Madeleine Moon MP

Labour Member of Parliament for Bridgend

This Week in Parliament 7th - 10th April

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Madeleine Moon MP
House of Commons
London
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Westminster: 020 7219 0814
Bridgend: 01656 750 002

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7th - 10th April

Parliament rose for its Easter Recess on Thursday so this will be the last TWIP until 2nd May. The last week was a busy one though with questions about the EU and Ukraine and the controversy over the Culture Secretary, Maria Miller's resignation all receiving attention.

There was also a debate on Personal Independence Payments and their specific impact on Wales. A debate in which I would have liked to have participated, but I was already committed to attending other meetings. However, in Business Questions I asked for a debate on the reported levels of harassment and discrimination in the armed forces.

Monday


The UK's Justice and Home Affairs Opt-out
 
MP's took part in a debate  on the United Kingdom’s 2014 justice and home affairs opt-out decision. In September 2012, the Prime Minister announced that the Government intended to exercise the right conferred exclusively on the UK by the Lisbon Treaty to opt out of EU police and criminal justice measures. 


The Government’s decision on the block opt-out will determine the extent to which two EU institutions – the Commission and Court of Justice – will have a role in overseeing the application of pre-Lisbon EU criminal law and policing measures in the UK.

The EU Council must be notified about the block opt-out decision by 31 May 2014, with the decision taking effect in December 2014.

 

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the UK’s 2014 justice and home affairs opt-out decision.

We return once more to the important issue of the United Kingdom’s opt-out decision in relation to justice and home affairs matters under the Lisbon treaty—an issue that not only raises important questions about the protection of individual rights, but that directly affects our law enforcement agencies’ ability to work with their EU counterparts to keep British citizens safe. It is an issue in which a number of right hon. and hon. Members have taken a keen interest, and the Government are grateful to them for their work in this area so far, not least the Select Committees on Home Affairs and on Justice and the European Scrutiny Committee, before all of which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice and I have appeared on a number of occasions.

Those Committees have produced many valuable reports on the 2014 opt-outs. Their most recent was a joint report that was published on 26 March, in which they expressed the view that the Government have not engaged properly with Parliament on this issue. We deeply regret that they take that view and respectfully disagree. The Government have strongly supported and, indeed, encouraged Parliament’s scrutiny of this important matter from the very start of the process. I made an initial statement in October 2012 because the Government considered it important to communicate their proposed direction of travel at an early stage to enable scrutiny of the position to take place. That was in line with standard practice on EU police and criminal justice matters.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): It is very unusual for three Committees of the House to agree on every single word of a joint report, which is what we did. The point that the three Committees made—the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee is here and he can make his own points on this—was that it was important for Parliament to deliberate on this matter before the package was put in place, rather than afterwards, which would give Parliament very little time for proper discussion. That is why we felt that it was important to deal with this matter at the earliest opportunity. We are grateful to the Home Secretary for giving us this time.

Mrs May: I am grateful to the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee for setting out the reason behind the joint report from the three Committees. I will go on to explain exactly where we are in the process. He talks about the package coming before the House before it is adopted. We have made it very clear that there will be another opportunity for Parliament to debate the matter and vote on it.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): In what precise form will any vote be taken? Would it have legislative effect if the House added or took away one of the measures?

Mrs May: The Government will not bring forward legislation to the House on this matter, because that is not necessary. We will put before the House a package of measures that, following discussions with the European Commission, we believe we should be rejoining.

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab): Today’s debate is one that the Home Secretary and Justice Secretary did not want to have. They have been forced into it by the three Select Committees because time and again they have tried to avoid coming to Parliament, avoid providing information to Parliament and avoid having a vote. The Select Committee on Home Affairs told them:

“we have been disappointed with the extent and timeliness of the Government’s involvement of Parliament”.

The European Scrutiny Committee described the Government’s approach as

“a serious omission as well as a missed opportunity to inform the debate in Parliament and beyond.”

The Select Committee on Justice summed up its report by saying

“we criticise the ‘cavalier fashion’ in which Parliament has been treated.”

The Home Secretary was in cavalier mode again today, because although she announced the opt-out in July last year and the Select Committees reports came out in October—we can presume that she has been negotiating since then—we had today no update on the progress of the negotiations, no sense of the timetable and no sense of when the vote will be called. We do have to wonder what the Home Secretary has to hide. The truth is that she is hiding because this whole opt-out, opt-in is a massive con. She has done a U-turn again on the main measures, and is opting out and opting back in to them again. The only measures she is staying out of are ones that were largely redundant in any case, and what she is doing is a complex negotiation with our European partners, which is playing games with European security co-operation: “We’ll pull the arrest warrant out; we’ll put the arrest warrant back in. We’ll in out, in out, shake it all about. Play the opt-out hokey cokey, and you turn around. That’s what it’s all about.”

