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Keep calm and carry on

I didn’t directly witness the horrific attack in Westminster this week, but it is a near miracle that I didn’t.

My office is on the 5th floor of Portcullis House, the modern building that directly overlooks the place where the attacker crashed his car into the railings of the House of Commons, and New Palace Yard where he fatally stabbed a Police Officer and was then shot dead.

Literally seconds before the attack the Division Bell rang to call MPs to vote, and I left my office to take the lift to the ground floor, and walk through the tunnel under the road where unbeknownst to us the attack was unfolding overhead.

I emerged into the New Palace Yard seconds before the shots were fired, but then entered the Commons building to go to vote and did not hear the gunfire. Moments later however as I walked into the voting lobbies we were told that an incident was ongoing and to remain where we were.

Some colleagues arrived and reported that they had seen what had happened, a Police Officer under attack and the assailant shot just a few yards from where I had just been walking.

We remained on lock down in the House of Commons chamber and the surrounding lobbies for the next four hours, as news seeped in about the other aspects of the attack, and the carnage on Westminster Bridge.  The atmosphere was one of resolute calm, and sadness as we learned of the deaths and injuries outside.

PC Keith Palmer was one of the officers I pass and say good morning to everyday as I enter the gates of Parliament and use my pass to access the estate. He was one of the unarmed officers who check passes and give directions to the many tourists who visit Westminster and wander up to have their photos taken with Big Ben in the background.  He gave his life bravely defending democracy.

Since 9/11 there are many more armed officers standing nearby ready to deal with any serious threat. Sadly PC Palmer was fatally stabbed before those officers were able to shoot his attacker. There will be a full enquiry into how the stabbing happened, but it is hard to see how you can stop a person with murderous intent driving a vehicle into innocent pedestrians.

Sadly it is an experience which occurred in 2012 in my constituency of Cardiff West when a mentally ill individual drove a vehicle at pedestrians, killing my constituent Katrina Menzies and seriously injuring several others.

You can put up barriers around obvious targets like Parliament, but unless you have advance intelligence, you cannot prevent a deranged and crazed individual from driving at a crowd of pedestrians.

Of course it wasn’t just MPs caught up in the lockdown. Thousands work on and around the Parliamentary estate, and Wednesday is the busiest day for visitors due to Prime Minister’s Questions. Amongst those on lockdown for hours were several school parties. As a former teacher I could not help but think of the teachers with the French children who came under attack, but also of the teachers on the parliamentary estate with very young children who acted professionally to the youngsters in their care throughout.

The sad truth is this is not the first attack in Westminster, London or the UK as a whole, and it will not be the last.

During the Second World War Hitler’s Luftwaffe destroyed the Commons chamber, but MPs carried on meeting in the Lords. It was rebuilt but Churchill and Attlee agreed to incorporate the broken archway at the entrance of the Commons chamber as a reminder. In the 70s an IRA bomb went off in Westminster Hall, and in 1979 – Airey Neave MP was murdered yards from Wednesday’s attack by an INLA car bomb.

In July 1990 in East Sussex, Ian Gow MP, was killed by an IRA car bomb, and of course last year Jo Cox MP was murdered in her constituency by a right wing extremist. I was in Westminster in July 7th, 2005 when bombs went off across London in the 7/7 attacks. No doubt we will face future attacks too.

But on Thursday at 9.30am the Commons met as usual. We observed a minute’s silence and got on with our normal business.

Democracy is frustrating and imperfect, but it is a stronger idea than terrorist violence, and the democratic thing to do in the face of terrorism is to keep calm and carry on.

Contribution to statement on the attack in Westminster

London Attacks (23 March 2017)

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): Like many Members, in the 16 years I have been a Member, I have walked every day through Carriage Gates and said a small prayer for the safety of those who stand there to protect us. From now on, I will add a prayer for the soul of PC Keith Palmer.

Among the bravery and professionalism we saw yesterday—I say this a former teacher who took children on many school trips—were the actions of the teachers, both those injured in the attack and those who were in the House during the lockdown, who kept the children educated, entertained and calm, on a day and on a school trip when they saw, witnessed and heard of things that they should never have to see.

