Lyn Brown MP

Working hard for West Ham


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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...

Lyn Brown: It is an honour to be here today and to follow the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood) and to discuss the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather). I congratulate her on securing such a high-profile place in the ballot, which I envy, and on her choice of Bill, her excellent speech and her approach to the subject. Her choice of Bill is important for two reasons. First, it is limited in scope. It recognises the importance of addressing the needs of millions of private renters, a matter of which I am very conscious, given the size of the private rented sector in my constituency—40% of all households in my constituency are in the private rented sector, a massive increase over recent years. That is surely, and very clearly, reflected in the support for this Bill outside this House shown in the large number of e-mails I have had from my constituents urging me to be here today, and the very strong campaigning efforts of various groups at national and local level. I pay tribute to Shelter, which has campaigned on this issue for many years and worked very closely with the hon. Lady on producing the Bill.

Generation Rent must also be congratulated on its vigorous campaigning efforts at national and local level. The Home Sweet Home campaign has been working on the ground in Brighton for many months, backed by Labour’s excellent parliamentary candidate and by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), who is in her place; I agree with much of what she said earlier. It is heartening to hear of tenants and residents taking action, influencing this place, and actively seeking to improve their families’ quality of home, education and life chances. Labour has been clear that for too long their needs have been totally ignored. That is why we have set out ambitious plans for reform of the sector, and I will come to those later.

The second reason this Bill is so important is that the issue it seeks to address—retaliatory eviction—is completely unacceptable and must surely be brought to an end. That is why the hon. Member for Brent Central has our support for its passage through the House.

In recent years, the private rented sector has grown massively in size, but also beyond recognition in terms of the demographics and the character of those who rent from private landlords. Nine million people now rent privately—more than those who rent a social home. Over a third have families with children, and nearly half are over the age of 35. Many people who are renting privately are doing so not out of choice but because they cannot get on the housing ladder or secure a socially rented home. Yet private rented accommodation is not the cheapest option—far from it. It is, in effect, the most expensive type of housing. On average, people who rent privately spend 41% of their income on housing. For those in the social rented sector, the figure is 30%, and for owner occupiers, it is 19%. However, the extra expense does not buy greater stability or higher standards. Someone who rents privately is more likely to live in a non-decent home than someone in any other tenure, yet they are spending 41% of their income to do so. A third of privately rented homes fail to meet the decent homes standard.

Two issues are at the heart of these proposals—standards and stability. For too long, renters have had to put up with a choice between keeping their home and accepting the poor conditions they are living in. As we have heard, there is currently no protection from eviction for renters who report poor conditions to their landlord or local authority. Shelter has estimated that over 200,000 renters have been evicted or served notice in the past year because they complained to their local council or their landlord about a problem in their home.

This kind of unacceptable action can have a really damaging impact on renters. It can damage the lives of families and the fabric of communities as people are uprooted from their homes with as little as two months’ notice, disrupting schooling, support networks of family and friends, and even access to health care. It means that renters feel unable to complain and are forced to put up with awful conditions.

Philip Davies: The hon. Lady was bandying about some rather exotic figures earlier. Can she verify those figures in the context of the English housing survey, which goes into detail as to why people are evicted?

Lyn Brown: I am genuinely grateful to the hon. Gentleman, as always with his contributions here on a Friday. I know that he is going to make a fairly long speech—

Stephen Pound: Don’t give him any ideas.

Lyn Brown: Trust me—I am not suggesting he does; it is just that I know the hon. Gentleman of old, and I know he will come to those figures in due course. The figures I am using are robust, and he knows it.

It is estimated that one in eight renters have chosen not to ask for improvements or to challenge a rent increase because of fear of eviction. This reduces the incentives for landlords to improve their properties. Rather than pay for repairs, unscrupulous landlords can take a short cut by evicting their current tenants and replacing them.

