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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.

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.

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.

Hardgate Mineshaft Collapse – Update (31-03-17)

Hardgate Mineshaft Collapse – Update (31-03-17)

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.

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.

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.

STATEMENT FROM MARTIN DOCHERTY-HUGHES MP FOLLOWING COAL AUTHORITY MEETING

STATEMENT FROM MARTIN DOCHERTY-HUGHES MP FOLLOWING COAL AUTHORITY MEETING

On Friday (17 February) I met with Tim Marples of the Coal Authority and other Senior Coal Authority Officers, and received an update on the coal shaft collapse at Hardgate. We discussed in detail a number of issues, including:

 

  • An historic overview of coal mines in the area.
  • Works to date and work still to be completed.
  • The extent of the damage to utilities and sewage.
  • Noise pollution from pumping stations impacting on local residents and the provision of low noise pumps.
  • Improving communication with local residents in the near vicinity.
  • Communication with Community Councils covering Hardgate, Duntocher, and Faifley.
  • Communication with businesses being impacted by road closures and diversions.

 

I have been struck by the professionalism of the Coal Authority staff in their tackling of this profoundly complex problem; a mine shaft as deep as the Titan Crane stands tall. We should be in no doubt that this is a major structural project which is and will impact our daily lives, especially if you live or work in Hardgate, Duntocher and Faifley.

 

I have been assured by the Coal Authority staff that they are progressing speedily. They have also advised me that due to the profoundly complex nature and the impact on utilities, such as electricity, telephony and sewage that they will continue to progress in a manner that will not disrupt these utilities; if there is disruption to the utilities the project may last a long time and that is a situation that no one wishes.

 

I have also discussed with the Coal Authority similar subsidence in other countries notably the subsidence in Japan that many constituents have highlighted as being sorted in 24 hours. The Coal Authority advised that they were well aware of this case and while it was initially seen to be completed in 24 hours it collapsed again a month later.

 

I have asked that I receive regular updates from the Coal Authority and once received I will circulate publicly via my website and social media. I will also be seeking reassurances from the Council that once the Coal Authority has completed their complex works that the superficial road resurfacing will be pre-planned and ready to start as soon as the Coal Authority is off site.

 

I will also be asking the Council to ensure direct communication with the local community and businesses is greatly improved. A partnership approach will best serve us all in ensuring that this complex project is completed as quickly as possible.

UKG CONCENTRIX SHAMBLES MUST NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN

UKG CONCENTRIX SHAMBLES MUST NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN

LEGISLATION NEEDED TO PROTECT LOW AND MIDDLE INCOME FAMILIES

The SNP have called for new legislation to ensure that the UK government’s tax credit shambles – where thousands of families faced hardship after their vital tax credit payments were cut off without warning or good cause by HMRC contractor Concentrix – can never happen again.

Concentrix was employed by HMRC to cut error and fraud in the tax credit system but the contract was scrapped when the company faced a number of criticisms over its practices, especially relating to the number of families who were stripped completely of their payments when no error had been made.

According to a recent Work and Pensions Committee report, out of the 59,000 cases where Concentrix tried to reduce or stop payments, 36,000 appealed and an overwhelming 87% of those had their complaints upheld.

And while it is welcome that the UK government has since pledged to review the remaining 23,000 cases where payments were stopped, the SNP are calling on the Tory government to legislate to ensure that the shambles is never allowed to happen again.

Martin Docherty-Hughes MP said:

“While it is welcome that all remaining cases where payments were stopped or frozen altogether will now be investigated it is appalling that it has taken so long for the UK Government to admit its failings when it comes to Concentrix. Especially when so many low income families rely on these payments to get through the month.

“The practices used by Concentrix are certainly questionable but the real blame lies with this UK Government who came up with a model which indiscriminately targeted low income families – a way of working which placed the burden of their failing austerity agenda firmly on the shoulders of those most disadvantaged in our society.

