Madeleine Moon MP

Labour Member of Parliament for Bridgend

This Week in Parliament, 11th-14th April

This Week in Parliament, 11th-14th April


11th-14th April 2016

This week was dominated by the 'Panama Papers', the leaked documents detailing the tax evasion and avoidance schemes of some of the world's richest and most powerful people. I spent the week in Algiers, Algeria on a NATO Parliamentary Assembly delegation, meeting members the capital's diplomatic and defence communities, government officials and parliamentarians. 


Prime Minister's Statement on the Panama Papers

On Monday afternoon, the Prime Minister delivered a statement to the House that blurred the lines between the personal and political. Although he was setting out the Government's response to the revelations of international illegal tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance contained in the leaked documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, he was also defending his own tax arrangements which have come under scrutiny since the leak. The Prime Minister sought to clarify the details of his and his wife's shares in Blairmore Holdings, an investment fund established by his late father:

The fund was registered with the UK’s Inland Revenue from the beginning. It was properly audited, and an annual return was submitted to the Inland Revenue every year. Its share price was listed in the Financial Times. It was not a family trust; it was a commercial investment fund for any investor to buy units in. UK investors paid all the same taxes as with any other share, including income tax on the dividends every year.

There have been some deeply hurtful and profoundly untrue allegations made against my father, and if the House will let me, I want to put the record straight. This investment fund was set up overseas in the first place because it was going to be trading predominantly in dollar securities, so like very many other commercial investment funds, it made sense to be set up inside one of the main centres of dollar trading.

The Prime Minister announced that the Government will provide funding of up to £10 million for a new cross-agency taskforce to investigate the findings of the Panama Papers. In addition, the Government plans to 'legislate this year for a new criminal offence' to make companies liable for employees who facilitate tax cheating.
The Prime Minister also made a commitment to investigate tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance in the overseas territories, stating that all territories excluding Anguilla and Guernsey, had “agreed to exchange taxpayer financial account information” with the Government, as of September this year. The Prime Minster defended his Government's record on tackling tax evasion, stating that his was the first Government “to make tax and transparency the No.1 issues at a G8 or G20 summit.”
Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, however, was not convinced that the Government has gone far enough to tackle tax evasion, particularly in the UK's overseas territories and crown dependence: 'the truth is that the UK is at the heart of the global tax avoidance industry'. He suggested that the Prime Minister's Government had 'opposed the EU Tax Commissioner Pierre Moscovici's blacklist of 30 un-co-operative tax havens' which included the Cayman Islands the British Virgin Islands. Treasury officials had also 'lobbied' officials in Brussels to take no action to challenge Bermuda's 'tax secrecy'.
Rachel Reeves, the Labour MP for Leeds West, accused the Prime Minister of personally intervening 'to water down the impact of EU transparency rules'. The Prime Minister had written to the President of the European Council to argue that trusts, like the one in which he had a significant financial interest, should be excluded from the new anti-money laundering rules. Ms Reeves reminded the House that the Prime Minister had been warned at the time 'that such a move could create loopholes for tax dodgers.' 
Meg Hillier, the Labour MP for Hackney South and Shoreditch and Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, responded to the Prime Minister's announcement that 'in June this year, Britain will become the first country in the G20 to have a public register of beneficial ownership'. Though described as 'public', the register will only be accessible to Government officials and not to members of the public. Ms Hillier said that 'this is nowhere near enough' and pushed the Prime Minister to 'step up and make sure that corporates publish their tax information so that everybody- the public- can see where tax is being paid'.

Alan Duncan, the Conservative MP for Rutland and Melton, provoked consternation amongst opposition MPs when he accused them of 'synthetic indignation' and accused them of hating 'anyone of has even a hint of wealth in their life'. He offered his support to the Prime Minister in

... fending off those who are attacking him... because if he does not, we risk seeing a House of Commons that is stuffed full of low achievers who hat enterprise and hate people who look after their own family and who know absolutely nothing about the outside world.

