Previous Section Index Home Page

Let us consider instead the comments of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk council, which is hardly known as a bedrock of socialism. It said:

The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam) thought that that was not such a bad idea anyway, and he and the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) seemed to think that the role of the commission in developing electoral awareness and encouraging people
3 July 2006 : Column 621
to participate was, as the hon. Member for Chichester described it, jam. Frankly, I am appalled that members of a democratic institution such as this Parliament think that using institutions such as the Electoral Commission to promote democracy is simply jam. It is far more bread and butter than that.

I turn to the boundary commission issues. I have some sympathy with the view that a number of Members expressed about the fact that the Electoral Commission has been charged with at some point taking over the role of the boundary commission. The Committee on Standards in Public Life is looking at the role of the Electoral Commission. Some stakeholders feel that it might be worth reflecting on whether the Electoral Commission should take over that role. I hear what hon. Members on both sides of the House say about how well the commission has done in local government, and I have some sympathy with their views, but we should wait until the Committee on Standards in Public Life has reported before we take the matter any further. What is more, the boundary commission has to complete its work, which is to report by the end of this year, before we can deal with the matter.

Political experience was a constant theme throughout the debate. Every Member who spoke seemed to feel that the deliberate lack of political experience in the Electoral Commission is not helping it. In my discussions with Sam Younger, to whom I pay tribute, as did several hon. Members, I have said that I think it would be useful, in the interim at least, if the commission had a small group—an advisory panel—of ex-Members of Parliament, who could offer a view on the experience of being a candidate and of all that the election process entails. He has been open to that idea.

Sam Younger has already set up small panels on matters such as candidates’ expenditure and fraud, so he may well be open to setting up a group of the type that I have described.

On fraud, in its press release on its report the Electoral Commission states:

Perhaps the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire will bear that in mind. He continually bangs the drum and suggests that electoral fraud is widespread in this country. It is not.

Where the commission should report is a tricky issue. The commission sees many benefits in reporting to the Speaker’s Committee, which highlights its independence from Government. The chairman of the Constitutional Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), made a good point when he said that his Committee will of course want to examine some aspects of the Electoral Commission’s work, so it should have a role. I ask the House to wait to see
3 July 2006 : Column 622
whether, as a result of the evidence that is put before it, the Committee on Standards in Public Life takes a view on whether it would be more appropriate for the Electoral Commission to report to a body other than the Speaker’s Committee. I assure Opposition Members that the Department for Constitutional Affairs is not suggesting that it should take that responsibility; we would much prefer it to be left to some aspect of Parliament.

Finally, let me say a few words about the future. Since its inception, the Electoral Commission has been successful in meeting its wide-ranging remit. There have been differences of view on policy in some areas, but that has not prevented an effective partnership, and those differences are a sign of the commission’s independence. We believe that the Electoral Commission’s operational role is crucial and probably the area in which, in the next few years, it can add most value to the running of elections and democratic services between elections.

As we have said in our evidence to the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the Government have developed a stronger policy-making capacity since 2000, so it might now be appropriate for the Government to lead in policy development and for the commission to concentrate on ensuring that electoral services are delivered successfully. Meanwhile, we shall continue to involve the commission, administrators and other stakeholders in policy and legislation development to ensure that the electorate’s needs are being met. Another area in which it might be time for change is how to ensure that, while retaining the commission’s independence, there is political input into its work—a point that was raised in the debate.

9.59 pm

Peter Viggers: With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On behalf of the Speaker’s Committee, I thank all the participants in the debate, which is particularly well timed in view of the inquiries that are now taking place. All the comments that have been made will be noted. In so far as any relevant facts have been raised, I shall ask the chairman of the Electoral Commission to write to the hon. Member concerned. Finally, let me say again that we are extremely grateful to the Liaison Committee for allowing this debate to proceed.

It being Ten o’clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker proceeded to put forthwith the Questions relating to Estimates which he was directed to put at that hour, pursuant to Standing Order No. 55(1) and (4) (Consideration of estimates).

department of health


3 July 2006 : Column 623

electoral commission


estimates 2006-07




John Healey accordingly presented a Bill to authorise the use of resources for the service of the year ending with 31st March 2007 and to apply certain sums out of the Consolidated Fund to the service of the year ending with 31st March 2007; to appropriate the supply authorised in this Session of Parliament for the service of the year ending with 31st March 2007; and to repeal certain Consolidated Fund and Appropriation Acts: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed [Bill 205].

3 July 2006 : Column 624

7 July London Bombings

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mr. Michael Foster.]

10.1 pm

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): The issue that I am raising is not simply a London one. The dead and injured came from various parts of country. On that terrible day, for instance, a 13-year-old girl, Neema Begum, came up to London with her teacher from Walsall. She was to be presented with an award for public speaking in the Youth Parliament. Fortunately, the two were not directly involved, but as they walked from Euston station to Tavistock square, they heard the explosion on the bus that took a number of lives.

On Friday, it will of course be a year since the atrocities occurred on a day of murderous infamy that took the lives of 52 totally innocent people and left a number very seriously injured. It is difficult for normal people to understand the sheer evil, depravity and fanaticism of the four mass murderers. The evil that they did on 7 July last year will not be easily forgotten or forgiven.

I accept that, probably due to parliamentary, ministerial and public pressure, there has been less delay than usual by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority in paying out on claims. However, that is little comfort for those who are still waiting for final awards, or even, in some instances, an interim payment. The Minister will be in a position to confirm or deny this, but it seems that a quarter of the claimants have so far not received anything at all from the CICA.

In a parliamentary reply, my hon. Friend the Minister told me that 319 awards have so far been made and that they amount to over £2 million. Of those 319 awards, 189 were final payments. I take this opportunity, four days before the first anniversary of the atrocities, to urge strongly that the remaining claims be finalised quickly. I hope that it will not be necessary to bring up this issue again in a year’s time. There is a need for urgency and speed and to overcome red tape, which is of course the main reason why I have raised this issue today.

