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Prison Capacity
Justice Questions (21 November 2023)

Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Victims and Sentencing)
The Secretary of State’s emergency early release scheme is meant to tackle a capacity crisis that is entirely of this Government’s making, and it excludes only serious violence. Surely domestic abuse and stalking are serious offences, yet they are not excluded from early release. What kind of signal does that give to victims, the public, and indeed perpetrators of violence against women and girls?

Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice
We are proud that under this Government sentences for offences such as rape have gone up by a third. We have a situation in which charges are up, the conviction rate is higher and sentences are longer—and, unlike under the Labour Government, people are spending a higher proportion of those sentences in custody. We think that is the right thing to do. To the hon. Member’s point, the exclusions in place go beyond what he indicated, so he is factually incorrect; they also include sex offences and terrorist offences. Here is a really important point: where the custodial authorities are satisfied that there is a specific risk, there is an opportunity to ensure that release is blocked. That is important, because we will always stand up for victims of crime.

Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Victims and Sentencing)
Argument weak? Go long and do not answer the question—the classic response from this Government. The truth is that without any Government announcement of a start date, prisons began releasing offenders over a month ago. These men are already walking our streets, but the Government will not tell us how many, or why they were behind bars in the first place. Why do the Government not believe that the public deserve to know who is being released back into the community when a court decided that they should be in prison?

Alex Chalk The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice
We will make whatever appropriate announcements in due course; we will not demur from that. We will also not apologise for having, under this Government, a higher custodial population than before. We are taking robust steps to ensure that the public are protected, which means unashamedly that those who commit the most serious offences—those such as murder in the context of sexual or sadistic conduct—go to prison for the rest of their lives. Will the hon. Member support that? I wonder. We are also using the evidence so that those capable of rehabilitation are rehabilitated. One thing that we will not ever put at risk is the threat to women and girls. As the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend Laura Farris, indicated, we have taken steps to ensure that victims of domestic abuse will be properly protected under the Government.

Thank you to everyone who has written to me about the terrible situation in Gaza. For those who have not had a chance to read it, I have previously written a statement on the situation which can be read here.

In relation specifically to votes on Gaza in the King’s Speech debate in parliament, I supported the Labour amendment. I think it is important that people are aware of the wording of the amendment, because there is an impression being given that it is not focused on the practical steps needed to achieve an end to the fighting as soon as possible.

Here is the text of the Labour amendment:
“This House wishes to see an end to the violence in Israel and Palestine; unequivocally condemn the horrific terrorist attack and murder of civilians by Hamas, call for the immediate release of all hostages and reaffirm Israel’s right to defend its citizens from terrorism; believe all human life is equal and that there has been too much suffering, including far too many deaths of innocent civilians and children, over the past month in Gaza; reaffirm the UK’s commitment to the rules-based international order, international humanitarian law and the jurisdiction of the ICC to address the conduct of all parties in Gaza and Hamas’s attacks in Israel; call on Israel to protect hospitals and lift the siege conditions allowing food, water, electricity, medicine and fuel into Gaza; request the Government continue to work with the international community to prevent a wider escalation of the conflict in the region, guarantee that people in Gaza who are forced to flee during this conflict can return to their homes and seek an end to the expansion of illegal settlements and settler violence in the West Bank; and, while acknowledging the daily humanitarian pauses to allow in aid and the movement of civilians, believe they must be longer to deliver humanitarian assistance on a scale that begins to meet the desperate needs of the people of Gaza, which is a necessary step to an enduring cessation of fighting as soon as possible and a credible, diplomatic and political process to deliver the lasting peace of a two-state solution.”
With so many innocent civilians and children lost over the past month in this terrible conflict, my support for this amendment stems from a fierce desire to achieve an enduring cessation of fighting as soon as possible

Kevin Brennan
MP for Cardiff West

I take this issue very seriously as, like you, I want to see an end to the violence and ultimately a lasting peaceful resolution. As I have mentioned previously, these are very grave and complex events with the facts on the ground changing by the minute. I am distraught by the devastation occurring in Gaza and I vehemently assert that Israel, notwithstanding its right to defend itself against attack after the biggest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust, must act in line with international law. The situation on the ground can only be described as a catastrophic humanitarian crisis. There must be a pause in fighting to provide aid to those desperately in need. Like the First Minister I hope that this could be a step which would enable the conditions for a more stable ceasefire to come about.

The current aid being provided through the Rafah Crossing is simply insufficient; we must see more humanitarian aid provided to Gaza. Israel must not block any attempt to provide aid, nor must it blockade fuel, food, and water from entering the region for humanitarian reasons. I welcome all efforts made to increase aid entering the region and this can only be achieved in full with a pause in hostilities on both sides.

