Madeleine Moon MP

Labour Member of Parliament for Bridgend

This Week in Parliament 2nd - 5th March


This week saw the beginning of the final month of this Parliament before we dissolve for the general election on 30 March. Illness kept me out of the Chamber for the first half of the week, but I was nevertheless able to hold a Westminster Hall Debate on the topic of local suicide prevention plans on Wednesday, before contributing to the St. David's Day debate on Welsh Affairs the following day. 

Outside of my activity, there were questions in Parliament to the Education Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister.


Education Questions

Tristram Hunt (Shadow Secretary of State for Education): In 2010, the Conservative Party manifesto promised to “close the attainment gap between the richest and poorest”, so can the Secretary of State tell the House whether, over the past two years, since the roll-out of coalition policy, the attainment gap between pupils on free school meals and their better-off classmates has narrowed or widened?

Nicky Morgan (Secretary of State for Education): I can say to the honourable Gentleman without equivocation that it has narrowed. The 2014 key stage 4 results show that the gap between disadvantaged and other pupils has narrowed by almost 4% since 2012.

Tristram Hunt (Shadow Secretary of State for Education): Oh dear, it is yet another reprimand for the Secretary of State from the UK Statistics Authority, because the attainment gap is widening on her watch. According to Teach First, “things are getting worse for poorer children, instead of better.” When it comes to education, at the end of this Parliament this Government have failed. There are more unqualified teachers, failing free schools, chaos and confusion in the school system, falling youth apprenticeships, a teacher recruitment crisis, class sizes rocketing and too many pupils taught in schools that are not judged good. Is that not the reason that, come 8 May, we will have a Labour Government ready to clean up this mess, invest in and reform our schools, and offer every child an outstanding education?

Nicky Morgan (Secretary of State for Education): It might have helped if the honourable Gentleman could have said any of that with a straight face, but he could not because he knows it is all utter drivel. We see fewer unqualified teachers, more children educated in schools rated good by Ofsted and the gap between disadvantaged and advantaged children falling. As we saw with the Labour party’s tuition fee policy announcement last week, Labour’s education policies are a farce, like scenes from “Nuns on the Run”.

Tristram Hunt (Shadow Secretary of State for Education): Why does the Conservative Party not value education? Why is the Secretary of State happy to see her budget slashed under any future Tory Government? Why will she not make a commitment, as the Labour Party has done, to protecting the education budget in real terms rather than delivering a 10% cut to schools over the next Parliament?

Nicky Morgan (Secretary of State for Education): Why will the honourable Gentleman not secure from his party leader a per-pupil funding? Under our spending plans, the next Conservative Government will be spending £590 million more on schools than his party will.



Foreign Office Questions

Douglas Alexander (Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs): At this difficult and dangerous moment, it is vital that Europe and NATO stand united in ensuring that the Minsk agreement is implemented in full. However, may I bring him back to his remarks about tier 3 sanctions? Does he believe that new EU restrictive measures should be on the table at the next European Council meeting, as opposed simply to the roll-over and extension of existing measures that he described in his answer?

Philip Hammond (Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs): The European Commission has been tasked to look at a menu of possible additional measures that could be taken. As I have indicated, I think that we need two tools. We need an extension of the existing tier 3 measures through to the end of December. Putin has been telling oligarchs around Moscow that the sanctions will be over by the end of July: “Just hold your breath and it’ll all be fine.” We need to show him that that will not be the case. Alongside that, we need a credible set of options that we can implement immediately if there is a failure to comply with milestones in the Minsk implementation agreement or a serious further outbreak of conflict in the region.

Douglas Alexander (Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs): I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s answer, but let me return to the appalling murder of Boris Nemtsov on Saturday in Moscow, to which he has referred. Clearly, the priority needs to be a thorough and impartial investigation into the murder. President Putin has a personal responsibility to show that the Russian authorities are willing and able to identify Mr Nemtsov’s killers and to bring them to justice. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm whether he has raised this matter with the Russian authorities, and give his assessment of the steps that have been taken by the Russian authorities to begin investigating the case?

Philip Hammond (Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs): We have heard a lot of noise from Moscow, but we have not yet seen any serious action. The omens are not promising. I heard just this morning that some countries’ intended high-level delegations to the funeral have not been able to obtain Russian visas. That probably tells us all we need to know.

