Madeleine Moon MP

Member of Parliament for Bridgend

This Week in Parliament, 25th-28th April

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25th-28th April

This was I was in Moscow with the Defence Select Committee, gathering evidence as part of our inquiry Russia: implications for UK defence and security. The Committee arrived in Moscow on Monday. That evening, we attended a briefing meeting hosted by Laurie Bristow, the British Ambassador to Russia. He and his Embassy staff offered a fascinating insight into the diplomatic aspect of Anglo-Russian relations. On Tuesday, the Committee visited the State Duma and met with senior members of the Russian armed forces. On Wednesday, our delegation met with Ambassadors to Moscow from across the world at the UK Ambassador's residence, including from the US, France and Japan. On Thursday we met with the Foreign Affairs Committee and laid a wreath at the memorial for the unknown solider. I felt considerable concern at the ramping up of tension between Russia and the NATO alliance. Visits such as this one are crucial if we to prevent future armed conflict based on misunderstandings. Visits away from the Commons are 'paired'.  This means that the numbers of participants from the main parties are equal so that our absence has no impact on votes in the Commons. See below for my take on the week in Parliament...

 

 

 

MONDAY

Immigration Bill

On Monday evening, the House of Commons debated the Lords amendments to the Government's Immigration Bill. The labour peer Lord Alf Dubs had successfully amended the Bill in the Lords to provide for 3000 refugee children, currently living unaccompanied in Europe, to be re-settled in the UK. Lord Dubs arrived in the UK in 1939 through the 'Kindertransport' system which embodied the British spirit of generosity to refugees and victims of war. Of the 95,000 children refugees that arrived in Europe last year, at least 10,000 have gone missing. Europol fears that many will have ‘fallen into the hands of organised trafficking syndicates’. In a scheme being designed by the Government in cooperation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, only refugees living in camps in North Africa and the Middle East will be re-settled in the UK.

In opposing Lord Dub's amendment, the Minister James Brokenshire defended the Government's record on providing support to refugees:

We know that the vulnerable and those most in need and most at risk may be best helped here in the UK. We launched the Syrian vulnerable person resettlement scheme to resettle 20,000 people over the course of this Parliament. Well over 1,000 people have been resettled to date, around half of whom are children. That means that, in the next four years, several thousand more children will be resettled in the UK under the Syrian scheme, but as I said in my statement of 28 January, we want to do more, especially for children most in need of support. That is why, last week, I announced a new resettlement scheme for children at risk. That initiative will be the largest resettlement effort to focus on children at risk from the middle east and north Africa region—children who might otherwise attempt their own perilous journeys to Europe and the UK.

The Minister insisted that his Government has acted effectively to speed up the process of reuniting refugee children in Europe with relatives in the UK:

I am personally committed to improving and speeding up our family reunification processes so that young people there who have families with refugee claims here can be reunited. That is why we had the recent secondment of a senior asylum expert to the French Interior Ministry to improve the process for family reunion, which I think has had an impact on the number of children being reunited with family in the UK. In the past six weeks over 50 cases have been identified, 24 of which have been accepted for transfer to the UK from France under the Dublin family unity provisions, and more than half of them have already arrived in the UK. I think that we have demonstrated that once an asylum claim has been lodged, transfers can take place within a matter of weeks.

This was not enough to convince Heidi Allen, Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire, who was one of a number of Tory MPs who expressed frustrated with their Government:

I am afraid that seconding one person is not good enough. When I visited, with the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), we saw a similar example of a child who had gone missing pitching up in Kent a week later. This is happening on a daily basis. One person is not enough.

Mr Brokenshire was also criticised for his enthusiasm of the EU-Turkey migration agreement, for which the Government has committed support. The agreement provides for the return of refugees from Greece to Turkey, some of whom will be returned without an assessment of their individual asylum claims. In the Chamber, Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, alleged that the deal had 'been stitched up for the benefit and convenience of politicians, not of those desperate people rotting in camps.'

