Madeleine Moon MP

Labour Member of Parliament for Bridgend

This Week in Parliament 28th April - 2nd May


Parliament returned from its Easter Recess on Monday and it was a busy week, with questions to the Home Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister all taking place. 

I was also able to make contributions in a debate about care homes, Business Questions, and a Westminster Hall debate focussing on changes to housing benefit and the bedroom tax in Wales.

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Madeleine Moon MP
House of Commons
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Bridgend: 01656 750 002

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28th April - 1st May

Parliament returned from its Easter Recess on Monday and it was a busy week, with questions to the Home Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister all taking place. 

I was also able to make contributions in a debate about care homes, Business Questions, and a Westminster Hall debate focussing on changes to housing benefit and the bedroom tax in Wales.


Home Office Questions

Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South, Labour): What recent progress has she has made on tackling violence against women?

Norman Baker (Minister for Crime Prevention): The Coalition Government published our updated action plan on 8 March, setting out recent progress to tackle violence against women and girls. We have begun the national roll-out of the domestic violence disclosure scheme and domestic violence protection orders; commissioned Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary’s review into domestic abuse, and announced steps to ensure the recommendations are acted on; and criminalised forced marriage. We are continuing a robust programme to tackle female genital mutilation.

Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South, Labour): As the Minister is aware the All-Party Group on Domestic and Sexual Violence recently published a report on women’s access to justice, with a number of recommendations. I am grateful to the Minister for giving evidence to that inquiry. Will he set out what steps he will take to review our findings and to implement the recommendations?

Norman Baker (Minister for Crime Prevention): As the honourable Lady knows, I very much welcome that particular inquiry. She has considerable experience in this field, as I readily recognise. We are giving proper consideration to the recommendations, as she would expect, and we will make an announcement in due course. I very much welcome the work that has been done.

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth, Labour): In Greater Manchester last year, over 10,000 more domestic violence incidents were reported to the police, which is a 21% increase on the year before; yet 29% fewer domestic violence cases were referred for prosecution. Will the Minister explain the reason for that, and what will he do about it?

Norman Baker (Minister for Crime Prevention): Let me first say that the Home Secretary and I share a concern about some figures that come out from individual police forces. That is why my right honourable Friend has written to chief constables and police force leads on domestic abuse, making clear our expectation as a Government that every police force will have an action plan in place by September to improve their response to domestic violence and abuse. It is important, however, to stress that three out of four cases of violence against women and girls do result in convictions.

Simon Burns (Chelmsford, Conservative): Will the Minister update the House on what progress has been made towards involving general practitioners and other medical practitioners in exposing and bringing to justice those who engage in the horrific and despicable crime of FGM?

Norman Baker (Minister for Crime Prevention): I am happy to tell my right hon. Friend that there is good co-operation across Departments. The Department of Health is closely involved in the matter and the Public Health Minister in particular, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my honourable Friend the Member for Battersea, has been very supportive of the efforts of the Home Office. My right honourable Friend will know that under section 47 of the Children Act 1989, anyone who has information showing that a child is at risk is required to inform social care or the police. He will also know that the Department of Health has taken steps to ensure that FGM cases are monitored in the health service so that we have a full picture by later this year.

Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton, Conservative): Will my honourable Friend join me in congratulating the Metropolitan police and the Mayor of London on securing the first UK prosecution for female genital mutilation? Will he update us on what progress has been made towards making it mandatory to share key information with all the relevant agencies?

Norman Baker (Minister for Crime Prevention): Obviously, as my honourable Friend will appreciate, I cannot comment on cases that are before the courts. I strongly support the efforts of the Director of Public Prosecutions to ensure that prosecutions take place, and the police forces who are taking the matter forward in a productive way. I mentioned a moment ago the action that the Department of Health is taking and she will be aware that guidance has been issued to schools by the Secretary of State for Education, so there is a joined-up approach across Government. The question of mandatory reporting will be considered by the Department of Health and others as the initiative unrolls.

