Madeleine Moon MP

Member of Parliament for Bridgend

This Week in Parliament, 5th-7th January

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11th-14th January

This was another busy week in Westminster, with debates on a range of subjects from Syria and the future of our armed forces to the importance of good hand hygiene. The week was also marked by sudden passing of two giants of British popular culture: David Bowie, described by the Speaker as 'the most innovative and talented rock star I ever had the pleasure of seeing or hearing', and Alan Rickman, the brilliant actor and lifelong Labour supporter. 

 

 

 

 

TUESDAY

EU Council

Following Questions to the Secretary of State for Health on Tuesday morning, government ministers delivered a series of oral statements on events that had taken place over the Christmas period. The Prime Minister was the first to speak, updating the House on the outcomes of a European Council meeting that took place before Christmas on migration, terrorism and the UK's renegotiation. The Prime Minister defended himself against the accusation, levelled by the Labour Party and others, that he has failed to take his share of responsibility for the dealing with the global refugee crisis confronting the international community. When he announced in September that his government would re-settle 20,000 refugees in the UK over the course of five years, the Prime Minister was criticised for his failure to appreciate the urgency of the crisis. Though he pointed in his statement to the relatively small number of refugees who have been formally relocated by our European neighbours, France and Germany still process the vast majority of asylum claims.

Turning to discuss the terrorist threat to the UK, the Prime Minister condemned the latest video issued by Daesh (aka ISIS) in which a British jihadist was seen to execute a hostage. The Prime Minister said that the 82 UK air-strikes conducted in Iraq and Syria were instrumental in the successful campaign by the Iraqi security forces to retake Ramadi. He also described how the RAF have cooperated with Kurdish forces in northern Iraq. But the situation in Syria remains bleak. Throughout the week, reports of extreme starvation and suffering have emerged from the besieged village of Madaya. The Prime Minister concluded his remarks on terrorism with the announcement that an agreement has been amongst European Council member-states to share flight passenger name records and 'to take forward urgent proposals on more systematic data sharing'. 

On the UK's renegotiation, the Prime Minister stated that he has

... set out four areas where Britain is seeking significant and far-reaching reforms: on sovereignty and subsidiarity, where Britain must not be part of an 'ever-closer union' and where we want a greater role for national Parliaments; on
 competitiveness, where the EU must add to our competitiveness, rather than detract from it, by signing new trade deals, cutting regulation and completing the single market; on fairness for countries inside and outside the eurozone, where the EU must protect the integrity of the single market and ensure there is no disadvantage, discrimination or additional costs for a country like Britain, which is not in the euro and which in my view is never going to join the euro; and on migration, where we need to tackle abuses of the right to free movement, and deliver changes that ensure that our welfare system is not an artificial draw for people to come to Britain.

The Prime Minister faces a viscerally euro-sceptic Parliamentary Conservative Party in the lead up to the referendum on EU membership expected this summer. On Tuesday it was announced that Cabinet ministers will be given free reign to campaign on either side of the debate and vote as they please. Kenneth Clarke, the Conservative MP for Rushcliffe, exposed the divisions in the Party over Europe in his question to the Prime Minister:

Does the Prime Minister remain confident that he will obtain a full British opt-out from the ever-closer union commitment, which until recently—in recent years—has been the principal demand of Eurosceptics, who claim to see a threat to the future independence of this country if we stay in the EU? Now that some of our right hon. and hon. Friends are taking an unaccustomed interest in benefit rules, will he confirm that his proposal on the table for a four-year limitation is stimulating a discussion with other countries anxious to take away unnecessary draws to their countries of other EU nationals, to find a solution so that we have coming here only people who will work legally in a way that benefits the British economy?

 
 
 
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WEDNESDAY

Universal Credit

Wednesday was an 'opposition day': the Labour Parliamentary Party chose to focus the afternoon's business on the government's cuts to Universal Credit and their response to the flooding crisis in the North of England and Scotland. Owen Smith, the Labour MP for Pontypridd and Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions opened his speech by criticised the Secretary of State Ian Duncan-Smith's decision to delegate the task of defending the government's policy to Minister Justin Tomlinson:

It is extraordinary that the Secretary of State cannot be bothered to defend his pet project, universal credit, today. Perhaps it is because he thinks he is above answering questions from Members in the House of Commons, or perhaps he now agrees that universal credit is indefensible. The changes that we are debating today are among the most radical ever undertaken to social security; they are changes that should have done what the Secretary of State originally intended and made work pay for working people on benefit—on in-work support—and should have made millions of people in this country better off, but after the recent cuts I fear they are set to make millions of people worse off.

