We live in an era of 24 hour news that changes every minute of every day. My office and I are doing our best to keep you up to date on what is happening in Edinburgh West, in the Scottish Parliament and at the House of Commons.
Please take a look at what I’ve been up to recently!
This week the Prime Minister sent notification to the European Union to invoke Article 50, thus beginning the two year countdown to Britain’s exit from the EU. In her letter to the EU and in her speech to parliament, Theresa May appeared to have softened some of her language around Britain’s departure, talking of close partnership with Europe and warning of consequences from leaving the bloc. There was also a welcome recognition from the Chancellor in an interview with Radio 4 that Britain will not be able to ‘have its cake and eat it’. If Britain is to have any hope of making a success of Brexit, clear thinking and a focus on effective policy making is essential.
However, this minor adjustment to the UK Government’s rhetoric on Brexit des not extend to their policy on Scotland. I asked the Prime Minister on Wednesday why she continues to ignore the people of Scotland when the European Union is more than willing to consider our specific demands. You can watch the Prime Minister’s response by using the link above.
I was notified in a letter this week of the withdrawal of the South Queensferry bus service. This is very disappointing, given that there is clear and substantive demand for a bus route along the Queensferry corridor. Stagecoach gave a number of reasons for withdrawal, stating that increasing congestion on the Queensferry corridor and in the city centre, coupled with the upcoming Leith Street closure, has resulted in a “significant reduction in demand.” They also notified me that they will be making representations to Edinburgh Council to begin the necessary procedures to withdraw the service from 5th June 2017.
The loss of this route will leave a number of my constituents in South Queensferry without a direct and effective means of transportation to the city centre. Elderly and disabled residents will be disproportionately affected, given that many will struggle to travel to the bus stops servicing the Forth Bridge, or to the train station at Dalmeny.
As such, I have written to Stagecoach to request an urgent meeting to discuss their reasons behind the withdrawal. I’ll make sure to keep residents updated on any progress on this matter.
Also this week I wrote to Scottish Transport Minister Humza Yousaf, to seek action on the issue of unregulated night flights.
Currently, there is no over-arching legislation governing night flights in and out of Scottish airports and this is an area of concern for a number of my constituents, particularly those in Cramond and South Queensferry. On Thursday I raised the issue in Westminster with Chris Grayling who confirmed that this is a devolved issue. However, while local authorities have the power to use planning laws to require their airports to regulate night-time noise, the reality seems to be that local authorities are not actively employing these powers.
While the current consultation being run by Edinburgh Airport focuses on flight paths, it is becoming clear from the number of constituents who have been in touch that there is a real worry that these paths could be used overnight and cause significant disruption to areas already affected by daytime aircraft noise.
There is obviously a careful balance to be struck between encouraging and enabling the growth of airports and protecting the quality of life of those who live in the vicinity of those airports. That's why I would like to meet with the Minister to discuss what the Government is going to do to ensure that airports and local authorities have a duty to properly regulate night flights and ensure that that balance is maintained. I will keep my constituents updated on my progress.
Attack on Westminster
There was no weekly update last week as events in parliament were overshadowed by the terror attack which claimed the lives of four people - Police Constable Keith Palmer,, American tourist Kurt Cochran, retired window-cleaner Leslie Rhodes and Aysha Frade, who worked at a nearby sixth form college. Their deaths are truly shocking, and my thoughts and condolences are with their families.
I am hugely grateful to all of those who rushed to the aid of the injured on Westminster Bridge last week. Terrorism is a heinous act but such attacks also show humanity at its best, as people rushed towards danger, with no thought for their own safety, to help and protect others.
This is especially true in the case of PC Keith Palmer, who was one of a team of Metropolitan police officers who protect the public, visitors and staff at the Houses of Parliament. They do a brilliant job and it is truly tragic that one of their number died doing his job.
In the last 12 months one MP has been killed by a terrorist and four innocent people have died in London as another tried to attack parliament. It is vital that we carry on with our lives and refuse to be cowed by terrorists, regardless of the ideology they espouse. While I am sure some people will use these attacks to sow hate and advance their own agendas, I will work with others to build communities and advance the cause of peace.
Three major pieces of news dominated proceedings in parliament this week. The first of these was the announcement by Nicola Sturgeon of plans for a new referendum on Scottish independence. This announcement on Monday morning caught most of parliament by surprise and it is something that I welcome. Scotland voted overwhelmingly to stay in the European Union yet the Prime Minister has refused to even consider any compromise deal that would keep it in the EU. I fully accept that the people of England and Wales have chosen to leave the European Union and that this must be respected, however, there must also be a consideration of the needs and demands of the people of Scotland and Northern Ireland. Yesterday the Prime Minister said vaguely that now is not the time for a second independence referendum. However, if the Scottish Parliament votes next week to request an independence referendum, Theresa May must listen to the will of the Scottish people. You can watch my interview with France 24 from Monday on the subject of an independence referendum by following the link at the top of the page.
Article 50 votes
After the shock announcement of plans for a second independence referendum, parliament went to work voting on the Lord's amendments to legislation empowering the Prime Minister to invoke Article 50. Sadly, despite the best efforts of many members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons, amendments which would have guaranteed EU citizens the right to stay in the UK and parliament a meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal, were removed from the bill by a majority of MPs. It is bizarre to think that some MPs would vote to give away their power yet that is the situation we find ourselves in. Perhaps it is because, as David Davis demonstrated at his appearance before the Brexit Select Committee this week, those who support Brexit in the House of Commons have no plan and are worried that when the gravity of leaving the EU starts to weigh down the economy, the public pressure to reconsider Brexit may become irresistible. Regardless, I will continue to campaign for the rights of EU citizens to be secured as soon as possible in negotiations and I will oppose any attempts to force EU citizens to leave the country.
The third and final major piece of news this week concerned the announcement that the Government will no longer go forward with their plans to increase the National Insurance contributions of the unemployed. While this is not entirely surprising, it is a shock to see the tension between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor play out in such a transparent manner. Theresa May has collapsed at the first sign of upheaval from her backbench MPs. This is not a promising sign for the future. With Brexit negotiations likely to be tricky, the Prime Minister will need to show more backbone to ensure a good deal and resist the demands from hardliners for a leap off the EU cliff edge.
This week I held productive meetings with representatives from EDF Energy, TSB, SeaJacks, Oak North Bank and consumer groups.These meetings provided me with plenty of information to use in my work as a member of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee. They also allow me to discuss the important political issues of the day and find out what business groups think about Brexit, Scottish Independence and a whole host of other issues.
I held another surgery today in the office. If you wish to make an appointment to see me next week I will be in Ratho, Kirkliston and South Queensferry. Contact my office on 0131 516 2402 to book an appointment.
This week's BEIS Committee heard from the Trades Union Congress, the Employment Lawyers Association, the New Economics Foundation and other groups on current employment and tax law. This evidence session was part of our future world of work series and you can watch it by clicking on the link at the top of this page.
Today I met with Clydesdale Bank to discuss the closure of their branch in South Queensferry. As this is the last bank in the town, local residents, including a number of disabled and elderly individuals, have concerns about their ability to access basic banking facilities. A representative from Clydesdale Bank has assured me that residents of South Queensferry will still be able to access the majority of banking services through the Post Office located in the Scotmid supermarket. While this is not an ideal solution, especially as the supermarket is halfway up a steep hill, it is part of a trend across the UK of bank branch closures. As we move towards greater use of internet banking this is likely to happen more and more. It is perhaps time for the Government to consider looking at this problem as we do not want to see elderly and vulnerable citizens left isolated from vital services as banks cut costs and move functions online.