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch, Labour): In the past month, two women in Hackney have been killed by violent partners, one with her 23-month-old child. Those women had talked to their friends about the risks that they faced. What action is the Minister taking to ensure that funding for organisations such as the Family Rights Group, which is based in Hackney, is not stopped by the Department for Education so that friends and family members, as well as potential victims, have somewhere to go?

Norman Baker (Minister for Crime Prevention): I am not familiar with the DFE funding, but I can tell the hon. Lady that the Home Office has allocated £40 million to deal with these important matters. I am deeply sorry to hear of the events in her constituency. We seek to learn lessons from each case. I remind her that we have introduced domestic violence disclosure orders and protection orders to help women in such situations.

James Gray (North Wiltshire, Conservative): Last year, 1.2 million women suffered from domestic abuse and 330,000 suffered from sexual assault. Does the Minister agree not only that those are terrible figures in themselves, but that the initiative to drive women’s rights across the world, which was announced recently by the Foreign Secretary, will stand a chance of gaining credence or traction only if we sort the problem out at home?

Norman Baker (Minister for Crime Prevention): I agree entirely with my honourable Friend that those are appalling crimes. There is a call to the police about domestic abuse every 30 seconds, which is a shaming statistic for our society. There is also a cost, which is obviously a secondary consideration, of £15.7 billion a year. We have to do everything we can, as the Home Office is doing, to get a grip on this matter. Colleagues in the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office are similarly concerned and are taking action within their portfolios.

Helen Jones (Warrington North, Labour): The shocking report on domestic violence by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary revealed that high levels of vacancies in domestic violence units and unsustainable case loads were leading to quotas being imposed on victims that were deemed to be high risk. Given that evidence, does the Minister accept that the Government’s hollowing out of the police force has resulted in the loss of specialist officers, inhibited the ability to pursue cases and, most importantly, left victims at risk? When will he accept responsibility for the Government’s actions, instead of blaming others?

Norman Baker (Minister for Crime Prevention): I am sorry to hear that contribution from the honourable Lady, because this is an issue that all Members of the House, irrespective of gender or party, feel strongly about. To politicise it in that way is not helpful. She talked about the police force, but she ought to remember that crime is down by more than 10% under this Government and that there are therefore fewer crimes to investigate. To imply that the police are unable to deal with this matter is simply not right. We attach a high priority to the matter. That has been made clear by the Home Secretary, by myself and by the action that the Government is taking.


Yvette Cooper (Shadow Home Secretary): New figures show that in the past 15 months here has been a 7% drop in the number of sex offences being taken to court, at a time when the number of such offences being reported to the police has gone up by 16%. Over the past 12 months, there has been a 9% drop in convictions for violent crime, even though the number of recorded violent crimes fell by only 1.5%. The Home Secretary has said that her police reforms and policies are working. Why, then, are more criminals getting away with it on her watch?

Theresa May (Home Secretary): I challenge the right honourable Lady’s comments. The basic issue here is that the overall number of crimes has been falling, which is why some of the figures relating to the number of people being taken to court are falling. When concerns are raised in relation to how the police are dealing with domestic and sexual violence, of course we take action to look into the matter. As my right honourable Friend the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims said earlier, we have seen good movement in the figures relating to the way in which rape is being dealt with, particularly in relation to the number of successful prosecutions.

Yvette Cooper: But the Home Secretary’s action is not working. Fewer rape cases are going to court, as are fewer domestic violence cases, fewer child abuse cases and fewer sexual offence cases, even though the numbers of sexual offences and domestic violence and child abuse cases being reported to the police are all going up. According to analysis by the House of Commons Library, the resulting drop in convictions is the equivalent of 13,000 more violent offenders, 3,500 more sex offenders, 13,000 more domestic abusers and 700 more child abusers getting away with their crimes. This is happening on the right honourable Lady’s watch. Those are the facts. The number of cases going to court is going down in areas where the recorded crimes are going up. What is she doing about it? She is the Home Secretary.

