Madeleine Moon MP

Member of Parliament for Bridgend

This Week in Parliament, 18th-21st January

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18th-21st January

This was a varied week, with debates on everything from the UK steel industry to the Government's proposal to outlaw 'poppers'. I also enjoyed a particularity interesting House of Commons Defence Committee evidence session. This weekend I am travelling to Washington DC as a member of a NATO Parliamentary Association delegation and am looking forward to a tiring but fascinating week. 

MONDAY

Defence Questions

The future of the UK's independent nuclear deterrent was on the agenda during Defence Questions on Monday. Michael Fabricant, Conservative MP for Lichfield, began by asking the Philip Dunne, the Minister for Defence Procurement, to assess the economic impact of renewing the 'four Successor ballistic missile submarines for the nuclear deterrent'. The Minister confirmed that the replacement of the submarines 'will not only keep Britain safe but support over 30,000 jobs across the UK in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.' Mr Fabricant welcomed the Minister's reply; with '17,000  nuclear warheads around the world', he said, the retention of our independent nuclear deterrent is vital for our national security. 

Kevan Jones, Labour MP for North Durham, made the point that the jobs which depend on the renewal or retention of the deterrent are highly skilled and specialised. These skills must be maintained; they cannot simply be turned 'on and off like a tap when we need them'. As I suggested in my question to the Minister, 'deciding not to proceed would have repercussions across NATO... and for Britain's standing in NATO'. The Minister agreed: 


Our deterrent is a NATO asset, so the NATO alliance depends in part on our ability to make that asset available should the need arise. Our NATO allies are taking a very intense interest in the deliberations of this House and the hon. Lady is right to highlight that.
Steel

Following Defence Questions, Anna Soubry, the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise, updated the House on 'further job losses' in the steel sector: 'The proposals involve 750 job losses at Port Talbot, 200 redundancies in support functions at Llanwern, and 100 redundancies at steel mills in Trostre, Corby and Hartlepool'. The Minister said that 'the fundamental problem facing our steel industry is the fall in world prices, cause
d by the over-production and under-consumption of steel' and insisted that the Government is doing 'all we can to ensure a sustainable future for Tata Steel in the United Kingdom, both at Port Talbot and at Scunthorpe'.

Following the her statement, I asked the Minister a question:


My constituency is next door to Aberavon. Many of my workforce travel into Aberavon on the A48 to work and have done so for many years. There is a real risk that the critical mass of the steelworks in Port Talbot will be endangered by the job losses. May we have an assurance from the Minister that there will at least be interim relief in business rates? That is the big issue that will make or break the viability of the works and the jobs there.

The Minister replied:

That is a good argument, but not one to put at my door. This matter is the responsibility of the Welsh Government, because, as the hon. Lady knows, it is devolved. There is other work we could do: we have been discussing with Tata for a long time about whether the land is being best used, and there is a lot of work we can do with the port to make it much more viable. We can look at other ways to ensure we make full use of the port by Port Talbot.

In his contribution to the debate, Stephen Doughty, the Labour MP for Cardiff South and Penarth, criticised the previous Coalition Government for its failure to respond quickly or effectively to the challenges facing the steel industry. He asked the Minister whether whether the 'previous steel Minister and the Chancellor did everything they could when they warned again and again and again about the crisis?'

Angela Eagle, the Shadow Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills, made the similar point that over the last five years there has been 'a yawning gap' between the Chancellor's promise of a 'march' of manufacturing and the 'grim reality'. She suggested that the Government does not have clear vision or strategy for UK industry and announced that 'Labour will create an advisory board of experts from business, industry and the trade unions to lead work on the development of an industrial strategy'. 

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TUESDAY

House of Commons Defence Committee

Tuesday morning started with an outstanding Defence Committee evidence session as part of the inquiry into UK military operations in Syria and Iraq. The Committee took evidence from Major General Jonathan Shaw and Dr Afzal Ashraf. 

I asked the panel whether we underestimate the links between Daesh and Al-Assad's Baathist regime in Syria. Dr Ashraf described the local alliances that have forged been between branches of these two organisations to resist with common enemies, but emphasised that in broad terms they remained strategically and ideologically opposed to each other. Nevertheless, as Richard Benyon identified in his question, there is a tendency for Western observers to assume that their experience of political allegiances as fixed and clearly delineated can be applied to a Middle Eastern context. General Shaw agreed that 'we have lost the ability to understand the world' and blamed, in part, recent cuts to the Foreign Office budget for the UK's 'ignorance'.

General Shaw later suggested that the failure of Western analysis to take into account the distinctive historical conditions of the region, has led to a willingness topple authoritarian rulers without a consideration of the long-term consequences. Often, said General Shaw, the regime the fills the power vacuum is 'drawn fro
m the same cultural and political soil' as its predecessor and so tends to 'replicate' it. General Shaw emphasised that Daesh's perverse interpretation of Islam can only be defeated by other Muslims; the Salafi-Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam has to disavow Dash for it to be discredited ideologically.
Atos 

On Tuesday afternoon I met with representatives from Atos, in my capacity as Chair of the APPGs for Motor Neurone Disease and Parkinson's, to discuss issues surrounding the assessment process for Personal Independence Payments (PIP), for which they are responsible. I pressed the representatives on why people with these conditions not getting automatic paper-based assessments for PIP. I look forward to meeting Minister Justin Tomlinson in the near future to continue the discussion further.
Illegal Money Lending

On Tuesday morning the Chancellor of the Exchequer came to the Commons to field questions from MPs. Nick Smith, the Labour MP for Blaenau Gwent, asked the Chancellor 'what his plans are for the future funding of illegal money lending teams? The Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Harriet Baldwin, replied that,

The Government are exploring options to ensure that the England and Wales illegal money lending teams have the funding they need to ensure that consumers continue to be protected from illegal loan sharks, and are confident of transitional arrangements being agreed.

