Madeleine Moon

Labour Candidate for Bridgend

This Week in Parliament 9th - 13th February

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This was the last week of Parliament before a one-week recess; Parliament will return on Monday 23 February. 

There was very little legislation to deal with in Parliament; most of my work for the week took place in Committee Rooms, as I was arguing in favour of a number of key amendments to the Armed Forces Ombudsman Bill.

I was successful in persuading two Liberal Democrat MPs to vote in favour of  two of my amendments, meaning that they were adopted in spite of Government opposition. Outside of this success, the only action that took place in the Chamber were questions to the Home Secretary, Deputy Prime Minister and Prime Minister. 

MONDAY

Home Office Questions
 

Yvette Cooper (Shadow Home Secretary): The Home Secretary should have called an independent inquiry into allegations of abuse by Serco staff at Yarl’s Wood 18 months ago, before, and not after, renewing Serco’s contract. Yesterday, Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, national lead on counter-terrorism, said that the police face serious increases in pressure as a result of Syria and that “We certainly need more money”.

Peter Clarke, former national lead on counter-terror, has warned that fighting terrorism depends on a “golden thread” through national, regional and neighbourhood police, yet the scale of cuts means that the thread is being broken. The Association of Chief Police Officers has warned that the Home Secretary’s plans mean that 34,000 police jobs and more than 16,000 further police officers will go over the next five years. Does she agree that the police need more resources to tackle terrorism, and if so, why does she want to cut 16,000 more police officers?

Theresa May (Home Secretary): I have to say to the right hon. Lady that throughout our time in government we have protected CT police funding. She might have missed it, but late last year the Prime Minister announced that £130 million of extra money was being made available to the agencies and police to deal with terrorism.

Yvette Cooper (Shadow Home Secretary): But Peter Clarke is warning about the impact on neighbourhood policing. The Home Secretary will know that online crime is going through the roof and 999 delays have gone up. The terrorist threat has increased, neighbourhood policing is being decimated, and there are fewer traffic police enforcing the rules and more deaths on the roads. On child abuse, in particular, there has been a 33% increase in the number of cases reported to the police, an 11% reduction in the number of cases passed for prosecution and year-long delays in dealing with online cases because the police and NCA do not have the resources and capacity to do the job. Let me ask her again: is this the right time to cut 16,000 police officers? Yes or no?

Theresa May (Home Secretary): First, on neighbourhood policing, it is absolutely clear from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary that forces can successfully manage to balance their books while protecting the front line and delivering reductions in crime. I remind the right hon. Lady once again that there has been a fall in crime of more than a fifth under this Government. The Labour party needs to get its story straight. On the one hand, the right hon. Lady stands up in this House and claims that more resources should be going into the police while, on the other, the Shadow Chancellor, whom I think she might know, makes it very clear that under a Labour Government there would continue to be cuts. 

Henry Bellingham (North West Norfolk, Conservative): Will the Home Secretary remind the Shadow Home Secretary that without a strong economy we cannot have strong policing?

Theresa May (Home Secretary): I am very pleased to accept the point that my hon. Friend makes. He is absolutely right and, of course, it is this Government’s long-term economic plan that is delivering the strong economy that delivers the public services.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish, Labour): I suspected earlier that the Home Secretary would seek to blame somebody else for her cuts, but she is responsible for a reduction in Greater Manchester police’s budget of £134 million with a further £157 million to come out in the next three years. Will she acknowledge that it does not free up police time for officers to parade in one part of the division only to have to travel to another part of the division for their beat? Or is it that her mantra of freeing up police time is precisely what I suspect it is—bluster?

Mike Penning (Minister of State for Policing): If anybody is blustering, I just heard it. At the end of the day, there is a Labour police and crime commissioner and a chief constable who decide where operational police are. There are more police on operations in Manchester today—

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish, Labour): Your cuts.

