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On 9 December 2014, John Mann, Labour MP for Bassetlaw, moved a debate on Anti-semitism. Below is Lyn's speech, responding in a her capacity as Shadow Communities Minister

 

 

Lyn Brown MP - 3.39 pm

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), not only on securing the debate, but on his tireless work on this issue.

Where I come from and represent has a long, proud tradition of fighting racism and fascism and condemning anti-Semitic behaviour in all its forms. It is a tragedy that despite our understanding of the consequences of anti-Semitism, we are still having to debate how to tackle it in communities today. It shocks me that the latest manifestations of virulent and hateful anti-Semitism use the imagery of the holocaust to denigrate, abuse and persecute.

This summer we saw terrible scenes across Europe. An anti-Jewish riot took place in the suburb of Sarcelles, just outside Paris. What began as a protest turned into a rampage. Cars and waste bins were set ablaze, several Jewish-owned businesses were torched and a Molotov cocktail was thrown at a synagogue. As the rioters rampaged through Sarcelles, witnesses described hearing the chant, “Hitler for President.” In the same month in Germany, Molotov cocktails were thrown into the Bergische synagogue in Wuppertal, a place of worship that had previously been destroyed on Kristallnacht. That was not an isolated incident. An elderly Jewish man was beaten up at a pro-Israel rally in Hamburg. Bottles were thrown through the window of an anti-Semitism campaigner’s house in Frankfurt. In several German cities, anti-Israel protests sparked by the latest Gaza conflict included anti-Semitic chanting. Dieter Graumann, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said:

“These are the worst times since the Nazi era.”

Meanwhile, far right parties such as Greece’s Golden Dawn and Hungary’s Jobbik seem to have gained a foothold in European politics. We cannot allow a revived anti-Semitism or a base fascist narrative to gain credence and acceptance once more on our continent.

Let me be absolutely clear: there is never any justification for anti-Semitism or racism in any form or against any group or individual. Many will take exception to the actions of the state of Israel—I, too, have been vocal about the behaviour of the Israeli state—but that is not, cannot and must not be seen as a justification for anti-Semitism, just as the conflicts that inflame the middle east, of which we have seen manifestations at home, cannot and must not be used as an excuse for Islamophobia.

Although I have mentioned violence on mainland Europe, Britain was unfortunately not immune from the summer’s upswing in anti-Semitism. The Community Security Trust, which does excellent work on behalf of Britain’s diverse and vibrant Jewish community, as well as on community cohesion per se, recorded 314 anti-Semitic incidents in July in the UK. That is the highest monthly total on record. A further 229 incidents were recorded in August. To put that in context, the July total surpasses the 307 incidents recorded in the previous six months. 

The combined July and August 2014 figure of 543 incidents is higher than the entire total for 2013. I am told that of those incidents, just under half involved a direct reference to the second world war and a third used holocaust-related language or imagery. It is nothing less than sickening that, 70 years on from the most shameful episode in European history, the holocaust is being used as a tool to abuse and taunt the Jewish community. The events of the second world war are being evoked in an attempt to create real fear and distress.

Many of the anti-Semitic incidents recorded in July and August took place on social media channels, and that continues today. The use of social media and the internet more widely has huge potential for good. It allows for communication and education on a scale unimaginable just a generation ago, but it also allows for the spread of falsehoods, lies, myths and rumours that are designed to deceive. As we have seen, social media sites can provide a platform for abhorrent views and levels of abuse that would simply not be acceptable in normal public life.

The recent vitriol, harassment and abuse directed at my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) and for Bassetlaw by far right extremists and white supremacists is completely repugnant. I know that all Members unequivocally condemn it. Sadly, there is a perception in some quarters that anti-Semitism on social media is less serious than anti-Semitism on the street. I dispute that, as do others. On social media, it is more permanent and more widely viewed and distributed. In many ways, it can be much more personal and more real, because it is beamed in, directly infiltrating victims’ phones, homes and computers, and can be shared with millions of people.

The previous Labour Government passed laws to stop the incitement of racial hatred. Those laws need to be enforced to the fullest possible extent by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. The major social networks, Facebook and Twitter, have a responsibility to do much more given the platform they provide for users. I was encouraged to hear that Facebook now sees the importance of tackling cyber-bullying and empowering others to report cyber-abuse, but it was disappointing to hear that when Members from this House met with Twitter last month, its representatives likened anti-Semitic tweets to hearing an offensive conversation in the street, where it is gone as soon as it is passed. That is simply not true. On so many levels, it is a fallacious argument.