Caroline Flint, the Labour MP for Don Valley, said she was 'saddened' by Mr Duncan's comments and someone who is 'not a millionaire' spoke a 'low achiever' when she pressed the Prime Minister for more transparency in the tax system. 
Algeria: Meeting with the UK Ambassador

On Monday evening, Conservative MP and fellow NATO delegate Alec Shelbrooke and I ventured across Algiers, the capital city of Algeria, to meet with the UK Ambassador and his defence attaché in the Ambassador's residence. We discussed the common defence and security challenges that both Algeria and the UK share and the ways in which the UK Government can support its Algerian counterpart in the fight against terrorism.


Emergency Steel Debate

Following Tata Steel's decision to sell its UK steel operations, Angela Eagle, the Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Industry and Skills, led a debate on the implications of the decision for the future of the UK steel industry. Emergency debates of this kind are granted under only very exceptional circumstances by the Speaker and Ms Eagle thanked him for his decision to do so on this occasion. There is a serious crisis confronting our steel industry, she said, and so far the Government's response 'has been found wanting'. Ms Eagle expressed her regret 'that there was not a recall of Parliament' from the Easter recess to discuss Tata's decision. She alleged that the 'complete absence of either a manufacturing strategy or an industrial strategy has hampered the Government's ability to think strategically about what is needed' to support the UK's Steel industry.

Ms Eagle challenged the Government over China's application for 'market economy status' which comes with many risks for EU and British businesses:

Granting market economy status to China must not be automatic. China meets only one of the five criteria that must be met if this status is to be granted, yet the UK Government support granting market economy status to China as early as the end of this year. Action to level the playing field using trade defence instruments, and on market economy status for China, would give potential buyers of Tata’s UK steel operations the surest sign that the Government stand ready to act.​

The Government should also make sure that 'UK steel producers are able to benefit from large public sector contracts', Ms Eagle argued:

The Ministry of Defence will spend £178 billion on defence equipment over the next 10 years, yet the Conservative-led coalition Government scrapped Labour’s defence industrial strategy, which made British jobs and industries the first priority in all decisions on MOD contracts. We are now in the deeply regrettable situation of an aircraft carrier, British surface ships and armoured vehicles all being manufactured in the UK with mainly imported steel, when, with more planning, our domestic industry could have supplied those needs.

Ms Eagle also encouraged the Government to 'take action on infrastructure investment' and 'to bring forward shovel-ready projects that require a significant amount of steel'. 
Contaminated Blood

On Tuesday afternoon Diana Johnson, the Labour Kingston upon Hull North, led a debate on the consequences of the contaminated blood scandal, 'one of the biggest treatment disasters in the history of the NHS'. Though the Government has agreed to conduct a consultation to reform support arrangements for affected patients, there are concerns that the Government's proposals will leave some patients worse off. The proposals do not address the problem that many patients currently face of not receiving any regular financial support to compensate them for the loss of income and education and employment opportunities.
Algeria: Meeting with the People's National Assembly

On Tuesday, I met with members of the People's National Assembly and the leadership of the Defence and International Relations Committees. The President of the Defence Committee then gave a dinner for the NATO delegation in the evening. 


Air Cadets Organisation and Gliding

The Government recently announced its decision to disband the Volunteer Gliding Squadrons at St Athan and Swansea as part of a planned reduction in the number of VGS across the UK. This will leave Wales without a VGS faciltiy; the nearest remaining facilities would be at Little Rissington, Gloucestershire and Ternhill, Shropshire. I am concerned that the disbandment of the St Athan and Swansea squadrons will deprive Welsh cadets of the experiences and opportunities available to their English and Scottish contemporaries. This could have an adverse impact on the number and quality of recruits to the RAF and the armed forces.
Last month, I raised these concerns with The Minister for Reserves and Cadets, Julian Brazier. In his reply, (attached), he insisted that the ‘Air Cadet Organisation remains a hugely valued part of the Ministry of Defence’ and that the RAF ‘is committed to its future’. He explained that the decision had made following a review of Air Cadet engineering in 2014 which found that ‘aircraft failed to meet the minimum airworthiness standards required’. He has since explained that it is not economically sustainable to sustain small fleets of Viking and Vigilant aircraft but has made a commitment to invest in accommodation facilities for the cadets and staff who will have to travel long distances to access their nearest squadron.
On the morning of Wednesday 13th April, Dame Angela Watkinson MP led a Westminster Hall debate on the closure of squadrons. Air Cadets in Northern Ireland and Wales were well represented. Lady Hermon, the MP for North Down, raised her concerns that Air Cadets in Northern Ireland, already deprived for a squadron of their own, will have to travel even further for gliding training and pushed the Minister on whether financial support will be put in place to pay for their travel and subsistence. Jim Shannon, the MP for Strangford, questioned whether the Government’s decision makes economic sense considering these additional costs. The point was also made that Air Cadets in Wales will have to travel many hundreds of miles to reach squadrons.
In his response, the Minister insisted that this ‘is not a cost-cutting exercise’; it is about the improving, updating and securing the safety of squadrons. He repeated his conclusion that fewer, but larger training facilities was preferable to may inadequate ones. He also emphasised the investment that has been made in ‘excellent synthetic training’ which will be offered in addition to the authentic flying experiences. Towards the end of the debate, the Minister confirmed in response to Lady Hermon’s question that all food and accommodation will be free of charge to cadets and their families. However, there are many questions that remain unanswered and I will be seeking a meeting with the Minister to discuss his proposals further. 
Personal Independence Payments

