Madeleine Moon MP

Labour Member of Parliament for Bridgend

This Week in Parliament 12th - 14th May


The 2013/14 session of Parliament ended on Wednesday evening ahead of the local and European elections next Thursday 22nd May, meaning this will be the last This Week in Parliament until after the Queen's Speech in June.

However, Parliament still sat for three days this week; I was able to ask a question to the Secretary of State for Defence, there were debates on human rights abuses in North Korea and on ending unpaid internships, and there were questions to both the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister.

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Madeleine Moon MP
House of Commons
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Bridgend: 01656 750 002

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12th - 14th May

The 2013/14 session of Parliament ended on Wednesday evening ahead of the local and European elections next Thursday 22nd May, meaning this will be the last This Week in Parliament until after the Queen's Speech in June.

However, Parliament still sat for three days this week; I was able to ask a question to the Secretary of State for Defence, there were debates on human rights abuses in North Korea and on ending unpaid internships, and there were questions to both the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister.


Defence Questions

Vernon Coaker (Shadow Secretary of State for Defence): Ongoing events in Ukraine show the continuing tensions in the region and the potential for further actions by Russia that could be destabilising for the wider region. Can the Secretary of State confirm what steps NATO has already taken, what the British involvement in those has been, and what additional steps are being considered?

Philip Hammond (Secretary of State for Defence): Several measures have already been taken, including increasing the scale of exercises in the Baltic States and stepping up the level of Baltic air policing. A discussion is going on about proposals from Supreme Allied Commander Europe—SACEUR—on a menu of further measures of reassurance, and the United Kingdom expects to play a full part in helping to implement them.

Vernon Coaker (Shadow Secretary of State for Defence): I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. Russia’s effective annexation of Ukraine’s sovereign territory and its threat to others in the European sphere is the sort of activity that we thought had been consigned to a bygone age. Given that the core of UK defence policy is based on stability in Europe, what impact does the Secretary of State think that the ongoing situation will have on our defence policy and that of NATO, and to what extent is it informing discussions in advance of the forthcoming NATO summit in the UK?

Philip Hammond (Secretary of State for Defence): The honourable Gentleman makes a very good point. Some might suggest that our eyes had wandered away from the potential challenge from Russia—a militarily very powerful nation, with which we do not always enjoy an alignment of interests. The consequences of the crisis will be to focus NATO member states clearly back on the potential challenge from Russia, among other challenges that NATO has to be prepared to deal with in the future.

Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay, Liberal Democrat): What steps his Department is taking to tackle homelessness among veterans?

Anna Soubry (Minister of State for Defence): Some 20,000 service personnel leave the armed forces each year. The majority transit into civilian life without any difficulty, but housing is a problem for some. As a result, we have made £40 million of LIBOR funding available to charities and other organisations so that they can address the problem.

Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay, Liberal Democrat): I welcome the money that the Minister has just outlined, but more than 4,000 British veterans find themselves in housing need each year. Will she join me in welcoming the work of Homes for Heroes, and meet me and representatives of that organisation to see what more can be done to tackle this issue?

Anna Soubry (Minister of State for Defence): Indeed. I pay tribute to all our charities and other organisations, which are doing great work to make sure not only that when people leave the forces, they have somewhere to live, but that those veterans who have slipped through the net, some of whom, unfortunately, have ended up homeless, are assisted. I will check my diary and get back to the honourable Gentleman.

Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington, Labour): Is the Minister aware that a proportion of those homeless veterans also have mental health problems? Given the reports that we have seen today about a steep rise in Afghanistan veterans with mental health problems, what are Ministers doing to support veterans in that position?

Anna Soubry (Minister of State for Defence): We all take very seriously all those who suffer from mental health problems by virtue of their service. It is worth saying that the incidence of mental health problems among our veterans is the same as in the population at large. We have ploughed around £7 million recently into making sure that services are available. I pay tribute to Combat Stress, for example, for the outstanding work that it has done. It has had £2.7 million, for example, of LIBOR funding and other funds made available to it. The problem is a serious one, but we have to get it into proportion. Mercifully, the overwhelming number of members of our armed forces do not suffer from mental health illnesses, but when they do, we take that very seriously.