Tuesday

Foreign Office Questions
 
Developments in Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula in particular  dominated the monthly question time for the Foreign Secretary William Hague.  
 

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of threats to the territorial integrity of Ukraine. [903586]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): We are gravely concerned about the situation in Crimea and in the east of Ukraine, where armed groups have seized Government buildings in Donetsk, Kharkiv and Lugansk. There can be no justification for this action, which bears all the hallmarks of a Russian strategy to destabilise Ukraine. Russia should be clear that the deliberate escalation of this crisis will bring serious political and economic consequences.

Graham Stringer: In February, the Chancellor of the Exchequer offered financial assistance to Ukraine. At the start of this month, Gazprom put up the price of gas to Ukraine. What safeguards has the Foreign Secretary put in place to stop any aid we give to Ukraine going straight to Russia via increased gas prices?

Mr Hague: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the aid that he is speaking of is the International Monetary Fund programme, and work continues on that programme. The Ukrainian Government have been discussing the first stage of that with the IMF. To obtain that aid, Ukraine must meet the conditions set by the IMF, including on how that money is used. Of course Ukraine would enjoy a more successful and prosperous future if Russia were to join the rest of the international community in supporting the economic future of Ukraine.

Mr Douglas Alexander (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (Lab): As the Foreign Secretary’s earlier answers show, the protests across the east of Ukraine, in cities including Donetsk, highlight the continued risk of violent escalation and further bloodshed in Ukraine. In his first answer, the Foreign Secretary spoke of recent events bearing all the hallmarks of Russian involvement. Would he be willing to set out for the House in a little more detail his judgment of the form that the involvement of Russia has taken in recent days?

Mr Hague: Well, I said that it had the hallmarks of a Russian strategy to destabilise Ukraine and that is something we must expect in the run-up to the Ukrainian presidential elections on 25 May. It would be consistent with Russia’s strategy and behaviour over recent weeks to try to damage the credibility of those elections, to take actions that would make it appear less credible to hold the elections in eastern parts of Ukraine and to make it more difficult for Ukraine to operate as a democratic state. Those hallmarks are all present in what has happened in recent days.

Mr Alexander: I note and welcome the Foreign Secretary’s answer. The Prime Minister said in his statement to this House on Ukraine:

“The international community remains ready to intensify sanctions if Russia continues to escalate this situation”.—[Official Report, 26 March 2014; Vol. 578, c. 350.]

In the light of the Foreign Secretary’s answer, and if reports of Russian involvement in eastern Ukraine prove correct, does he believe that that would constitute grounds for widening the economic and diplomatic pressure on President Putin?

Mr Hague: That will depend on the course of events over the coming days and on the evidence of Russia’s involvement. The latest this morning is that the authorities in Kiev say that the situation is dangerous, as we have said in this House, but under control. Indeed, the administrative buildings in Kharkiv appear to be back under the control of the Ukrainian authorities. I think we will have to assess the situation over the coming days, but I say again that a deliberate escalation of the situation by Russia will bring serious political and economic consequences.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm140408/debtext/140408-0001.htm#14040849000008

Wednesday

Prime Ministers Questions
 
Issues raised by the Culture Secretary Maria Miller's resignation Wednesday morning were the focus of Ed Miliband's questions in PMQs, with the leader of the opposition questioning the Prime Minister's judgement over the affair.
 

Nia Griffith: The Prime Minister promised by the end of this Parliament to reduce net annual migration to the UK to tens of thousands. Will that promise be met—yes or no?

The Prime Minister: We have made very good steps forward on migration from outside the EU, which is down by a third and at its lowest level since 1998. That is a success, and we have seen net migration overall come down by around a fifth. What we have not seen is what we saw under Labour, when 2.2 million people net came in over 10 years. That was unacceptable, and we are getting the situation under control.

Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab): The events of the last week have caused deep concern and anger to the public. What lessons has the Prime Minister learned from his handling of the situation?

The Prime Minister: First, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there is still very deep and very raw public concern about the expenses scandal that rocked the last Parliament. The biggest lesson I have learned is that that anger is still very raw and needs to be acted on. I hope the one lesson that will not be learned is that the right thing to do as soon as someone has to answer allegations is just to remove them instantly, rather than give them a chance to clear their name and get on with their job.

Edward Miliband: The Prime Minister describes it as a “bandwagon” and a “circus”. This is about members of the public in this country being absolutely appalled at the conduct of his Government over the last week. That is what it is about. It is about members of the public who cannot understand why he did not act. He said in his foreword to the “Ministerial Code”:

“the British people…expect the highest standards of conduct. We must not let them down.”

Does he not realise that his failure, even now, to recognise what went wrong has undermined trust not only in his Government, but in politics?

