Madeleine Moon

Labour Candidate for Bridgend

This Week in Parliament, 22nd-25th February

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22nd-25th February

Early on Saturday morning I began my House of Commons Defence Select Committee trip to the Middle East with a 7 hour flight to Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia. We flew to Baghdad on Tuesday and returned to London on Friday afternoon. I have arrived back in Bridgend exhausted after a busy week of meetings with senior government figures from across the region. When I had a moment to myself, I caught up with the news from Westminster and the fallout of the Prime Minister's EU re-negotiation and referendum announcement.

MONDAY

Home Office Questions

On Monday morning, Home Secretary Theresa May and her Ministerial team were in the Chamber to field questions from MPs. A number of MPs brought up the question of port security. Anna Turley, the Labour MP for Redcar, expressed concern that port security in the North East was being compromised by cuts of about a quarter' to front-line Border Force staff. Mike Kane, the Labour MP for Wythenshawe and Sale East, revealed that the Home office was unable to provide statistics relating to the function of security gates at his local international airport. David Davies, the Conservative MP for Monmouth, expressed a similar frustration at being unable to extract information from the Home Office relating to the number of people who 'arrive at UK airports without valid travel documents'. Mrs May sought to reassure her critics by emphasising her Department's investment in border security staff and technology. Keir Starmer MP, the Shadow Home Office Minister, made the point that, 'one of the most powerful arguments for the UK remaining in the EU is that we need and rely on a strong EU coordinated approach to security, including at our borders and our ports.' Michael Fabricant, the Conservative MP for Lichfield, called Mr Starmer a 'mischievous monkey' for introducing the Europe question into the debate.
EU Referendum

Britain's future relationship with Europe dominated proceedings in Westminster in this week, following the completion of the Prime Minister's EU renegotiation at the European Council. In the Commons Chamber on Monday afternoon the Prime Minister set out the reforms to Britain's relationship with the EU that he has agreed with the heads of government of the other member states. He claimed to have delivered reforms in each of his priority areas: new protections for the UK economy; making Europe more 
competitive; reducing migration within the EU and 'the abuse of free movement'; withdrawing the UK from a commitment to further European political integration. The Prime Minister argued that with these reforms having been secured, it is in Britain's interests to remain in the EU:

We are a great country, and whatever choice we make we will still be great. But I believe the choice is between being an even greater Britain inside a reformed EU and a great leap into the unknown. The challenges facing the west today are genuinely threatening: Putin’s aggression in the east; Islamist extremism to the south. In my view, this is no time to divide the west. When faced with challenges to our way of life, our values and our freedoms, this is a time for strength in numbers.

Some of the most vocal opponents to Britain's continued membership of the EU are within the Conservative Party. Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London and the MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislup, has come out in support of the 'leave' campaign. He asked the Prime Minister to 'explain to the House and the country in exactly what way this deal returns sovereignty over any field of lawmaking to these Houses of Parliament?' For the Prime Minister, however, the question of whether to remain in the EU has less to do with the recovery of national sovereignty than with the exercise of power and influence:

This deal brings back some welfare powers, it brings back some immigration powers, it brings back some bail-out powers, but more than that, because it carves us forever out of ever closer union, it means that the ratchet of the European Court taking power away from this country cannot happen in future. For those who worry—and people do worry—that somehow if we vote to remain in, the consequence could be more action in Brussels to try and change the arrangements we have, we have a lock in this House of Commons: no power can be passed from Britain to Brussels without a referendum of the British people. So we have a better deal, we have a special status, and we have a chance to make sure that we build on what we have, protect our people and enhance our prosperity, and that is the choice we should make.

Ed Miliband, the Labour MP for Doncaster North and former Labour Leader, was in the usual position of agreeing wholeheartedly with the Prime Minister and deployed a similar vocabulary to argue that remaining in the EU is in Britain's 'national interest':

I want to go to the big picture question, which is about how we influence things in our national interest. Let me draw the Prime Minister out on the powerful end to his statement. Of course, by being a member of the European Union, we do not always get out own way, but given what he said to the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), on all the major issues, whether it is trade, climate change or terrorism and security—he can tell us, because he has been the Prime Minister—does he believe we have more influence in the European Union or outside? Surely the answer is that we have more influence inside the European Union, not outside. That is why I passionately believe we must remain in the European Union.
Saudi Arabia

I arrived in Saudi Arabia late on Saturday night. We met leading ministers and military personnel from across the region to discuss the wars In Yemen and Syria. Our discussions with the Chairman of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Vice President of Yemen (below) were particularly helpful in giving a wider view of the conflicts.
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TUESDAY

Foreign Office Questions

The SNP MP for Aberdeen South, Callum McCaig, expressed his concern at the Government's failure to renew its 'strategy' for the abolition of the death penalty. David Lidington, the Minister for Europe, was reluctant to comment on this specific point, but stated his and the Government's broader opposition to the use of the death penalty abroad.