Douglas Alexander (Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs): Last year, 2014, was dominated by news of horrendous violence against those of different faiths, from Boko Haram abducting Christian girls in Nigeria to the attacks by ISIL against Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities within Iraq. In the light of those developments, does the Foreign Secretary agree that a global envoy for religious freedom, reporting to the Foreign Secretary should be appointed? If this Government choose to act, we will support them; if they do not, a Labour Government will act.

Philip Hammond (Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs): Our general approach is to try to get things done using the mechanisms we have. We have an extensive diplomatic network around the world, and we have large amounts of soft power at our disposal, including the leverage that our large aid budget gives us. I do not think simply creating new posts and ticking a box delivers in the way the right honourable Gentleman and the previous Government seem to think it will.


Suicide Prevention Plans - Westminster Hall Debate

Madeleine Moon (Bridgend, Labour): This debate comes after a report by the All-Party Group on Suicide and Self-Harm Prevention, as well as the publication of the most recent suicide statistics two weeks ago. I want to start with a quote from someone who gave evidence to the All-Party Group. It was the most powerful statement that we received. Speaking on behalf of one of the London authorities, the person said:

“People don’t want to talk about sad subjects…I could get dozens of people in a room for mental health but not suicide…I had maybe four or five people in the room for a suicide meeting, out of an invitation list of dozens who had attended similar events on the subject of mental health.”

There is the problem. People do not want to talk about sad subjects. They do not want to look at suicide. It is too painful and too difficult. They avoid tackling a problem that blights the lives of far too many people in this country.

It is not about expensive drugs. It is about putting time and effort into looking at what the problem is locally and how it can be tackled, and then pulling together the agencies that can work together to deliver a plan. That does not seem too big to ask, to prevent an avoidable death, yet for a third of local authorities in England it is too big to ask. That is shocking. I hope that the Minister will approach those local authorities and say, “Things need to be better”. All Members whose local authorities do not have such a plan and action group ought to be proactively telling them that they are wrong.

Jessica Morden (Newport East, Labour): I commend my honourable Friend and the all-party group for their work on this issue. She speaks with great authority about the data for England, but what is her understanding of the situation in Wales?

Madeleine Moon (Bridgend, Labour): I thank my honourable Friend for her question. We are both Welsh MPs, and we know how dire the situation is in Wales. The suicide rate in Wales is 15.6 deaths per 100,000—the highest in the UK. That is perhaps part of what drives me. I know that we have our own problems in Wales, but the matter is devolved to the Welsh Assembly. The all-party group’s work helps to highlight the problems here in England. After Wales, Scotland has the next highest rate, followed by Northern Ireland and the north-east of England. There is a serious problem in Wales that we must tackle as well.

Suicide has not been illegal in this country since 1961, but it continues to carry a stigma, which we need to tackle. We also need to give support to bereaved families; to provide access to services that offer hope and a future for the suicidal; research in order to identify risks, best practice and awareness training that can prevent needless deaths; and local authorities to accept their responsibilities to support the dedicated individuals who already work across the four nations to prevent suicide. Without such individuals, the figures from two weeks ago would have been so much worse. It is time for us to take suicide seriously.

Norman Lamb (Minister of State for Care and Support): I congratulate the honourable Member for Bridgend on securing the debate and, more importantly, on her leadership on the subject of suicide prevention. Nothing could be more important, and any conversation with those going through bereavement following the death of a loved one through suicide makes us realise just how important it is for us to do better. The impact on those people’s lives is massive—the reverberations that she talked about are enormous. We can talk about the cold economic facts and the cost of £1 million per suicide, but the reverberations and economic impact on the whole family and beyond are incalculable.

I congratulate the All-Party Group on Suicide and Self-Harm Prevention on its work, and from the start I want to pick up on the role of the police. In my work on mental health, I have been impressed by some inspiring leadership in police forces across the country. In London, the Metropolitan police have worked brilliantly with mental health trusts. In many areas, police are taking the lead in ending the scandal of people being put into police cells in the middle of a mental health crisis. I applaud them.

Madeleine Moon (Bridgend, Labour): The British Transport police have undertaken some particularly successful work in conjunction with the Samaritans on preventing deaths on the railway. That, too, should be recognised.

