Lyn Brown MP

Working hard for West Ham


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It really is a pleasure to be here this afternoon and get a feel for the excellent work all of you are doing for this fantastic campaign.

So may I say a brief word of thanks in particular to Gail, who met with me in November to make sure we were on board with the aims of the campaign and to explain some of the detail behind the dangers of Carbon Monoxide poisoning. I should also thank and congratulate the Plumb Centre and Wolseley more widely, as well as Honeywell and the Katie Haines Memorial Trust, all of whom have lent their valuable support and contributed to an impressive awareness campaign.

Despite Gail’s best efforts, I am quite sure that I am far from the most knowledgeable in this room on the dangers of CO, so rest assured I won’t try and lecture you on the facts.

What I will say is this: I think the case for making CO alarms law is common sense. The evidence is clear and the safety benefits are plainly obvious. So I am on board with the campaign, and a Labour Government will act.

Some 18 months ago, I took up my current role as the Shadow Fire Minister. My background certainly wasn’t in the Fire and Rescue Services, I hadn’t worked on fire or domestic safety – my background was in Local Government, arts and culture, and libraries in particular.

But since being appointed as the Shadow Fire Minister I’ve learnt all about the excellent preventative work that is done by our Fire and Rescue Services in our communities.

For instance firefighters carry out Home Fire Safety Checks - where they visit homes to carry out a fire safety assessment.

And each visit focuses on three key areas:

  1. Identifying potential fire risks within the home.
  2. Making sure you know what to do to reduce or prevent these risks.
  3. Putting together an escape plan in case a fire does break out, but also crucially, checking you have working smoke alarms.

It is this key preventative and educational work in our communities that is leading to fewer deaths or injuries from fires. And the number of deaths from fire in the home has halved since the 1980s. Clearly, a prevention strategy works and it saves lives.

So I was horrified to learn that around 40 people a year die from accidental CO poisoning in England and Wales, with roughly another 4,000 admitted to hospital with symptoms that could lead to brain damage and strokes.

Despite the fact 84% of UK homes have smoke detectors, only around 15% have CO alarms. 

We clearly need to increase public understanding about the risks of CO poisoning and encourage people to take a few sensible precautions to dramatically reduce the chance of poisoning.

And one of these precautions is installing a carbon monoxide alarm, the cost of doing so is minimal – just £20.

And Government has a part to play in this. Which is why I support the introduction of a requirement that a functioning carbon monoxide detector must be installed in new builds and rented properties. It is simple common sense.  

But this would just be one step in right direction. Crucially, we have to raise awareness of the dangers of Carbon Monoxide poisoning more widely across the country.

Which is why I want to congratulate you all, once again, on the vital work that you’re doing to raise awareness of this invisible killer.

Clearly there is far more to be done, but I hope that by working together, we can save lives and prevent as many individual tragedies from taking place, as possible.

I look forward to discussing how we can do this and meeting with you all.

Lyn's speech at the 'Make CO Alarms Law' reception in Parliament on 2nd February 2015

It really is a pleasure to be here this afternoon and get a feel for the excellent work all of you are doing for this fantastic campaign.

It is an absolute privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. Members on both sides of the House have made very moving and powerful contributions, sharing stories, memories and facts that should never be forgotten. As has been said, it is a matter of deep shame that despite the proclamation of “Never again” after the Holocaust, from the killing fields of Cambodia to the desert sands of Darfur, to the mountains and savannahs of Rwanda, we—the international community—have failed to prevent genocides from taking place.

The theme for Holocaust Memorial Day this year is keeping the memory alive, which is particularly appropriate, as we have heard, given that a week from now marks 70 years to the day that Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by the red army. The SS knew they were coming and attempted to destroy the evidence of their heinous crimes. They built bonfires of documents detailing their atrocities. They blew up crematoriums II and III and set fire to Kanada II, the barracks that held property plundered from the victims. The Nazis did not want us to know about the systematic, state-organised murder of Jews, Roma Gypsies, the disabled, homosexuals, communists and socialists. However, by keeping the memory alive, we reaffirm that they are not forgotten. The voices of the 11 million echo still across this Chamber and, indeed, the world. Those voices will be heard.