Mr Chope: The hon. Lady keeps on referring to unscrupulous landlords, but the Residential Landlords Association, which represents good-quality landlords, hotly disputes the extent of the problem as she describes it.

Lyn Brown: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. I am very clear that there are good landlords and there are bad, and I am talking about the bad. He said to my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Teresa Pearce), who is no longer in her place, that he hoped she would have reported the unscrupulous landlord she was discussing to the council or to the environmental health services. Let me tell him that if someone has their complaint referred by an MP, that does not stop them being evicted by a landlord who takes umbrage at being forced to do repairs—as some of my constituents, sadly, know to their cost.

The effects of this shameful practice cannot be overestimated. Over the weekend, I read about the—literally—shocking case of Lela Lewis. Lela suffered a minor electric shock after taking a shower and, having discovered that it was due to faulty wiring, complained to her landlord. Much to her chagrin, the landlord responded by serving her with an eviction notice. There was the case of Greg and Laura Moore and their three children, who were served an eviction notice on their rented home in Norfolk just three weeks after reporting damp.

In the area where I live and which I represent, I have heard about the case of a constituent who I will call Chris. He is an assured shorthold tenant who has been in the same property since 2010. The property has damp, mice and a hole in the roof. His children’s health is suffering as a result of those poor conditions. He complained to the letting agent and it visited, along with the council, which agreed that the property was in a poor state of repair. Shortly afterwards, he received a notice to leave—a section 21 notice. He has been informed by the letting agent that the landlord will not renew his tenancy next May.

Mr Chope: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Lyn Brown: No; I have given way to the hon. Gentleman already.
Despite the innovative and sterling efforts of Newham council to bring some order and better standards to the private rented sector, it cannot prevent such retaliatory evictions. This will happen to more and more people as the housing shortage forces more and more people into private renting.

This Bill is a real opportunity for us to put an end to this unacceptable practice. As I will set out, the private rented sector needs far more radical and sweeping reforms, but the Bill can, and will, make a real difference. It provides protection for assured shorthold tenants against retaliatory evictions where they are suffering from poor or unsafe property conditions. It does that by preventing a landlord from giving a section 21 notice for six months from the date of service of a notice from the local authority regarding conditions in the property, such as an improvement notice, a hazard awareness notice, or a notice of emergency remedial action. It provides the power for the Secretary of State to prescribe legal requirements which, if a landlord were in breach of them, would prevent them from serving a notice.

There are also important safeguards for landlords. They are protected in cases where the poor condition of the property may have been caused deliberately by the tenant, or where they genuinely need to sell the property. The banks and mortgage companies are also protected where they have repossessed a property and need to sell it with vacant possession. We believe that those protections are more than ample to protect the very good landlords in the sector who would not dream of evicting their tenants from their property following a complaint.

Labour is pleased to support the Bill and to help bring an end to completely unacceptable practices, but we also believe that the sector is in need of more fundamental reform. We have set out far-reaching proposals to reform the sector to get a fairer deal for private renters. First, a Labour Government would legislate for three-year tenancies, not short-term tenancies, as the standard for those who rent their homes in the private sector. They will become the norm.

We will build in protections for landlords, which, crucially, will also provide much-needed stability for private tenants. The nature of the sector and the people who rent has changed, and we need to create stability for the growing numbers who live in the sector for longer. They are crying out for a better deal, especially—but not solely—the growing number of families with children who are renting privately and who need and deserve our support. There are now 2 million children living in the private rented sector, and this House and this Government must ensure that their homes, their home lives and their future chances in life are not put in jeopardy as a result of the lack of access to a stable home environment.

Secondly, we will act on unpredictable rent rises, because the new, longer-term tenancies will put a ceiling on excessive rent rises. We will make sure that families have the stability of longer-term tenancies and that they will no longer have to live with the uncertainty that their rents could jump up from one year to the next. Labour wants to promote as much stability as possible for families. That is what happens in Ireland, Spain and many other European countries, and it gives families and people the peace of mind and stability they need.

