Another year in Parliament…
It is that time of the year again, when Parliament closes down for recess and MPs get the opportunity to spend more time in the constituency. This year has been a busy one in Parliament, particularly with regards to energy. As you may know, I sit on the Energy and Climate Change select committee, and our big issue this year has been the Energy Bill. The general idea for the Bill – to ensure we have a structured energy plan for the decades ahead – makes sense. But some important bits have been lacking and we have been fighting to get more information on the key details. I have also led some important debates such as one on debt levels of pre-paid meter customers and one on struggling donations for small charities. You can read more about my work in Parliament inside this ‘Bumper’ edition of my newsletter.
This summer, we need to look out for elderly and other people in our community who might be vulnerable to hawkers on the street, asking to do odd jobs in the house and garden. Please do not entertain these people, unless you know who they are, and contact the police or my office (details on the back of the newsletter) if you feel threatened by them. This also applies to cold callers. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
And finally, I would ask that we all try and keep an eye on our neighbours. We have had some extremely hot weather recently, and this can be as dangerous as cold spells in the winter months.
I hope to see you during the recess, so please get in touch if you have any problems or come and say hello if you see me.
Energy Prices, Profits and Poverty
You may remember that the Energy committee recently conducted an inquiry into the energy companies. In July we published the report and we came to some damning conclusions. We agreed that there is a lack of transparency in the energy market, with customers not knowing whether the energy companies are profiteering from them. To make things worse, Ofgem, the energy regulator, is not doing enough to ensure energy companies report their profits properly.
With energy bills being increased above inflation each year, we have a right to demand that these companies show where our money is going. I am deeply concerned that they are making excuses to rip us off more and more each year. I hope our report will force the government to have a proper look into this market.
Last month a constituent, who is a qualified GP, came to me about sales representatives on maternity wards. She was concerned that new mothers are forced into giving out personal details by pushy sales reps, who sell their information onto third parties. These companies are given money by the government to distribute child benefit forms, and so new parents think they have to give out this information to receive payments. The companies also give money to the NHS to have access to the wards.
I agreed with my constituent that this was a predatory practice, and the sales reps should not be given free rein on the wards. I therefore tabled an Early Day Motion condemning the Government’s acceptance of it and called for Ministers forbid sales reps from maternity wards. So far, 66 MPs have signed it, and I hope more will do so.
‘Tory policy is seriously damaging to health’
I am a supporter of putting cigarettes in plain packaging. With the Tories seemingly being lobbied by big tobacco, it is important we keep stressing that this initiative will limit the number of young people who start smoking and ultimately save lives.
GLASGOW NORTH WEST
During the summer recess I will be encouraging people to sign up on the electoral roll, so they can vote in the referendum and the next UK and Scottish Parliament elections. I will also be helping the elderly and those with mobility issues to vote, through helping them to sign up to postal votes, if they want to. I believe that voting is a right that we should not take for granted. We should remember the great sacrifices women in the last century, and even earlier, many men, took to be able to have a say in how the country is run. And we should feel privileged that we all have a say, when people in many countries around the world do not.
Some may be concerned about signing up as in the past, you saved money on the poll tax if you didn’t. Please be assured that this is no longer the case and there is no benefit to not being on the electoral roll.
I recently learnt that there are 21 betting shops in Glasgow North West, containing 77 Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOTBs). These machines are highly addictive, and people can lose an extremely large amount of money very quickly, with £2.9 million lost in them in my constituency alone. I am not unsupportive of the betting industry – bookmakers in my constituency give people much needed jobs, and there is nothing wrong with betting as a whole. But these FOBTs allow those with betting addictions to lose too much too fast and addicts are not given much support in trying to stop. I hope betting shops in the area will consider reducing maximum stakes and helping those who are sadly addicted.
Commonwealth Games 2014
We are now in the year leading up to the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. We are fortunate enough that some of the Games will come to the constituency, with the Squash and Tennis competitions both taking place in Scotstoun Sports Campus. I hope you will get chance to see some of the events, and will also consider volunteering during the Games. I have pressed the Government to share best practice between the organisers of the Olympics, Paralympics and Commonwealth Games so we can make this happen. So, if you are able, please consider volunteering next summer.
MY ROLE AS AN MP
In the Chamber
My job, first and foremost, is to represent my constituents in the House of Commons. There are many ways of doing this. I can speak in debates – such as the recent one I spoke in on postal services in Scotland post-2014. I can also lead debates, such as the one I raised in January on the funding of small charities. Occasionally I am able to introduce a Bill to Parliament. Last September, I introduced a Bill to increase the level of debt at which those on prepay energy meters can switch energy suppliers. This suggestion was adopted by Ofgem and now hundreds of thousands of customers are able to save money.
Outside of the Chamber, I can find out information from the Government and press them to act through Parliamentary Questions. Recently, I have been pressing for information on the amount of money given to energy companies and Internet access in Glasgow. I can also table Early Day Motions (EDMs), which other MPs can sign up to, highlighting an issue. Recently, a constituent highlighted the issue of sales representatives on maternity wards, and around 65 MPs have signed my EDM on this topic.