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot, Conservative): What discussions has my right honourable Friend had with US Secretary of Defence Hagel to assess the threat posed by Russia to eastern and southern Ukraine? Might those discussions encompass the deployment of a NATO maritime force, as I have advocated for some time, with the specific purpose of deterring the Russians from taking Odessa?

Philip Hammond (Secretary of State for Defence): As the House would expect, we have regular discussions at ministerial and official level with American counterparts. As the House will know, the US is taking some bilateral actions alongside the actions being taken by NATO. The UK is focused at the moment on contributing to the NATO reassurance agenda, and it is not proposed that that will include the sending of warships into the Black sea.

Madeleine Moon (Bridgend, Labour): During the various visits made by the secretary of State, were there any discussions on the potential use of RPAS— Remotely Piloted Air Systems—to watch the borders, so that nations can be sure no risk is coming towards them?

Philip Hammond (Secretary of State for Defence): No, but, as the honourable Lady will know, the E-3 Sentry AWACS––airborne warning and control system—aircraft is deployed at the moment, patrolling in Polish airspace to protect NATO’s eastern border.


Deputy Prime Minister's Questions

Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South, Labour): Real wages are down, 1.4 million people are stuck on zero-hours contracts and thousands more families have been forced to turn to food banks. Is that the right honourable Gentleman’s party making a difference in government?

Nick Clegg (Deputy Prime Minister): The honourable Lady might have forgotten that when we came to power her party had left an absolute economic catastrophe behind. The great Labour recession in 2008 cost every household in this country more than £3,000. Her party predicted that more than 1 million more people would be unemployed when in fact 1.7 million new jobs have been created, of which we are very proud.

Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): I know that the Deputy Prime Minister has been somewhat exercised about minimum terms for knife crime, but he must be aware of the repeated guidance of senior judges and the residual discretion that will exist in the proposals to reflect other minimum terms. What is his beef?

Nick Clegg (Deputy Prime Minister): It is important that sentences fit the circumstances of a crime and that, in seeking to address knife crime, which is a concern that unites the House, we do not unwittingly do something that can lead to higher reoffending rates. As we know from bitter experience, decanting young people into prison for short sentences leads to a revolving door of crime. I want to see less crime, not more, and that is why I want us to be smart, not simply to talk tough on crime.

Harriet Harman (Shadow Deputy Prime Minister): Not least as a result of difficulties in being able to afford to buy a home, 9 million people are now renting. That figure includes 1.3 million families with children, for whom security and continuity are particularly important. Does the Deputy Prime Minister back our plans to move from one-year tenancies with unpredictable rents, to three-year tenancies with predictable rents? Will he back our proposal to stop letting agencies charging tenants as well as landlords?

Nick Clegg (Deputy Prime Minister): The right honourable and learned Lady makes an important point about the virtues of longer-term tenancies. We are working on a model tenancy agreement that will support tenants and families who want a longer fixed-term tenancy, and will publish the final agreement in the summer. Although the right honourable Lady rightly identifies the problem on agencies’ charges, the solution that she suggests may lead to higher rental costs for people renting properties. That is why we will announce today that we will place new obligations on agents to publish with full transparency the fees that they charge, so that people can shop around and get the best deal available.

Harriet Harman (Shadow Deputy Prime Minister): But transparency is not good enough. We need to be sure that letting agents do not rip tenants off by, as well as charging the landlords, charging the tenants. There will be a vote in the House today. Will he vote with us to protect people in rented accommodation, or will he back the Tories in standing up for the rip-off letting agencies?

