Madeleine Moon MP

Labour Member of Parliament for Bridgend

This Week in Parliament 10th - 14th February

This Week in Parliament 10th - 14th February


The last week of Parliament before the one-week recess was dominated by the Government’s response to flooding through the South East and South West. As well as this, there were debates over whether to ban smoking in cars where children are present, a debate on fairness and inequality, and the usual Prime Minister’s Questions. I also took the opportunity to ask the Secretary of State for Defence a question about the current situation in Afghanistan. 


Flooding Statement

Eric Pickles (Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government): As evident from the dark skies outside, we continue to face extraordinary and sustained wet weather. Cobra has met every day since my oral statement on Thursday, with all Departments working closely together, including my comrades from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. We have made it clear again that every resource is available to local communities affected. We will keep providing whatever immediate practical support and assistance is needed, whether extra pumps and sandbags, military support on the ground, or emergency funds from the severe weather assistance fund for local councils.

Maria Eagle (Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs): I thank the Secretary of State for his update. I have no doubt that those who are being affected by the severe flooding in Somerset and now in the Thames Valley welcome the assistance that they are now receiving. It is a considerable relief to those who are living and farming on the Somerset levels that the Army has been made available to assist in the efforts to protect homes, farms and other businesses.

That news, combined with the efforts of the fire and rescue services, the police, Environment Agency staff and the many volunteers, shows that there is finally a concerted effort to respond to the floods. Will the Secretary of State provide an update on the work to restore vital rail connectivity to Devon and Cornwall? Have Ministers formally asked Network Rail to present options for a long-term solution to the vulnerability of the line, including the option of re-routing?
On the Environment Agency, does the Secretary of State agree with the Prime Minister that: “This is a time for everyone to get on with the jobs that they have…this is not the time to change personnel, this is the time to get on and do everything we can to help people. I back the Environment Agency. I back the work they are doing.”?

If so, why did the Secretary of State go to such lengths yesterday to give the opposite impression as he toured the TV studios? Does he believe that “the Environment Agency has been remarkably good in giving good, accurate information”? Those are the words that he used on “The World at One” last Wednesday. Will he explain what changed his mind about the quality of the advice from the Environment Agency in the following 48 hours, other than the fact that he spotted a convenient scapegoat to distract attention from the Government’s failure?

Eric Pickles (Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government): The honourable Lady seems to be obsessed by process. We are much more concerned with making a concerted effort to deal with the problem of flooding. On readiness, we understand that as the week progresses, there will be increased flooding along the Thames valley. The substantial gravel layers in the valley will make it more difficult to put barriers up. Nevertheless, we have continued to ensure that demountables are available and the enormous help from the military will continue.

[Honourable Members: “Answer the question.”] Forgive me, but I thought that I was answering about flooding, not some peculiar problem with regard to procedure. Today I was in Croydon looking at a water station that ensures there is clean water for 47,000 properties. I looked at the magnificent work of the Environment Agency and of local gold command, which is putting together a team for action to ensure that properties are not flooded and that clean water is available.
On the Environment Agency, it is entirely wrong for the honourable Lady to suggest for one moment that I have issued even the slightest criticism of its marvellous work force. My admiration for the work of the Environment Agency exceeds no one, and I believe it is time for us all to start to work together, not to make silly party political points. I am confident that with the help of the Environment Agency, the armed forces and the good work of local councils, that is exactly what we will do.


Forward to Friend
Afghanistan Statement
Vernon Coaker (Shadow Secretary of State for Defence): Nothing unites this House more than the admiration we have for our armed forces and their service and sacrifice. Nowhere is this more evident than in Afghanistan. As the Defence Secretary said, 447 members of our armed forces have died in operations there since 2001, with many more injured. Their commitment to the United Kingdom and Afghanistan, and to our respective peoples, should never, and will never, be forgotten.

