at the core. The SNP Government in Scotland will do all it can, working with welfare rights officers and others, to reduce the number of people who are sanctioned and help them when they are. This includes continuing to make explicit in our Scottish Welfare Fund Guidance that people on benefits who are sanctioned can apply for a Crisis Grant.

 

My SNP colleagues and I will continue to call on the UK Government to urgently review their punitive benefit sanctions regime.

Ban on Microbeads

Ban on Microbeads

Responsibility for environmental issues is devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

The Scottish Government is working hard to protect Scotland’s natural environment, and by working with others, address the environmental damage caused by microplastics.

Scottish Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham announced in December that Scotland will introduce legislation regulating the use of microbeads. In Scotland we have already been undertaking research on this issue, raising awareness amongst consumers, and encouraging the use of alternatives. The Scottish Government are working with the UK Government, Welsh Government and others on a consultation on what the scope of this ban should be, and that consultation closed earlier this week.

Marine litter costs Scotland £16.8 million every year, and impacts on our environment, wildlife, industry and tourism. The SNP Scottish Government has prioritised action to protect Scotland’s marine environment and in August 2014, we launched Scotland’s first ever Marine Litter Strategy. A Marine Litter Strategy for Scotland details almost 40 new actions to minimise coastal and marine litter. A key action of the strategy is to encourage alternatives to plastic microbeads in personal care products.

My SNP colleague John McNally MP, who sits on the Environmental Audit Committee, has taken a number of actions on this issue. I am aware that John has been working with a range of Scottish charities to help promote their initiatives to eliminate microplastics from consumer products, and has made a number of helpful contributions on the Environmental Audit Committee to ensure that the UK Government and others are pressed to take action on this issue.

Widowed Parents

Widowed Parents

The death of a loved one is upsetting, and family members can struggle both emotionally and financially as a result. My SNP colleague Roger Mullin MP took part in the debate on these regulations on 27th February 2017, in which he highlighted the detrimental impact of the imposition of arbitrary time limits on the receipt of bereavement support for families.

My colleagues Mhairi Black MP, who is on the Work and Pensions Committee, and Patricia Gibson MP will be taking part in the debate on the 2nd of March on the Committee’s report on ‘Support for the bereaved’.

It is welcome that individuals who are out of work, and do not have children will gain from the disregarding of Bereavement Support Payment for the purposes of calculating Universal Credit. However the changes will also mean that the burden of income support for bereaved individuals falls on Universal Credit, for which there is a conditionality requirement. The exemption from work requirements for six months is welcome but does not go far enough – those with particularly distressing circumstances, such as widowed parents, should have a longer exemption from conditionality so they can focus on their children. The UK Government have said that the extension of an exemption can be considered depending on circumstances, but this requires the bereaved individual to apply for an additional one-month exemption every six months – a considerable burden for someone who is already in distressing circumstances.

My colleagues and I are also concerned that the new system will not rise in line with inflation, meaning the support will lose value over time while the cost of funerals, as well as living costs, continues to rise. This is all the more of a burden for widowed parents who may also have expensive childcare costs on top of their emotional and financial distress. The new system has benefits for some but also detrimental impacts for others, depending on circumstances. The UK Government needs to look again at these changes which could bring additional burdens of emotional, financial and work stress on families who are already going through hardship.

Yemen

Yemen

The SNP share public concerns on the very grave situation in Yemen

On 19th December Brendan O’Hara, MP for Argyll and Bute, condemned the use of cluster munitions by the Saudi-led coalition and called on the Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Fallon MP, and the UK government to immediately end arms sales to Saudi Arabia and to fulfil its obligations under the Cluster Munitions Convention to prevent non-signatories from using such weapons.

These calls were repeated by Hannah Bardell and Peter Grant, MPs for Livingston and Glenrothes respectively, on 30th January 2017. As regards the absolute need for an independent international investigation, this has been demanded by SNP MPs on numerous occasions, for example by Douglas Chapman, MP for Dunfermline and West Fife, on 18th October.

The conflict and humanitarian crisis in Yemen is a matter of grave concern for the SNP and a matter of priority for our MPs at Westminster in holding the UK Government to account in its collusion with Saudi violations of International Humanitarian Law. We will continue to apply pressure on the UK Government at every available opportunity.

Local Bookmakers

Local Bookmakers

Local bookmakers shops are important to our high streets and they provide jobs, and tax revenue as well as enjoyment. My SNP colleagues and I are keen to support local bookies – and indeed all local businesses – as part of our desire to support local communities in general. This support for local business is why the SNP Scottish Government recently announced an extensive package of support for businesses in Scotland on business rates. With this support, 7 in 10 business properties in Scotland will pay the same or less in business rates than they did previously, and half of business properties in Scotland will pay no business rates at all.

However, people should be encouraged to gamble responsibly. Sadly, gambling addiction is a real problem which can be detrimental to communities and households across the country. The Scottish Government does use the planning system to tackle some factors which can lead to problem gambling, such as pay day lenders and an over-provision of gambling shops; and we believe this is a responsible approach, maintaining the balance between public health & wellbeing and supporting local employment.