Mike Penning (Minister of State for Policing): The hon. Gentleman can say what he likes from a sedentary position, but it is a Labour PCC that is doing it.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm150209/debtext/150209-0001.htm#1502093000561

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TUESDAY

Armed Forces Bill Committee

Unfortunately the Public Bill Committee I spent all of the day in was not recorded; nevertheless, the transcripts can be found in the links I have attached below. I have also included my opening remarks to the Committee, in which I set out the context behind the Bill and what we believe it should achieve.

 

Madeleine Moon (Bridgend, Labour): I begin with a small confession: I am highly nervous about the progress of these deliberations. I am not a barrister and am not versed in the law. I am what I call a jobbing parliamentarian, in that I feel my job is to look at where changes should and could most helpfully come, on behalf of the people I represent.

I have spent most of my working life examining the abuse of power. I looked at the abuse of children, at the abuse of adults and at abuse in its many manifest forms. I found in every case that abusers abuse because they can and because they can get away with misusing the power they have.

We are here today to look at an important Bill. Most Members in the room feel passionately about either the recommendations in the Bill or the need for the Bill to be strengthened. I am here in two guises, one of which is as a member of the Select Committee on Defence. As such, I will seek to press all of the Defence Committee’s amendments to a vote. I give that advance warning so that Members are aware of what I will be doing.

Today is, in a sense, the end of a long process. The House of Commons report in 2005 and the Deepcut review of 2006 highlighted grave concerns about the abuse of power. At that time, both the Deepcut review and the Defence Committee stressed the need for an ombudsman. We are now doing what we perhaps should have done after those reports were published. Because the chain of command was deeply worried about losing its authority, we decided instead to have a commissioner.

We should start by paying a huge acknowledgement to the work that Dr Susan Atkins has undertaken on behalf of this House and our armed forces. She has single-handedly reduced many of the anxieties and concerns that the chain of command might have about the role of an external complaints examiner. She has taken the chain of command with her and progressed to the point where there is general recognition that additional powers are needed and that an ombudsman would best exemplify those powers.

The Defence Committee feels that parts of the Bill needed strengthening. Most of the Committee are in Cyprus, so I have the job of speaking on their behalf. I apologise to members of this Committee whom we were unable to get to quickly to allow them to add their names to the amendments. The Chairman of the Defence Committee told the House of Commons that the central issues the Committee had looked at were transparency, flexibility, the scope and power of the ombudsman, and the transparency of the ombudsman’s findings. Most of those issues come down to questions of trust and of delay.

People say many things about the armed forces, but I was very interested to hear a sociologist describe the military as a closed society. A closed society is exemplified by a society with its own language, dress code, educational priorities, skills, legal system and behaviours. The armed forces also exemplify something that few of us ever demonstrate: a willingness to risk and give their life—literally, their life—in the service of their country. They are therefore set apart from the wider society they serve. Society employs the skills and values of the armed forces in order to protect itself. The country and Parliament demand loyalty of them, and it is our responsibility to pay back that loyalty. We give them limited access to employment tribunals and no contract of employment. In return, we give them a community covenant and an armed forces complaints system.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmpublic/armedforcesservice/150210/am/150210s01.htm

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmpublic/armedforcesservice/150210/pm/150210s01.htm

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Deputy Prime Minister's Questions
 

Bob Blackman (Harrow East, Conservative): Will my right hon. Friend tell us what proposals are being made to devolve stamp duty to local authorities, and will he tell us about the other fiscal measures which, I understand, are being announced elsewhere today?

Nick Clegg (Deputy Prime Minister): As my hon. Friend will know, a number of steps have been taken to devolve and decentralise what has traditionally been the very over-centralised way in which we raise and spend money. We are not just devolving unprecedented fiscal powers to the various nations in the United Kingdom, but, for instance, giving greater borrowing powers to local government in England. However, the journey is not yet complete, and, in my view, further steps towards further fiscal devolution and decentralisation should be taken in the years ahead.

