MP calls for enhanced status for Scots Gaelic

Alison Thewliss MP sitting at her desk in Parliament

Alison Thewliss, SNP MP for Glasgow Central, has called on the UK Government to ensure that regional and minority languages, including Scots Gaelic, are given enhanced status in the UK Government’s approach to the Brexit negotiations.

The European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages currently confers protection to Irish, Scots Gaelic, Cornish and Welsh languages and encourages the promotion of these languages in educational and cultural contexts. The UK signed and ratified the treaty in 2001, but the UK Government have so far failed to commit to retain the protections conferred by the Charter post-Brexit, and imbalances remain in the classification of languages that have protected status in UK public bodies which deal with reserved issues across the whole of the UK.

Ms Thewliss has written to the Secretary of State for Culture, Karen Bradley MP, asking the Government to bring forward legislation to guarantee the status of all languages that are currently protected by the Charter and to ensure that Irish, Scots Gaelic and Cornish are given the same status as English and Welsh by public bodies who deal with matters reserved to Westminster.

Commenting, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“Scots Gaelic and other languages play an important role in the UK’s cultural and national life. I am fortunate to be the constituency MP for Glasgow’s two Gaelic Schools and I know from speaking to parents that there is increasing demand for these languages to be part of the educational and cultural life of the UK.

“With Brexit negotiations starting to take shape, there is a very real risk that the cultural diversity of the UK could be watered down by the loss of these significant protections through the automatic withdrawal from Treaty obligations that would occur when the UK leaves the EU.

“Significant imbalances already exist in the promotion of regional and minority languages in the UK. Although the Scottish Government has made significant progress in promoting the Gaelic language in devolved areas, UK public bodies are under no obligation to use the language when contacted by members of the public who use it. Far more needs to be done to ensure that these languages are treated equally by bodies which deal with reserved matters.

“As a minority government which depends on the votes of MPs from across the UK, there is a real opportunity for the UK Government to celebrate the rich cultural heritage of the UK’s nations and ensure that this heritage is preserved in the Brexit process. I hope the UK Government will recognise the need for all the devolved nations to be involved in the negotiation process and guarantee the protected status of these languages now.”

Campaigning MP: Tories must scrap cruel benefits cap

Alison Thewliss MP sitting at her desk in Parliament

Alison Thewliss, MP for Glasgow Central, has today called on the Tory Government to scrap its cruel and unfair household benefits cap, after a High Court judgement ruled that the cap was causing severe hardship to single parent families.

In a damning judgement on the cap, which restricts income obtained from benefits to £20,000 for households in Scotland, Mr Justice Collins stated that “real misery is being caused to no good purpose” in the ongoing implementation of the benefit cap. The judgement ruled that the cap should not apply to single parents with children under two, who would find it “impossible” to obtain exemption from the cap.

Following the announcement of the decision by the High Court, Ms Thewliss is now calling on the Tory Government to drop their appeal and scrap the benefit cap entirely.

Speaking after today’s decision by the court, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“Today’s judgement is yet another damning indictment on the Tories’ cruel and callous approach to reforming social security.

“It’s clear from the judgement handed down today that the Tories’ reforms are causing untold misery and plunging thousands hard-working families into poverty. Far from helping those just about managing families that Theresa May is so fond of talking about, Tory policies are hurting families deeply.

“It’s high time that Theresa May and the Tories recognised the real and serious damage that they are inflicting on families across Scotland. If they are truly serious about helping families that are just about making ends meet, they should honour today’s decision and ditch the unfair restrictions on benefits immediately.”

Two child policy and rape clause comes into force

A two child limit and rape clause for tax credits came into force today, which a campaigning MP says will unleash untold chaos and poverty for ‘just about managing families’ and rape survivors.

In July 2015, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced in his summer budget plans to slash child tax credit payments to just two children per family and implement a ‘non-consensual sex exemption’, dubbed the rape clause.

The new policy, which came into force at midnight last night, requires tax credit claimants, whose third or subsequent child was conceived as a result of rape, to prove this to social workers and health professionals in order to qualify for the exemption.