Standard Life and Aberdeen Asset Management
This week's major business news in Edinburgh is the proposed merger between Aberdeen Asset Management and Standard Life. These two companies are representative of the strength of the Scottish financial sector and I hope that the proposed merger will lead to an organisation that can use its increased scale to reach new heights. However, as with any merger there is a risk of job losses as companies seek to improve their efficiencies and save money on replicated functions. Having spoken to representatives from both AAM and Standard Life this week, I am re-assured that the number of job losses mentioned in the media are greatly exaggerated. However, I will keep a close eye on this situation as it would be detrimental to Edinburgh and Scotland if this new company went for excessive job cuts as a way to improve profitability in the future.
On Wednesday the Woman Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) marched on Westminster, to send a message to the Conservative Government. These women, born in the 1950s, have had their pension entitlement date moved with almost no notice. This unfair change could be mitigated by the Government yet they have shown no interest in doing so. As welfare cuts that hit the poorest in society start to hit home and economic growth has not made any dent in the national debt or deficit, the Government does not believe it can go back on this change because of the cost. I disagree. While putting in place transitional arrangements would be expensive, it is the right thing to do and the Government must act. Sadly I could not make it along to the protest myself as I had to attend the funeral of a family friend, but I will do what I can to make the Government listen to the WASPI women over the coming weeks and months.
Also this Wednesday the Chancellor delivered his first, and last, Spring Budget. The headline news was the change to National Insurance contributions for the self-employed yet the main issue that should have been focused on was the confirmation of welfare cuts for the poorest members of society. As noted by Paul Johnson, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the cuts to ESA and Tax Credits that are arriving in April will have a much greater impact on people's income than a two pence increase in NICs for the self-employed. It is estimated that 600,000 low income, three child families will be £2,500 a year worse off and some with four children will be as much as £7,000 a year worse off. These changes will save £5 billion, but will do untold damage to the poorest in society. Sadly the press have focused on the National Insurance contributions change, instead of the wider issues in the budget.
BEIS Vist to Edinburgh
This week started with a visit from the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee to Edinburgh. This trip enabled the Committee to meet a wide range of stakeholders in the energy sector in Scotland, from renewable energy spokespeople to representatives of the oil and gas industry. As the only Scottish member of the BEIS Committee, I believe it is important that I make sure Scotland’s voice is heard. This visit has hopefully helped the Committee realise that Scotland has a diverse and innovative business sector with its own unique needs and I will look to try and encourage more interaction with Scottish businesses over the coming months.
BEIS Committee Meeting
Following the BEIS committee trip to Edinburgh, we returned to London in time for our usual Tuesday morning evidence session. This week we heard from representatives of the nuclear power industry, who expressed concern that the Conservative Government’s desire to leave Euratom could lead to the shutdown of the UK’s nuclear plants. Whilst I am no fan of nuclear energy, I understand that if the nuclear power stations we have now were to shut down, we could be faced with a capacity crisis. It seems that these concerns are yet another consequence of the Government’s complete lack of planning around Brexit.
Productivity Plan Debate
On Tuesday MPs debated the “Productivity Plan. The Plan is a document produced in 2015 which was supposed to provide ideas and solutions to tackle the fact that the UK is one of the worst performing G7 countries in terms of productivity. Politics has, however, moved on a great deal since July 2015. This debate allowed the BEIS Committee to look back at our report into the Productivity Plan to see if it had achieved its aims and what lessons can be carried forward from it into our new political reality. You can watch my contribution to the debate by clicking on the link at the top of the page.
On Thursday I received a response from the Prime Minister to the question I asked her at the previous week’s question session. I wanted her to look again at the decision to sell the Green Investment Bank when, so far, there has been no evidence that it will benefit the bank itself, jobs in Edinburgh, the wider green economy or the taxpayer. The response I received (which can be seen on my Twitter and Facebook) contains no new answers. I will continue monitoring this issue and I will update my constituents if I receive any substantive information from the Government.
Industrial Strategy Report
On Friday the BEIS Committee released their report into the Government’s plans for an Industrial Strategy. Drawing on evidence from many expert witnesses we concluded that the recently published green paper on this issue is a positive start but that much more needs to be done. This includes more devolution of power to local authorities and a doubling of funding for R&D to 3% of GDP. You can read the whole report using this link - http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/business-energy-industrial-strategy/inquiries/parliament-2015/industrial-strategy-16-17/
One other major issue that I want to raise awareness of this week is the impact of the proposed changes to bereavement support, following a visit from a constituent and many letters on the topic from others. From the 6th of April the Government is changing the way bereavement support is paid out. At the moment, widows and widowers receive a tax free lump sum of £2,000.00 and a taxable weekly benefit of £112.55 per week until the youngest child no longer qualifies for child benefit. This will change so that now the support is a one off lump sum of up to £3,500.00 followed by a non-taxable and non-inflation linked payments of up to £350.00 a week for 18 months. It is estimated that 75% of parents bereaved after April the 6th will be worse off as a result of these changes. This is another unfair attack on the welfare system for people who need its support. I will do what I can to fight this change and hopefully convince the Government to look again at these proposals.
Unison Right to Remain Day of Action
My first call of business this week involved dropping in to a Unison event to show my support for the rights of EU citizens to stay in the UK following Brexit. The Prime Minister has insisted that she wishes to see the rights of EU citizens in this country secured as soon as possible, yet she will not do so until she receives a reciprocal agreement from the EU.
While this cold hearted calculation may have some logic to it, the argument falls apart under scrutiny. Is the Prime Minister really suggesting that we would expel over 3 million EU citizens, who contribute so much to our economy, culture and way of life, if the EU did the same to British citizens? Even if the EU bizarrely chose to expel British citizens from their own countries, I would not support doing this to people who are living and working here and who moved here legally. A unilateral declaration of the right for these individuals to remain in the UK would also start negotiations over Brexit on a positive footing which could surely only benefit us as we seek a constructive relation going forward with the EU. Hopefully Theresa May will note the widespread public support for allowing EU citizens to remain in the country and act accordingly.
This week’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee meeting heard from stakeholders in the energy market as we continue our inquiry into consumer energy and the impact of Brexit. You can watch the full session by copying and pasting the following link –
Barclays / MSF / End Violence Against Women Coalition
As part of my role as an MP I am asked to meet with a wide range of organisations, from small charities to multi-national corporations. This week for example I met with representatives from Barclay’s Bank, the End Violence Against Women Coalition and Médecins Sans Frontières. Each meeting provides valuable information and I am especially grateful to the End Violence Against Women Coalition and MSF for taking the time to meet with me and my team to provide valuable insight.
Prime Minister’s Questions
At PMQs this week I asked the Prime Minister whether or not she would comment on the sale of the Green Investment Bank and the impact it would have on jobs in Edinburgh, the Government’s green agenda and the cost to taxpayers. Sadly, she was too busy laughing and joking with her Conservative colleagues to answer the question and I was promised a letter with a response to my query. As I write this update, no letter has been sent. I will continue to campaign on this issue as I believe a sale at this time is not in anyone’s best interest as it will likely lead to the loss of jobs in Edinburgh and reduced investment in the green economy.