Sadiq Khan (Shadow Secretary of State for Justice): We are fast approaching the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. Over the last five years, the Deputy Prime Minister’s Government have extended the use of secret courts, curtailed judicial review, and radically reduced access to justice by making massive cuts in legal aid. Which of those policies of his Government does he consider to be most in keeping with the spirit of Magna Carta?

Nick Clegg (Deputy Prime Minister): Does the right hon. Gentleman not remember what his Government did to habeas corpus, and that great tradition? Does he not remember his Government’s flawed attempt to impose an identity card database, which we brought to an end? Does he not remember his push to fingerprint innocent children in schools throughout the country, and does he not remember wanting to store the DNA of innocent citizens throughout the country? For heaven’s sake, let him remember his own record and that of his own party before he starts trying to cast aspersions on this Government.

Sadiq Khan (Shadow Secretary of State for Justice): The Deputy Prime Minister has had five years’ experience of this arrangement. It works like this: we ask the questions, and he tries to answer them. Let me try one more question. It may be the last.

It is, of course, important for our country to use its influence with its allies to improve human rights abroad. As the Deputy Prime Minister will know, the Ministry of Justice wants to enter into a £6 million contractual arrangement with the Saudi Arabian justice system to share “best practice”. Many people are rightly concerned about the sentence of 1,000 lashes that was given to Raif Badawi, and the regular use of execution by beheading in Saudi Arabia. What does the Deputy Prime Minister think about the British Government’s making money out of the Saudi Arabian justice system, and what is he going to do about it?

Nick Clegg (Deputy Prime Minister): The issue is not whether the right hon. Gentleman has the right to ask questions. The issue is his absolute amnesia about what his Government got up to, from invading Iraq illegally to shredding civil liberties on an industrial scale. As for the question that he has asked, the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), says that no contract has been entered into with Saudi Arabia.

Like the right hon. Gentleman and, I suspect, many Members on both sides of the House, I consider some of the practices that we have seen in Saudi Arabia to be absolutely abhorrent, and completely in conflict with our values. What every Government, including his own, have done in such circumstances is make a judgment on whether to cut off relations with other Governments with whom we disagree, or whether to try to influence them and bring them more into line with our values. That is clearly what his Government did, and it is what this coalition Government are trying to do as well.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough, Conservative): I understand that if the United Kingdom votes to leave the European Union in a referendum—the United Kingdom as a whole—the Scottish Parliament will, under the vow, have to pass a legislative consent motion before it can happen. Is that not a recipe for constitutional crisis?

Nick Clegg (Deputy Prime Minister): The right hon. Gentleman’s views and my views on Britain’s continued membership of the European Union may be at a variance, but I am starting to agree with him that stumbling into a referendum on such a momentous matter without really thinking through the implications for the country as a whole would not only result in a constitutional quagmire, but would possibly jeopardise millions of jobs in this country. That is why I would counsel him and his party not to make breezy commitments in the run-up to a general election which could leave this country much poorer.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm150210/debtext/150210-0001.htm#15021027000017

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WEDNESDAY

Prime Minister’s Questions
 

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): An hour ago, we learned that linked to the HSBC tax avoidance scandal are seven Tory donors, including a former treasurer of the Tory party, who between them have given the party nearly £5 million. How can the Prime Minister explain the revolving door between Tory party HQ and the Swiss branch of HSBC?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): I saw that list just before coming to Prime Minister’s questions. One of the people named is the Labour donor, Lord Paul, who funded Gordon Brown’s election campaign. I am very clear: people should pay their taxes in our country, and no Government have been tougher than this one in chasing down tax evasion and tax avoidance.

