Madeleine Moon MP

Labour Member of Parliament for Bridgend

This Week in Parliament, 18th-21st April

This Week in Parliament, 18th-21st April

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18th-21st April


This was another busy Parliamentary week, spanning a range of international and domestic issues. See what I got up to below...

 

MONDAY

Defence Questions

On Monday morning, Michael Fallon, the Secretary of State for Defence, and his ministerial team, came under pressure over the percentage of GDP spent on defence. NATO member-states are committed to spending 2% of GDP on defence each year. Andrew Gwynne, the Labour MP for Denton and Reddish, suggested that by including items such as 'war pensions and the pension contribution of MOD civilian staff' in its calculations, the MOD had sought to 'pull the wool over our eyes'. Though Philip Dunne, the Minister for Procurement, accused Mr Gwynne of 'looking for smoke where there is no fire', the Defence Committee on which I serve, later suggested that the MOD had only arrived at the 2% figure through 'creative accounting'.

In my question I focussed specifically on the government's cuts to spending on the Royal Navy:

Despite the claims by the Minister’s Department, the reality is that, between 2010 and 2015, the Royal Navy has had a 33% decline in carriers and amphibious ships, a 17% decline in submarines and a 17% decline in destroyers and frigates. We are a maritime nation, and yet our Navy is declining. Is it not time that we placed greater investment in our maritime capabilities?

The Minister replied:

The hon. Lady is very experienced in these matters, and she will know that, in 2010, the then coalition Government inherited a dire financial situation across the public sector, and especially in defence, and some very difficult decisions had to be taken to reduce certain front-line elements, including our aircraft carriers. She is also fully aware that we are in the midst of the largest shipbuilding programme that this country has ever known. Early next year, we expect to see the first of the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers moved out of Rosyth to take up their position with the Royal Navy.

Gavin Shuker, the Labour MP for Luton South, asked the Secretary of State to assess 'the potential effects of withdraw from the EU on UK defence and national security'. Mr Shuker argued that our standing in the world and our relationships with our closest allies would be diminished and weakened if we left the European Union. The Secretary of State replied:

I cannot think of one ally—never mind the United States—that thinks that the world would be safer or that we would be safer if we left the European Union. Let me be clear: our central defence rests on our membership of NATO, but there are things ​that the European Union can add to that—not least, for example, the recent action taken against Russia after its annexation of Crimea and its interference in eastern Ukraine. It was the European Union that was able to apply economic sanctions—something NATO cannot do.
TUC, 'Dying to Work'

On Monday afternoon, I lent my support to the TUC campaign to improve working conditions for terminally ill workers. As its stands, heartless employers are able to exploit loopholes in the law to dismiss employees on receipt of a diagnosis.
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TUESDAY

House of Commons Defence Committee

On Tuesday morning, the Committee took evidence as part of its inquiry into implications of Russian defence and foreign policy for UK defence and security. I asked the panel whether they see 'Russia's posture as having changed, particularity since the Cold War, after Georgia and the shift towards a more confrontational foreign policy' and whether they see 'Russia trying to influence the debate we are having in this country'. David Clark, a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Statecraft, explained that since the end of the Cold War, the Russian Federation has 'made it clear that they would be prepared to use nuclear weapons first against a country deploying conventional weapons'. Mr Clark emphasised that 'Russia has been quite willing to issue in some case very overt nuclear threats' to deter Western powers from intervening in the Ukrainian crisis. John Lough, Vice President of Gabara Strategies Ltd., complemented Mr Clark's summary with a description of Russia's programme of 'comprehensive nuclear modernisation'. He suggested that Russia has improved both its land- and sea-based systems to compensate for its weakness in conventional capabilities compared with the US.  

Mr Lough expressed regret that the UK's capability to understand Russia and its complex political system had been 'degraded' following the end of Cold War in the early 1990s. He suggested that considerable investment in our intelligence capabilities was required if we are to understand 'what Russia's objectives are, the instruments it is using and how it is using them'. He argued for the creation of a 'multidisciplinary team' in government and the wider foreign and defence policy community:
 

You need people who understand Russian politics, Russian economics, Russian defence economics, and Russian military policy and strategy... and you need people who understand Russia’s periphery as well. Russia is playing a very complicated game here, which is designed first and foremost to disrupt western institutions, to impact negatively on western unity and, through that, to reduce our ability to act globally and regionally.

Later in the session, Ben Nimmo elaborated further on Russia's highly integrated and aggressive strategy to advance its political, economic and strategic objectives abroad. In particular, he described Russia's attitude to the European Union and the upcoming referendum on the UK's membership: 

On the very general level, the more cracks and divisions that appear in the West, and in the western institutions, the better. It is not an EU-specific thing because Russia is particularly EU-fixated; it is a very convenient thing—an opportunity—that Russia sees.  For example, there has been a lot of hostile coverage of TTIP, because it is not in Russia’s perceived interest for there to be closer economic ties between Europe and the US, since that would probably weaken Russia’s influence and cheaper US shale gas coming into Europe would be bad for Gazprom. So TTIP is another example.

In terms of hard security, the UK is one of only three of four really serious providers within the EU, so taking the UK out would make the EU less of a hard security provider. The UK is seen in Moscow as being one of the more hawkish states within the EU; if you remove the hawks, the doves have proportionately more representation, so it might be easier to deal with the EU.

It is all part of the overall preference for division: it is not limited to the EU or to Brexit, but it is a very attractive opportunity. An EU of 27 that does not include the UK, with all the power that it has, would be easier to deal with than an EU of 28 including the UK.