“My office was contacted by dozens of individuals and families struggling having had their funds stopped in error, causing them significant hardship. I am pleased that we were able to quickly resolve these issues for everyone who got in touch, but there will be many others who didn’t contact me may still be struggling.

“The Treasury needs to urgently reconsider the ongoing policy of downsizing HMRC; it is clear that these offices and resources are needed to properly notify claimants, provide support for queries and ensure that vulnerable individuals are not stripped of critical support.

“The evidence heard by the Work and Pensions Committee laid bare the real hardship families endured as a result of this utter shambles and the UK government must apologise fully for the agony it has caused, and more importantly, take steps with legislation to ensure that this cannot happen again.

“I would encourage anyone who is still having problems with their Tax Credits to contact my office on 0141 952 2988 or by email at martin.docherty.mp@parliament.uk and I will do everything I can to assist.”

MP SEEKS ANSWERS ON ALEXANDRIA JOB CENTRE CLOSURE

MP SEEKS ANSWERS ON ALEXANDRIA JOB CENTRE CLOSURE

West Dunbartonshire’s Martin Docherty-Hughes MP has lodged written questions to the Secretary of State for Work & Pensions asking for details of the number of people who will be affected by the move and what consultation the DWP intends to have with the local community.

The petition to save the centre, online at www.martindocherty.scot, has more than 300 signatures including paper signatures, and has cross party support from local MSP Jackie Baillie helping put pressure on the DWP.

 

Martin Docherty-Hughes MP said:

“I appreciate Jackie’s support for my campaign. It can only help to put more pressure on the DWP. The questions I am asking in Parliament are constructive and it’s important we get answers for local people.

“The DWP cannot possibly justify removing this service from an area with such great need and with no consultation with the local community.

“I am also seeking a face to face meeting with the Minister for Employment and will be making that request in person.

“I would urge everyone to sign my petition so that when I submit my formal response to the DWP’s closure notification, I can demonstrate the strong local feeling and need that exists in Alexandria and the surrounding communities.”

 

ENDS

 

Note for Editors:

 

Martin’s written questions will not appear on the UK Parliament until Monday 20th February 2017 due to the current recess. They are as follows:

 

  • To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, by what criteria has the Alexandria, West Dunbartonshire site been selected for closure?
  • To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, whether he can confirm that no compulsory redundancies will result from the closure of the Alexandria, West Dunbartonshire site?
  • To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, when an Equality Impact Assessment will be published on the proposal to close the Alexandria, West Dunbartonshire site?
  • To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, whether a public consultation will take place over the proposal to close the Alexandria, West Dunbartonshire site?
  • To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, how many claimants are currently served by the Alexandria job centre, and how many of these are a) disabled and b) women?
  • To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what are the expected costs of relocating staff and resources from the Alexandria, West Dunbartonshire site?
  • To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what assessment has been made of the impact on the local economy of moving 15 jobs from the Alexandria, West Dunbartonshire site?
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.

UK GOVERNMENT SHOW CONTEMPT FOR SCOTLAND AS EU BILL “RAILROADED” THROUGH PARLIAMENT

UK GOVERNMENT SHOW CONTEMPT FOR SCOTLAND AS EU BILL “RAILROADED” THROUGH PARLIAMENT


  (Martin Docherty-Hughes MP’s Speech on the Article 50 Vote)

 

The SNP have blasted the UK government for “railroading” the EU bill through the Westminster Parliament in a “draconian manner” not seen since 1914.
 
In a Point of Order to Parliament, the SNP’s International Affairs spokesperson, Alex Salmond MP condemned the UK government for rushing through the bill with little debate, no report stage, no 3rd reading, and for refusing to accept a single amendment – pointing out a bill has not been passed in a similar manner since the Defence of the Realm Act of 1914.

 

Following the vote, Martin Docherty-Hughes MP said:
 

“The UK government’s behaviour on the EU bill has been a disgrace. We have not seen a bill pass under such draconian circumstances for over 100 years – since the emergency powers bill in the First World War.
 