The reforms will be good not just for tenants, but for landlords, too. We know that the last thing landlords want is a home standing empty, which means that they are not collecting rent or that there is constant churn where tenants come and go, often costing landlords hundreds of pounds in fees.

Thirdly, we will ban letting agent fees for tenants. Too many letting agents charge extortionate fees every time there is a change of tenancy, and often both landlords and tenants are being charged for exactly the same thing—otherwise known as double charging. It is disappointing that the Government chose once again to vote against our amendments to the Consumer Rights Bill in the other place earlier this week.

Finally, we have set out plans to introduce a national register of landlords and to help make it easier for councils to introduce licensing schemes in their areas. Although the Tenancies (Reform) Bill will help to drive up standards, it will not be enough on its own.

I pay tribute again to the hon. Member for Brent Central for promoting the Bill. Although we believe that reform of private renting must be more far reaching, there is no doubt that this Bill will bring about very real improvements in the lives of thousands of renters. The act of retaliatory eviction is completely unacceptable. It creates a climate of fear and families are afraid to complain about mould, damp and even worse because they may lose their home. It leads to huge instability, as too many who do complain are then served with notice to leave. Moreover, in effect it encourages poor conditions. Unscrupulous landlords take the easy way out, evicting their tenants rather than carrying out needed repairs. We therefore welcome the Bill and will be pleased to support its passage through the House.

Lyn's speech in the House of Commons during the Second Reading of Tenancies Reform Bill as it happened

Lyn Brown: It is an honour to be here today and to follow the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood) and to discuss the Bill introduced by...

On 18th December 2014 Lyn took up health issues in Parliament on behalf of the local community

I am absolutely delighted to have this opportunity to contribute once again to a Christmas pre-recess Adjournment debate. I want to raise two health issues: the hysteroscopy procedure and pancreatic cancer. I know that some Members were present when I talked about hysteroscopy last year, but I must warn the others that it is not for the squeamish, so I will perfectly understand if anyone wants to leave the Chamber.

The hysteroscopy procedure was first brought to my attention by my constituent Debbie, who lives in Plaistow. She is a really lovely women and a great campaigner. She was diagnosed with womb and uterine cancer and contacted me not about the pain of the cancer, but the pain she went through during the process of diagnosis. Debbie underwent a hysteroscopy, which I remind Members is a procedure for looking inside a patient’s uterus. It is used to investigate symptoms such as pelvic pain, abnormal bleeding and infertility. Biopsies are often taken during the procedure and tissue is removed. The procedure is uncomfortable and can be incredibly painful.

Debbie has since campaigned tirelessly to prevent other women being subjected to such a painful procedure. I pay tribute to the work that she and others in the hysteroscopy campaign have done. Since raising Debbie’s story in the House last Christmas, I have been contacted by a number of women across the country who heard about the debate and wanted to share their stories with me. The cases they described have all happened since last year’s debate.

One such woman is Mrs Hughes. She had a thickening of her womb and was told that she might have cancer, so she had a pipelle biopsy, which in itself was very painful and distressing. She was then told that she would need a hysteroscopy and that she would be given an anaesthetic. Mrs Hughes, who has heart problems, phoned the hospital to find out what type of anaesthetic she would be given. She was told that it would be a nerve block anaesthetic. To be clear, Mrs Hughes received information from a doctor, a nurse and a leaflet at the local hospital, all telling her that the procedure would be conducted under anaesthetic.

On the day of the procedure, however, her doctor—let us call him Dr C—told her, “Well, we only give anaesthetics to people who can’t cope with facing it. It stings, but you’ll be all right. I’ll be gentle. I’ll be in and out in 30 seconds.” But the doctor could not find the cervix. After some time, and a considerable amount of intense and painful probing inside her, water was pumped into her womb and a camera was inserted. The pain increased significantly and Mrs Hughes was calling out loudly in distress. She felt herself passing out because of the pain. The doctor then said, “I can’t reach it.” The procedure was terminated without a biopsy or a diagnosis.

