Madeleine Moon MP

Member of Parliament for Bridgend

This Week in Parliament: 16th-19th November, 2015

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16th-19th November

This week was overshadowed by the appalling terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday evening. A considerable proportion of parliamentary time was devoted to discussing the implications of the attacks; both the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister gave statements in the Commons chamber and the issue dominated PMQs. However, the ordinary business of parliament also had to be attended to with Questions to the Health and Energy Secretaries and a historic debate on male suicide in Westminster Hall.

MONDAY

The Home Secretary and the Paris attacks

Friday's terrorist attack in Paris was a targeted attempt to undermine the freedom and confidence of the city and all those who share its values. On Monday the Home Secretary Theresa May spent many hours in the Commons Chamber responding to questions from MPs about the UK's preparedness to deal with a similar attack in the future, as well as many other issues related to policing.

A number of MPs had questions for the Home Secretary about the progress that the government has made on the re-settlement of Syrian refugees. The government has previously promised to provide refuge to 20,000 refugees but there are concerns that the government has been too slow and sluggish in its response to the unfolding crisis.

Jeff Smith, the Labour MP for Manchester Withington, feared that local government funding cuts have hindered the implementation of the re-settlement scheme. The Home Secretary assured the House that funding has been guaranteed for at least a year and that the Treasury is looking for further sources of funding for subsequent years.
Yvette Cooper MP, Chair of Labour's Refugee Task-force, emphasised the fact that 'many of the Syrian refugees whom Britain expects to help over the coming months are fleeing exactly the same terrible ISIS brutality that we saw on the streets of Paris'. This is in an important point. As concerns grow about the security implications of the free movement of people across Europe, it is important to remember that the vast majority of refugees are fleeing terrorism, not seeking to export it here.

Following Parliamentary Questions, the Home Secretary gave a statement specifically focussed on the Paris attacks. She clarified that at least 129 people, including at least one British national, were killed in the attacks and that 99 people were in a critical condition. This information may be revised over the next few days. Ms May also confirmed that the UK's threat level remains 'severe', indicating 'that an attack is highly likely and could occur without warning'. She described the steps that the government has taken to increase security at our borders and emphasised the importance of working with our European allies to defeat ISIS.

In 
my intervention, I asked the Home Secretary 'what consideration has she given, in discussions with the Ministry of Defence, to utilising the armed forces in the prevention of, and in response to, an armed attack in the UK'. Police numbers have already fallen since Labour left government in 2010 and are likely to be further reduced following cuts to be announced in next week's Spending Review. I am concerned that the military is being used to fill gaps in policing. Neighbourhood police officers are at the forefront of intelligence gathering and community liaison. As a leaked Home Secretary suggests, senior officials are very concerned that the police may lack the resources and manpower to respond effectively to a serious terrorist incident.  In answer to my question, the Home Secretary confirmed that military and civilian security forces are working and training together in anticipation of a possible future attack.

 
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TUESDAY

Future of Reserve Forces

On Tuesday morning Philip Hollobone, the Conservative MP for Kettering, led a Westminster Hall debate on the future of the reserve forces. The government is in the process of replacing regular forces with reserve forces. In his opening speech, Mr Hollobone sought to challenge the popular but misleading perception of the reserves as a 'Dad's army' and emphasised the important role played by men and women of all ages. I intervened in the debate to remind colleagues of the importance of recruiting reservists with a range of civilian skills that have important military applications:

Is not one of the areas where reservists can particularly excel, no matter what their age, the specialist services dealing with cyber-defence? Given that the Chancellor announced yesterday that £2 billion will be going to extend our cyber-capability, should we not be looking to recruit into the reserves from our IT and technology companies?

Mark Field, the Conservative MP for the Cities of London and Westminster agreed and suggested that the government should consider introducing a 'reinsurance package in the cyber area, rather like what Pool Re provides in the terrorist area'. 


Health Questions

On Tuesday morning the Health Secretary and his ministerial team fielded questions from MPs in the Commons Chamber. In advance of a historic Westminster Hall debate on male suicide on Thursday, Simon Danczuk, Labour MP for Rochdale, asked 'what steps he is taking to reduce suicide rates'. In response, Alistair Burt, the Minister for Community and Social Care, emphasised the importance of challenging the pervasive assumption that suicide is inevitable. Men need to be encouraged to open up and talk about anxieties and stresses in their lives, he said.

A number of MPs had questions about the links between poverty and poor health. Tommy Sheppard, the Scottish National Party MP for Edinburgh East, described the 'widespread concern that the proposed cuts to the tax credits regime will result in greater poverty'. Mr Shepard asked the Secretary of State to 'consider putting in place mechanisms to monitor the effect of the tax credit changes on demands on the national service'. In her answer the Minister Jane Ellison MP sought to avoid a discussion on the specific consequences of tax credits and chose instead to emphasise the government's general commitment to 'improving the life chances of all our children'. 
 
On Tuesday I afternoon I attended an event to promote the introduction of round-the-clock palliative care for terminally ill children. 49,000 seriously ill children in the UK have conditions that mean they will die young. The charity, 'Together for Short Lives' provides support for families and campaigns for improved services. 
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WEDNESDAY

Steel

During Welsh Questions on Wednesday morning, the UK's beleaguered steel industry was once again the focus of discussion. Steel is such an important industry to Wales and Bridgend; to see it in difficulty around the UK is extremely worrying and many Welsh MPs like myself want to have reassurances that the government is giving practical support to the industry.