“The Tories revealed their full contempt for Scotland and for our parliamentary democracy; railroading Article 50 through Westminster with very limited time for debate and refusing to accept a single amendment.
 
“For this to happen on any bill would be an abuse but on a bill of this magnitude, with such huge constitutional significance. It is nothing short of an outrage.
 
“Scotland now faces the impending prospect of being dragged out of the EU and thrown over the Tory hard Brexit cliff; despite the Prime Minister claiming she would not trigger Article 50 without an ‘agreed UK-wide approach’.
 
“While SNP MPs worked hard to make Scotland’s voice heard the UK government refused to listen; rejecting every single amendment proposed by Scotland’s MPs and ignoring the fact that the Scottish Parliament, and 58 of Scotland’s 59 MPs, voted to reject triggering Article 50 under these circumstances.
 
“Time is running out for the Prime Minister to prove that Scotland is an equal partner by agreeing to the Scottish Government’s compromise proposals to keep Scotland in the Single Market and protect our interests.
 
“It is not surprising support for independence in Scotland is growing as the UK government chooses to ignore Scotland’s wishes. The time will come for a second Independence Referendum and when it does, constituencies across Scotland will join West Dunbartonshire in voting YES.”

Hardgate Mine Shaft Collapse

Hardgate Mine Shaft Collapse

 

I’ll be meeting with the UK Coal Authority next week to discuss the mine shaft collapse in Hardgate.

 

I have been contacted by numerous local people, both those resident in the vicinity of the collapse and people struggling to commute via the Kilbowie Roundabout. This mine shaft collapse is causing chaos and misery for my constituents and I will be seeking reassurances from the Coal Authority that they are treating this matter as a priority.

 

We need a speedy resolution to this situation, and while I understand there are a lot of unknowns, particularly due to the potential extent of other mine shafts in the area, I will be asking the Coal Authority to provide me with as much information as they can about the current state of play; people have a right to know exactly what has happened and what the Coal Authority are doing to make things right.

 

I’ll update the Council, Local Press, this website and Facebook/Twitter following the meeting.

Article 50 Vote

Article 50 Vote

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 31st January and Wednesday 1st 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 tabled 50 amendments to the legislation to ensure we had the right financial and social protections in place before the UK begins the process of leaving the EU. All 50 amendments were rejected.

The UK Government’s White Paper was published after the second reading – shamefully overdue, in comparison to the SNP Government in Scotland, who published a plan for ‘Scotland’s Place in Europe’ before Christmas.

The Tories’ White Paper is utterly underwhelming, and nothing more than a laminated copy of Theresa May’s Lancaster House speech. It 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.

The SNP did not vote for the triggering of Article 50 as we have not had the full details from the Prime Minister on what arrangements are in place for workers’ rights, EU nationals living in the UK, UK nationals living in the EU and the impact on the economy. The UK Government’s approach is reckless and an attempt to avoid scrutiny at every turn.

6 week wait for Universal Credit

6 week wait for Universal Credit

Universal Credit is a new single payment for working age people introduced by the UK Government. It remains reserved to the UK Government; however the Scottish Government has some administrative powers to change payment arrangements for Universal Credit.

 

I am very concerned that under Universal Credit, families will have to wait for six weeks to receive any payment. This will have a devastating impact on some of the most disadvantaged families across the UK.

 

In 2013, the Chancellor announced that new Universal Credit claimants subject to work-related conditionality who have not had a claim in the previous six months will have to wait seven days before becoming eligible for support. As Universal Credit is paid monthly in arrears, any claim is paid at the end of the calendar month –  so one calendar month plus the seven waiting days at the start of the claim plus seven days to process the claim is how we reach a 6 week period.

 

Many organisations have voiced concerns that Universal Credit brings together support currently delivered by a number of benefits and that the potential loss to individuals and to families could be substantial. I am particularly concerned about the impact on those with little or no savings who risk being forced to rely on foodbanks, doorstep lenders and payday loans.
My SNP colleagues and I have consistently argued that the Universal Credit system is fundamentally flawed and the UK Government must act now to protect those who will be most disadvantaged.

