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‘Protect our Children Better’ – MP’s call

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Island MP Andrew Turner has called for additional measures to protect children from sex offenders.

Speaking in a House of Commons debate on the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill, which is designed to rationalize and update systems which prevent people with certain criminal convictions from working with children and or vulnerable adults, Mr Turner proposed three ways to add to safeguards,

  • adopting ‘Sarah’s Law’,
  • restricting foreign workers,
  • helping schools deal with children who have offended against children, and
  • protecting children in colleges.

On adopting ‘Sarah’s Law’, he said:

“The Government are moving in the right direction … when they talk about examining … the implementation of Megan’s law in the United States. Sarah’s law, as we might call it here … is not a charter for vigilantes. It gets to the heart of whether people can trust the state … I strongly advocate that we examine with an open mind whether it is better for people to know who the local sex offenders are than for those matters to be concealed from them and for them no longer to trust public authority. That will lead to people being treated more reasonably, not more unreasonably.”

He pointed to the difficulty of getting information about the criminal records of some foreign workers, and asked,

“Should it not be an offence … for foreign nationals who have been convicted overseas of a crime for which they would be barred in this country to apply for employment in a regulated capacity [i.e. with children]?”

He asked for more help for schools dealing with children who have offended against children:

“We need to address children who commit offences against other children. I include in that category lads of 18 who have sex with girls of 14. … The issue is not taken sufficiently seriously. The Bichard report said that every case should be notified to the appropriate authorities because only those authorities could assess whether that case was part of a pattern of behaviour.

“Not every case will lead to a prosecution. However, a failure to report followed by a failure to prosecute means that those who might turn out to be repeat sex offenders in later life have two opportunities to avoid scrutiny. …”

He pointed out that Ian Huntley, the Soham murderer, started his offending when he was under the age of 18, adding:

“I hope that the Government will examine how the staff and governors of schools can not only be informed of sex offenders among the pupils at those school, but be empowered to take the necessary steps to restrict the activities of those children, at least while they are on school premises and under the control of the school, so that other pupils can be protected.”

Finally, he referred to the protection of children in Colleges:

“We must also address the treatment of young pupils who undertake day-release courses, work experience or link courses in colleges of further education … Many children aged 14 and 15 now take courses in colleges of further education. Some of those children will be segregated from older students—those aged 16, 17 and 18, and perhaps older still—while attending their courses, but not for the entire duration of their time in the college. Not all adults in colleges of further education are covered by the Bill … There are adults among the teaching and the non-teaching staff [at colleges], as well as adults and persons aged over 16 among the students, from whom it is reasonable for parents of younger children to expect them to be protected.”

END

Contact: Andrew Turner 01983 530808

Follows : Extract from House of Commons Hansard, 19th June 2006

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Conservative): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs. Moon), who has painstakingly—almost painfully—illustrated some of the devastating difficulties that she has become familiar with and that some of us have sadly become familiar with through our surgeries. That sets in context a couple of the rules that I almost invariably come to the House with. One is that there is no problem so great that the Government cannot make it worse and the second is that a Bill that has all-party support is almost certainly either wrong or inadequately scrutinised, or both. This is not such a Bill.

The broad shape of the Bill is reasonable. Difficult judgments have to be made and many difficult lines have to be drawn in what is inevitably a grey area. It is as well to recognise that, although we are working hard to get that right, we might well—on both sides—get it wrong in good faith. Whatever we do and however hard we try, we cannot guarantee safety either for the vulnerable adults or for the children who are the subject of the Bill. The best people to safeguard children are their parents, acting together and making decisions on the basis of their knowledge of their children and of the people who are to work with their children, and, in many cases—let us be honest about it—on the basis of their gut instinct.

