Madeleine Moon MP

Labour Member of Parliament for Bridgend

This Week in Parliament, 30th-3rd December

This Week in Parliament, 30th-3rd December


30th November- 3rd December

This has been one of the most testing weeks. The week was dominated by  Parliament's decision to voted approve air-strikes against Daesh targets in Syria, after an 11 hour debate on Wednesday. This was preceded on Monday by a Back-Bench Business Debate on the same subject. The atmosphere around the Palace was intense with colleagues from all sides taking counsel from other members, constituents, defence and foreign policy experts on what was an agonising decision.  In the midst of this we saw a call for a two day debate on the matter,  junior doctors called off industrial strike action and I chaired an extremely positive meeting of the Motor Neurone Disease APPG. To take a closer look at a week I'm unlikely to forget, keep reading!


 Junior Doctors' Contracts 

On Monday Jeremy Hunt made a statement to the House regarding the impending strikes by junior doctors and the contingency plans that had been put in place by the government. 
Heidi Alexander MP, 
Shadow Secretary of State for Health, described the low morale throughout the NHS. She described her many conversations with junior doctors their feelings that they the represented the first line of defence in the future of the NHS. She urged Mr Hunt to accept that we cannot keep asking our NHS workforce to do more for less:

The Health Secretary will know that this dispute has been deeply damaging to workforce morale. Many junior doctors will have already voted with their feet, or would have been planning to do so over the coming months. Has the Department made any estimate of the effect of the dispute on staff recruitment and retention? What action is the Secretary of State taking to stop the brain drain of our brightest medics to countries such as Australia and New Zealand?

Hours before the strike was due to begin at 8am on Tuesday, junior doctors called off the industrial action, having agreed to hold further talks with Jeremy Hunt to agree the details of a new contract. Strikes planned for the 1st, 8th and 16th December were also called off, following Mr Hunt's agreement to abandon the punitive new contract that he intended to impose on 45,000 junior doctors.

Backbench Business Debate - Middle East 

On Monday afternoon, I took part in a Backbench Business Debate on the Middle East, called by Dr Phillip Lee MP. Unsurprisingly, the focus was on the crisis in Syria and the prospect of UK military intervention. My position centred around the military capabilities that we have to complete such strikes and the weapons we would use. The air-strikes will be undertaken by Tornado jets acting in concert with US-led coalition forces. Torandos are old, technologically outdated and due to be de-commissioned in 2018-2019. Currently, to complete even our modest missions in Iraq, we need eight aircrafts in Cyrus to have two in operation at any one time. I am doubtful whether these aircraft are capable of having the impact that the Prime Minister intends them to have.

I also outlined what I think to be the reality of intervention and the reality of the situation we face. I said

The cry is, “Something must be done”, and we are always being asked, “How can Britain intervene? What can we do to put it right?”. One of the best writers I have read on intervention says that intervention is unpredictable, chaotic, uncertain, often prevents local leaders from taking responsibility, does not put pressure on settlements between enemies and is often crippled by the frequently changing aims of intervening Governments. I think that sums up what happens when we intervene. It is from that reality base that we will have to decide, very soon, whether we as a country should extend our intervention from Iraq to Syria.

Intervention is complex and an imperfect means of restoring peace and prosperity to a country; our experiences in Kosovo, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq teach us that. We have also learnt from recent interventions that we must be careful not to spread our focus and resources too thinly. I fear that intervening in Syria will distract us from completing our mission in Iraq, where we have an opportunity to make a real difference:

In Syria there is no compelling image for the future, and there are no leaders to rally behind. Syria is a state in the midst of civil war. In Syria there is nothing that will pull people together, but in Iraq we have potential. There is a Shia president, a Sunni defence Minister, and a wonderful Kurdish president.


Defence Select Committee

On Tuesday Morning I attended the weekly meeting of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee. It had been planned that the session would Defence expenditure and the 2% pledge and also looking further into the Strategic Defence and Security Review with Rt Hon Michael Fallon MP the Secretary of State for the Defence. However, following the announcement that the vote on the Prime Minister's proposal to take military action in Syria would take place on Wednesday, the Committee took the opportunity to discuss the Government's strategy with the Secretary of State for Defence.