 

In Scotland, the SNP Scottish Government have already said they  will use their new limited powers over Universal Credit to give people the choice over having payments twice monthly and tenants can have the housing element paid direct to all landlords. A consultation on the regulations is now ongoing. However, while the Scottish Government are doing all that they can to improve the Universal Credit system, our powers are only available once eligibility has been decided by the UK Government’s Department for Work and Pensions.

 

My SNP colleagues and I have undertaken to press the UK Government on this issue given the disastrous impact this could have on people in Scotland. The SNP Spokesperson on Social Justice, Eilidh Whiteford MP has written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to raise this matter.

Donald Trump State Visit

Donald Trump State Visit

Scotland and the USA have deep ties which have long been based on our shared values. It is our duty to speak up for these values, which include tolerance, equality and providing refuge for those in need. The refugee crisis has not gone away and people are still fleeing persecution and war.

 

My SNP colleagues and I believe that we should be crystal clear in opposing the imposition of blanket bans on people on the basis of their birthplace, nationality or religion because it is divisive and fails to distinguish between appropriate measures to deal with extremism and the millions of people who wish to go about their lives in peace and safety.

 

Therefore, it is our view that it would be wrong for a state visit by President Trump to go ahead whilst his administration maintains a blanket ban on refugees and the citizens of certain countries travelling to the United States.

British Values Oath

British Values Oath

It was proposed by the UK Government’s Secretary of State for Communities that every public office holder in the UK would have to swear an oath of allegiance to British values. The Minister’s proposals came in response to a report on social cohesion by Dame Louise Casey which warned that some sections of society did not accept British values such as tolerance.

 

Whilst these are important issues and the SNP respects the work that has been carried out by Dame Louise Casey, it is our view that this proposal was a premature response to its outcome. This report deserves to be given proper consideration, and this response risks the exclusion of people who do not define their values as uniquely British.

 

Scotland has a long history of welcoming people of all nationalities and faith. We are committed to supporting their integration into our communities, not through the swearing of oaths, but by creating a country where everyone has an opportunity to flourish and where diversity is truly welcomed and celebrated.

Trident Missile Test

Trident Missile Test

I am deeply concerned about this dangerous incident and, equally serious, the subsequent cover-up. Brendan O’Hara MP, SNP Spokesperson for Defence at Westminster, raised these issues directly with the Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon in the House of Commons on 23 January 2017, calling for enquiries into both the incident itself and into the Prime Minister’s failure to disclose it.

 

The longstanding position of the SNP on Trident is unequivocal. We are totally opposed to the spending of billions of pounds on new nuclear weapons and to the presence of these weapons in Scotland. We believe that the financial cost of the programme – a minimum of £179 billion with a strong likelihood of rising costs – is unacceptable and unjustifiable. This is especially true in a time of economic austerity and at a time when the UK Government is substantially cutting defence jobs in Scotland and reducing the overall conventional capabilities of the UK armed forces to an alarming extent.

 

Just as you advocate, we are pushing for an enquiry into this incident and into the subsequent cover-up which preceded the House of Commons vote on renewal of the Trident programme on 19 July 2016. We will also be pushing for a new vote on renewal in view of this information coming to light. This is a matter of the highest importance to the people of Scotland and the SNP will spare no effort in pursuit of our objective of seeing these weapons removed from Scotland.

DWP Policies and Low-income Households

DWP Policies and Low-income Households

 

The SNP moved the following motion in the House of Commons on Tuesday evening:

“That this House is concerned at the impact of policies pursued by the Department for Work and Pensions upon low-income households; notes the negative impact on those with low-incomes disclosed in the roll-out of Universal Credit; expresses concerns about cuts to Work Allowances under Universal Credit; believes that the closure of JobCentre offices in Glasgow and other areas will create difficulties for many people in accessing services; and calls on that Department to suspend the roll-out of Universal Credit and the JobCentre closure programme.”

Despite the many issues identified in the debate, Parliament voted by 276 votes to 172 to reject the SNP’s calls for a suspension.