Will the Defence Secretary outline what steps the Government are taking to ensure the protection of British forces and civilians and give reassurance to them and their families as to what is being done to provide it, both now and after the military draw-down? Does he share the concern that civilian deaths in Afghanistan rose by 14% in 2013, and to what does he attribute that significant rise?
There has been undoubted, but not irreversible, progress in Afghanistan. In terms of finding a political settlement, it is clear that elections scheduled for April are an indication of both the advances and the challenges that remain. Will the Defence Secretary outline what steps are being taken by international forces to ensure that insurgents do not succeed in disrupting the elections and, by extension, the democratic right of the Afghan people? What is his assessment of the risk of increased insurgent activity in the run-up to the Afghanistan national elections this year, particularly in urban areas?
May I also ask the Secretary of State some specific questions about security and the role of the ANSF and ISAF as the international combat mission ends? Will he provide specific details of what he expects the UK military footprint to be in Afghanistan beyond 2014? As the number of deployed troops falls, the level of danger for ISAF units increases, so will the Defence Secretary tell the House what is being done to maintain vigilance on force protection as UK forces wind down through the course of this year?
Will the Defence Secretary update the House on the progress of the Afghan national army officer academy and the work being done there, particularly on core anti-insurgency capabilities such as air cover, air support, medical evacuation, intelligence gathering and indirect fire support? What percentage of that training is now provided by ANSF forces themselves?

Philip Hammond (Secretary of State for Defence): The hon. Gentleman asked about the future security of British civilians in Kabul. Obviously, we are monitoring the situation closely, and we will make appropriate arrangements to support British civilians in Kabul, particularly those on Crown service. He would not expect me to go into the detail of those arrangements at the Dispatch Box, but there should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that Kabul will remain a dangerous place for foreigners for the foreseeable future. We will rely primarily on the ANSF to maintain security in that city.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the recent rise in the civilian death rate. That is of course deeply regrettable, but I am sure that he would want to focus attention on the fact that more than 74% of all civilian deaths are directly attributable to the insurgency. In fact, the number of civilian deaths attributable to ISAF action has gone down over time, and the number of those attributable to ISAF air strikes—they were once the cause of considerable concern—has gone down by 80%. That is something that we will continue to pursue.

The hon. Gentleman asked about election security and what action ISAF will take. Clearly, ISAF will support the ANSF in every way it can, particularly in the provision of intelligence and surveillance capabilities, but the ANSF must take the lead. The message around this election is that the Afghans have taken lead responsibility for their security. The ANSF is capable, and it is very determined to be seen to lead this operation and to deliver the security that Afghanistan’s fledgling democracy requires.

There will be threats to the elections. We have already seen a concerted campaign of targeted assassinations. I am afraid that the realists among us expect that to continue and probably to accelerate as we move towards the election date. It is greatly to the credit of the leaders of Afghanistan’s democracy that it has not yet in any way undermined their enthusiasm for the democratic process.


Madeleine Moon (Bridgend, Labour): The Secretary of State has advised the House that our remotely piloted air systems capability is utilised across ISAF, not just by our own RAF forces. Is he also able to assure the House that at no point have other members of ISAF been able to use any of our RPAS for intelligence gathering or for armed attacks in Pakistan?

Philip Hammond (Secretary of State for Defence): Our RPAS vehicles in our fleet operate only in Afghanistan, so I am able to reassure the honourable Lady on that point.

Forward to Friend
Children and Families Bill
Luciana Berger (Shadow Minister for Public Health): A significant proportion of the effects of passive smoking felt by children are linked to passive smoking in a car, not least because tobacco smoke in a small, enclosed car can create levels of pollution that are up to 35 times greater than the level deemed safe by the World Health Organisation. A single cigarette in a car can create concentrations of smoke up to 11 times greater than those in a smoky pub of old.

We are not talking about a small number of cases. Many people have contacted me in recent days, some of them suffering from many of the conditions I have mentioned, including asthma, to say that they wish a ban had been introduced when they were children. Other people have said in recent weeks, “Surely no adult smokes in a car with children.”

Unfortunately, according to the British Lung Foundation, nearly half a million children are exposed to potentially toxic levels of smoke in cars every single week. That number is based on children aged between 11 and 15. If we take babies, infants and primary school children into account as well, the number is likely to be even higher. According to a study by SmokeFree Sports in Liverpool, the area I represent, around a quarter of nine and 10-year-olds reported being exposed to smoking in cars.

