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.