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Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would it be in order to point out that if all hon. Members took eight minutes for their contributions, everyone would have a chance to speak.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): How long Members speak for is entirely a matter for them, not for the Chair.

7.7 pm

Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East): Although the House has debated the events that followed 11 September, and in Afghanistan, on many occasions, including this afternoon, it should not rise before considering how to eliminate the causes of international terrorism, and how to deal with those responsible for it. The events of 11 September have put terrorism under greater scrutiny than ever before. Of course, it remains a regular experience on the streets of Israel and other countries including our own. Its most recent and greatest victim, the United States, is rightly determined to bring the perpetrators to justice. It also regards this as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to eliminate all such threats and sources of international terrorism for as long as it takes. But that will not be enough.

We also need to address those causes that inspire such a capacity for hatred to commit such acts, including suicide attacks. Those who were immediately responsible for planning and carrying out the hijacking over the United States came from mixed backgrounds. Some came from privileged and prosperous families, as has bin Laden himself who, according to Peter Bergen's book, "Holy War Inc: Inside the Secret World of Osama Bin Laden", is primarily motivated by American policies in the middle east, above all its presence in Saudi Arabia. Many of bin Laden's supporters are merely interested in provoking a clash between the west and Islam, or are seeking an end to what they see as Israel's hegemony, supported by the United States, in the middle east.

Al-Qaeda recruits come from many countries, some of them impoverished, nearly all of them undemocratic. In response to the first problem, impoverishment—if one has nothing, one has nothing to lose—we must, of course, respond positively to Kofi Annan's appeal, repeated on receiving the Nobel peace prize a few weeks ago, for the UN to eliminate world poverty. We are regularly informed by the Chancellor of Exchequer and the Secretary of State for International Development about the poverty reduction strategy, which was recently discussed at the World Bank

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and International Monetary Fund meeting in Ottawa, which the United Kingdom supports and which aims to halve world poverty by the year 2015.

One of the reasons most frequently cited as justifying terrorism—although, of course, there can be no justification—is the denial of human and minority rights, which we rightly seek to address in insisting on good governance in our aid and development programmes. But there is more that can be done to promote human rights and democratic institutions, as President Clinton urged in his brilliant Dimbleby lecture at the weekend, to reduce the causes of terrorism.

A number of colleagues from the Assembly of the Council of Europe are present this evening. The House will know that the Council of Europe was established after the last war as the forum within which our continent's disputes could be resolved by peaceful means, instead of causing countries to go to war every generation. For more than 50 years, it has accumulated a wealth of experience among its 43 member states in democratic practices, the protection of rights and recognition of cultural diversity.

The Council's Political Affairs Committee is ably led by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis), who wishes to be associated with my remarks. Next year, that Committee will come forward with a report on best practice on autonomies and confederations short of outright independence. We hope that this will contribute to resolving the remaining disputes in Europe such as Nagorno Karabakh, Abkhazia, Transdneistre, Chechnya, and perhaps even Kosovo and Cyprus.

This work could also be usefully applied elsewhere, such as Sri Lanka and Kashmir and other areas that are the sources of terrorism. In addition, we are promoting our democratic standards, which are the highest in the world, to our Arab neighbours in north Africa and to the five central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union through co-operation agreements, and by offering them observer status to our Assembly.

We are considering how we can assist the new African Union, which recently replaced the Organisation for African Unity as the pan-continental institution. It proposes to establish its own court of justice, monitoring procedures and an inter-parliamentary assembly. In 1998, we endorsed well researched and realistic proposals as to how the principal breeding grounds for terrorism in the middle east—the 49 Palestinian refugee camps—could be closed down after 53 years, in favour of permanent settlements. Those camps were the subject of my Adjournment debate on 29 April 1998, and I believe that they are just as relevant today.

I mention these initiatives for the record, because not all of them have been referred to in the House with regard to what is being done by Europe's pre-eminent institution, the Council of Europe, not least to combat the roots of international terrorism. Of course, to be fully effective, the initiatives require the acknowledgement and support of our Committee of Ministers—effectively, our Governments. They also require the resources that will be necessary. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary is listening, because the Council of Europe continues to experience zero real growth in its funding.

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In conclusion, I want to refer to one particular aspect of the recommendations that the Council of Europe endorsed two weeks after 11 September. The recommendations concerned the threat to democracy posed by international terrorism, and the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill was the rapporteur.

We regard the new International Criminal Court as the appropriate institution to consider terrorist acts. We have called on member states and the Committee of Ministers to give urgent consideration to amending and widening the Rome statute to allow the remit of the court to include acts of international terrorism.

