Issues

I receive many emails each day seeking my views on a whole range of issues both local and international. 

I thought it may be helpful to provide more information here on topics I'm most regularly contacted about, and post articles I've written.
As an SNP MP you can read more on the party's policy positions here:  https://www.snp.org/policybase

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Issues

25 June 2018

Brexit is a slow motion horror story with Ministers who are supposed to be in charge of the process clearly out of touch with what is going on in their own government and at a loss to know how to address the issues in the negotiations.

Deidre Brock MP

I believe that Scotland would be better off staying in the EU. Short of staying in the EU membership of the customs union and the single market would be in our interests.

 I am saddened by the loss of freedom of movement, particularly for young people getting started in adult life who will lose the right to live, work and study in those other 27 nations and I am disgusted that the rights of UK citizens currently living elsewhere in the EU have been ignored while the UK's Brexit negotiators try to work out what they want and the UK Government tries to agree a position.

 I am more and more convinced that the calculations of the UK Government are around political advantage or survival only rather than what would be advantageous for the people it is supposed to serve. The way in which EU citizens currently resident here have been treated by the UK Government is appalling as well – their interests are being badly served and the recent announcement that they will be required to pay a fee of £65 merely to keep the rights they already have would be a profiteering disgrace from any government.

I am pleased that the Scottish Government has pledged to cover that fee for the EU citizens living here and equally pleased that the Scottish Government has demonstrated that it values the contribution made by EU citizens to our communities.

We supported the Dominic Grieve amendment to the Withdrawal Bill that would have resulted in a vote on the substance of the Brexit deal when we see it (the 'meaningful vote' amendment) but we did not have the required support to get it through – Mr Grieve did not support his own amendment and I will leave him to explain for himself why he decided to vote against it.

The UK Government should be explaining why it did not schedule sufficient time in the debate on the Withdrawal Bill for devolution to be properly discussed. Its programme motion superficially gave three hours for debate but the archaic voting procedures in the House of Commons meant that the time available to debate how Brexit will affect devolution was reduced to just quarter of an hour – all of which was taken up with an empty speech by a Government Minister – the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office rather than the Scottish Secretary.

No MP representing a Scottish constituency, a Welsh constituency or a Northern Ireland constituency had the opportunity to speak. The Government business managers know how the House of Commons works and they can schedule debates in a manner which allows proper scrutiny – they clearly did not want that this time. When Ian Blackford protested this at Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) last week he was ignored and when he pressed a motion that Parliament should meet in private the Speaker ejected him from the chamber. I and my colleagues left PMQs with him.

I later asked the House of Commons Library (impartial researchers) whether any Speaker had ever before refused such a motion and I was told "On every occasion on which the motion has been heard by the Chair for which records are immediately available the question has been put forthwith in accordance with the Standing Order". The Standing Order requires that the Speaker put such a motion forthwith and not defer it. Mr Speaker, on this occasion, decided not to 'hear it' until later.

I share the concerns that people have been expressing about protections for workers' rights, for the environment and for animal welfare provisions – especially considering the comments about red tape coming from Tory MPs – and I am continuing to press on these issues.

 I also have great concerns about food production post Brexit given comments made by Michael Gove about his intended replacement for the Common Agricultural Policy payments which would seem to open up the possibility of those being paid to landowners whose interests do not include producing food.

Regarding the Dubs Amendment, I think it's crucial that the UK's departure from the EU does not lead to any removal of protection for children seeking refugee protection. You have my assurance that my SNP colleagues and I will fully support this principle throughout all stages of the EU Withdrawal Bill.

Brexit is a slow motion horror story with Ministers who are supposed to be in charge of the process clearly out of touch with what is going on in their own government and at a loss to know how to address the issues in the negotiations.

Policy positions change whenever it seems that opinion within the Tory party might not support the current position and there is no agreement on how to move forward. That is no way to run anything and is certainly no way to make such a major change in the geopolitical positioning of any nation, state or region.

I will do what I can to address all of the issues we have in front of us and my SNP colleagues will do likewise, both at Westminster and in Edinburgh. My hopes are not high but my determination is.

My full voting record can be accessed here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/search/MemberContributions?memberId=4417&type=Divisions

05 June 2018

There was a debate in the House of Commons today about abortion in Northern Ireland. In the middle of some people hoping to secure rights to abortion for women in Northern Ireland and some people playing politics with the issue a lot of truth was lost so I thought it worthwhile writing up a few points.