Nick Clegg (Deputy Prime Minister): As I explained, we all share the right honourable Lady’s concern about those charges. We just want to make sure that the solution does not make the situation worse, because once rents go up, they tend to stay up. The fundamental problem, for which her party bears a heavy responsibility, is that we are simply not building enough affordable homes in this country, and have not done so for a long period. Under the previous Government, fewer social homes were built than under the Thatcher Government. Now, the rate of affordable house building is higher than it has been in the past 20 years.

Prohibition of Unpaid Internships 

Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell, Conservative): I beg to move that leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit unpaid internships; and for connected purposes. The principle of this Bill is to encourage responsible practice which does not inhibit social mobility and limit experience of competitive working environments to the few who can afford to work without pay. It cannot be disputed that unpaid internships are an impediment to social mobility when, according to a YouGov poll, 43% of 18 to 24-year-olds believe unpaid internships act, or have acted, as a major barrier to getting a job. It is alarming that they have been allowed to continue for so long, especially as Governments of all colours spend huge amounts of time and money to ensure that the school and university system gives a fair opportunity to all. By turning a blind eye to this unfair internship practice, many school leavers and graduates never get the chance to use their education to its full potential.
Indeed, in Alan Milburn’s report into social mobility in 2012, he found that more than 30% of newly hired graduates had previously interned for their employer, rising to 50% in some sectors, underlining the fact that interning is becoming a pre-requisite for graduates looking to access professions. That leaves thousands of young people in a Catch-22 situation, unable to get a job because they do not have the experience, and unable to get experience because they cannot afford to work for free.
A common-sense approach would be to ensure that no work experience is to last longer than four weeks without being paid; at that point, an individual should become an intern and be paid the national minimum wage as a minimum. The change would safeguard opportunity and only requires using powers under section 41 of the National Minimum Wage Act 1998. With the help of Intern Aware, a leading charity that supports the ending of unpaid positions, it has been identified that the Government could give clarity to interns, those on short-term work experience and employers. The change would require secondary legislation and therefore not interfere with existing national minimum wage rules, but it has the potential to designate all individuals who have undertaken a period of work experience for more than four weeks to be a “worker” under the National Minimum Wage Act, thereby ensuring that they are properly treated and recompensed.

I urge the Government to act at the earliest opportunity. I ask for support from both sides of the House. Until amended to make the rules suitable for the modern-day working environment, we are compromising all the progress made by this Government to enable a fair education system for all, regardless of background. It is time that we not only practised, but legislated, what we preach. In a nation such as ours, no one should be expected to work for free. Work should be rewarded. Those who oppose the Bill need to be able to explain to young people why only their wealthy peers should have access to sought-after careers. The Bill moves us into the 21st century, leaving the remnant of the “who you know, not what you know” culture firmly in the history books.

Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield, Labour): I oppose the Bill and I want to give my reasons briefly. Most people who know me might think that I would support the Bill, but the unintended consequence would be to damage some important opportunities for young people in our country. I absolutely agree with the overall purpose of the Bill, but it will not hit the target. I am against exploitation and I am for fairness and social mobility, but I am also in favour of young people getting the experience that they need to enter the workplace. We need a balance.

I chair the schools to work commission and listened with great interest to Jim Hillage from the Institute of Employment Studies, who pointed out that, according to the latest high-flyers research programme, a survey of 18,000 students found that students—any student—who had any work experience at all were three times more likely to get a job. Not only were they more likely to get a job, but they were more likely to stay in a job. They got confidence and a feeling of comfort from joining the work force.

Many of us have offered short-term work experience in our offices to young people whom we want to encourage to get to know the world of work and to understand how Parliament works. The emphasis on only having a paid intern in this place, however, has put MPs off taking on more people in their office. Last year, I paid a full London living wage to an intern, and that was good. I wanted to do that and I want to do it more often, but it squeezed out a lot of young people to whom I used to offer short-term work experience while paying their expenses and even the expenses of staying in London.