Faith leaders, women’s welfare groups, trade unions and child poverty campaigners have all condemned the policy, with many sexual violence support charities refusing to act as third party verifiers for the Government.

Alison Thewliss MP – who first uncovered the policy – said:

“Today the UK government stooped to a new low, even by their austerity obsessed standards. Minister are now unleashing untold chaos and poverty for some of the most vulnerable women and families in this country – indeed, the very “just about managing” families Theresa May spoke about upon taking office as Prime Minister.

“As of midnight last night, a two child limit on child tax credits and universal credit – which is tantamount to social engineering – came into force. It largely penalises families who are already in work, so this has very little to do with reducing the welfare bill but is, instead, an ideological attack on the lowest earning families in our society.

“Independent analysis shows that the two child limit alone will mean a loss of up to £2,800 every year per child for hardworking families. If you had a third child at 11.59pm last night, over the next 18 years you could be £50,000 better off than a family whose third child was born a minute later.

“Analysis also shows that well over 200,000 children will now move into relative poverty as a result of this deeply flawed two child limit. We should be reducing child poverty, not adding hundreds of thousands more to this miserable statistic.

“What’s most horrifying is the rape clause, which is a vile policy in total chaos. Ministers are willing to give an exemption to those women whose third child was conceived as a result of rape, but they want them to prove this in a traumatic assessment from healthcare professionals and social workers. This is utterly appalling and will only seek to make rape survivors relive the trauma and brutality of the sexual violence they experienced at the hands of their perpetrator. It must be one of the most inhumane and barbaric policies ever to emanate from Whitehall.

“The rape clause has been found, even today, as being totally unworkable, with wholly inadequate guidance sneaked out during the night. There has been no proper sexual violence awareness training for healthcare professionals and social workers who’ve been asked to arbitrate on whether a woman’s child was conceived as a result of rape.

Ministers have ducked and dived at every turn to try and avoid talking about this policy, presumably because they know it’s so unpalatable. The UK government railroaded this through Parliament using a statutory instrument which meant MPs couldn’t vote upon or debate it. It’s all well and good that the UK government has now conceded that this will need to be referred to a Delegated Legislation Committee when Parliament returns after the Easter recess. However, the fact remains, the policy is now live and will cause untold distress. The UK government must step in today and suspend this right now before serious damage is done.”

SNP politicians welcome rejection of city centre student accommodation proposal

Angus Millar, SNP Councillor for Anderston/City ward and Alison Thewliss, SNP MP for Glasgow Central, have today welcomed the decision by Glasgow City Councillors to reject a student accommodation development in Glasgow city centre.

Ms Thewliss and Cllr Millar, along with many other local residents and organisations, objected to the proposals to build a large student accommodation complex directly in front of Glasgow School of Art’s iconic Mackintosh building. A decision on the application was originally deferred on 7th March to allow a further hearing to take place and enable residents to voice further concerns about the proposed development.

Following the hearing this morning, councillors decided to reject the application entirely.

Commenting on the committee’s decision, Cllr Angus Millar said:

“I am delighted that this application has been refused, having attended the hearing this morning to argue against these proposals, which were overwhelmingly opposed by the community.

“The Mackintosh Building is a unique part of Glasgow’s cultural heritage and any development on this site must respect and enhance the character of the area – unlike these deeply damaging plans to throw up yet more private student accommodation.

“Communities in the city centre are all too clear that their areas are saturated with unwanted private student housing, instead of the kind of positive development and mixed communities we should be creating.

“I am so pleased to congratulate the Garnethill community, the Art School and all of the others opposed to these damaging plans for their brilliant success in persuading the council to refuse planning permission.

Commenting on the application, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“Like many others, I was pleased to learn today that yet another monolithic student development, which would dwarf an iconic part of Glasgow’s skyline, has been refused planning permission.

“The decision to reject this application is very much welcome. I am delighted that councillors have taken on board the views of residents at today’s hearing, which further exposed the folly of these plans and highlighted the significant misgivings the local community have about this wholly inappropriate development.

“Whilst today’s decision is excellent news for many residents, it’s clear that significant concerns remain about the saturation of student accommodation in the city centre. Currently there is no means of establishing the need for this type of accommodation, this must be addressed urgently through a comprehensive housing strategy.

