Madeleine Moon MP Constituency Report—September 2013 Military Intervention in Syria Voted Down
Parliament wasn’t due to sit for the first time after its summer recess until Monday 2nd September but following disturbing reports of wide scale chemical weapons use in the suburbs of Damascus on the 21st August, the Prime Minister took the decision to recall Parliament early to debate and vote on a motion authorising him a limited and short term use of force to punish the Syrian Regime, (which the government is convinced is responsible) for a breach of a near century long international ban on the use of chemical weapons. While expressing shock at the reports coming out of Syria, Labour emphasised a number of serious concerns with the Government’s actions. Chief amongst these was the concern that in recalling parliament only four days before it was due back anyway, Cameron and the US were seeking to strike over the weekend, meaning Parliament’s agreement was needed as early as possible..
Declining Living Standards and Rising Energy Bills On Wednesday 4th September, Labour had the opportunity to raise two important issues in an opposition debate in the House of Commons. First was the issue of living standards where Labour MPs had the opportunity to stress that contrary to the news being pushed by the coalition, things are getting better with the economy. The truth is that families across the country are facing an unprecedented squeeze on their standard of living. The debate, which came on the day the Resolution Foundation released figures showing the economic downturn had pushed a further 1.4 million employees below the living wage. Labour MPs emphasised numerous failings i n t h e Government’s handling of the recovery.
Few key concessions on the issue were obtained before the day, including an agreement for a second vote to authorise action. Major concerns remained, and on the day we set out an amended motion rather than back Cameron. The amendment improved on the Government’s by laying out more clearly a “roadmap” of key steps including giving the UN time to finish its investigation and reporting back and also allowing for a Security Council vote on the issue, ensuring any action was legal under international law. That were too vague in the Government’s motion.
One of the most significant points was that between 2010 and today prices have risen faster in the UK than in any other major economy. This, combined with the fact that the UK has seen the biggest fall in worker income of any country in the G7 throws into serious question how real this recovery yet is. Throughout this period Wales has been one of the hardest hit areas of the country, with a 8% drop in real earnings, only Yorkshire and the Humber has been hit more.
After debate stretching over six hours, the government unfortunately disagreed and voted down this amendment, however in turn was defeated on its own motion. Many, including myself, feared this was too vague and risked allowing a rush into another unprepared Middle Eastern Conflict.
Several MPs pointed out that rising energy bills were one of the biggest squeezes on peoples standard of living with bills on average up by more than £300 a year since the general election. This issue of energy bills and the profits made by energy companies was later the subject of the second opposition day debate.
In my speech during the debate (included in full later in this report) I stressed that the UN must be allowed the time and opportunity to try to act on the issue, even if it ends with a Russian veto. While I am saddened that Parliament has effectively ruled out intervention all together—Something that severely weakens our diplomatic strength around the negotiating table– it is clear that responsibility for this lies squarely with the rash, and poorly handled way the coalition handled the issue.
Labour MPs, led by Caroline Flint stressed the role played by the “Big 6” energy giants in trying to maximise profits at the expense of consumers. Caroline outlined Labour’s plans to protect the public from being ripped off, including putting all over-75s on the cheapest tariff, as well as Labour’s plans to create a tough new energy watchdog with the power to force energy companies to pass on savings to consumers, something Ofgem has repeatedly failed to do.
Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme visits RAF Brize Norton On Wednesday 28th August, I spent the day at RAF Brize Norton, where I had the opportunity to learn a great deal about the RAF’s latest developments in logistical transport, in particular how they are facing up to the challenge of bringing back to the UK the large amount of supplies and equipment we currently have in Afghanistan. During an eventful and highly informative day, I had the opportunity to take part in a short flight on board a Hercules air transport plane during a low-Level resupply training mission. I was also able to see up close one of the RAF’S Globemaster transports equipped to effectively work as a flying field hospital and learnt more about the RAF’s latest transport plane—the Voyager.
Citizens Advice plot the effect of cuts The Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB) has recently branched out its operations, collecting data on the cases it deals with around the country in order to provide information on priority areas in each constituency and how trends develop over time. The organisation has also been able to prove the clear correlation between the level of deprivation in each ward and the number of visits to the CAB. Such work suggests the need to increase outreach services in the north-east of the constituency.