 

Click here for a written transcript of the debate.

Making Tax Digital

Making Tax Digital

The UK Government is proposing to require most businesses and self-employed people to keep track of their tax affairs digitally, and update HMRC at least quarterly via a digital tax account.

 

Last year, my SNP colleague, Hannah Bardell MP, took part in a debate in Parliament on these proposals and joined with the Chartered Institute for Taxation, the Federation of Small Business and others in calling for the UK Government to consult on these proposals before any changes are made. I am pleased to note that we were successful in forcing the UK Government to conduct this consultation.

 

My SNP colleagues and I remain concerned about the impact of the proposals on small businesses in particular. Many aspects of these proposals represent unnecessary red tape, which will inflict additional costs on small business owners and I am concerned that it will act as a disincentive to entrepreneurs, and people considering becoming self-employed. I firmly believe that the UK Government should instead be concentrated on looking at ways to remove the burden of tax administration and bureaucracy from small businesses, and allowing them to focus on growing their companies and creating jobs.

 

It is vital that the UK Government reconsider whether mandatory use of digital reporting is a proportionate demand on business, or whether businesses should be allowed to voluntarily adopt digital reporting. I also share your view that there should be exemptions from quarterly reporting – particularly for those who are not incorporated or VAT-registered.

 

I recognise the disproportionate effect that these proposals will have on those working in the creative sector. In Scotland, the SNP Scottish Government is using its limited powers to support our thriving creative industries sector. For example, the Scottish Government is in the process of establishing the Creative Industries Advisory Group, which will advise Scottish Ministers on the support the sector needs to ensure it thrives in Scotland.

 

And in the aftermath of the UK’s decision to leave the EU, protecting Scotland’s membership of the Single Market is vital to Scotland’s culture and creative industries. The creative industries are worth almost £4 billion to the Scottish economy, with nearly 74,000 employed in the sector. We believe that access to the ideas, talent, experiences and creative exchanges that the freedom of movement aspect of the Single Market provides is especially important to the cultural sector.

 

Whilst my SNP colleagues and I are supportive of digital transformation, we believe this must be made in parallel with the simplification of tax policy. The UK Government’s lack of consideration for how this change will work in practice flies in the face of the commitments that they have made to small businesses and tax simplification, and we will continue to press for them to listen to our small businesses.

UK Soldiers / Operation Banner

UK Soldiers / Operation Banner

Northern Ireland must avoid getting drawn back into the violence that plagued it for three decades. 

 

The Legacy Investigation Branch (LIB) of the PSNI was set up in 2014 and it investigates unsolved murders linked to the Troubles that took place up until 2004.  Earlier this month,  it said that it was not launching any new inquiry into British military personnel.  Where investigations result in service personnel, active or retired, being involved the Ministry of Defence has said that it will support them throughout and will pay for their legal costs.

 

The LIB investigations cover people who were pardoned under the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement and people who later received “letters of comfort” from Tony Blair informing them that they would not be prosecuted.  The PSNI has recently said that it would prefer that the Historical Investigations Unit promised under the Stormont Agreement was set up to take over this task and that is a matter that should be dealt with as soon as possible.

 

The two soldiers who are facing action, however, were charged after the Attorney General for Northern Ireland referred the issue to the prosecutor for an inquest.  The UK Government’s position was made clear in a number of exchanges in the Parliament where they said that decisions about whether or not to prosecute veterans in Northern Ireland are made by prosecutors, not by politicians, and that the armed forces cannot be above the law.  You can find some of these exchanges at these links:

https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2015-11-18/debates/15111852000028/Engagements

 

https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2015-11-18/debates/15111852000005

 

/ParachuteRegimentArrest?highlight=%22operation%20banner%22#contribution-15111852000186

 

https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2016-12-13/debates/359B1D65-1837-4701-BBE1-78FE2D9A6CE9

 

/LegacyIssuesNorthernIreland?highlight=%22operation%20banner%22#contribution-04C51752-4A15-4154-968A-C3612766053B

 

The SNP’s position is that we do not think politicians should make the decisions about who is or is not prosecuted – that would not be right.  Police investigations in Northern Ireland are carried out by the PSNI and decisions about whether to prosecute are carried out by the relevant prosecutors. I hope that anyone who may be involved will know to ask for the relevant support to which they are entitled from the Ministry of Defence.

