Madeleine Moon MP

Labour Member of Parliament for Bridgend

This Week in Parliament, 19th-23rd October

This_week_in_Parliament_heading.jpg

26th-30th October

It has been an unusual week in Parliament. The disagreement over the government's cuts to tax credits was escalated into a constitutional crisis, casting a shadow over the week's business. The government's broader welfare reform programme remained a hotly-debated issue in the Commons, culminating with a Motion passed against the cuts to tax credits on Thursday. From Tuesday to Thursday I was in Italy visiting NATO bases and observing exercises, as a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly Defence and Security Committee. I got back late last night for a busy day of meetings and visits in the constituency today. 

MONDAY

Tax Credits

All eyes looked to the Lords on Monday night, following a weekend of speculation that Opposition Peers were planning to vote down the government's proposed cuts to tax credits, to which the Commons had previously assented. Supporters of the government's policy argued that this represented a violation of a long-established constitutional principle that the Lords does not oppose the Commons on finance measures. This argument was summarised last week by the Conservative MP for North-East Somerset, Jacob Rees-Moog:
 

... from 1407—the beginning of the 15th century—the Commons was given primacy over financial matters. That was confirmed in our motion of 1678, when all matters of taxation and expenditure were to be the preserve of this House. In 1839, the Speaker of the House of Commons insisted that an amendment from the House of Lords on a financial matter must be rejected. At that date, the House of Commons would not even consider the change of a trustee of a turnpike trust if it was suggested by the House of Lords, so jealous were we of the privilege that the democratic House must have control of taxation and expenditure.

Those with a focus on the more recent past also emphasised the precedent established in 1911, following the struggle faced by Lloyd George and a young Winston Churchill to get their radical budget through the Lords. The Parliament Act of that year abolished the Lord's right to veto government legislation. 

On Monday, however, the constitutional 'crisis' was largely manufactured by supporters of tax credit cuts. The proposal is contained within a Commons statutory instrument; this is a piece of secondary legislation, not at all equivalent to a Finance Bill or a Budget. Furthermore, since the Lords does not posses the constitutional authority to veto legislation, their opposition was little more than a request that the policy be revised and amended. Since tax credits are an integral feature of a government's welfare policy, there is also the question of whether reforming them is an exclusively financial matter.

In the event,
 following a lively debate in the Chamber, the Lords voted to delay consideration of the statutory instrument pending further consultation. Baroness Hollis gave a particularly moving speech in opposition to the cuts and was joined by many Conservative peers, including the former Chancellor Nigel Lawson, in her request that proposal be amended.

Education and Mental Health Provision

Mental health support in the education system was raised by four MPs during Questions to the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan MP. Stella Creasy, the Labour MP for Walthamstow related a story of a young girl in her constituency who suffered from a eating disorder: 

 She suggested that one of the things that would make a difference would be for child and adolescent mental health services to have a presence directly in schools so that they could intervene earlier...


Later that afternoon, I attended a reception to mark National Eating Disorder Month hosted by the charity ABC. Over 1.6 million people, of all ages and genders, are affected by this psychiatric disorder. As the experience of Stella's constituent suggests, however, there is limited access to early on-set help and treatment and only 50% will achieve a full recovery. In her response, the Secretary of State agreed with Stella that more must be done to support children and young people with mental health problems at school and university. As Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Suicide and Self-harm Prevention Group, I have seen how effective early intervention can be.

Chinese Protest Arrests

On Monday afternoon the Commons discussed the handling by the Metropolitan Police of demonstrations against the Chinese President during his visit to the UK. Met officers have been accused of using heavy-handed techniques to quell protests by human rights activists and Tibetan independence campaigners. I intervened to argue that images of political activists being arrested on our streets will dishearten people in China and across the world who are struggling for freedom of expression and assembly against authoritarian regimes. 

I was delighted to welcome two Bridgend police officers to Parliament, Craig and Ruth. Craig was in London to accept a police bravery award.
Share
Tweet
Forward
+1
Share
 

TUESDAY

Northern Powerhouse

On Tuesday morning, the Chancellor of the Exchequer took to the Despatch Box to field questions from MPs. Chi Onwurah, the Labour MP for Newcastle Central, put pressure on the Treasury team over the fiscal reforms proposed as part of the 'Northern Powerhouse' project. The Chief Secretary, Greg Hands MP, confirmed plans to give local authorities the autonomy spend '100% of local taxes'. He added that 'areas with city-wide elected mayors will be given even greater flexibilities in relation to business rates'. Whilst supportive of further 
devolution to cities in the north-east, Chi expressed concern that in reality it would be exploited by 'hard-pressed civil servants... to devolve cuts while retaining control of spending'.