Mrs May: I am grateful to the right honourable Lady for pointing out that I am the Home Secretary. We have seen a higher number of cases of sexual violence being reported, and it is good that people are willing to come forward to report such cases. Some of these are historical cases, and there has been an upturn in the number of people coming forward, particularly as a result of the revelations relating to Jimmy Savile and other such cases. As I said earlier, the number of successful prosecutions by the CPS for rape and sexual violence has hit an all-time high, so I suggest that the right honourable Lady goes away and looks again at her figures.



Treasury Questions

George Mudie (Leeds East, Labour): May I offer my congratulations to the honourable Lady on her much-deserved promotion? The whole House welcomed the Chancellor’s intervention to stop loss-making RBS pay these bonuses to its investment bankers. However, it has now emerged that RBS intends to pay that money as allowances. What is the Government’s intention on this matter?

Andrea Leadsom (Economic Secretary to the Treasury): May I first thank the honourable Gentleman for his congratulations and say how very much I enjoyed working with him for several years on the Treasury Committee? As with many Opposition Members, there has been a lot of agreement between us on issues of competition and minimising pay. With regard to allowances, the key point to remember is that bonuses at RBS are down 68% overall since 2009. The figure we want to focus on is the restriction in pay and bonuses across that bank.

Chris Leslie (Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury): I, too, genuinely welcome the honourable Lady to her post and the Prime Minister’s decision to appoint her to the Chancellor’s Department. May I ask her to be very clear on this particular point? The Chancellor of the Exchequer is using the EU bank bonus cap legislation in respect of RBS, but at the same time the Government are mounting a legal challenge against that legislation. Will she clear up some of the confusion? She alluded to whether it was a UKFI decision, and it was reported that the Deputy Prime Minister apparently waded in to override the Chancellor. Was the Deputy Prime Minister at odds with the Chancellor, or was the Chancellor just at odds with himself?

Andrea Leadsom (Economic Secretary to the Treasury): I am grateful to the honourable Gentleman. The key point to remember is that we are challenging the proposal at the European Court of Justice because we believe that it will not suppress remuneration and create proper equivalence between risk and remuneration in the banking sector. We in this country are at the forefront of trying to ensure that risk and reward are properly aligned. We do not think that the bonus cap will do that, so it is perfectly consistent to implement the cap—since it is the law—but to challenge it in the European Court of Justice.

Chris Leslie (Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury): I very much hear what the honourable Lady says, but I am asking a question about how the decision was made. Who was involved: was it UKFI; was it the Chancellor; or was it the Deputy Prime Minister who did it? I might not get a clear answer, so maybe I can move on to the next question: how much has this cost so far? It is a legal challenge to the change that she is herself using. How much has it cost so far, and is it a good use of taxpayers’ money?

Andrea Leadsom (Economic Secretary to the Treasury): The legal challenge is in line with all legal challenges of this sort. To protect the British financial services sector, it is very important to try to challenge the proposal. There has been a House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee report on the cost of similar legal challenges. It is not excessive—it is £25,000 to £35,000, or of that order—but the point is that we in this Government are trying to align risk and reward, which is absolutely crucial for the success of the financial services sector.


Ed Balls (Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer): Back in 2010, the Chancellor promised to balance the books in 2015 and said that living standards would rise “steadily and sustainably”. Following today’s welcome news that the economy is finally growing again, will the Chancellor tell us whether he is now on track to keep either of those two promises?

George Osborne (Chancellor of the Exchequer): I am delighted that the Shadow Chancellor is still here. He is the man who, quite literally, crashed the car. On that occasion he fled the scene, but when it comes to crashing the British economy he cannot escape scrutiny of his record. Let me be clear: we said we would get the deficit down, and the deficit has come down; we said we would recover the economy, and recovery is taking place. He predicted that 1 million people would lose their jobs, but 1.5 million jobs have been created. He has apologised to the lady whose car he crashed into—why does he not apologise to the British people?