The Prime Minister: What we see is absolutely transparent: the right hon. Gentleman came here today determined to play politics in every single way that he could. That is absolutely clear. Since 2010—[Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. The Prime Minister’s answer must and will be heard.

The Prime Minister: I think that Members across the House know that since 2010—since the last Parliament—a lot of changes have been made. We have independent members on the parliamentary Committee; the publication of all meetings, visits and gifts for Ministers; the publication of all special adviser salaries; and the publication of Government spending. Is there more to do? Yes, absolutely, there is more to do. If the right hon. Gentleman is serious about doing it, he will sit down with other party leaders and the authorities of this House. Let us ask what we can do to put it beyond doubt that this is a good and honest Parliament with hard-working people. If he wants to play politics and he wants a good soundbite on the news, he should carry on. If you’re serious, get serious.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Some 2,400 jobs have been destroyed in Leicester and Corby, and last Friday 650 in Newport, by one single firm that specialises in cynically buying up firms, degrading the pay and conditions of staff and then abandoning them to unemployment. What protection will the Government give to those blameless, hard-working people who suffer from the scourge of that new vulture capitalism?

The Prime Minister: I am happy to look at the individual case that the hon. Gentleman raises, but—in terms of the job situation in the UK at present—in the last week we have had 8,000 jobs from Birmingham city airport, 12,000 jobs from Asda and more than 1,000 jobs from Vodafone. What we are seeing is businesses wanting to locate in Britain, take people on in Britain and grow in Britain, but if the hon. Gentleman has an example of bad practice, I am happy to look at it.

Personal Independence Payments in Wales
 
Concerns by Welsh MPs over the change from the Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payments are being highlighted in a debate at Westminster Hall. Welsh MP Susan Elan Jones is holding the debate.
 

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): Diolch yn fawr, Mr Owen. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I am pleased to have secured this debate on personal independent payments in Wales. It is an important debate for many of our constituents, including many of the most vulnerable, who are being failed by the system. I hope that hon. Members here today will share cases from their constituencies and that we will get some action from the Government.

I could, like other hon. Members, share with the House many accounts given to me by constituents of their experiences. I will begin with one told to me by a lady from Gwynfryn in my constituency, who was diagnosed with breast cancer on 22 August. After fighting through two rounds of surgery, and showing continued strength through chemotherapy, she approached me in January to see if there was any help that my staff and I could offer her. My constituent had applied for personal independence payments soon after her diagnosis. She knew she would be unfit to work and that she would need financial support through a difficult time. She received a response from Capita and waited her turn, hoping that the backlog would clear. My constituent is still not receiving PIP—or any financial support; and she is still undergoing chemotherapy.

Capita’s own information pack, given to applicants, states that assessments should be made within “approximately 28 days.” I think we can all agree that my constituent—like many other people in a similar position—has waited long enough. The current Government have instituted a system in Wales that is meant to offer advice and assessment, and to provide support, but it is failing woefully. The absurd situation in my constituency is that Department for Work and Pensions staff are advising local people to get in touch with me to see whether I can help the process along with Capita. Government employees are advising my constituents to contact me, as their elected official, to put pressure on a body that was instituted by the current Government and is paid for by taxpayers the length and breadth of the country.

Chris Ruane: Again, things come down to due diligence and to the assessment of the problem by the Government when awarding the contract. In addition, in the north Wales situation, there was no mention of staff who can deal with mental health issues.

We talk about the vast numbers of people affected, so let us consider who they are. One of my constituents who had mental health problems was told that she could not have an assessment in her own home. She lives in north Wales, but she was told to go to the nearest assessment centre—in Cardiff. It takes me two hours and 36 minutes to get from Rhyl to London, but I could almost have gone from Rhyl to London and back again in the time that it would take that lady simply to get down to Cardiff. Would the Minister send someone from London up to Cumbria for an assessment test, because those are the time scales that we are talking about? That shows total disregard for the individuals involved.

Another individual in my constituency, who is wheelchair-bound, waited for six months, but her case had still not been sorted out. In that time, there were knock-on effects to other benefits and funding was taken off her; she lost her mobility allowance and so she lost her car. There she was, with mental health issues, in a wheelchair and stuck in a house. Things that help people with mental health issues include visiting relatives, joining voluntary organisations, going to a place of worship and getting out in nature, none of which she could do because her car was taken away. All the things that could have helped her were taken away from her by Government action, or inaction.

The rules for the terminally ill suggest that if they have seven months left to live, they are pestered and hounded, but if they have six months left, they will be left alone. That should not be the case. We should prioritise the people—

Mike Penning: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Chris Ruane: No, I will not give way.

Mike Penning: The hon. Gentleman is being misleading.

Albert Owen(in the Chair): Order. No one is misleading anyone.