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It must have been particularly difficult for those children who were here and caught up in this. We should commend the work of their teachers in offering that reassurance and calm. We must particularly recognise the role of the French teachers of the French group. The last thing people expect when they bring a group of young people to visit another country is something terrible like that happening. They will have acted to support the other members of that group who went through that trauma, and will continue to do so.

Tories want to make appointing Theresa’s Geezers easier

The failure to appoint a member of the BBC board to represent Wales is symbolic of increasing arrogance by Tory Ministers over devolution and public appointments.

In Government Labour reformed public appointment procedures to stop the practice that existed pre-1997 of Tory Ministers appointing their friends to taxpayer funded positions without any independent scrutiny. Under Labour Ministers could still take the final decision but candidates would be assessed independently to provide a properly qualified shortlist from which Ministers could choose.

This Tory Government is watering this down so that Ministers can choose the assessors and appoint people not deemed to be up to the job by overruling the panel. They can even get rid of open competition altogether.

The Prime Minister wants to make appointing ‘Theresa’s Geezers’ easier.

Ministers are already stretching their existing powers to the limit. In December Matt Hancock refused to appoint an ethnic minority candidate who was recommended by the appointment panel despite a lack of diversity to the Channel 4 board.

Now Culture Secretary Karen Bradley has tried to foist the weakest candidate for Welsh representation on the BBC Governors against the wishes of the Welsh Government who understandably want the strongest possible candidate.

The respect agenda espoused by David Cameron – appears to be dead. By refusing to appoint either of the top two recommended candidates, Karen Bradley has scuttled the whole process and a new recruitment effort will have to be made.

This will leave Wales without a representative on the BBC board for months, during a crucial period when article when Article 50 will be triggered with all its implications for the devolved nations.

The smug arrogance of the Tory Ministers was there for all to see in the Budget. The news over public appointments is another symptom of Tory disdain for due process.

S4C cuts should be frozen until the conclusion of the Independent Review

Below is a letter I have written to the Minister for Culture, Matt Hancock, expressing my concerns over funding cuts to S4C.

I believe no cuts should take place when the Independent Review is still taking place and the Government should wait until its conclusion before making any decisions.

Matt Hancock
Minister for Culture
Department for Culture, Media and Sport
100 Parliament St,
SW1A 2BQ                                                                                                                    

01 March 2017

Dear Matt,

As you know, today is St David’s Day, and so I’m writing to you about an issue of great importance to Wales, S4C.

S4C is a much-loved and hard-fought-for TV channel which demonstrates in its broadcasting the diversity and dynamism of Welsh culture. S4C is part and parcel of the modern, confident, self-determining Wales which works to benefit everyone.

However, this Government is failing to provide S4C with the certainty it needs.

At the end of 2015, the Government announced a cut to their annual contribution to S4C, amounting to a reduction of £1.7 million by 2020. Then, in February 2016 the first cut was delayed and they announced an Independent Review of S4C to look into remit, governance, and funding.  The review was scheduled for 2017, but we are still waiting to hear when the process will begin.

Adding to this confusion, in January 2017 the Government stated that their contribution to S4C would be reduced from £6.762 million this financial year, to £6.058 million in the next, as stated in the 2015 Spending Review. That is, the Government implied that funding cuts would be going ahead before the review into that same funding had even begun. Then, the caveat was added that the Secretary of State is looking at the matter. The Government’s messages are muddled when S4C deserves clarity.

A cut of £700,000 could make a big difference to S4C. The outgoing Chief Executive of S4C, Ian Jones, said that, for example, the subtitling service could be reduced. This would make it much harder for those who don’t speak Welsh, those who are learning Welsh, and those who are hearing impaired to enjoy S4C.

St David taught the importance of doing the little things. £700,000 makes a big difference to S4C, but is a small sum for the Treasury. Will the Government reinforce its support for S4C today by announcing the Terms of the Reference for the Independent Review, and freezing the cuts set out in the 2015 Spending Review until the conclusions of the Independent Review have been published and considered by the Government?

I look forward to your response.


Kevin Brennan MP (Cardiff West)

Shadow Minister for Arts and Heritage