Madeleine Moon

Labour Candidate for Bridgend

This Week in Parliament, 23rd-26th November

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23rd-26th November

Even by Parliament's standards this was a busy week. On Monday the Prime Minister set out the conclusions of the government's Strategic, Defence and Security Review, which was then the subject of discussion at the Defence Committee on Tuesday morning. On Wednesday the Chancellor presented his Autumn Statement to the Commons, followed on Thursday by the Prime Minister's statement on British military intervention in Syria. I was also joined throughout the week by Theo Tryfonas, a scientist from Bristol University, who was shadowing me as part of a Royal Society scheme. See what else I got up to below.

MONDAY

Parliamentary Questions to the Secretary of State for Defence

On Monday afternoon the Secretary of State for Defence fielded questions from MPs. Many MP's were pre-occupied with the SDSR statement that was to follow, but I wanted to put the Minister on the spot:
 

Perhaps I can help the Minister with a question that does not involve waiting until half-past 3. A lot of our focus is currently on the middle east and north Africa. Does he agree, however, that with two Russian Tupolev bombers off our coast recently, as well as a Russian submarine, it would be naive for us to take our eye off the strategic risk to the UK from the High North and Arctic region?

Though the Minister agreed with me, it is important the government and the wider defence community continues to monitor the potential security threat we face from the North Sea.

The Strategic, Defence and Security Review (SDSR)

The SDSR is conducted annually by the government to re-assess its defence priorities in response to changing threats and security challenges. The government framed its specific spending commitments within a broader vision of a 'secure and prosperous United Kingdom, with global reach and influence'. The Prime Minister announced an ambitious spending plan: he promised nine new maritime patrol aircraft, two new Army strike brigades, new Type 26 Global Ships and has committed to trebling the number of F-35s by 2023 and extending the service of Typhoon jets by 10 years. Overall, the government plans to spend £178 billion on new equipment. 

Following the Prime Minister's statement Gisela Stuart focussed on his '
commitment to a contingency plan that will allow 10,000 members of the armed forces to support the police in the case of a terrorist attack'. This follows criticism, in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, of the government's plans to reduce funding for the police. Gisela asked: 'How long will it take to train those military personnel to allow for interoperability, and will he revise his plans to cut police numbers? One without the other is nonsense'. The Prime Minister said that there are already 5000 personnel who are trained to fulfil this function. It was later revealed in the Chancellor's Autumn Statement that the government intends to abandon its proposal to cut police funding.

I was concerned that, despite increased funding for equipment, our defence capability will be undermined by cuts to the MOD civil service: 
 

The Ministry of Defence employs civil servants as nuclear scientists and nuclear engineers, and in a whole range of tasks, including logistics, training support and maintenance, as well as in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. I understand that there is a cut of 12,000 to the MOD’s civil service. How will the Prime Minister ensure that critical roles and tasks are not lost to the Ministry of Defence?

In his answer, the Prime Minister seemed reluctant to engage with the central point of my question:

The hon. Lady makes an important point. There are civilian roles in the MOD that are hugely important, and she mentioned some of them. What we have done with this budget is say that we will meet the 2% of defence spending and that we have created this joint security fund that can be bid for by our intelligence services. We said to the military, “Every penny you can save through efficiencies, you now know will go into extra capabilities.” That is why I can stand here today and talk about new squadrons, more members of the RAF and more people joining the Royal Navy, but all of that should be done without damaging any of the vital capabilities that civilians provide.

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TUESDAY

Defence Select Committee

On Tuesday morning I attended the weekly meeting of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee. The session took evidence from academics and senior members of the armed forces to gage the initial reaction to the SDSR and its headline 
announcements. I focussed on the status of our defence capabilities in the intervening time between Wednesday's announcement of new spending priorities and the gradual introduction of the new capabilities in five years time: 'how vulnerable do we remain over the next four years, until we get these new capabilities coming on stream?'. The panel of witnesses confirmed that this was a familiar problem in defence policy: if we decide to purchase a new capability, does this mean that we have been dangerously exposed without it? Overall the witnesses welcomed the acknowledgement, implicit in the SDSR, that the UK urgently needs more investment in its defence equipment, particularity in maritime patrol.

 
Parkinson's Disease APPG

On Tuesday afternoon I attended a meeting of the Parkinson's APPG of which I am co-chair. The meeting discussed the 'Get it on Time' campaign which aims to ensure that people with Parkinson's get their medication on time in hospitals and care home. Without the timely administration of their medication, people with Parkinson's can lose their ability to manage their symptoms. There was also an update on the Government's review into how they can speed up patients' access to innovative drugs, devices and diagnostics. 

Trident

The Scottish National Party used their opposition day debate to oppose the replacement of the UK's trident nuclear submarines. It was announced during the SDSR statement that the cost of replacing Trident could be as much as £31 billion. I support the retention of an independent nuclear deterrent. Living in an unstable world and facing an uncertain future, a nuclear weapon capability is vital to upholding the UK's security. Since the 1980s, North Korea and Pakistan have increased their nuclear arsenals and Iran have threatened to develop nuclear weaponry. Though China and Russia have participated to some extent in the non-proliferation process, they continue to develop their missile launching capabilities in order to intimidate rival foreign powers. There is also the constant danger that a terrorist organisation will obtain a nuclear capability; Al Qaeda has already attempted to attack nuclear bases in Pakistan. In these circumstances it would be naive and irresponsible for the UK to abandon its nuclear capability.
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WEDNESDAY

Beyond Endurance Defence Subcommittee

On Tuesday morning I chaired the first evidence session of a Defence subcommittee inquiry into military exercises and the duty of care owed to service personnel. The purpose of this inquiry is to examine the overarching policies, practices and guidance of the Ministry of Defence and Armed Forces in respect of the health and safety of Service personnel during training, exercises and election events. We are also interested in whether processes exist for capturing lessons from accidents and deaths that have occurred during these events. It was a packed morning, with evidence from Andrew Cayley, Director of Service Prosecutions; Dr David Snowball, Director of Field Operations Health and Safety Executive; Air Marshall Dick Garwood; Major General Christopher Tickell; Air Commodore Warren James and Air Marshall Paul Evans.