Firstly, today wasn't a debate that could repeal sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 (OAPA). To repeal legislation requires legislation; that means there would need to be a Bill presented to Parliament and debated and then passed and that wasn't on the agenda today. Even if there was a Bill that repealed those sections of that law, though, we wouldn't have legalised or decriminalised abortion in Northern Ireland because section 25 of The Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1945 would still prohibit it. In fact, that Act means that people can go to prison for life for performing an abortion in Northern Ireland but no-one had mentioned that Act before I spoke today nor was anyone suggesting we get rid of it.

The referendum in Ireland didn't change the conditions in Northern Ireland. Nothing has changed for women in Northern Ireland in terms of access to health services except that they now have another geographically close comparison. Nothing has improved for them, more's the pity.

Stella Creasy MP had suggested that repealing the OAPA sections would free up all of the devolved legislatures, including the Scottish Parliament, to make new laws about abortion. It doesn't apply to Scotland, though, our laws are different. Because OAPA doesn't apply to Scotland, of course, no Scottish MP would be able to vote to repeal it – English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) would prevent that – so even if today's vote had been about repealing the legislation and doing what Ms Creasy had suggested no MP representing a Scottish constituency could have voted for or against repeal.

Abortion is, of course, devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly, as it is to the Scottish Parliament and is a matter for the MLAs at Stormont. Stormont hasn't sat since January of last year but there are already proposals to liberalise abortion in Northern Ireland, recommended recently by a working group set up by the Assembly – those proposals could be implemented now. MLAs should get back to work and get on with making good law for Northern Ireland, of course, but the Assembly not sitting doesn't give anyone else the right to jump in and make laws about Northern Ireland without consulting the people of Northern Ireland. Democracy demands that the people have a voice.

Human Rights are also devolved to Northern Ireland and there is a case currently with the UK Supreme Court concerning human rights and the abortion laws in Northern Ireland. There is a Judgment due on Thursday about whether those rights are infringed by those laws.

Watch or read my contribution to the debate here: http://dbrockmp.scot/my-blogs/full-speech-from-northern-ireland-abortion-debate

30 May 2018

Social Bite – the sandwich and coffee chain that has a social conscience underpinning its business model – has always been a bit special. Allowing the pay-it-forward opportunity to its customers so they can pay for food that will go to someone who is homeless is an excellent idea.

Facilitating the generosity of ordinary people and helping those folk who have been down on their luck is inspirational. Employing folk who have had that hard time and giving them the opportunity to rebuild their lives is something special.

Now they're going one step further. The village that's been opened in Granton that will house people escaping homelessness is a model that I hope will be successful.

If it is successful and it's helping people back into settled lives I hope it's copied elsewhere. Giving people a bit of hope and a hand up when they're down on their luck is a contribution to society that should be applauded.

I work in politics where far too often we see people who need a bit of help being put down, characterised as scroungers, told that they are a burden on the state. There are voices on the other side, too, but successive UK Governments have cut benefits, stripped away the support that was available to people in need, and damaged lives all over the place.

To hear some good news like the news from Social Bite is refreshing, to say the least – it actually makes me feel good.

We all should be doing what we can to help people who need it. I know that my job is about that. It's pleasing to see the new Scottish Social Security system will be putting people at the centre of its operations and that there will be a principled stand in favour of social security rather than a stripping of welfare but it's not enough. Too many parts of the welfare state remain in the hands of the UK Government and they'll continue to be cut away as politicians down there play for votes by decrying poor people, disabled people and vulnerable people.

We need to do more to help and we need to get Holyrood supercharged with powers over the welfare state so it can do it. We've got a lot of work to do and there will be many more words spoken and written, lots more debate and plenty more disappointment before we get there so let's hear it for Social Bite.

While us politicians drag the agenda slowly around to where it should all have been and while we try to make a difference, I think we should take some time to thank people who are actually making a difference.

Well done Josh Littlejohn.

09 May 2018

Anybody reading what the UK's Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been writing or listening to what he's been saying might think that he has great plans for the environment. He's talking a good game, praising NFU members for their work to prevent environmental degradation and the work they do against climate change.

No-one seems to be noticing the little lines he's dropping in, though. For decades the EU has paid farmers subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy to help keep food prices low. There has always been disagreements about how the system works and whether it benefits all farmers equally and it has always been changing to adapt but when the UK leaves the EU next year the payments will stop.