Ed Balls (Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer): If this Chancellor wants to have a discussion about whiplash we can do that any day of the week—Mr, Mrs or Mistress. However, let us not go back to biographies of the past; let us get back to the serious issue. The fact is that the Chancellor has failed to answer my question. For all his promises, he has broken them, even on the deficit, and living standards are not rising but falling year on year on year. People are £1,600 worse off under the Tories. If the Chancellor really thinks that his economic plan is working, let him answer this one simple question: at the next election, after five years of this Chancellor, will working people be better off than they were in 2010—yes or no?

George Osborne (Chancellor of the Exchequer): Of course Britain will be better off because we will not have the mess of an economy on the brink of collapse, a banking system on its knees, and an 11% budget deficit. The only way to help people in this country is to grow the British economy. What the figures reveal today is that Britain is coming back, but we cannot take that for granted. People are still experiencing the impact of the Shadow Chancellor’s economic policies, and the only thing he can say to us is “Why are you not clearing up our mess quickly enough?” That is literally what he is saying; it is absolutely pathetic. His car crash was caused by a seven-point turn that he was trying. Why does he not just get up, make a simple U-turn, admit that he got it wrong and that Britain is growing again?


Prime Ministers Questions
Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): Yesterday, for the first time, we learnt the names of some of the 16 investors, including hedge funds, which were given preferential access to Royal Mail shares and sold one third of them. How were those lucky few chosen?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): What we are talking about is an exercise in privatising Royal Mail that has been a success for our country. A business that lost £1 billion under Labour has now paid money back to the taxpayer, and is making profits. The people whom we should be praising are the 140,000 employees of Royal Mail who are now, under this Government, shareholders in the business for which they work.

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): We have had no answer to the question, Mr Speaker. The Royal Mail share price is currently 50% above the level at which it was sold. Only the Prime Minister would want to be congratulated on losing the taxpayer £1 billion.
Each of those chosen few investors was given, on average, 18 times more shares than other bidders, on the basis that, in the words of the National Audit Office, they would provide “a stable long-term… shareholder base”, and would not be—in the words of the Business Secretary—“spivs and speculators”. Can the Prime Minister tell us what assurances, in return for their golden ticket, those investors gave us that they would hold the shares for the long term?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): First, the right honourable Gentleman says that people were given shares. They paid for shares. Secondly, he again raises the issue that there was some sort of agreement. There was no agreement. At the end of the day, the right hon. Gentleman should recognise that a business which lost money, and which he tried to privatise in government but failed, is now in the private sector, making money and succeeding for our country, and its employees are now shareholders. Is it not interesting that, given the growth in our economy, the fall in unemployment and the reduction in the deficit, he is reduced, like old Labour, to complaining about a successful privatisation?

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): No, Mr Speaker. I am raising an issue about a rip-off of the taxpayer, which the British people know when they see it. The reason this matters—[Interruption.] The reason this matters is that the sale was grossly undervalued. Shares that were sold for £1.7 billion on privatisation are now worth £2.7 billion, and who cashed in? Twelve of the 16 so-called long-term investors made a killing worth hundreds of millions of pounds within weeks.

Yesterday, the representative of the bank that sold the shares said there was an “understanding” with those investors.[Interruption.] That is what it says on the record, Mr Speaker. He said that there was an understanding with those investors about their long-term commitment to Royal Mail. So why were they allowed to make a fast buck?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): We are being given lectures on taxpayer value from the people who sold our nation’s gold at the bottom of the market. The right honourable Gentleman talks about ripping off the taxpayer, but it was he who left an 11% budget deficit after the biggest banking bail-out in Britain’s history.

These are exactly the arguments that Michael Foot made about the privatisation of the National Freight Corporation. They are exactly the same arguments as Neil Kinnock made about British Telecom and British Airways. It pleases the Back Benchers, it excites the trade unions, but it is utterly meaningless. Is the right honourable Gentleman recommitting to renationalising the Post Office? No, of course not. He is just playing to the gallery because he cannot talk about the success of our economy.

