Madeleine Moon MP

Labour Member of Parliament for Bridgend

This Week in Parliament, 21st-24th 2016

This Week in Parliament, 21st-24th 2016


21st-24th March

This week my attention oscillated between international and domestic issues. At the beginning of the week my focus was on Turkey and the crisis engulfing Syria and the wider region. As the week progressed, my attention shifted towards issues closer to home: problems associated with the current system of registering births and the closure of nearly 100 courts up and down England and Wales. The House prorogued for recess on Maundy Thursday for Easter and returned to the constituency.





Meeting with the Turkish Ambassador

I left Bridgend early on Monday morning to meet with the Turkish Ambassador at his historic residence on Portland Place near Regents Park in London. The Ambassador had invited me following my election to Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Turkey. Our conversation focused on the common challenges confronting Turkey and the UK and the opportunities for further cooperation. Turkish society and economy has been put under serious pressure by the refugee crisis emanating from the Syrian civil war. A recent EU-Turkey deal designed to alleviate the pressure of the crisis on Turkey and southern Europe came into effect on Sunday 20th March. Under the deal, Syrian migrants who have crossed the Mediterranean will be deported back to Turkey; for every deported migrant, a refugee already resident in Turkey will be re-settled in an EU member-state. So far it is unclear how the deal will work in practice.
EU Council Statement

On Monday afternoon, the Prime Minister provided the House with further details of the EU-Turkey deal:
As part of the plan, the Council agreed to prevent migrants from leaving Turkey in the first place; to intercept those who do leave, while they are at sea, and to turn back their boats; and to return to Turkey those who make it to Greece. There can be no guarantees of success, but if this plan is properly and fully implemented, it will, in my view, be the best chance to make a difference. For the first time, we have a plan that breaks the business model of the people smugglers by breaking the link between getting in a boat and getting settlement in Europe.

The Prime Minister also clarified the role of the British military in upholding the provisions of the agreement:

We are contributing our expertise and our skilled officials to help with the large-scale operation now under way. Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship Mounts Bay and Border Force vessels are already patrolling the Aegean, British asylum experts and interpreters are already working in Greece to help them process individual cases, and at the Council I said that Britain stood ready to do even more to support these efforts. Above all, what is needed, and what we are pushing for, is a detailed plan to implement this agreement and to ensure that all the offers of support from around Europe are properly co-ordinated. Our share of the additional money, which will go to helping refugees in Turkey under this agreement, will come from our existing aid budget.

Under the deal, Turkish citizens will be given visa-free access to the Schengen zone, an area comprising 26 EU countries, not including the UK. The Prime Minister described what this would entail:

... visa-free access to Schengen countries will not mean a back-door route to Britain. As the House knows, visa-free access only means the right to visit; it does not mean a right to work or to settle. For instance, just because British citizens can enjoy visa-free travel for holidays to America, it does not mean they can work, let alone settle there. Neither will this give Turkish citizens those rights in the EU.

The Prime Minister was also keen to emphasise that,

... we will not be taking more refugees as a result of this deal. A number of Syrians who are in camps in Turkey will be resettled into the Schengen countries of the EU, but again that does not apply to Britain. We have already got our resettlement programme and we are delivering on it. We said we would resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees over this Parliament, taking them directly from the camps, and that is what we are doing. We promised 1,000 resettled here in time for last Christmas, and that is what we delivered. The other 27 EU countries agreed to two schemes, one of which was to relocate 160,000 within the EU, but by the time of last December’s Council only 208 had been relocated. The second scheme was to have a voluntary resettlement scheme for 22,500 from outside the EU, but by the end of last year just 483 refugees had been resettled throughout the 27 countries. 