Kier Starmer, the Labour MP for Holborn and St Pancras challenged the Government's suggestion that to take refugees from Europe would be to encourage people fleeing conflict zones to make the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean:

The Minister put this in terms of risk and of not encouraging children to take risks. I want to address what is sometimes expressed as the pull factor absolutely fairly and squarely. The first thing to say is that, on ​analysis, there is flimsy evidence to support the pull factor one way or the other. The other thing is that any discussion of a pull factor should be held in a vacuum. We have been here before in relation to rescues in the Mediterranean. On one view, people argue that such rescues are a pull factor, but we all recognise that it would be abhorrent to leave people to their fate in the Mediterranean on the simple proposition that that might encourage others to cross the sea.

We therefore have to be absolutely honest with ourselves about what we are saying about the pull factor in relation to the 26,000 children, of whom 10,000 are missing. The pull factor argument is that we must abandon them to their fate on the basis of an unproven theory that if we did something by taking them, others might be encouraged to come. In stark terms, that is the pull factor. I reject it, many Members of the House reject it and we should all, rightly, reject it.
 

The Conservative Party defeated the amendment by 296 to 274 votes.
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TUESDAY

Questions to the Secretary of State for Justice

On Tuesday morning three Labour MPs asked the Justice ministerial team to assess 'the adequacy of provision for people within mental health issues in the criminal justice system'. A significantly greater percentage of the prison population have ongoing or previous experience of mental health problems. According to the Prison Reform Trust, 21% of men and 46% of women prisoners have reported having attempted suicide at some point in their lives, compared to an average of 6% in the general population. Caroline Dinenage, the Minister for Women and Equalities and Family Justice, stated that:

Mental health is taken extremely seriously across the criminal justice system. Mental health services are commissioned by NHS England and by local health boards in Wales, and they are based on locally assessed need. We are working with health partners to improve services in custody and in the community.

In her response, Jess Phillips, the Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, focussed on concerns that an 'increased number of survivors of domestic abuse are forced to represent themselves in the family courts as litigants in person'. Survivors are often subjected to cross-examination in court by their perpetrators. The Court of Appeals recently ruled quashed the Government's attempt to restrict access to legal aid in family court cases. The Minister sought to reassure Ms Phillips that the government took access to justice for survivors of domestic abuse seriously:

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise this issue. The Government are absolutely committed to supporting all vulnerable and intimidated witnesses—especially those who have been subjected to domestic abuse—as well as to helping them give the best possible evidence and to seeing offenders brought to justice. That is why we have put in place measures that give witnesses the ability to give evidence using things such as a screen in the courtroom or a live videolink from a separate room or a location away from the court building. The hon. Lady will also know that, following the Court of Appeal judgment, we are taking immediate action to change our arrangements, and we are more than doubling the original time limit for evidence in domestic violence cases, from two to five years, and introducing a provision on the assessment of evidence of financial abuse.
Dementia with Lewy bodies

Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) is a common form dementia, thought to affect more than 100,000 people across the UK. Lewy bodies are an abnormal protein, deposits of which affect memory, judgement, concentration and visual perception and often induce hallucinations. The condition may also have an affect on a patient's movement and can cause stiffness and tremors. On Tuesday morning, Conor McGinn, the Labour MP for St Helens North, led a Westminster Hall debate on the condition and its affects. Mr McGinn expressed surprised that there is no official data on the diagnosis of DLB and concern at evidence that opportunities for early diagnoses are being missed. He used the opportunity to highlight the serious 'lack of funding available for the disease' and its absence from the 2020 dementia strategy
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WEDNESDAY

Hillsborough

On Wednesday afternoon, Theresa May, the Home Secretary, delivered a statement to the House following the conclusion of the Hillsborough Inquest that the 96 fans who lost their lives during the disaster in April 1989 were 'unlawfully killed'. The Inquest, the longest-running of its kind in British judicial history, ruled that the match commander Ch Supt David Duckenfield was 'responsible for manslaughter by gross negligence' and the behaviour of the fans, originally blamed for the disaster, was not responsible. The Home Secretary described the 'long and arduous' ordeal that families and survivors were forced to undergo to get justice for the victims and she praised their 'extraordinary dignity and determination'. She also paid tribute to the Andy Burnham, the Shadow Home Secretary and Labour MP for Leigh, 'who has campaigned so tirelessly over the years on the families' behalf'. 