On Wednesday afternoon, Ian Lucas led a debate on Personal Independence Payments. Mr Lucas offered a pithy summary of the Government's agenda on disability: 'to reduce the number of people receiving disability benefits and the amount of money they receive'. He expressed particular concerns about the assessment process. The criteria used by assessors during mandatory reassessments remain unknown to the applicant; 'the reasoning applied by assessor and communicated to the application is set out without specific reference to the points awarded for each individual disability'. Unlike Disability Living Allowance, PIP is not assessed by medical professionals; the Government contract private businesses to carry out the assessments and applicants often have to travel a considerable distance for their interviews.

On Friday morning, Radio 4's Reunion programme brought together campaigners and politicians involved in the passing of the groundbreaking Disability Discrimination Act, 1995. The programme explored the development of the post-war campaign for civil rights for disabled people and provided a useful context for current debates around PIP. It's well worth a listen.
Algeria: Council of the Nation

Wednesday was a particularly busy day in Algiers. Algeria, like the UK, has a bicameral legislature with a lower house and an upper house. Having met with members of the lower house on Tuesday, on Wednesday we met with the members of the upper house, the Council of the Nation. Our meetings with representatives from African Centre for the Study and Research on Terrorism and the General Direction for Political Affairs and International Security were particularly fascinating.


Women and Equality

In questions to the cross-Departmental ministerial team responsible for women and equality legislation, Labour and Scottish Nationalist Party MPs brought up the gender pay gap.  Despite the Equal Pay Act 45 years ago, women starting careers today can expect to earn significantly less than men over the course of their careers. The Fawcett Society estimates the current gender pay gap for full time workers to be 13.9%. There are number of reasons for this, including differences in caring responsibilities, lack of educational opportunities and outright discrimination. 

Andrew Gwynne, the Labour MP for Denton and Reddish, is concerned that the introduction of tribunal fees has resulted in a dramatic decline in the number of equal pay claims. The Minister Caroline Dinenage replied:

We are reviewing this at the moment, but the hon. Gentleman must be aware that many more cases are going through ACAS—over 80,000 more cases went through ACAS last year. Surely he agrees it is actually much better to sort something out through mediation—in a friendly and consolidated way—so that people can go back to their workplace without stigma or any form of hostility.
Business of the House

In Business Questions on Thursday morning, Chris Bryant, the Shadow Leader of House, referred to the remarks made by Alan Duncan MP following the Prime Minister's statement on tax evasion (see above):

Some people on the Conservative Benches seem to think that if you are not a millionaire you are a failure, but let me tell them who really achieve something in life. It is the woman who gets up at 4 am to walk two miles to catch the bus to clean a hotel for 13 hours for the minimum wage. It is the widower who does two jobs to make sure he can put food on the table for his children. It is the middle-aged woman who gives up her job to care for her elderly dad. It is the teacher, the squaddie, the nurse or the dinner lady who goes way beyond the call of duty. Frankly, I would be proud to sit in a House full of people like that, rather than have to face that bunch of real deadbeats over there: a Health Secretary who has completely alienated the whole of the NHS; a Business Secretary who does not know where Mumbai is; and a Chancellor who produces a Budget so unfair that it even made the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) cry.
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