I am so sorry I have not blogged for a while. MP duties mean that my days are not long enough. Between seeing constituents, preparing for monthly sessions of Parliament and pushing out press statements when there are issues of public importance that need fanning out -and then there is that issue of four kids in four different schools😊, I honestly find it hard to blog at the end of a long day sometimes, much as I like to update you on a forum like this one. So apologies there….
Now getting down to recent business, I have been very pleased to see how the medical cannabis debate has captured the imagination of many over the past few weeks. From the Viewpoint discussion to this week’s events in Parliament, it has been encouraging to see the community engaged with the issue, and I feel I have learnt a great deal from the many representations that have been made to me from various sides of the debate. Mature democracies should be having these exchanges, and we should be proud of how they have been handled throughout.
Much of the research I have come across – and I feel very fortunate to have been pointed in the direction of academic studies, video documentaries, testimonies and scientific conclusions to support all the different arguments – has drawn attention to the potential of the cannabis plant as part of pain-relieving treatment. Many in the scientific community agree with this interpretation, and there is a sense of frustration among medical professionals that this research is being hindered by the impartial practices of pharmaceutical companies and by an undeserved stigma associated with medicinal cannabis. Indeed, many countries across the world have embraced this potential and are conducting research that has led to a range of beneficial treatment products being developed. Nations such as Canada and Israel are leading the charge in this field, and their citizens are benefiting from their findings.
This is why I felt that the decision to approve the use of Sativex for medical purposes, while welcome, did not go far enough in taking advantage of the qualities of the cannabis plant. It is why I recommended the possibility of other products being developed and provided, with Gibraltar licensing the use of these under its own jurisdictional powers. I also proposed that an educational summit be held locally in order to train doctors and other medical professionals and make them aware of the benefits of other alternatives. This would have led to a strictly controlled and regulated medical cannabis programme, one that would have fully exploited these benefits for the good of local patients. It is these patients that I feel we have now let down by instead adopting an unimaginative and unambitious approach that ignores both the significant developments in the science and the call from doctors and patients alike. My proposals could have led to Gibraltar making significant contributions to the study of these compounds, and I cannot but help but see the end result as a wasted opportunity.
I am confident that this debate will resurface over the next few years as attitudes towards medicinal cannabis start to change, both locally and internationally. In the meantime, I am sure that those who now finally have access to Sativex – largely as a result of the common-sense arguments put forward in these discussions – will benefit greatly from it, but I lament the fact that patients suffering from other conditions, and whose symptoms could be alleviated by several other cannabinoid products, will have to continue waiting for these opportunities. We may have taken a small step forward, but there is still a long way to go before we will be able to fully embrace these advancements in modern medicine.
Another recent development in my business in Parliament came when I had the opportunity to question the Government on the issue of outstanding student loan payments. I was shocked to recently discover that some Gibraltarian students have been receiving communications from the UK Student Loans Company chasing up unpaid funds. I raised the issue in Parliament earlier this month, with the Government seeming surprised by this development and being unable to offer a thorough explanation. It later transpired that in fact the Government of Gibraltar owe the UK Student Loans Company a staggering £2million so I look forward to detailed answers about this from Government, including their intentions for payment. And no, the UK Student Loans Company doesn’t care whether it was the GSD’s fault or not, they just want their money back! So please Government of Gibraltar, can we just settle this debt already so that we can end this mayhem between the UK Student Loan Company and our graduates who have been unnecessarily dragged into this bizarre situation?
Then there’s “dogshowgate”. The unfortunate and highly publicised spat between Minister Samantha Sacramento and my former GSD colleague Lawrence Llamas has obviously not escaped my attention. I am saddened to see that relationships between these two individuals – and the two main parties in general – seem to be so strained. The electorate can surely not be very impressed by the political class when they see these exchanges dominating the headlines between people they have elected. I hope that both Ms Sacramento and Mr Llamas will be able to put this ugly episode behind them and focus on both restoring the image of the House and on serving Gibraltar’s best interests.
Other business this week has involved issues as diverse as giving hospital-bound patients more opportunities and facilities to go outdoors, matters regarding Public Health, and conferring the Medallion of Honour to George Holding, one of Gibraltar’s staunchest American supporters. This, of course, followed debates on the £300 million mortgage on Government estates, which by the way, I was briefed on at Number 6 with the company directors, government advisers and the Chief Minister who delivered a presentation on the deal. If you are interested in my summary on this loan, watch here on minute 29.
Staffing and performance issues at the GHA were also subject of discussion, as well as tensions between two of our main unions. The uncertainty surrounding Master Service, and, in particular, the concerning plight of its 130 employees, has also made the headlines. I raised in Parliament how worried I am about these individuals, especially in these insecure times. I hope the matter will be resolved quickly with no impact on these workers.
These issues are likely to dominate local politics over the next few weeks, although our attentions may be shifted at the end of March to whether Prime Minister Theresa May’s intention to trigger Article 50 goes ahead. Whatever the case, I look forward to continuing to protect Gibraltar’s interests by holding the Government to account on matters in which I may feel they are mistaken, while offering my steadfast support where it is warranted.
Have a great weekend!