In his response, Mr Burnham questioned why it has taken so long to achieve justice for the 96 and accused the policing and political establishments of conducting a 27 cover-up of the truth which continued into the Inquest hearing:

Millions of pounds of public money was spent retelling discredited lies against Liverpool supporters. Lawyers for retired officers threw disgusting slurs around; those for today’s force tried to establish that others were responsible for the opening of the gate. If the police had chosen to maintain their apology, this inquest would have been much shorter. But they did not, and they put the families through hell once again.

Mr Burnham alleged that 'this cover-up went right to the top. It was advanced in the Committee Rooms of this House and in the press rooms of 10 Downing Street'. The one exception to to this 'collusion between elites in politics... police and the media' was 'this Home Secretary', said Mr Burnham. He expressed his 'sincere admiration and gratitude to her for the stance she has constituently taken in righting this wrong'. It is now for the Crown Prosecution Service to press charges against the individuals identified by the Inquest as having been responsible for the deaths.
Violence Against Women and Girls (Sustainable Development Goals)

On Wednesday morning, Mark Durkan, the SDLIP MP for Foyle, led a debate on the Sustainable Development Goal to 'achieve gender quality and empower all women and girls' and the necessity of eliminating violence against women and girls to achieve this. Zaniab Hawa Bangura, the UN Special Representative on Violence in Conflict, has recognised that sexual violence is a popular weapon of war which has devastating effects on women and the societies they live in. Women in developing countries are often caught in cycles of violence and human trafficking which further entrenches their poverty. The failure to educate girls, emancipate mothers from unpaid domestic labour, reform judicial systems that turn a blind eye to sexual assault and marital rape, and to tackle gender inequalities in land and property ownership constitute social and economic catastrophes as well as a human tragedy. However, Mr Durkan also emphasised the importance of maintaining the 'universality of the goals'; the goals do not only apply to developing nations, 'we, too, are on a journey of understanding in our awareness of the issues'. 
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THURSDAY

Business of the House

Chris Bryant, the Shadow Leader of the House and Labour MP for Rhondda, began his response to the Leader's business statement with a brief commemoration of 'Ed Balls Day', the anniversary of the former Shadow Chancellor's eponymous tweet which took the internet by storm. From then on, however, Mr Bryant adopted a more serious tone. Having criticised the Health Secretary for his handling of the junior doctors strike and pressed the Government to pursue with the second stage of press regulation reform recommended by the Leveson Inquiry, Mr Bryant addressed the spate of accusations of anti-Semitism against Labour politicians:

As Passover ends on Saturday, let me say again as clearly as I possibly can that anti-Semitism is wrong—full stop, end of story. I am sick and tired of people trying to explain it away—and, yes, I am talking to you, Ken Livingstone. Of course the illegal settlements are wrong and the Palestinians deserve a better deal. Of course, too, rocket attacks on Jewish kibbutzim are wrong, and Hamas and Hezbollah must acknowledge the right of Israel to exist. I was taught to judge people not according to the colour of their skin, their race, their religion, their gender or their sexuality, but according to the strength of their character.

Frankly, it is no better when a senior politician looks at the President of the United States and sees only the colour of his skin and his “part-Kenyan ancestry” or when the Tory candidate for the Mayor of London runs a deliberately racially charged campaign against his Labour opponent. It is profoundly irresponsible, and it offends the fundamental decency of the British people. I hope I speak for all Members when I say that racism and racial prejudice are simply not welcome in our political system or our political parties.

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