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Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): In paying respects to all those who have been involved in working on the aftermath of last week's atrocities, we can barely begin to imagine the distress of those who have lost loved ones.
May I raise a difficult and sensitive question? I intend no reflection on the excellent work of the coroner for inner London and his staff, but clearly there are deficiencies in the system that are becoming increasingly evident. Is it possible for the Government to bring forward the anticipated coroners courts Bill so that Parliament can address these issues as a matter or urgency?
I welcome yesterday's written statement from the Foreign Secretary on providing information to Parliament on European Union issues. Can the Leader of the House now tell us what he proposes to do to improve scrutiny of European matters and when we can expect proposals to be put before the House?
May we have a statement or a debate on child protection following today's report from the various inspectorates entitled "Safeguarding Children", which reveals that the sharing of information between the police, the NHS and social services is shambolic? Given that it is now three years since Soham, is it not time that we acted effectively to avoid such a tragedy occurring in future?
Mr. Hoon: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments about those who have been engaged in such difficult circumstances, assisting the public and dealing with the aftermath of last week's tragedy. We have all rightly paid tribute to the emergency services, but may I add a further group whose members have not always received the respect to which they are entitled? The people who work for London transport are engaged in a number of important tasks, but they have not always been given the credit that they deserve, not least the remarkable bus driver who, on Friday, was back driving the No. 30 bus, only a day after those terrible events.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman was not criticising in any way the work of the coroner service. There has been misplaced criticism of the timetable, but I urge him to bear in mind the fact that the coroners are engaged in a difficult and sensitive task concerning the bodies of the people who were so terribly killed. They are also collecting evidence and ensuring that material is examined with a view subsequently to pursuing criminal proceedings against those responsible. I note the hon. Gentleman's concern about the need to introduce a Bill, and I assure him that that will be done as soon as possible.
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As for improving the House's arrangements for European scrutiny, I am looking carefully at a number of reports. As a former Member of the European Parliament, I believe that it is important that we find more effective ways of linking with the European institutions, and I am keen that that should take place as a matter of urgency. I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the need for continuing vigilance in child protection. Great progress has been made and, although there are criticisms in the latest report, it is important to give due recognition to those improvements. Obviously, there is still more to be done and the Government will consider the report's findings carefully. We have already addressed a number of issues raised in the report, but it is important that we make further progress.
It is unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman continues to highlight the case of one particular individual. There is a civil service code, and civil servants are not generally in a position to answer back when they face criticism from politicians. It is important that we give effect to the code and allow the civil service to deal with those matters as outlined in the code.
Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland) (Lab): Following the tragic and evil events of last week caused by terrorism, there is already fallout in the Asian communitynot just the Muslim community but the Hindu community and the Sikh communityto which I belong. Given the serious effects on multiculturalism and the great society that we have built up, can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the matter, as it is important that we discuss it on the Floor of the House and show strong support for the spirit of multiculturalism?
Mr. Hoon: My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. It may not answer his question directly, but I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will want to keep the House fully informed of developments following last week's appalling events. I am confident that he will want to make a further statement to the House before the summer recess, and I hope that that will provide an opportunity for right hon. and hon. Members to raise the issues that my hon. Friend mentioned. It is vital that there should not be a backlash against our Asian community and that we continue to maintain and support strong principles of multiculturalism. I am grateful for his observations and I am sure that the House is too.
Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP):
The thoughts of the whole House are naturally dominated by the terrible events that took place in London last week and yesterday in Iraq. However, it should be aware of serious terrorist incidents that have taken place in Northern Ireland in recent days in Londonderry, in Moira and in my own constituency of north Belfast, where lethal blast bombs were used against police, civilians and journalists the other night. We have had a sinister statement this morning from a dissident republican group warning of further violence. Many people in Northern Ireland, however, are sceptical about the difference between violence by dissidents and violence by mainstream provisionals. Can we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Northern
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Ireland to reassure people in Northern Ireland that the necessary resources will be given to the police and the Army to safeguard innocent people and protect them from the increased threat?
Mr. Hoon: The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the broader question of terrorism as it has affected our society. There are times when we say, perhaps rather complacently, that we as a country have had experience of terrorism, without thinking through the implications of that for people in Northern Ireland and elsewhere, who have been directly and personally affected by it. The appalling events of last week bring home to all of us the terrible personal tragedy for the families and friends of those who have lost their lives or been terribly injured, so it is important that we continue to debate and discuss the evil of terrorism from whatever source it arises. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government will continue to do that.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): May I add my voice to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) regarding the cleaners in the House? The problem is that many years ago it was decided to go for indirect employmentcreeping privatisationon these premises. One of the things that the Leader of the House should put on the agenda when he discusses the matter next week is ways and means of bringing the cleaners back under the direct control of the House's facilities. Then they will get paid the same as the other cleaners, and the restrooms mentioned by my hon. Friend could be eliminated at a stroke.
Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): Tomorrow I will be at the funeral of a constituent, David Cheshire, a good and honourable man who had done the right thing and paid into an occupational pension scheme for more than 20 years. Two weeks after the occupational pension scheme went into liquidation along with the Dexion Company that he worked for, David found out that he had prostate cancer, which was terminal. He has left a widow with no pension whatsoever. David had done the honourable thing, along with some 80,000 other workers in this country, and paid into an occupational pension, only to have it stolen. Will the Leader of the House find time for us to debate the matter and see whether the compensation package offered by the Government is suitable?
Mr. Hoon: I am certainly concerned about the particular case that the hon. Gentleman raises. Not only have the Government brought forward a comprehensive compensation package to deal with the kind of situation that he describes, but we have taken steps to look at ways in which we can ensure that existing pension schemes are properly managed and properly funded, and impose tougher and tighter regulation on those schemes in order to prevent precisely the kind of difficulties that he so eloquently describes.
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