Mike Penning: I am sorry, Mr Owen; I am sure that was unintentional. This is rightly a passionate debate. I have referred in previous discussions to 28 days for terminal illness. That was completely unacceptable, and it was 10 days under disability living allowance. I told the Select Committee that the period would be below 10 days. That is where we are now, and that will continue.

Chris Ruane: The Minister talks about how things should happen; we are talking about how things are happening. Capita, which took the Government’s instructions, visited us last week and told us what I have just said. Perhaps the company got it wrong, but if it did the Minister should ask why the Government awarded a contract to a company that does not understand the basic rules of dealing with the dying.

I will move on. It is not just Labour Back Benchers from Wales who are raising the matter. The National Audit Office has said that

“the Department did not allow enough time to test whether the assessment process could handle large numbers of claims. As a result of this poor early operational performance, claimants face long and uncertain delays and the Department has had to delay the wider roll-out of the programme. Because it may take…time to resolve the delays, the Department has increased the risk that the programme will not deliver value for money in the longer term.”

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm140409/halltext/140409h0001.htm#14040930000001 

Thursday

Business Questions
 
Concerns by Welsh MPs over the change from the Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payments are being highlighted in a debate at Westminster Hall. Welsh MP Susan Elan Jones is holding the debate.
 

Ms Eagle: I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for after the Easter recess. I also thank him for finally providing, in a written ministerial answer earlier this week, what I hope will be the actual date for the Queen’s Speech. Perhaps he can now confirm that Prorogation will be at least a week, or even two weeks, early due to the Government’s chronic lack of business. Could I make the Leader of the House an offer? If he cannot think of anything to do with the acres of spare time the Government have left free, he can always give us more Opposition days.

On the first two days back after the recess, we will have the chance to debate the Second Reading of the High Speed Rail Bill. Will the Leader of the House explain how he plans to schedule the day and a half allocated to the Second Reading and the subsequent motions? Given the fate last night of the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), who was unceremoniously sacked as a Tory vice-chair for opposing HS2 and for his overly honest tweets, is the Leader of the House expecting any more trouble on his own side?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for her response to the statement of business, and I am pleased to join her in wishing all the staff of the House a happy and restful short recess over Easter.

I was able to confirm this week the date of the state opening of Parliament. It will be Wednesday 4 June. As I think the House will understand, this was consequent on the change arising from the cancellation of the G8 summit. The adjusted timing of the meeting of G7 Ministers allowed us to have the state opening on Wednesday 4 June.

I cannot announce the date of Prorogation. It will be subject to the progress of business. I am surprised at the hon. Lady’s argument that we are not busy. We are busy. This week we considered the Finance Bill in Committee on the Floor of the House. On Monday, at the request of Members, including three Select Committees of the House, we provided time for a debate on the justice and home affairs opt-out. We concluded two hours early because there were not sufficient Members who wanted to debate it. The Government are happy to make available the time that the House is looking for, but it has been notable on a number of occasions, as I have told the shadow Leader of the House before, that her colleagues will not take the time available to scrutinise the Government. Perhaps they find it embarrassing to come to the House and attempt to criticise the Government, when they know perfectly well that they have no credible alternative. That may just be the way it is.

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): The Service Complaints Commissioner’s report for 2013 reveals that complaints about bullying, harassment and discrimination account for 43% of Army allegations, and that bullying was up by a third. Complaints are made disproportionately by female and ethnic minority personnel. Equality and diversity training in the Army consists of an initial two-hour training course and a half-hour refresher every year. May we have a debate on the report and on how to tackle an embedded culture of bullying, harassment and discrimination that is blighting the lives of many in our armed forces?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Lady raises an important point. I saw the Service Complaints Commissioner’s report. It is important that we further strengthen the role of the commissioner and raise awareness of all the issues to which she refers. I will, if I may, ask my hon. Friends at the Ministry of Defence to respond, but I assure her that I know, from my conversations with colleagues, that these issues are taken very seriously.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): We now have a women’s Minister who could not also have the equalities brief because she voted against gay marriage, and an equalities Minister who said that there were no women members of the Monetary Policy Committee because it was appointed on merit. May we have the novel innovation of a joint statement by the women’s Minister and the equalities Minister so that we can find out whether they are singing from the same song sheet?

Mr Lansley: I know both the new equalities Minister and the new women’s Minister very well, and the hon. Gentleman is on a very sticky wicket in attempting to criticise them.

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): May we have an urgent statement on internet security? Several experts have called for everyone to change their internet passwords because of a virus that has infected many websites. Indeed, earlier today I tried to change my password to “Labour’s economic policy”, but it was judged to be too weak.

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend makes both a good comment and a good joke. I saw the press reports and we still have more to do to understand and combat the risks to security on the internet. I note that police forces need constantly to think about how they can acquire the expertise themselves. He makes a very important point.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm140410/debtext/140410-0001.htm#14041073000003 

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