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): The Prime Minister should listen to Members on his own side. What did the honourable Member for Northampton South say yesterday? He said that this privatisation had “let people down”. He said: “The interests of the taxpayer were not taken into account”. He has also called it “unethical and immoral”.

Brian Binley (Northampton South, Conservative): indicated assent.

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): He is nodding his head. That is what the Prime Minister’s own side think of it. He talks a lot about the postal workers, so this is very interesting: there were no conditions on the hedge funds, but there were conditions on other groups such as the postal workers. Can he explain why postal workers were told they could not sell their shares for three years but hedge funds were told they could cash in on day one?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): What this shows is that the right hon. Gentleman cannot talk about the deficit, because it is falling; he cannot talk about the economy, because it is growing; and he cannot talk about jobs, because there are 1.5 million more people in work. So he is painting himself into the red corner by talking only about issues that are actually successes for the Government but which appeal to the trade unions, the left wingers behind him and the people who want to play the politics of envy. That is what is happening in British politics, and everyone can see it. He has nothing to say about the long-term economic plan which shows Britain is on the rise and Labour is on the slide.

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): What we know is there is a cost of living crisis in this country—[Interruption.] Oh, they do not think there is a cost of living crisis. Why not? Because they stand up for the wrong people. The more we know about this privatisation, the bigger the fiasco it is: a national asset sold at a knock-down price; a sweetheart deal for the City; and the Government totally bungled the sale. Everything about this privatisation stinks.

David Cameron (Prime Minister): Six questions and not a mention of GDP; not a mention of what happened to employment figures while we were away; and not a mention of the fact that the deficit is getting better. We know that the right hon. Gentleman has a new adviser from America. It is Mr Axelrod, and this is what the right hon. Gentleman has been advised to say. Let me share it with the House as it is excellent advice. It is that “there’s a better future ahead of us”—but we must not—“go backward to the policies that put us in this mess in the first place.” I do not know what Labour are paying him--

Mr Speaker: Order.

David Cameron (Prime Minister): I have not finished—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: In response to that question, the Prime Minister has finished, and he can take it from me that he has finished.


Business Questions

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent, Labour): To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement on the Oban House care home and the Government’s policy for safeguarding residents in care homes?

Norman Lamb (Minister for Care Services): The images that we saw on our screens last night were truly disgusting. No one deserves treatment like that. The family and loved ones of care home residents should not have to endure that. Poor care is completely unacceptable. Everyone should receive the highest standards of care delivered by well-trained and compassionate staff. We are committed to making that a reality and to preventing abuse and neglect. We are putting in place, through reform of the Care Quality Commission, a range of measures to improve the regulation of care homes, to hold to account providers that are responsible for unacceptable care, and to improve the quality of social care.

The chief inspector of social care at the CQC is putting in place new rigorous inspections carried out by specialist inspection teams. New fundamental standards of care are being introduced as requirements for registration with the CQC, which will allow the CQC to prosecute providers—and their directors—that are responsible for unacceptable care. We are introducing a new fit-and-proper-person test for directors of companies that provide care, which will allow the CQC to remove individual directors. The care certificate is on track to be introduced in March 2015 and is currently being piloted by employers. That certificate will include compulsory training. The CQC is being given the power to produce ratings of care providers that will provide a fuller picture of the quality of care than mere compliance with minimum standards.

A new statutory duty of candour on providers of care is being introduced, which will place a legal requirement on organisations to be open with patients about serious incidents. We are introducing a new offence of ill treatment and wilful neglect—one for an organisation and one for individuals. It will apply not just to those who do not have capacity, as is currently the case, but to all users of health and adult social care and all health and adult social care settings. A consultation on the new offence ended on 31 March, and we are now considering the responses. We aim to bring forward legislation at the earliest opportunity.