I am positively against people who cynically exploit young people and take them on unpaid for long periods of time. We all know, and I agree with the honourable Member for Elmet and Rothwell on this point, that that is the downside. Where we disagree is on whether we should ban any internship that is not paid. I must say Madam Deputy Speaker that I welcome Mr Speaker’s initiative in this House but that very good initiative of taking on young interns, rewarding them and so on is for only 10 people. Is it not about time that even in this House of Commons we said that we should open up such opportunities to lots of young people who otherwise would not have the opportunity? Let us have a proper scheme. Let us talk to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and say that we all need the money to take on three young people every year in our offices and to have a fair way of choosing them.
I could take on a local doctor or accountant’s son or daughter every week. We all know how the system works and, I think, most of us are against it, so I go out of my way to find young people with no other chance at all of pitching up from Huddersfield in West Yorkshire to work in this environment. I work very hard to go out and find them, recruit them, bring them in and give them that chance. Obviously, I can often only offer a week or two, but I do not want us to do anything heavy-handed today that suggests to us or anybody else that the easy approach is to ban all unpaid experience. I know that part of the honourable Gentleman’s Bill addresses that point, but not enough of it does. I do not want such a message to go out to the outside world.

Human Rights in North Korea

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire, Conservative): North Korea is arguably the world’s most closed nation, with the worst human rights record. Looking through all 30 articles of the universal declaration of human rights, it is difficult to identify any of them that have been implemented and respected in North Korea. Almost all are severely repressed or denied. Indeed, the former United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea has described the country as “sui generis”—in a category of its own.

For those reasons, debates such as this are long overdue. For too long—more than 60 years—what amounts to the world’s worst human rights crisis has also been its most overlooked. Why has the appalling inhumanity in North Korea not generated the same headlines or provoked the same mass public outrage as apartheid in South Africa? I hope that young people in our universities and elsewhere will take the issue to heart, as they did apartheid. When I was at the University of Oxford the week before last, I talked to students about it, and I encourage colleagues to do the same when they visit universities and colleges.

Andrew Smith (Oxford East, Labour): I congratulate the honourable Gentleman on securing this enormously important debate. What he wishes is actually starting to happen. Students from Oxford have come to see me, and one important point that they made is that if we could get the BBC World Service to broadcast to Korea in Korean, its reputation for impartiality would be an enormous force for good.

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire, Conservative): I agree with the right honourable Gentleman. I will say more about the BBC World Service and broadcasting in general in North Korea later in my remarks. I welcome his support and intervention. On 17 February this year, the UN commission of inquiry on human rights in North Korea published its report, concluding that North Korea’s brutal regime is committing a wide range of crimes against humanity, arising from “policies established at the highest level of State”. Such crimes against humanity include, “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation”.

That is a pretty appalling list. Among the reported abuses, the inquiry found that pregnant women are starved, while their babies are fed rats and snakes. More than 100,000 people—I think the Government estimate up to 200,000 people—are in gulags, which have existed for more than 60 years. There is systematic torture; everyone is forced to inform on each other; entire communities are denied adequate food; and the bodies of the dead are burned and then used for fertiliser. I look forward to hearing from the Minister what steps the United Kingdom is considering taking in future; what role the UK will play in continuing to lead international efforts to ensure that the commission of inquiry’s report is turned into a plan of action and does not sit on a shelf; and specifically what steps the Security Council can take to seek a referral to the ICC or another appropriate mechanism for justice and accountability.

Hugo Swire (Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs): The issue of human rights in North Korea has occupied a great deal of my time. I discussed it only yesterday with our ambassador to Pyongyang, who will also meet the all-party group next week. As I have said before to this House, and in two written ministerial statements in February and March respectively, I believe that the situation in North Korea is without equal in its scale and brutality. No one who has read Lord Alton’s book, “Building Bridges”, can fail to be moved by the suffering of North Korea’s people, or to recognise the urgent need to end this suffering.

Of course, the Government also have wider objectives in DPRK. We remain deeply concerned about the development of nuclear and ballistic missile programmes pursued in wilful disregard of UN Security Council resolutions. The DPRK’s behaviour poses a threat to regional stability and to the global non-proliferation regime, and its willingness to sell conventional arms to anyone who will pay fuels conflict around the world. Nevertheless, we have not allowed this to distract us from challenging the DPRK on its human rights record.