The Chancellor's 'Northern Powerhouse' project has come under renewed scrutiny in recent months. Following the President of China's state visit to the UK, new partnerships between British and Chinese businesses were announced.  A new air route will be established between the north of England and the far east and a Chinese construction group will invest in a multi-million pound regeneration in the north. However, Labour has crictised the scheme for not going far enough, with the labour Leader describing it during the leadership campaign as a 'cruel deception'. Anticipating Chi's remarks in the Commons on Tuesday, Jeremy Corbyn MP accused the Chancellor of devolving cuts 'but not the power to stop them'. Meanwhile the ineffective transport and underinvestment in infrastructure that the 'Northern Powerhouse' purports to address, continues to anger residents and stifle economic growth: only yesterday The Independent reported that many commuters in the north still rely on 'boneshaker' trains from the 1980s.

Tax Credits


Following the government's defeat in the Lords the night before, the Chancellor 'remained as determined as ever' to cut tax credits, but conceded that amendments would be necessary to get it through both Houses of Parliament. The Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell MP, issued the following response to Osborne's suggestion that Labour and Liberal peers had violated a constitutional convention: 

May I remind the House that for 3 million people out there who have done everything asked of them and have been bringing up their children and going to work, this is not a constitutional matter? Those people will lose £1,300 a year.

Electoral Registration

On Tuesday the Lords remained in a subversive mood, challenging the government over planned changes to electoral registration. While there is bi-partisan support for introducing individual electoral registration, opposition parties are concerned that the government's intention to bring forward the period of transition to December this year could lead to serious under-registration. The Electoral Commission has criticised the government's plans to abruptly remove nearly 2 million voters from the register before the transition has been fully completed and on the back of outdated registration evidence. 

Share
Tweet
Forward
+1
Share
 

WEDNESDAY

Prime Minister's Questions

Before the political argument got under way, tributes were paid to Michael Meacher, the Labour MP and former government minister, who died last week. The Prime Minister described Michael's dedication to his constituency in Oldham which he represented for 45 years. The Labour Leader echoed these sentiments, remembering Michael as a 'decent hard-working, passionate and profound man'.

The focus of the exchanges once again turned to tax credit cuts. Jeremy asked the Prime Minister six times to guarantee that  'nobody will be worse off as a result of cuts to working tax credits'. This elicited the familiar response that the tax credit cuts were part of a wider strategy to transform Britain into a low welfare and high wage economy. However, even with the introduction of the 'National Living Wage' and the reductions in rent for local government housing, most working families will be worse off under the government's plans.

The Prime Minister also intervened in discussions about the future of the British steel industry. He announced that the government would 'refund the energy-intensive industries with the full amount of the policy cost they face as soon as we get the state aid judgement from Brussels'. However, later on in the afternoon, during an Opposition Day debate on the Steel Industry, MPs from throughout the UK registered their concerns that not enough was being done to protect the industry.

NATO Parliamentary Assembly


Having flown out on Tuesday, I spent Wednesday near Cagliari, Sardinia, observing a NATO Trident Juncture exercise. 19 NATO member-states have contributed naval and marine forces amounting to 36,000 personnel to rehearse and improve NATO's strategic response to threats at sea. Following a night ferry to Naples, I spent Thursday at the NATO Allied Joint Force Command before travelling back to Bridgend in the evening.

On Wednesday I was re-elected in my absence as one of four delegates from the Parliamentary Labour Party to the NATO PA. I am delighted and honoured to have been elected at a crucial time in the history of the institution. In their common endeavour to achieve shared security and prosperity, NATO members are confronting threats and challenges unprecedented in their scale and severity. The NATO PA is at the centre of global discussions about how we create a safer and freer world. It provides a forum for parliamentarians to share ideas and experiences and is a crucial link between NATO and the populations it was established to serve and protect.
Share
Tweet
Forward
+1
Share
 

THURSDAY

Tax Credits

Once again, tax credit cuts were the subject of debate in the Commons Chamber with a Motion introduced to demand financial support for tax credit claimants who are set to lose out under the proposals. Frank Field, Labour MP and Chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee led calls on the Government 'to reconsider the effect on the lowest paid workers' of cuts to tax credits. Frank requested that the government release more data so parliamentarians would be in a better position to assess the true impact of the policy.

David Davis, the Conservative MP for Haltemprice and  Howden, offered a candid appraisal of his government's policy, describing it as a 'mistake' to 'impoverish the working poor with dependent families'. Guto Bebb, the Conservative MP for Aberconwy, also spoke out against his government and criticised his colleagues for their igno
rance of the issues involved in the tax credit debate:

The worst example of a crass comment on this issue came from an unnamed Conservative MP, who stated clearly that if somebody loses £30 per week as a result of these changes, they should simply go and work for an extra three hours. Having taken an interest in this issue, I was genuinely shocked by that comment, because with an 80% marginal deduction rate, an individual earning £10 an hour would need to find 15 hours’ work to make up the £30 loss. When such comments come from Members who claim to represent their constituents, we really should despair.

The Commons voted to support the Motion by 215 to 0, having been unopposed by government whips.
 
Share
Tweet
Forward
+1
Share


Reactions

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.

The Labour Party will place cookies on your computer to help us make this website better.

Please read this to review the updates about which cookies we use and what information we collect on our site.

To find out more about these cookies, see our privacy notice. Use of this site confirms your acceptance of these cookies.