Madeleine Moon MP

Labour Member of Parliament for Bridgend

This Week in Parliament 9th - 13th March


There is now only two weeks left before this five year Parliament comes to an end, and the one month long campaign for the election begins, and things are beginning to feel like they are winding up in Westminster as election fever sets in.

However Monday this week was a highly significant and unusually bipartisan day in the chamber, with what should be the final debate and vote on the Armed Forces (Service Complaints) Bill. The bill will establish an Ombudsman for armed forces personnel to go to over complaints of poor treatment. Having campaigned on this issue for years, the passage of the reform along with the huge boost to its powers we managed to secure earlier is something I'm highly proud of, and I'm happy to see pass before Parliament dissolves.


Armed Forces Ombudsman Bill
Monday saw the Report Stage and third reading of the Armed Forces Ombudsman Bill, having already completed its passage through the House of Lords, the Bill has only a few minor steps to go and is now basically law. In my speeches I not only thanked the government and all those who had worked to make these reforms a reality, but also pressed the Government on the next big challenges and areas in need of reform, and the much large Armed Forces Bill that will start at the end of the year.
Madeleine Moon (Bridgend, Labour): The armed forces, as I frequently tell my constituents, are a closed institution with their own language, dress code and standards. Most personnel live a closed life that is mostly unobserved by society, but which represents the highest values of our society. The armed forces also have their own internal disciplinary system and legal system—AGAI 67. Abuses of the system can remain hidden and have done, as seen in the double jeopardy cases I have discussed in the House and in the Public Bill Committee. Those cases were revealed only because of whistle-blowers.

One of the most important things we must accept about the armed forces is that innate to them is a huge desire for justice. Armed forces personnel have a huge recognition of the importance of justice and the importance of people being dealt with fairly. However, papers frequently come through my office that demonstrate that the service complaints system to date has not necessarily been working fairly.

Armed forces personnel have limited access to employment tribunals. It is therefore critical that the internal system operates well and gives a sense of confidence to armed forces personnel. We know that the delays are growing. As the number of armed forces personnel decreases, the pressure on personnel increases. The number of people who investigate and adjudicate in the matter of service complaints is also decreasing. As I have said, the creation of the service complaints ombudsman and the changes that were introduced in Committee are the last chance for the armed forces to maintain the current closed system.

Jim Shannon (Strangford, DUP): In Committee, the delays for serving soldiers and those employed by the Ministry of Defence in getting their complaints heard concerned me greatly. There are also people who have lost their jobs or who have been suspended—one of my constituents has been suspended for four years on full pay. Will the proposed changes restore much-needed confidence in the process?

Madeleine Moon (Bridgend, Labour): In many respects that is the critical issue, and I hope the Defence Committee will take an active role in monitoring and adjudicating on whether we need to come back to the Bill and decide whether further changes are necessary. Papers that I received this morning tell me that 74% of the Army’s open service complaints exceed the 24-week deadline—six months—and only 51% of new service complaints in the RAF were resolved in 24 weeks during 2014. In January 2015, the Army had 724 service complaints outstanding from 2013 and previous years. The Navy had 144, and the RAF 165. Those figures are deeply worrying—we are about to introduce a new, complex system with opportunities for the ombudsman to be much more proactive in intervening in service complaints, yet we already have a huge backlog of complaints. I would like the Minister to address whether those outstanding complaints will be subject to the new rules introduced by the Bill, and whether they will be assessed under rules of maladministration. That will be one of the critical deciders as to whether there is confidence for those who have been held in the system and experienced horrendous delays.

I wish to speak briefly to my amendment 23, which deals with the training of armed forces personnel in matters of discrimination and harassment. The amendment requires that regulations made by the Secretary of State must specify that the person, or at least one of the panel members, dealing with service complaints involving allegations of discrimination or harassment should have a proven understanding of discrimination and harassment. The amendment is welcomed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Parliamentary questions I asked last year revealed the military’s lack of understanding on these issues. When I raised the question of how many people in the armed forces had had equality and diversity training, I was told that Royal Navy serving personnel receive two hours of training every two years. In the Army there is half an hour of training every year, and in the RAF there is two hours every three years. For new entrants to the armed forces, the Royal Navy provides three hours, the Army two hours and the RAF two and a half hours of equality and diversity training.

Armed forces personnel go to employment tribunals in very few cases involving discrimination. At the same time as I was receiving that answer from the Minister, the Ministry of Defence was being taken to an employment tribunal. In the judgment for Williams v. Ministry of Defence, the employment tribunal stated that the “cavalier and abject failure to follow the clear guidelines provided by the Code of Practice under the Equality Act 2010 and its predecessor legislation is shocking as too is the seeming lack of knowledge of and education in issues of equality by those in higher ranks within the organisation”.