The newly released figures show that 3,744 people visited Bridgend CAB last year to discuss 11,126 separate problems. This is a slight increase on last year. In Wales as a whole, new visitors in the last quarter of 2012 were 27% higher than one year before, despite the cuts in funding that the Bureaux has seen. The most common Bridgend issues, 40% of (left) Ascending Bridgend- cases, are related to benefits, and this is rapidly built steps made by increasing. ESA and Housing Benefit claims bring the AMSS at Brize Norton. most visitors. Debt problems remain the second-most common topic, particularly unsecured personal loans. Issues with housing and unemployment also comprise a number of cases. Users are more likely to be female - 58% of visitors - showing the effects of cuts on family benefits and women’s employment. The vast majority are aged between 35 and 65 and one third live with a Legal Aid U-turn over ‘race to the bottom’ disability. The Government was forced into yet another embarrassing U-turn earlier this month as it scrapped This research plans to offer legal aid contracts to the lowest bidder. chimes with what I This followed consultation with the Law Society for have heard in the England and Wales. Law firms felt that the proposals supermarket would lead to a race-to-the-bottom on service quality, surgeries at local even whilst those dependent on aid may be severely branches of the Comarginalised and the case they are fighting extremely op, Asda, Tesco, serious. Lawyers also expected major companies like Sainsbury’s, I have Serco to dominate the market rather than smaller helped numerous specialised firms. The 1,600 companies eligible for legal constituents with aid contracts will now be expected to compete on benefits and debt ‘quality.’ issues, some struggling to cope While this controversial means of implementation has with the implications been scrapped, the other elements of the cuts will of Government cuts continue. Prisoners, households with more than £3,000 At a Co-op supermarket surgery or simply trying to of disposable income and many recent immigrants will navigate the complexity of the system. The work of still be unable to receive vital criminal aid under the CAB is essential to help these people and I shall Government proposals. On-site legal aid at police continue to call for the greater funding of such stations will be restricted and funding cut by 17.5% voluntary community resources. across the board.
Seeing local training in action During recess I also visited the ISA training centre in Bridgend this month and met Shirley Davies Fox, who is committed to providing quality hairdressing training and support.
It is important and necessary for aggressors to believe that the UK has the capability and the resolve to deliver unacceptable losses in response to an imminent attack. We have thrown around lots of words tonight in this debate, but for me the most important has been credibility. Credibility is what the debate must be about. How credible are the threats out there that we face? How credible is our nuclear deterrent capability to our allies? How credible is our deterrent to our potential enemies? We have been told that this has been a comprehensive review and analysis, but I cannot believe that. I have read the document and, like many right hon. and hon. Members, I found little in it of any substance. The hon. Member for North Devon (Sir Nick Harvey) said that the nature and scale of the threat are no longer the same as they were during the cold war. He also, I believe, said we were not facing a tier 1 threat, but the national security strategy highlights the risk of nuclear attack under two tiers: tier 1, which is international terrorism including a nuclear attack by terrorists; and tier 2, which is an attack by a state proxy using chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear material....
In the Chamber 16 July Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman is about to mention how the GoCo will affect current alliances and agreements for joint contracting between the UK and our partners. I was in the USA last week for the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, and I spoke to many alliance partners in NATO and to Congress members in Washington. The best that they could say was that Britain was very brave, that they would like to see whether we succeeded and that they would leave us to get on with it. Concern was also expressed, however, about whether they would be willing to share confidential contracting and technological information. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that that is a concern? 17 July Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Sometimes, we have to be blunt with the public and tell them what we are talking about when it comes to the nuclear deterrent. We are talking about what stops war, and it is a question of unacceptable loss and reaching a point where the losses from fighting are so great that one cannot contemplate moving forward.