I raised my concern that the government is unable to provide clear facts and figures about the numbers of belligerents involved in the Syrian conflict. The government’s argument for intervention has made much of its estimate that there are 20,000-30,000 Daesh militants compared to 70,000 opposition fighters. However, Lieutenant General Gordon Messenger who was giving evidence to the Committee, confirmed that he could not be confident about the numbers, raising serious questions about the accuracy of the statistics that are being used to argue in favour of intervention. The Lieutenant General also acknowledged that he was unable to estimate the number of Taliban militants that coalition forces had fought during the war in Afghanistan. The UK had 10,000 personnel serving in Afghanistan at the conclusion of the war, yet we appear not to have known how many Taliban we were fighting. I expressed my concern that the UK does not have a clear understanding of the number or capabilities of Daesh or the opposition ground forces.

Business of the House

Later on Tuesday the Chamber debated the Business of the House and Chris Grayling MP, the Leader of the Commons, fielded questions about the agenda for the week. The imminent vote on military action in Syria continued to be the focus of questions and debate. Mr Grayling 
announced that oral questions to both the Minister for the Cabinet Office and the Prime Minister on Wednesday would be postponed to allow for an 11 hour debate on ISIL in Syria and the United Nations Security Council resolution 2249. 

The Labour Party argued that the debate should be extended over two days so that all sides of the argument could be heard and anyone who wanted to speak had the opportunity to do so. By Wednesday morning 157 MPs had approached the Speaker with the intention of contributing. Chris Bryant, Labour MP for Rhondda and Shadow Leader of the House, noted how the Prime Minister's determination to go ahead with the vote, was in contrast to his more respectful approach to the Commons during the previous week. He called in to question the time-scale with which the debate had been moved forward, pointing out the magnitude of the decision being made and expressing the widely-held concern that it had been rushed through without sufficient time for a thorough debate. Mr Bryant was also unhappy with how the decision had been announced:

Would it not have been better form to give MPs proper notice of the debate? Would it not be better form for the Government to abandon their own business, rather than Opposition business? Would it not have been better form to have told the House first? I confess that when I heard yesterday that the Prime Minister was going to make a statement on Syria, I innocently presumed he would make it to the House of Commons... At 8 pm last night, he announced, not to the House but on television, that the debate would be tomorrow... He should have come here.

All Party Parliamentary Group on Motor Neurone Disease

On Tuesday afternoon I chaired a meeting of the APPG for 
Motor Neurone Disease, attended by over 20 MPs from across the political spectrum. We discussed the impact of cutting benefits for people with a devastating and terminal illness such as MND. The MND association shared their concerns about moving disabled people into work and the need to acknowledge that for some people this was not possible.

A special thank you must go to Mark and Katy Styles. Mark has a type of Motor Neurone Disease called Kennedy's. It progresses more slowly than other variations of the disease and is genetically passed down on the mother's side. Katy has given up her work as a secondary school teacher to become Mark's full time carer. They both spoke about the impact that Mark's condition has had on their life and especially their finances. Katy said “having MND is bad enough, living with the financial impact is even worse”. Mark and Katy's contribution was extremely powerful and many in the room were deeply moved by their story; it was a powerful case for change. 

It was agreed that I would write to Priti Patel MP, the Minister of State for Employment, to express my concerns about the impact of the Welfare Bill on claimants with Motor Neurone Disease and their carers. 




Syria Vote

On Wednesday the House of Commons 
debated the Prime Minister’s proposal to undertake air-strikes against Daesh (aka ISIS) targets in Syria.
For me there were two questions that needed to be answered: can we intervene and should we intervene? The answer to the first question had a bearing on the latter; if we do not have the requisite capabilities to make an effective intervention, we should not put UK military personnel at risk or jeopardise our international reputation and diplomatic credibility. 

Daesh is a violent and evil cult, but I was not convinced that the Prime Minister's proposal constituted a coherent strategy to defeat them. We would better off fulfilling our duty to bring stability to Iraq before venturing into Syria; the lesson of our recent military action overseas is that we must be careful not to spread our focus and resources too thinly. The establishment of stable and pluralistic political institutions in Iraq is necessary to limit the territorial reach of Daesh, to discredit its twisted ideology and to give Syrian Sunnis confidence in a political alternative. For these reasons, I opposed the Motion in the Prime Minister's name.