Even with a pause in fighting the ugly truth is that Hamas will be planning to strike once again. Hamas’ ideology is to destroy Israel and they are against a two-state solution with peace and secure borders for both Palestinians and Israelis. Neither is it realistic to expect Israel to abandon its hostages who were taken amid atrocity. A situation which emboldens Hamas and leaves it with the power to carry out additional attacks will ultimately only prolong the suffering of the Palestinian people. Peace can never be obtained as long as Hamas is there threatening to destroy that peace. The Palestinian people should not needlessly suffer any more than they already have.

I am appalled by the news of human suffering coming from Gaza. In particular it is devastating to receive the reports of children and families killed in their homes and elsewhere. Enduring the fear that Gazan families are currently facing is almost unimaginable. We must do all that we can to preserve innocent lives including denuding that humanitarian pause. The Labour position is to implore Israel and Hamas to pause their fighting so that aid can be delivered to those who need it most and innocent civilians are protected. We also call for the immediate release of all hostages held by Hamas.  I call on Israel to take every step in its fight with Hamas to minimise civilian casualties and suffering, because collective punishment is a war crime that cannot be justified under any circumstance.

The release of hostages and the fight with Hamas must be carried out with an absolute focus to protect and preserve the lives of civilians inevitably be caught up in the crossfire. I understand that this is easier said than done, but it is simply the minimum requirement for a State unlike a terrorist organisation acting with no regard for international law. Labour is working with international partners to support every effort to make this possible. I want to assure you that I have communicated all my constituents’ concerns about the conflict in meetings to the party leadership.

Not enough diplomatic attention has been paid to the Israel-Palestine conflict for far too long. In recent years there has been a trend to look away from all the suffering that has occurred in this region because of the difficulty of finding a peaceful outcome. It is a problem that I believe will never be resolved through military means, strident slogans, or indifference.  Recent events have confirmed that it is time to make a renewed effort to change this. I unequivocally back all efforts towards finding a way to peace in the region free from occupation and terrorism.

Despite the despairing rhetoric of extremists, a two-state solution is still firmly the way to achieve a lasting peace in the region. Benjamin Netanyahu’s undermining of any two-state solution, planting illegal settlements as facts on the ground, has not brought security. To ensure a future where Israel is secure from terrorism and Palestine is a sovereign state without settlements and occupation, it is vital to engage in constructive dialogue. This dialogue must underscore the worldwide recognition of the Palestinian people’s right to freedom and equality, unaffected by the threats of unlawful settlements. There is no more looking away.  But Hamas must be stopped, and Israel must get back its hostages. Gazans must be given guarantees that they can return to their homes safely and they are provided with humanitarian aid that they so desperately need.

My heart goes out to all those deeply impacted in the region but also those living in fear in our own country. With Jewish schools closing and hijabis abused on public transport, the rise of Antisemitism and Islamophobia is heart-breaking.  I never thought that Jewish people in Cardiff would be telling me about their fear revealing their religion in public – including children in our schools - because of the abuse and threats they receive.  I never thought that my Muslim constituents would report abuse they have received simply for expressing their religious beliefs and culture. I know very well from experience the danger that heightened tensions pose to safety on our own streets, and it is a priority for me to encourage and reinforce the excellent interfaith relations that we have traditionally benefitted from in our city, and which can help to reduce tensions and the threat of violence.

All our citizens and residents have the right to peaceful protests and the right to protection from hate speech. I applaud all efforts by multiple groups to stamp out the vile racism, xenophobia, and hatred resulting from inflamed tensions. We cannot let hatred divide our country and our people. We should continue to stand up against all forms of hatred and bigotry.

Thank you for raising your concerns with me once again. I take all that you say very seriously and use it to help shape my dialogue with colleagues in the Labour Party. Like you, I want to see an end to the fighting as soon as possible. Now is the time to renew our efforts to achieve a permanent end to the fighting, and not just a delay. Only through this approach can we ultimately hope to achieve the liberation of Palestine and the security of Israel.

Creative Industries: Skills and Training
20 July 2023

Kevin Brennan Labour, Cardiff West
Last night was the summer reception of UK Music, and I was there as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on music, along with the shadow Secretary of State and the Chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee. If Ministers had been able to come, they would have heard an appeal for more education in the creative sectors in our schools and for more support for our grassroots venues, which are the research and development of the creative industries, particularly the music industry, and which are suffering from a crisis at the moment. What more are the Government going to do to support education at that level so that skills and training in our creative industries can enable them to keep flourishing into the future?

Lucy Frazer The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport
I hope the hon. Gentleman read the sector vision, which included £5 million in additional funding for grassroots music venues—something we discussed at the Select Committee. We, too, think it is important to have those creative subjects in school; that is why art, design and music are already in the national curriculum and remain compulsory in all maintained schools up to the age of 14. But that is not all we are doing. He mentioned music, which is incredibly important. That is why we have our new joint national plan for music education, including £25 million of funding for musical instruments and equipment for schools, and, as I mentioned, we had our first meeting of the cultural education panel, which is looking at how we can ensure we help young people to get more creativity both in and outside school to ensure we have that creative excellence.