On Thursday there was a powerful debate in the House of Commons about the Dubs scheme and Britain’s commitment to re-settling child refugees. MPs from across the political spectrum made powerful speeches about the need for the UK to honour the commitments it made last summer to support child refugees. From the Conservative MP Geoffrey Cox who said, “It is not in the interests of our reputation as a country to be seen to be a nation parsimonious and mean-spirited in the fulfilment of an obligation.” to the SNP’s Stuart McDonald who said of re-starting the Dubs scheme: “Doing so would show respect for this Parliament, command respect from the public, show solidarity with our European neighbours and, most importantly, save children from exploitation and abuse.”
I could not agree more with sentiments expressed by Stuart McDonald and I hope that the Prime Minister sees sense on this issue sooner rather than later.
Finally this Friday saw the passing of a bill through parliament that committed the UK Government to ratifying the Istanbul Convention. The Istanbul Convention is a landmark piece of work that aims to combat gender based violence. While the Government had signed the convention, this is the first piece of legislation that will commit them to ratifying it thus forcing the policies contained within it into law. Praise must go to Eilidh Whiteford MP who led this bill through parliament and to all the MPs who voted it through.
The focus in parliament this week was on the Government's bill to give Theresa May the power to invoke Article 50 and begin the process of taking the UK out of the EU. Over three days MPs tried to get the Government to accept amendments that would give a sense of structure to our exit from the European Union. Amendments tabled included ones which would have made it compulsory for the Government to give regular updates on the progress of negotiations to Parliament, measures to protect the rights of EU nationals living in this country and plans to give MPs a proper vote on the final deal with the EU before it was formally signed into law.
Sadly, all of these were defeated by the Conservative party’s disciplined three-line whip and a majority of Labour MPs voting with the Government.
The one amendment that did pass gives the House of Commons a vote on Theresa May's final deal with the EU - but this comes with absolutely no power to force her to go back and negotiate a new one if these terms fall short. If the Prime Minister is as serious as she claims to be about being willing to walk away from the EU with no deal at all, then this vote could leave parliamentarians with a truly terrible Hobson's choice – leaving us to choose between two options which will guarantee economic damage for the UK either way. In essence, this amendment is meaningless.
I was also disheartened that the rights of EU nationals in this country continue to be unprotected. Even if our European counterparts choose to expel all the British citizens living in their countries (which is highly unlikely), it still does not mean we should do the same to all the people who have made their homes here and contribute so much to our society. An early agreement on the rights of EU citizens in this country would also create a considerable amount of goodwill as we start negotiations with the EU. Sadly this Government seems committed to treating the countries on the other side of this negotiation with a distinct lack of respect, and this does not bode well for future negotiations.
This week the BEIS Committee's evidence session heard from a range of stakeholders in the UK energy market, from companies such as E.ON to Chief Executive of the Energy Saving Trust. They gave evidence as part of our inquiry examining the implications of the UK's departure from the EU on the energy sector and the UK's climate change commitments.
You can watch the evidence session by using the link at the top of this page.
Shockingly this week, the Government tried to sneak out an announcement that it was prematurely ending the scheme to bring unaccompanied child refugees to the UK under the Dubs amendment having brought in only 350 children. This is completely against the spirit of the agreement that was voted on by MPs who had expected between 1,000 and 3,000 children to be allowed into the country. Many of my colleagues visited the Calais migrant camps where children lived in filth and squalor, at constant risk of being kidnapped for trafficking or abused, and parliament was united in its belief that more had to be done to help them.
In the summer the Government announced an arbitrary list of restrictions on the children they were willing to re-settle here from the Calais migrant camps and in retrospect this perhaps should have served as an indicator of what was to come. I think it is shameful that a country as prosperous as the UK cannot find room for child refugees and I will do what I can to try and make the Government reverse this decision over the weeks and months ahead.
Recess and surgeries
ICE People's Choice Awards
This week started with a trip to the Institute of Civil Engineer's (ICE) People's Choice Awards. I was there in my capacity as a local MP to congratulate the engineers working on the Forth Road Bridge who won a public vote to receive this prestigious title. The award recognised the tireless efforts of the engineers who worked in inclement weather conditions to repair the bridge in less than a month. This particular award recognises what the public believes is the greatest civil engineering project over a 12 month period. I believe the engineers from the Forth Road Bridge are worthy winners and I congratulate them on their success.
BEIS Corporate Governance
This Tuesday morning we held another evidence session for our Corporate Governance Inquiry. This inquiry is focussing on executive pay, directors duties, and the composition of boardrooms, including worker representation and gender balance in executive positions. We were inspired to set this up by the failings we witnessed in our inquiries into BHS and Sports Direct and hopefully we will be able to make a robust set of recommendations on how to improve corporate governance to prevent scandals such as those from happening.
Nick Hurd and the Green Investment Bank
This week I also met Nick Hurd, the Minister for Climate Change and Industry, to discuss issues around the Green Investment Bank. Following on from this meeting I then sponsored a debate in Westminster on the subject of the sale and privatisation of the GIB. There has been a great deal of coverage in the media this week on a whole range of issues related to this institution and what concerns me is the possibility that 55 banking jobs in Edinburgh will be scrapped if the institution is taken over by a private company. I am also worried that the banks current role, where it provides funding for projects that cannot get money elsewhere, would be lost if the bank is sold. You can watch the whole debate using the link above, including my speech and the response from the Minister. I will be keeping an eye on this issue going forward and I hope the Government will begin to allay some of the concerns both myself and many of my colleagues have.
Article 50 debate
On Tuesday we also discovered, via a ruling from the Supreme Court, that the UK Government will have to consult parliament before invoking Article 50 and beginning the process of leaving the European Union. A number of my constituents have contacted me to ask how I will be voting when a bill comes before parliament next week on this issue. Along with all of my Scottish colleagues, except for the Scottish Secretary, I share concerns about Scotland leaving the EU. We must do what we can to hold Theresa May to account to make sure she does not have unlimited discretion to negotiate the Brexit deal that she wants as opposed to the one that the country needs. Over the next few weeks I will be doing what I can to hold the Government to account and to make sure they give Scotland assurances that they will properly consult the Scottish Government in the ongoing negotiations. The overwhelming majority of Scots wanted to stay in the EU, including most of my constituents, and that will be at the forefront of my mind as the parliamentary debates begin.
This week MPs also took time to remember the Holocaust, the horrific genocide of millions of Jews. This terrible atrocity still has the power to shock us even today. Over the last twelve months we have seen a number of democratic institutions come under threat and a great deal of rhetoric which threatens to inflame tensions across the world. There was no single event that led to the Holocaust, there was a steady erosion in liberal values and of democratic institutions which enabled this genocide. The lesson we must learn as we move into an increasingly polarised world is to combat hatred and prejudice whenever it rears its head. We cannot stand by and hope other people will step up and make sure the world is a safe place for everyone, we all must contribute.
Surgeries and Clydesdale Bank Update
At the end of the week I came back up to Edinburgh for surgeries in Ratho, Kirkliston and South Queensferry. After these were over I visited sheltered accommodation in South Queensferry to talk to some of the residents there about the problems presented by the proposed closure of the last bank in the area by Clydesdale. We discussed a number of issues ranging from mobility of the residents to a lack of internet skills which prevent them from moving to online banking. I will raise these issues with the bank when I have a meeting with management in the next few weeks and I will relay them back to constituents.
