Parliamentary Update: 10th December 2015
I was extremely disappointed at the outcome of the Parliament vote which authorised UK airstrikes in Syria. The ten hour debate was tense and sometimes heated and, despite 57 of Scotland’s 59 MPs voting against the action, airstrikes were approved by 397 votes to 223.
I would like to thank the many constituents who got in touch with me on this issue, the vast majority of whom were opposed to the action. It is unfortunate that, despite us still waiting, after many years, on the outcome of the Chilcot Inquiry, we do not appear to have learned the lessons of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. The House of Commons have voted to give the green light for military action without any comprehensive plan for peace and reconstruction.
A petition supporting the SNP’s position on this issue has received almost 100,000 signatures since the vote and, if you wish to add your name, you can sign it at http://www.snp.org/dont-bomb-syria.
Trade Union Bill
I am pleased to see that the International Labour Office (ILO), a specialised agency of the United Nations who promote rights at work, encourage decent employment opportunities, enhance social protection and strengthen dialogue on work-related issues, have confirmed that they are investigating whether the Conservative Government’s proposed changes to the right to strike are compatible with ratified ILO conventions.
My colleague Alyn Smith MEP wrote to the Director-General of the ILO raising concerns about the proposals and received a response confirming they are looking into the issue and will report their findings in the New Year. This is clearly welcome news as it is my belief that this Bill is nothing less than an attack of the rights of workers, restricts the ability of the unions to organise within the workplace and hampers the ability of devolved administrations, local authorities and other public bodies to determine their own industrial relations.
Toys for Christmas
I have been delighted by the response to my appeal for toys, books and other small gifts for children from struggling families. More than one in four children growing up in Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock are living in poverty, with this figure rising to on in three in some areas, and this initiative will go a small way to making Christmas a little more joyful for these kids. All the toys collected have now been passed on to South Ayrshire Foodbank and Ayrshire (East) Foodbank for distribution across the constituency.
While we have stopped collecting for this appeal, it is worth noting that both food banks will still be welcoming donations of food in the run up to Christmas and beyond. Please click on the links above for details of where you can donate.
The issue of nuisance calls is one that is never out of my mailbox so I was pleased to find that the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is writing to over 1,000 companies known to be in the business of selling personal data to demand information of their transactions and compliance processes.
The move forms part of a clamp-down on the practice of unsolicited cold calling, and follows a number of significant fines issued to companies falling foul of the rules. I’m delighted to see a tougher stance being taken as these calls are a blight to many, particularly the elderly and more vulnerable.
Nuisance calls can only be effectively tackled at Westminster and SNP MPs have been vocal on the issue, calling on the UK Government to take firmer action to stamp out the practice. I will continue to put pressure on the Government but, in the meantime I am glad to see the issue continuing to be taken seriously by the watchdog.
I was dismayed to hear Government Minister Priti Patel attempt to justify benefit sanctions as being helpful to claimants in a debate I attended and spoke on in Westminster. In my experience working within the Department of Work and Pensions, as well as my work on the recent Welfare Reform and Work Bill Committee, I am confident in saying they are linked to poverty, homelessness, debt, stress and mental health deterioration.
It is widely accepted that sanctions have a negative impact on people and our society. Recent studies suggest that the Government’s introduction of sanctions on JSA claimants has led to a significant rise in the number of people leaving unemployment benefits, with almost half of all those sanctioned leaving the system. But less than one in five of these people are recorded as having found employment. Despite this, there has been no comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of sanctioning, looking not just in narrow terms of unemployment benefits, but at the bigger picture of health, homelessness and other social costs.
People do not need a brutal sanctions regime; they need a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. People do not want to be on benefits. They want to be safe, to have a roof over their head and food in their belly, and to have some money in their pocket to spend. We need to get back to supporting people into employment, addressing the barriers to that, and allowing staff to do their jobs in building positive relationships between the DWP adviser and the claimant, with the adviser having the autonomy and resources to address barriers to work.
The full text of my speech on this issue can be found here.