29 August Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): There are 196 recognised world nations, 165 of which have formally signed the convention on the use of chemical weapons. Two have failed to ratify it fully—Israel and Myanmar. Five have not signed it, including North Korea, South Sudan and Angola. Egypt has also not signed. The right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) said earlier that no other country in the middle east had failed to sign, but Egypt has. I do not know the level of its chemical weapons, but it has certainly failed to sign the convention. Earlier today, the Prime Minister said that Syria had signed. Syria has not signed the convention on chemical weapons. We must be careful that it is not just up to the US, the UK and France to decide when conventions are broken. There are 165 nations in the UN who have signed. We have said that there must be a UN vote. We have not said that it must be won. Those 165 nations must have the opportunity to add their voices and to make it clear that they too are appalled and horrified, and opposed to the use of chemical weapons. Russia is a signatory and must clearly bear responsibility for supporting Syria. Syria must be Russia’s responsibility if it refuses to sign up to the UN Security Council’s opposition to the use of chemical weapons. We must be fearful, and careful that we do not create a further rejection of western Governments within the middle east. We do not want to appear to take sides in what is increasingly becoming a Sunni-Shi’a conflict. In refugee camps, we are already seeing greater radicalisation and groups dividing on religious grounds. Any action we take must clearly be in the national interest of the UK, accord with a viable plan and produce a workable strategy that will not increase problems for the UK and the wider Middle East region.
Lobbying Bill puts party politics over transparency
Flying Start success in Bridgend expanded across Wales
The main legislative work in Parliament since the return from Recess has been scrutiny of the ‘Transparency of Lobbying, Non Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill,’ commonly known as the ‘Lobbying Bill’. The Bill was supposed to be the Conservatives’ response to the lobbying crises they drew attention to in the General Election, and after three years of prevarication. However, the introduction of additional regulations on charity and trade union funding has politicised the legislation and resulted in what one Select Committee Chair described as a ‘dog’s breakfast’ of a Bill.
The Flying Start programme is partly based on New Labour’s successful Sure Start early-intervention centres. They are targeted in the most deprived areas of Wales though are universally open to everyone in those areas, and provide a range of services in our place for children under 4 and their parents. The centres provide part-time childcare, health visitors, parenting support and language development sessions. I made two visits to local centres over the Summer Recess; North Cornelly on 30th July and Wildmill on 1st August. I was highly impressed with the quality and breadth of services being offered and the level of engagement from local families. I am delighted that the expansion of Flying Start to more areas will help to extend these opportunities to more young children across the country. The scheme will also incorporate the highly effective outreach work introduced by Sure Start, which helped the hardest-to-reach families and countered criticisms that the services became dominated by middle-class families.
Under the provisions of the Bill, charities will increasingly face the burdensome reporting requirements of the Electoral Commission, once their spending on ‘political activities’ passes a certain threshold. They will have spending on these activities capped and face burdensome reporting requirements. Large charities will find it hard to run major campaigns if they bear any relation to a campaign pledge of a candidate standing for election. Costs such as staffing, media work and events all counted towards the cap on spending. The targeting of marginal seats will be prevented as charities will be required to spread their funding nationally. Small charities too, with as little as £2,000 spend on political campaigns in Wales, will be required to submit weekly accounts. Ultimately the changes are unnecessary, the motives party-political and the victims will be charities, tradeunions and those who wanted to see lobbying in Parliament cleaned up. Charities already account for only 5% of political campaign spending – this will now be reduced to 2%. There will be no limit on individual donations in a particular marginal constituency, as we saw with Lord Ashcroft’s millions in 2010. Swathes of lobbying are left untouched by the Bill as it stands. If for example Labour policy was to support plain tobacco packaging, Cancer Research UK would be unable to launch a major campaign in support of this ahead of a General Election. Meanwhile, Lynton Crosby, the Tory strategist and tobacco lobbyist who works in Number 10, would be able to repeatedly raise the matter with the Prime Minister privately and unreported.
Royal Mail Sell-off underway On 12th September, after weeks of speculation, the Government announced the impending flotation of the Royal Mail on the Stock Exchange. It is expected to raise £2-3 billion for the Exchequer. However, the Government has already nationalised billions of Royal Mail pensions liabilities, and will no longer benefit from the company’s increasing profits. Royal Mail’s profit margins have increased year-on-year due to deliveries. Consumers and staff may also lose out. While staff receive up to a £2,000 windfall, the CWU feels their pay and conditions are undermined, and the universal service obligation (blanket national prices) may also come under threat.
Following the departure of my f o r m e r researcher J e n n y Humphreys left to live in France with her husband, I am delighted to welcome my new researcher James Bulman
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