Madeleine Moon MP

Member of Parliament for Bridgend

This Week in Parliament 13th - 17th January

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I was able to make a number of appearances on a wide variety of issues this week: On defence during an urgent question on Defence IT, on foreign policy during a ministerial statement on Syria, I also gave a speech on Women and the criminal justice system during a Westminster Hall debate and contributed to the Report stage on a related issue, the Offender Rehabilitation Bill.

The week also saw PMQs as usual and the Bank of England Governor appearing before MPs.

 

Monday


Work and Pensions Questions

The week began however with Work and Pensions Secretary Ian Duncan-Smith taking questions from MPs on a variety of welfare and benefit issues.

Questions ranged from the employment statistics to difficulties implementing the Universal Credit, with Labour's shadow secretary Rachel Reeves focusing on the Bedroom tax while I asked about 


Rachel Reeves (Leeds West) (Lab): We already know that 600,000 people are affected by the bedroom tax, two thirds of them are disabled and 60,000 are carers. Will the Secretary of State now tell the House exactly how many long-term residents have been wrongly paying the bedroom tax since April because the Government failed to spot a loophole in the legislation?

Mr Duncan Smith: We have already made it clear that the number is likely to be between 3,000 and 5,000, but we will be clearer about that when the local authorities, which are responsible for collecting the data, come forward with the final facts.

Rachel Reeves: The fact is that the Secretary of State has not got a clue. It could be 5,000 or it could be as many as 40,000 people, as reported by the experts. What a total shambles! Will the Secretary of State now guarantee that everybody who has been wrongly paying the bedroom tax will be reimbursed, and instead of closing the loophole, will the Government now do the right thing and scrap the bedroom tax?

Mr Duncan Smith: Yet again, what we have from the hon. Lady is a moan about a policy that helps people in difficult circumstances. I said earlier that not once has she come to the Dispatch Box and said that she was concerned about those her party left behind living in overcrowded accommodation. Not once has she mentioned the 1 million on the waiting list or apologised for the fact that building levels for social housing fell to their lowest point since the ’20s. Of course we will look after those affected by the policy, but she must make it clear that she supports one of these policies; otherwise, there will be a total cost to the Exchequer. The shambles is on the Opposition’s part.

 ...

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of Capita’s timescales for processing medical assessments for personal independence payments and providing them to his Department. [901895]

The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Mike Penning): As I said earlier, the end to end journey time for people claiming PIP is too long—within the DWP as well as with Capita and Atos in the hon. Lady’s constituency. More than anything else, this is to do with quality issues that we want to get right. There is no point in having a very quick journey if we get the wrong decision.

Mrs Moon: I thank the Minister for that reply. My constituent Mr Weaver applied for PIP in June, and Mrs Curran did so in July. They both had their assessments with Capita in August. The assessments have still not reached the DWP, which is totally unacceptable. Legitimate claims are being denied, which cannot be good money for the Government and cannot be a quality service. This company is inept, inefficient and not fit to carry out the work it is asked to do.

Mike Penning: I thank the hon. Lady and we will obviously look into the individual cases she mentioned. It is absolutely crucial to get it right and to get the quality right so that when benefits are claimed, those who deserve them get them and those who do not deserve them do not. Face-to-face assessment is a crucial part of this and I have said previously, fewer than 6% of those who claimed benefit were ever assessed.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm140113/debtext/140113-0001.htm#14011313000007

 
Syria Statement
The Foreign Secretary William Hague updated the house on the latest diplomatic developments around the Syrian Civil War. I took the opportunity to call on the Government to increase its support for the most vulnerable refugees fleeing the conflict.

 

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement on Syria. I would first like to inform the House that we have reached E3 plus 3 agreement with Iran on implementing, from 20 January, the first stage nuclear agreement reached in Geneva, as set out in my statement on 25 November. We will now move to seek a comprehensive settlement on the nuclear issue with Iran.

Yesterday I attended the meeting of the core group of the Friends of Syria in Paris to prepare the ground for the Geneva II peace negotiations beginning in Montreux on 22 January. In his letter of invitation, the UN Secretary-General makes it clear that the aim is to

“assist the Syrian parties in ending the violence and achieving a comprehensive agreement for a political settlement, implementing fully the Geneva Communiqué, while preserving the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Syria.”