The tribunal found the claimant, the most senior ranking nurse in the Royal Navy, had suffered sex discrimination in relation to promotion. It made 13 wide-ranging recommendations, including equality and diversity training for those involved in assignment, promotion and recruitment decisions.

I do not intend to press amendment 23 to a Division, but I hope that this issue will be dealt with in regulation. The Minister knows me well and knows that I will continue to monitor and pursue this matter. It is only right that the serving members of our armed forces should not face bullying, harassment and discrimination in serving their country and placing their lives on the line.



Treasury Questions

George Osborne missed the last Treasury Questions of the Parliament leaving Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander to answer questions.
**Next Wednesday will be the final budget before the election, and Parliament's last significant event. TWIP readers can look forward to a Budget  Special Newsletter Wednesday evening, outlining how the government's proposals will affect you.**

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes, Conservative): The Chancellor recently highlighted the major part that my Cleethorpes constituency and the Humber estuary will play in the growing northern economy. However, much depends on continued investment in transport infrastructure. Will the Minister assure me and my constituents that that will continue as a high priority?

Danny Alexander (Chief Secretary to the Treasury): I certainly can. In the final Treasury questions of this Parliament it is worth reflecting on the fact that, despite the tough economic decisions we have had to make, this country is making the largest investment in our rail network since Victorian times and the largest investment in our road network since the 1970s, and we have a programme to roll out superfast broadband across the entire country. Those things will leave our economy with a stronger long-term growth potential, as well as having given us the best growth rates in the European Union at the moment.

Chris Leslie (Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury): As we heard from my honourable Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish, the pressures on the NHS are already putting care services in crisis. Why has the Chief Secretary colluded in Tory plans to shrink public investment and take an additional £70 billion from public services in the next Parliament, thus posing an even bigger risk to health and social care? He has dodged the question in the past; will he give us a straight answer now? Why did he sign off those Tory plans in the autumn statement?

Danny Alexander (Chief Secretary to the Treasury): The honourable Gentleman would do better to begin any question about the NHS with an acknowledgement of his own party’s failures I have made it clear that the figures published by the Office for Budget Responsibility represent a neutral assumption. I think the honourable Gentleman’s party would borrow too much and the Conservatives would cut too much, and that what we need is a balanced approach in the middle.

Chris Leslie (Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury): I do not know whether the Chief Secretary knows what he is doing. The letter from the OBR’s Robert Chote explicitly says—I have it in front of me—that the forecast for that £23 billion of surplus in 2019-20 was “signed off by the ‘quad’”, of which I think the Chief Secretary is a member. Is Robert Chote wrong, or did the Chief Secretary not realise what he was signing up to? Will he at least assure us that, if that was a mistake or he did not spot it in the past, he will be opposing a repeat of those Tory plans in next week’s Budget Red Book?

Danny Alexander (Chief Secretary to the Treasury): Matters relating to the Budget will be revealed by the Chancellor in his Budget statement next Wednesday and not before, as I am sure you would expect, Mr Speaker. I have listened to the honourable Gentleman today, as I listened to him on the “Today” programme yesterday, and there was not a single answer about how Labour would balance the books, and not a single answer about how Labour would invest in public services. I heard yesterday about Labour’s zero-based review, which seems to mean zero savings, zero ideas, and zero economic credibility.


Prime Minister’s Questions

For the second week in a row Labour's Ed Miliband questioned the PM on the proposed television debates. Since the Prime Minister's rejection of the three debate format, featuring two large debates and a one on one with Ed Miliband and his ultimatum offer of one debate, it seems the Broadcasters will continue anyway, without the Tory leader. 

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): Less than two months ago, the Prime Minister said in this House that he wanted a head-to-head debate between me and him. He said it was game on. When did he lose his nerve?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): If the right honourable Gentleman wants a debate, I have offered a date: the week starting 23 March. Why won’t he say yes to it?

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): I am going to be at the debates set by the broadcasters on 2 and 16 April, but I am asking the Prime Minister about a two-way debate between him and me. The original proposal for the two-way debate did not come from me or from the broadcasters but from him. He said: “I’ve suggested…we need a debate where the two people who could actually be Prime Minister debate directly with each other.” It was a good proposal then, and it is a good proposal now. Why does he not just name the day?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): The right honourable Gentleman said “anytime, anyplace, anywhere”. I have told him: 23 March —let’s hold that debate. But I will tell him what has changed: it is now obvious that Labour cannot win without the Scottish National party. He says we need the two leaders, but we need the two leaders who can call the tune—that is me and Alex Salmond. Let us have the debate.