About 1.5 million children were murdered during the Holocaust, and the young suffered the most brutal treatments, tortures and punishments, often for the smallest offences. A 16-year-old boy, Czeslaw Kempisty, was hanged from a post for several hours with his hands twisted behind his back. What was the reason? He had thrown some turnips to famished Soviet prisoners of war. Thirteen-year-old Halina Grynstein was shot for approaching the camp fence to exchange words with another prisoner. Seventeen-year-old Benkel Faivel was shot in the head by an SS guard for trying to pass a piece of bread to a woman prisoner. Those were small but very real rebellions. They shout against the idea that the victims of the Nazi Holocaust were passive.

Everyone in this Chamber will have heard the stories of the Warsaw ghetto uprising—the Jewish community held out longer in Warsaw than the entire Polish army did to protect their borders against the Nazi army—the Bielski partisans and the Sobibor uprising, but I want to talk also about the small acts of resistance, which are not as well known. In that way, when we think of Auschwitz and remember the emaciated bodies, the piles of corpses or, indeed, the shoes, suitcases, artificial limbs and human hair plundered from victims, we also remember the vital acts of resistance: a prohibited conversation, the passing of some bread or the throwing of a few turnips to starving prisoners. Those acts showed a real determination on the part of the prisoners, including children—and they knew full well the price that they could pay for their actions—to retain their basic humanity.

Some of the most unforgivable actions in Auschwitz were the experiments by the so-called camp doctors, including the notorious Josef Mengele, who inflicted inconceivable levels of suffering on children with his quasi-medical experiments. Eva Mozes Kor describes her arrival at Auschwitz with her identical twin, Miriam:

“Everything was moving very fast...I noticed my father and my two older sisters were gone. As I clutched my mother’s hand, an SS man hurried by shouting, ‘Twins! Twins!’…Once the SS guard knew we were twins, Miriam and I were taken away from our mother, without any warning or explanation. Our screams fell on deaf ears. I remember looking back and seeing my mother’s arms stretched out in despair as we were led away by a soldier. That was the last time I saw her…”

Eva remembers her introduction to life at Auschwitz:

“The first time I went to use the latrine located at the end of the children’s barrack, I was greeted by the scattered corpses of several children lying on the ground. I think that image will stay with me forever.”

During their time at Auschwitz, Eva and Miriam were put through many brutal surgeries and experiments. Their survival was a miracle in itself; only a few twins were left when the camp was finally liberated. Eva is still with us. She founded the Holocaust museum and education centre in Indiana and CANDLES. That is the acronym for Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors, an organisation whose dedicated aim is “to heal the pain; to teach the truth; to prevent prejudice.”

What a remarkable woman! I pay tribute to her.

In many ways, simply refusing to give up and die in spite of it all was the ultimate act of resistance—living on, like Eva. However, resistance came in many different forms and shapes: active and passive, violent and non-violent, and written and spoken. I shall now tell another story. In the spring of 1943, 19-year-old Ester Wajcblum arrived at Auschwitz and was assigned to work in the munitions factory, where she met Regina Safir and Ala Gertner—women who were engaged in resistance activities. Together with Roza Robota, they began smuggling out gunpowder.

The Sonderkommandos were Jewish prisoners who worked in the death camps. Their duties included guiding new arrivals into the gas chambers, removing the bodies afterwards, shaving the victims’ hair, removing their teeth, cremating their bodies and disposing of the ashes. Due to their knowledge of the camp’s inner workings, the Sonderkommandos were marked for certain death—it was a choice of die on arrival or die in four months’ time. As the time of the Sonderkommandos’ execution approached, they planned their revolt. They fashioned crude grenades by using sardine tins filled with the smuggled gunpowder and, on 7 October 1944, the workers of crematorium I began the revolt. That was followed by uprisings in crematoriums II and III. Crematorium IV was victoriously blown up. However, the SS guards counter-attacked and brutally suppressed the uprising. About 200 of the Sonderkommandos were rounded up and executed with a single shot to the head.

The gunpowder was traced to Ester’s munitions factory—Ester, Regina, Ala and Roza were betrayed. They were tortured: they were beaten and raped and electric shocks were applied to their genitals. But they never gave up the names of people who were not already dead. On 5 January 1945—so close to liberation—the four women were hanged in front of the women’s camp. Their last words were:

“Be strong and be brave.”

As we reflect on the Holocaust and consider the genocides in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur, we all have a duty to use these memories as a catalyst to rid us of the cancers of racial hatred, intolerance and discrimination. We should be immensely grateful to the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, which do vital work in keeping alive and accessible the stories and lessons of the Holocaust as the number of survivors, sadly, dwindles over time. I join others in commending their work and that of Karen Pollock and Olivia Marks-Woldman in particular.