That means agreeing a transitional governing body in Syria with full executive powers, formed by mutual consent, to meet the aspirations of the Syrian people.

Our united message in Paris yesterday, from all 11 countries represented, was the vital necessity of this process, the great importance of both the regime and the opposition being prepared to attend, and our determination to support a political settlement and end the humanitarian suffering of the Syrian people. No one should underestimate the difficulty of the negotiations ahead, but we will not give up on diplomacy as the route to stopping the appalling bloodshed, nor will we waver in supporting the moderate Syrian opposition, for if there is only a murderous regime on the one side and extremists on the other, there can be no peaceful settlement in Syria.

...

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): The Assad regime and the al-Qaeda affiliates have been targeting medical teams. It is extremely difficult for the people in Syria and in the refugee camps around the region to access complex medical care. Is it not time now for the UK to respond to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ urgent request for countries to open their doors to cases of complex medical need, particularly to those who have also been victims of torture?

Mr Hague: A number of views have been expressed in the House about that. I reiterate our very strong work and commitment to help people in such countries. I know she is making a slightly different point, but that is where we are concentrating our help. That includes providing 250,000 medical consultations within Syria as well as tens of thousands outside it. The UK is playing a very big part in trying to provide medical care to the most vulnerable people. I am afraid that I cannot offer her more than that at the moment.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm140113/debtext/140113-0001.htm#14011313000002

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Tuesday

Urgent Question Ministry of Defence 
The Labour Shadow Defence Secretary, Vernon Coaker called Phillip Hammond to Parliament on Tuesday to answer urgent questions on reports that the government will be forced to spend an extra £50 million fixing problems with Capita's IT system being used to recruit the next generation of reserves to the army.
 

Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab) (Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the performance of Ministry of Defence IT systems and the effect on Army recruitment.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Philip Hammond): The Army entered into a partnering contract with Capita in March 2012 to manage the recruitment of regular and reserve soldiers. That is an Army-led initiative designed to free up military personnel from recruitment-related administrative tasks and to improve both the quantity and quality of Army recruits. It will play a key role as we transition the Army to the new Army 2020 structures.

I should make it clear to the House that the Army has not outsourced its recruitment; it remains in overall charge of recruitment and will continue to play a major role in attracting and mentoring recruits. Capita’s role is to manage the supporting processes by which a would-be recruit becomes an enlisted regular or a fully trained reservist.

As I have explained to the House previously, there have been initial difficulties with that recruiting process as we transition to the new recruiting arrangements with Capita. In particular, we have encountered difficulties with the IT systems supporting the application and enlistment process. The decision to use the legacy Atlas IT platform was deemed at the time to be the quickest and most cost-effective way of delivering the new recruitment programme. An option to revert to a Capita hosting solution was included in the contracts as a back-up solution.

Vernon Coaker: I thank the Secretary of State for that statement.

In these first few weeks of 2014 there is no danger of auld acquaintance being forgot with this Secretary of State and Government. It may be a new year, but is it not the same old story of complacency, inefficiency and a lack of transparency at the Ministry of Defence? Here we go again. The Secretary of State has been forced to come to the House of Commons to try to explain catastrophic failures costing millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money. This time it is an IT fiasco. It did not have to be like this.

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that many in this House, myself included, warned that the Government were taking risks with Britain’s security by not fixing the reserve recruitment crisis before reducing numbers in the regular Army, and now we have the IT debacle? Does he accept that, just like the mess the Government made of privatising procurement, his entire armed forces reform programme is in danger of collapsing, too?

I asked the Defence Secretary specifically about the IT problems and Capita on the Floor of the House on 20 November 2013. Did he not say that everything was in hand? It is clear that the computer said no, but the Defence Secretary said no problem.

Does the Defence Secretary remember telling the House on 4 November 2013 that there had merely been “teething problems” with the IT support for Army recruitment? If today’s reports are accurate, I would advise the Defence Secretary to seek dental advice elsewhere, because today we have learned that the problems are even worse than anyone thought and still have not been fixed.

Will the Defence Secretary tell the House which Minister signed off the deal and who has been responsible for monitoring it? Will he confirm that the project, costing £1.3 billion, is almost two years behind schedule and will not be fully operational until April 2015 at the earliest?