Unaccompanied Children in Greece and Italy

Unaccompanied Children in Greece and Italy

The SNP are a co-sponsor of the forthcoming Backbench Business debate on the situation for unaccompanied children in Greece and Italy, which has received cross-party support.

The low figure of children taken by the UK Government under the Dubs scheme does not match that commitment. The refugee crisis has not gone away and people are still fleeing the continued violence in Syria and other countries, which creates a risk for increased numbers of unaccompanied children falling prey to human traffickers.

The SNP calls on the UK Government to commit the necessary resource needed to support more efficient identification, referral and processing of the cases in the best interest of the child. The SNP want to see the Dubs scheme continued to enable the UK to receive at least 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees from Europe, and also want the UK Government to increase the total number of refugees it intends to settle under the Syrian Vulnerable Person Resettlement Programme.

The SNP has been and will continue to be at the forefront of efforts to pressure the UK Government to respond to the refugee crisis. The Scottish Government has committed to working with local authorities in Scotland to ensure that it does all the best it can for child refugees who need a safe place, where they can back into education, rebuild their lives and fulfil potential. We call on the UK Government to show global leadership and take this opportunity to reverse this shameful decision on the Dubs scheme.

With almost 90,000 lone refugee children in Europe, the UK Government needs to do more to help these vulnerable individuals. The SNP will continue to pressure the UK Government not only to meet its current commitments under both the Dublin regulations and the Dubs scheme, but to go further and do its fair share to address this humanitarian crisis.

Article 50 Bill

Article 50 Bill

Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain a member of the European Union, and we in the SNP are doing all we can to make sure Scotland’s voice is heard and to protect Scotland’s place in Europe.

 

The UK Government’s Bill giving the Prime Minister the power to trigger Article 50 had its Second Reading on Tuesday 31 January and Wednesday 1 February, for which the SNP tabled a reasoned amendment which would have declined to allow the Bill to move forward. Our amendment received cross-party support from Labour, Conservative, Green, Plaid Cymru, Liberal Democrat and SDLP MPs, and was selected as the only challenge to the UK Government’s Bill to trigger Article 50. Scotland’s MPs were 58 to 1 against the Bill.

 

The SNP then tabled 50 amendments to the legislation for Committee Stage the week of Monday 6 February, attempting to ensure the right financial and social protections are in place before the UK begins the process of leaving the EU.   The UK Government’s White Paper, published after the second reading, gives no guarantee on even devolved powers coming back to the Scottish Parliament; it offers no clarity on the status of EU nationals; no clarity on seeking agreement with the Joint Ministerial Committee and nothing on the ‘bad deal or no deal’ reset clause.  Unfortunately, though we continued to have cross-party support for our amendments addressing these shortfalls, none were added to the Bill.

 

Therefore – with little detail from the Prime Minister on what the arrangements are in place for workers’ rights, EU nationals living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU, and the impact on the economy – my SNP colleagues and I could not vote for the triggering of Article 50.  Rest assured that we will continue to act in the best interests of Scotland and to respect the interests of Scotland’s vote in favour of remaining in the EU.

Protecting Children from the Damage of Debt

Protecting Children from the Damage of Debt

In Scotland, debt arrangement schemes are available for those who need to pay-off their debts over a longer period. Participants are protected from enforcement action by their creditors, and interest and charges on their debts are frozen. It is only proper that we seek to do everything we can to help families and individuals on low incomes with little by way of assets who are struggling with debt, while still offering a fair deal for those owed money.

The SNP Scottish Government introduced a pioneering law in 2014 which creates one of the most modern systems of debt advice and debt management in the world. The Bankruptcy and Debt Advice (Scotland) Act 2014 introduced a range of measures, including the Minimal Asset Process, which offers debt relief quickly and at less than half the cost of an application for bankruptcy under the previous equivalent scheme for those on low incomes. It also brought in mandatory money advice for people seeking access to statutory debt relief instruments such as sequestration (the equivalent term in Scotland for bankruptcy) to ensure debtors are matched with the solution that best fits their needs and circumstances. The Act also introduced the ‘moratorium on diligence’ process, which inhibits a creditor from taking action against someone struggling to pay their debt for six weeks, allowing a debtor valuable time to seek guidance on available options.

More generally, the SNP Scottish Government is taking action to protect those on low incomes. In response to savage cuts to social security by the Tory UK Government, the Scottish Government established the Scottish Welfare Fund, which is helping low income households through difficult times, with grants totalling £116m to 230,000 homes since the scheme was established in 2013.  The Scottish Government also published a new Child Poverty Bill in February this year which will set statutory targets in Scotland to reduce child poverty and establish a framework for measuring, monitoring and reporting on child poverty.

the UK’s Trade Policy After the UK Leaves the EU

the UK’s Trade Policy After the UK Leaves the EU

You may be aware that at present, the EU negotiates trade agreements on behalf of all 28 Member States – including the UK. There are currently almost 90 countries with whom we are discussing a trade agreement, or have signed a trade agreement through our membership of the EU. The UK is unable to sign any trade agreements of its own whilst it remains a Member of the EU, so we risk our membership of the largest Single Market in the world and our agreements with 90 countries for an uncertain future where we will have zero trade agreements on Day 1 of Brexit. That is why my SNP colleagues and I have stressed the importance of Scotland remaining in the Single Market, which supports thousands of jobs and gives our businesses access to the largest market in the world for trade.