Julie Cooper, the Labour MP for Burnley, asked the Foriegn Office Minister Hugo Swire 'If he will take steps to support self-determination for the people of Kashmir', the contested region that borders India, Pakistan, China and Afghanistan. Ms Cooper cited a 1948 UN Security Council Resolution which instructs the Governments of India and Pakistan to 'prepare for a plebiscite to determine the future of Kashmir'. She asked the Minister if he agreed that the time had come for the provision of the UN Resolution to be realised. The Minister replied,

We do not intend to support an international conference or plebiscite on Kashmir. Our long-standing position is that it is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting resolution. We are acutely aware of the allegations of human rights abuses in Kashmir. This was discussed with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when Prime Minister Modi was here in November 2015, and we continue to monitor the situation closely.

This answer was not well received by David Nuttall, the Conservative MP for Bury North, who suggested that many of his constituents who are of 'Kashmiri origin and heritage take the view that this entire problem was left behind by the UK when we ruled that area'. Mr Nutall asked the Minister if there was not an 'obligation on the UK to take a more proactive role'?
Military Training: Mental Health Resilience

On Tuesday afternoon, Caroline Ansell, the Conservative MP for Eastbourne, led a Westminster Hall debate on the prevention of mental illness in armed forces personnel. Ms Ansell emphasised the need to prepare personnel for the mental as well as the physical challenges they will confront throughout their careers. She said that further cultural changes were needed in the Armed Forces to encourage personnel to be mindful of and to talk about their mental and emotional well-being. This involves tackling alcohol abuse which, as Flick Drummond MP pointed out, 'is one of the most frequently reported mental health problems for deployed UK troops'.
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WEDNESDAY

The Macur Review

The Macur Review was established to determine whether the Waterhouse Inquiry into the abuse of children in care in the former Gwynedd and Clwyd council areas between 1974 and 1996, failed to investigate any specific allegations of child abuse that fell within the inquiry's terms of reference. Lady Justice Macur handed her report to the Government in December last year but it has yet to be published. In Questions to the Secretary of State for Wales on Wednesday, Ann Clwyd, the Labour MP for Cynon Valley, put pressure on the Government to the publish the report:

Eight young boys in my constituency were abused in the 1980s. They have waited all this time for some conclusions. It is ridiculous that in the past two months Government Departments have been sitting on Lady Macur’s report. What is going on? I understand that redactions are taking place. What confidence can we have that when the report is eventually published it is a true report without interference from Government?

In his reply Stephen Crabb MP, the Secretary of State for Wales, paid tribute to Ms Clwyd's campaign to expose historic incidences of child abuse:

I thank the right hon. Lady for her question. We are discussing something incredibly serious and sensitive. Let me put on record my thanks to her for the tireless work that she has put in over the years to fight for justice for those who have suffered horrendous abuse. We are talking about some of the most shameful episodes in the history of the nation of Wales.

We have the report, and it is being looked at by the Crown Prosecution Service, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the police. Lady Justice Macur recommended to the Government that certain redactions might need to be made. The commitment that I give to the right hon. Lady and the House today is that we will make redactions only where they are absolutely necessary, and we will provide a full explanation of why we are making those redactions. We owe that to the victims.

Transitional State Pension Arrangements for Women

On Wednesday afternoon, Labour used allocated Opposition time to argue for 'fair transitional state pension arrangements' for women born in the 1950s. Owen Smith MP, the Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, accused successive of Conservative Governments of failing to be honest with women about their plans to equalise the pension age and the implications it would have. I and other Labour MPs have received a considerable number of letters opposing the Government plans. Kevan Jones, the Labour MP for North Durham, said that he has a disabled constituent, who having assumed she would retire at 60, 'has no ability whatsoever to make up the difference for the six years she has lost because of these changes'. 
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THURSDAY

Women and Equalities

On Thursday morning, Government Minister Nicky Morgan took to the Despatch Box in her capacity as Minister for Women and Equalities. Susan Elan Jones, the Labour MP for Clwyd South, asked about Government measures to tackle 'gender economic inequality'. Ms Elan Jones said that women were 'over-represented in sectors in which low pay is prominent and persistent' and asked Minister Harriet Baldwin what her Government is doing to tackle 'extended occupational segregation'. Maria Miller, the Conservative MP for Basingstoke, reported a 30% gender pay gap in her constituency and argued tackling pay inequality should 'be on the agenda of every single company throughout the country'. 

Chris Law, the SNP MP for Dundee West, asked Minister Priti Patel to respond to research produced by the Institute for Fiscal Studies which suggests that single parents, the overwhelming majority of whom are women, will be disproportionately affected by changes to Universal Credit. In response, Ms Patel insisted that her Department had 'fully assessed the impact of the Bill's equality measures' .
 
Iraq

I spent Wednesday and Thursday in Baghdad under tight security. Despite the tense atmosphere of the city, however, Defence and Interior Ministers, members of the intelligence services and tribal Sheiks insisted that progress was being made.
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