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent, Labour): I thank the Minister for his statement. The majority of residential care providers provide good, if not excellent, care. However, many of us across the country will have been sickened by the contemptible and callous treatment of elderly people in the Oban House and Old Deanery homes that we saw on “Panorama” last night. When we were shown the many calls for help from Yvonne Grant that were ignored, I, for one, railed against her so-called carers.

I acknowledge that the Care Bill will improve the safeguarding of elderly care home residents, but residents and their families need to know that their voices of concern are heard and acted upon when they feel that care is poor. The CQC needs to be up to the job. I met the CQC two days ago and felt that its engagement with residents and relatives could be much better. Can the Minister assure the House that the CQC will have the staff and expertise to carry out all the necessary inspections, including on the financial viability of care homes? Will he ensure that there is effective monitoring of care homes between inspections so that if there is high staff turnover, for example, that will be flagged up? Can he tell the House what training will be required for care homes staff? Will it be on the job and, if so, for how long?

Although it is right that care workers are held to account for their actions, senior managers should also shoulder their responsibilities. The Government failed to support my amendment to the Care Bill, which would have introduced an offence of corporate neglect. That would allow the prosecution of a care provider if the culture they set is a contributory factor in abuse or neglect. Police Operation Jasmine identified that sort of corporate neglect in south Wales. Will the Minister look again at the proposal in order to promote the care we all want for our loved ones in the place that they call home?

Norman Lamb (Minister for Care Services): I thank the honourable Gentleman for his urgent question and his supplementary questions, which are absolutely legitimate and important. I agree that it is incredibly important that we recognise that there is a lot of great care out there, with incredibly dedicated care workers doing a very difficult job, often in difficult circumstances and without great pay. It would be awful if they were all tainted by the actions of a few.

I am pleased that the honourable Gentleman recognises that the Care Bill can make a difference and improve standards. It allows for the introduction of a care certificate so that everyone will be required, for the first time, to have compulsory training and meet a standard of competence before undertaking unsupervised care work. Part of that will be on the job, as I think is right for such work, but it is essential that people meet that standard.

The honourable Gentleman made the essential point that relatives, loved ones and the users of services themselves need to be heard. One thing we have done in that regard through NHS Choices is introduce the ability for anyone to comment on care services in a care home or in domiciliary care and to put their comments online, so that there is no hiding place for unacceptable standards of care. People’s comments and the judgments of the CQC will be available for everyone to see through the NHS Choices website.

I hope I can reassure the honourable Gentleman in relation to his amendment to the Care Bill. I totally agree with him about the importance of being able to prosecute for corporate neglect, which we will address, but in a different way. We are introducing fundamental standards of care that every care provider, and indeed every NHS hospital, must meet in order to be registered with the CQC. Where those standards are not met and there are serious failures, and where there is culpability because of corporate neglect of the sort he describes, the providers will be prosecuted. The CQC will have the power to prosecute not only the company or trust, but individual directors. This is the first time that that has been made possible. The existing regime is flawed, because the CQC must first serve a notice before anything can be done, and if the company complies with the notice it cannot be prosecuted, which is hopeless. We are removing that so that we can move straight to prosecution, as was the intention of his amendment.


Madeleine Moon (Bridgend, Labour): Before I came into the House, I worked for the Care Standards Inspectorate for Wales, and when I had concerns about a care home with which I was working, I made unannounced inspections. Will the Minister tell us how many unannounced inspections were made at Oban House, and can he guarantee that the CQC has enough inspectors and enough capacity to carry out frequent unannounced inspections for homes about which it has any concerns?

Norman Lamb (Minister for Care Services): We are making absolutely sure that the Care Quality Commission has the capacity and the funding to do its job properly. That question was also asked by the shadow Minister, and I apologise for not responding on that point. We absolutely want to make sure that the CQC has the capacity to do unannounced inspections, but, critically, to do much more robust inspections as well.

