News & Articles

Some published articles and blog posts from Tommy Sheppard MP

Public Consultation on Fracking - My Response

Public Consultation on Fracking - My Response

The Scottish Government is in the process of consulting the public on unconventional oil and gas. I would encourage everyone to take part. If you have any concerns about fracking in Scotland then now is the time to voice them.

Long before I stood for election I was opposed to fracking so I thought it might be useful to share my answers to the consultation questions. These are my views – no doubt you will have your own. Even if you don’t agree with me I would encourage you to make your views heard.

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The Facts on the Ground

The Facts on the Ground

The hills around Jerusalem were drenched in sun the last time I was here. It brought out their significance and history. This week, though, the Holy Land has been visited by a Scottish winter. As I peer through the steamed up windows of our VW Transporter, it’s decidedly dreich out there.

I’m here on a parliamentary delegation to see if the political mood matches the weather. The trip is organised by the Council for Arab-British Understanding (www.caabu.org) and Medical Aid for Palestinians (www.map.org.uk). Over four days we have a packed schedule of meetings with Palestinian and Israeli officials, human rights groups and the UK Foreign Office. We also get the chance to see first-hand what it’s like to live under a military occupation.

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Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories

I am a longstanding advocate of the Palestinian people and am vice convenor of the All Party Group on Palestine.  I am very proud to have written the motion and worked with colleagues across the political parties to succeed in having the motion discussed in the main chamber.

It is clear that if there is to be a viable two-state solution then the occupation has to end and the settlers will either need to be relocated or become citizens of a new Palestine. It’ll be one of the most difficult and complicated negotiations in international conflict resolution. But unless a halt is called to the settlement building programme and both sides commit to starting peace talks the situation will only get worse.

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Green Investment Bank

The Green Investment Bank is vital because it funds innovative but high-risk low-carbon projects. This is crucial in Scotland where we have a huge amount of green energy potential. But in order for low carbon energy to become a low cost energy option we need investment in research and development.

I am extremely concerned about the privatisation of this important institution. Even more so since the reports that the privatisation may result in an asset stripping exercise. This goes against previous commitments made to the Scottish Government.

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Palestine Debate

Palestine Debate

This time next week I will be proposing a resolution in parliament on the situation in Palestine. It’ll make a change from wall to wall Trump and Brexit. The resolution has cross party support including a surprising number of Tories. It calls on the British Government to lead in getting new peace talks started and on the Israeli Government to stop building settlements in occupied Palestinian territories.

But why? And why now?

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Trump

I write from the train, speeding towards London to begin another week traipsing the corridors of impotence. This week, as many, will be wall to wall Brexit as we debate the terms on which we should be leaving the EU, and try to protect Scotland’s position amid the chaos.

But something else is dominating the international agenda and consumes the imagination of every person who dares hope for a better world. Trump. What on earth has happened to America?

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The Supreme Court and Article 50

The Supreme Court and Article 50

You’ll not be surprised to hear that ever since the UK voted to leave the European Union, I have been receiving lots of letters and emails from constituents raising their concerns. While there have been a couple of requests asking me to respect the UK wide result and vote to trigger article 50, the vast majority have asked me to do all I can to protect Scotland’s place in Europe.

That’s not a surprise. In Edinburgh 74.4% of people voted to remain in the EU. For all its flaws, people across our city recognised the overwhelming benefits of EU – be they economic, cultural, environmental and civil.

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Make the Air Fair

Over the Christmas break I've received lots of emails about the importance of high quality mobile service to my constituents and specifically about introducing a 30% cap in Ofcom's release of the total available mobile phone spectrum in the UK.

Improving mobile coverage is a high priority for the Scottish Government. We agree that mobile operators need to do more to expand 4G coverage in Scotland. To do so, we are working closely with the industry through our Mobile Action Plan. This aims to improve and increase coverage across Scotland. It includes an infill programme to extend coverage into rural areas not served by commercial rollout. We will announce our proposals for a Mobile Infill Programme by Spring 2017. Furthermore the Scottish Government are working with the UK Government to maximise the impact of the UK Government’s 4G-based Emergency Services Network and the development of a Mobile Infill Project.

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Fur Imports

There is absolutely no justification for the use of animal fur. We know that it is cruel. Animals who are bred for the fur trade suffer horrendous conditions whilst alive - cruelty, neglect and very painful deaths. It is also unnecessary. Fake fur is readily available for those that want to wear it. Many constituents have raised concerns that some people who believe they are buying fake fur are actually buying real fur – this must be properly regulated. Although I fear the UK government will not take the necessary action to make sure this happens. The SNP Government is responsible for animal welfare in Scotland as it is devolved. The SNP is committed to protecting and promoting the highest standards possible. However, when it comes to imports the best way to tackle the fur trade is to work in partnership with other countries. The European Union has played a key role in this. In 2007 SNP MEP Alyn Smith backed a campaign for a complete ban on the import and export of cat and dog fur. The European Parliament supported the ban and it was introduced at the end of 2008 across the European Union. However more needs to be done. I believe we would be more effective at strengthening all laws on the treatment of animals as part of the European Union where legislation would take effect in all countries in the EU and therefore have a much greater impact.

