MP slams UK Government over delays for museum funding

Alison Thewliss MP sitting at her desk in Parliament

Alison Thewliss, SNP MP for Glasgow Central, has today that museums across the UK are losing out on thousands of pounds of funding due to delays in processing VAT refunds by the UK Government.

The VAT (Refund of Tax to Museums and Galleries) (Amendment) Order 2017, which provides for VAT refunds for musems and art galleries, was first announced in the 2016 Spring Budget. Over a year later, and despite Parliament sitting for over 5 weeks since the election, the legislation has still not been enacted by Parliament.

At Business Questions, Ms Thewliss called on Government Ministers today to bring the VAT relief scheme into operation as soon as possible. A motion has also been tabled, signed by MPs from across the House of Commons with affected museums in their constituencies, to call on the UK Government to put the draft law on the statute book immediately.

Speaking after Business Questions, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“Museums and art galleries across Scotland and the UK have unique and specialist collections which enrich our culture and heritage. With incomes for culture and the arts facing swingeing cuts from the UK Government, the VAT relief scheme is increasingly important to allow museums to devote more resources to educating and informing the public.

“The weakness of the UK Government is clear for all to see – not only have they had to ditch many planned Bills following the Prime Minister’s botched election gamble, it now transpires that they are unable to get simple, uncontroversial statutory instruments through Parliament quickly.

“Museums and art galleries across the UK are suffering from the dithering at the heart of Theresa May’s weak and wobbly Government. The Government must act now to honour the applications made for VAT refunds and provide certainty for hard-pressed museums and art galleries across the UK.”

Local MP slams callous decision to close Bridgeton JobCentre

Alison Thewliss MP sitting at her desk in Parliament

Alison Thewliss, MP for Glasgow Central, has condemned today’s (Thursday) decision by the UK Government’s to close Bridgeton JobCentre, leaving only one JobCentre office in the East End of Glasgow.

The UK Government published a statement confirming that Bridgeton JobCentre, along with 6 other JobCentres in Glasgow, will be closed from 31st March 2018. The statement was released shortly after the responses to the Government’s consultation on the closure of the JobCentre were published, which demonstrated significant opposition to the closure proposals. 64% of the responses expressed concerns that local services in Bridgeton would suffer as a result of closing Bridgeton JobCentre and that jobseekers would find it more difficult to make ends meet due to increased travel costs to other JobCentres.

Glasgow has been targeted disproportionate cuts to DWP offices, with over 50% of the DWP estate, including JobCentres and support offices, earmarked for closure by the UK Government. Local Jobseekers will now need to travel over three miles to attend appointments at Shettleston JobCentre – something that 79% of consultation responses highlighted as a concern in their submissions to the Government’s own consultation.

The decision will also put considerable pressure on JobCentre staff – the full extent of which is unclear as Ministers have previously admitted, in responses to written questions tabled by Ms Thewliss, that they do not know how many people currently use Bridgeton JobCentre.

Commenting on the decision, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“The UK Government’s decision to close Bridgeton JobCentre is yet another slap in the face to the East End of Glasgow. For constituents who are already struggling, paying bus fares to get to mandatory JobCentre appointments will be an extra burden. Increased travel times will also put people at increased risk of falling foul of the Tories’ brutal sanctions regime.

“Ministers have admitted that they have no idea how many people rely on Bridgeton JobCentre, and not a single Minister visited Bridgeton JobCentre before the decision was taken to close it. Now they have decided to ignore the results of the consultation and sneak out a written statement on the closures, denying MPs an opportunity to hold Ministers to account in Parliament.

“Today’s callous decision shows that the Tories will continue to treat the people of Glasgow with contempt. I will be making every effort to bring Ministers to the despatch box to account for this poorly thought out and ill-informed decision and explain why they have not listened to the overwhelming evidence presented in their own consultation.”

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 to the decision and abolish 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 of hard-working families into poverty. Far from helping those just about managing families that Theresa May is so fond of talking about, it’s clear from today’s judgement that Tory policies are hurting those very people the Prime Minister claims that she wants to help.

“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.”