This week in Westminster was dominated by Theresa May's speech on the future of the UK's relationship with the EU which was delivered on Tuesday at Lancaster House. This speech confirmed the worst fears of many of my constituents, that the Prime Minister plans to put her own party problems ahead of the economic needs of the nation by implementing a Hard Brexit. She also chose to completely ignore the advice of hundreds of experts who have warned her that prioritising controlling immigration above all else will result in long term damage to our economy. While I am not surprised by the contents of this speech, I do not believe it gave any consideration to the desire of nearly half the UK's population and more than 60% of Scots to stay in the EU. The path Theresa May has taken us down will inevitably have severe economic consequences, as is evidenced by the rising inflation which threatens to push more families into poverty in the near future. I will continue to campaign for as close a relationship with the EU as possible over the next few months as I believe that is what is best for Scotland and it is what my constituents voted for.
BEIS Committee meeting
This week the BEIS Committee met in private to discuss some of our recent evidence sessions and to make plans for where we need to focus our work going forward. A number of our current inquiries are progressing well and will report soon, such as our work on Industrial Strategy and Corporate Governance. We are also looking at what this Government's climate change agenda should be in the light of Brexit and starting an inquiry on the future world of work. These reports are supposed to guide future policy planning by the department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy as well as casting a critical eye over their current policies. As soon as any of these reports are published, I will share them widely on social media.
APPG Fair Business Banking Event
Also this week the All Party Parliamentary Group on Fair Business Banking held its launch event. This APPG aims to create a level playing field for business that is often championed in rhetoric but does not exist in reality. As a vice chair of this group I work with MPs from all parties to try and correct the imbalance between banks and businesses. At the successful launch event a number of MPs and banking executives turned up and I hope we will be able to create a fairer banking system for all in the future.
Clydesdale Bank Closure
There were two meetings of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee this week. In the first meeting we heard from Greg Clark MP, the Secretary of State for BEIS, for the first time since he took over from Sajid Javid earlier this year. He was grilled on a number of topics, from Climate Change to Brexit. You can watch the whole session by using the link above.
On Thursday we heard evidence from Peter Mandelson, the former Minister without Portfolio in the last Labour Government and former EU Commissioner for Trade. He gave evidence on his experiences of setting up an industrial strategy and once again, you can watch the session using the link above.
On Wednesday this week there was a debate on the ongoing humanitarian situation in Aleppo. I think everyone has been shocked by the testimony of those suffering in this horrible conflict. That is why I joined like-minded colleagues in the house in calling for the creation of UN-backed safe zones, humanitarian corridors and aid drops into the worst affected areas. Last Friday’s vote at the UN, which called for an end to the siege of Aleppo and the delivery of aid, gave the UK Government an opportunity to act on the will of the international community to carry out these actions. Sadly the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, and the UK Government failed to support this. Nevertheless, I and other MPs will continue to push for immediate and effective action from this Government.
Whilst it is vital that we continue to press the Government to take action in Syria, I will also be urging the Prime Minister to take in and shelter refugees from Aleppo and the surrounding areas, and urging the Government to encourage the international community to do likewise. Britain has taken in fewer refugees from this conflict that any other major European nation. I am proud that Scotland has taken a third of the refugees that the UK has settled but we can and must do more.
Commercial Financial Dispute Resolution Platform Debate
This week I was one of the sponsors of a bill presented to parliament which called for the setting up of a commercial financial dispute resolution platform. The reason a resolution platform like this is so important is that many small and medium sized businesses in the UK are unable to take banks to court because they do not have the necessary finances. If an independent resolution platform could be set up, we could protect the businesses that are unfairly shut down by banks for spurious reasons. You can watch my speech in this debate by using this link - http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/4408719a-8ab0-435b-94b9-c8c07bd227f7?in=14%3A10%3A20&out=14%3A15%3A20
The Istanbul Convention is a key piece of legislation that aims to protect women from violence. Today's private member's bill from Eilidh Whiteford MP tried to force the UK Government to outline a timetable for ratifying the convention. Thankfully, despite the best efforts of parliament's worst MP, the bill passed.
Sadly because I needed to be in parliament I missed my planned surgeries and the Corstorphine Living Advent in my office today. I hope all the local residents of Corstorphine who dropped in for the event enjoyed the mince pies and music and I look forward to seeing them next year when we host the event again.
In place of my usual weekly update, I just wanted to take this time to say a few short words of thanks. It was a very difficult decision for me to speak about my rape. I was already planning to speak in the chamber during the debate on violence against women. However, as the date approached I began to consider the possibility of relating my own story in the chamber. My mind was made up when I realised that if I shared my personal experience, it might help others who have been suffering in silence. It was not an easy decision, but I hope that by speaking out I have been able to use my position as an MP to promote change.
The House of Commons often appears on TV to be a place of very stark division. This debate on violence against women was a genuine cross party moment and I was moved by the response from MPs in the chamber to my story. I would also like to thank all of the people who have contacted me on Twitter, Facebook, via email, on the phone, or by dropping into my office. Your messages are hugely appreciated and I will try to respond to as many of you as I can in the next few weeks.
Ultimately this issue is bigger than what happened to me. We need to change attitudes across the UK, to teach both women and men that being a survivor of violence is nothing to be ashamed of. I would encourage anyone reading this who has suffered as I once did, to seek out help. I have listed some numbers below for charities who can offer advice and guidance. Please do not suffer alone, there are others who can help you with your pain and you have nothing to be ashamed of.
Scottish Women's Aid - http://www.scottishwomensaid.org.uk/ 0131 226 6606
Scottish Rape Crisis - http://www.rapecrisisscotland.org.uk/ 0141 331 4180
Abused men in Scotland - http://www.abusedmeninscotland.org/ 0808 800 0024
The BEIS Committee spent two days in snowy Stockholm at the start of this week, meeting business leaders and local politicians. The aim of the visit was to learn how the Swedish Government has worked with industry to develop an Industrial Strategy and a system of corporate governance. Sweden is a highly successful medium sized country with strong growth and productivity rates which outstrip the UK. It was a fascinating visit, and gave the whole committee insights which I am sure will prove valuable when we come to produce our report on corporate governance.
Chilcot Inquiry and WASPI
On my return to Westminster there were two SNP led debates in the House of Commons. The first one related to the Chilcot Inquiry and the contradiction between the information to given to the public and the private correspondence between Tony Blair and the US government. The SNP wanted the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee to further its investigation into the lessons learned from the Chilcot Inquiry and to further consider the specific contrast between the public and private policy positions and presentation of intelligence. Sadly Labour and Conservatives refused to countenance any further investigation into the biggest failure of British foreign policy in recent years. I find this deeply concerning, and something which does not bode well for future involvement in the region.
After the Chilcot debate there was an attempt to get the Government to reconsider it's policy on the acceleration of of the increase in the state pension age for women born in the 1950s. The SNP's motion called for the Government to consider an affordable solution that would slow down the process and give women affected time to bolster their finances and explore further options to improve their financial situations. Sadly, once again, the Conservative party marshalled their slim majority of MPs to vote down the SNP motion, displaying a lack of willingness to engage constructively on this important issue.
On Thursday however, there was limited success when a motion was passed that said the Government had not considered the situation of WASPI women. This means we can return the debate to Westminster hall and gives us a further attempt to convince the Conservatives to modify their stance and provide these women with adequate support, given the situation the Government has created.