“The SNP understands that Glasgow needs a mixed approach to housing; voting for SNP councillors on 4th May will deliver the high quality housing Glasgow needs for future generations to come.”

Campaigning MP welcomes Lords’ condemnation of rape clause

Alison Thewliss MP joins supporters at the launch of her campaign to scrap the rape clause

Campaigning MP, Alison Thewliss, has today welcomed the publication of a House of Lords’ Delegated Legislation Committee report which raises serious concerns about the UK Government’s two child policy and rape clause.

The Committee has called for the Regulations, which are due to be enacted in under a week, to be examined again by the House of Commons. According to the report, the Committee have “cast doubt as to whether the system will be fully set up by 6 April, when the legislation takes effect, and on whether the exception relating to non-consensual conception can ever be made to work.”

Members of the Committee have also rounded on the DWP’s inadequate provision of training for the rape clause third party reporting mechanism, saying that the DWP “takes no account of the training that may be necessary for the assessors eventually chosen.”

This shocking criticism highlights the poor preparations that Tory Ministers have put in place for the policy, with no training offered for the hundreds of thousands of nurses, doctors and social workers who will be expected to judge whether or not a woman’s child has been conceived as a result of rape.

Commenting on the report, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“With just days left until the two child policy and rape clause comes into force, the House of Lords’ Delegated Legislation Committee have highlighted a raft of serious flaws that are embedded within this pernicious and medieval policy.

“The cruelty of expecting benefit claimants to have to re-live the ordeal of a rape in order to access their benefits to help pay the bills and feed their family is undeniable. This report could not be any clearer – Tory Ministers’ plans for the two child policy and rape clause will not work, forcing vulnerable women to relive the ordeal of rape just to claim a benefit.

“With time ticking away, Ministers must now wake up to the warnings that the two child policy and rape clause are ill-thought-out and that they will cause unbearable hardship to families. It’s not too late for the UK Government to change tack and ditch this unworkable and medieval policy and I urge Ministers to do so now.”

Rubbish response from UK Government on post-Brexit waste and recycling policy

Two SNP MPs have criticised the UK Government’s lackadaisical attitude towards waste and recycling policy, as the UK today formally started the process of leaving the European Union.

SNP duo, Alison Thewliss and Calum Kerr have rounded on Tory Ministers, following a letter from Secretary of State, Sajid Javid. They say the Government was left “floundering” to explain which policies UK Councils will be expected to implement regarding waste and recycling after Britain leaves the EU.

SNP Local Government spokesperson, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“All 400 Councils across these islands have been working hard over many years to reduce waste and ensure that we send as little as possible to landfill. This has been good for our environment, and has transformed the way we deal with our resources. Our current EU membership provides local councils with clear guidance when it comes to important waste and recycling policies, yet all of this could soon be thrown on the Great Repeal Bill bonfire.

“Not for the first time, the rubbish response from the Secretary of State shows that this Government is absolutely floundering when it comes to the real detail of Brexit. Ministers obviously don’t have a clue what Councils will be asked to do, which has an impact on the decisions local authorities are making now about future investment in waste and recycling services.

“At the moment, the UK generates over 200 million tonnes of waste every year and we need to be doing more – much more – to reduce that figure if we’re to leave a better environment for the generations to come after us. Local authorities need more detail so they can plan for the future, not the usual recycled Brexit soundbites from the UK Government.

The SNP’s spokesperson on Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Calum Kerr MP said:

“Across all departments and at all levels of government, Brexit is sowing confusion. We recently learned from DEFRA that their long awaited 25 year plan for the environment has been shelved until after the UK leaves the EU. Yet a long-term strategic vision on environmental issues is more vital than ever.

“The EU has led the way in promoting the circular economy and setting ambitious waste reduction targets. This isn’t just red-tape: we know that prior to joining the ECC, Britain was known as the “dirty man of Europe”; there can be no return to that state of affairs.

“The refusal of the UK government to offer clarity and reassurance on the question of waste and recycling is yet another indication that it is prepared to pursue a reckless Brexit at any cost, with no plan for what comes next.”