The London Bombings Relief Charitable Fund was set up shortly after the atrocities. The Government have made a significant contribution to it and like everyone in the House, I welcome that. Nevertheless, the amounts to be paid by the CICA do not reflect the seriousness of the injuries suffered on 7 July.

In the reply to my written question, the Minister set out what is described as the tariff. For instance, the sum for the loss of one leg below the knee is £33,000, and for the loss of one leg above the knee it is £44,000. For the loss of both legs, or of both hands or arms, the sum is £110,000. I should point out that these amounts apply in all cases, and not only to the victims of the atrocities of 7/7. There is a current maximum upper limit of £500,000, which has not been increased since 1996. That upper limit needs to be looked at with some urgency, because in cases involving the most severe injuries—I will mention two such cases shortly—I very much doubt whether that capped sum of £500,000, assuming that it is paid, is sufficient.

3 July 2006 : Column 625

It is unclear how many of those seriously injured on 7/7 will receive the maximum, or anywhere near it. I have been informed—I checked the figures with the Library as recently as today—that the highest sum so far paid to anyone who was very seriously injured who survived the atrocities is £152,000, and that only five people have received more than £100,000 from the CICA.

One person who was seriously injured—very seriously—is Martine Wright, who was on the Aldgate train. Her case has been much publicised. Both her legs were destroyed above the knee. So far, Miss Wright has received £100,000 as an interim payment. I know that, apart from the question of compensation, she is very keen for a public inquiry to take place; however, I shall not discuss that today as it is outside the terms of my Adjournment debate. None the less, receiving adequate money so that she can try to get her life together as far as possible is still a necessity. Yes, she has artificial legs, but as she has discovered, she cannot walk all the time. She often goes out in a wheelchair, and as she has stated in a newspaper article, she covers her lower body with a blanket because she does not want people to glance at her, which is perfectly understandable. If any of us suffered such horrifying injuries, we would feel the same. Just imagine the support that she needs in terms of alternative suitable accommodation and future earnings. She is in her early 30s and was an international marketing manager. It is not just her legs that have been badly damaged; in the process, so have many other aspects of her life. Lawyers have told her that it could take a long time for her final claim to be settled. That is unacceptable, and I hope that the Minister agrees with me.

Another claimant is Danny Biddle, who is in his 20s. He lost both legs and an eye in the Edgware road attack. I understand that, so far, he has received nearly £119,000. How long will it be before a final sum is paid to Mr. Biddle? The figure of £119,000 cannot possibly be anywhere near the amount that he is entitled to.

In some cases victims left behind a partner. One such case is that of Richard Gray, who was murdered on 7 July. He was an accountant. His widow, with two young children, is obviously keen to have an adequate sum so that they can survive financially.

I understand from the Library that the average amount paid out so far is £6,000. I know that there are complicated rules. I know the argument that public money cannot be handed out liberally. I understand that if there are rules in force, they apply in all cases. But the victims of 7/7 were the victims of a deliberate murderous attack on the state. To that extent, it could be argued that compensation for them falls into a different category.

The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood), whose brother was murdered abroad, wants to make a short intervention. I shall make way for him in a moment.

In conclusion, on Friday we will again remember the dead. We will again express our determination to ensure that everything possible is done by the police and the security authorities to try to avoid another murderous attack anywhere in the United Kingdom. We will make it clear that the overwhelming majority of Muslims in this country, like the rest of us, deplore and loathe the mass murderers. I make a plea to the
3 July 2006 : Column 626
Minister. Hurry up, please. Try to finalise the settlements as quickly as possible. In so far as it is possible, let the sums be realistic.

I have quoted two cases, but there are other people who were seriously injured. The least we can do is try to help them with adequate compensation, so they can get the support that they require in order to rebuild their lives in every way possible. That is why I applied for the Adjournment debate today.

10.12 pm

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): I thank the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) for allowing me to participate in this important debate, which is taking place at an apt time of the year. I shall keep my comments brief as I am keen to hear the Minister’s response to those important remarks, which I fully endorse. As the anniversary approaches, there are still claims for compensation which have not been sorted out.

As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, I lost my brother in the Bali bombing. He was killed by the same organisations as hit us on 7 July, so I speak for those people and for the people I have spoken to who were involved in the Sharm el Sheikh tragedy. We did not get any compensation whatsoever. We did not get any insurance payment whatsoever. Why? Because insurance companies do not cover international terrorism abroad, and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority does not operate outside UK jurisdiction.

Will the Minister please review the situation? We see what other countries do. They now provide adequate responses to look after their citizens while they are abroad. We do not find the UK doing that. I appreciate that the Chancellor made an important announcement in the Budget about providing £1 million towards a charitable fund, but we have heard about the sums being handed out, and £1 million is not nearly enough to cover the future atrocities that may unfortunately take place.

I do not expect any compensation. That is not why I am taking part in the debate. My tragedy has taken place. I am anticipating the events that, sadly, will happen. And they will happen. We have only to look at the size of the barriers surrounding the House of Commons to know that we still live in a very dangerous world.

It is wrong that we can receive compensation, poor though it may be, if we are on a Eurostar train that is attacked while it is parked in Waterloo station, but as soon as it leaves British soil we are not entitled to any compensation from the UK Government. A number of good things came out of Bali. We improved the website containing travel advice and we sorted out the emergency response teams that embassies provide. One remaining objective is to sort out the compensation that should be paid in parity to those affected by terrorism in the UK. Terrorism recognises no borders, and neither should the British Government’s help to support British citizens.

10.14 pm

Next Section Index Home Page