RBS Branch - Davidson's Mains
On Thursday, the Royal Bank of Scotland also announced plans to close half of all local branches in Edinburgh. This includes their Davidson's Mains branch, which lies within my constituency. Recent years have seen the erosion of local banking services, which has included the closure of two other banks in the Edinburgh West area. This means that in the very western edge of my constituency, local people have just one branch of a high street bank within walking distance.
I am very concerned about the impact this will have on the local community - especially vulnerable individuals and the elderly, who tend to use local services more heavily. Local bank branches used to form the back-bone of any high street in local communities, and it is worrying that this has been so heavily eroded and may have an impact on other local businesses.
As soon as I learned of their plans, I asked RBS for a meeting to discuss the closure in more detail. I will be meeting with representatives of the bank before Christmas and will provide a further update after that meeting has taken place.
Finally, this week I held my 100th surgery since being elected. It is a great honour to serve the people of Edinburgh West and surgeries are the best opportunity for me to meet with constituents and hear about their concerns. That is why it is very important to me to be back in Edinburgh every Friday for my weekly surgery, though it does sometimes mean missing some parliamentary sessions. Seeing constituents, and working on their individual cases, forms a huge portion of my role.
Next week's surgeries are in Muirhouse (9.30 AM) and Drylaw (11.00 AM). I will be holding my usual Friday office surgery on Friday 16th December and then there will be an additional surgery on Wednesday 21st December at 10:30am. Further details of my office opening hours over Christmas will also appear on my website in the coming weeks.
The major set piece event of the autumn in parliament was held this week when the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, delivered his bi-annual update on the state of the economy. As is always the case, he tried to highlight the positive aspects in this statement. However, the reality of six years of Conservative rule is massive national debt, declining rate of growth, and an unknown, possibly ruinous Brexit bill.
Following the release of the statement the Institute for Fiscal Studies have pointed out that by 2021, real wages in the UK will still not have recovered to their 2008 level. This means that between 2008 and 2021, people will have become poorer. If ever there was a damning indictment of Westminster rule by the Conservatives and Labour, this is it.
The Chancellor tried to give some support to infrastructure projects such as broadband and digital signage on the railways, but it was all a little underwhelming. Previous Conservative leadership contestant Sajid Javid had floated the idea of spending £100 billion on infrastructure to help boost the UK's productivity in this era of low interest rates. However, as with many ambitious ideas, this was ignored by the Chancellor.
Very little in this Autumn Statement did anything for the lowest paid or those who have to survive on benefits. I hope that we shall see more for the people who are suffering the most in future statements and perhaps a few less corporation tax cuts and personal allowance raises, which primarily benefit the wealthiest.
BEIS - Industrial Strategy + Corporate Governance
The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee held two evidence sessions this week. The first one was a roundtable session with a range of industry experts discussing what should be in the upcoming Industrial Strategy being prepared by the Government. This free form discussion generated some excellent ideas which will be fed into our report to be released in the near future.
After this session we met again on Wednesday to hear evidence for our corporate governance enquiry. Corporate Governance has been a major issue in the news recently. As was demonstrated by our recent inquiries into Mike Ashley and Philip Green, the issue of unaccountable executives is one that needs to be addressed. Consumers lose faith in corporations when business leaders are seen as unaccountable. We need stricter guidelines and better governance to improve outcomes in society and that is what our enquiry is trying to frame out. As with the Industrial Strategy report, this will be coming out in the near future and I will share the link when it is released.
Target Ovarian Cancer - Freedom From Torture - Energy UK 'Big Switch Drop In'
Many third sector organisations look for support from MPs to promote their work and many constituents ask me to attend events organised by charities as well. This week I attended events supporting Target Ovarian Cancer, the Big Energy Switch and a new report from Freedom From Torture. There are so many events in parliament it is impossible to attend them all, but I always do my best to get along to as many as possible.
Entrepreneurial Spark and Surgeries
On Friday I was back in the constituency to hold another three surgeries, one in Ratho, one in Kirkliston and one in South Queensferry. After these I went to visit Entrepreneurial Spark based at Gogarburn in my constituency.
Entrepreneurial Spark is one of the most successful entrepreneur development schemes in Scotland. Successful companies developed at their 'hatchery' have an 88% success rate after 3 years, which is a great deal better than the average of 50% for new businesses. Moreover, their person focused development planned greatly impressed me and I am sure there is a lot that can be learned from their approach that could be adopted by much larger businesses and institutions. Hopefully we shall see many more businesses emerging from ES, including ones that put a focus on good corporate governance and respect for employees.
Next week I will be holding a surgery in my office so if you wish to see me, please make an appointment with my team by phoning the office on 0131 56 2402.
The working conditions at the Sports Direct warehouse, in Shirebrook in the East Midlands, were considered extensively during a recent Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee inquiry. We had heard evidence of poor treatment of many of the employees based in the factory. The day-to-day management is farmed out to two agencies who also came in for particular criticism. We have had an update since the report and we hoped to find that some of the positive changes it mentioned were now being made.
During our evidence session with Mike Ashley, the owner of Sports Direct, the committee was invited to visit Shirebrook at any time, and to come unannounced if that is what we chose. Yesterday that was indeed what we chose.
I can't say we were made entirely welcome - the invitation to come at any time was apparently supposed to mean a time when Mike Ashley was there, and when we had given plenty of notice.
Nevertheless we were received and spent the early part of the day visiting the extensive site. Mike Ashley is justifiably proud of his retail operation, which he has grown into a household name, but we had to press hard to see the older warehouse units that had been the focus of the criticism.
Our trip was recorded by a Sports Direct staff member with a small hand unit, and we were also occasionally filmed more openly. Every statement we made or question we asked was written down on paper - but it was the close of the day that brought the nasty surprise.
Glad to accept the kindness of refreshments after a long day, the committee retreated into what we thought was a private room to have a summary meeting. It should be noted that we wanted to be balanced in our reporting: to acknowledge where positive changes had been made and to thank Sports Direct for hosting us.
It was at this point that one of my colleagues, Anna Turley MP, noticed that the tray of sandwiches brought in by a member of staff from Sports Direct had been placed far away from the table where we were all sitting. This caught her attention, and then she also noticed the staff member retrieve a small camera from the sandwiches and place it under the chair. One of our group immediately took this camera outside.
It is unbelievable that someone in Sports Direct thought it was a good idea to do this, undermining all the good work that they had done during the day. The Chair of the committee, Iain Wright MP, phoned Mike Ashley to discuss this attempted filming. In the increasingly angry telephone conversation that ensued, astonishingly Mr Ashley accused us of planting the device ourselves.
This incident highlights the culture that was noted at the time of our enquiry. Mike Ashely is a man who has worked extremely hard to get to where he is today. However, the skills that supported him in his hunger to build the business have not been adequate when it comes to managing a publicly listed company. Weaker leaders often surround themselves with people with whom they have had a long and trusted relationship but, they are not necessarily the best placed to challenge their manager to do even better or raise their game. Alternatively, managers can ultimately become neurotic - trusting no-one and unwilling to accept advice.
The irony is that whoever placed the bugging device clearly didn't appreciate the damage its discovery could do - and by placing it clearly, they demonstrated - more clearly than we ever could - what is wrong with the culture and behaviour at the heart of Sports Direct.
Weak leadership often finds someone (anyone) to blame - when the path to real and lasting change is creating a culture where the leader sets the example by being accountable for what is and is not acceptable. It is the employee who was asked to do this I feel sorry for - she was compromised in a way no employee should be.