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): The Prime Minister says it is all about leadership. These are pathetic, feeble excuses. Can we now take it that there are no circumstances in which he will debate with me head to head between now and the general election?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): We have had four years of debates and we have found out he has got no policies; he has got no plan; he has got no team; and he has got no clue about running the country. The truth is this: Labour is now saying that it cannot win the election. I have here the leaflet that Labour put out in Scotland—I think the SNP might be interested in this. It says: “At the General Election we need to stop the Tories being the largest party.” Labour is not trying to win; it is just trying to crawl through the gates of Downing street on the coat tails of the SNP. The right honourable Gentleman has to prove he is not a chicken and rule that out.

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): There is only one person preparing for defeat and it is this Prime Minister. He is not going to be able to wriggle out of this. This is what he said before the last general election: “we have the opportunity to debate…at prime minister’s questions. But that is a very different matter to a proper television debate during a general election campaign…when Parliament is not sitting, and when people will be most receptive to engaging in political discussion.” We know he lost to the Deputy Prime Minister last time. Why does he not just cut out the feeble excuses and admit the truth: he is worried he might lose again?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): Amazing! The right honourable Gentleman wants to talk about the future of a television programme; I want to talk about the future of the country. Four questions, three weeks to go, and he cannot talk about jobs because we are growing jobs. He cannot talk about unemployment because unemployment is plummeting. He cannot talk about inflation because it is at a record low. The truth is he is weak and despicable and wants to crawl to power in Alex Salmond’s pocket.

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): If the Prime Minister is so confident, why is he chickening out of the debates with me? Everyone can see it. Mr Speaker, I will tell you why this matters. It matters because it goes to his character. The public will see through his feeble excuses. Instead of these ridiculous tactics, why does he not show a bit more backbone and turn up for the head-to-head debate with me—anytime, anywhere, any place?

David Cameron (Prime Minister): I shall tell the honourable Gentleman what goes to character: someone who is prepared to crawl into Downing Street in alliance with people who want to break up our country. What a despicable and weak thing to do, risking our defences, risking our country, risking our United Kingdom. If he had an ounce of courage, he would rule it out.

Ed Miliband (Leader of the Opposition): There is only one person who is a risk to the integrity of the United Kingdom and it is this useless Prime Minister. On the head-to-head debate, we have learned something about him: like all bullies, when the heat is really on he runs for cover.

David Cameron (Prime Minister): The right honourable Gentleman has been offered a debate any time, any place, anywhere, but he will not take it. The truth is that Labour has nothing to say on policy and nothing to say on the economy. Its only way into Downing Street is on Alex Salmond’s coat tails. It is an alliance between the people who want to bankrupt Britain and the people who want to break up Britain, and the British people will never have it.



Business Questions
Although there is little by the way of business left in this Parliament, Angela Eagle and William Hague again traded blows and jokes over the state of each other's party's fortunes

Angela Eagle (Shadow Leader of the House of Commons): Next week, we will have the charade of the Chancellor’s pre-election Budget, which will reportedly contain large chunks of the Tory manifesto. Perhaps the Leader of the House can tell us whether both parties of Government have signed up to it? It is clear that the real omnishambles is this Chancellor’s record. He has broken every promise and missed every target he has ever set himself on the economy. For the first time in nearly 100 years working people are worse off at the end of a Parliament than they were at the beginning. Not only would Tory plans cut public spending back to pre-war levels, the reality would be extreme and dangerous cuts of up to £70 billion.

The Prime Minister is an expert at evading scrutiny and the Chancellor yet again excused himself from Treasury questions this week, but I am sure that, as an honourable man, the Leader of the House will be willing to answer some simple questions. To meet their target, is it not the case that a Tory Government would have to cut spending on day-to-day public services by significantly more than they will admit? Is it not the case that to meet their target they will have to either raise VAT or cut the NHS? Is it not right that the honourable Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) was speaking for growing numbers in the Conservative party when he said that he did not agree with protecting the NHS budget? Is it not also the case that Tory plans would mean that we would have the smallest police force since records began and the smallest Army since Cromwell?

There are only nine more days of this Parliament and I can see that the Leader of the House is eagerly counting them down. He has led his party, he has toured the world, and he has become best mates with Angelina Jolie. However, in a rather disappointing end to his glittering career it seems that Conservative Party headquarters has got him doing its e-mails. This week, in a message to Tory Members, he warned of the dangers of entering government on the coat tails of a small party that does not keep its promises. He should know quite enough about that already.