The 'Handz' Campaign


Antibacterial and other antimicrobial infections represent a serious threat to public health. On Wednesday, Madeleine joined scientists, campaigners and political representatives from across the UK for the launch of the Handz campaign. By raising public awareness of the importance of hand hygiene, thousands of deaths could be prevented.
 
The Handz campaign was the brainchild of Andrea Jenkyns MP and has received the support and endorsement of Emma Reynolds MP, Dr Philippa Whitford MP, and Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer. Poor hand washing leads to 600,000 deaths a year across the globe. These are the innocent victims of inadequate public health information and poor hygiene practices. It is estimated that nearly 30% of commuters on public transport in the UK have faecal bacteria on their hands- a truly gruesome statistic.
 
Since the invention of penicillin almost a century ago, antibiotics have saved the lives of millions of people who would otherwise have died from common infections. However, due to the over-prescription of antibiotics, bacteria has become increasingly resistant to antibiotics; already, antibiotic-resistant infections claim 25,000 lives a year in Europe alone. We have to go back to basics to prevent the spread of dangerous bacteria in the first place. Killer infections such as MRSA, caught and spread in hospitals, often grab the headlines. But whilst it is important that hand-hygiene standards are maintained in the NHS, we must all take responsibility for preventing the spread of infections. By washing our hands with soap and warm water for just thirty seconds, we can dramatically improve the public health of our nation.
The Comprehensive Spending Review and Autumn Statement

On Wednesday, the Chancellor delivered his Autumn Statement. He surprised many in the Chamber by abandoning his proposal to cuts to tax credits, following the defeat of the original proposal in the House of Lords:

I have had representations that the changes to tax credits should be phased in. I have listened to the concerns. I hear and understand them. Because I have been able to announce today an improvement in the public finances, the simplest thing to do is not to phase these changes in, but to avoid them altogether. 

However, as Labour MP Chris Leslie pointed out, the Chancellor has merely 'delayed the effective changes in tax credits'. Cuts to Universal Credit, which will gradually replace tax credits and other welfare measures, will mean that working families will still be worse off in five years time. Similarly, although the Chancellor has U-turned over his proposed cuts to policing budgets, overall day-to-day departmental spending will cut by £20 billion. This Budget represents the next stage of austerity, not its reversal. 

 
Chairing Westminster Hall Debate

One of my responsibilities in the Commons is to chair debates and legislation committees on behalf of the Speaker. On Wednesday I chaired a Westminster Hall debate on the Government response to the return to the UK of Shaker Aamer, the former Guantanamo Bay inmate. David T. C. Davies, the Conservative MP for Monmouth, led a lively debate, followed by a response from John Hayes, the Conservative MP for South Holland and the Deepings and Minister of State for Security. 
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THURSDAY

Syria

On Thursday the Prime Minister set out his proposal for military action in Syria. Following the terrorist attacks in Paris a fortnight ago, the government has made its argument for military intervention in Syria with a renewed urgency and vigour. With the permission of the House of Commons, the Prime Minister plans to conduct air-strikes against DAESH (aka ISIS) targets in Syria in support of French and US forces. He argued we must focus our military intervention on destroying the DAESH leadership in Raqqa, Syria. Only then will we be able to fulfil our obligation to the Iraqi government to restore security and stability there. The Prime Minister suggested that the RAF has unique capabilities that would be invaluable to the Allied effort in Syria. This includes 'the Brimstone precision missile system, which enables us to strike accurately, with minimal collateral damage- something that even the Americans do not have'. The Prime Minister's central argument, however, is that 'we should not be content with outsourcing our security to our allies'. If there is a credible threat to the UK, we should deal with it ourselves. 

This argument received a broadly positive reception from MPs on both sides of the House, but I and many others maintain certain reservations about intervening militarily in Syria. On Thursday morning I went on BBC Two's Victoria Derbyshire programme, to explain my objections to air-strikes in Syria. Following his statement, the Prime Minister and I had the following exchange:

 

Madeleine Moon: Thirty per cent. of ISIL-held land in Iraq has been retained, but 70% remains in its hands. Why is it not right for us to help our allies by clearing the problem of Daesh in Iraq, building a pluralistic state in which Sunnis see a potential future that they can support, and taking the commitment to Iraq before we move on to Syria?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Lady has asked a very good question, to which I think there are two answers. First, I do not think it is possible to complete the work in Iraq without dealing with Daesh in Syria; it does not recognise a border and we are recognising it. Secondly, although ISIL is a threat to us wherever it is, the head of the snake—the biggest part of the threat—is around Raqqa, which is in Syria.

The problem is that ISIS is a many-headed snake with a transnational reach and allies across the Middle East, North Africa and in parts of Europe. Bombing Raqqa will simply move the problem elsewhere. The Prime Minister lacks a clear and coherent vision of what a post-ISIS Syria will look like. What will become of Assad's regime which still commands the support of substantial portions of the population? Will the UK work alongside Russian aircraft who are currently targeting the 'moderate' Sunnis in whom the Prime Minister has entrusted the future of Syria? In short, I believe we have a responsibility to complete the task we took on in Iraq before contemplating changing our attention to a new theatre in Syria. A vote on military action is expected next week.

 
 
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