The Parliament opened its doors last week to 66 female school pupils in celebration of International Women’s Day to promote greater equality for women in politics and the wider world. The girls had all won the chance to spend a day in the life of an MP. Amy Cowan from Greenwood Academy made the trip from Central Ayrshire and was given the opportunity to attend and ask questions during a session of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, visit No.10 Downing Street, and watch the International Women’s Day debate in The Chamber of the House of Commons. I was really pleased to be able to spend some time with Amy in between debates and show her around the Houses. She is a fine ambassador for young women who want to make a difference and get involved in their local community and I hope she had a great day, even if it was a bit hectic.
Later in the week I was delighted to meet another local. Post graduate scientist Paul Rapp, was a finalist in this year’s SET for BRITAIN competition. The SET (Science, Engineering and Technology) initiative is designed to encourage Britain’s early-stage research scientists, engineers and mathematicians who are an essential part of research and development across the UK. Paul’s post-graduate research is on carbon fixation and transport attached to graphite matrices and was one of those chosen for display at Westminster. It was a real pleasure to speak with him and hear about how his research may move us further along the road towards successful Carbon Capture.
Unfortunately, events in the Chambers were not so pleasing. On Friday, I and many of my colleagues stayed down at Westminster to take part in the second reading of the Private Members Bill on NHS Reinstatement to bring NHS England back to being a unified, publicly run service like the Scottish NHS. For many years now the structure of NHS England has been eroded through fragmentation and the privatisation of services to be run by large multinational companies like Virgin Healthcare. As well as the clinical challenges caused by competition rather than cooperation, this brings a long-term threat to the funding of our NHS in Scotland. Due to rationing and the creeping introduction of charges (in many areas cataract patients will only get surgery for one eye free on the NHS and will have to pay over £800 for the second) more patients are being forced to pay or being encouraged to take medical insurance. This has been the aim since the days of Mrs Thatcher but a more American style of healthcare market would not only leave people in England vulnerable but eventually reduce the state investment in the NHS upon which our own Scottish Budget is based. Naturally, I would have preferred Scotland to have become independent so that such an important institution was not vulnerable to the decisions of a Government over which we have no influence but, as we remain in the UK, I will continue to argue against this destructive direction of travel and support the MPs in England who have brought this Bill forward.
The debate itself, however, was totally frustrating as a number of Tory MPs took part in some committed filibustering in the preceding debate; a process whereby members deliberately talk at length about anything to extend proceedings and prevent a vote or any other business from being discussed. In the end, the NHS Bill got only 17 minutes of discussion which meant that the issues could not be fully aired. Sadly, this process is often used to prevent backbench business from passing the necessary Parliamentary stages and campaigners have now started a petition calling for the process to be reformed. Meanwhile, the Bill will not return to Parliament unless one of its sponsors to wins the opportunity to bring forward an Private Members Bill in the next Parliamentary session.