Norman Lamb (Minister of State for Care and Support): I agree. Every person lost to suicide is a tragedy, for loved ones, the community and society as a whole. I was deeply concerned to read the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, which showed a rise in the suicide rate. Back in 2012, when I launched the suicide prevention strategy for England, we knew that we could not afford to be complacent about suicide, and much remains to be done. The new challenges are now clear, and in the second annual report for the strategy, I called on services, communities and national agencies to be more ambitious than ever before with regard to suicide prevention.

I read with interest January’s report by the all-party group on suicide and self-harm. I know that the inquiry into local suicide plans concluded that there are significant gaps in the local implementation of the national suicide prevention strategy. I agree that that is a concern. As I have said in writing to the honourable Lady, I am confident that the APPG report will be of great value at local, regional and national levels. We know that it is at the local level that the most effective suicide prevention activity will take place. I am happy to write to those local authorities that have nothing in place, and to copy her into that correspondence.
Prime Minister’s Questions

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): Before the last election, the Prime Minister made a no ifs, no buts promise on immigration. Can he remind the House exactly what that promise was?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): We promised to cut net migration. We have cut it from outside the European Union, but it has increased from inside the European Union, not least because we have created more jobs than the rest of the European Union put together.

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): The Prime Minister was rather coy about his precise promise. It was in his contract with the British people: net migration cut to the tens of thousands. But now it is at 298,000—higher than when he took office. Here is what he said in the contract: “If we don’t deliver our side of the bargain, vote us out in five years’ time.” When he said that, did he mean it?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): There are two reasons for high migration. One is the growth of our economy, and the other is that our benefit system allows people to access that benefit system straight away. I say: let’s keep the strong economy; let’s change the benefit system. The right honourable Gentleman wants to keep the benefit system and trash the economy.

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): I have to say to the Prime Minister that his promise on immigration makes the Deputy Prime Minister’s promise on tuition fees look like the model of integrity. If he can break so spectacularly a solemn promise on a fundamentally important issue, why on earth should anyone believe any of his election promises this time?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): I am glad the right honourable Gentleman mentions the document, because I have brought it with me. I have, as you say, procured a copy for the interests of the House, and I would like to run through the commitments we made. We said: “We will protect pensions”, and we have protected pensions. We said we would train 4,000 Sure Start health visitors, and we have trained 4,000 Sure Start health visitors. We said we would “protect free TV licences for over 75s and keep free eye tests… for pensioners”, and we kept that promise.

The contract says: “We will keep the winter fuel allowance”, and we kept the winter fuel allowance. It said we would “ensure that cancer patients get the…treatment they need”, and we made sure that happened. There is lots more, so let us keep going. We said we would increase health spending every year, and we have increased health spending every year. We said we would introduce the married couples’ tax allowance, and we have introduced a married couples’ tax allowance. We said we would increase the basic state pension, and we have increased the basic state pension. There is plenty more. These are commitments made, and commitments kept.

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): So now we know: we cannot believe the promise on immigration from the leader of the Conservative Party. It is not worth the paper it is written on. I will ask again. He promised net migration in the tens of thousands. Will he now admit that he has broken that promise—yes or no?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): I have been very clear: we have cut migration from outside the EU, but we have seen it rise inside the EU. We have a plan to deal with that. The right honourable Gentleman talks about commitments, but I have a few more. The contract said we would cut wasteful spending, and we have cut wasteful spending. We said we would reduce carbon emissions, and we reduced carbon emissions. We said we would have 400,000 apprentices—we have broken that promise, because we have had 2 million apprentices. It is election time, and we are all getting to think about leaflets, so I have a little question. Apparently, someone can go around to his office, and he stands on a soapbox to make himself look a little taller. How many people will put the Leader of the Opposition on their leaflets? Come on! Hands up! I think that is enough about leaflets for now.

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): So it is all about leadership. Excellent. Great. We have a good chance to discuss these issues. The broadcasters have proposed a live, head-to-head debate between the Prime Minister and me on 30 April—a week before polling day. I will be at that debate—will he?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): Yes, it is all about leadership, but we have seen none from the Labour Party. What is interesting is that we are having a debate now, and the Opposition cannot talk about the economy—they cannot talk about jobs, because more jobs are being created; they cannot talk about growth, because growth is going up; and they cannot even talk about living standards, because of today’s breakthrough report showing that living standards are back at their pre-crisis peak. I say let us have these debates, and let us get on with them before the election.