Energy Select Committee
A key part of my work in Parliament is through sitting on the Energy and Climate Change select committee. I sit as one of the Labour members, but I feel that we are very good at dealing with the tasks at hand, rather than letting party politics slow things down. We work to scrutinise the Government and we do this through going over legislation, such as the Energy Bill, for which we conducted pre-legislative scrutiny. We also conduct inquiries into issues relating to energy. Recently, we undertook one on ‘Energy prices, profits and poverty’, which I organised. We brought energy companies, consumer groups and the Secretary of State to the committee to give evidence. We also began the inquiry in Anniesland College, where people could come along and tell us what they thought. Reports from the committee are published and reviewed by the Government.
All-Party Parliamentary Groups
With the winners of Rock the House Scotland, Pronto Mama, and Jo Dipple from UK Music
I am Co-Chair of the Music Group, having always had a love for music. We discuss issues facing the industry, and recently we held a meeting on the issue of secondary ticketing. This is a problem for musicians and fans alike, and it is clear we need to do more to stop people taking advantage of consumers in the ticket market. My co-chair, Mike Weatherley, also ran an event called ‘Rock the House’, a competition to give unsigned acts the opportunity to get recognition and play in Parliament. I brought the nationwide event to Glasgow, with ‘Rock the House Scotland’. It was an excellent event, but unfortunately, the winners (Pronto Mama) did not go on to win the whole competition.
I Chair the Communications Group, having always had an interest in this issue due to my previous career with BT. We discuss some of the key issues in the sector, and a particular highlight this year was our discussion on the protection of children online. We discussed the dangers of online bullying, abuse and the risk of spending hundreds of pounds over the internet. With a grandson myself, I am all too aware of these problems.
I also Chair the Nuclear Group, due to my firm belief that nuclear energy is our best option in terms of tackling climate change. The industry in fast moving, and our group invites various companies in the industry to provide briefings and information on what is happening. This year we also had the previous Energy Minister address the group, for a discussion on nuclear in the UK’s energy mix.
With management and workers at Hunterston nuclear power station
I am Chair of the Shipbuilding Group in Parliament, as a good number of my constituents are employed in this industry at the Clyde shipyards. We have been lucky to have been awarded the contract for the new Type-26 Frigates and it is important we keep ourselves informed about new developments in this area.
My work on other committees
I sit on the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. The mission of the Assembly is to promote cooperation between political representatives in Britain and Ireland. I sit on the Economic committee and we have recently discussed credit unions, which are popular in Ireland, and I would like to see more of them come to Glasgow.
I also sit on the Parliamentary Assembly of NATO, the military alliance between European countries, the USA and Canada. As elected representatives, we meet to discuss issues relevant to the organisation and influence decisions on Alliance security.
More information on both groups is available at their websites: http://www.nato-pa.int and http://www.britishirish.org/
Chairing a debate in Westminster Hall
I am a member of the Chairman’s Panel and this means that I am often called upon to chair Bill committees, statutory instruments and Westminster Hall debates. This is an important role, in which I am acting on behalf of the Speaker. In these meetings and debates, I must remain neutral and keep any Party or Constituency concerns aside. In fact, I am usually called upon to Chair meetings that do not impact upon Glasgow North West. I must decide who speaks, ensuring both sides are heard fairly, and make sure all members play by the rules.
With Yvette Cooper MP, Shadow Home Secretary
One of my roles in Parliament is the Parliamentary Private Secretary to Yvette Cooper MP, Shadow Home Secretary. My job is to find out what the Party thinks about Labour Party policies and keep our policy relevant to the whole party.
In the Constituency
I hold surgeries in the constituency most weeks (more information available here). These are opportunities for any constituents to come to me to discuss any personal or national issues they have. If you come to a surgery, please bring as much information along with you as possible, so we are able to help you in the best way we can.
Please note that I also make special visits to those constituents who are house bound or who have mobility issues. In these cases, please give the office a call to arrange an appointment.
What else we can do
Constituents are always able to phone my Glasgow office with any issues they may have. Alan or Rachel, working in this office, will take down your details and we will all work together to try and get to the bottom of your problem.
I will also respond to all email and postal correspondence by post. I get many people bringing various issues to my attention and provide a response. Please remember to include your address on all correspondence so I can send out a reply.
If your issue is regarding a UK policy area, I am happy to write to the Minister responsible on your behalf or possibly raise it in Parliament. I cannot, however, deal with issues that come under the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament (good examples of this are education, health and the judiciary) or Glasgow City Council (such as local infrastructure or housing). In these cases I will pass your query onto your MSP or Councillor.
I get hundreds of emails and letters per day, so please be patient for a response.
I spend my time in the constituency knocking on doors and finding out what matters to people. I also attend various events, with local businesses or organisations. I try and visit schools to help young people learn about Parliament. Big employers are also of great concern to me, and I try and visit these often to ensure workers are being treated fairly.
Opening the refurbished Dyke Road Post Office
What do I do in recess?
The media likes to report that ‘MPs have a six week holiday during recess’. But, like many of my colleagues, while I may take a week off, I spend recess working in Glasgow, meeting with constituents, local businesses and organisations, or catching up on some of the paperwork. Recess is probably the best time to catch me up here, so feel free to give the office a call.