The UK played an active role in supporting the commission of inquiry, hosting a visit that allowed DPRK refugees in the UK to provide evidence to it. I myself met Justice Kirby on that visit. It is deeply regrettable that he has been subjected to personal abuse from the regime in Pyongyang. Following the commission’s report in February, I issued a statement welcoming the spotlight it shone on appalling human rights violations and called upon the DPRK Government to address them urgently.

We worked with the EU, Japan and others to ensure that the UN Human Rights Council adopted a strong resolution, recommending that the commission’s report be forwarded to the UN Security Council for consideration of appropriate action, including referral to an appropriate international justice mechanism. I have made it clear that, ultimately, the UK sees the International Criminal Court as the most appropriate option for this.

We took a similarly strong position in New York last month, when the commission gave an informal briefing to UN Security Council members—the first time members of the Security Council have ever considered DPRK human rights—although both China and Russia were notable for their absence. Again, we took a tough line at the DPRK’s universal periodic review on 1 May, using our role as a member of the troika to counter any exaggeration of DPRK engagement with the review’s recommendations.

We will continue to keep the spotlight on North Korea: when the DPRK special rapporteur, Marzuki Darusman, presents his report to the Human Rights Council in June; when Ministers meet at the UN General Assembly in September; and through a tough UN General Assembly resolution in the autumn. Many other issues were raised in the debate, but alas in my remaining minute, I do not have time to address them. Let me conclude by reiterating the Government’s desire, which is shared by my honourable Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire, to see concrete progress on alleviating the appalling human rights situation in North Korea, on ending the climate of impunity and on bringing those responsible to account.


Prime Ministers Questions

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): I welcome the fall in unemployment. For all those people who have found work, it is good for them and good for their families.
On the subject of high-skilled jobs in the UK, following the appearance of Pfizer at the Select Committee yesterday, can the Prime Minister tell us what further assurances he is seeking from Pfizer about its takeover of AstraZeneca?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): First of all, may I welcome the fact that the right honourable Gentleman has welcomed the fall in unemployment? These are, of course, jobs that he predicted would never come to Britain and would never be there. This is important, because what we see today is the largest-ever quarterly increase in the number of people in work—283,000. We see unemployment coming down, youth unemployment coming down, long-term unemployment coming down, and long-term youth unemployment coming down—and of course, in our growing economy, where our long-term economic plan is working, we see the number of vacancies going up. Honourable Members may be interested to know, in addition, that three quarters of the new jobs over the last year have gone to UK nationals, and also that the employment of Romanians and Bulgarians actually went down in the first three months of this year following the lifting of the controls, which is notable.

In terms of Pfizer and AstraZeneca, this Government have been absolutely clear that the right thing to do is to get stuck in to seek the best possible guarantees on British jobs, British investment and British science. We discussed this last week and one of the most important things we have learned since then is that the right honourable Gentleman was asked for a meeting with Pfizer, but he said he was too busy political campaigning. He quite literally put party politics ahead of the national interest.

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): I am not going to take any lectures from the guy who was negotiating with Pfizer over the heads of the board of AstraZeneca. Pfizer does not need a public relations man—it has the Prime Minister. For Members on both sides of the House, the appearance of Pfizer at a Select Committee raised more questions than it answered about the so-called assurances. The head of Pfizer said there would be a fall in research and development spending as a result of the takeover. Has the Prime Minister got an assurance that those R and D cuts will not take place in the UK?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): We want the strongest possible guarantees, but I have to ask the right honourable Gentleman: what is the way of getting those guarantees? Is it getting stuck in with Pfizer and AstraZeneca, battling for the British interest, or is it standing back like him, doing absolutely nothing apart from playing politics? That is the point I put to him. I am clear about what the British interest is: it is British jobs, British science and British R and D, and we will do everything we can to make those guarantees that we have received—the right honourable Gentleman would have got nothing—as firm as possible. As we do so, let us remember that 175,000 people are employed in the life sciences in our country, because we are an open economy that encourages investment. Eli Lilly, Novartis, Johnson & Johnson and e Sci have chosen to come and invest here because it is a great country to come and do business.