Parliamentary Approval for Military Action

When David Cameron was Leader of the Opposition, he made a commitment to introduce legislation to require the Government to seek Parliament's approval for troop deployment. In Government, however, Mr Cameron has been slow in fulfilling his promise and on Monday the Secretary of State for Defence announced that the plans had been abandoned:

We cannot predict the situations that the UK and its Armed Forces may face in future. If we were to attempt to clarify more precisely circumstances in which we would consult Parliament before taking military action, we would constrain the operational flexibility of the Armed Forces and prejudice the capability, effectiveness or security of those forces, or be accused of acting in bad faith if unexpected developments were to require us to act differently.

On Tuesday evening, I discussed the issue with Johnny Mercer, the Conservative MP for Plymouth Moor View, on the PM programme on BBC Radio 4. I argued that a legal provision for Parliamentary approval is necessary to ensure that a government's decision to deploy troops, and the evidence it is using to justify the deployment, are thoroughly scrutinised. As you can see, although Johnny disagreed, our discussion remained genial and good-humoured!
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WEDNESDAY

Western Sahara: Self-Determination

On Wednesday afternoon, I contributed to a Westminster Hall debate on the situation in the Western Sahara. Following Alan Brown MP's description of the  humanitarian crises confronting Western Sahara, I told the story of the subjugation of the territory and its people from the 1970s until the present day: 

The Kingdom of Morocco has maintained the territory in subjugation since Spanish rule collapsed in 1976. The Sahrawi people are caught between the competing claims of a repressive Moroccan occupying force and the Polisario Front, which is supported by the Algerian Government and emerged in the 1970s in opposition to Moroccan rule. Their right to self-determination has been recognised by the EU, the United Nations, the African Union and the International Court of Justice, but it is still denied to them.

Morocco’s annexation of Western Sahara precipitated a fierce civil war, during which, the Red Cross alleges, Moroccan armed forces deployed napalm and cluster bombs against civilians.

Throughout the 1980s, the Moroccan Government sought to cement their position and secure their claim to the territory, and to the vast natural resources that it contains. They encircled Western Sahara with a wall, or a berm, extending nearly 3,000 km, and peppered its perimeter with landmines. The wall also violated Mauritanian security and extended into its territory. Under those conditions, thousands of Sahrawi refugees poured into neighbouring Algeria, where they continue to live in sprawling camps near Tindouf. With an absence of independent food sources or opportunities for employment, residents live dependent on aid to feed their families. A survey conducted in 2012 found that 8% of residents in the camps were malnourished. There is huge opposition to the refugees, who are being denied their human rights. We all too often hear of people in Western Sahara, particularly women, facing sexual subjugation and torture.

Under the terms of a ceasefire agreed in the early 1990s, it was agreed that a referendum on Saharawi autonomy would take place. To date, it has not been held and 'sporadic violence perpetrated by both the Moroccan Government and the Polisario Front. In October 2010 the region experience a resurgence in hostilities when the Saharawi people established a protest camp called 'Gdiem Izik' near El Aiun, the administrative centre of the Southern Provinces of Western Sahara. Moroccan forces destroyed the camp and violently suppressed the riots that developed in response.

In my concluding remarks, I urged the UK Government to refocus its attention on the crisis in Western Sahara:

It is time that we looked at Western Sahara. There is a huge danger of it becoming an incubator for terrorism and organised crime. The grievances generated by the Moroccan occupation are powerful recruiting tools, and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has flourished in the absence of legitimate political authority. The UK can no longer afford to confine the conflict and the plight of the Sahrawi people to the peripheries of its foreign policy.

In his response, the Minister summarised the Government's position:

The Government’s position on Western Sahara is consistent and long-standing. The Government consider the final status of Western Sahara as undetermined, and we support the UN-led efforts to reach a lasting and mutually acceptable political solution that provides for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.

The Minister responded specifically to the point I made about the threat of terrorism in the region:

Turning to some of the additional points made during the debate, the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) and a number of other Members talked about Daesh. We are concerned about the presence of Daesh throughout the broader region, although the Moroccan authorities have disputed the assertion that cells have been encountered. On the other hand, the Secretary-General’s personal envoy, Christopher Ross, has told the permanent under-secretary for the middle east and north Africa that about 15 individuals have travelled to fight with extremist groups in north Africa. I do not think 15 can be described as endemic, but we are aware of some people travelling from the region.
 
MND Scotland

On Wednesday afternoon, I attended a meeting organised by Richard Arkless, the Scottish Nationalist Party MP for Dumfries and Galloway, to discuss the support available for Motor Neurone Disease in Scotland. 
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THURSDAY

Business of the House

On Thursday morning I drew attention to activities of  Porthcawl Primary School students:

May we have a debate on the importance of the teaching of science, technology, engineering and maths in school? Porthcawl Primary School has a team called the Porthcawl Power Formula 1 team, made up of five girls and one boy who ​have designed and constructed a Formula 1 racing car using their skills in STEM subjects. They got second place in south Wales and are going forward to the UK-wide competition in Coventry. Does not such creative work make possible the creation of the scientists, mathematicians and technicians of the future that this country so desperately needs?

Chris Grayling, the Leader of the House Commons, replied:

The hon. Lady makes an important point, and what a great project. I congratulate the young people involved, who will no doubt go on to great things and to make some great innovations in the future, as well as competing in the near future. I absolutely agree on STEM subjects, which are of paramount importance to us. I am proud of the work that the Government have done to encourage the teaching of STEM subjects and that is something that we all, on both sides of the House, should encourage for the future.
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