Madeleine Moon MP

Labour Member of Parliament for Bridgend

This Week in Parliament 16th-20th December

This Week in Parliament 16th-20th December

16th - 20th December:- Parliament sat for its final week before the Christmas break, although with a large amount of business left to be completed this meant a number of busy days.

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Madeleine Moon MP
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16th - 20th December

Parliament sat for its final week before the Christmas break, although with a large amount of business left to be completed this meant a number of busy days.

Monday saw questions to the Secretary of State for Defence, as well as the Second Reading of the Government’s Care Bill, which is aimed at reforms to the NHS and social care. There was also a contentious Labour sponsored debate over food banks and the final Prime Minister’s Questions of the year. Parliament will return on Monday 6 January 2014.


In Defence Questions I asked the Defence Secretary about sexual harassment in the military and also about whether the Government intended to develop a fund for nuclear test veterans. The Government’s Care Bill also came before the House of Commons on Monday for its Second Reading. Although Labour supported large parts of the Bill, it was felt that the legislation had not gone far enough in addressing the concerns outlined by the recent Dilnot Commission. I took the chance to highlight the lack of money in local government to deal with this issue.

Defence Questions

Madeleine Moon (Bridgend, Labour): What research has his Department has commissioned since 2010 on gender discrimination and sexual harassment in the military?

Anna Soubry (Minister for Defence): As an equal opportunities employer, the armed forces are committed to a working environment free from harassment and discrimination. Substantial progress has been made since the 2006 Equal Opportunities Commission report on sexual harassment in the military and, as I am sure the hon. Lady knows, the 2009 Watts Andrews report into equality and diversity in the Army was published last week. The UK has the first female two-star military officer, Air Vice-Marshal Elaine West. Since her appointment, a second female RAF two-star appointment has been made. The short answer to the hon. Lady’s question is no, but it is obviously a serious subject that we take seriously.

Madeleine Moon (Bridgend, Labour): As the Minister will be aware, the numerous surveys that have been carried out among female members of the armed forces show that on a daily basis they experience sexual harassment and gender harassment. What steps will she take to ensure that we drive out this pernicious underestimation of the capability of female members of the armed forces and put in place the equality regime that our military should be operating to?

Anna Soubry (Minister for Defence): It is a serious subject, and certainly one that I take seriously. The armed forces continuous attitudes survey for this year indicated that 10% of personnel believe that they have been the subject of discrimination, harassment or bullying in a service environment in the past 12 months, which unfortunately is 2% higher than in 2012. It is a serious matter, and one that I will always be happy to discuss with the honourable Lady.

Madeleine Moon (Bridgend, Labour): My Bridgend council recently added to its military covenant a recognition of the service of the nuclear test veterans and called for the development of a fund for those veterans and their descendants in times of need. The idea was put forward by Councillor David White, whose father died when he was four, as he had been at Christmas Island and was one of the nuclear test veterans. What steps will the Ministry of Defence take to give that additional support and recognition to nuclear test veterans? 

Anna Soubry (Minister for Defence): This is a somewhat complicated subject, and certainly one of some controversy. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) recently secured a debate on the subject. At the moment, the Government have no intention of setting up such a fund. We believe that the existing provision is there. Again, I am more than happy to have a discussion with the hon. Lady to explain what I think is the very good case that the Government make on the matter.

Care Bill

Madeleine Moon (Bridgend, Labour): I spent 30 years making assessments of people who were in care and addressing the care that they needed, often while working in hospitals to get them discharged. After 30 years, the same problem exists: there is not enough money in local government to pay for the care to get people home early to have the rehabilitation they need at home, with the quality of care to make sure that they do not deteriorate further and end up back in the hospital system. This Bill will not tackle that fundamental underlying problem.

Andy Burnham (Shadow Secretary of State for Health): She is absolutely right. This Bill promises far-off help for people while services are getting worse right now, because the Government have failed to address the crisis in local government’s ability to fund social care.


Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood, Conservative): Clause 2 introduces something that the health and care system has talked about since 1948, but almost never put real resource into, which is preventing the need for the delivery of health and care services, and particularly of acute health care. This Bill’s emphasis is on the needs of individuals and on the need we each feel as individuals to avoid unnecessary health costs and care. None of us wants to be a patient in an intensive care unit if it is avoidable. That is why clause 2 talks about the importance of prevention and avoiding avoidable needs for care.