In his response, the Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn raised concerns about the implications of the deal for the human rights of refugees seeking safety in Europe. He sought assurances that on being detained in Greece, they will be interviewed individually and be entitled to appeal a deportation order.
Personal Independence Payments (PIP)

Following Ian Duncan Smith's resignation from his position as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, his successor Stephen Crabb announced that he was reversing the Chancellor's cuts to PIP which led Mr Duncan Smith to resign: 

As the Prime Minister indicated on Friday, I can tell the House that we will not be going ahead with the changes to PIP that had been put forward. I am absolutely clear that a compassionate and fair welfare system should not just be about numbers; behind every statistic there is a human being, and perhaps sometimes in government we forget that. So I can also confirm that after discussing this over the weekend with my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, we have no further plans to make welfare savings beyond the very substantial savings legislated for by Parliament two weeks ago, which we will now focus on implementing.

The Shadow Secretary of State welcomed this 'vital and inevitable U-Turn'.


House of Commons Defence Committee

On Tuesday morning, the Commons Defence Committee took evidence as part of our inquiry into current UK military operations in Syria and Iraq. John Spellar asked the asked of policy experts and practitioners to assess how effective the 'cessation of hostilities' in Syria has been in recent months and weeks. Colonel (Retd) Hamish de Bretton-Gordon reported that though fighting continues the hospitals in Syria with which he works have experienced a dramatic reduction in casualties. Dr Lina Khatib agreed that fighting between the 'moderate opposition' and government has been largely postponed while both sides take the opportunity to focus their resources on weakening Daesh which remains as active as ever.

The Chair of the Committee, Julian Lewis, asked the panel to reflect on the relationship between Turkey and Kurdish populations in Syria and Iraq. Mr de Bretton-Gordon made the point that Turkey's relationship with the Iraqi Kurdistan regional Government is more positive and constructive  from its relationship with its own Kurdish population. Dr Khatib, suggested that Turkey's attitude towards the Kurdish population in Syria is shaped by what it perceives to be its own 'Kurdish problem'. She said that Turkey's reluctance to cooperate with Kurds in the Syrian opposition movement at the Geneva negotiations is 'making the situation worse'. I suggested that it was 'worth bearing in mind that Turkey has received attacks from people identified as being in the PKK (a Kurdish terrorist organisation in Turkey) and Daesh'. Dr Khatib agreed that the PKK are responsible for terrorist attacks but suggested that the actions of the Turkish Government have alienated their Kurdish populations and generated a resentment that has manifested in terrorism. In my response, I cautioned against treating the PKK as authentic representatives of the Kurdish people; there are many other groups and organisations that do not resort to terrorism to advance their cause.

I also asked the panel to reflect on the consequences of Russia's decision to cease conducting airstrikes in Syria. Mr de Bretton-Gordon expressed relief at the Russian decision; Russian jets, he said, have been responsible for a number of strikes on hospitals and other civilian targets. Dr Khatib interpreted Russia's cessation of airstrikes as a 'political statement' and reminded the Committee that Russia retain a strong military presence in Syria.


Registration of deceased fathers on birth certificates

On Wednesday Stella Creasy, the Labour MP for Walthamstow, led a Westminster Hall debate on the current, inadequate system for registering deceased fathers on birth certificates. As it stands, if a father dies before a baby is born and he is not married to the mother, the family must pursue a lengthy and expensive legal process to have his name recorded on the birth certificate. Even before solicitor fees, the process can cost over £1000. As Ms Creasy pointed out, this system is unsuitable for the 21st century: it discriminates against unmarried couples, 'makes a value judgement about the mothers in question', and causes grieving families to experience unnecessary anxiety and suffering. As I pointed out in my intervention, other European countries have a more appropriate and effective system of registering the paternity of a child. Germany and Switzerland 'have the sensible rule that parental information is taken when the baby is first introduced to the midwife and maternity system and the father acknowledges paternity. The legal situation is clarified at that point, rather than at the point of the baby’s birth'. 