This is a process—we cannot introduce a different system overnight—but the new system of robust inspections is already being used in about 1% of care homes, with a view to the process being rolled out fully in October this year. The first ratings of care homes will emerge in October this year. Members of the public, when they are making crucial decisions about where a loved one will receive care, will therefore have much more information about which care providers are good and which are not up to standard. I will make sure that the honourable Lady receives the same timeline of what the Care Quality Commission did that I offered to the Shadow Minister.

Business Questions
Angela Eagle (Shadow Leader of the House of Commons): Mr Speaker, yesterday you announced that the Clerk of the House will be retiring after 42 years of distinguished service to this place. There will be an occasion in future to pay an appropriate tribute, but for now I just observe that his seminal opus “How Parliament Works” still remains the most borrowed book in the whole of the House of Commons Library. The warm applause he received from all sides of the House yesterday is a fitting tribute to the esteem in which he is held.

Given the languid nature of the Government’s legislative programme to date, may I congratulate the Leader of the House on managing to find at least some business for us to consider? Will he now confirm to the House what we all know: that next Thursday he will be at the Dispatch Box announcing an early Prorogation and admitting that they are a Government who have not only run out of ideas but out of steam?

On Monday, almost 80 Conservative Members were allowed to absent themselves or rebel on their Government’s flagship High Speed 2 Bill. Those conveniently absent included the Attorney-General, the Minister for Europe, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury—and the Prime Minister. Will the Leader of the House tell us whether the Prime Minister has been taking lessons on collective responsibility from the Liberal Democrats?

Today is May Day. Given that the Tories have farcically renamed themselves the workers’ party, will the Leader of the House tell me whether he or the Chief Whip plan to be on any May day marches this weekend to show solidarity with their comrades in South Cambridgeshire and North West Hampshire? May we have a debate, in Government time, on the increasing levels of insecurity in work, so they can explain why exactly it is that there are now more than 2 million zero-hours contracts in this country, and why underemployment is at record levels?

Yesterday the Government were forced to reveal the list of 16 firms that had been given priority access to the Royal Mail fire sale. We now know that Lazard—the same firm that had advised the Business Secretary on the price—bought nearly half the shares that were available to the priority bidders, and was able to make a profit of £8 million in a single week. The chairman of Lazard in the United Kingdom is a former Tory Member of Parliament. The Chancellor’s best man made a mint, and numerous Tory donors appear to have benefited from being allowed into this cosy old boys’ club. Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills so that he can explain the cronyism that exists in the Government?

With just three weeks to go until the local and European elections, the race is hotting up. The Prime Minister, on the campaign trail in Essex, could not tell his Chelmsfords from his Colchesters—which proves that with this Prime Minister it is not “The Only Way is Essex” but more like “Made in Chelsea”. Meanwhile, in their bunker, the Liberal Democrats are eagerly awaiting the verdict of the electorate. The number of candidates they are putting up is significantly down, the honourable Member for Taunton Deane has described his own party as “largely pointless”, and the Deputy Prime Minister must be fondly reminiscing about the days when everyone thought he was the man who was going to change British politics. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury recently declared that the Cornish were now a national minority; I think it is about time that he also declared that the Liberal Democrats are now a national joke.


Madeleine Moon (Bridgend, Labour): Could we have a debate on the excellent review of diagnosis and treatment carried out by the Pernicious Anaemia Society, which is based in Bridgend? Pernicious anaemia involves memory loss, poor concentration, debilitating tiredness, personality and balance problems and mood swings. Two thirds of those who responded to the review were unhappy with their current treatment. That is diabolical. May we have an urgent debate on the issue?

Andrew Lansley (Leader of the House of Commons): I can well understand how strongly the honourable Lady feels about pernicious anaemia, which she rightly describes as a very debilitating condition. I will ask my colleagues at the Department of Health to respond to her about the position generally. She and other Members might like to seek an Adjournment debate in order to raise the issues.

Housing Benefit in Wales

Madeleine Moon (Bridgend, Labour): I suggest to the Chair of the Select Committee that the Minister should also look at what happened in the 1980s when the self-same policy was introduced under the Thatcher Government. I was a social worker in Bridgend at the time, and can tell him that it caused chaos. We were constantly writing to the benefits agency about people who had direct payment of benefits. The Government should go back and look at the disaster that was caused when they tried it before. Let us not make the same mistake again.