MP plea to UK Ministers on Yemen humanitarian crisis

A campaigning MP has issued a plea to UK Ministers to act without delay and stop Yemen from descending into further chaos and crisis as it teeters on the brink of famine.

Co-leading a House of Commons debate on the second anniversary of the Yemen civil war, Alison Thewliss – MP for Glasgow Central – called upon UK Ministers to intervene and ensure humanitarian aid gets into the country.

Thewliss, who is an Officer of the Parliament’s APPG on Yemen, said that the situation in Yemen is incredibly precarious, with 1.2 million public sector workers unpaid since September 2016. In addition, 3 million people have been displaced and 7 million Yemenis are on the brink of starvation.

Ms Thewliss’ speech focussed on the need for opening up access for humanitarian aid and food imports, which is being hampered by both parties to the conflict. She called on Ministers to secure the port of Hodeida, which has been bombarded by Saudi air strikes. On a practical level, she asked Ministers to help get cranes installed which would speed up the importing of much needed food.

Commenting, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“Yemen is in dire straits. Acute and severe malnutrition is resulting in innocent children dying needlessly. There have been a suspected 22,000 cholera cases in the last six months and, heartbreakingly, 63,000 children died in 2016 from preventable causes linked to malnutrition. This is a political decision; blockades by the Saudi-led coalition are preventing and delaying aid agencies from getting food into the region. Military action

“The UK talks a good game when it comes to international aid for Yemen and it’s right to say that £85 million has been given in the last year. The UK Government is less keen to trumpet its revenue from Saudi Arms, with 143 licences granted at an eye watering value of £3.3bn. These arms are causing deaths, injuries and destruction of vital infrastructure in the port of Hodeida.

“Yemen has been debated many times in Parliament. The time for talk is over – we need firm action now to help some of the most vulnerable people and children on the face of the planet who are seeking shelter every day from the British-made bombs being dropped on them by Saudi Arabia.

“Without an immediate ceasefire and a political settlement, Yemen’s people will continue to be starved in a man-made and preventable famine. The UK Government must act for peace in Yemen.”

Westminster inquiry into infant feeding policy

An inquiry into infant feeding policy has been launched by a parliamentary group of MPs in Westminster.

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Infant Feeding & Inequalities today opened the call for evidence on its wide-ranging inquiry into infant feeding policy. As well as focussing on the challenges around bottle feeding, the inquiry will examine why the UK has the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world.

The inquiry which, upon conclusion, will make recommendations to policy makers and Government also plans to hold oral evidence hearings in all four nations of the United Kingdom.

The terms of reference for the inquiry include:

• Exploring both the positive and negative aspects of breastfeeding support currently in place in the NHS and voluntary sector
• Exploring the impact of current gaps in service provision for advice of breastfeeding and bottle feeding
• Establishing the extent of UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative accreditation
• Collating data on breastfeeding rates and staff support roles in all NHS authorities
• Conducting an audit of infant feeding data retention levels in each of the Governments of the four nations of the UK
• Examining current service provision for phone/online breastfeeding advice services

Speaking after launching the inquiry in London’s Parliament Square, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“For too long, infant feeding policy has been at the bottom of Ministers and civil servants’ in trays. This was demonstrated recently when the Government’s obesity strategy didn’t even reference infant feeding, despite it being a factor in future health.

“The UK has the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world, even though we know more mums would wish to breastfeed; there’s clearly an issue which needs to be addressed. In addition, feedback on my recent Formula Marketing Bill suggests there’s a real lack of impartial information and support available for those bottle feeding and I would welcome views on this.

“With ever increasing cuts to budgets, it’s been suggested that peer support funding for breastfeeding has been disproportionately slashed, so we’re also keen to look into this more and identify the gaps in service provision. Equally, though, there are a number of groups out there – albeit under pressure – doing some really innovative things to try and support families and babies.

“In taking this inquiry out of Westminster and holding evidence sessions around the UK, I am very much looking forward to hearing people’s views and collating them into a substantive report for the Government to implement.”

The deadline for written submissions to the inquiry is 9am on Monday 12th June 2017. More information is available through the APPG’s website.