Madeleine Moon (Bridgend, Labour): Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that it is possible to carry out lots of needs assessment—goodness knows, I carried out many of them in my day—but that unless care is available to allow a patient to be discharged from hospital, it does not matter how many needs assessments have been done? In fact, the longer patients are in hospital, the greater their needs will be—they will not be able to walk, their incontinence will increase and so forth. What is important is to put the cart before the horse and make sure that the funding of community-based care is there. It is not there at the moment.



Justice Questions

Tuesday saw questions to the Secretary of State for Justice and his ministerial team on a wide range of topics, particularly on the mooted withdrawal of the UK from the European Court of Human Rights. 


Henry Bellingham (North West Norfolk, Conservative): What recent representations he has received about UK withdrawal from the European Court of Human Rights; and if he will make a statement.

Chris Grayling (Secretary of State for Justice): The coalition agreement commits the Government to the European convention on human rights and the Strasbourg Court. However, the differences between the two parties’ views on this subject are well known, so there will be no major changes before the next election, although, of course, it is my party’s intention that there should be afterwards.

Henry Bellingham (North West Norfolk, Conservative): Does the Lord Chancellor agree with me that it is quite outrageous that the European Court of Human Rights has deemed whole-life sentences to be in breach of human rights laws? Is he aware that I used to be a strong supporter of the Court, but that I now feel strongly that the time has come when it is in our national interest to come out of it?

Chris Grayling (Secretary of State for Justice): My honourable Friend echoes the view of many people in this country that the whole-life tariff ruling is entirely inappropriate. The Government are considering how best to respond to the ruling, but it is an example of why, in my view, the Court’s reputation in this country has fallen dramatically in recent times, and of why change is now so urgently necessary.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North, Labour): Will the Secretary of State think more carefully about this issue? Were Britain to withdraw from the European convention on human rights, and consequently, from the European Court, where would our moral stature be in condemning human rights abuses in any other European country, and what would be the future for human rights in this country? Does he not think that, instead, he should be more positive and proactive about the necessity of human rights legislation to protect us all?

Chris Grayling (Secretary of State for Justice): Let us be absolutely clear: human rights are important and remain a central part of what this Government, and any Government in this country, do to promote good practice around the world. That does not necessarily mean, however, that we all have to endorse the working of a Court that, in my view, has lost its way.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch, Conservative): It is five months since the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the whole-life tariff case, so why are the Government still vacillating over what to do about it? Does my right honourable Friend agree that the problem is that the European Court of Human Rights is seeking to legislate rather than to interpret the law, because the whole-life tariff was a substitute for capital punishment?

Chris Grayling (Secretary of State for Justice): My view is that it is not appropriate for the Court to seek to make law for this country in such an area, which should be a matter for Parliament. My honourable Friend will understand, particularly given the realities of coalition politics, the care we are taking with our response, but he should be under no doubt that both I and the Prime Minister believe that the ruling takes us into a place where we should not be.


Forward to Friend


Wednesday saw the final Prime Minister’s Questions of the year, with Labour’s Ed Miliband focusing on the cost of living crisis. There was also Labour's Opposition debate on food banks and on the blight of Food Poverty across the UK. The debate saw a number of tempestuous exchanges between the political parties over this emotionally charged issue, its causes and the possible solutions.

Prime Minister’s Questions

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): Is it not interesting, Mr Speaker, that the thing they want to talk about least of all is the cost of living crisis facing families up and down the country? That is because they know that families are worse off. Can the Prime Minister tell us how much higher the average gas and electricity bill is this Christmas compared to last?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): First of all, let us deal with the predictions. The right hon. Gentleman said this: “They have a programme which will clearly lead to the disappearance of 1 million jobs.” Now we have 1.6 million more private sector jobs and 1.2 million more people in work, it is time that the right hon. Gentleman apologised for his prediction talking the economy down. He asks about the cost of living; let us compare our records on the cost of living. They doubled council tax; we have frozen it. They put up petrol tax times 12 times; we have frozen it. They put up the basic state pension by 75p; we have put it up by £15. Ah, we have a new hand gesture from the Shadow Chancellor! I would have thought that after today’s briefing in the papers the hand gesture for the Shadow Chancellor should be bye-bye. You don’t need it to be Christmas to know when you are sitting next to a turkey. [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. We will wait until colleagues calm down. I do not mind how long it takes; I have all day if necessary.