This visit clearly illustrated that the culture at Sports Direct still has some way to go towards real and lasting improvement.
Statement on EU Council and Calais
Parliamentary business this week started off with a statement from the Prime Minister about her recent EU summit in Brussels. Sadly anyone looking to try and understand the UK's plans for a future outside of the EU would have been left disappointed. Months after Theresa May announced that 'Brexit means Brexit' we are no further forward in understanding what the UK's negotiating stance may be. I appreciate that the UK Government do not want to outline their every position before a negotiation, but some clarity is needed before the end of negotiations in 2019 or the businesses will quickly begin to relocate elsewhere.
After the Prime Minister's disappointing statement the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, gave an update on work to re-settle children from the Calais migrant camps back in the UK. She informed the House that over 200 children have been re-settled already and that more are being screened before being placed with families. A number of constituents have emailed me to express their concerns about the impending closure of the migrant camp and to share with me their concerns about the children that we should be allowing into the UK. I would like to assure those constituents that my colleagues and I will be doing everything we can to scrutinise that work.
Backbench Business Committee
Outside of the Chamber, I had a number of meetings relating to on-going work in my committee and in the constituency. On Tuesday, I also joined George Kerevan MP at the Backbench Business Committee to lobby for a debate on the possibility of setting up dispute resolution service for commercial financial contracts. This may seem like an unimportant issue, but many small and medium sized businesses suffer because they have no way to seek redress when they have been treated badly by banks as was evidenced by the recent revelations on RBS' Global Restructuring Group. This particular branch of the RBS group, killed or crippled thousands of businesses during the recession as a result of a deliberate plan to add billions of pounds to its balance sheet, according to a leaked cache of thousands of secret documents according to Buzzfeed. It is increasingly clear that something needs to be done to protect SMEs and hopefully this debate, if selected by the Committee, will raise awareness of that.
Question to the Chancellor
This week I was one of 25 MPs selected in a ballot to ask a question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Sadly, due to time constraints, I was not called to ask my question, however I have received a written reply to the question I asked and I have included this below. I had hoped to get more information on the re-negotiation of the UK's tax treaty with Malawi but this will have to wait until I am selected again.
To ask Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, what his Department's objectives are in negotiating double taxation treaties with developing countries.
Jane Ellison: Financial Secretary to the Treasury.
In negotiating double taxation treaties, the UK’s objective is to reach an agreement that allocates taxing rights on a basis acceptable to both countries.
On Wednesday evening I attend the debate in the chamber about the ongoing crisis in Yemen. This debate considered a motion that asked for the UK to support a UN led investigation into accusations of human rights abuse in the conflict and for a suspension of arms sales to Saudi Arabia until this had been completed. Sadly this motion was defeated by the Government, despite the fact that this request mirrors exactly what the BIS Committee and the International Development Committee called for after their cross party inquiry into arms sales to Saudi Arabia. I understand that both sides of this horrible civil war have committed human rights violations and that many jobs in the UK may be at stake. However, we cannot turn a blind eye to the possibility that British made weapons are being used to commit terrible war crimes. If this is the case, then we must act. Hopefully parliament will reconsider this before more innocent people die.
At the end of the week I was back in Edinburgh West for busy surgeries in Ratho, Kirkliston and South Queensferry and a number of calls to constituents. Next week I have a surgery in my office, so please contact my team on 0131 516 2402 if you wish to book an appointment.
It was a busy week in Westminster with debates, committee sessions and meetings. It started off with an evidence session of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee which heard from the Permanent Secretary and the Directors of the BEIS department. We questioned them on industrial strategy policy and the UK's interests and responsibilites during Brexit negotiations.
You can watch that session here - BEIS Session
There were also two important debates held in the chamber this week, one on the demise of BHS and another on industrial strategy. The debate on BHS was to discuss the joint report into the collapse of the retailer, to endorse the criticisms of the governance of the holding company and to call for Sir Philip Green to fufll his promise to resolve the deficit in the pension fund.
An amendment to this debate, tabled by Richard Fuller MP and I, also called for the House to consider referring Sir Philip Green's knighthood to the Honours Forfeiture Committee for it to be annulled. I was delighted to see over 100 MPs support our amendment and it passed unanimously in the Chamber.
You can watch my speech in this debate by clicking on this link - BHS Speech
Following this there was a debate on the future of industrial strategy in this country brought forward by myself and fellow MPs from the BEIS Committe. During this debate I highlighted some of the key challenges with implementing a successful strategy and what Scotland needs from any policy in this area.
You can watch this debate here - Industrial Strategy
Westminster was back from recess this week with a packed schedule of debates, meetings and votes.
On Monday I presented the Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) petition signatures in parliament. Thousands of people from across the UK signed these petitions which were then delivered to the House of Commons. Public support for transitional arrangements continues to grow and just yesterday, Baroness Ros Altmann, a former Pensions Minister in this Government, sent out a message of support for the upcoming legal case on the issue. It is beyond time for Theresa May to make changes to pensions arrangements for women born in the 1950s. Hopefully, if she is as committed to a social justice agenda as she claims to be, we won’t have to wait long.
Business Energy and Industrial Strategy
The former Chancellor George Osborne was the main witness at BEIS Committee this week. The evidence session focused on industrial policy and what lessons can be learned from the policies of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition Government. I questioned the former Chancellor on why he had blocked meaningful devolution of tax powers to the Scottish parliament when he claimed to be such a supporter of this policy in other areas of the UK. Sadly he was unable to provide a compelling answer to this other than citing his concerns about possible "unusual tax behaviour" within the UK. You can watch the exchange using the link above.
Syria and Yemen
There was an emergency debate in the House of Commons this week to raise the issue of the ongoing siege in Aleppo, Syria. Many MPs spoke with great passion about this subject and there were a number of people calling for greater action from the UK in Syria to prevent the loss of lives. I am deeply sympathetic to the argument that we must do more to prevent the slaughter of civilians in Aleppo. However, there are a number of obstacles which lead me to doubt this is an appropriate solution. Firstly, we have to be very careful that any action we undertake in Syria does not add to the civilian death toll. If we try to implement a no-fly zone this could put us in the situation where a Russian plane is shot down by NATO forces with all of the problems and possible escalation that would entail. Designated safe zones are also problematic as they provide a target for attack that needs to be defended with a great deal of resources and they also allow enemy combatants to rest and recuperate without fear of attack. There is no easy solution to this crisis but I hope that our Government can work with our allies on the UN Security Council to try and thrash out a peace deal that is respected by all parties.
Following the Syria debate the Labour Party finally organised an effective opposition on the subject of Brexit and managed to secure a concession from the Government that the Commons will be allowed to debate the strategy for leaving the EU before Article 50 is invoked. As the weeks have gone by it has become increasingly clear that whatever strategy Theresa May has for Brexit it involves cutting immigration at the expense of our membership of the single market. This is not acceptable. The people of Edinburgh West and the people of Scotland voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU. Theresa May has no mandate for a so-called Hard Brexit and I will work with colleagues across the house to make sure the right wing fringe of the Conservative party doesn't impose a change on the country that no-one voted for.
