Controversy Over Minister's Foodbank Visit
28 July 2015, 14:25
Scotland's only Conservative MP has been reported to the UK Government and Parliament for staging a high-profile visit to a foodbank in a neighbouring constituency without giving the local MP proper notice.
David Mundell was jeered by protesters as he visited the Trussell Trust foodbank in Dumfries on Friday, having previously dismissed concerns from charities including the trust that Tory welfare reform policies have led to a rise in foodbanks.
Mr Mundell, Secretary of State for Scotland in David Cameron's Cabinet, represents Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale - a separate constituency from Dumfries which is represented by SNP MP Richard Arkless.
The Ministerial Code states ministers should inform local MPs if they are visiting their constituencies, and all MPs are asked to give notice if they are carrying out constituency work on other parliamentarians' patches.
Mr Arkless said he received a "panicky" email from Mr Mundell an hour before the event, and insists this does not constitute proper notice.
He has now reported the Scottish Secretary to the Cabinet Office complaining that his visit breached the Ministerial Code, and to the Speaker of the House of Commons saying it breached MPs' guidance on visiting neighbouring constituencies.
The SNP MP did not attend the public opening of the foodbank but said he offered a private visit with "no fanfare, no journalists".
He said: "It is completely unacceptable for Mr Mundell to try to make capital out of the hunger that his Government has created. It was also hypocritical - a foodbank opening is nothing to celebrate.
"This is a clear breach of the House of Commons rules and potentially the Ministerial Code. I have today written to the Cabinet Office and the Speaker to complain.
"He is Scotland's only Tory yet he is riding roughshod over the democratic will of the Scottish people, who voted overwhelming against austerity.
"Well he's not going to ride roughshod into my constituency again."
Mr Arkless said the visit was "particularly controversial" because the Trussell Trust foodbank "has been accused of duplicating the work of First Base, an existing foodbank nearby".
Mr Mundell told a Holyrood committee that complaints about welfare reform by First Base volunteer Mark Frankland should be taken "with a pinch of salt" because he supports Scottish independence.
Mr Arkless added: "Mr Mundell's criticism of our existing and well supported community foodbank at First Base makes his visit all the more inappropriate. A number of my constituents have raised concerns about that."
A Scottish Conservatives spokesman said: "The SNP seems to have an unhealthy obsession with this particular visit.
"First it encouraged a rent-a-mob to turn up and protest, now an MP is still trying to score pathetic political points from it several days on."
The Trussell Trust declined to comment on the alleged breach of ministerial and parliamentary procedure, saying it is a matter for the MPs concerned.
A spokesman said: "The foodbank will serve wider Dumfriesshire and not just the town of Dumfries.
"The Trussell Trust is there to work with local charities where a need has been identified to ensure that people do not go hungry.
"We will work with all political parties and both MPs were invited to attend. We look forward to working with Mr Arkless to help people in need in the local area."