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): Let us talk about the difference between the Prime Minister and me. None of those people has given a penny on my watch, and he is up to his neck in this. Let us take Stanley Fink, who gave £3 million to the Conservative party. The Prime Minister actually appointed him as treasurer of the party and gave him a peerage for good measure. Will he now explain what steps he is going to take about the tax avoidance activities of Lord Fink?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): I will tell the right hon. Gentleman about the difference between him and me. When people donate to the Conservative party, they do not pick the candidates, they do not choose the policies and they do not elect the leader. When the trade unions fund the Labour party, they pay for the candidates, they pay for the policies, and the only reason that the right hon. Gentleman is sitting there today is because a bunch of trade union leaders decided that he was more left wing than his brother.

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): The Prime Minister cannot get away from it: he is a dodgy Prime Minister surrounded by dodgy donors. He did not just take the moneyhe appointed the man who was head of HSBC as a Minister. It was in the public domain in September 2010 that HSBC was enabling tax avoidance on an industrial scale. Are we seriously expected to believe that when he made Stephen Green a Minister four months later, he had no idea about these allegations?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has brought up the issue of Stephen Green, who was a trade Minister in this Government. This is the same Stephen Green whom Gordon Brown appointed as the head of his business advisory council. This is the same Stephen Green whom Labour welcomed as a trade Minister into the Government. It is the same Stephen Green whom the shadow Business Secretary, who is looking a bit coy today, invited on a trade mission as late as 2013. We know what happens: every week the right hon. Gentleman gets more desperate. He cannot talk about the economy and he cannot talk about unemployment, and so he comes here with fiction after fiction. Let me deal, while I have a moment, with the fiction we had last week. He came here and, if you remember, he talked about something called intermediary tax relief. It turns out that the treatment he is complaining about was introduced in the autumn of 1997 by a Labour Government. It further turns out that it was extended in 2007. Who was in power in 2007? It was Labour. Who was the City Minister in 2007? I think we’ll find it was Ed somebody.

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): I know the Prime Minister does not care about tax avoidance, but on this day of all days he is going to be held accountable for answering the question. He is pleading ignorance as to what was happening with Stephen Green, but today we discover that the Minister in charge issued a press release in November 2011 which referred to the investigation into the HSBC Geneva account holders. Does the Prime Minister expect us to believe that in Stephen Green’s three years as a Minister he never had a conversation with him about what was happening at HSBC?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): Why did Labour welcome Stephen Green as a trade Minister? Why were they still booking meetings with him in 2013? My responsibility is the tax laws of this country, and no one has been tougher. Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman about what we found: hedge funds cutting their taxes by flipping currencies—allowed under Labour, banned under the Tories; foreigners not paying stamp duty—allowed under Labour, banned under the Tories; and banks not paying tax on all their profits—allowed under Labour, banned by the Tories. Those two in the Treasury were the friends of the tax dodger. We are the friend of the hard working tax payer.

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): The Prime Minister is bang to rights, just like his donors. And doesn’t this all sound familiar? The Prime Minister appoints someone to a senior job in government. There are public allegations but he does not ask the questions, he turns a blind eye. Isn’t this just the behaviour we saw with Andy Coulson?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): It is desperate stuff. The Opposition cannot talk about the economy because it is growing; they cannot talk about unemployment because it is falling; and they cannot talk about their health policy because it is collapsing. What have we seen this week? They cannot even go in front of a business audience because they have offended every business in the country; they cannot go to Scotland because they are toxic; they cannot talk to women because they have a pink bus touring the country; and they have even offended Britain’s nuns. No wonder people look at Labour and say that it has not got a prayer.

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): He took the money, gave a job to the head of HSBC, and lets the tax avoiders get away with it. There is something rotten at the heart of the Conservative party and it is him.