BHS and Phil Green
Next week I have put my name to an amendment on a debate about the collapse of BHS that calls for Philip Green to have his knighthood referred to the Honours Forfeiture Committee to consider cancelling or annulling his honour. The evidence we heard during the inquiry into the collapse of BHS was startling and even if the pension deficit is addressed, there are questions to be asked about why a successful business failed so spectacularly. If Sir Philip cannot answer them, then the Forfeiture Committee must make a decision on his knighthood.
Surgeries and Harvest banquet
Finally this week I was back in the constituency to hold two well-attended surgeries and then I dropped in on the North Edinburgh Arts Harvest Banquet. Last year’s banquet brought together 100 members of the local community to eat and socialise together whilst highlighting issues around food poverty in the local area and nationally. It’s another excellent project from the team at North Edinburgh Arts and the Centipede Project.
Parliament has now risen for the summer recess. I will be spending my time getting out and about in my constituency over the next 6 weeks. Surgeries will be running as usual but if my advertised surgery times are not suitable, please contact my office and we'll be able to offer you an alternative appointment.
Just before Parliament finished for the summer, the Kennel Club launched its annual Westminster Dog of the Year competition. The competition is a bit of fun with a serious point - it gives us MPs the chance to show off our canine companions, but it also serves to highlight a number of serious issues about caring for dogs and keeping them safe and well-looked after.
My border terrier Benjy is a regular visitor to my office, and a favourite with staff, so I decided to enter him, in the spirit of the competition. You can view Benjy's 'page', and vote for him, here.
Yesterday I met with Kate Wimpress, director of North Edinburgh Arts centre, to congratulate them on being awarded funding from Awards for All Scotland for their Let’s Create project, and to discuss the issues facing the wider area. It was also a delight to visit the award-winning community garden and children’s play area, a great space that the centre has worked hard to create.
The centre offers a wide range of activities to the local community. Last year, there were over 30,000 visits to the centre, which is also home to the Licketyspit Theatre Company and the Muirhouse Youth Development Group.
Community areas like this are precious and I continue to support the Centre’s invaluable work as a thriving forum for creativity and local engagement in Muirhouse.
You can find more details of the Centre’s Summer Programme here
Today saw the publication of a second report into a national retailer - this time, it was the joint committee enquiry into the collapse of British Home Stores (BHS) earlier this year.
Members of both the BIS Committee and Parliament's Work and Pensions Committee came together to conduct the enquiry into the series of events which led to the collapse of the company, and in particular, the consequences for the pensions of employees.
The report followed months of evidence gathering, including one session with the former owner, Sir Philip Green, whose off-loading of the company seems to have contributed significantly to its eventual collapse.
Our enquiry concluded that the sale of the firm to Dominic Chappell by Mr Green sealed the company's fate and demonstrated a lack of leadership at the company which has left its employees facing an uncertain future following the closure of all stores last week. This is compunded by Mr Green's failure to resolve the £571m pension deficit, which proved to be a major factor in the demise of BHS.
The demise of BHS - and the issues highlighted in the BIS Report on Sports Direct last week - both serve to demonstrate that there are some serious underlying issues with corporate governance in this country which need to be addressed urgently.
We cannot continue to allow companies to behave in an irresponsible manner which puts the livelihoods of so many at risk and this is something I will continue to look at in the coming months.
The full report is available on the Parliament website.
I was in the Chamber this afternoon for the Ten Minute Rule motion reading by Ruth Cadbury MP of her proposals for a new model for taxation in the UK.
It is fitting that this reading came just a day after Parliament voted to renew Trident. If passed, Ruth Cadbury's bill will give individuals the opportunity to opt out of having their tax contributions being used for the armed forces and defence.
I previously spoke at an event hosted by Conscience, the organisation which has lobbied for this change over the last few years and was happy to lend my support to their campaign. It's a fascinating proposal and one which is particularly timeous given recent votes, and the current difference in public opinion on these issues north and south of the border.
I was very pleased that the motion passed its first reading. The second reading will take place in December, and I look forward to giving the proposals my full support at that stage.
Last week, in advance of today's Parliamentary vote on the topic, I joined a number of my colleagues at a CND protest against renewal of the UK's nuclear deterrent,
Today, I was proud to cast my vote in the chamber against the renewal of Trident.
I have long stood in opposition to nuclear weapons, and earlier this year my feelings on the topic were reinforced when I chaired a session with Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow. You can read my reflections on her presentation here.
Parliament voted in favour of renewal, with 471 MPs supporting the Government's motion on the topic.
I am deeply disappointed by this decision on a number of levels. Firstly, I believed our policy on nuclear weapons is flawed and in direct contravention of globa anti-nuclear proliferation efforts. Secondly, it is becoming clear that public opinion in Scotland is not in favour of harbouring nuclear weapons on the Clyde. Thirdly, it is another demonstration - given that 58 of 59 Scottish MPs voted against renewal - that Scotland is on a very different path to the rest of the UK, and we are once again being forced to play host to a defence system that both the public and MPs oppose.
The Government used the vote as a supposed demonstration of their commitment to the Clyde. However, no sooner had the vote taken place than the Government announced it had no time schedule for the new frigates which they had promised would be built in the Clyde shipyards in the near future. This was another disappointing demonstration of the Government's lack of commitment to ensuring a long-term future for industry on the Clyde.
The Scottish Government's recent decision to uphold the Cammo development within Edinburgh Council's Local Development Plan will no doubt be greatly disappointing to many local residents.
I have long taken the position on the Cammo development that I will support house building in the area only when the Council and the Scottish Government have addressed and responded to the congestion and infrastructure challenges that such a development would create.
There is a chronic shortage of affordable housing in Edinburgh, with the capital facing a current shortfall of over 4,700 homes. Nevertheless, it is vitally important that the Council takes a serious look at the strain this puts on our transport infrastructure. Strategies for alleviating traffic congestion and housing demand should run in tandem with each other, not in opposition. As such I will be looking to work with all relevant parties and local residents involved with the Cammo development to make sure that these issues are fully addressed before any building is undertaken.
Today the Chilcot Report into Britain’s invasion and occupation of Iraq was finally published. The report is incredibly detailed and it is only right that we do not rush to judgement before the report has been read in full and it’s lessons digested.
What I will say is that there are some immediate lines which stand out. Sir John Chilcot today noted that while military action may have been necessary in the end, there was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein and his regime. Many people have argued that with hindsight, the decision to go to war in March 2003 may have been different. Today’s verdict from Sir John Chilcot is confirmation that there is no need for hindsight, the decision to go to war at that time was flawed, something which was eloquently pointed out by many politicians at the time.
This is not the end of parliament’s investigation into this topic. Next week there will be two days of debate in the House of Commons once people have had a chance to look at the report in more depth. So at this moment I would just like to reflect on the words of Reg Keys, the father of twenty year old soldier Thomas Keys who died in Iraq, who said today: “My son died in vain.” Sadly, Reg’s son, and many others like him, along with tens of thousands of Iraqis, have most likely lost their lives in vain and that is something that must not be forgotten.
You can read the report via the Iraq Enquiry website.
I popped along to the Edinburgh North West Foodbank's drop-off centre at the Corstorphine Tesco.
I met with a number of the volunteers who run the drop-off. In the two years that the Foodbank has distributed over 113,000 kilograms of donations to over 11,600 people in Edinburgh.
This is a great example of a fantastic volunteer-run organisation, but it is a chillding reminder of the rising tide of food poverty in the UK. It's a sad testement to the current government's failure to look after the most vulnerable in society, particularly given how foodbank use has increased markedly since 2010. It's unacceptable that we have so many people dependent on foodbanks in this day and age.