After the procedure, Mrs Hughes went home. She said:

“I had excruciatingly painful cramps and bleeding. I was so very distressed and dazed... I started to shiver and then began to shake all over. I couldn’t stop the shaking. My nerves were shot. I was crying and couldn’t get the procedure out of my head... I kept having flashbacks. My heart was affected, thumping and missing beats. I felt truly traumatised. I couldn’t sleep—I kept waking up in an absolute panic.”

She was in agony and was clearly experiencing post-traumatic stress. The doctor simply told her that she would have to come back and have the procedure done under general anaesthetic.

This really cannot go on. The Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), kindly wrote to me after last year’s debate. She highlighted the guidance from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, stating that she expected “all clinicians to adhere to guidance where available to ensure good practice and the best outcomes for patients.”

The guidance includes the need for formal informed consent for out-patient hysteroscopy before the procedure. I am afraid that I do not consider that to be sufficient protection for women. A significant number of hospitals still do not use a written consent form for an out-patient hysteroscopy. It is a postcode lottery as to whether a patient is offered different options for pain control, or indeed even advised to take a pain killer before the procedure. Put simply, many women across our country are still having to go through this procedure, which is often agonising, without the right information or informed consent.

I implore the Minister to take action to ensure that surgeons must always discuss with patients what will happen before, during and after a hysteroscopy, and that they must obtain formal informed consent for an out-patient hysteroscopy before the procedure. This matter must be tackled. I ask the Minister to use her good offices to make some progress.

I would now like to turn to pancreatic cancer. The diagnosis of pancreatic cancer often comes too late for any effective treatment, meaning that for many the news is abrupt, shocking and, all too often, a death sentence. It is often called the silent cancer, because the early symptoms are hard to detect and it is only later, when more precise and exact symptoms appear, that patients and doctors consider the possibility of pancreatic cancer.

One of my constituents, Norma Giles, wrote to me about the loss of her son Steven to pancreatic cancer in 2010. He was previously a fit and healthy man, happily married and a father, and his death has had a devastating impact on the family. He was just 42, and like many he was diagnosed too late for surgery. His wife, Clair Giles, wrote:

“if I told you pancreatic cancer is a git, I would be lying, as there are no words strong enough to tell you what pancreatic cancer does to the patient and to their family. I have struggled losing my husband, my soul mate.”

She wants me to help get the message out that early diagnosis and surviving pancreatic cancer go hand in hand, and she argues that the lack of funding for the fight against pancreatic cancer is directly responsible for the poor survival rate. Understandably, she wants that to change.

Tragically, Steven was diagnosed only after numerous visits to their GP with a range of symptoms. He had lost 4 stone and had diabetes, but it was only when a locum saw him that he was referred to hospital. Tragically, it was too late. We need to do far more to save people like Steven. Survival rates have remained unchanged over the last 40 years, with 22 people dying every day from pancreatic cancer and only 10% of patients being diagnosed in time for lifesaving curative surgery. Surely we can do better. As Members know, behind each statistic are personal stories and individual and family tragedies.

Pancreatic cancer has the worst survival rate of all cancers, yet it receives only 1% of research spend. Over the last four years, cancer spending has been cut by £800 million in real terms, and I am told that treatment standards are deteriorating and that the national cancer target has been missed in the last three quarters. Hon. Members will share my concern that this is simply not good enough, so I implore the Government to look at the issue afresh. I am sure I speak for all Members in extending our thoughts and prayers to those battling cancer and in expressing our admiration for and thanks to the NHS staff caring for them, especially over the Christmas period.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish you, hon. Members and everybody who works on the parliamentary estate the happiest of Christmases and the very best of new years.

Lyn's speech in the House of Commons Christmas Adjournment debate

On 18th December 2014 Lyn took up health issues in Parliament on behalf of the local community

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