When it comes to voting on legislation relating to animal welfare I will always be looking for the highest possible standards – those you would expect from a decent, humane and civilised society.

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Sky Takeover

The proposed takeover of Sky TV has concerned a significant number of constituents and I share many of your concerns.

When considering any takeover bid of media and news outlets, public interest must be prioritised by shareholders. Further to this, a takeover bid of this magnitude must be properly and robustly scrutinised. If any plans or detail require scrutiny by the Government this must be done in a fully transparent and thorough manner.

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Neonicotinoids and Bees

The issue of the effect of neonicotinoids on bee populations is very important to my constituents.  It is of great concern that bee populations are in decline and the data indicating that there could be links between bee populations, and bee health, and the use of pesticides such as neonicotinoids warrants alarm. This certainly needs further investigation and I am clear that restrictions must be kept in place until these links are better understood. I am well aware of the enormous positive impact bees have on our environment as pollinators, and I am glad the current restrictions will remain while the European Commission undertakes a review and further evidence is gathered. The restrictions which are applied in the UK are as a direct result of EU law. Unfortunately the UK did vote to leave the EU and, when that happens, it is likely that EU law will no longer apply. This would result in us being reliant on the UK Tory Government to enforce any further restrictions. Worryingly there are many instances when the choices made by the Tories seem greatly at odds with the best interests of the people of Scotland. Nicola Sturgeon has made it clear that she has a different mandate to that of Theresa May. In Scotland the result was that 62% of people voted to remain. The First Minister is now pursuing a course of action which will enable her to protect Scotland’s place in Europe. This would mean the many sensible laws that we share with our European neighbours, whether it be the restrictions on neonicotinoids, the European Convention on Human Rights or sensible targets for carbon reduction, would still stand in Scotland.

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The Sale of sick and underage kittens

As someone who has been involved in campaigning for animal rights since I was a young man, I can absolutely sympathise with the aims of the campaign to improve kitten welfare. Separating kittens, or puppies, too young from their mothers causes lasting damaging, both physical and psychological. Animal welfare is devolved and I am pleased to say that in Scotland we already have legislation put in place by the SNP Government. In Scotland you are not allowed to sell a young cat or dog except where you hold a licence or where you are selling the offspring of a cat or dog that is kept as a pet. Breach of these rules can result in a fine or up to three months imprisonment. When granting a licence the licensing authority must ‘have particular regard’ to certain criteria being met. These include the conditions that the animals are kept in, that they are well fed and have access to water, that they are visited regularly, protected from dangers such as a fire or other emergencies and that the all reasonable precautions are taken to prevent and control the spread of infectious and contagious diseases. There is also the clause that ‘the licence holder must not, without reasonable excuse, keep a cat or dog which is less than 8 weeks of age at any time unless that cat or dog is accompanied by its mother’. You can look at the detail of the Scottish statutory instrument here.

The Scottish Government are committed to a review of this legislation with a view to strengthening it further. They are currently discussing animal welfare legislation in Scotland with stakeholder groups and will undertake a full public consultation meaning any changes will be based on sound evidence. I would like to see the legislation strengthened to ensure that any loopholes are closed as I believe the welfare of animals should be a priority for any decent, civilised society.

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South Korean Dog Meat Trade

I should start by saying that I have campaigned for animal welfare since I was a teenager so I strongly sympathise with the points constituents have raised about the South Korean dog meat trade.  It's good news that younger South Koreans are choosing not to eat dog meat and I'm encouraged that this is being discussed more widely including at conferences. However, I would add a note of caution, I believe we must be sensitive when making judgements about another country's customs. I would gladly support the efforts of South Koreans who themselves want to change this practice, and would support the South Korean Government if it were to offer financial support during a period of transition for those involved in the dog meat trade.

The SNP is supportive of charities working with international counterparts to improve dog welfare globally. For example, the Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education, established at the University of Edinburgh’s Royal School of Veterinary Studies in 2011, is closely partnered with a number of international animal welfare charities and veterinary organisations. Their efforts to secure a greater level of animal welfare globally are important and we must continue to support organisations like this. My colleagues Martin Docherty-Hughes MP, Margaret Ferrier MP and Dr Paul Monaghan MP who, on behalf of the Scottish National Party, called on the UK Government to speak against the IOC’s judgment and ask the South Korean Government to respond to the dog meat issues identified at the debate, with a view to making the abuse of dogs in this trade illegal. I am in full agreement my colleagues on this.

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BBC Charter Review consultation and other stories…

BBC Charter Review consultation and other stories…

I’ve had a lot of correspondence recently about the BBC. Its charter – which sets out how it is governed and funded - is currently being reviewed by the UK Government and people are understandably uneasy about what that could mean for public service broadcasting across the UK. To inform the review, the Government initiated a public consultation exercise last July. This closed in early October and since then we’ve heard nothing.