Gove is suggesting a new form of payment from the UK Government to landowners. He wants to move the subsidies away from food producers to reward landowners who deliver what he calls "public goods" including "environmental enhancements". What are those? Well, he wants to see some land untilled and trees planted and wildlife encouraged; he wants to see "resilient habitats" and "richer wildlife" where there was once food production. I hope I'm wrong but it sounds to me like he's talking about grouse moors and shooting estates picking up some of the cash which used to go to farmers.

The UK Government has a commitment to maintain the CAP payments, in cash terms, until the next UK general election but no commitment to keep paying the same subsidies for food production. They can take money away from farmers and give it to Lord Bufton Tufton to subsidise his hunting,shooting and fishing business.

That, of course, means that food production is no longer subsidised to the same extent and food prices would go up. Smaller farmers might struggle to survive without the CAP payments they've relied on for so long and it might seem a better option to sell up and move on.

Diversity in farming would be lost - the big farmers, big agribusinesses, would be buying up smaller farms and consolidating their landholdings. Little businesses would go under, family farms would disappear, and massive businesses would rule the countryside.

That would satisfy some of Gove's other stated ambitions. He says he wants to see much more technology and automation in farming – and that's much easier with really big farming businesses. He says he wants to see fewer people employed in agriculture - more machinery and more

technology, more genetic modification and new plant bio-security but fewer people working. All of that is much easier with bigger farms and fewer players in the game.

So food prices go up, small businesses go bust, public money in mthe form of subsidies will be more and more concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer big landowners, and food production will become the preserve of a hegemony. The very rich will get richer off the public purse and richer still by controlling the means of producing food while the poor find that food is no longer affordable. Doesn't sound like the land of opportunity and promise that the Brexiteers promised us, does it?

Here's the thing, though - Gove is responsible for the English system and the devolved administrations are responsible for their own patches. I don't think anyone expects the Scottish Government or the Welsh Government to shaft their farmers in this way - or to make food more expensive for the people they serve. Northern Ireland, of course, is anyone's guess just now with no political leadership in Stormont but Scotland and Wales are fairly safe bets.

So if Scotland controls its own system and Wales does the same, why am I concerned about Gove running off on his merry way? Well, with us being dragged out of the EU and stuck in a union with England that leaves that nation as the elephant in the bed - we're tied far too tightly to what happens down south. Both ends of that elephant are dangerous.

Being cut off from the free trading of the EU will mean that our food producers will find it harder to sell into Europe and our farmers will find it harder to survive. With no or limited access to the cheaper food that's produced in Europe our food prices will rise. Our trade with England and being cut off from the EU will mean that England's food price increase will also affect us.

Brexit has many disadvantages but one of the worst might be that a Government in London chasing an ideological goal could do us massive damage. I don't think that will be their intent, it's just that our interests won't even be part of their calculations. It's going to be a bumpy ride and it's only just getting started.

16 April 2018

In 2014 there was a series of commemorations for the centenary of the start of the First World War. We remembered the sacrifice made by so many; those who would never return home, those who came home broken and those who mourned the loss.

The horrors of the first industrialised war were replayed; we can't ever know what it was really like to be there but we could see the scale of the horror and why so many vowed to make sure it never happened again. It did, of course. The Second World War wreaked havoc across the globe as well and more millions were killed, injured and bereaved.

It's right to remember what happens when nations go to war. It's good for new generations to hear the warnings of previous generations. It's fitting to mark the sacrifices made. Some of the events of 2014 were a bit hubristic but the underlying tone was of remembrance and contemplation.

Throughout 2014 we marked the days of the first year of the First World War, TV documentaries told the story of the battles, the soldiers, the sailors, the people left at home. Radio programmes examined the social effects of the war, newspapers ran special editions, politicians turned up to unveil plaques, public ceremonies marked the past on the face of the present.

It's 2018 now, the centenary of the end of that war. Where are the commemorations of that? Why do we not have a full programme of events to mark the events that led to the peace? There will be some enhancements to the annual commemoration of Armistice Day but not to the same degree as four years ago.

A century ago the battles were still raging, Haig had delivered his Backs to the Wall order and the blood of dead and dying soldiers was still seeping into the mud of the Somme, the carnage still had months to run. That last part of the fighting was no more delicate than the first, it should be remembered just as vividly.

There is a strange balance when we are keen to commemorate the beginning of a war but allow the anniversary of the end of it to slip by almost unremarked. If 2014 was a year to reflect on the events of a century before then surely 2018 is a year to do the same and to mark the peace that came later. The sacrifices and the peace they bought should both be remembered.

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