Clearly, social networks need to do more—first to enforce their own existing rules and secondly to ensure they are equipped to deal with hate and prejudice in the constantly evolving sphere of technology and communications. The Community Security Trust has issued helpful guidance on combating anti-Semitism on social media and how to report hatred. It sets out the four important steps of reporting all hate crime to the police; reporting all anti-Semitic hate crime to the CST; collecting evidence; and, finally, reporting incidents directly to the social media site. I encourage all those who experience or witness anti-Semitic incidents or other racist incidents to follow the trust’s advice.

We know that hate crime develops from dislocation and dissonance in our communities, so as well as confronting hate crime when it appears, we must work together to fight its causes. We must tackle divisions and silos within our communities and prevent the spread of ignorance and fear, but we must recognise just how complex and multifaceted the issues are and that they straddle a number of Departments.

I offer my thanks to every Member who has contributed to this excellent debate. Clearly more needs to be done to tackle the most persistent, baseless and irrational prejudice. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw knows that better than most, and his efforts to ensure accountability and decency within our society are to be applauded and supported. The issues raised in today’s debate need to be looked at carefully, and I am sure that the Minister will address those important points when he responds.

Lyn's Westminster Hall Speech on Anti-Semitism - Lyn Brown MP

On 9 December 2014, John Mann, Labour MP for Bassetlaw, moved a debate on Anti-semitism. Below is Lyn's speech, responding in a her capacity as Shadow Communities Minister

Speech by Lyn Brown MP, Labour’s Shadow Fire and Communities Minister

 

Fire Sector Summit, 11 November 2014

Today we observe a solemn moment of remembrance for all those who have given their lives, in two World Wars and other conflicts. That must include our firefighters. Speaking for London alone, 327 firefighters died across around 50,000 call-outs in the Second World War. As London, and other cities around the country, faced the terror of the blitz, it was firefighters who worked tirelessly, with no thought for their own safety, to protect, to rescue, and to save lives. We must always remember that bravery, and the bravery of our firefighters who risk their lives on a daily basis. 

 

Let me first say a big thank you to the Fire Protection Association for inviting me to come and talk to you today, to give you some of my thoughts on the Fire and Rescue Service and the broader sector. Collectively, you are the people who work so very hard to lower risk, to prevent and protect, to respond and attend in minutes, and to rescue us from a host of different emergencies and accidents.

 

Before I get much further, I want to touch briefly on the deeply damaging dispute on pensions which still continues. Without the resources of civil servants and actuaries at my disposal, it is understandably difficult to cut directly to the technical contentions in the regulations. Having said that, I do feel that the way Ministers have handled the situation has been shambolic and deeply irresponsible. There is a real need to urgently get around the negotiating table.

 

We know the pension offer is not the only configuration possible within the amount of money that the Treasury has set aside for the scheme, and devolved administrations are negotiating alternative proposals and managing to avert strikes, which is why we have tabled a ‘prayer’ on the regulations that the Government have put down, to obtain a debate and hold the Government to account.

 

So, on with the thrust of my speech.

 

I am not going to try to match the professional expertise in this room this morning, but what I do want to do for you today is to lay out very clearly my thoughts about how to approach the future for our Fire and Rescue Services across the country.

 

Over the past year that I have been in the job I have travelled around the country meeting our Fire Services – that is, until I badly mashed my leg, which has rather put a hold on my travels! But before then, I travelled around the country – and even over the other side of Hadrian’s Wall – to meet with as many Services as possible. I wanted to talk to chiefs, unions, and control staff and to those on the frontline putting their own safety on the line day in day out, to protect the rest of us. I knew the countless policy papers, service reviews and statistics that I could have obtained in Westminster could only scratch the surface of what is really happening and how the Service itself envisaged its future in the short and long term.

 

What I want to present today, then, is the picture that I have been given of where the Service is at now and what the realistic options are for moving forward.

 

I don’t need to tell you that Fire and Rescue Services are facing the most uncertain of times. I don’t need to tell you that many Services struggle to budget for the coming year at the same time as remaining confident in the speed and efficiency of their emergency services. By the end of this financial year, Fire and Rescue Authorities in England will have seen a 22.5% reduction in central Government funding since 2010. This amounts to a total cash cut of £236m over that period.