Of course, we hope that the United States, following the events of 11 September, will now support, and not oppose, the establishment of the court. Unfortunately, next year, whereas the whole world will hear the evidence against Slobodan Milosevic at the UN war crimes tribunal at The Hague, the United States proposes to try the 11 September terrorists behind closed doors in a military court, in which not even the defendants will hear all the evidence against them before being sentenced to death.

I believe that the entire world will expect justice to be done—and to be seen to be done—towards those who were responsible for the events of 11 September. Just as it was right to try the Nazi leaders for their war crimes at an international court at Nuremberg, so should any future Osama bin Laden be tried for crimes against humanity in an international court, as we propose.

I am encouraged that the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers is studying this proposal, which I hope our Government will now actively pursue.

7.14 pm

John Cryer (Hornchurch): These pre-recess debates normally involve hon. Members raising constituency issues. My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) once said that the day of the pre-Christmas Adjournment debates should be rechristened "Whingeing Gits Day". The fact that I happened to glance at the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) when I said that is purely coincidental.

I want to raise a number of constituency cases. The first involves the home energy efficiency scheme. My constituent Mrs. Goodchild is entitled to a hot water and heating boiler under the scheme. The catch is that she has been entitled to it for seven months but it has still not been fitted.

The boiler should have been fitted by Eaga Partnerships, a Government agency. I am worried that Eaga is completely unresponsive to the needs of my constituents. It is probably unresponsive to the needs of constituents of many other hon. Members. Eaga has refused to return Mrs. Goodchild's calls. It even refused to return the calls that I made in the first day or two after I took up the case. That is extraordinary.

I have been trying to get a pledge from Eaga that my constituent will have the boiler that she needs fitted by Christmas, but even that is not guaranteed. That is simply not good enough. The Government must monitor agencies and partnerships such as Eaga, and ensure that they do the work that they are commissioned to do. If they are not doing that work, some reorganisation might be required—or even the curtailment of contracts.

The second issue that I want to raise is the mis-selling of electricity and gas supplies by energy companies. To illustrate the problem, I shall read an extract from a letter

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that I sent to Energy Watch on 20 March this year. The letter dealt with Powergen and one other company. I wrote that my constituent

My constituent had never signed anything or agreed to anything. He merely had a brief telephone call with Powergen and later discovered that his supplies had been switched. That seems to be happening on a widespread basis. Other hon. Members have told me that they have encountered similar cases.

I secured an apology from Powergen, which has since entered into a voluntary agreement across the industry. The agreement supposedly guarantees that people who are the victims of the practice will be switched back to their original suppliers. However, I do not think that this incident is a one-off, as Powergen tried to claim. Although the evidence is only sporadic, I think that this is happening on a widespread basis.

I am not a nationalist about the utilities any more than I am a nationalist about anything else, but Eastern Electricity, which supplies power to people in my constituency and the surrounding areas, was bought out some time ago by the Texas Corporation. Decisions are made thousands of miles away in that massive company's corporate boardroom. It is therefore hardly surprising that the corporation is not responsive to people in Hornchurch, Rainham or elsewhere.

When the utilities were publicly owned, we at least could put pressure on them. Ministers were responsible for the functioning of the utilities, and we could hold them to account. If it were up to me, I would take the utilities back into public ownership in a moment. Sadly, I am not the Chancellor—not yet, anyway.

Finally, many hon. Members have been concerned about the campaign being run by Mencap, and many of us will have received postcards from that organisation. The campaign deals with sexual offences against vulnerable adults with learning difficulties. I have corresponded extensively with the Havering branch of Mencap, and with the large number of constituents who have sent the postcards to me and to other hon. Members.

The law dealing with sexual offences against people with learning difficulties is way out of date. The Sexual Offences Act 1956 covers only those who are unable to give consent. In other words, it deals only with people who have very severe learning difficulties, not with those who have moderate or mild learning difficulties. It carries a maximum sentence of only two years, which is roughly the same as people get for burglary and robbery. That tariff should be raised considerably. The offence should carry a life sentence, like rape.

Mencap argues that the offence under the 1956 Act should be replaced with the offence of

That clearly applies to people with severe learning difficulties.

There should also be a test of capacity, and a definition of that capacity, of a person's ability to consent. That

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would cover people with moderate learning disabilities. The Law Commission recommended the following as a definition of lack of capacity, saying that the victim

That would create a modern, concise and rational basis on which the law could be moved forward.

I know that the Government are consulting on these issues. They produced a document called "Setting the Boundaries: Reforming the Law on Sex Offences" in July last year. As far as I know, the consultation is still continuing. However, may I make a plea that it should be brought to a conclusion as quickly as possible so that we can introduce legislation? At present, many people with learning difficulties are in an extremely vulnerable position and do not have the full protection of the law.

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