That brings to the crux of my argument about why the proposal is justified. This is about children, who often do not have a choice about how they travel and cannot speak out. In 2010, a third of children surveyed said that they were too frightened or embarrassed to ask an adult not to smoke with them in the car. If we want to protect future generations from the dangers of smoking, we need a comprehensive approach.

The proposal has the overwhelming support of royal colleges, health experts and leading authorities on public health from across our country. In the past week alone, 700 doctors have written to the British Medical Journal in support of a ban on smoking in cars with children. YouGov polls have shown that the measure enjoys the support of up to 80% of the public. It also has the support of the Liverpool Schools’ Parliament, which voted for such a ban unanimously. Many colleagues who have visited schools in recent days have encountered similar enthusiasm from young people.

To those who say that this law would be unenforceable, unworkable or a dreadful infringement of civil liberty, let me offer this thought: 38 years ago this month this House debated a law that would make a certain behaviour in a car illegal, and Government Members were granted a free vote. There was general agreement about health and safety, but Members raised concerns about whether it would be enforceable or a step too far. One Member said that it was a mark of the fact that “as a society we are becoming over-governed and over-regulated.”
Despite that, the proposal passed that night with a convincing majority and eventually became law. More than 30 years on, no one is arguing that we should repeal the law that made it compulsory to wear a seat belt. In the same way, few people would argue that we should bring back smoking in enclosed public spaces or on the London underground. In the meantime, the proportion of motorists wearing a seat belt has risen from around 25% to over 90%. It shows just how powerful the effect can be when Parliament unites and sends a signal. We have such an opportunity before us today. This is a matter of child protection, not adult choice.
Philip Davies (Shipley, Conservative): I have no quibble at all with the honourable Member for Liverpool Wavertree, who represents the smug, patronising excesses of new Labour. They think that the only reason they came into Parliament was to ban everybody else from doing all the things that they happen not to like. What perturbs me is that Conservative Ministers appear not to have grasped the concept, even though they claim to be Conservatives, that we can disapprove of something without banning it. This is just another in the long line of triumphs for the nanny state.

I will not give way because I want to rattle through what I have to say in order to give other Members an opportunity to speak. I believe that parents are much better placed to decide what is best for their children than the state is. If we want to encourage parents to take responsibility for their children, we have to give them that responsibility. We will never get parents to do that if the Government say, “Don’t worry about taking responsibility for your children, because we will make all the relevant decisions for you. You don’t have to worry about anything.” That is not something we should be encouraging.

The Conservative Party used to believe in the rights of private property, and that people could do as they pleased in their own private property. Their private vehicle is their own private property. If people wish to smoke in a car with children, that is a decision for them to take.



Deputy Prime Minister's Questions

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West, Labour): Has the Deputy Prime Minister seen the comments of the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Chancellor, who said on Monday that “Nick Clegg complains quite often that Danny Alexander has gone native in the Treasury. I think there is some truth in the fact that he has gone native in the Treasury.”
He said: “The relationship between George and Danny Alexander is very, very good.” The Deputy Prime Minister will be aware of Stockholm syndrome, in which captives increasingly empathise with their captives. What is he going to do to de-programme “the Treasury one”?

Nick Clegg (Deputy Prime Minister): I have just seen those quotes from the honourable Member for Reading East (Mr Wilson)—I am not sure if he is in the Chamber—who claims that he is extremely close to the Chancellor, knows his mind and that he is his “wingman”. He is as good a wing man as Icarus was in flying off on his own wings, judging by his comments. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury is doing an outstanding job on behalf of the Government and the Liberal Democrats. Only last week he said that further cuts for the wealthiest in society would happen over his dead body. That and so many other examples show that his Liberal Democrat heart is exactly where it should be.

Charlie Elphicke (Dover, Conservative): Does the Deputy Prime Minister share my concern that 75% of the British people tell pollsters that they think that human rights are a charter for criminals and the undeserving? Is it not time that we introduced a British Bill of Rights with constitutional reform that gives the final say back to the Supreme Court?