 

And if the annual reduction in Government grant for this year and last year has been 7.5% and 7.6% respectively, then we know a further 8.4% is to be cut in 2015/16. Fire and Rescue Authorities face a real financial challenge

 

Of course, spending reductions are not unique to this sector. Things are not going to get easier in the immediate future, and we need to do more with less across a range of vital services. But what has been absolutely extraordinary in this sector is the total abrogation of leadership by this Government and by the last two Fire Ministers. This is what I believe can ultimately be most damaging to the Service. We hear the message about the need for greater efficiencies, but we get absolutely nothing by way of a vision, no attempt at strategic oversight; a Government complacently washing its hands of its responsibility.

 

We had hoped that the DCLG might step up to the mark with a proper response to the Knight Review, published, I remind you, 18 months ago. No, the Government failed even to respond to their own commissioned review. Individual Fire and Rescue Services have been left to deal with each annual cut without recourse to any over-arching national strategy to deal with risk and resilience. Sadly, we have seen policy lurch from confusion to uncertainty to malign neglect.

 

Ministers will tell us there is no operational threat from cuts. They will tell us there has been a steady fall in the number of deaths from fire. They will tell us there has been a sharp decline in the overall number of incidents attended and that all types of fire have decreased. This is indeed true, not least because of the professionalism of the Service, and the extensive prevention and protection work that has been carried out over the last decade. But as you know, this reflects a partial grasp of the facts and an unwillingness to face reality.

 

It undermines basic concepts of the sector and the Service as a critical emergency resource. As the LGA have said, Fire and Rescue Authorities plan and budget according to risk, not purely to service demand. That is the fundamental nature of its resilience capabilities and its rescue capacity. I do think we must understand this if we are to develop an accurate picture of emerging risks and bring these into our vision for fire in the future.

 

We do not see the arguments made for reducing cancer screening services simply because there may be fewer deaths. On a visit to one Service, I was shocked to see from their latest IRMP that the resource to deliver Home Fire Safety Checks had been removed for the coming year. In trying to protect the frontline, the Authority had taken the very tough decision to stop a really vital area of community safety work. The very activity that has led to the fall in the number of incidents and deaths from fire.

 

Let me briefly touch on what I think are some of those emerging risks. Most obviously, our population is getting older and more of us are living alone which we know is related to fire casualties and fatalities.

 

Fire and Rescue Services play a major role in a range of other emergencies – they respond to Road Traffic Collisions, they rescue us from floods, and they are increasingly operating co- and first-responding schemes to attend medical emergencies. Indeed, the number of co- and first-responder incidents the FRS attends is rising by about 10% or more each year, and is expected to treble to over 30,000 by 2020 from current levels.

 

And then there is the resilience work, with the expectation that the Fire and Rescue Service will respond to major incidents like terrorist attacks or chemical disasters.

 

What we see is a Service that does much more than rescue us from fire. We see a Service which reflects and adapts to dynamic local, regional, and national risks. This is why I find this Government’s attitude to the Service so difficult to countenance. This is why I believe that Ministers should not be passing the buck and ignoring their own responsibilities.

 

So while we have been clear that we will not be able to find additional resources in straightened financial times, what you will get under a Labour Government is leadership, responsibility and partnership. You will get a strategic approach which understands that risk must underpin any change, and that supports Fire and Rescue Services to develop a safe, cohesive, and sustainable development in the face of tighter public spending.

 

That starts today. We have all applauded the heroic efforts made by so many different Services in tackling the floods we saw over the last winter, but it is time we recognised the concerns raised and the changes that have been asked for.

 

Given that Fire and Rescue Services are already carrying out flood and water rescue, and given the increased frequency of flooding we are now seeing, I believe that the time has now come to place this rescue activity alongside fighting fires and attending road traffic accidents as a statutory duty.

 

That is why today I can announce that a Labour Government will make it a priority to introduce a statutory duty on the Fire and Rescue Service to respond to flood incidents, with the express purpose of providing clarity and increasing safety.

 

This is something that Scotland has had since 2005 and Northern Ireland has benefited from since January 2012. It is absolutely right that England and Wales see parity with the rest of the UK on this issue, especially after the wettest winter on record and the growing threat of floods and climate change.

 

I can also give some guarantees about other aspects of the Service I know some are worried about.

 

First of all, let me deal with the concerns about privatisation. We have seen moves by some towards changes in authority governance and ownership, which have fuelled worries of privatisation in the Fire and Rescue Service. Let me tell you today, unequivocally, that Labour emphatically rejects both partial and full privatisation of Fire and Rescue Services.

 

With the financial pressures over the coming years, some may argue that a privatised Service is the way forward – it is not. It is public safety that drives development in our service, not the pursuit of private profit.

 

And let me reassure you on another thing.

