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Campaign to protect the workers' rights of the terminally ill

Kevin Brennan MP has made a commitment to support and protect any of their employees who become terminally ill by signing the TUC ‘Dying to Work charter.

Since its launch in April 2016, The TUCs ‘Dying to Work’ Voluntary Charter now protects over half a million employees with companies such as Legal and General, Santander, Co-Op, Carillion, Rolls Royce and the Royal Mail joining E.On and signing up along with a number of public sector bodies including NHS trusts, police authorities and many local authorities.

The Dying to Work campaign was set up following the case of Jacci Woodcook, a 58-year-old sales manager from Derbyshire, who was forced out of her job after being diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. The campaign is calling for a change in the law to prevent the same thing happening to other working people.

Mr Brennan said: “It is shocking to think that if people with terminal illnesses are dismissed or forced out of their jobs that their loved ones will lose the death in service payments that the employee has planned for and earned through a life-time of hard work.” “That is why I am proud to have signed the TUC ‘Dying to Work’ charter to protect my employees and I will be encouraging businesses in my constituency to follow suit and sign up to the TUC’s voluntary charter.”

“In addition, I hope something will soon be done to ensure that every individual with terminal illness will receive the protection and support they deserve.”

The campaign has also been endorsed by a number of trade unions and charities, including The National Council for Palliative Care, Hospice UK, Breast Cancer Care and Second Hope.

TUC Deputy General Secretary Paul Nowak said: "Serious illness is tough enough without having to put up with extra hassle at work. Everyone can surely agree that terminally-ill workers deserve protection.

"That's why unions, MPs, employers and charities are coming together to ensure that workers get the support and protections they need when times are toughest."

This broad support was demonstrated in a recent Survation poll of over a thousand people which found that 79% of respondents support a ‘protected period’ for terminally ill workers where they could not be dismissed as a result of their condition with only 3% opposing it.

Towns and cities should follow Cardiff's lead and be a 'music city'

Government needs to act now over Uber's personal data breach

Uber: Personal Data Theft
23 November 2017

Volume 631

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): When Transport for London announced on 22 September that it would not renew Uber’s licence in London, Uber emailed its customers the very same day to ask them to protest against the decision. Does the Minister agree that if it could email all its customers then, it should do so now, and begin that communication with an apology?

I would be grateful if the Minister answered the following questions. Can he give us a rough idea—I know he said he was looking into the precise figures—of how many customers and drivers in the UK had their personal information compromised by the hack and what kind of data was compromised? What was the first contact Uber had with the Government and when did it happen? When did he personally become aware of this security breach? In his view and that of the Government, has Uber broken current UK law? If it has not done so already, will he or the Secretary of State call Uber into the Department immediately, or over the weekend if necessary, to explain itself and give more information about the breach?

Given the magnitude of the breach, has the Minister satisfied himself about the facts of the case, particularly given that if regulation requires strengthening, we can do it right now in the other place in the Data Protection Bill, as he has pointed out? I think that he said in his answer that he learned about the breach on Tuesday. Can he confirm that despite that, just yesterday in the House of Lords, the Government blocked the ability of consumer groups such as Which? to initiate action for victims of data breaches? Will he commit now—I think that he said he was prepared to make some movement—to reversing that position when the amendment comes before the House of Lords on Report, to show that we are on the side of consumers and employers, not huge corporations that are careless with our data?

Matt Hancock: I will try to address all the hon. Gentleman’s questions. We do not have sufficient confidence in the number that Uber has told us to go public on it, but we are working with the National Cyber Security Centre and the ICO to have more confidence in the figure. He will remember in the Equifax breach that the initial figure suggested went up. We want to get to the bottom of it and will publish further details within days, and if required I will be happy to come before the House to take further questions.

The hon. Gentleman asked when I personally knew about the breach. I knew about it when I was alerted by the media. As far as we are aware, the first notification to UK authorities—whether the Government, the ICO or the NCSC—was through the media. He asked whether Uber has done anything illegal under current UK law, which of course would be a matter for the courts, but I think there is a very high chance that it has.

