Madeleine Moon MP

Labour Member of Parliament for Bridgend

This Week in Parliament: 9th-11th November, 2015

This Week in Parliament: 9th-11th November, 2015


9th-11th November

On Tuesday evening Parliament adjourned for a short recess to give MPs time to catch up on work in their constituencies, but there was a lot of parliamentary business to get through before that. The week has also been marked by Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day when the nation reflects on the courage and sacrifice of those who have served and died for their country.


Questions to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

On Monday Greg Clark MP, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, took to the despatch box to field questions from MPs. Victoria Borwick, the Conservative MP for Kensington, asked 'what assessment his Department has made of the potential effect of extending Sunday trading hours on high streets and market towns'. I have received a considerable volume of correspondence on this issue following the government's announcement that it plans to devolve Sunday trading regulations to local authorities. At the crux of this debate is the fundamental question of how we balance our life and work and it's a question with which we must all grapple. It is important that people have time to relax, to spend time with family and friends, or just to paint the shed or walk the dog. A 24/7 economy also presents serious problems for parents who are working in retail and would face a dramatic increase in childcare costs if they worked all day on Sunday. In his response to the question, however, Mr Clark retained a limited focus on the purely commercial advantages of extending trading hours on a Sunday.

Later, Michelle Donelan, the Conservative MP for Chippenham, and Fiona Mactaggart, the Labour MP for Slough, put pressure on the Secretary of State to protect and improve support and refuge for victims of domestic violence. According to
Women's Aid, 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence over their lifetimes and, although they are less likely to speak up, many men also suffer from domestic abuse. This has devastating consequences not only for the individuals involved, but also for the children who grow up in a climate of fear and family insecurity. Mr Clark defended his government's record on tackling the problem and emphasised the important role that local charities play in providing services. However, as Ms Mactaggart pointed out, due to central government spending cuts, funding for charities is often unreliable and insufficient. It is important that government intervenes, at both a national and a local level, to guarantee a constant and trusted system of support and protection.

Scotland Bill
On Monday afternoon MPs debated the Scotland Bill at Report Stage and Third Reading. The legislation will make the Scottish Parliament the most powerful devolved parliament in the world, following a Labour-led campaign to force the government to implement the conclusions of the Smith Commission in full. The Scottish Parliament will now be in a position to mitigate the  impact of the government's damaging cuts to tax credits, depending on the result of next year's elections. It is important that the Wales Bill, due to be introduced to the Commons in spring next year, strengthens and improves the devolution settlement for Wales. The draft has already come under considerable criticism for appearing to contain an English veto on Acts passed by the Welsh Assembly. On Monday the Commons Welsh Select Committee met with the Welsh Assembly Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee to scrutinise the Bill.

Defence Select Committee and Lariam

At the Defence Committee on Tuesday morning we discussed the controversial drug anti-malarial drug Lariam, focussing on the harmful effects it can have on a patient's mental health. The drug is approved by the MOD for use by armed forces personnel, a policy against which I have been campaigning since 2013.

The Committee took evidence from representatives of Roche, the pharmaceutical company which produces Lariam
There have been concerns that armed forces personnel have been prescribed the drug without receiving the necessary information or follow-up from physicians. Dr Frances Nichol, Head of Drug Safety and Quality at Roche, confirmed that organisations which prescribe Lariam to their personnel without conducting individual assessments would be in violation of the company's guidelines.

I asked Dr Nichol to clarify whether, according to guidance issued by her company in 2013, Lariam can trigger a 'psychiatric disturbance' as well as exasperating a pre-existing one. She confirmed that Lariam 'is associated with an increased risk of neuropsychiatric events'. Dr Nichol later revealed that her office had received 'adverse reports' about Lariam from the military. The Committee will be supplied with details about the content and chronology of these reports in due course.