However, as Mr Smith alluded to in his follow-up, the Illegal Money Lending Teams, which do vital work pursuing and prosecuting loan sharks and advising their victims, face cuts of up to a third of their annual budget:

Too many of my constituents are victims of loan sharks. The illegal money lending team has helped nearly 24,000 victims across the country, yet the Government have treated the service with disdain. Will the cuts to this vital team and to local employment standards not make the poorest more vulnerable?

In reply, the Minister repeated her previous answer that the '
Government are finding ways to put the team on a sustainable basis'. 
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WEDNESDAY

Psychoactive Substances Bill 

Wednesday afternoon's debate on the Psychoactive Substances Bill, which seeks to ban certain hitherto legal recreational drugs, received wide-spread coverage in the media for the candor with which its participants spoke. The proposal to outlaw the supplying of 'poppers', the colloquial term for alkyl nitrates, has been particularity controversial. Poppers are particularly popular in the gay community and are used to prepare for, and to enhance sexual activity. Keith Vaz, the Chair of the Home Select Committee, which recently produced a report criticising the Government's proposal, accepted evidence that poppers 'we not capable of having a harmful effect sufficient to cause a problem'. Mr Vaz pointed out that the Minister taking through the legislation has conceded that 'poppers have beneficial health and relationship effects' and therefore regretted the Minister's decision to go ahead with the ban before a more thorough review of the evidence. 

Crispin Blunt, the Conservative MP for Reigate, made a particularly personal intervention:


Sometimes a measure is proposed that becomes personal to oneself and one realises that the Government are about to do something fantastically stupid. In such circumstances, one has a duty to speak up. I use poppers—I out myself as a popper user—and would be directly affected by the Bill. I am astonished by the proposal to ban them, as are very many other gay men. It simply serves to bring the whole law into disrepute. If this drug—which I use and which has, as the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown), said in her extremely good speech, been used for decades—is banned, respect for the law will fly out of the window.
The All Party Parliamentary Group for Turkey

On Wednesday afternoon I was elected Chair of the APPG for Turkey. The former Chair, Fabian Hamilton, the Labour MP for Leeds North East, stepped down having been appointed a shadow Foreign Office Minister. I am excited about the challenge of taking the group forward over the course of the Parliament at an important moment for British-Turkey relations. 
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THURSDAY

Business Questions

Before Christmas, Caroline Richards from Bridgend posted a description of the challenges she confronted using public toilets with a colostomy bag. Ms Richards called for the installation of small fold-away shelves in public toilets to make life easier for people in a similar situation. I raised the issue in Business Questions on Thursday: 

 
May we have a debate, or even one of those nice little statutory instruments, advising local authorities of the sense of installing a small shelf in disabled toilets so that people who have ileostomies or colostomies can effectively change their bags without having to scrabble on dirty floors?

Chris Grayling, the Leader of the Commons was receptive:

The hon. Lady makes an important and sensible point. The Under-Secretary of State for Disabled People will be here on Monday week when she can put that point to him. It is something that I will also ensure is passed on to the Department, as she makes an interesting and valuable point.

Alexander Litvinenko

Following Business Questions, the Home Secretary delivered a statement following the publication of Sir Robert Owen's report into the murder of Alexander Litvinenko. I asked the Government to take a tougher stance on Russian officials who violate international law:

 

Bill Browder, a British citizen, wrote his book “Red Notice” explaining how he took the Magnitsky Act to the United States, because he could get no interest in it here in the UK. Is it not now time for the Home Secretary to meet Bill Browder, look at how the Magnitsky Act has made such a huge difference and consider what the United Kingdom can do to introduce the Act here in the UK?

The Home Secretary replied:

I apologise, Mr Deputy Speaker, because I will repeat what I have said to a number of Members who raised the issue of the Magnitsky Act. The Act excludes or stops certain individuals from coming into a country, in this case the United States. We already have powers that are at least as robust, if not more so, than the powers in the Magnitsky Act. It is on that basis that I think we have the powers we need to exclude people. I repeat the point I made earlier: if people think that introducing the Magnitsky Act will mean that those who perpetrated this heinous crime will be brought to justice, they are very wrong.

Steel Westminster Hall debate

On Thursday afternoon, Stephen Kinnock, the Labour MP for Aberavon, secured a Westminster Hall debate about the current situation of the UK Steel industry. In my speech, I made the point that the UK Government has it within its power to address the problem of China and other competitors 'dumping' cheap surplus steel in the UK market. I argued that China should not be granted 'market status' within the EU, a decision on which is expected within the next few months:
 

The dumping is helping China in the short term to keep a workforce going, but let us be honest: it has a long-term agenda of destabilising not only the British but the European steel industry. We are our own worst enemies, because we are allowing that to happen. It is time we were realistic and said no. There are opportunities that we can take, and there is a simple one: we can say no to the Chinese market economy status. We can say that; we can do that; we can fight for that. I do not understand why we are not doing it.

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