Two weeks in Westminster

If you have been watching the news recently you will surely have seen how busy things have been in London.

Sheila Gilmore and Ian Murray with Edinburgh uni protestor

Ian Murray and I with Edinburgh uni protestor

One of the most notable events in Westminster in the past two weeks was the NUS demonstration against the increase in English top up fees. Those who turned to violence were wrong to do so. As well as causing unnecessary damage to private buildings (not just Tory HQ) they distracted the public from the whole purpose of the well-organised demonstration. On the day I met with tens of students who came from Edinburgh University. Whilst Scottish students will not be directly affected by the increases unless they study in England, the changes will affect the funding to Scottish Universities. On the day I asked Nick Clegg about the increases during PMQs (see http://bit.ly/cnCoUn) and was later interviewed on Sky News.

Also that week I criticised plans to cut housing benefit. I asked why the Government was making blanket cuts to Housing Benefit in places like Edinburgh to solve a problem of very high rents which only applies in London. (see http://bit.ly/9Zcfg9).

Last week I spent a substantial amount of time debating the Fixed Term Parliaments Bill which will set the next UK General Election to be held on 7 May 2015, and every five years after this date. In the House of Commons I mentioned the difficulties that all devolved parties will face as they effectively are fighting two ‘General Elections’ in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Minister later told Parliament that he will be writing to devolved administrations for their input on the process with the possibility of the devolved elections taking place earlier or later than the General Election (see http://bit.ly/c28CcK). This movement in the Government’s position represents a small triumph that the nations are finally being considered, but we will have to await the results of any consultation. The Minister’s concession came at the very end of the debate and there was no time to ask questions about the details.

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Rolling back the state

Another week when the Coalition Government’s ideology became even clearer! The big announcement was on the funding of Higher Education – I asked a question of the Minister (http://bit.ly/9iiIoT).

Basically this means that the State is largely withdrawing from the funding of higher education (except in some courses – mainly science & engineering where it is being reduced but not eliminated) with the cost being transferred to graduates.

(In a similar way the Government is proposing to transfer the cost of building new ‘affordable’ homes to new tenants)

Earlier in the week a considerable time was taken up with the final stages of the Parliamentary Constituencies and Voting Systems Bill. My efforts to speak in this debate were unsuccessful. It all may sound abstract but as well as setting up the referendum on the Alternative Vote, this Bill will reduce the number of constituencies in Edinburgh to four, and lead to boundary changes all over. See http://bit.ly/ca9wLO.

Edinburgh East constituency

Much of my time this week was spent sitting on a Committee on the Bill which abolishes the Child Trust Funds, the Health in Pregnancy Grant and the Savings Gateway proposals – a subject I spoke on at second Reading (http://bit.ly/9WhFbZ). It seems a bit odd that the Tories should be abolishing savings mechanisms ! Bill Committees sit intensively so we had four sessions this week averaging three hours each.

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