 

Increased collaboration between blue light services is certainly important, and there are areas where greater shared working is logical, efficient and sustainable. But I do not believe that the idea, recently floated by the Home Secretary, of placing Fire Authorities under the control of Police and Crime Commissioners is truly directed to this end.

 

If there are still those of you who remain worried about this prospect, let me remind you of Labour’s promise to scrap PCCs altogether – this Government’s measure has proved wasteful and unaccountable. Under us, there is absolutely no threat that Fire and Rescue Authorities will have to hand over their resources or control to Police and Crime Commissioners.

 

How then do we provide the leadership and governance to the Fire and Rescue Service that is so important as we approach a tight financial future? I think there are some basic principles to which any change must adhere.

 

First, we must focus on measures that will best protect the frontline and enable firefighters to continue to provide efficient and safe emergency responses.

 

Next, if we are to recognise that there will not be additional resources, then we have to ensure that the Service is best prepared to deal with dynamic risk patterns and that it is able to meet the challenges of the future.

 

I want to explore the options we have available to us that will build a resilient, enduring, and – above all else – safe and professional, Fire and Rescue Service for the coming years.

 

Let me be clear: No change is not an option. 46 Fire and Rescue Services, left to their own devices to find further spending reductions, is not sustainable and I believe it will result in greater public danger, less community fire safety, longer response times, and a diminished frontline.

 

The truth is that the Government did not respond to the Knight Review because it knew that the majority of the measures it recommended could already be seen in practice in most Services across the country. Everywhere I have been I have met services tailored to meet local needs, each confronting the financial challenge in diverse and often innovative ways. Back offices have been squeezed, shift patterns changed, crewing models adapted, and collaboration with police and ambulance services extended.

 

But we face a substantial financial challenge. A salami-slice approach is not sustainable. We need to put more radical options on the table if we are to really put safety and the frontline first.

 

A small number of Authorities have attempted to merge with neighbours. I can understand why.

 

But I think we need a coordinated approach with proper strategic oversight rather than action taken on a piecemeal basis to address 46 different budget reductions. And I believe Government has a role here, in ensuring that there is that oversight, that there is a rationale behind integration which takes into account local and national risk and resilience. That role will not be neglected under Labour as it has been over the last four and a half years.

 

If we are to address the budget challenges responsibly and safely, I do think we need to look seriously at the current structure of separate authorities. And we need to learn from what has taken place in both Wales and Scotland.

 

If we are serious about protecting the frontline, then change is inevitable. The question for us today is what change we want to see.

 

In Wales, it has been estimated that the regionalisation of 8 Services into 3 has saved in the region of 7.5% from total FRS resource costs. Starting with 46 rather than 8 Services could mean that we are able to capitalise on a greater economy of scale and find a model with a much smaller number of Services that enables us to make the savings we need at the same time as keeping the bulk of the frontline in place. However, we must recognise and factor in to the equation that some of the savings opportunities that relate to a restructure may well already have been realised in the struggle to achieve current budgets.

 

We would need to explore the number of Services which permitted the most efficient and the safest operational model. The Minister’s task would be to provide the leadership to support innovation, cost reductions, and service improvements, and enable local policymakers to see a broader solution to the local difficulties.

 

Some have argued for a more radical option to pursue a national solution, and create a single Fire and Rescue Service for England. Some believe this is where Wales will now head – I do not know if that is likely. A single service might deliver large savings by removing the duplication that is intrinsic to a structure with separate Services. It could reduce management and back-room costs, it could mean pooled resources and it could facilitate a strategic approach to command and control, resilience, and resource deployment.

 

The Scottish model indicates a 10% saving in the resources budget, and again, the economy of scale in this country may permit us to go further – but with the same caveat that some of those savings may already have been identified.

 

Whatever the model we arrive at, it will be important to respond to the concern in communities that there will be a loss of local control, less accountability and the demise of local identity in a service which has so long been at the heart of community life.

 

This means ensuring that whatever model of reform is adopted, the aim must be to increase local accountability and pursue greater local input into services. I believe this is absolutely central to our vision for the future.

 

I firmly believe we have a chance not only to protect the frontline but to see real Fire Service improvements. We have to confront the reality of the situation we face and use it to our advantage to build a Service fit for the future.

 

I can therefore announce today that, over the coming months, Labour will be consulting across the Fire and Rescue Service and across the sector on how we can build that service. What I have come here today to ask you is to be part of that process, and contribute to a crucially important conversation, which I think can truly shape the future of fire and rescue.