A friend of mine had a dog that gave birth to six beautiful puppies a few days ago and she remarked to me how wonderful it was to see that new mother bite the umbilical cord. What taught that dog to bite through the umbilical cords of those puppies? It was nothing other than instinct. The instincts of parents will quite often point them in the right direction. No amount of regulation or legislation can do that. One of the things that most concerns me about the action of professionals in all sorts of areas is that they inadvertently undermine parents’ confidence in their instinct to act in a particular way.

We are as bad sometimes, because we illuminate and flag up difficult cases, and we frighten people who need not necessarily be frightened. If they look after their children to the best of their ability and their knowledge, they are certainly going to safeguard them more than any number of politicians or professionals can. If they exercise their knowledge of their children and exercise trust in those whom they know, and if they have some choice in where their children are educated, they will be making good decisions. To those who say that most sex abuse takes places in the home, I would mention that most sex abuse that takes place in the home takes place between people who are not blood relations. It is as well that we should recognise that and not use that point as an excuse to undermine what goes on inside the home.

There have been a couple of welcome changes in the Government’s position in recent days. One is the recognition that there is a shortage of prison places in this country. The protection of vulnerable people is, in part, assisted by the imprisonment of those who would exploit or abuse them. There is a lot wrong with our prisons, but the aphorism that prison works is certainly true in one respect: it takes out of circulation those who would exploit or abuse young people and adults.

Anne Main (St Albans) (Conservative): The point about prison, whether it works and how long we imprison people for has been a subject of much debate. For example, in my constituency—I know that this is fairly typical—Mr. Michael Marsh, who had already served a sentence for sexual assault on an 11-year-old and had been let out, was convicted again on Friday for the abuse of a six-year-old boy, but his case will probably be eligible for consideration in 2008, despite the probation service saying that, in its opinion, he will remain a constant danger. Surely that is all part of protecting our vulnerable young people. If those people are in prison, we must make sure that they stay there for the correct sentence.

Mr. Turner: We must indeed make sure that they stay in prison. We must make sure that the judiciary are enabled to imprison them for an appropriate length of time and that the judiciary and the Prison Service are enabled to provide appropriate services in prison so that, for example, prisoners are not shunted from one prison to another in the middle of courses that may be designed to address their offending behaviour. There is a lot that is right about imprisonment, but there are some things that are wrong about the way in which our prisons work and we would do well to recognise those things.

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Broadlands jobs safe

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Island MP Andrew Turner has received confirmation that the future of jobs and services at Broadlands House are secure following press reports that previously announced new jobs would not now be coming to the Island. Mr Turner said that yesterday’s press reports were completely at odds with assurances he had received both from the Minister last summer and the regional manager as recently as November last year. On hearing the reports that plans had changed he contacted the senior management of JobCentre Plus to seek clarification of the position.

Mr Turner said

“I have now received definite confirmation that the plans of Jobcentre Plus have not changed and that they will be keeping a benefit processing centre on the Island as well as establishing one of only two national insurance number processing centres here. I have been told that the additional jobs will arise as their plans are implemented over the coming months.”

Mr Turner went on to say

“During our meeting last November Guy Tompkins Jobcentre Plus’s regional manager was very complimentary about their workforce on the Island and told me that the positive approach of the staff was one of the reasons why they planned to expand on the Island. I am very glad that they see the sense of bringing work to the Island rather than taking it to the mainland and I will continue to press Government to follow their example.

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School Reorganization – Where will £70m come from?

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Government have denied promising the IW Council £70 million to pay for reorganizing Island schools from a three- to a two-tier system. And the Island’s MP has criticized the ‘optimistic noises’ on funding given at consultation meetings.

In a Parliamentary Answer to Island MP Andrew Turner it was revealed that there have been absolutely no promises from the Government to provide the estimated £70 million needed for the changes being proposed by council officials. In answering Mr Turner, Stephen Twigg MP, the Minister responsible for school funding, made it clear that the Isle of Wight council has received no assurances that extra money will be made available for the proposed changeover. Mr Turner has criticized the impression given to parents and teachers that obtaining the money needed from central government would not present a problem.