The cuts are particularity punishing for working single mothers on low wages. Angela Rayner, the Labour MP for Ashton-under-Lyne, referred to analysis conducted by the House of Commons Library which suggested that working mothers of two on the minimum wage and receiving Universal Credit, could see a reduction to their annual income of nearly £3000. The cuts will be introduced in April but will only apply to individuals who have been on the Universal Credit pilot scheme. By 2020 it will apply to all claimants and 2.6 million families across the country will lose on average £1,600 from their yearly incomes, invalidating the Chancellor's recent U-Turn on tax credits. The Office of Budget Responsibility estimates that 7,000 people in the Bridgend constituency will be in receipt of Universal Credit by 2020.  

I intervened in the debate to suggest that the government found alternative ways of balancing its accounts that did not target vulnerable people on low wages:

 

Mrs Madeleine Moon: My hon. Friend was asked whether he would find alternative ways of raising money instead of taking it from the disabled, single parents, carers and working families. Would it not be more appropriate to collect tax from the many top companies in the UK that are avoiding paying their tax, rather than to steal from low-paid families as the Government propose?

Owen Smith: I found it interesting to learn, as part of the massive data dump before Christmas, that some of our largest banks such as J. P. Morgan and Merrill Lynch paid absolutely no corporation tax in the UK last year, in the same week when we learned that there would not be an investigation of the practices of our banks. Others can draw conclusions from that; I will stick to the subject at hand, which is universal credit.

Flooding

Kerry McCarthy, the Labour MP for Bristol East and Shadow Secretary of State for DEFRA, expressed her 'gratitude to the emergency services, armed forces and volunteers, who rallied round to help afflicted communities over the holiday period', but also described the damage caused by the Chancellor's 10% cut to flood protection over the course of the last Parliament and the Scottish Government's 6& per-cent cut to funding to its Environmental Protection Agency. 

Rachael Maskell, the Labour MP for York Central, agreed that the flooding crisis raises uncomfortable questions for the national and local authorities:

 

We have been able to establish that the risk that the Foss barrier would fail was known. It was understood through successive reports over many years that the capacity of the pumps at the barrier could not match the challenges of climate change and the volume of water coming down the River Foss. That has now been established as fact through the Environment Agency and reports from the local authority, but questions remain. Why was the barrier not upgraded sooner when that was known for more than 12 years? Why were there only two mechanisms to operate the pump and why have no steps been taken to raise the level of the electrics in the nearly 30 years since the barrier was established? York needs answers to those question and I trust that we will hear them later.

Rachael then drew attention to the impact of the flooding on her local Traveller community:

The Traveller community in my constituency lost everything, including their homes. The rescue operation did not happen among that community, and I want to know what additional support will be provided for Travellers. Victims of poverty and flooding should have a Government who will not abandon them in their time of need or leave them to rely on charity. They need a Government who will take action.

Liz Truss, the Secretary of State for DEFRA, emphasised the severity of the weather that this country has recently experienced: 
 the highest-ever rainfall in the north-west, record river levels across Lancashire, and Yorkshire rivers such as the Aire a metre higher than they have ever been before. She then defended her government's response to the flooding, insisting that financial support 'has been provided in record time', and reassured the Chamber that important pieces of infrastructure that had been damaged by flooding are being replaced as a matter of 'national priority'. In response to Geraint Davies's suggestion that the Government invest more to tackle climate change and to protect against its effects, the Secretary of State agreed to review the Department's six-year plan in light of recent events.

National Wildlife Crime Unit

On Wednesday I also attended a briefing held by the National Wildlife Crime Unit which supports wildlife crime investigations and collects and analyses wildlife crime intelligence from the across the UK. The future of the NWCU has been cast into doubt by the recent Spending Review. I have written to both DEFRA and the Home Office to oppose the closure of the NWCU.
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THURSDAY

State Pension Age

On Thursday morning the youngest MP in the Commons Mahairi Black, the SNP Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South, led a Backbench Business Debate on the equalisation of the state pension age for women who are 63 this year and younger. While she welcomed the equalisation, she expressed her concern that the Government's decision to accelerate the change has left many women with little time to prepare. If enacted without proper consultation or communication with the women it will affect, the proposal will not promote women's financial independence; it will leave them dangerously exposed and without the time to plan for their financial future. As I suggested in my intervention, even members of the Conservative Party are opposed to the policy on these grounds:
 

Mrs Madeleine Moon: The hon. Lady is making a very important statement, given that the former Pensions Minister has admitted that he made a bad decision, based on inadequate briefing. Is it not therefore only right that the House considers this decision today, takes it seriously and reaches the right decision, with the right information before it?

Mhairi Black: That is why the debate is so important, and we should call on the Government to act.