Last month I wrote to John Whittingdale, the Secretary of State for Culture, pressing for an answer on what is happening with the consultation. I have now received a response from one of the departmental Ministers and this is below.

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Education Maintenance Grants

Education Maintenance Grants

Yesterday there was an Opposition day debate on Education Maintenance Grants. At first glance, this might seem like an issue that shouldn’t affect a Scottish MP – education is, after all, devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

That’s what the Speaker of the house has decided, making this piece of legislation part of EVEL (English Votes for English Laws) – although in this case it is an English and Welsh law. However, many English and Welsh students come to Universities in Scotland and become our constituents. For us here in Edinburgh East, a constituency that takes in the University of Edinburgh, students make up a large section of the community.

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Changes to Women's Pensions

Changes to Women's Pensions

The changes to women's pension have been brought in too quickly, and my colleagues and I in the SNP are supportive of the campaign against the Government’s proposal. My colleague, Eilidh Whiteford MP said back in 2011 that the issue was not only the pace of change, but it was about the context of a lifetime of low pay and inequality faced by many women. I was pleased to see that my colleague, Ian Blackford MP, the SNP’s Pensions spokesperson, was able to secure a debate in Westminster Hall in November and raised this matter with the Government’s Economic Secretary.   It is only right that the Government are held to account over their actions, as it had previously stated in 2011 that they would consider transitional arrangements to ensure that women were not impacted disproportionately from the change. I have seen no evidence of this actually happening and they have been unable to confirm what had been done to protect women born in the 1950s. Although I was unable to do so myself, a number of my colleagues also attended the November debate in Westminster Hall, and if you are interested in some of the details of what they said, you can access Hansard via this link.

My colleagues and I will continue to question the Government on this matter because nobody should face inequality in their retirement plans because of when they were born. Indeed Mhairi Black will be leading a backbench debate in the Main Chamber on January 7th.

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TTIP

TTIP

My SNP colleagues and I are extremely concerned about many aspects of the proposed TTIP deal. Those at least which have so far come to light - one of the greatest worries about the process has been the severe lack of transparency surrounding the TTIP negotiations. Our greatest concern, however, is any proposal that would expand Investor-State Dispute Settlements procedures - whereby companies can sue governments - and we will oppose any such expansion in the strongest terms. We will likewise oppose any possibility that it will involve opening markets in the service sector which could potentially include public services such as health, social services and higher education and the opening up of public procurement markets. I recently signed Early Day Motions 146 and 677 expressing my concern about TTIP and TiSA respectively. We are working with various trade union bodies (including the STUC) to raise awareness of the impact that TTIP may have on Scotland. We will of course resist any attempt to undermine European standards in the fields of public health, social and employment rights, health and safety and the environment. I also would encourage you to sign up for my colleague Alyn Smith MEP's newsletter where you can get the SNP's view from a European Parliament perspective.

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Military Action in Syria

Following the atrocious attacks in Paris, the UK Government appears to be on the brink of military intervention in Syria. In the absence of either a UN mandate or a coherent political strategy to end the civil war, I am not convinced that either air strikes or ground troops would bring stability to the region. Indeed, it is highly likely to lead to more civilian casualties and trauma. I am committed to a peaceful resolution to the increasing violence in the region.

At the SNP conference in October, a motion opposing UK participation in ongoing military action in Syria was backed unanimously. The motion stated that any airstrikes by the UK would be “militarily irrelevant” when American, Russian, Arabic, Turkish and French forces are already taking place. The motion calls for the UK government to support a renewed diplomatic initiative and recognise that only United Nations sponsored action will have the international consensus needed to bring the conflict and the humanitarian crisis that accompanies it to an end.

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Trade Union Bill

Trade Union Bill

I spoke against the undemocratic and draconian Trade Union Bill at its second reading on the 14th of September. I can assure you that my colleagues and I will continue vigorously to oppose this bill at its third reading tomorrow. This action, designed by the Conservative Government, seeks to deprive workers of their basic rights, rights which were hard won over the past 100 years. We will do our utmost to prevent this bill from becoming law.

The Bill threatens the right to pursue industrial disputes by legitimate means and the right to organise and to bargain collectively. We are also opposed to restrictions on Trade Unions using social media and support the usage of safe and secure online voting to maximise participation as well as changes to regulations regarding agency workers. Ultimately the proposed Bill places unreasonable restrictions on the rights of trade unions and their members.

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Tax Credits

Tax Credits

The SNP group has been unanimous in its objection to the Tory party's obscene plans which will push the working poor of this country further into poverty.

The Conservatives are pushing through these changes because of an ideological belief in low taxation and minimal public services, and they are trying to use the fig leaf of the increased minimum wage to give the impression of decency to their plans. The new minimum wage, which the Tories are calling the living wage but is in fact well below the independently recognised living wage, in no way mitigates the effects of the cuts to Tax Credits.

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