The evidence submitted to the Committee hearing on Monday puts further pressure on the MOD to review its policy on Lariam and corroborates the testimonies of service personnel that have so far been ignored. Later that evening, I appeared on BBC Radio Wales to explain the purpose and scope of the Committee's investigation.
The Trade Union Bill

On Tuesday MPs debated the Trade Union Bill at Report Stage and Third Reading. The focus of debate was on the new clauses and amendments that had been added to the Bill since it was was first published. The draconian proposals contained in the Bill must be considered within the wider context of the government's other attempts to erode long-established civil and legal rights and principles: the Investigatory Powers Act, the gerrymandering of constituency boundaries, the disenfranchisement of millions through changes to electoral registration and the radical restructuring of the court estate. The Bill is also the product of ideological squabbles within the Tory Party. The attack on trade unions represents an abandonment of the 'One Nation' project and a challenge to European laws and standards in the run-up to the referendum.

The Bill increases the threshold required for strike action to go ahead to 50% of the ballot. In 'important' public services, and in industries and services 'ancillary to the provisions of important public services', 40% of eligible voters must agree to strike action. Although striking and picketing are already heavily regulated, the Bill introduces an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy with new powers for Certification Officers to issue heavy fines for the slightest breach of the new regulations. As I suggested in my intervention in the debate, the CO 'is guaranteed to find failings and create fine'. A further intention of the Bill is to restrict the Labour Party's funding sources, in violation of an established cross-party consensus on party funding. Working people who donate money to the Labour Party will be penalised; hedge-funds who donate money to the Tories will remain comparatively unregulated.

During its final stage, Labour added amendments to the Bill in order to moderate its devastating impact on workplace democracy. Labour proposed the introduction of e-balloting and secure workplace balloting to increase turnouts in strike ballots and other union elections. It is absurd that unions are the only organisations in the country that are required to use postal-only balloting. In my second intervention, I suggested that the government's objection to the Labour amendment exposes the underlying motivation for the Bill: 'the Government hope that people will not be bothered to buy a stamp, put it on an envelope and walk to the letterbox'.

Labour also laid down amendments to ensure that the provisions of the Bill did not apply to services which were either wholly or partly devolved to national governments and local authorities. Kevin Brennan MP pointed to First Minister Carwyn Jones's recent appeal to legal precedent in a letter to the Prime Minister to argue that trade union regulation is a devolved matter. However, Labour also opposed the Scottish National Party's proposal to devolve employment and industrial relations to the Scottish Government. As Mr Brennan argued, this would 'play into the Conservative Government's hands, and would result in a race to the bottom on workplace rights and privatisation'. The Bill undermines British rights fought for by a British labour movement which acknowledged the common interests of workers across our four nations; it must be defended at the level of the Union. In the event the Bill was passed by the Commons and the opposition parties were defeated on their amendments.

Following the Trade Union Bill vote on Tuesday night, there was an Adjournment Debate on the protection of British hedgehogs. Oliver Colvile, the Conservative MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, secured the debate to emphasise the importance of protecting the species, in the lead-up to National Hedgehog Day on the 21st November. As a 'generalist' species, Hedgehogs can thrive in a variety of habitats, but they depend on the protection of hedgerows, woodlands and meadows to prosper. 

Mr Colvile's speech was followed by the entertaining and scholarly contribution of Rory Stewart MP, the Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. In a speech lauded by the Deputy Speaker as 'one of the best ever', Mr Stewart offered the Chamber a history of how the Hedgehog has featured in British cultural, political and literary life. Mr Stewart concluded his remarks with Thomas Hardy's description of the beauty and mystery of the hedgehog in his poem 'Afterwards'.

Wednesday, Armistice Day

From Remembrance Sunday through to 
Armistice Day on Wednesday, people across the country have been taking time in their day to reflect on those who have served and died to defend Britain's security and freedom. On Sunday morning I attended a moving ceremony at Carnegie House in Bridgend during which pupils from Nottage and Mynydd Cynffig Primary Schools laid wreaths on my behalf. Other remembrance services took place at All Saints in Porthcawl and in Kenfig Hill. On Wednesday morning I observed a minute's silence to commemorate ninety-seven years since the end of the First World War.
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