David Cameron (Prime Minister): For 13 years, Labour sat in the Treasury and did nothing about tax transparency, nothing about tax dodging, and nothing about tax avoidance. This Government have been tougher than any previous Government. That is why the Opposition are desperate and that is why they are losing.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm150211/debtext/150211-0001.htm#15021185000005

 
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THURSDAY

Business Questions
 

Angela Eagle (Shadow Leader of the House of Commons): Yesterday’s report from Sir Robert Francis revealed that nearly a quarter of NHS staff have experienced bullying or harassment—a problem that is all too prevalent in other workplaces across the country too. Given that the Government were quick to welcome the Francis report but have made it their mission to make people pay to access employment rights and protection from bullying and arbitrary treatment everywhere else, may we have a debate on the protection that Britain’s workers deserve against bullying at work? May we especially have a debate about the 60% fall in employment tribunal cases since the Government introduced steep payments for access to justice in the workplace?

Yesterday we learned that a string of Tory donors banked with the Swiss arm of HSBC, which has been caught red-handed facilitating tax abuse. Since the Prime Minister became leader of his party, those donors have given him £5 million and HSBC’s chairman, Lord Green, was appointed a Minister in the Government after the scandal was public knowledge, with no questions asked about his oversight of this rogue bank. Does that not say everything about this Government?

On the Government’s own estimate, uncollected taxes rose by a massive £34 billion last year. Their sweetheart Swiss tax deal is full of holes and has brought in less than a third of what they promised, and they have cut taxes for millionaires and hedge funds, which have given them £47 million since the Prime Minister became leader.

With the election looming, our shameless Prime Minister travelled to the British Chambers of Commerce to steal a TUC slogan and suddenly declare that “Britain needs a pay rise”. Yet this is the first Government since 1874 who have left people worse off at the end of the Parliament than they were at the beginning. While he was there, he even decided to channel Lord Kinnock, but I would have used a different speech: “I’ll tell you what happens with impossible Tory pre-election promises. They’re pickled into a rigid soundbite, a code, and you end up in the grotesque chaos of a Tory Government—a Tory Government!—hiring chauffeur-driven limos to scuttle round Davos handing out huge tax breaks to its own donors.”

The Prime Minister has reportedly told the Cabinet that he is fed up of this zombie Government and that he wants Ministers to get back to work. Most appear to have responded by suddenly dumping hundreds of statutory instruments on the Order Paper, but the invisible man—the Tory Chief Whip—has responded in his own unique style. On a day when he failed to show up in Parliament—the day before Parliament adjourned five hours early—he gave a speech on the “myth” of the zombie Parliament. His key evidence was an increase in urgent questions under this Government. But, Mr Speaker, you grant urgent questions and you grant them when the Government are avoiding scrutiny.

I read this morning that the Chief Whip has literally been back-seat driving, but not at the Department for Education: he has been taking vanity trips in his Jaguar to travel the 400 yards between Parliament and No. 10. He drove teachers round the bend, he has put this place on the road to nowhere, and his Government hold the record for the most U-turns. He certainly will not be allowed anywhere near our magenta battle bus.

On Monday night, the Conservative black and white ball raised millions of pounds and gave a whole new meaning to the term “by-election”. According to the Daily Mail, the Prime Minister partied with the kings and queens of sleaze, including a porn baron, the owner of a strip club and the boss of Ann Summers. Perhaps they should have changed their theme to black, white and a little blue. This year, in a doomed bid to limit the PR disaster, they banned ostentatious displays of tuxedos and champagne, but they did still auction a 500-bird pheasant and partridge shoot for tens of thousands of pounds; a bronze statue of Margaret Thatcher for £210,000; and, hilariously, a holiday in Cobblers Cove.

I have been inspecting the auction lots and if I had more money than sense I could have bought shoe shopping with the Home Secretary or a personalised cartoon from the Leader of the House’s private collection, where he is depicted as a “bionic babe”. Perhaps he could tell us what that went for. I could also have paid to take on the welfare Secretary in an endurance race across hills, woods, streams, hedges and hay bales. Surely I would be certain of winning that one, because, judging by his welfare reforms, that man has no hope of finishing anything.

I gather that the Liberal Democrats are organising their own fundraiser, too: instead of an auction, they are going to sell off their principles to the highest bidder.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmhansrd/cm150212/debtext/150212-0001.htm#15021269000004

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