The hon. Gentleman asked about taking action on behalf of data subjects following a data breach. I am strongly in favour of people being able to take action following a data breach, and we are legislating for that. The question debated yesterday in the other place was whether people should have to give their consent to action being taken on their behalf, and the whole principle behind the Data Protection Bill is to increase the level of consent required and people’s control over their own ​data. The proposed amendment pushed in the opposite direction, which is why we rejected it yesterday, but we will have the debate in this House, too.

Hansard Link)

The Tories face a creative test in Wednesday’s budget

The creative industries are one of the great British economic success stories. We’re not only a world leader in culture and creative output, our creative businesses are a huge economic driver that contribute £87bn to the economy, incidentally more than either car manufacturing or aerospace, and employ two million people. Our creative businesses are admired and they export all over the world.

But this success doesn’t come about on its own and will not last without support. That’s why it’s vital that this economic powerhouse of a sector is not left out in the cold during tomorrow’s Budget.

With Brexit negotiations stalling, and the spectre of a calamitous no-deal scenario hanging over us, it is more important than ever that the government has a strategy in place to ensure the continued growth and success of our creative industries. But while the papers in the run up to the Budget have been littered with nuggets about investment in R&D for tech, driverless cars and housebuilding, there has been little to nothing about what the budget will offer our creative industries.

When the government made the creative industries the “fifth pillar” of their industrial strategy there was hope that the needs of this sector would be put centre stage. Unfortunately that hope has not yet been realised.

First among the concerns of the sector is the threat posed by a hard Brexit. Some 45 per cent of all our creative industry exports go to EU countries and 6.7 per cent of people working in the creative industry in Britain citizens of other EU nations.

In some of our strongest growth sectors, such as video games and visual effects, up to 30 per cent of those employed in the sector are EU nationals. We heard David Davis reassuring City finance workers they would get a preferential deal that met their immigration needs – but what about such a deal for the creative industries? Any Brexit deal which leaves us with severely diminished access to the single market and customs union and denies British businesses access to EU talent would be disastrous and compromise this strong record of growth.

Another major concern, all the more pressing with the potential loss of EU talent, is our growing skills gap both at secondary and FE and HE level. The effect of the EBacc is well known. There has been a nine per cent drop in take-up of arts subjects in the last year, with arts GCSE entries failing by 100,000 since 2014.

Despite design and designer fashion being the single-fastest growing sector in the creative industries, which saw its exports grow 53 per cent between 2014 and 2015, design and technology GCSE has seen a fall of 11 per cent since 2016. The UK Commission for Employment and Skills estimated in 2015 that the creative sector would need 1.2 million new workers by 2022 to sustain growth. With our talent pipeline being choked off at secondary school level then this potential will be very hard to fulfil.

The other factor critical to growth is access to finance. Despite the success of the creative sector, many businesses still struggle to access the finance they need to get started, and scale up, because a lack of experience and understanding from finance about the opportunities in the sector.

The Budget would be a major opportunity to champion the investment opportunities offered by the creative industries and to show leadership by government putting serious investment into creative clusters across the country, as recommended in the recent Bazalgette review. Rather than a new £500m five year creative clusters programme, as Bazalgette recommended, the government has announced a much smaller £80m fund, half of which will come from industry rather than government. This is less than a tenth of the £1bn cultural capital fund to invest in creative and cultural infrastructure and development that Labour committed to in our manifesto.

Ministers talk the talk on supporting the sector but this Budget is a test of whether they mean it. Creative talent must be nurtured and we cannot afford to leave the creative industries out in the cold.