However, each of us has a responsibility to keep the memories alive and to challenge and defeat the politics of racism and hate at every turn. Evil must be resisted, and if the people of whom I have spoken could resist the evil that they faced, despite their apparent powerlessness, that tells us that we all, as individuals, have a part to play in combating evil. It also tells us how much more responsibility there is on the state to fight all forms of racism and the politics of hate, whether at home or abroad. We must hear the voices of the past and keep their memories alive.

Lyn's speech in Westminster Hall during the Holocaust Memorial Day debate on 20th January 2015

It is an absolute privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. Members on both sides of the House have made very moving and powerful contributions, sharing stories, memories and...

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Turner, and may I take this early opportunity to wish you, and everyone else here today, a very Happy New Year.

I rise in support of the Bill before us today.

This Bill brings redress to the ruling which followed the case brought against Bideford Town Council just five years ago, and I am glad that it has broad support from across the House. I am grateful to the Hon Member for Rossendale and Darwen for sponsoring its passage through the House.

It is important that all councils, and indeed the wide variety of public representative bodies listed in this Bill, are at liberty to include prayers as part of their meetings if they so wish. In the wake of the High Court decision in 2012 and the changes subsequently made under section 1 of the Localism Act, this Bill brings clarification and ensures that decisions can be taken in different types of authorities with confidence and fairness.

As Hon Members might remember, I have twice drawn attention in the House to the comments of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, following the launch of the challenge in Bideford back in 2010. Their message was one of regret that the situation should ever have got as far as a legal challenge in the first place – one would have hoped a compromise could have been reached long before it got to that. I could not agree more.

Let me be absolutely clear that these matters should be dealt with through a local settlement which takes into account the needs and circumstances of individual local communities. We need to give support and assurance to that process, and that is what this Bill does.

Most importantly, the Bill does not seek to provide guidance to councils and authorities. It is enabling; it is not prescriptive. Religious observances are above all a matter where local and individual choice should prevail, and we should support that though making clear the freedom of choice, not just across top-tier Local Authorities, but in town and parish councils and across a range of other public bodies too.

Mr Turner, to build cohesive, inclusive and sensitive communities, we need to strengthen the ties between local communities and the authorities which seek to represent them.

We need to be mindful of the needs of all faith communities, and non-faith communities, when determining whether to hold prayers and what the nature of those prayers should be. I am sure that this will be done not only by all local authorities but also by the other bodies specified in Clause 2 of this Bill, to which this legislation would apply, which, as Hon Members will know, ranges from fire and rescue authorities to transport bodies and economic boards.

I welcome the principle behind this, that each of these authorities have the opportunity to contribute to wider community cohesion. This is not the remit of one section of the community – be it faith groups, non-faith groups, voluntary organisations, or local businesses – but the role of each and every part of the community, not least local authority bodies.

At the same time, we must of course ensure that these authorities maintain their inclusivity and respect the freedoms and differences of all members, religious or otherwise. I take very seriously the points made by the National Secular Society, in particular their warnings that “prayers can create a feeling of exclusion” and that imposing prayers can alienate members who do not feel part of one or another tradition or faith.

When the Minister is on his feet, I would be grateful if he could inform the Committee what representations he may have received regarding the Bill, from external organisations and interests, and in particular, the National Secular Society. Can I ask the Minister, what assessment he has made of their fears that that this Bill could exclude and alienate some council members?

Does the Minister believe it will compel anyone who doesn’t wish to participate in prayer to do so? Does he believe that there need be further safeguards in this legislation to ensure that is not the case? I have to say that, given the comments from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, I am minded to believe the balance is right – giving power to determine this issue at a local level.

I am sure the Minister would not support a Bill where compulsion for prayers is a possibility, and I would certainly hope that where decisions were taken locally to have prayers as part of the meeting, it would be on an opt-in, opt-out basis.

It is absolutely crucial that the localised decisions made on religious observances are exercised on the basis of inclusivity, and that every effort is made to avoid exclusion. Any new powers must be used sensitively, with discretion and following a process that involves and responds to the needs of all local communities.

Mr Turner, I am supporting the Bill today because this Bill is not prescriptive and it does not seek to impose prayers. It merely clarifies a freedom to choose to include prayer or not to and seeks to redress the perverse position which followed the 2012 ruling, where that choice was removed.

Lyn’s speech in the House of Commons on religious observances on 6th January 2015

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Turner, and may I take this early opportunity to wish you, and everyone else here today, a very Happy...

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