Nick Clegg (Deputy Prime Minister): As I said earlier, when this was looked at very carefully by a number of eminent experts they concluded in December 2012 that it would not be right to undo or unwind a lot of the protections that we all enjoy under existing human rights law, and that a British Bill of Rights would run the risk of unpicking many of the protections enjoyed across the United Kingdom, given the fact that we have a fairly devolved legal system. More generally, of course, this sometimes poses difficult problems for the House and we have to wrestle with difficult issues, but it is worth reminding people that these are human rights for British citizens, and are already enshrined in British law.

Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South, Labour): When the Deputy Prime Minister was getting close to President Santos, did he mention the names Huber Ballesteros, Francisco Toloza, David Ravelo, and did he inquire when those political prisoners might be released from incarceration in Colombian prisons?

Nick Clegg (Deputy Prime Minister): As I said to the honourable Gentleman in answer to an earlier question, of course I discussed the need to improve human rights in Colombia. As he knows, President Santos is committed to embarking on a new human rights initiative during the course of this year. I urge the honourable Gentleman to ask the simple question: if we want to protect human rights abroad as much as we do here—I think we share that view—surely one of the best ways to do that is to work hard with other Governments, including President Santos’s Government, to create peace. If there is constant violence, it is very difficult to protect human rights.

Forward to Friend


Prime Minister's Questions

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): I join the Prime Minister in expressing all my sympathies with people who have been affected by the floods, who have been driven out of their homes, and who are facing disruption to their lives. I also join him in paying tribute to all those helping with relief efforts and to the extraordinary resilience we have seen in the past few weeks of the people of our country. He will know that people in affected communities are relieved that help from the armed forces and emergency services has now arrived, but many feel they were sent in too late. With further flooding expected in the coming hours and days, can the Prime Minister provide an assurance that people will be getting help in time, not after the event?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): I can certainly give that assurance. Let me repeat again that it is important, as the right honourable Gentleman said, to praise our emergency services, to praise volunteers, and to praise all those working for the Environment Agency, who have worked night and day, round the clock, to help our communities. They really have done amazing work, and we should thank them.

In terms of the engagement of the military, I think that this is important. It has always been possible for gold commanders in these emergency situations to call on military assets. Indeed, a military liaison officer is supposed to sit with those gold commanders and liaise with them. What we have done in recent days is to say very clearly to all the local authorities concerned, which we have contacted individually, “If you want military assistance, don’t think twice about it: think once, then ask, and they’ll be there.” We have now got thousands of military at a state of readiness to help out. A huge number have already been deployed; and yes, as we see the levels potentially rising on the Thames again coming into this weekend, we should do everything we can now to get extra help into those communities that could be affected and make sure that they are helped. All the military assistance that is required is there; people only have to ask.

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): I welcome that promise of proactive help from the Prime Minister. Given the forecasts of extreme weather and that river levels are rising, one of the key issues that will concern people is not just their homes but continuing gas and electricity supplies. We have learned from experience in 2007 that protecting electricity substations that can be responsible for power for hundreds of thousands of homes is of particular importance. Can he reassure the House about the steps being taken to protect these vital services?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): I can give the right honourable Gentleman that assurance. My right honourable Friend the Minister for Government Policy carried out a review into the resilience of our infrastructure. A lot of extra steps were taken following that, and that has made a difference. Also, in the Cobra system, we are monitoring every day those particular bits of infrastructure that could be under threat. In recent days, it has more been about water-treatment works than electricity works.

I also spoke to the Minister responsible for energy policy at this morning’s Cobra to make sure that everything is done to contact the energy companies to stand up the people who will be necessary if there are further supply interruptions over the coming days. Since the experience of the problems in Kent after Christmas, the energy companies and the network companies have done a better job at reconnecting people more quickly.