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Millions wasted on planned “cats and traps” on aircraft carriers, millions wasted on a failed GoCo and millions wasted on a failed IT system—will the Secretary of State tell us how many members of the armed forces would still be in their jobs if it were not for the millions that have been wasted by this Government’s failures?

Mr Hammond: Unfortunately, the hon. Lady forgot the £1.6 billion that was wasted by deliberately delaying the aircraft carrier contract because of a shortage of £300 million of cash in-year. The restructuring of the British Army is a long-term strategic response to the fiscal environment and the post-Afghanistan challenges that we face. The size of the Army is right for the future.

Offender Rehabilitation Bill

Tuesday also saw the report stage of the Offender Rehabilitation Bill, where all MP's have the opportunity to scrutinise the details of the bill after it has been amended in Committee. During the debate I focused on the issue of mental health and mental health services.
 

Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): The reoffending rate among those sentenced to more than 12 months but less than four years is 36.2%, while among those serving between four and 10 years it is 30.7%. As we know, the reoffending rate for individuals sentenced to less than 12 months—the cohort that currently, by and large, receives no supervision, despite some probation trusts asking for the authority to take control of them—stands much higher, at 58.5%. That takes us to the crux of the argument. Everybody in this Chamber agrees that something has to be done, but we disagree about how it should be done, because what the Government have proposed is untried, untested and downright dangerous.

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): I endorse everything the hon. Gentleman is saying about the excellent service that the current probation service provides. Is not part of the problem that the Government are failing to address a major problem, which is the reoffending by people with mental health conditions? If we tackled mental health and mental health services rather than imprisoned people, we could cut some of that reoffending more dramatically than we could by privatising the service.

Mr Llwyd: The hon. Lady, who has taken an interest in this subject for many years, as have I, is absolutely correct. I would go a bit further and say that if we dealt with mental health problems and drug addiction, we could empty about 40% of prisoners from prisons tomorrow without any danger—had we got the safety net out in the community.

Meg Hillier: I thank the Minister for that clarification, particularly the first point, which is indeed good news. I was not a member of the Public Bill Committee and so might have missed some changes that have been made.

Mrs Moon: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Meg Hillier: Yes, but I will just finish responding to the Minister’s intervention.

On the Minister’s second point, I hear what he says, but there is always a risk that someone might be miscategorised and dealt with by an employee who is of a lower grade. The Minister says that they will be qualified, but they will be of a lower grade than fully qualified probation officers, and that decision might need to be made in the other direction. Perhaps he can reassure us on that point when he responds.

Mrs Moon: I should have waited for my hon. Friend to finish responding to the Minister before seeking to intervene, because she has just covered the point I wanted to make. It is not about the level of skills, but the qualification, because the qualification provides a background of knowledge that enforces and informs the way in which a probation officer acts. Someone who is deemed to be skilled might actually be unqualified, so it is important to have the qualification and the experience and skills.

Meg Hillier: I thank my hon. Friend for her comments.

I am also worried about some of the companies that might come into this. I serve on the Public Accounts Committee, and I challenged the big public sector providers that appeared before us recently on whether they would bid for contracts in areas where they had no experience.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm140114/debtext/140114-0001.htm#14011474000002

 
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Wednesday

Prime Minister's Questions

The relatively calm atmosphere of last week wasn't to be found in this week's exchange between the Party leaders and backbenchers. Ed Miliband focused his questions, among other things, on the "Use it or lose it condition" Ed Miliband would like to see in place for housebuilders and the proposed 200% bonuses at RBS.
 

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right: investing in infrastructure is a key part of our long-term economic plan to ensure that Britain’s economy can be a success now and in the future. We have seen major investment in the south-east, with Thameslink, Crossrail and East West Rail all delivering new services for London and the south-east. I can also tell my hon. Friend that, between 2015 and 2020, we are planning to invest more than £56 billion in roads, rail and local transport. It is important to make the point that that is more than three times as much as the planned investment in HS2, so I say to those who fear that HS2 will take all the investment that it will not. Three times as much will be spent elsewhere.

Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab): RBS is expected to ask the Government to approve bonuses of more than 100% on multi-million pound salaries. Does the Prime Minister think that that is acceptable?

