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Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, for referring to my Private Member's Bill. When I looked at the amendment I did not realise that I was responsible for those words. I also entirely agree with the substance of what has been said. We will address the over-bossy and prescriptive parts of the Bill when we come to them later.
There is very little between the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and us on this. I agree that it is very important that the commission conducts its affairs in the public interest.
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Indeed, the Cabinet Office guidance which I looked at is very clear that while non-departmental public bodies operate independently of government, Ministers remain accountable to Parliament for the public money spent by and on them. The money is a critical part of this. The commission is also accountable to the public for the service that it provides.
The noble Baroness will also know that the chief executive of the commission will be the chief accounting officer, as is normal practice. He or she will be required to prepare a statement of account each year. In that way the commission will be under the scrutiny of the National Audit Office and the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee. All of that is very important in the use of public money and in the concept at the beginning of the amendment, which is about operating in the public interest.
We have already talked about independence several times today, and it dominated our proceedings the other day in Committee. I agree with a lot of what is being said about the relationship between the commission and the Government. We do not want the commission to be a creature of any government, nor do we want Secretaries of State breathing down the neck of the commission withI loved this ideamemos and e-mails.
So we are trying within the Bill to get this right and to make sure that that relationship is appropriate. As the noble Baroness said, we shall come later to the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Lester, about the relationship of the Secretary of State.
Without pre-empting our later discussions, "getting it right" means that there is a relationship between the Secretary of State, as accountable to Parliament, between the commission, between the public money, and ensuring that with serious major issues where the commission could be involved, that that relationship is right too. So I do not want to rule out the relationship at all; I want to make sure that it is in the right place.
I hope, on the basis of what I have said about the relationship of non-departmental public bodies to money and the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee, that I have reassured the noble Baroness about the public interest. We will talk further about independence. I would simply say to the noble Baroness that I think the amendment is unnecessary, because I believe that the way the commission operates, as we have set it out, would guarantee that element of public interest. Of course we will talk further about independence.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: Before the noble Baroness finishes, would it not be a good idea to have paragraph (h) at the bottom of this list in Clause 8, which indicates that all this should be done in the public interest. It is possible to get so carried away with equality and diversity issues that a commission might begin suggesting things which are unreasonably expensive or which perhaps cater for people who do not have any disability of the kind for which they are catering in a certain place.
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I remember many issues of this sort in the past. For example, buses were required to be equipped for blind people in a glen where there had never been a blind person and there was not one at the time. It seemed very unreasonable to everybody. That is a small example. It is problematic. This somewhat airy-fairy listand I agree with my noble friend Lord Peyton's criticism of itis a strange way to legislate. But if one does do this, it would not be a bad idea to put at the end that whatever is done should be in the public interest. The public interest must be considered by the commission as well as the specific issue of disability, race, or whatever it is. I think that the Government should consider that. On those simple grounds, if no other, I would suggest that they do not completely disregard my noble friend's idea.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I never disregard the ideas of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. I was trying to indicate that it is absolutely within the words already in the Bill and the way in which the commission will operate. The concept of public interest and equality go together. I do not see them, in any way, being in contradiction. The point the noble Baroness made about the way in which this is interpreted and how it is enacted goes to the heart of the work of the Disability Rights Commission, the concept of reasonable adjustments and trying to make sure that we address issues properly and coherently.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Does the noble Baroness agree with me that if the commission were not to act in the public interest and misused its powers that the courts would stand ready to review its abuse of power?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I can always rely on the lawyers to give me the legal reasons. Indeed, I am more on a philosophical point, which is that the concepts of equality, human rights and public interest fit together perfectly well. But, as I have said, we always keep the language of the Bill under review in the light of what people have said. I am always reluctant to add more words where noble Lords have expressed the fear that there are too many words, and perhaps not always the most succinct words, within the Bill already, but I will of course take the point.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lester, and my noble friend Lady Carnegy for their support. As I said to the Minister, this is a probing amendment and I will read very carefully what she has said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on last Thursday's terrorist attacks in London. The number of confirmed dead currently stands at 52; the number still in hospital 56, some severely injured.
"The whole House, I know, will want to state our feelings strongly. We express our revulsion at this murderous carnage of the innocent. We send our deep and abiding sympathy and prayers to the victims and their families. We are united in our determination that our country will not be defeated by such terror but will defeat it and emerge from this horror with our values, our way of life, our tolerance and respect for others, undiminished.
"I would also like us to record our heartfelt thanks and admiration for our emergency services. Police, those working on our Underground, buses and trains, paramedics, doctors and nurses, ambulance staff, firefighters and the disaster recovery teams; all of them can be truly proud of the part they played in coming to the aid of London last Thursday and the part they continue to play. They were magnificent.
"As for Londoners themselves, their stoicism, resilience and sheer undaunted spirit were an inspiration and an example. At the moment of terror striking, when the eyes of the world were upon them, they responded, and continue to respond, with a defiance and a strength that are universally admired.
"I will now try to give the House as much information as I can. Some of it is obviously already well known. There were four explosions. Three took place on Underground trainsone between Aldgate East and Liverpool Street; one between Russell Square and King's Cross; one in a train at Edgware Road station. All of these took place within 50 seconds of each other at 8.50 am. The other explosion was on the No. 30 bus at Upper Woburn Place at 9.47 am.