David T. C. Davies (Chair of the Welsh Select Committee): I am sure it could not have been that much of a disaster.

Madeleine Moon (Bridgend, Labour):  It was.

David T. C. Davies (Chair of the Welsh Select Committee): Well, the hon. Lady had 13 years, from 1997 onwards, to put things right.

Madeleine Moon (Bridgend, Labour):  It was repealed.

David T. C. Davies (Chair of the Welsh Select Committee): In actual fact, in 2008, further changes were made to how housing benefit was paid that kept in place the spare room subsidy rules for the private rented sector, so the principle seems to be widely accepted.

Madeleine Moon (Bridgend, Labour): I am talking about direct payment—

Sir Roger Gale (in the Chair): Order.


Madeleine Moon (Bridgend, Labour): I must apologise, Mr Betts, that because of the late running of the debate, I will not be able to stay until the end. I have a pre-booked ticket to get me back to Wales that, because of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority’s rules, I will not be able to change.
The bedroom tax, as every speaker has said, has had a disproportionate impact in Wales. I want to address how it has affected the county borough of Bridgend in particular. It has had a massive impact, because of a lack of one and two-bedroom homes. As of March 2014, Bridgend county borough council had 1,393 homes where over-accommodation was a problem because of the bedroom tax. Of those, 1,094 were over-accommodated by one room. Only 7% of those 1,396 affected have been able to move into smaller properties. That demonstrates the huge problem that we have with the lack of smaller properties: many constituents cannot move. We have already heard that if they moved into the private rented sector, where rents are on average 37% higher, it would not save any money for the Government. The individuals, as well as having been clobbered by the bedroom tax, would somehow have to find the costs of removal, plus the cost of new carpets, new curtains and everything else. People are trapped in a financial spiral of debt through no fault of their own, and they cannot escape.

The increase in the discretionary housing payment does not cover the funding needed for the number of people in Bridgend who are financial affected. As of April 2014, 16% of the social tenancies in Bridgend were affected by the bedroom tax. Of those, 50% are in arrears. I stress the emotional impact on those people. As Members have said, people who have never in their life been in debt are struggling, facing debt and the horror of possibly losing their home.
I saw the local impact of the direct payment of housing benefits in the 1980s, when I was a social worker. We spent a totally disproportionate amount of our time having to visit families in debt who were about to lose their properties. We would write letters to the Department for Work and Pensions saying, “This person must no longer receive the benefit directly to them. It must go directly to the landlord.” That was the only way that people could get back to their rent payments going directly to the landlord. That cost a fortune. If the Minister looks at what happened in the 1980s, he will learn that we must avoid that disaster happening again.

We also need to recognise the bedroom tax’s impact on our housing associations. They are facing increased debt among their tenants and have difficulty in securing loans for improvements, because they do not have a guaranteed income to show the banks. Some of them have financial viability issues, and they are having to face court costs in taking tenants to court to get possessions. Housing allocations are no longer based on need, but on property size and the sex, age and number of children that applicants have. We are not fitting people into homes because of need; we are fitting people into homes because their family composition fits the size needed to not get into housing benefit arrears.

The Shelter website says: “The vast majority of housing benefit claimants are either pensioners, disabled people, those caring for a relative or hardworking people on low incomes, and only 1 in 8 people who receive housing benefit is unemployed.”

More than 90% of new housing benefit claims over the past two years are for people in work. Wales is a low-wage economy and we are disproportionately affected. We do not have the properties that would enable people to move. Our people are being persecuted because of the Government’s fantasy about the availability of housing stock in Wales. The benefit change should not be imposed as it has been in Wales. I, too, completely endorse the Labour Party’s policy to rid us, as one of its first steps in government, of the pernicious attack that is being made on people in Wales.

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