Madeleine Moon MP

Labour Member of Parliament for Bridgend

This Week in Parliament, 2nd-5th November

This Week in Parliament, 2nd-5th November

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2nd-5th November 2015

Another busy and varied week in Westminster. In addition to my weekly Defence Committee meetings and interventions in the Chamber, I attended a range of receptions and meetings and even cycled 1.6km on an exercise bike to raise money for the Poppy Appeal! See what else I got up to below..

MONDAY

Work and Pensions Questions

Since the General Election, the government's welfare reforms have attracted more criticism and notoriety than perhaps any other policy in its political agenda. Following the Conservative Party's pledge to cut the social security budget by a further £12 billion, cuts to Employment and Support Allowance, tax credits and many other welfare provisions have been implemented or announced. On Monday, during questions to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Ministers came under pressure to assess the impact of the government's Benefit Sanctions on claimants' mental health.

Three Scottish Nationalist Party MPs, Callum McCaig, Joanna Cherry and Gavin Newlands, submitted the question in the context of a flurry of newspaper articles linking the sanctions to incidences of suicide around the UK. There have been concerns that sanctions have been issued without prior written notification, generating considerable anxiety and stress for claimaints who have been suddenly plunged into financial insecurity.  
In response, Priti Patel MP, the Minister for Employment, refused to conduct an assessment of the impact of sanctions in isolation from other factors that cause or exasperate mental ill-heath. She also defended benefits sanctions as 'an important part of the labour market... encouraging and supporting people to go back to work'. Click here for the full exchange.
On Monday afternoon I met with Bridgend constituent and Unite Liaison Officer Gary Sassoon-Hales. We discussed the government's draconion Trade Union legislation which will place restrictions on the right of workers to withdraw their labour and their undermine their ability to negotiate their pay and conditions. The Bill will be debated in the Commons on Tuesday and with the help of a few Tory rebels we may succeed in defeating it.
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TUESDAY

House of Commons Defence Select Committee (HCDC)

On Tuesday I attended the weekly meeting of HCDC. Recently the Committee has been taking evidence to compile a check-list of potential threats to UK defence and security, in anticipation of the Security Defence and Spending Review (SDSR). This week's panel focussed on the Middle East and what might be the consequences for the UK of instability in Libya, Syria and Yemen. Dr Alia Brahimi, a Visiting Research Fellow on the Oxford University 'Changing Nature of War' Programme, described the 'multi-pronged challenge to the integrity of the state' in the region. Ethnic separatism has undermined national borders and identities, and formerly political problems have been militarised. 

Later on in the session, Julian Lewis, the Chair of the Committee, intervened to ask Middle East specialist Jon Marks, how accurate 'horizon scanning and prediction' have been when it comes to defence and foreign policy in the region. This seems to me to be a fundamental question at a time when UK defence policy is being reviewed in response to potential future threats. Mr Marks used the example of the Arab Spring to illustrate just how unreliable our 'prognostications' can be. At the time, we assumed that the revolutions in Egypt and Libya would introduce a democratic process to these countries; not many predicted the rise of ISIS and the total breakdown of state authority. The panel also agreed with my suggestion that the withdrawal of Foreign Office resources from these countries has further impaired our understanding of the political dynamics of these countries.
On Wednesday afternoon, I was privileged to celebrate the work of the Queen's Dragoon Guards, Welsh Guards and Royal Welsh. I enjoyed chatting over tea to Bridgend constituent Cpl Aled Jones, the Royal Welsh (above), about his experience of life in the Army and his hopes for the future. In our conversation, Cpl Jones emphasised the importance of a having a strong recruiting process to encourage young men and women to pursue a career in the armed forces. I also enjoyed talking to the two soldiers from the Queen's Dragoon Guards who were guarding the entrance to the reception.
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WEDNESDAY

Poppy Appeal Charity Static Cycle Ride

At Wednesday lunchtime I participated in a charity static cycle ride, hosted by the Industry and Parliament Trust (IPT), which aimed to get parliamentarians cycling for twelve 12 hours straight to raise money for the Royal British Legion's Poppy Appeal. As a member of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, I have seen first-hand the vital support that The Legion provides to ex-service personnel and their families. As well as providing an opportunity for charitable giving, the Appeal offers us a space to reflect as a nation on the sacrifice of those who have served and died to uphold our freedom and security.
National Coastwatch

On Wednesday afternoon I attended a reception for the National Coastwatch, an organisation of volunteers who monitor the coastline and protect those who work and live by the sea. Coastal safety can be aided by technology, but in the end there is no substitute for highly trained staff with local knowledge. Coastwatch have stations throughout England and Wales that are equipped with advanced radar and communication systems. This enables staff to play a central role in coordinating emergency rescue operations. At the reception I enjoyed meeting Alan Richards, the National Chairman of Coastwatch. Coastwatch are currently preparing to take over responsibility for the newly restored pilot lookout tower in Porthcawl in the new year.
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Policing

In the Chamber on Wednesday afternoon there was an Opposition Day debate on policing. Over the last five years 17,000 police officers have been lost due to government cuts to the policing budget. There has been a simultaneous rise in serious crime including knife crime and sexual assault. The Parliamentary Labour Party called the debate in response to reports that the police budget could be cut further by between 25% and 40% in the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review. In my intervention I focussed on the police in Wales and the 'vital role' they play in 'dealing with the mental health crisis that Wales is experiencing'. Later in the debate, I emphasised the importance of local knowledge in policing to maintaining a system of policing by consent. As numbers are cut and resources are spread more thinly police, this unique and important feature of British policing will be gradually eroded. 
 

THURSDAY

Urgent Question on Egyptian Human Rights Record

On Thursday the Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood MP was summoned to the Commons to face an Urgent Question relating to the visit of President el-Sisi of Egypt and the poor human rights record of his government. Mr Ellwood defended the Prime Minister's decision to invite President Sisi to the UK, arguing that it would 'help Egypt to succeed as a stable, prosperous and democratic country'. In its current condition, however, Egypt is beset by administrative corruption, civil conflict and political repression. The Egyptian military, of which President Sisi was a member until his election to the post last year, retains a tight grip over the country's government. 

In the last few days, the breakdown in civil authority in Egypt has had direct consequences for British citizens. Thousands of tourists have been trapped in Sharm el-Sheikh after their flights were cancelled following intelligenc
e reports that suggested that a Russian airliner had been brought over Sinai down by separatists on the ground. Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, the SNP MP for Ochil and South Perthshire, asked whether the Prime Minister has discussed the situation with President Sisi in the context of their wider conversation about improving political freedom and stability in Egypt. In response, the Minister insisted that she was 'conflating two separate issues'.

Tonight, the situation in Sharm el-Sheikh remains uncertain amid allegations that Egyptian authorities have been preventing British planes, sent to rescue stranded tourists, from accessing the airport. In a press conference earlier today, however, the British Ambassador to Egypt sought to play-down these suggestions and emphasised that his team were cooperating with the Egyptian authorities. He also issued advice and information to tourists who are awaiting flights home.
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