|back in the UK|
|Wednesday, 02 November 2005 15:04|
It was fantastic being back home after the
distressing, depressing and upsetting 4 days in earthquake affected areas of
My first engagement was to visit the excellent Beatrix Potter School in Magdalen Road in SW18. The School’s website is here. The Headteacher, Mr Steph Neale is also the Chair of the Wandsworth Headteachers Association. After a really useful and informative chat about all that the school is up to, I was taken on a tour. A school where children are smiling and well behaved, happy to chat and having a good time is a sign to me of a good school. The school has some very exciting projects. For example, they have links with five European Schools in Austria, Germany, Norway, Greece and Poland and they are working together on a ‘Water of Life’ project. Beatrix Potter also has links with a school in Prien Lake, Indiana. They are hoping to set up cultural and educational exchanges.
In the afternoon I attended the national remembrance service at St Paul’s Cathedral for the victims of the London bombings. The Service was incredibly moving, reflecting the strength of feeling that remains in London. We can never forget the fifty-two lives that were so tragically lost and also those people severely injured in the July 7th terrorist attacks.
There were a number of moving and inspiring readings given by prominent bishops, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, and the Archbishop of Canterbury. The bidding by the Dean of St Paul's was particularly apt:
"We come to this Cathedral to remember before God those who died and those who were injured in the attacks on London on the 7th July. We give thanks for their lives and we hold them in our prayers, and with them, we remember victims of terrorism all over the world.
"We pray for all who mourn, for all who are rebuilding their lives, and we give thanks for those who shared - often at great cost to themselves - in the work of rescue and rehabilitation. We remember in particular the staff of Transport for London, the Police, the paramedics, the doctors and nurses of London hospitals, clergy and faith leaders, and all men and women of goodwill who assisted in any way.
"And we come also to affirm the unity of this nation, the integrity of this great city, and the resolve of countless men and women of different faiths and cultures to live together in peace."
I understand there have been concerns that the welfare of families caught up in the attacks has been sidelined within the wider debate on terrorism, but I am hopeful that this issue will now be addressed. It is important that the families of both the victims and the injured survivors of these unfortunate events receive the appropriate amount of compensation. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority has already begun to issue payments and the Government has contributed extra resources to the London bombings relief fund.
This was also the week when the Terrorism Bill came to committee stage before the entire House of Commons. This is a concession given by the Home Secretary. Usually, a bill goes to a Standing Committee which has a dozen or so MPs on it. However, on this Bill all 646 of us got a chance to have our say on various clauses.
I tabled an amendment that called for a compromise of a maximum 28 days detention without charge, as opposed to the 90 day period originally proposed. I was unhappy about any extension from the 14 day period allowed for detention without charge, which only came into play in January 2004. I, however, recognised that it will not be possible to maintain the status quo. During yesterday’s debate in the House of Commons, I made the following point:
“Since the change in the law in 2004, there have been 11 instances of detention for 13 to 14 days, and in all of them the detainee has been charged. There have been 12 instances of detention for between seven and 13 days, and in all of them the detainee has been released without charge. In none of those cases has someone been rearrested once the computer has been decrypted or further evidence has been gathered. I know of no case from the past two years in which an extension to 90 days would have been justified.”
My colleague John Denham MP tabled an amendment, which narrows the definition of terrorism in relation to its ‘glorification’ or ‘encouragement’. The proposed definition is as below:
‘any action that is intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants, when the purpose of such act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate the population, or to compel a Government or an international organisation to do or to abstain from doing any act’
I supported John in moving this amendment, but as a result of assurances given by the Home Secretary, he has agreed to withdraw his amendment and see what proposals the Home Secretary puts forward at the report stage of the Bill.
I am very concerned with improving this legislation and getting a better balance between keeping us all safe and securing our civil liberties.
This week, during the Public Accounts Committee, we examined The Royal Parks and the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain, this week. This was an important opportunity to hold the Royal Parks and DCMS to account. The Royal Parks is an executive agency of the DCMS and spends £30 million a year managing 8 Royal parks and other areas within London. There is a backlog of maintenance work throughout the parks.
The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain is located in Hyde Park, one of the Royal Parks. The project cost £5 million (when it should have cost £3 million) and has experienced huge difficulties.
I used the opportunity to scrutinise the Permanent Secretary at the DCMS about the entire fiasco surrounding the fountain. You can read the transcript here.
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