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): I thought that, just for once, the Prime Minister might answer the question he was asked. Let us give him the answer: energy bills are £70 higher than they were a year ago—despite all his bluster, that is the reality—and £300 higher than when he came to office. Let us try the Prime Minister on another important issue for families. The cost of child care is crucial for parents going out to work. Can he tell us how much the cost of child care has gone up this year?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): We are providing 15 hours of child care—of nursery education—for two-year-olds, three-year-olds and four-year-olds. That is something the right hon. Gentleman was never able to do in government. It is all very well for him to make promises, but the only reason why we are able to keep our promises is that we took tough decisions about the economy. We took tough and difficult decisions to get the deficit down. We took difficult decisions to get our economic plan in place. What the right honourable Gentleman cannot stand is the fact that this Christmas the economy is growing, 1.2 million more people are in work, our exports are increasing, manufacturing is up, construction is doing better, the economy is getting stronger and Labour is getting weaker.

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): I tell you what, Mr Speaker, that was a turkey of an answer. Why does not the Prime Minister, just for once, answer the question? Child care costs have gone up £300 in the past year—nearly three times the rate of inflation—and he is not doing anything about it.



Food Banks

Maria Eagle (Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs): There is a very straightforward way for Ministers to clear up any doubt about the reasons for the increase in reliance on food aid: they can finally publish the official report into the growth of food banks, which was delivered to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in June. That report has now been sat on by Ministers for six months, longer than it took to produce. In April, the then Minister of State at DEFRA said: “The conclusions of this work will be available in the summer and published on the Government's website.” Now Ministers say the report is still being subjected to “an appropriate review and quality assurance process.” I bet it is.

It is very clear that the Government are determined to hide the true scale of the growth of food banks. They are right to be embarrassed by the truth, but they should come clean, so I say to the Minister today that she should finally force her fellow Ministers in DEFRA to publish this report. Even without the Government’s hidden report, the reasons for the rise in food bank use is clear: it is the cost of living crisis facing householders up and down the country; it is because even as we finally see some growth in parts of the economy after three years of failure, that growth is not being shared fairly. Last week’s Office for National Statistics figures were clear: average earnings have risen by less than the rate of inflation for the fifth year running. Figures published alongside the autumn statement showed that real wages will have fallen by 5.8% by the end of this Parliament. Under this Government, we have seen the longest period of falling real wage values since records began, and the consequence is that working people are £1,600 a year worse off under this Government.

The number of those paid less than a living wage is up by 1.4 million since 2009, to 4.8 million workers in the UK last year—[Interruption.] No, I have been very clear that I am not giving way again in this debate. [Interruption.] As pay packets shrink in real terms, prices continue to rise, and they rise faster than wages. That has happened for 41 of the—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I do not understand why there are conversations going on all around the Chamber. [Interruption.] I can see where they are taking place. If Members are here to take part in the debate, they must listen to the honourable Lady who is proposing the motion.

Maria Eagle (Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. As pay packets shrink in real terms, prices continue to rise, and they are rising faster than wages. They have done that for 41 of the 42 months that this Prime Minister has been in Downing Street.

Esther McVey (Minister of State for Work and Pensions): Let us go back to the report that Labour obviously did not want, so as to keep it as its little secret. Labour Members did not want to look into why the Trussell Trust was set up and has grown exponentially, but we did. We looked into the matter, and it is right that we give an accurate report. It was the Labour party that brought us the dodgy dossier and never wanted verification of the facts—why let the facts get in the way of a tale of fiction? It is only correct that we get our facts right and deliver this report at the right time, as we are doing. As we have said, it is positive; people are reaching out to support others in church groups, community groups, local supermarkets and other groups. That is a fact—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. We cannot hear the Minister.

Esther McVey (Minister of State for Work and Pensions): In the UK, it is right to say that more people are visiting food banks, as we would expect. [Members: “Give way!”] No. Times are tough and we all have to pay back the £1.5 trillion of personal debt, which spiralled under Labour. We are all trying to live within our means, change the gear, and ensure we are paying back all the debt that we saw under Labour.

It is important to look at what is happening around the world. The UK has a population of 63 million and 60,000 people are visiting food banks according to the Trussell Trust. In Germany, however, with a population of 82 million, there are 1.5 million users of food banks. Canada has population of 35 million, and there are 830,000 monthly users of the Trussell Trust.[Interruption.] We must put everything in context and look at what happened, whether that is the overspending and not being able to balance the books from 2002, or the financial crash of 2007. [Interruption.] We must look at how much we have done to balance and rebalance the economy, and get it on a stable footing.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. [Interruption.] Order. The House should pause for a moment, calm down and listen to the Minister. Everyone will have a turn to make their point in due course. [Interruption.] Order. I call the Minister.