To find out more about your local foodbank, including making a donation and getting involved, please visit their website.
Today saw the WASPI campaign come to Westminster to protest about the changes made to the state pension age for women. These changes were introduced by successive governments which failed to communicate the changes clearly to the affected women.
The women have received cross-party support and I have been very willing to add my name to the list of MPs supporting the campaign. I joined the crowd which gathered in Old Palace Yard to make their opposition to the changes known, and was very pleased to meet with my constituent Linda Brown. Linda is one of the many women affected within my constituency, and I was pleased to meet with her and discuss the issues at stake.
The government have refused to change their stance but I will continue to do what I can to work with the campaigners to push for an alternative solution - one that recognises how unfair these changes are for the affected women.
We are now into the final stretch of the European Referendum Campaign. The tone of the resumed campaign following the tragic events of last week is, for the most part, markedly different from what we have witnessed over the last few weeks and months.
As the vote approaches, I have been reflecting on the campaign, and of the standard of many of the well-written and deeply thought provoking articles produced by many of my contemporaries, by the media and by my constituents.
For me, the decision to vote to remain within the EU is one I have arrived at having taken into consideration the pros and cons of the EU, and Scotland's membership of this often flawed, but valuable, organisation.
Some have highlighted a so-called 'democratic deficit' with the EU, complaining it lacks accountability. I simply do not believe this to be the case. Whilst both sides disagree on what percentage of UK laws are affected by EU laws, it is important to remember that the UK holds a veto in many areas, and receives a substantial rebate from the EU each year - nullifying the false claim by the leave campaign that we give £350million per week to the EU.
All political systems have their flaws, and in this the EU is no different. However, I do not accept the argument that there is a lack of accountability or scrutiny within the EU. Firstly, we directly elect our MEPs every five years, giving us a direct voice on the make-up of the UK's contingent within the Parliament. Secondly, the EU has a number of structures in place to ensure that all legislation is carefully scrutinised. Two of the main law-making arms of the EU are comprised of directly elected individuals - the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, which is made up of government ministers from member states. The EU Council (formerly the Council of Ministers) scrutinises the draft legislation produced by the European Commission by negotiating with both the Commission and the actual European Parliament, ensuring a high level of scrutiny and consideration by directly elected officials.
Much has been made by the 'Vote Leave' campaign about the availability of alternative trading markets that would be available to us were we to opt for a Brexit. These markets and trade relationships already exist. The EU does not prevent us expanding these - but leaving the EU will jeopardise the relationships we have within Europe. After all, we are more dependent on Europe for trade than Europe is on us, and the ‘Leave’ campaign have failed to outline how, realistically, we would grow the economy in a Brexit scenario.
Market behaviour over the last few weeks in response to the changing polls has highlighted just how nervous the global economy is about the impact of a Brexit. Most in business have stated that there needs to be development in terms of helping entrepreneurial businesses to grow and fostering new business talent. Again, this is more to do with the culture of business within the UK and there is nothing in our membership of the EU which means we cannot do more to encourage ambition and new approaches in business.
I will not deny that the EU has its flaws. But it is easy to forget that the existence of the EU - and the EC and EEC before it - has done a huge amount to foster peace in Europe and ensure that all members are continually working towards a common goal of economic prosperity and continuing peace.
For me, this is not something to be set aside lightly. We are best placed to engender change and perpetuate prosperity from within the EU. I will be voting to remain on Thursday.
The Business, Innovation and Skills Committee have launched a joint inquiry with the Work and Pensions Committee, to look into the sale and acquisition of BHS as well as issues with its pension fund. There are concerns over the sale of BHS by the Arcadia Group to Retail Acquisitions Limited and questions that need to be answered about the due diligence that took place before the sale.
When BHS recently went into administration, there was a massive £571 million deficit in its pension fund. In this situation there are real concerns over the future of this fund and the possibility exists that people who have worked hard for their entire lives, could lose out on pension benefits that they are entitled to and planned a retirement around.
In the inquiry we have heard from a wide range of witnesses, from Directors of the Arcadia Group to the trustees of the BHS Pension Fund and representatives of some of the organisations involved in brokering the sale. Hopefully we can uncover some answers as to why BHS failed, whether any person or group is to blame and what can be done to improve corporate governance in this country.
Last week in the inquiry into the sale and collapse of BHS, the joint BIS and Work and Pensions Committee heard from Sir Philip Green, the former CEO and husband of the former owner.
I started off the session by asking what key values define Sir Philip and what the BHS pensioners, who stand to lose out on thousands of pounds each, would think of these values. I also quizzed him on the dividend payments that were made by BHS, payments which were a great deal higher than the industry average.
In what was a marathon six hour session, the joint committees gained a great deal of knowledge about the workings of BHS and Arcadia, but left with a host of new questions. We heard that Sir Philip plans to sit down with the Pensions Regulator and work out a solution to the lingering deficit that threatens the futures of thousands of workers in their later years. We also received evidence on Mike Ashley’s attempts to buy BHS, Sir Philip’s thoughts on tax avoidance and insight into why BHS was sold to Dominic Chappell.
Sir Philip himself was a bullish witness, and one who deployed some rather unsual tactics in the committee. He asked one member of the committee to stop staring at him, complained when a clerk kept talking to the chair and told one MP that he looked better with his glasses on. However, none of this could distract from the fact that Sir Philip’s evidence has left us some distance away from being able to definitively answer the questions that this inquiry was set up to look into. More witnesses have been called and the inquiry will continue.
We were honoured to receive a visit in parliament this week from a survivor of one of the most horrific events of the 20th century, the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima. Setsuko Thurlow, aged 84, generously gave us her time this week, to recount the events of that fateful day on the 6th of August, 1945. Hers is a truly harrowing story.
Setsuko was thirteen when the US dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima in Japan. On that day, she had been told to report to the local defence offices with her class mates where they would be taught how to decode military messages.
Today at BIS Committee, we questioned officials from Unite regarding their concerns over employment practices at Sports Direct. They were followed by representatives from the employment agencies used by Sports Direct before finally, after some months of resisting the Committee's request for his appearance, Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley took questions from the Committee.
It was an illuminating session in many ways, and some of the anecdotal evidence presented by the Unite representatives about practices in Sports Direct locations - especially the Shirebrook warehouse - was shocking. I, and my fellow committee members, have pressed for Mr Ashley to engage more pro-actively with Unite to address these concerns directly.
The evidence presented by the employment agencies came from one of the most eye-opening performances I've seen yet at a committee. The representatives did not seem to have a handle on appropriate working practices and it is clear that there are deeply rooted problems, which need to be address urgently. This is especially true in terms of creating an environment where staff feel able to be honest in their feedback to their employers.
Finally, it was the turn of Mr Ashley, who admitted that change was needed and who responded to my questioning with an outright apology regarding practices in use at Sports Direct. In a robust session, Mr Ashley was bullish in his defence of his management of the company, but accepted that there were legitimate questions to be answered on how the company should go forward. The committee have been invited to visit Shirebrook and will consider this invitation.
It is clear from these sessions that there are serious issues around the use of zero hour contracts within large companies, as well as larger questions about corporate governance and accountabilty in big, successful companies and the committee will be considering its approach to these issues in the coming weeks.
You can watch an excerpt from the committee session below. The full session is available on the parliamentlive.tv website.