Last week I attended the address by German Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel to the Houses of Parliament.
She did not use her speech, as had been widely trailed in the media, to offer major concessions to the UK Government on reform of the EU but instead offered cold comfort to David Cameron and his Eurosceptic backbenchers. She is clearly more concerned with keeping Britain in Europe than keeping the Conservative Party together.
She called for Britain to remain at the heart of the EU and said that united and determined we can serve as a model for other regions of the world. This and nothing less should be our common goal. In order to attain this we need a strong United Kingdom with a strong voice inside of the European Union.
She thanked the British people for their courage and sacrifice in the First and Second World Wars and said ‘as German Chancellor I bow my head before the victims of these horrible wars’. She recalled the happiest day of her life when the Berlin Wall came down 25 years ago as she was born and spent the first thirty five years of her life in the communist state of East Germany.
She also said that many people believe that peace in Europe is now secure but reminded us of what happened in the Western Balkans as proof that we can never be complacent. She clearly regards the EU as a force for good, representing in her words peace, freedom and prosperity.
As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee I was one of a small number of people invited by the Speaker to meet Dr Merkel following her address and we had a short but very interesting conversation. I am reminded that she is Chancellor of a united country where two countries became one and they are better together as a result.
Chairing Consumer Rights Bill
I am currently chairing the committee stage of the Consumer Rights Bill so after meeting Dr Merkel it was back to the committee corridor to start the afternoon’s proceedings. This is a time consuming duty as it meets four times a week and lasts for several hours at each sitting as the legislation is given line by line consideration. The Bill aims to modernise consumer rights to take into account a rapidly changing environment. This week’s clauses have focused on aspects of buying goods and services over the internet.
Welfare was high on the agenda and I spoke in a debate on the bedroom tax. The following day there was a debate on the impact of changes in the welfare system on sick and disabled people, their families and carers. My chairing duties prevented me from attending the debate but I did meet earlier in the day with some disabled people from Scotland who had come to lobby MPs in advance of the debate. The Resistance to the War on Welfare campaign had gathered over 100,000 signatures in support of a motion calling for an independent cumulative impact assessment of welfare reform on disabled people.
Parliamentary Representation and International Women’s Day
I was also unable to attend the next debate which was on parliamentary representation which is part of an ongoing cross party convention instigated by the Speaker to encourager more diversity in parliament to make it more representative of the population. I chair the All Party Group on Equalities and it is a subject I have been involved with for a very long time, especially domestic violence. I am holding an event on Friday 7th March at the Citadel in Ayr to mark International Women’s Day when there will be a speaker from South Ayrshire Women’s Aid. All are welcome.