Esther McVey (Minister of State for Work and Pensions): It is startling that the shadow Minister took only three interventions. We all listened then, so it would be appropriate to listen to the facts now. That is where we go wrong. We do not listen to what is going on.


Madeleine Moon (Bridgend, Labour): Some people have to go to food banks because of the problems they have with their benefits. On one occasion, a constituent came to see me, having been assessed for their personal independence payment by Capita six months previously, yet had still not had that assessment passed on to the Department for Work and Pensions because of Capita’s failures. Other constituents have waited more than four months. There are serious failures in the benefit system.





The final session of Parliament for 2013 saw the Business for 2014 discussed and debated. I took the chance to ask the Leader of the House of Commons whether or not Parliament could hold a debate on providing better support for carers.

Business Questions

Ms Eagle (Shadow Leader of the House of Commons): At this time of year, there is nothing better than being sat in front of the fire with a good read. This year, my recommended stocking filler is the Conservative Party’s 2014 “campaign toolkit”. Rather than 50 Shades of Grey, there are apparently only three shades of grey approved for use in Tory literature. Strangely, there are only three approved photos of the Prime Minister, too. I assume that that is to prevent anyone accidentally using a photo of his second cousin nine generations removed—Catherine the Great, to whom he bears such an eerie resemblance! Catherine the Great was an enlightened despot who became less enlightened and more despotic the older she got, so perhaps the family traits do not just end with appearance.

On page 12, under the revealing title “Out of date visual identity”, we learn that blue sky has been banished because sunshine no longer rules the day. It was not just sunshine that the Tories confined to history in 2013—it was the Prime Minister’s hollow claim to be a moderniser. He used to tell us that we were “all in it together”, but this year we got a tax cut for millionaires while real wages fell by more than £360. He used to tell us that he would fight for a new politics, but all we have had is Lynton Crosby and his politics of fear and smear. The Prime Minister used to tell us he was a compassionate Conservative, but he gave us the bedroom tax, the closure of hundreds of Sure Start centres and yesterday his MPs laughed and jeered as we debated the record numbers of people forced to turn to food banks to feed themselves and their families in Tory Britain.

Does the Leader of the House agree with me that no matter how many PR makeovers they indulge in, the Tories will never change? Given that this is our last sitting day before the Christmas recess, I want to take the opportunity to wish all right hon. and hon. Members and their families, all of the House staff and their families, yourself and your family, Mr Speaker, a very merry Christmas and a happy new year.

I have been considering what it would be like if the Cabinet had Christmas dinner together. First of all, everyone would be late because they had spent their journey arguing about the route and U-turning so often that they were driving round in circles. The turkey would be half-cooked, like their policies, and the Leader of the House would have to call for a pause halfway through the meal. The Prime Minister’s lapdog, the Deputy Prime Minister, would be encouraged to learn that election promises are for life, not just for Christmas. Perhaps the joke in the Christmas crackers would simply read, “Vote Lib Dem”.


Madeleine Moon (Bridgend, Labour): One group of people who will not be having a restful Christmas are carers. The Leader of the House has given a list of ways in which life is improving under this Government, but life for carers has not improved. Their income limit has not increased and one of the carers in my constituency, Mrs James, has her income assessed on a weekly basis, because she works on a zero-hours contract. If, in one week out of four, she earns £1 over the £100 allowance, she loses her carer’s allowance for the entire month, even though her income for the rest of the month might be £25 one week and £35 the next. Instead of paying lip service to carers, could we have a genuine debate on how we can provide proper support and income for them so that they can feel valued by this House?

Andrew Lansley (Leader of the House of Commons): I will ask my colleagues at the Department for Work and Pensions to respond to the honourable Lady on the circumstances she describes with regard to the carer’s allowance. On the more general issue, carers should understand that individual Members, the House and the Government support them. I think that is evident from our allocation of some £400 million to ensure that carers have access to more respite breaks; from the Children and Families Bill, which delivers additional support to children who are carers; from our commitment to deliver health checks and support to carers; and from all the additional carer rights in the Care Bill—the honourable Lady will no doubt take part in the debate on that—which sets out for the first time a comprehensive structure of rights for carers.


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Highlights of this week's debates and activity in Parliament

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