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): I thank the Prime Minister for that answer. One of the reassurances that he provided yesterday, as he said in an earlier answer, was to say that money was no object, but this morning the Transport Secretary said that it is not a “blank cheque”. Will the Prime Minister tell the House exactly what areas of spending yesterday’s promise covers?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): I was very clear last night, and let me repeat again that, as I said last night, money is no object in this relief effort. I want communities who are suffering and people who see water lapping at their doors to know that when it comes to the military, sandbags, the emergency services, restoring broken flood defences—all of those things—money is no object. To be fair to the Transport Secretary, this is what he said this morning: “money is not the issue while we’re in this relief job.” That is what he said. He is absolutely right.

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): The Prime Minister is of course absolutely right about the relief effort. He also said yesterday that he will “spend whatever it takes to recover from this” and make sure that we have a “resilient country for the future.”

Let me give him an example in that context. Yesterday, he praised the staff of the Environment Agency, but it is in the process, this year, of making 550 people dealing with flooding redundant. These are staff who help put in place and maintain flood defences, and help deal with clean-up. If money is no object, as he said, is he committing now to reconsidering these redundancies?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): Let me tell the right honourable Gentleman exactly what we are doing with the Environment Agency and with the flood defence budget. We are spending £2.4 billion over the four-year period between 2010 and 2014, which compares with just £2.2 billion in the previous four-year period. What I can say to the House—I think that this is important—is that as the waters recede, it will be important for the Environment Agency and for local authorities all to look again at the flood patterns we have seen and the models that they have, and to work out what fresh flood defences will be necessary.

In addition to that, I can tell the House that we will be introducing a grant for all affected home owners and businesses to build in better flood protection as they repair their properties. That will be up to £5,000 per house and per business. On top of that, we are announcing a £10 million fund to help farmers who have seen their land waterlogged day after day, week after week. I can also announce today that we will be deferring the tax payments that businesses have to pay, and all the businesses that have been affected by floods will get 100% business rate relief.

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): Those steps are welcome and will be welcomed across the House, but I am afraid that the Prime Minister did not answer the specific question I asked, which is about the 550 people who work on flood defences who the Environment Agency is planning to make redundant. They are people who are currently helping with the clean-up, and who put in place the flood defences.
Similarly, on the issue of spending on flood defence, the Committee on Climate Change says that we are spending significantly less on flood defence than we should. My question is a simple one: given yesterday’s promise to make sure that we have a “resilient country for the future” and will “spend whatever it takes”, is the Prime Minister committing now to reconsidering these redundancies and the amount of money we invest in flood defences?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): Let me tell the right honourable Gentleman what we are doing with the Environment Agency budget into the future. We have set out the figures for the Environment Agency budget in terms of capital spending all the way up to 2020. We have made capital spending pledges only in areas such as transport and flood defences—pledges that no one else is able to match, particularly not if they are committed to a zero-based budget review, but promises we are happy to make so that people can see how much money will be spent on flood defences in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. We are only able to make those pledges because we have managed our economy effectively and managed our Budgets effectively.

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): I say to the Prime Minister that he came along to his press conference yesterday and made what sounded like a very grand promise to“spend whatever it takes to recover from this and to make sure we have a resilient country for the future”.

The simple point that I am making to him is that there are real doubts about that when it comes to making members of the Environment Agency who deal with flooding redundant and the Committee on Climate Change—the expert body that is charged with this—says that the investment in flood defences is not happening. He needs to reconsider those things.

I urge the Prime Minister to ensure this in the coming days: the Government need to speak with one voice on this issue; the response needs to be speedier than it has been in the past; and everyone affected needs to feel that they are getting the help they need. If the Government do that, they will have our full support.

Forward to Friend
Defence Select Committee

I attended the weekly meeting of the Defence Select Committee, which I sit on in Parliament, and which this week was taking evidence from Bernard Grey - the Chief of Defence Materiel. Despite spending 2 and a half hours questioning him, it did not feel as though we were any closer to understanding the gains to be made by all of the changes proposed. 
Forward to Friend


Business Questions

Angela Eagle (Shadow Leader of the House of Commons): I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for the week after the recess. On Tuesday the House voted to ban smoking in cars with children present, despite the Government’s opposing the move in the Lords. Will the Leader of the House confirm that we will have a law on the statute book before the next election?