UK Soldiers / Operation Banner

UK Soldiers / Operation Banner

While I recognise that this is a very difficult and sensitive subject, the investigations carried out by the Police Service of Northern Ireland are a matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly, where the Scottish National Party has no presence.

That being the case, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on judicial investigations taking place outwith our jurisdiction and over which we have no control.

Aleppo

Aleppo

My SNP colleagues and I share the public horror at the bombing and destruction that has been visited on the civilian population in Aleppo in recent months. As the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said in the Scottish Parliament on 15 December, we have all found the scenes from Aleppo to be heartbreaking and deeply, deeply distressing.

 

On 30 November, Angus Robertson MP asked the Prime Minister directly to ensure that the UK and the international community do everything possible to alleviate the suffering of the people of Aleppo. This intervention from the SNP’s Leader in Westminster followed many others from SNP Members of Parliament in previous months. By way of example, on 11 January Brendan O’Hara, MP for Argyll and Bute, called on the government to drop bread to those in need rather than to drop bombs. That call was repeated by Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, MP for Ochil and South Perthshire, on 9 June and Patrick Grady, MP for Glasgow North, on 11 October.

 

The Scottish Government, with their limited power and resources in this area, have played as active a role as they can. In March 2013, they donated £100,000 to the Disasters Emergency Committee, and they later doubled that to £200,000. Earlier this year, the First Minister accepted an invitation from the UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, to host an international women’s summit in Edinburgh, focused on supporting Syrian women, so that they can engage in communication, negotiation, and post-conflict planning, and become a key part of the peace process.

 

As regards military action, the SNP has been clear and consistent from the beginning in its opposition to UK air strikes in Syria. Military means alone will not suffice to bring about the UK Government’s stated goal of defeating Daesh and helping bring into being a government in Syria which will be neither authoritarian and repressive on the one hand, nor politically extreme on the other.  The successful implementation of a no-fly zone would depend on several specific conditions which do not currently exist. The SNP position is that any no-fly zone should be part of a universal and unconditional, UN-monitored ceasefire which includes the immediate and unrestricted delivery of humanitarian aid to the people who so desperately need it.

 

We will continue to urge all parties to end their military operations immediately and to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid to the people of Syria. We will continue to press the UK Government to end its campaign of aerial bombardment and to redouble diplomatic efforts at the UN Security Council.

Fixed Odds Betting Terminals

Fixed Odds Betting Terminals

Gambling addiction is a real problem which blights communities and households across the country. The SNP are deeply concerned about the proliferation of Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals and the consequences for problem gamblers, and we have paid close attention to this issue in Parliament – particularly through the work of the All Party Parliamentary Group on this issue, which is chaired by my SNP colleague Stuart McDonald MP.

My SNP colleague Ronnie Cowan MP wrote to the Minister for Sport, Tourism and Heritage Tracey Crouch MP in October on this matter. The Minister confirmed the UK Government are undertaking a review of FOBTs, and we look forward to scrutinising the outcome of this review when it is published.

It is the SNP’s position that for full and robust regulation of gambling more broadly, further powers must be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. This would give the SNP Government in Scotland the ability to consider the issues more closely, do the necessary research, and undertake the necessary development work to make regulation as effective as possible. During the passage of the Scotland Act 2016 in Westminster, the SNP tabled an amendment which would have given full effect to the Smith Commission’s recommendation 74, which stated ‘The Scottish Parliament will have the power to prevent the proliferation of Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals’ – however the Act still falls far short in this regard.