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): Okay, if the Prime Minister wants an additional debate between me and him before the election, I am happy to agree to it, but the broadcasters have set a date. He says the election is all about me and him, but the one thing he wants to avoid is a televised debate between me and him. I will give him another chance: I will be there on 30 April for a debate between me and him. Will he be there—yes or no?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): The right honourable Gentleman has now given up on the seven-cornered debates; he does not want to debate with the Greens any more. He watched the press conference: we all thought it was a car crash; he probably thought it was a master-class. We are having a debate now, and he cannot talk about the economy; he cannot talk about jobs; he cannot talk about living standards; he cannot talk about what we have done for our economy. The reason for that is that he has no leadership whatsoever. The truth is that we have a recovering economy, and we must not let Labour wreck it.




Welsh Affairs

Madeleine Moon (Bridgend, Labour): The Parc Slip Margam open cast coal site spreads across the Bridgend, Ogmore and Aberavon constituencies. The majority of the site lies within Neath Port Talbot council area, which tends to take the lead in negotiations with a company called Celtic Energy. That company exploited the site for many years, but the major settlement affected by the open cast site is in the Bridgend county borough area, and the largest community is in my constituency of Bridgend.

The mine is a mile and a half scar on the valley floor running from Cefn Cribwr to Cynffig hill, and it includes a huge deep void that is filling with water. The site is a blight on the environment, and it poses a risk to local children who unfortunately use it for motor cycle scrambling, or swim in the fetid water in the void. Local residents live in fear of water cascading into their homes and polluting local rivers. The site urgently needs restoration, and for local people the questions are simple: who has responsibility for restoration? How can they be made to accept that responsibility? Where will the almost £60 million needed for the work come from? If any budding script writers out there want a plot with twists and turns, a tale of Government failure, of political failure at national and local level, or of financial greed, dodgy practices and legal failure, this is the story for them. If Erin Brockovich has nothing to do, I invite her to come to south Wales and try her hand at Parc Slip.

Coaling at Parc Slip goes back to before 1985 and the British Coal Corporation. Between 1985 and 1994 applications to extend the open cast were made, refused and overturned at public inquiry, with permission always bringing with it responsibilities to restore the site. The Coal Authority Act 1994 privatised the coal industry, and a company that later became Celtic Energy bought the freehold for a number of sites in south Wales, including Parc Slip. In his ruling in Cardiff on 18 February, Mr Justice Hickinbottom stated that all those arrangements required Celtic to restore the land to countryside and agricultural use once mining was complete.

Mr Will Watson, chief executive officer of Celtic Energy, and until March 2010 the corporate director of environmental services at Neath Port Talbot council, claimed in an e-mail to me: “The situation has been exacerbated…by the decision in 1994 made by the Government of the day to take a larger cash receipt for the sale of the company in return for a 10-year bond free period. Had escrow funds been put away for example at today’s level of around £10 million per year for the years 1994 to 2004, then the fund would now stand at around £155 million (assuming it was invested to simply cover inflation)…Since the UK Government had the £100 million in 1994 (worth around £178 million with inflation today) it seems reasonable to me to ask the UK Government to contribute to a solution at Margam.”

There needs to be a clear answer to this from the Government. Mr Justice Hickinbottom said that responsibility lies with Celtic, but Celtic claims that it lies with the Government. Which is it? My constituents need to know. Does Her Majesty’s Treasury have any responsibility at all for the restoration of part of this site because of the nature of the sale in 1994? Yes or no? We need an answer.
Parliament has the legislative competence and moral responsibility to deal with this mess. I hope that today we can agree that one of the first priorities of whoever sits on the Government Benches in May will be to work with the Welsh Assembly Government, the Minerals Planning Authority, the Coal Authority, Natural Resources Wales and any other relevant statutory body to send a clear message to Celtic that it must face its responsibilities and that we will pursue it. Even if legislative reform is needed, it must face its responsibilities.

Communities should expect, as victims of incompetence and chicanery, to have the full support of this House to resolve this situation. I urge the Minister to give a sense of hope that we will unite to tackle the problem by calling a meeting of Government, the Welsh Assembly, local authorities and others to begin to thrash out a way forward, and to make a commitment that we will work together to seek a resolution to this appalling situation.

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