Throughout the debate there were a number of excellent speeches from both sides of the argument, showing the depth of research, discussion and soul-searching that MPs had undertaken before reaching a decision on how to vote. Following the Prime Minister's initial speech and the Leader of the Opposition's response, Alan Duncan, Conservative MP for Rutland and Melton, delivered the first of many backbench contributions to the debate, arguing strongly in favour of air-strikes. He urged the House 'to take the decision today based on the merits of today; we must base it on today’s facts and not on yesterday’s mistakes and regrets'. intervened to say:

I absolutely agree that what we need are facts and greater clarity about our capability to take on the task that is ahead of us. Yesterday we were told there were between 20,000 and 30,000 Daesh across Syria and Iraq, but I could not be given a number as to how many Taliban we were fighting in Afghanistan, to get a comparator, when we had 10,000 of our troops and 30,000 Americans fighting them. I could not get that, and I could not get an answer as to how often we had used our Brimstone missiles and how many more planes we would be flying. Don’t we need those questions answered?

Angus Robertson MP, the leader of the Scottish National Party, shared my concerns that the Government's case for air-strikes lacked supporting evidence and clear information about the situation on the ground and exactly what our intervention would achieve:

... a key part to any credibility for the argument that a bombing strategy will lead to medium and long-term peace in Syria and deal with Daesh is that there are ground forces capable of taking the ground when they manage to displace and degrade Daesh forces. We have asked repeatedly, and I will ask again. I will give way if any Member from the Government side wants to elucidate and explain to the House what the Prime Minister would not. The Foreign Secretary is chuntering, and I would be happy to give way to him if he will confirm from the Dispatch Box the make-up of the 70,000 forces. I have now asked a question directly to the Prime Minister that he did not answer and I have challenged the Foreign Secretary to answer the question. Is there anybody from the Government side who will answer the question?

Not every Member on the government benches supported air-strikes, however. Seven Conservatives rebelled against the Government, including Julian Lewis, Chair of the Commons Defence Select Committee. John Barron, Conservative MP for Basildon and Billericay, signed an amendment opposing action and made a powerful contribution to the debate. Perhaps the most celebrated speech in favour of action was delivered by Hilary Benn towards the end of the proceedings. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond MP described Mr Benn's contribution as an  'outstanding exposition of the case for the motion', and said that 'it will go down as one of the truly great speeches made in the House of Commons'.


All Party Parliamentary China Group

On Thursday morning I met with Alex Bristow from British Embassy in China, to discuss the the current status of human rights in the country. Our conversation focussed on recent legislation passed by the Chinese Communist Party Government and the role of charities and non-governmental organisations in promoting respect for human rights and good governance. Religious minorities are the subject of particularity aggressive state persecution. During the recent state visit of the Chinese President to the UK, I met with Chen Guangcheng, the exiled Chinese activist, who described his experience of living under the Chinese Communist Party’s repressive regime. Important though it is to challenge human rights abuses, we must also maintain a constructive relationship with the Chinese government and accept that progress may be gradual and incremental. 

UN International Day for Persons with Disabilities

The UN International Day for Persons with Disabilities
 has been commemorated since 1992 to raise awareness of disability issues and the benefits of a more inclusive society. On Thursday morning I attended an event to mark the day hosted by Debbie Abrahams, the Labour MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth and the Shadow Minister for Disabled People.

Business Statement

On Thursday morning Mr Grayling delivered his Business Statement for the next week, but not before Mr Bryant, the Shadow Leader of the Commons, had asked him to 'straighten his tie'. Mr Bryant also paid tribute to the extraordinary service of the Speaker during the Syria debate on Wednesday:

You sat in that chair yesterday, Mr Speaker, from 11.30 am to 10.54 pm, as I am sure you are aware. By my accounting, that is 11 hours and 24 minutes, or 684 minutes without a break. That is quite a test of endurance, and some of us are wondering whether, like Davros in “Doctor Who” you have secretly had some kind of feeding and filtration system fitted into the chair or some hidden tubes. Or perhaps it is down to drugs. Now that the pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Allergan, the owners of Viagra and Botox, have come together, perhaps they have invented a new drug, with which you have been impregnated, Mr Speaker, which means that you can keep a stiff upper lip all day.

On a less humorous note, Mr Bryant also asked Mr Grayling to review the security arrangements for MP's residences and offices, following threats made against MPs over the Syria vote: 

Some Members have been called murderers, others peaceniks and terrorist sympathisers. I hope the Leader of the House would agree that, although all MPs expect a certain degree of hurly-burly in political life, it is a fundamental principle that all Members are sent not as delegates but as representatives with the full power to exercise their judgment and their conscience to speak and vote without fear or favour, and that no MP should ever be intimidated.
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