It has not been a good week for the Liberal Democrats either. They have been embroiled in a cash-for-access scandal, but the country is mainly just in shock that anyone wants to donate any money to them at all. The honourable Member for Cambridge has apparently been sending leaflets out in his constituency that spell the word “failure” incorrectly. I would have thought that every single Liberal Democrat would know how to spell that word. Lord Ashdown, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats and the man in charge of their campaign, declared on the radio this morning that he was going to be very busy during the general election campaign and that he doubted he would get to do any campaigning. This gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

Things are looking bad for the Prime Minister, too. His latest ploy to escape the scrutiny of the TV debates was to say that radio hosts can grill him “as hot as they like”. Mr Speaker, I prefer a long slow burn. There are just eight weeks to go until the general election and the only person from Chipping Norton who has come out fighting has just been suspended by the BBC.

William Hague (Leader of the House of Commons): I think the reference to a long slow burn was a reference to the Shadow Chancellor’s personal life, although I think we can be confident that it would be a very rapid and immediate crash if he were to be Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am not going to join the honourable Lady in making fun of my Liberal Democrat colleagues—I am going to wait for election night. [Laughter.] There will be a moment for all of us to join in that. I have enjoyed working with them immensely. It has been one of the high points of all the things I have done in my career to be able to work with them in government over the past five years. I will certainly continue to send out e-mails to people about the dangers of the coming together in government of a party that wants to bankrupt the country with a party that wants to break up the country. That is the real threat.

The honourable Lady asked about the Budget. I can assure her that the Budget that my right honourable Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will present next Wednesday will be agreed across the coalition: it will be the Budget of the coalition Government. We will, of course, all be able to set out in our party manifestos what we will do after the general election. When the Chancellor stands up to deliver the Budget on Wednesday, he will be highly unusual in the ranks of Chancellors of the Exchequer in the history of this country in being able to say that during his tenure nearly 2 million jobs have been created, that there is lower inflation than when he began, that he presides over the fastest growth in the G7, and that he has halved the deficit of this country. It is a very long time since a Chancellor of the Exchequer could stand up on Budget day with that as his starting point. That is what he will be able to do next Wednesday.

There will be four days to debate the Budget. That is a great deal of time, so there will be a great opportunity to explore all the issues the honourable Lady has raised. She asked about protecting the National Health Service budget. I seem to remember that the party that did not offer to protect the National Health Service budget at the last general election was the Labour party. Indeed, what has happened over the past five years is that its budget has been protected in England but cut in Wales, where it has been under the management of the Labour party— that is the advert. But there will be plenty of time to discuss these issues during the Budget debate.

It has been an interesting week for the Opposition. Shadow Ministers have briefed against their own disastrous tuition fees policies, saying they have other uses for £3 billion. Lord Mandelson has managed to brief against the entire Labour party, saying it will fail to win a majority. According to the New Statesman, the Shadow Chancellor has briefed against the Leader of the Opposition, saying he has not grown into the job and he feels dreadfully sorry for him. The Shadow Chancellor then managed the most unusual feat of briefing against himself, by setting out a number of scenarios for a future Conservative Government and then saying he disagreed with those scenarios. And the whole Labour Party briefed against itself over whether to do a deal with the Scottish National Party. Meanwhile, the Leader of the Opposition sits rudderless in the middle, not knowing what to say. We hope at least that the Shadow Leader of the House will rule out a deal with the SNP, as many of her own Back Benchers wish her to do—perhaps we can look forward to that at next week’s business questions.

Defence Spending
Although its often said that there are no votes in defence, Thursday saw the culmination of several weeks of intense political and public pressure on the issue of defence spending. Triggered mainly by signs that the defence budget will be cut again after the election and so drop below Nato's target obligation of 2% of GDP, the debate ended with some 38

John Baron (Basildon and Billericay, Conservative)I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing this debate and those MPs who supported the application. We live in times of heightened international tensions. We would do well to remember that the adage about defence being the first duty of Government has been forged by events, and we ignore the lessons of history at our peril. The world remains a dangerous and unstable place, and a growing number of countries that are not necessarily friendly to the west are not only rearming at an alarming rate, but becoming more assertive. We need to spend more on defence not only to better protect our interests and support key alliances, but to deter potential aggressors and ensure that we try to avoid conflict in future.