Speech: Tougher sentences are needed for dangerous driving involving death

Dangerous Driving involving Death: Sentencing
17 October 2017
Volume 629

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House has considered sentencing in cases of dangerous driving involving death.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your wise chairmanship as ever, Mr Hollobone. As hon. Members and the Minister will know, this debate is timely, given the publication on 16 October of the response to the Government’s consultation on maximum sentences for particular driving offences. Our debate today is inevitably and rightly informed by the changes that the Government announced yesterday, but like many other Members, I sought this debate in response to a case in my constituency in which the perpetrator was convicted after pleading guilty to causing death by dangerous driving. As a former Minister, I understand and sympathise with the fact that the Minister will not be able to comment on individual cases, but my aim is to use this tragic case as an example to question whether the current sentencing regime is fit for purpose, to discuss some of the Government’s proposals and changes, and to discuss how this case and ones like it need to lead to a change in policy.

Ms Marie Rimmer (St Helens South and Whiston) (Lab): I am sure that many will know of the sad case of four-year-old Violet-Grace Youens, who was killed this year and whose grandmother was left seriously injured when they were returning from their nursery. A stolen car crashed into them at 80 miles per hour in a 30 mph zone in St Helens. Two young men were in the car, one driving and one not. One of them ran past dying Violet-Grace laughing, making his getaway. The other posted a video from his prison cell celebrating his birthday; it depicts drug-taking and misbehaviour in prison. One will understand why Violet-Grace’s parents are deeply distressed and have no faith in our justice system. The boy who was celebrating his birthday received a 10-day extension to his sentence for posting the video. I have read these proposals with interest and welcome them, but please consider those who may not have been on drugs and drink at the time.

Kevin Brennan: I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. Obviously, that is a horrendous case and a great deal needs to be done on our prisons policy. It is not for us to debate that here today, but there is much to be done to improve the current state of affairs in our prisons, and I sympathise with her constituents and their families.

I want to talk about Sophie Taylor, a 22-year-old constituent of mine; she was a young woman in the prime of her life, with much to look forward to. She was described by her distraught mother, Jackie, as a loving and caring individual. I pay tribute to Jackie for somehow finding the strength to come and talk to me about the case, and to talk to the media about her horrific loss and her subsequent experience of the criminal justice and court system.

During the early hours of the morning of 22 August 2016, Sophie and her friend, Joshua Deguara, were chased through the streets of Cardiff by her ex-boyfriend, ​Michael Wheeler, and another driver. I will not comment on the case of the second driver, because elements of that case might still be sub judice, but I will focus on the actions and sentencing of Michael Wheeler, who entered a guilty plea and whose case is not subject to appeal.

During the chase, Sophie called 999 because she was scared and felt unsafe. She was on the phone, talking to an operator for 24 minutes. As that duration shows, the chase was a sustained and deliberate action by Mr Wheeler. During that time, his car reached speeds of up to 56 mph as he chased Sophie and Joshua into narrow residential streets. Then, he turned his car to the left into Sophie’s, causing her car to crash into a block of flats. The collision caused Sophie a catastrophic brain injury, which led to her death. Joshua suffered life-changing injuries, including a brain bleed, a shattered pelvis and an injury to his leg that has since led to its amputation. News reports stated that Mr Wheeler drove away after the crash before parking nearby, where he was arrested.

The judge who heard the case at Cardiff Crown court described what happened that night as

“nothing more than a pack chasing its prey”.

He added:

“You were trying to ram her off the road and you did”.

It is also worth noting that Sophie had made several reports to the police and visited the police station in the weeks leading up to her death about the problems she was experiencing with Mr Wheeler. The chase was an act of decisive, prolonged and co-ordinated aggression, and in my view, one which should have led to an even more serious charge than causing death by dangerous driving, but the judge was clear, saying

“you were consumed by a self-righteous and jealous rage, chasing her down to frighten her and teach her a lesson”.

We can only imagine Sophie’s family’s loss and the stress and torment that they have endured throughout the legal process. As I said, I met her mother, Jackie. Understandably, she is absolutely devastated by what happened, but she is equally determined to do what she can to prevent other families having to go through what her family has suffered.