Rape clause emergency debate application turned down

Alison Thewliss MP joins supporters at the launch of her campaign to scrap the rape clause

SNP MP, Alison Thewliss, has expressed her frustration at the decision of the Speaker of the House of Commons to reject her application for an emergency debate on the UK Government’s proposed rape clause, due to come into force on Thursday 6th April 2017.

Speaking from Westminster after invoking Standing Order 24 and calling for an emergency debate – which was rejected – Ms Thewliss said she would not give up the fight to protect vulnerable women and families. Tory Ministers last week quietly used a negative statutory instrument to try and railroad the rape clause onto the statute books without a parliamentary debate or vote.

The Government has stated that it will expect nurses, doctors and social workers to act as third party arbitrators. This means that public service workers will have to judge whether or not a child has been conceived as a result of rape, simply in order for a woman to be exempt from the two child policy. Recent parliamentary answers given to Alison Thewliss MP suggest that the over 660,000 nurses, doctors and social workers in the UK have not been given adequate sexual violence awareness training to exercise the exemption.

Commenting after Mr Speaker rejected her application, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“For 18 months, I’ve pursued this Tory Government relentlessly on its plan to introduce a pernicious two child policy and medieval rape clause. Today’s decision not to allow the emergency debate is incredibly frustrating, but I won’t just give up.

“In determining that my application did not merit an emergency debate, the Speaker noted that I had tabled an arcane motion of prayer to annul the law – indeed, at the advice of Commons clerks. What the Speaker did not say was that the last time such a motion of prayer worked was in 1979. This is just one example of the many ways in which the procedures of the House of Commons are so arcane, irrelevant and medieval that it fails the people we, as MPs, seek to represent.

“The clock is ticking; the rape clause is due to come into force in the next couple of weeks but I’ll keep on working to make this Government think again.”

MP to invoke rare Standing Order for emergency Commons debate

Alison Thewliss MP joins supporters at the launch of her campaign to scrap the rape clause

An MP will invoke a rarely used Standing Order in the House of Commons today (Monday), with a view to forcing an emergency parliamentary debate on the UK Government’s “chaotic” two child policy and rape clause – due to come into force in just 18 days. Ministers want to limit payment of tax credits two children per family. The Government has designed an exemption to the policy for rape survivors, dubbed ‘the rape clause’, which will mean rape victims will need to prove their child was born as a result of sexual violence in order to qualify for tax credits.

Tory Ministers last week quietly used a negative statutory instrument to try and railroad the rape clause onto the statute books without a parliamentary debate or vote.

The Government has stated that it will expect nurses, doctors and social workers to act as third party arbitrators. This means that public service workers will have to judge whether or not a child has been conceived as a result of rape, simply in order for a woman to be exempt from the two child policy.

Recent parliamentary answers given to Alison Thewliss MP suggest that the over 660,000 nurses, doctors and social workers in the UK have not been given adequate sexual violence awareness training to exercise the exemption.

Alison Thewliss is today invoking the House of Commons Standing Order 24 in a bid to force the issue onto the floor of the House. She has written to the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, indicating her application for a 3 hour emergency debate. Under the provisions of Standing Order 24, the Speaker will have to make a ruling on Ms Thewliss’ application from the chair today (Monday).

Alison Thewliss MP said:

“With just days until this policy comes into force, this Government is about to unleash utter chaos and untold distress in the public service. This will be in addition to the trauma that rape victims will need endure as they recount and relive the brutal sexual violence they experienced.

“As it currently stands, doctors, nurses and social workers are going to be asking survivors of sexual abuse to prove they were raped in order to receive tax credits. They’ve been given no guidance, no training and no advice as to how this should be done. That is truly frightening.

“By invoking Standing Order 24 today, I am pleading with the Speaker to grant an emergency debate on the floor of the House, so we can shine a very bright light on the horror that is about to unfold for rape victims.

“At every turn, this Government has ducked and dived, they’ve used every trick in the book to sneak this policy through without debate. In light of the issue around lack of training and guidance on this serious matter, I am hopeful that the Speaker will grant this urgent debate.”