Yesterday the House voted by a margin of 226 to 1 in favour of the Bill to abolish the bedroom tax on the same day as we revealed that thanks to Government incompetence at least 13,000 people have been forced to pay it when they should have been exempt. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has tabled a statutory instrument to try to force those people to pay that hated tax again, but I want to make it clear that during our next Opposition Day Debate Labour will move to annul that odious measure.

The bedroom tax is a callous attack on the poorest people in our country that might end up costing more than it saves, and we do not think that anyone should have to pay it. It seems that the ever-eager Justice Secretary is the only Minister to have responded to a plea for some business to fill the gaping holes in the Government’s stuttering legislative agenda.

The Criminal Justice and Courts Bill amends their own legislation from only two years ago. It has apparently been brought forward from next year’s legislative programme, which suggests that the Government are so desperate for business that they are already poaching Bills from their sparse draft of the next Queen’s Speech. Does the Leader of the House think it would be easier just to skip the Queen’s Speech altogether and leave us officially twiddling our thumbs until the next election?

The floods that are blighting many parts of our country are causing untold misery for thousands of people. As we have just heard, the huge storm overnight caused further travel chaos and left more than 100,000 people without power. On Tuesday, the Prime Minister said at his Downing street press conference that money would be no object in dealing with the floods, but within 24 hours we were told that there would be no blank cheques. Will the Leader of the House tell us which it is?

During Prime Minister’s Questions, the Prime Minister failed to tell us whether he would commit to spending more on flood defences, so can the Leader of the House tell us whether he will? Yesterday the Prime Minister yet again cited inaccurate figures on flood defence spending, so will the Leader of the House finally admit that the Government cut flood funding by £97 million when they came to office in 2010, that they changed the Treasury rules to make it harder to give flood protection schemes the go-ahead, and that flood spending for this year is £63.5 million lower than in 2010, even after the extra money announced last week?

We learned this week that Barclays intends to increase its bonus payouts by 10% while cutting 7,000 staff in the UK. In 2011, the Prime Minister said: “I want the bonus pools to be lower, I want the taxes that the banks pay to be higher and…I want the lending that they do to do business…to increase.”

As always with this Government, the results do not match the rhetoric. Bankers’ bonuses have increased by £600 million since 2012, net lending under the funding for lending scheme for small and medium-sized enterprises has fallen by £2.3 billion since June 2012, and since the election banks have paid more than twice as much in bonuses as they have paid in corporation tax. Labour would use a bankers bonus tax to fund real jobs for young people, but all the Government can do is to refuse to rule out a cut in the top rate of tax. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement from the Chancellor on fairness so that he can explain why he stands up only for a few at the top?

As Valentine’s Day approaches, the coalition will be conscious that it has been going through a bit of a legislative dry spell. Does the Leader of the House have any plans to spice things up, because everyone seems to be falling out of love? The Environment Secretary and the Local Government Secretary have been briefing against each other. Apparently the Deputy Prime Minister thinks that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has “gone native” and is basically just a Tory, and Tory Back Benchers are busy describing their coalition colleagues as “harder to pin down than a weasel covered in Vaseline”.

I understand that Lord Rennard is trying to sue to the Liberal Democrats so that he is allowed to rejoin the party, but he must be the only person in the whole country who would take legal action to become a Liberal Democrat.

Andrew Lansley (Leader of the House of Commons): I feared that the Shadow Leader of the House’s contribution would not live up to her previous humour, but at least she managed it at the last moment.

Angela Eagle (Shadow Leader of the House of Commons): It was a good one, though.

Andrew Lansley (Leader of the House of Commons): Yes, it was.

Copyright © 2014 Office of Madeleine Moon MP, All rights reserved.


Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.

The Labour Party will place cookies on your computer to help us make this website better.

Please read this to review the updates about which cookies we use and what information we collect on our site.

To find out more about these cookies, see our privacy notice. Use of this site confirms your acceptance of these cookies.