As I said, I completely understand that the Minister cannot comment on individual cases. However, the details of the case that I have outlined are extremely pertinent in discussing the sentencing of cases of death by dangerous driving.

Ellie Reeves (Lewisham West and Penge) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend for securing this important debate. Members might know of an incident that happened in Penge last year, when two of my constituents, Makayah McDermott—a 10-year old boy and aspiring young actor—and his aunt, Rozanne Cooper, were killed when a stolen vehicle was travelling at 55 miles per hour in a residential area just opposite a playpark. That case is particularly close to my heart because I was at school with the mother of the boy and his aunt, both of whom died. Does my hon. Friend agree that the disparity between sentences for manslaughter and sentences for death by dangerous driving has long been unjust?

Kevin Brennan: Yes I do, as a matter of fact, and I extend my sympathies to my hon. Friend and her constituents in relation to that tragic case. The case I will try to develop in my argument is that it is not enough just to get parity of sentence. We need to look at ​what sentences are being handed out and why, and whether justice is being served by the system, whatever ultimate maximum tariff the Government decide is appropriate for this offence.

The details of this case are pertinent. As hon. Members know, the maximum sentence for death by dangerous driving has been raised in recent years to 14 years in custody. I note that in its guidelines, the Sentencing Council characterises a level 1 conviction for causing death by dangerous driving as

“a deliberate decision to ignore (or a flagrant disregard for) the rules of the road and an apparent disregard for the great danger being caused to others.”

Given that Sophie was deliberately and persistently chased through the streets of Cardiff and forced off the road in a way that ultimately led to her death, it seems to me that a level 1 sentence would have to apply in this case. However, although the starting point for a level 1 conviction is eight years in custody, Wheeler was sentenced to seven and a half years, which is just over half the maximum sentence available. My constituent Jackie Taylor’s understanding is that the guidelines available to the judge did not allow for the maximum sentence to be given, despite the obvious aggressive and aggravating factors in this particular case.

The Justice Secretary said in reply to a letter that I sent to him about this case that the courts must follow sentencing guidelines

“unless it is not in the interest of justice to do so”.

That leads to an obvious question: how could it be in the interests of justice to opt for a shorter sentence in a case such as the one that I have outlined? The sentence following Sophie Taylor’s death poses questions about the current frequency and circumstances of use of the maximum sentence that are particularly timely, given the Government’s announcement that they intend to increase the maximum sentence from 14 years to life in cases of death by dangerous driving.

The first issue is how often the maximum sentence is used. In my previous correspondence on the matter with the Justice Secretary, I asked how many maximum sentences for causing death by dangerous driving had been handed out in recent years. I noted that the Government press release yesterday containing the announcement on the maximum sentence said that 157 people were sentenced in 2016 for causing death by dangerous driving. In his response to the question I asked in my letter, the Justice Secretary—it is not like him not to respond to my direct question—simply said that the maximum sentence was rarely used. When the Minister responds, can he give us that figure? I looked carefully at the Government’s press release to see whether it was there, but it was not.

I say gently to him that such sensitive matters should be carefully proofread. The final point of the notes to editors in the press release says:

“The government will give further consideration to increasing minimum driving bans for those convicted of causing serious death.”

I know that that is an error, but an error so crass is not really acceptable in something so sensitive.

Conor McGinn (St Helens North) (Lab): My hon. Friend is getting to the fundamental point. This week, Merseyside Road Safety Partnership announced a strategy to reduce road deaths dramatically by 2020, but I am ​sure he will agree that preventive measures are useful and good only if those who cause death by dangerous driving know that they will be dealt with harshly by the law.

Kevin Brennan: Justice should be served by the right sentence being given for the offence. There should also be an anticipation that offenders are likely to be caught and justice served upon them. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: if that is not clear, such offences will continue.