 

We want to hear your views on the feasibility of some of the options. We want to know where you think the operational and resilience benefits and risks of each option lie. We want to understand both the opportunities and the obstacles you believe we face. And we are open to different solutions if you have other ideas to achieve the same ends of leadership, capacity and sustainability.

 

I am under no illusion as to the challenges we will face. Major reform at a time of financial constraint can understandably be a worrying prospect. But I am convinced that if change is to be managed successfully and safely, we need your expertise and your input.

 

We cannot afford this Government’s gradual sleepwalk into a crisis: change is needed. I know the Fire and Rescue Service demonstrates its dedication, ambition and determination on a daily basis and you’re not in the business of ducking tough judgement calls.

 

I do not underestimate the scale of the challenge – indeed it’s the scale of the challenge that demands action – but I firmly believe that if we work together with: an honest dialogue; a clear focus on the front line and an unrelenting drive to get the right outcomes, we will do so. Our firefighters are among the bravest of public sector workers. They deserve nothing less than the best leadership of Fire and Rescue Services that are fit and proper for the 21st Century.

 

Thank you very much.

 

Lyn's Speech to the Fire Sector Summit 2014

Speech by Lyn Brown MP, Labour’s Shadow Fire and Communities Minister   Fire Sector Summit, 11 November 2014

On 13 October 2014 Lyn Brown MP spoke in favour of the recognition of Palestinian statehood. Below is Lyn's speech:

13 October 2014 8:53pm

Over the past weeks my inbox has been flooded with hundreds of letters from my constituents. Their strength of feeling is undeniable, their arguments are heartfelt, and their conviction is deep-seated—and for good reason. I share those arguments and that conviction.

Of the thousands of letters and e-mails I have received, there is one from Mia Thomas, extracts from which I would like to read today.

“I am a 21 year old medical student and I have just returned from 5 weeks in Ramallah in the West Bank. I am feelingincreasingly helpless and frustrated, as every day the death count of innocent Palestinians grows higher and there seems so little we can do about it and our Government will not act decisively.

"By contrast with Gaza, Ramallah is very safe. It is in Area A, so in theory it is completely Palestinian-run and governed. In reality, even in the heart of Palestine, it is still an occupied territory and violence erupts at checkpoints with scary regularity.

"From where I was staying you could see Jerusalem—Ramallah is only 19 km away as the crow flies, but the journey there takes an hour because Palestinian buses are only allowed to use certain roads and then you have to pass through a checkpoint, where everyone’s ID cards/passports are checked at gunpoint, before changing on to an Israeli bus to carry on the journey. This sort of thing isn’t particularly harmful to one’s health and is viewed just as a hassle, but it also creates this feeling of being completely caged and unable to move.

"As a foreigner, I was visiting cities within the West Bank that local friends hadn’t been to, not because of lack of funds or curiosity but because people are afraid of getting stuck outside their city as checkpoints can be closed at any point. The occupation has limited people’s movements physically, but it also massively limits people mentally in what they perceive they can and cannot do…

"In a village further north near Nablus I met the mayor of the village, who was a wonderful man. He was in a wheel chair because as a young goat herder he was shot in the spine by Israeli soldiers from the military camp that looms over the village. He now runs the village and has an absolute rule of no protesting or fighting with the Israeli settlement nearby because, as he said, he ‘doesn’t want anyone else—Palestinian or Israeli—to lose the ability to walk’. He says just existing as a village is resistance. In the last year the Israelis have demolished 3 houses in the village, and as they try and rebuild them you can see how hard life is when just living and farming your land is an act of defiance.”

Mia concluded her letter with the following:

“I’m so ANGRY about what’s going on in Gaza. Most people are, I think, which is why I’m confused as to why it’s being allowed to continue. If this cycle of hate and violence is ever going to end, it has to start now with an end to killing—of Palestinians and Israelis.”

Ms Thomas is clearly a brave woman. She came back impassioned, disillusioned and angry. That anger and disillusionment was not just about the conflict she had witnessed; it was about her frustration that those of us in this House were not giving her a voice. Today I want to give her a voice, in the same way that I believe we must give Palestinians a voice.

 

It is time to recognise a Palestinian state, a right they have long deserved, and use that recognition as a path to a wider process of negotiation—two equal states living side by side in peace and security and sharing in prosperity. We cannot stand here today, say that we believe in that goal of a two-state solution and then stand by and refuse to recognise one of the states. I encourage the House to take this opportunity and support the motion.

Lyn's Speech in the House of Commons in Support of the Recognition of Palestinian Statehood

On 13 October 2014 Lyn Brown MP spoke in favour of the recognition of Palestinian statehood. Below is Lyn's speech:


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