Following the issue being raised with the Scottish Parliament Public Petitions Committee in 2012 by my colleague, West Dunbartonshire SNP Council Group Leader, Cllr Jonathan McColl (video below), the Scottish Government has already used the planning system, via the Scottish Planning Policy, to begin to tackle Pay Day Lenders and Betting Shops. Action has also been taken using planning policy to address over-provision and clustering of premises. The majority of the Scottish Government’s 12 point Action Plan on Pay Day Lending and Gambling has already been delivered. However with insufficient powers the SNP Government can only go so far in tackling the proliferation of FOBTs. Allowing local authorities and bodies greater control to regulate betting shops would make regulation far more effective and targeted. In 2011 the SNP Government in Scotland wrote to the UK Government on this issue, but the necessary amendments to the Gambling Act 2005 have not been made.

We hope that the UK Government’s review is thorough and robust, and looks at a holistic approach to tackling the effects of FOBTs.

 

Shaw Consultation / EDM689

Shaw Consultation / EDM689

I should clarify at the outset that the Land Registry is the land registration service for England and Wales only. This issue is devolved to the Scottish Parliament, with the Registers of Scotland being the corresponding body. There are no plans to privatise the Registers of Scotland.

You also raise concerns in respect of the potential privatisation of Channel 4, the National Air Traffic Services (NATS) and Ordnance Survey. My SNP colleagues and I share your concerns about the Tory UK Government’s apparent fervor to privatise public bodies which serve public interests. My colleague John Nicolson MP has on numerous occasions raised concerns about the UK Government’s plans for privatisation of Channel 4 both in the Chamber and through his scrutiny of their plans in the Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee in Parliament. Any privatisation of Channel 4 would require full primary legislation – a Bill – and rest assured that my SNP colleagues and I will oppose any Bill tabled by the UK Government which seeks to privatise this public asset. In respect of NATS, I am firmly of the view that safety would be at the heart of our National Air Traffic Services, and not a profit motive which would be the number one priority of a privatised air traffic control service.

Rest assured, that I will follow the progress of these proposals with interest, and meantime I have already added my name to the EDM.

Employment Support Allowance Work Related Activity Groups (ESA WRAG)

Employment Support Allowance Work Related Activity Groups (ESA WRAG)

I am pleased that the debate that had taken place on the 17th November was secured by my SNP colleague Neil Gray MP, who has worked tirelessly to draw attention to this issue.

 

The SNP used this debate to secure cross-party support for a motion to pause the cuts to ESA WRAG until adequate support, as promised by the Tory UK Government, is in place for sick and disabled people. We alongside other political parties  called for the Chancellor to press pause on planned cuts to ESA WRAG in the Autumn Statement, until the promised financial support for disabled people in and out of work is delivered. We argued that the UK Government cannot allow the cart to come before the horse and risk pushing sick and disabled people further from work – or worse exacerbating their condition.

 

My SNP colleagues and I remain opposed to the planned reduction the Employment Support Allowance Work Related Activity Component and the corresponding limited capability for work component in Universal Credit in April 2017.  Reducing sick and disabled people’s financial support to the level of those of jobseekers is counterproductive, as those on ESA WRAG will have very low incomes for a long period of time because disabled people are more likely to be out of work for longer periods of time  We had hoped that the Theresa May’s Government might chart a different course than those who came before them, however we are disappointed that no action to pause or reverse the ESA WRAG cuts was forthcoming in the Autumn Statement.

 

The SNP continue to urge the UK Government to at least postpone the cuts to Employment Support Allowance Work Related Activity Component and the corresponding limited capability for work component in Universal Credit until appropriate alternative measures have been considered.  The burden of austerity that has fallen on sick and disabled people in recent years has caused severe hardship and pushed many people further away from the workplace. It is vital that additional funding is allocated to deliver an effective system of support under these new proposals. Rest assured, that my SNP colleagues and I will continue to press the UK Government to take effective action to support the sick and disabled, whether they are able to work or if they need out of work support.

