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.