The motion calls on the Government to spend at least 2% of GDP on defence, in line with our NATO commitment. Defence spending as a share of GDP has been falling in recent years, and it is widely believed that Britain will shortly fall below the 2% figure. We all know that 2% is an arbitrary figure; spending should reflect desired capability. I believe that defence spending should be much more than 2%—I suggest 3% to 4%. But the 2% figure does have symbolic value. Having lectured other NATO members about its importance, we should lead by example.

In short, we need to rediscover the political will for strong defence, and that political will transcends the political divide here. Some demons may need to be vanquished first, most notably our recent misguided military interventions, which have probably distracted us from greater dangers, but banished those demons must be. That we have the political will to ring-fence the international aid budget at 0.7% of GDP suggests that such will can be found; it is simply a question of priorities.

We have in this country, I believe, a political disconnect that needs to be put right. None of the main parties seems to question that Britain has global interests and needs to remain a global power, both to protect them and to uphold our international obligations as a member of NATO and a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Yet the political establishment, across the political divide, appears unwilling properly to resource these commitments.

Kevan Jones (Shadow Minister of State for Defence):The debate has, of course, been dominated by the issue of the 2%. We have seen a great deal of “blue on blue” this afternoon, and I feel sorry for my hon. Friend—as I call him—the Minister. [Interruption.] Yes, he has drawn the short straw. However, he is passionate about defence, and he is very committed to it.

The right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife said that when it came to defence, the Treasury was always the problem. I am sorry, but that is not true in this instance. Last year’s autumn statement set out what the Government, including the Prime Minister, would need to spend between 2016 and 2020, not only to eliminate the deficit but to be in surplus by 2018-19. If, as we heard from the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), there is flat cash over that period, we are talking about a £6.8 billion cut in the defence budget, not counting the other cuts to which the Chancellor referred in the autumn statement.As has been pointed out, health, education and overseas aid have been ring-fenced, so any further cuts made over that period would have to fall on Departments that have not been ring-fenced. That would bring us to a point at which defence spending would be not 2%, but 1.4% of GDP.

However, it is worse than that for defence. The Government’s policy is to ring-fence the equipment budget and increase it by 1%. Any cuts made will not be made to the entire budget; they will fall on 55% of it, which means operations. As we all know, the main cost driver in that area is people, notwithstanding the nonsense that the Prime Minister keeps reiterating—as he did during Prime Minister’s Question Time a few weeks ago in a reply to the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth)—about the Army remaining at its current levels. Unless he has some magic formula to which we mere mortals are not party, I do not understand how he will ensure that that happens.

The Prime Minister now has a defensive strategy. It goes like this: “We try to massage the figures.” However, as the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) has said, that would be dishonest, and he is not alone in saying that. In The Times this morning, the former Chief of the Defence Staff, Sir Jock Stirrup, says he rejects including, for example, the intelligence budget in the figure:

“This is the kind of book-keeping for which you would go to prison if you were running a company.”

So clearly there is a concern. There are people in No. 10 who think if they massage the budget in some way, people will not spot the difference, but it appears from today’s debate that there are many on the Prime Minister’s own Back Benches with a lot of experience of, and commitment to, this sector, and he will find it difficult to pull the wool over their eyes.
Third Reading - Overseas Aid Bill
An achievement that seemed unlikely to come around this time last year, on Monday the Lords went through the final step to pass the Bill enshrining in Law Britain's commitment to overseas aid in law.


That the Bill do now pass.

Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD): My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass. In so doing, I place on record my appreciation of those from across and outside this House, including the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, and my noble friend Lady Hodgson of Abinger. I am particularly grateful to my Liberal Democrat colleagues and, especially, my noble friend Lady Suttie, who displayed the true skill of a great Whip in persuading people on occasions not to speak, rather than to speak, during the passage of this Bill. I am indebted to the kindly and professional advice of the Public Bill Office, and at each stage the support of my noble friend Lady Northover and her team could not have been stronger. However, I also recognise those who offered full and testing scrutiny to the Bill, over many hours, and agree with them that proper scrutiny of the effective delivery of aid going forward is now of the utmost importance.

Finally, this Bill was brought to us from the Commons by my right honourable friend Michael Moore. His vision to see this Bill on the statute book, and the manner in which he took it through the Commons, is a real testament to his own formidable skills. However, this Bill is not about Peers or MPs; it is simply about a girl who wants to have an education and to learn in a safe school; a mother who wants to feed, wash and nurture a child with good health, clean water and access to a hygienic hospital; a woman who wants to be empowered to represent others or to lead in a corrupt-free political system; and a boy who simply wants to play outside and have a childhood not in a war zone. If we can help others to take these simple things for granted, as we do here, we will be making a worthwhile contribution.

Bill passed.

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