Another former Government Minister, Tim Loughton, the Conservative MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, also called on the Government to review the way they are implementing changes to the pension age:

I have had representations from constituents who were in low-paid jobs with huge caring responsibilities for children and other family members when they did not have access to free child care and other things—and we have them to thank. Yet it is those people for whom I believe there has been a breach of trust, as these changes hit them disproportionately. We have a large duty of care to them, but I do not think we are going to fulfil it.

Mr Loughton made the important point that the proposed changes to the pension age are not linked to life expectancy. Life expectancy for women aged 65 and above is lower than for men in the same generation and also varies according to income and across regions. This change will therefore cement social and gender inequality in the UK.
 
Children in Care

On Thursday afternoon Lucy Allan, the Conservative MP for Telford, called on the Government to 'reduce the number of children entering the care system by bringing forward measures to support more children to remain safely at home with their family or extended family.' Ms Allan described the 'self-perpetuating cycle of loss' that is set in motion when a child goes into care:


I could cite many deeply saddening statistics on levels of poverty, addiction, suicide, poor educational attainment, over-representation in the prison population, and higher levels of mental health difficulties compared with the population as a whole. However, perhaps the saddest statistic is the number of care leavers whose own children are then taken into care.

As a former social worker, I take a particular interest in this issue and appreciate the importance of early intervention in child protection cases:


I am a Welsh MP and in Wales we have the Flying Start scheme for families with difficulties in areas where poverty is high. The scheme starts at the point of pregnancy and there is regular engagement with a midwife. Once the child is born, dedicated nursing services provide support by discussing play, talking, food and setting boundaries, as well as by tackling any drug and alcohol problems in the family.

I also understand the value of the 'guardian ad litem' system, by which a judge appoints a guardian to take responsibility for a child's welfare:

It is some time since I placed children for adoption and some time since I have been involved in child protection work, but the guardian ad litem system is being disregarded. It plays a vital role in ensuring that all potential other sources of care are examined and explored before the case goes before a judge. I would like that to be examined and acknowledged.

Armed Forces Covenant

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the Conservative MP for Berwick, secured a Westminster Hall Debate on Thursday, to discuss the Armed Forces Covenant Annual Report 2015. The report focussed on the delivery of the Covenant's commitments and concluded that the support available to serving and former personnel, while in some areas comprehensive, varies across the country. In my contribution I celebrated our local authority's latest effort to honour and acknowledge the service and sacrifice of local armed forces personnel.
 

Mrs Madeleine Moon: I thank the hon. Lady for giving way and congratulate her on securing the debate. My local authority has announced today that armed forces personnel, veterans and those who have the defence discount service card will be given free swimming. Will the Minister consider asking local authorities to publish an annual report on their progress, so that we can encourage them to join up their offers?

Mrs Trevelyan: That is exactly the sort of practical, real-life example I have been talking about. It makes best use of the tools that the Government are putting out there for families, to help us to identify them and give them the practical support and wraparound affection that the covenant is there to offer. The hon. Lady anticipates my speech; I was going to say that, as with other strategies across Departments, we ask councils to submit a self-assessment report every year—I worked closely on that in the autism sector—and say to them, “As we are doing at a national level, would you please share this information with your communities?” That self-perpetuating encouragement raises the concept, the understanding and the reality of whether the covenant is working, whether in Birmingham, Bradford or Berwick.

The discussion then turned to the medical support on offer to service personnel. In the Annual Report, 66% of the personnel surveyed said that the high standard of healthcare provision was a key reason why they continued to pursue careers in the armed forces. The treatment options available to personnel who have lost limbs is particularity advanced:

The one area for which I will praise the Government highly is the money that they have put into prosthetic limb care, and their commitment to ensuring that when armed forces personnel leave the armed forces, they continue to get the highest standard of prosthetic limb. Therefore, that is an area where service personnel should get better than average because they have certainly earned it.


As Danny Kinahan, the Ulster Unionist MP for South Antrim, acknowledged, the Welsh Assembly Government has done 'good things' for veterans, particularity in relation to mental health; in Wales, personnel can refer themselves if they present with PTSD symptoms and receive treatment. I thanked Mr Kinahan for his comments:

I feel that the hon. Gentleman is bringing his comments to a conclusion. Before he does so, on behalf of Welsh MPs and the Welsh Assembly, I thank him for his kind comments about the work that we are trying to do in Wales. His speech has been moving. I hope that his words about the fact that we are a United Kingdom, and that our armed forces and our commitment to their service must unite us all, are heard.

This support notwithstanding, there remain gaps in healthcare provision for armed forces personnel:

I hope the hon. Gentleman will join me in asking the Minister to look in particular at continence support and care. Those who have high lower-limb blast damage often suffer continence problems. I wonder whether that can be looked at.




 
 
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