Ms Creasy spoke movingly recalled an example from her own constituency:

 My constituent, Joana, is a young mum from Walthamstow, and she already had one child with her partner, David, when he tragically had a stroke shortly before the birth of their second child, Eira. Having his role in Eira’s life recorded was therefore an important part of the grieving process for the family, and doubly important for Eira because it gives her the same rights to David as her sister. Joana has described to me the dehumanising process of trying to get David’s role in Eira’s life recorded on the birth certificate. She described turning up at the register office only to find that the registrar had no idea what to do, and she then found out that she had to go to court to prove that David was the father. She had been in a long-term relationship with this man. She shared a mortgage with him, and he had been at the National Childbirth Trust classes. He had been an integral part of the preparations for the birth of their second child. They were clearly in a committed relationship, but alas, the law includes no ability to recognise that and does not give the registrar the ability to record David’s part in Eira’s life, because of the simple fact that Joana and David were not married.

Reassuringly the Minister for Equalities, Caroline Dinenage confirmed that she would consider extending to Registrars the power to add a parent's name to a birth certificate so families to spare bereaved families a lengthy legal process.



Business Questions

On Thursday morning I asked Deputy Leader of the House, Dr Teresa Coffeey MP, to address the problem of sexual harassment on the Parliamentary Estate. I have been approached by young women who have been subjected to cat-calling and wolf-whistling, particularly by members of the workforce who have been contracted to carry out restoration and repairs. Dr Coffey replied that future contracts should include details of the'standards of behviour' expected on the Parliamentary estate.
Court Closure

On Thursday afternoon I participated in a debate on the Government's plans to close 86 courts throughout England and Wales, including the Bridgend Law Courts. Bridgend Law Court is a state of the court, following an improvement project costing over £200,000 since 2013. Following the closure, the court’s civil, family and tribunal work will got to Port Talbot justice centre and the magistrates work to Cardiff and the Vale court. The Government's decision illustrates its disregard for the integrity of the justice system and its failure to understand the geography of the Wales; as Mary Creagh MP interjected during my contribution to the debate, there is 'no surprise there'.

My primary objection to the closure is that it will force witnesses, magistrates, police and probation officials to undertake lengthy and expensive journeys to Cardiff and Port Talbot:

The bus journey from rural areas in my constituency to Cardiff is indirect and can take over two hours, and that is before getting to the bus station in Cardiff, which is a considerable distance from the court. The need to travel such long distances on a regular basis will disrupt the work of local police, as well as of probation, rehabilitation and child-protection officers. It will also inconvenience the many local groups that offer services to people involved in the court system, including witnesses. We ought to be thinking far more carefully about protecting and supporting witnesses accessing courts. It is one thing to say, “Well, I don’t mind inconveniencing defendants”—even though these are people who still have not been found guilty—but what about people attending court to support the criminal justice service? We have to make it easy for people to come forward as witnesses, not introduce an additional burden into their daily lives. 

I also expressed concerns about the impact of  the closure on the organisations and businesses that depend on easy access to the court:

The courts alone do not deliver justice. Orbiting courts are networks of organisations that provide integrated probation, rehabilitation and victim support services. Before the trial opens, they do the hard work of preparing people who are unfamiliar with the courts system to stand as witnesses or defendants. After the case has closed, they help to translate, implement rulings and monitor their impact within the community. The key to their success is local knowledge and the close working relationship they have with other service providers. Removing courts from communities will fragment and weaken these complex and closely-knit networks, with serious implications for the quality of local justice and the cohesion and safety of local communities.

I have grave concerns about the serious impact of closure on my local solicitor firms. Many are based in my constituency because of the Bridgend law courts and the whole network of courts in Bridgend, and I fear that many will close, further reducing access to legal advice for many people living across my constituency. The town will lose many high-paid and skilled jobs, and the courts bring people from the surrounding area into the town. The closure will affect the retail and service sectors of the local economy and contribute to the degeneration of the town centre.

Though the closure of Bridgend Law Courts has been confirmed, following a consultation conducted by the Ministry of Justice, there is no reason why the Minister cannot come to his senses and reverse his irresponsible decision. 
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