Andrew Turner said,

“During the meeting I attended at Sandown High School it was clearly stated that ‘we can get’ the £70 million needed to change the system. I was surprised to hear that because that simply isn’t the way that Government works. I have asked the Government what promises they have given and they have clearly told me that they have given none. I have now asked the Council what led them to give such a misleading impression to those who went to the trouble of attending the meeting. I have been told that there have been informal meetings with government officials who support these proposals – I am afraid that does not represent government spending commitments. Frankly I am shocked that optimistic noises were made which misled people.”

Exam results and education standards on the Island are far below the national average and the recent report costing £100,000 by 4S recommended changing the system but did not provide any evidence that this alone would improve standards. Mr Turner went on to say:

“There may well be arguments for changing the system – but changing the system does not guarantee improving standards; the issues should not be mixed up. Even the advocates of change admit it would cost a fortune. If that money does not come from central government it will have to come from existing council budgets and be topped up by Island council taxpayers.

“It is at very least disingenuous to suggest that finding the money to achieve change is not an important issue that needs to be discussed as part of these proposals. I am worried that the Council seems to believe that informal discussions with civil servants translates into promises of many millions of pounds – sadly that is not the case.

“We need to raise standards but that is best done by the Council accepting that some schools are better than others, publishing that information to parents, governors, teachers and the wider public, and tackling the problems on a school-by-school basis. It is not as glamorous as being the architect of a whole new system, but it is much more likely to give our children the quality schooling they deserve.”

END

Contact : Andrew Turner 01983 530808

School Building (Isle of Wight)

Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what (a) commitments and (b) undertakings she has made to the Isle of Wight Council regarding future capital allocations provided (i) through the Building Schools for the Future programme or (ii) otherwise, whether (A) contingent on or (B) not contingent on school reorganisation. [216280]

Mr. Stephen Twigg: A letter has been sent to all council leaders stating that, for authorities not prioritised in the first three waves of Building Schools for the Future (BSF), including the Isle of Wight, we are determined to make a start on BSF plans between 2005–06 and 2010–11. Our ambition is that in the next full Parliament, subject to future spending decisions, 60 per cent. of all authorities will have started in the BSF programme, or else be given resources to renew at least one secondary school with the greatest need as a school for the future, or as an academy. Each BSF scheme will be judged on its merits, and is not necessarily contingent on school reorganisation. Other capital allocations to the council and its schools were announced on 30 November, and are set out in the following table:

£000
2006–07 14,853
2007–08 15,446

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Can we become a Fairtrade Island?

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As World Fair Trade Fortnight draws to a close this Sunday the Island’s MP Andrew Turner has praised the work of the IW Fairtrade Forum. The Forum is working towards the accolade of Fairtrade Island by building on existing users and suppliers of Fairtrade products to spread the word about the products and the good they do for their producers in the developing world. There are now more than 250 products bearing the distinctive green and blue logo which guarantees a fair deal to producers of such items as coffee, tea, sugar and bananas.

Andrew Turner said,

“The Fairtrade product range has expanded over recent years and whilst once they were seen as an expensive alternative they now offer good value and quality. In order to become a Fairtrade Island we need more suppliers of the products so everybody really can make a difference by asking their local coffee shop or convenience store to stock a few items from the range. As the largest constituency in the country the Island gaining this accolade really would make a difference and give a boost to the national campaign. Fairtrade really makes a difference to those communities that need a helping hand – and I know that on the Island we have a really caring and compassionate community”.

Jim Curtis the co-ordinator of the IW Fairtrade Forum said

“I very much value Andrew’s support for this campaign. In order for the Island to be recognised in this way we need the active support of the Isle of Wight council as well as that of suppliers across the Island. I urge everyone to let their local councillors know that they would be proud to see us become a Fairtrade Island helping less fortunate people to take control of their own lives and build themselves a better future.

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