The Prime Minister: What I can tell the right hon. Gentleman is that we will continue with our plans for RBS that have seen bonuses come down by 85% and a bonus pool at one third the level it was under Labour. I can confirm today that, just as we have had limits on cash bonuses of £2,000 at RBS this year and last year, we will do the same next year as well.

Edward Miliband: We can all agree with the general sentiments that the right hon. Gentleman expresses about bonuses, but today I am asking him a very specific question. RBS is talking to parts of the Government about the proposal to pay over 100% bonuses. He is the Prime Minister, the taxpayer will foot the bill, so will he put a stop to it right now by telling RBS to drop this idea?

The Prime Minister: I will tell the right hon. Gentleman exactly what we are saying to RBS: if there are any proposals to increase the overall pay—that is, the pay and bonus bill—at RBS, at the investment bank, we will veto them. What a pity that the previous Government never took an approach like that. [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. However long it takes, the questions will be heard and the answers will be heard.

Edward Miliband: I am not asking about increases in pay and bonuses; I am asking a very simple question about the proposal that is expected to come forward from RBS to pay more than 100% bonuses on pay. We know that when RBS is making a loss, when it itself says that it has been failing small businesses and when these kinds of bonuses lead to risky one-way bets, it should not be allowed to happen. When ordinary families are facing a cost of living crisis, surely the right hon. Gentleman can say that for people earning £1 million a bonus of £1 million should be quite enough.


 
 
Treasury Select Committee questions Bank of England Governer

Also on Wednesday the Treasury Select Committee heard evidence from the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney as part of the committee's Financial Stability Report. click on the link below for more information or to watch the evidence session.
 
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Thursday

Westminster Hall: Women and the Criminal Justice System

I gave a speech in a debate in Westminster Hall, a large room of the famous medeavil hall of the same name which is used in effect as a second chamber of the Commons. The debate was on Women and the Criminal Justice System. I raised a range of issues highlighting the significant differences between women and men when it comes to imprisonment and the need for  differing approaches. 
 

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): I apologise, Mr Amess, but I have to leave before the end of the debate, because I have to meet a distinguished visitor who is coming to address the Defence Committee. I shall be as brief as possible.

I have listened to one of the speeches in today’s debate more than once this week, and I have to say that I have not found myself agreeing with one iota of it on either occasion. I find it most worrying when people say that equality means sameness. Equality is not about things being the same. If it was, we would expect someone with a disability to be able to do the same as somebody who does not have a disability, and, if we asked them to do the same things, we would say that was because we were treating them equally, but we would not be treating them equally; we would be treating one of them unfairly. Equality is not about sameness.

I want to discuss why we use prison and the impact of prison on women. I have always thought that prison was there for risks of harm, and in particular for those people who are a risk to public safety. If we look at the figures from various research establishments, we will see that the majority of women prisoners are themselves victims. Many have been the victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse. Many are serving short, rather than long, sentences for the offences they have committed. Many are sentenced to community-based alternatives, with lower levels of expectation in those sentences, because the crimes they have committed have been less violent. To give some figures to show how violent offences among young girls have fallen, in 2006-07, there were just over 17,000 convictions for violent offences committed by young girls; in 2009-10, that figure was down to 13,000. It is also interesting to drill down into the figures and see the reasons why women’s offences are committed: for example, 48% of women’s offences were committed in support of someone else’s drug use, often a male partner’s.

Members will be aware that I have been concerned for some time about how we are using the criminal justice system instead of the mental health system to deal with people with mental health problems. A woman in prison is nearly twice as likely as a man to have had depression—65% of women in prison had depression before they were there, as opposed to 37% of men. The incidence of depression among women who have been convicted of offences is three times greater than among women in the general population. If we look at what the public want for women offenders, we find that they want more drug treatment, alcohol treatment and mental health treatment, and more debt advice, because it is generally accepted that those are the drivers of a large percentage of crimes committed by women.

In 2011 there were 1.2 million convictions, of which 24% were of women. According to the figures for why men and women have been convicted, 52% of the convictions for theft and handling of stolen goods were of women, and 33% were of men. Women are often engaged in petty theft—they are more often the shoplifters, and are more often shoplifting as a way of supplementing their household income or supporting a member of their family. It is not done for self-gain; it is a way of dealing with domestic and personal circumstances.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm140116/halltext/140116h0001.htm#14011675000213

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