I hope that the Minister can at least give us that figure. The public are entitled to know. When my constituent, Jackie Taylor, read the Justice Secretary’s response, she said:

“I note that the right hon. David Lidington, CBE, MP mentions about the government in consultation on driving offences and penalties relating to causing death and serious injury, possibly increasing to life imprisonment. This will only deem as a deterrent, not deal with the offence committed. If 14 years has never been passed down to any individual for this charge, why would life imprisonment ever be used? If the Sentencing Council control what the judges can serve, and are recommending low guidelines in the criteria that the judges work with, then what difference would it make if it’s life?”

That is a reasonable question for my constituent, as a victim of this crime, to pose to the Government. I hope that the Minister can deal with it in his response to this debate.

Obviously, I am interested in how often the maximum sentence is given, as the Government’s consultation showed that 70% of respondents did not feel that the current maximum of 14 years was long enough. The Minister will understand that if the sentence of 14 years is hardly ever used, it raises the question how a new increased maximum would be used and why it was found to be necessary. Have the Government estimated how often they estimate the new maximum sentence is likely to be given, based on current experience and their consultation? Likewise, what effect does he think the new maximum will have on the average sentence for causing death by dangerous driving? If there is no answer to those questions, the obvious next question is what is the point of the proposed change.

In 2015, with a maximum sentence of 14 years, the average custodial sentence length was 57.1 months. Is it projected, as the Government anticipated, that that will increase in line with the new maximum? The second issue is the circumstances in which the maximum penalty is used. Maximum sentences and sentences of a similarly lengthy duration are rightly reserved for the most heinous crimes. I have outlined the horrible circumstances of my constituent’s death. Given that Wheeler was sentenced to just over half the maximum time in custody, the victim’s mother’s question is what someone would have to do for the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving to be available, if it was not available in this case. How will that change as the Government change the maximum sentence?

As I mentioned, my constituent understands that the sentencing guidelines prevented the judge from giving Wheeler the maximum sentence; indeed, it was reduced by six months from the eight-year starting point. Sophie’s mother is concerned about how the sentencing guidelines operate. What assessment has the Minister made of how accountable the Sentencing Council is? I know that it is independent, but it should still be accountable for how it draws up its guidelines.

Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Kevin Brennan: I will give way briefly, but I want to give the Minister a chance to respond.

Alex Chalk: The Sentencing Council does important and valuable work, but does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that in some of its guidelines—for the sake of argument, let us say assault occasioning actual bodily harm, for which the maximum is five years—the range that the Sentencing Council imposes for the most heinous offence stops well short of the maximum, effectively sending a steer to the judges that says, “Don’t ever sentence for the maximum”? Does he agree that that is a concern?

Kevin Brennan: I do, and I think that there are similar concerns in relation to the offence of causing death by dangerous driving. I do not advocate not having proper guidelines—we want consistency in sentencing—but it sometimes seems to victims that the sentence they are told the perpetrator is likely to get is a bit of a fiction, and that the tariff actually served is nothing like the maximum, even in a case such as the one I have discussed, in which there are horrific aggravating factors. Can the Minister address the questions posed by Sophie Taylor’s case about the frequency and circumstances in which a maximum sentence is given?

I want to make it clear that this is not about revenge; it is about justice. In the case that I am discussing, sentencing guidelines led to an outcome that outraged not only the victims’ families but the wider community. The Government need to be clearer about what they are doing to deter such crime. Knowing that a life sentence is a real possibility would be a start, as would increasing the likelihood of getting caught by funding the police properly; that is a vital part of it. The prospect that sentences could be increased on appeal when judges are too lenient is also important. I understand that out of 713 such requests in recent years, 136 have resulted in longer sentences, but not one has been for the offence of causing death by dangerous driving.

Sophie Taylor’s death was a horrible tragedy. Nothing will relieve her family’s loss. However, the perception that justice was not done because the maximum sentence is unreachable adds another burden for them to bear.