Parliamentary Update: 21st March 2017
AYRSHIRE GROWTH DEAL
I had the opportunity this month to question the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, David Gauke MP, on what progress the UK Government is making on the Ayrshire Growth Deal. Unfortunately, he was unable to provide any assurances, and seemed to suggest that the Treasury is only interested in City Deals. All four Ayrshire MPs have been doing all we can to secure UK Government backing for these proposals, and in January I wrote to local MSP John Scott to enlist his help in persuading his UK Government colleagues of the merits of the plan. While I have yet to receive a response, I am confident that he will be able to demonstrate the merits of the deal when he meets with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
Ayrshire has the potential to be lead the way when it comes to the regeneration of rural and coastal regions, and support of the Ayrshire Growth Deal would signal a clear commitment to our rural communities. The time has now come for Conservative MSPs in Ayrshire to step up to the plate and to use what influence they have to push for both Ruth Davidson and the Treasury to back the deal.
Full text of the Treasury Questions exchange can be viewed at https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2017-02-28/debates/4AD12DA2-2F86-4CDE-8DC0-1423543E8334/AyrshireGrowthDeal
DOMESTIC ABUSE AND CHILD MAINTENANCE PAYMENTS
It is a disturbing fact the most common violent crime is a result of domestic abuse. A great deal is being done to tackle domestic abuse, but we also need the UK Government to consider the impact of its policies, such as the collection charge on child maintenance payments.
The ‘Collect-and-Pay’ service helps parents who have left an abusive relationship by anonymising payments, but that is undermined when there is a 4% charge associated with it. Parents can use the less safe ‘Direct-Pay’ scheme, which has no powers of enforcement and allows continued communication between couples through bank transfers.
Financial control over their victim is a very common form of abuse and this cruel and callous policy enables that abuse to continue. It is my belief that the UK government must look again at this unfair tax and listen to the cross-party calls to scrap it as, ultimately, it will be the children that child maintenance payments are intended to support who will lose out. The campaign to have the policy changed has the support of One Parent Family Scotland, the White Ribbon Campaign and Scottish Women’s Aid, who have all welcomed a petition on the issue. The petition can be found at: www.domesticabusevictimtax.co.uk
PERSONAL INDEPENDENCE PAYMENTS
The Department for Work and Pensions was told to expand the eligibility for Personal Independence Payments following two tribunal rulings at the end of last year, but UK Ministers have introduced emergency legislation to tighten the rules and block support for thousands of disabled people - including many who suffer from mental health conditions.
I have written to Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green calling for him to consider the weight of opposition to the changes and the devastating impact this change will have on the lives of so many people across the country. I have also raised the issue directly at Urgent Questions.
The UK Government has already made deep cuts to the social security budget and promised there would be no more during this Parliament, and these changes will exclude vast numbers of disabled people from vital financial assistance. The move also sends a dangerous message to the public that people suffering from mental health conditions are somehow less worthy of support than those with physical disabilities.
You can read a transcript of my Urgent Questions at: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2017-02-28/debates/1BC73580-FC7B-4DDA-9B66-B47A33894733/PersonalIndependencePayments#contribution-0CFFC1D0-3A99-43EC-AD04-FBA2232C409E and https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2017-03-15/debates/80B9AA23-3A81-4AB4-9499-430E69513F53/PersonalIndependencePayments#contribution-9C255793-6A71-4424-8EFF-F55079FE8D75
I have also written a blog on the issue, which can be found at: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/corri-wilson-mp/personal-independence-payments_b_15065634.html
I was pleased to welcome a group of international travel buyers from China to Burns Cottage this month. VisitBritain, in partnership with VisitScotland, brought a delegation of buyers from China to Scotland to show them the great range of tourism products that Scotland has to offer and to give them the opportunity to meet with local tourism businesses. This included a number of attractions in Ayrshire.
I was delighted to take the opportunity to promote Ayrshire as a tourist destination. We have so much to offer international travelers, and they bring valuable business to the area. Burns Cottage offers a unique insight into not just the poetry of our National Bard, but also life for people in 18th Century rural Scotland, and is a great example of the value Ayrshire can bring to the visitor experience.
Our guests thoroughly enjoyed their visit, and thankfully the weather was with us. I am pleased that the delegates left with a positive impression of what Ayrshire can offer their customers.
I met with campaigners from Ayrshire’s Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) group in Westminster last week to lend my support to their fight against the UK Government’s changes to the state pension age. I was also pleased to join the thousands of protestors from across the UK who had gathered outside the Houses of Parliament to voice their opposition to the move.
The UK Government has accelerated the process of equalisation of pension ages for men and women, which means that women born in the 1950s have lost thousands of pounds in pension payments without having sufficient time to plan for the changes. These women have a right to be angry – they have worked hard for decades and have paid their fair share into the pot. The Government must now honour that and recognise that pensions are not a privilege but an entitlement.
We know that the Government has the money in the National Insurance Fund to help these women, and ensure they get what they are entitled to. Indeed the Chancellor claimed recently that the economy was booming. If that really is the case, the Government should do the right thing and scrap these changes immediately.
As expected, the bill to allow the Prime Minister to invoke Article 50 has now passed through the legislative process and become an Act. While the House the Lords attempted to amend it, in relation to guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens currently living in the UK and ensuring that Parliament would have the opportunity to debate the final deal we get from the EU, these changes were rejected. Theresa May is expected to invoke Article 50 next Wednesday, which will give the Government two years to agree the terms of leaving the European Union.
The Prime Minister promised last year that she would not trigger Article 50 until she had an agreed ‘UK-wide approach’. The Scottish Government has done all they can to ensure a compromise deal that accommodated the needs and concerns of the Scottish people, but every attempt to temper the Tories’ hard Brexit approach has fallen on deaf ears.
I believe that this disregard for Scotland gives us no choice but to hold a referendum in which the people of Scotland can decide the future of our country. The UK that many people voted for in 2014 is no longer the same country as it was then. In the face of UKIP-lite governments until at least 2030 and being hauled out of Europe and the Single Market, it is only right that the people of Scotland be given the opportunity to discuss what kind of country we want to be.
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 me as an MP, the Scottish Government, or the SNP, but will be decided by the people of Scotland and I believe that is incredibly important.
I was delighted to host a roundtable discussion on the future of lion conservation this month. I have been involved with the organisation Lionaid in assisting their campaign to highlight the plight of this endangered species.
As the UK prepares to leave the EU, we need to ensure that the rules governing imports of endangered species and their parts into the UK are not diminished and are in fact strengthened from the current EU position. To date, the Government has been active in attempting to prevent the illegal trade of wildlife products but less so to address the destructive role that the legal trade is still having on species like lions.
With an estimated 15,000 wild lions left now on the entire African continent (which makes lions the most endangered species for which we allow trophy imports) and only 5 future viable populations, there is not a moment to lose.
I was also pleased to meet with the Industrial Communities Alliance to discuss issues around de-industrialisation of mining and other Scottish communities, the Government’ s Industrial Strategy Green Paper, and the way forward for communities left behind.
While I welcome the long overdue publication of an Industrial Strategy, the measures set out in the document do not come close to overcoming the long-term uncertainty posed by the hard Tory Brexit. For example, despite repeated letters from SNP Scottish Government Ministers and the SNP Westminster Spokesperson for BEIS calling a comprehensive strategy to be put in place to allow a transition to a low carbon economy, the paper fails to provide a forward strategy for the future of renewables, which face a 95% drop in investment between 2017 and 2020.