Universal Credit Must Be Fit For Families

Universal Credit Must Be Fit For Families

The cut to the Work Allowance from April next year will slash the income of working Universal Credit claimants, pushing working people into poverty. The Institute for Fiscal Studies have calculated in the long-term that over 3 million working families will lose an average of over £1,000 a year as a result of the Work Allowance cut. By cutting the Work Allowance, the Tory UK Government are going to impose an eye-watering level of marginal taxation on people in low-paid jobs and make it harder than ever for those in low-income households to break out of the poverty trap.

 

This cut to the Work Allowance, on top of the other cuts to social security that the UK Government have imposed including cuts to child tax credit, a freeze on benefits, and a £30-a-week cut to disability benefits, will have a devastating impact on ‘just about managing’ families on low and middle incomes. Before the Autumn Statement my colleague Eilidh Whiteford MP, the SNP Westminster Group’s Social Justice Spokesperson, made a direct plea to the Chancellor to reverse the reduction in the Work Allowance. 

 

Although the Chancellor’s announcement on the Work Allowance taper rate was welcome; in the context of damning economic forecasts it is extremely disappointing that the Chancellor did not go further in his Autumn Statement to protect ‘just about managing’ families from the impact of the Work Allowance cut.  Changing taper rates will not on its own mitigate the impact that cuts will have on lower income families. Instead the UK Government should reverse cuts to the work allowance in full so that working parents in low paid jobs don’t lose out.  My SNP colleagues and I will continue to call on the UK Government to reverse the cut to the Work Allowance.

Fur Imports

Fur Imports

It is worth noting at the outset that animal welfare is the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament. The SNP Scottish Government are committed to protecting and promoting our natural environment, and will build upon our success in conserving wildlife and habitats, including working collaboratively with all stakeholders to ensure we are working towards having the highest animal welfare standards possible. 

 

As you note, the European Union also plays a key role when it comes to guaranteeing the welfare of animals across Europe – particularly on cross-border issues such as the trade of animal fur. It may interest you to learn that in 2007, a campaign backed by SNP MEP Alyn Smith for a complete ban on the import and export of cat and dog fur was supported by the European Parliament. I am pleased to note that the campaigning work of Alyn and other MEPs led to the European Union introducing the ban at the end of 2008.

 

I am concerned that these important cross-border regulations that derive from EU law  – and many others – are jeopardised by the vote for the UK to leave the European Union. Leaving the European Union and the Single Market, not only threatens our economy but risks undoing many of the progressive measures on animal welfare, environmental protection and workers’ rights that derive from the EU. Rest assured that my SNP colleagues and I will continue to press to ensure that Scotland’s vote to remain in the EU is protected.

Childhood Obesity Strategy

Childhood Obesity Strategy

Scotland’s health is of high importance and I am proud my colleagues in the SNP Scottish Government have ensured health spending has increased to record levels under the SNP, with Scotland’s health budget rising to a record high of nearly £13 billion this year, which includes a £250 million investment to be directed to Health and Social Care partnerships, to ensure improved outcomes in social care and support integration.

 

The UK Government’s Childhood Obesity Strategy, which was published in August, is unambitious and underwhelming and it needs to go further to tackle one of the biggest health issues that faces society today. You may be interested to note that the SNP Scottish Government are developing their own strategy for Scotland, which focuses on diet and obesity, and will reinforce our action on the promotion of unhealthy foods. We’re disappointed that the UK Government recently announced plan fails to include further restrictions on junk food advertising. A ban of these adverts after 9pm would significantly reduce children’s exposure to the marketing of unhealthy foods and ensure measures like the soft drinks levy do not operate in isolation.

 

The SNP are fully committed to ensuring Scotland becomes a healthier nation and my colleagues in the Scottish Government are taking a range of steps to help people to eat more healthily, including working with the food and drink industry to encourage a step-change in offering healthier choices and promoting healthier recipes. Campaigns such as ‘Eat Better Feel Better’ have been successful in promoting healthy eating, while healthy eating projects have received funding of over £10m in the four years to 2016  to further help with promoting healthy eating in Scotland.