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): The problem is that the assurances are “vague”, have “caveats” and are “inappropriate”. Those are not my words, but the words of the president of the Royal Society. The assurances are useless and there is no guarantee on R and D. Let us talk about jobs. The head of Pfizer said yesterday: “There will be job cuts somewhere”. Has the Prime Minister got an assurance that those job cuts will not take place in the UK?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): We have assurances on the percentage of R and D that will happen here and on investment in Cambridge and in Macclesfield. If the right honourable Gentleman is asking whether we want further assurances, then yes, we do. Do we want to make sure those jobs stay here? Yes, we do. Do we want more investment in British universities and British science? Yes, we do. The only difference between us is on how to get those things. I say: get stuck in, negotiate hard and fight for Britain. He says: stand up, play politics and put that before the national interest.

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): But the Prime Minister’s negotiations are not working—they are worthless. On R and D and jobs, he has no answer. Let us try the Prime Minister on another issue: the possible carving up of the merged company. Nobody wants the company to be bought, split up and then sold off. Has he got assurances that that will not happen in the case of this takeover?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): What we want is a good outcome for British investment and British jobs. We know what happens if you take the approach of the Labour party. Let us remember Kraft and Cadbury. What did we have? We had outright opposition, wonderful speeches about blocking investment and then complete and abject surrender and the closure of plants under Labour. That is what happened. We have learned the lessons of the mistakes Labour made. We are operating under the framework that it left us—which, incidentally, the right honourable Gentleman wrote when he was at the Treasury—and we will get results for British science, British jobs and investment by being engaged rather than standing off and playing politics.

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): We all know what happened the last time the Prime Minister got assurances: he sold off Royal Mail at a knock-down price and the Chancellor’s best man made a killing. That is what happens with the Prime Minister’s assurances. The truth is that the Prime Minister cannot give us a guarantee, because the chief executive says that he wants to “conserve the optionality” of splitting up the company and flogging it off. Last week, the Prime Minister said he would judge the takeover on
“British jobs, British investment and British science.” But he cannot offer us assurances on any of those things. Is it not obvious—he should have a proper test of the public interest, and if the deal does not pass, he should block it?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): Once again, the right honourable Gentleman raises this issue about the public interest test. It is worth asking which party, which Government and indeed which individual, when he was sitting in the Treasury writing the rules, got rid of that test. It was the right honourable Gentleman. That is what we see: on a day when unemployment is down, on a day when more people are in work, he will try any trick other than to talk about what is happening in our economy. That is the truth. The country is getting stronger, and he is getting weaker.

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): The Prime Minister might not think it important to talk about a company that is 2% of UK exports and on which 30,000 jobs depend. It is important: it is crucial to our national interest. The truth is that he is not powerless. He is the Prime Minister, and he could act on a public interest test. We are talking about one of our most important companies. Nobody is convinced by his assurances. Why will he not intervene? Because he is falling back on the old idea that the market always knows best and does not need rules. From Royal Mail to AstraZeneca, this is a Prime Minister whose ideology means that he cannot stand up for the national interest.

David Cameron (Prime Minister): If the right honourable Gentleman thinks these companies are important, why did he not meet them, rather than going canvassing? That is what he did: he quite literally put his own party political interest ahead of the national interest. What he fails to understand is that, yes, we measure the British interest in British jobs, British science and British investment, but we also measure it in being a country that is open to overseas investment. There is a reason why companies and countries are coming here to make cars, to build aeroplanes, to build trains, to fabricate oil rigs, to make new drugs in our country—it is because we have cut taxes, we welcome investment, we are growing our economy and we have got more people in work. We will take absolutely no lectures from the people who brought this economy to its knees.
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