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Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): Sadly, we would not be here to listen to the Secretary of State's welcome statement had there not been the press coverage relating to my constituent, Mr. Paul Reeve. Can she explain to me and my constituents why a letter from the Norfolk constabulary dated 15 December, explaining their concern, never got a proper reply; why there was no proper reply to an email from Norfolk county council on 21 December; and why it was only when that case hit the press that we got any action?
Ruth Kelly: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that that correspondence was taken very seriously. I had asked for advice on the issue and advice was being prepared for a decision when the story broke. In each and every case that emerges, issues are raised about how the system operates. In future, cases such as the one that emerged would automatically be placed on List 99.
Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): I very much welcome my right hon. Friend's statement and the thoroughness of the review. I also welcome the huge amount of work that the Government have already done on these issues, including keeping up with the ever-changing technology to do with the exchange of child pornographic images, each of which represents abuse of a child for profit in front of a camera. Can she again confirm that in future those cautioned for, or convicted of, downloading pornographic images will be automatically barred?
On appeals, will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that they will be dealt with by people who are expert in offences of this nature? Can she confirm that there will be no suggestion of relying on testimonials from colleagues and other parents? As I know from the case of a GP in a surgery in my constituency, it is all too easy for the devious people involved in these offences to
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go into denial and convince their colleagues. Can my right hon. Friend assure us that testimonials will not be used
Ruth Kelly: I can give my hon. Friend those assurances. In future, offences committed under schedule 3 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 will receive a full bar, subject to the right of representation. Cautions and convictions will be brought into line, and appeals will be based on the best possible evidence.
Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): Can the Secretary of State clarify the situation regarding William Gibson and explain how he could be thrown out of three schools in the north of England only to end up in Portchester school in my constituency? This man has spent time in jail, has committed forgery, fraud, deception and indecent assault, and is not the suitable role model that we expect to find in our schools. As a married man in his 30s with two children, he pursued a relationship with a 15-year-old girl while teaching at that school. For the sake of parents and pupils and for the sake of restoring faith in our system, it would be a disgrace if this man were ever to teach again.
Ruth Kelly: Were that caution or conviction to be obtained under the proposals that I have set out today and dealt with under the new regulations that I propose to introduce, that individual would be barred for life from working with children, subject to the right of representation. In any particular case, however, it is for the employer to check with the Criminal Records Bureau and ensure that they have the fullest possible knowledge of all previous cautions and convictions, including whether a person is on List 99, or indeed on other lists, and to make an informed decision on that basis.
Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): Has my right hon. Friend considered the additional pressure that the measures will put on the CRB? Has she received an assurance from the CRB that it has adequate resources? If it does not, will she ensure that they are put in place? A great deal of concern will remain until her measures are firmly in place.
Ruth Kelly: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Both the CRB and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary have considered the matter and given me the full assurance that the CRB has the capacity to deal with the measures.
Mrs. Nadine Dorries (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for a master-class in bolting the stable door. As a mother, I am angry to find that, since 1997, my three children have been at risk[Interruption.]
No Education Secretary in this Government or any previous Administration could ever
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give an absolute guarantee that no one who poses a risk to children could work with children. However, we can give the public an absolute assurance that the process is as robust as possible to ensure that the risk to children is minimised.
The hon. Lady suggests that there was a key moment in 1997. There was: we introduced the sex offenders register, which provided another safeguard for individuals and employers. Further to that, we introduced the CRB, which means that all employers have access to all relevant cautions and convictions. The process has therefore been tightened considerably in the past eight years.
Lynda Waltho (Stourbridge) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, especially her comment that there should be no witch hunt. As a former teacher, I have had colleagues whose careers, reputations and family life were damaged. Is it not the case that we need a balance between protection for children and confidence for our teachers?
Ruth Kelly: We do, and my hon. Friend makes the important point that we must have a fair as well as robust system. Today, I have set out the way in which I intend to rebalance the system so that the protection of children is always our first priority.
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP): I welcome the steps that the Secretary of State has announced. Will she confirm that the reforms will be implemented throughout the United Kingdomin Northern Ireland at the same time as the rest of the UK? Will she also confirm that, when primary legislation is necessary, Northern Ireland will be plugged into it rather than having to rely on separate legislation thus dragging months, if not years, behind?
Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement of proposals for further action. However, it is possible that loopholes exist whereby people who are elected as councillors could be on the sex offenders register and could not be barred from access to schools. Will she hold talks with the Standards Board for England, the Home Office and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to ascertain how we ensure that her further action can provide the safeguards that people seek?
Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con):
Earlier, the Secretary of State admitted that she had not answered all the written questions that my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) tabled 10 days ago and went on to say that she would do so later today. Does she not realise that many parents and teachers outside the House will wonder why she did not do that
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in the statement and will fear the worst? May I give her the opportunity to set the record straight and answer those questions now on the Floor of the House?
Ruth Kelly: I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman that I have placed a full report in the Library. It answers practically all the questions that the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) put to me as Secretary of State. Any further answers that need to be given will be tabled during the course of the day.
Liz Blackman (Erewash) (Lab): Child protection always has, is and always will be work in progress because of its complexity and difficulty. I welcome the extent of the measures that my right hon. Friend announced. Will she undertake to make regular statements to the House, not only because hon. Members will appreciate the progress that will be made but because that will add to the wider public's confidence?
Ruth Kelly: I certainly will. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary makes regular written statements on the implementation of the Bichard report and has issued a further such statement today. It is a good example, which I intend to follow.
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