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[That this House is appalled that a North London synagogue has been daubed with racist graffiti; expresses its sympathy to the members; condemns any attacks on places of worship of any religion; and calls for respect and tolerance of all faiths.]
I am sure that my right hon. Friend would join me in condemning the disgraceful attack on and daubing of a synagogue in north London last weekend, as well as the other attacks that have taken place on mosques and other places of worship over the past few months. Will he do his best to ensure that the Home Office makes it clear to every police authority that it should give priority to protecting such buildings and trying to track down those who perpetrate such attacks?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it might be useful if all hon. Members visited mosques, temples and synagogues in their constituencies to show that we as a community are not prepared to tolerate such attacks, and that we recognise that allowing people to get away with them makes race relations considerably worse and is seen as a victory for the forces of intolerance?
I should add that the incidence of hatred, intimidation, violence and desecration to which my hon. Friend draws attention is another solid reason why today the British people, wherever they are voting, should vote together to reject the fascists who are standing for election.
Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk): Does the Leader of the House agree with the recommendation of the Select Committee on Education and Skills that its report on individual learning accounts, which was published yesterday, should be debated, and will he make timepreferably Government timefor such a debate? Such a debate is necessary in the light of the report's conclusion that no evidence was presented to the Committee
Mr. Cook: The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the report was presented only two days ago. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, we will examine it carefully, but cannot give a considered response at this point. I fully understand that the Committee and the House will wish to pursue the points raised, and the Government will respond fully.
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington): Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the relationship between Her Majesty's Government and India, so that the House may discuss the rising tide of violence in Gujarat, which has been somewhat under-reported? Hundreds of people are dying week after week, many of them relatives of British residents, and there are disturbing reports of state involvement in massacres of Muslims. Will my right hon. Friend make time for a debate on that very serious human rights situation?
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend returns to a matter that has been raised in business questions on several occasions, especially by hon. Members representing communities with friends and relatives in Gujarat, who are understandably distressed by what has happened to those communities. It appears that worrying loss of life and serious cases of violence and conflict have occurred in the region.
Foreign Office Ministers have been in repeated contact with the Indian Government to convey the concerns of people in Britain about what has been happening. We shall continue to do so, and I am sure that hon. Members will look for ways in which they can, rightly and properly, express their constituents' concerns.
Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): Will the Leader of the House join me in welcoming the launch in Belfast of the new multi-agency initiative to assess and manage the risk posed by sex offenders in Northern Ireland? I welcome that and, on behalf of my party, congratulate those involved.
Does the right hon. Gentleman consider that a debate on protecting the public against sex offenders would promote more openness on this most serious and sensitive issue, and hopefully encourage greater public co-operation in the campaign to remove this evil from society?
Mr. Cook: I am very happy to join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating all those involved in the multi-agency initiative in Northern Ireland. I hope that they will succeed in achieving more openness about sex offending.
If we are to tackle the problem of making the victims of sex offences feel able to come forward and talk to others about their experiences, we must ensure that they have confidence in the system and understand that we are willing to respond vigorously and give the matter priority. I believe that the initiative in Northern Ireland will go a long way towards achieving that.
Mr. David Borrow (South Ribble): My right hon. Friend knows that the events of 11 September had a dramatic effect on aviation and aerospace industries throughout the world. As the medium to long-term consequences are now becoming clear, does he agree that we are approaching the time when it would be appropriate to debate the matter in the Chamber? Will he do his best to find parliamentary time for such a debate?
I am pleased to say that the evidence from the tourist boards shows a revival in visits to all parts of Britain. I hope that that increase in traffic will help the aviation industry out of the crisis into which it fell after 11 September.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): The interim report of the Select Committee on the Treasury has already been mentioned today. Perhaps its most worrying finding was the inadequate consultation on national insurance increases with small and medium-sized businesses, like many in my constituency, which are currently suffering from the shock announcement. Will consultation form part of the Government's annual report, which we expect daily?
When the Government launched the annual report, hon. Members, not unreasonably, expected it to be published annually. We have not received one for some time. Will it be published? Will consultation be part of it? Will the Prime Minister, who has condescended to come before the Liaison Committee regularly, be questioned on the annual report when he performs in that capacity?
Mr. Cook: My impression from the newspapers in the past few days is that the Government have been through a quinquennial report. I believe that we emerged from that assessment with much credit. The Prime Minister is entitled to be given credit for his decision, to which the hon. Gentleman alluded, to give evidence twice a year before the Liaison Committee, which represents all the Select Committees in the House. That is a courageous and proper step, which will increase the power of Select Committees to scrutinise. No previous Prime Minister has taken such a step, including during the 18 years when the Conservative party had Prime Ministers.
Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): My right hon. Friend knows that in the past six to seven months, Argentina has suffered an economic and political crisis that is probably unparalleled even in the history of Latin American democracies. It is affecting many British nationals and companies based in Argentina. Yet, so far as I can ascertain, not a single sentence has been uttered in the House about Argentina in the past six months, despite five opportunities to discuss Gibraltar, which probably affects fewer British citizens. Will the Leader of the House allow an early debate so that we can discuss ways in which to protect British nationals from the problems in Argentina?
Mr. Cook: I congratulate my hon. Friend on setting right the neglect of Argentina in the record of the House. Thanks to his intervention, sentences referring to it will appear. I shall reflect on his comments and there will be opportunities to discuss Argentina in general debates when it is relevant to raise anxieties about Latin America and specifically Argentina. I do not believe that I would be thanked next time there was demand for a statement on Gibraltar if I said that there would be a statement on Argentina instead.