Wayne David, the Labour MP for Caerphilly, described the 'perfect storm' that the European steel industry is confronting 'as a result of cheap imports, falling prices and high energy costs'. Chris Davies, the Conservative MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, asked if British steel would be prioritised in 'large infrastructure projects, such as the electrification of the Great Western main line'. Stephen Crab, the Secretary of State for Wales, confirmed that the government has 'changed the guidelines for Departments on procuring steel for major projects... which we hope will create more opportunities for UK steel manufacturers to win those bigger contracts'. 

As Welsh Questions got under way, a tragedy was unfolding in Cardiff. Emergency services had been called to investigate reports of a 'massive explosion' at the Celsa Steel plant. It has now been confirmed that two men died at the plant. 


Access to Justice

Liz Saville Roberts, the Plaid Cymru MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, raised concerns about the government's reforms to the judicial system. Her focus was on the provision of Welsh language services in the court system, but she also brought up the closure of courts around the UK. As constituents will now be aware, the Ministry of Justice plans to relocate the family and magistrates courts in Bridgend to Port Talbot and Cardiff. This will severely restrict local access to justice and contribute to the degeneration of the town centre. I have submitted an extensive submission to the consultation and I await its results. In the meantime, I have had confirmation from the government that over £220,000 has been spent on renovating the court in Bridgend that they are now planning to close.

 
Mental Health Services

On Wednesday I attended the launch of a recent report published by the Independent Mental Health Services Alliance on access and outcomes in mental health. The event was hosted by James Morris MP, the Chair of the All Parliamentary Mental Health Group, with whom I hope to work in the future to improve the experience of mental health service-users.
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THURSDAY

Special Forces

The special forces are an elite force about which little is known and over which Parliament has little oversight. Following the announcement that a further £2 billion is to be siphoned off for the special forces, I asked Chris Grayling, the
Leader of the House, whether it was time for greater Parliamentary scrutiny:

Earlier this week, the Prime Minister announced an extra £2 billion of funding for special forces. We only have 450 in our special forces. Apparently, the money is to be used to buy equipment—protection equipment, vehicles, including helicopters, and night fighting equipment. May we have a debate on whether this is new money or money diverted from the wider defence budget, and on whether or not it is time—given that the Prime Minister now has his own private army, by the sound of it—to widen and make more open parliamentary oversight of special forces?

In his reply, Mr Grayling refused to engage with my central point that Parliament is being denied the right to hold the Prime Minister to account over his spending decisions:

I must say that I think the Prime Minister’s “private army” is a pretty disparaging way to describe some of the most heroic people in our armed forces. We are providing the money necessary to enable an elite and brave group of people to defend this country against the appalling activities we have seen in France in recent days. I am proud that this is a Government who do the right thing in such areas. The hon. Lady will have plenty of time to question the Chancellor about his spending plans next week, but we will always do the right thing to try to protect our citizens.

Male Suicide


Suicide is the biggest killer of men under-45 in this country and more must be done at a national and local level to put in place prevention strategies and provide opportunities for people to talk openly about their stresses and anxieties. This was the message from the Westminster Hall debate on male suicide on Thursday.

Philip Davies, Conservative MP for Shipley, had called the debate to coincide with International Men's Day. I disagree profoundly with Mr Davies's attitude to gender relations but I welcomed the opportunity to put pressure on the government over high suicide rates, having worked on the issue for many years as Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Suicide Group. To begin with, I made the point that we will only challenge the
stigma surrounding suicide if we are careful with the language we use to talk about it: 

Can I point out to everyone in the room, please, that no one in this country has committed suicide since 1961, when suicide was no longer a crime? People “commit” murder, burglary or arson, but they do not “commit” suicide. They take their own life, but they do not “commit” suicide—“commit” is a word that relates to a crime, and suicide is not a crime.

Later on in the debate, I discussed the poor 'emotional education that we give to young men in this country':


No matter how modern and how diverse a society we become, we still seem to educate our children to feel that they have to man up and be strong, and that they cannot talk about emotions. Some organisations, particularly sports organisations, have done fantastic work on suicide prevention.

Following my speech, I welcomed the contribution of Maria Miller, Conservative MP for Basingstoke, in which she directly challenged Mr Davies's unhelpful suggestion earlier in the debate, that gender discrimination against women has vanished form our society: 

Women face discrimination on a daily basis—that is not a myth. He does not do his case much good by attempting to belittle that discrimination... 
International Men’s Day is not about pitching men against women; it is about the health of men and boys, the promotion of gender equality, positive male role models and men’s contribution to family life and their children’s lives.

Alistair Burt, the Minister for Care and Support in the Department of Health, offered a thoughtful response to the debate on behalf of the government. I was particularity pleased to hear his support for my point about language: 

She (Ms Moon) was right about language. When she said that the phrase we should use now is not “to commit suicide” but rather “to take one’s own life”, that was not designed to chastise my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley or anyone else... As the hon. Lady said, the feeling of loss experienced by affected families is considerable; that the language used could add to that a sense that their loved one did something criminal had not occurred to me, but on reflection I certainly understood it. Her remark was not meant to chastise anyone. I have corrected my way of looking at the matter as a result of what I was told. That is just sensible sensitivity.

Alistair movingly described his many encounters with people whose lives have been affected by suicide and praised the work of the charities and organisations which work hard to prevent suicide and provide support for families. He also announced financial support for the Multicentre Study of Self-harm in England and committed himself to exploring further opportunities for the government to support their work.
 
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