"The timing of the Tube explosions was designed to be at the peak of the rush hour and thus to cause maximum death and injury. It seems probable that the attack was carried out by Islamist extremist terrorists, of the kind who over recent years have been responsible for so many innocent deaths in Madrid, Bali, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Kenya, Tanzania, Pakistan, Yemen, Turkey, Egypt and Morocco; of course in New York on September 11, but in many other countries too.
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"I cannot obviously give details of the police investigation now underway. I can say that it is among the most vigorous and intensive this country has ever seen. We will pursue those responsiblenot just the perpetrators, but the planners of this outragewherever they are and we will not rest until they are identified and, as far as is humanly possible, brought to justice.
"I would also like to say this about our police and intelligence services. I know of no intelligence specific enough to have allowed them to prevent last Thursday's attacks. By their very nature, people callous enough to kill completely innocent civilians in this way are hard to stop. But our services and police do a heroic job for this country day in and day out, and I can say that over the past years, as this particular type of new and awful terrorist threat has grown, they have done their utmost to keep this country and its people safe. As I saw again from the meeting of COBR this morning, their determination to get those responsible is total.
"Besides the obvious imperative of tracking down those who carried out these acts of terrorism, our principal concern is the bereaved: the families of the victims. It is the most extraordinarily distressing time for them and all of us feel profoundly for them. Let me explain what we are trying to do.
"The majorityalthough I stress not allof the victims' families now have a very clear idea that they have lost their loved ones. For many, patterns of life and behaviour are well enough established that the number of potential victims can now be brought within reasonable range of the actual victims.
"Some 74 families now have police family liaison officers with them. In addition, we have establishedwith Westminster City Council, the Red Cross, police and othersthe Family Assistance Centre. This is presently at The Queen Mother Sports Centre. Tomorrow it will move to a more suitable site at the Royal Horticultural Halls in Westminster. I would like to thank the many organisations involved, including the Salvation Army, the Women's Royal Voluntary Service, the Red Cross, Westminster City Council and all those counsellors who are helping to staff the centre.
"More difficult is the process of formal identification. The police are proceeding here with some caution. In previous terrorist attacks of a similar kind in other countries, mistakes have been made that are incredibly distressing. The effect of a bomb is sometimes to make identification very hard and harrowing. There is now a process in place, involving a group chaired by the coroner, which will in each case make a definitive pronouncement once the right procedures are gone through. I wish it could be quicker, but the only wise course is to follow precisely the advice of the coroner and police, and that is what we will do.
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"At some time and in consultation with the families, we will be ready to join in arrangements for a memorial service for the victims. Her Majesty the Queen has kindly said she will attend. Two minutes' silence will be held at noon on Thursday. This will be an opportunity for the nation to unite in remembrance.
"There is then the issue of further anti-terrorist legislation. During the passage of the Prevention of Terrorism Act earlier this year, we pledged to introduce a further counter-terrorism Bill later in this Session. That remains our intention. It will give us an opportunity, in close consultation with the police and the agencies, to see whether there are additional powers that they might need to prevent further attacks.
"As to timing, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary pledged to publish the Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny in the autumn with introduction in spring 2006, so that Parliament had time to digest the report on the operation of control orders produced by the independent reviewer, Lord Carlile. I do not currently see any reason to depart from that timetable.
"However, that is subject to this important caveat. If, as the fuller picture about these incidents emerges and the investigation proceeds, it becomes clear that there are powers that the police and intelligence agencies need immediately to combat terrorism, it is plainly sensible to reserve the right to return to Parliament with an accelerated timetable.
"Finally, I would like to record our deep appreciation of the huge outpouring of international support for London and for Britain over these past days. The G8 leaders demonstrated complete solidarity and also commented with an awe that gave me a lot of pride in Britain, on the courage of our capital city and its people. The UN Security Council passed a unanimous resolution of condemnation of the terrorists and support for Britain. The IOC sent a resolution of support.
"Messages have been received world-wide. There have been immediate offers of help from all the world's main intelligence agencies. An emergency meeting of the EU JHA Council will take place later this week.
"7 July will always be remembered as a day of terrible sadness for our country and for London. Yet it is true that, just four days later, London's buses, trains and as much of its Underground as is possible, are back on normal schedules. Its businesses, shops and schools are open. Its millions of people are coming to work with a steely determination that is genuinely remarkable.
"Yesterday we celebrated the heroism of World War II, including the civilian heroes of London's blitz. Today, what a different city London is. It is a city of many cultures, faiths and races, hardly recognisable from the London of 1945. It is so different and yet, in the face of this attack, there is something wonderfully familiar in the confident spirit that moves through the city, enabling it to take
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the blow but still not flinch from reasserting its will to triumph over adversity. Britain may be different today but the coming together and the character are the same.
"I say to our Muslim community that people know full well that the overwhelming majority of Muslims stand foursquare with every other community in Britain. We were proud of your contribution to Britain before last Thursday. We remain proud of it today. Fanaticism is not a state of religion but a state of mind. We will work with you to make the moderate and true voice of Islam heard as it should be. Together we will ensure that although terrorists can kill, they will never destroy the way of life we share and which we value, and which we will defend with such strength of belief and conviction that it is to us and not to the terrorists that victory will belong".
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