You are right to highlight the impact of trade on developing countries. The EU currently has a well-defined Trade and Development policy, which outlines how the EU supports development as part of our trade with developing countries. This support includes almost €3bn in 2013 to help developing countries develop the things they need to compete and export around the world, like roads, bridges and ports. The EU’s trade policy also treats the least developed countries differently than bigger developing countries like China, by giving them better access – full free access to the EU markets. That gives the least developing countries more space to export to the EU than bigger, emerging economies – giving them a better chance to grow.

When the UK leaves the EU and becomes responsible for trade policy, I hope to see many of these positive aspects of the EU’s development policy copied into the UK policy. However, I am not encouraged by the UK Government’s track record on this matter.  I am aware of reports that the UK Government had granted £30,000 to Malawi to develop its oil and gas industry, and that allegations have been made regarding UK Government lobbying for UK companies to benefit from oil and gas contracts. I am deeply concerned by these reports. Whilst part of international development aid is helping developing countries diversify their economies, we must ensure that is done ethically and that, in this instance, we are helping Malawi and not helping British companies exploit Malawi.

USA-UK Trade Deal

USA-UK Trade Deal

The SNP’s priority is to secure Scotland’s membership of the Single Market – a market of 500 million people which is 8 times bigger than the UK market. I believe that staying in the Single Market is important for Scotland, our businesses, workers and consumers. A hard Tory Brexit, where Scotland could leave the Single Market, could cost up to 80,000 Scottish jobs and cost Scotland’s economy up to £11 billion a year by 2030.

 

We are concerned that if the UK, and Scotland, end up outside of the Single Market then we will be negotiating trade deals with countries around the world from a weaker position. As part of the EU, we negotiate trade deals with other countries with one voice for the 28 EU countries. This makes it more likely that we will be able to negotiate trade deals that work for us. But as one country of 60 million, we will be negotiating a trade deal with the US which is a country which is over five times bigger than us.

 

We are very concerned that this might mean we are less able to resist unfavourable aspects of a trade deal with the US, such as opening the UK to genetically modified food, and beef with lower standards that would undercut our own farmers. The EU Single Market encourages high safety rules and standards that ensure that all the food that is produced and imported into Europe is properly labelled and safe to be consumed. The high consumer protection we enjoy inside the Single Market is one of the many reasons why my SNP colleagues and I campaigned to remain in the EU.

 

You may be aware that the SNP Scottish Government published the paper Scotland’s Place in Europe, where we outline what the options are for Scotland to remain in the Single Market, even if the rest of the UK leaves. The ball is now in the UK Government’s court to consider these sensible compromise proposals and to act to keep Scotland in the Single Market.

Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013

Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013

Section 40 applies only to England and Wales. The Scottish Government has decided not to introduce equivalent legislation in Scotland.

 

The Scottish Government will continue to monitor current press regulations, and will work with other parties at Holyrood and Westminster to ensure effective regulation of the press. It is my view that regulation will only be effective if it balances the respect for freedom of the press with the public desire for high standards, accuracy and accountability. That is why all the political parties have worked together to implement the recommendations put forward by the Leveson Inquiry through the Royal Charter on Self-Regulation of the Press, which was accepted by the Scottish Parliament in 2013.

 

You may be aware that the UK Government is currently consulting on Section 40 and other issues connected with Leveson, and my SNP colleagues and I will consider carefully our position on any proposals brought forward by the Secretary of State at Westminster.

Religious Freedom and Displacement (Open Doors 2017 World Watch List)

Religious Freedom and Displacement (Open Doors 2017 World Watch List)

My SNP colleagues and I are committed to combatting religious persecution of all forms. Freedom of thought, belief and religion is an essential human right and no-one should be persecuted for practicing their religion. In recent months, my colleagues and I have vigorously defended the rights of people from a wide range of countries and faiths who have been persecuted in some form, including Pakistani and Palestinian Christians, Yazidi people, Falun Gong, and Ahmadiyya Muslims, as well as repeatedly standing against the worrying rise in anti-semitism in Europe, America and elsewhere. My colleague Brendan O’Hara MP last year invited Sakharov Prize-winner Nadia Murad, formerly held as a slave in Mosul, to address parliamentarians on the terrible persecution faced by many from Daesh in Iraq, before leading a debate on this persecution in November 2016.

 

Rest assured, that we will continue to raise the plight of Christians and minorities who are persecuted around the world.