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Mrs. Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con):
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am raising a point of order about the response that the Prime Minister gave today about the Christie hospital and its funds that are frozen as a result of the Icelandic banking crisis. The Prime Minister stated that the bank involved was not regulated by the Financial Services Authority, and in making that statement he may have been unintentionally in error. Both the Christie hospital and Naomi House, which is a hospice that provides services to children in my constituency, have funds with Kaupthing, Singer and Friedlander, which is a UK-incorporated subsidiary and therefore authorised and regulated by the FSA in the same way as any other British bank. Both the Christie hospital and Naomi House have many millions of pounds frozen with that bank and they are rightly concerned that the Prime Minister does not have a better grasp of the
situation. I hope that you can bring the matter to the attention of the Prime Minister, Mr. Speaker, perhaps through a statement.
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will have noticed that the last Division, which was totally under the control of the Government, took 20 minutes. Do you think that that had anything to do with the fact that I wish to speak on motion 7 on the Order Paper?
That, at the sitting on Tuesday 21 April, notwithstanding Standing Order No. 20 (Time for taking private business) the Private Business set down by the Chairman of Ways and Means shall be entered upon (whether before, at or after 7.00 pm), and may then be proceeded with, though opposed, for three hours, after which the Speaker shall interrupt the business. ( Mr. Ian Austin .)
David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) (Con): On 11 November 2008, I had the opportunity to hold an Adjournment debate, in which I said that although Lockerbie station is situated in Scotland, the train services at that station are regulated by the Department for Transport, because they are all cross-border services. The basic message from the Department in response to that debate was that there was insufficient demand for additional services at that station and that the Department was not willing to look at the timetable, which in December 2008 saw a reduction in services between Lockerbie and Glasgow and Edinburgh of some 40 per cent. Since that time, some 2,300 people have signed a petition, which I was able to hand to the Secretary of State for Transport today. This evening I am presenting a similar petition to the House.
The Petition of users of Lockerbie Station and others,
Declares the anger of users of Lockerbie Station at the 40 per cent. cut in the number of rail services between Lockerbie and Glasgow or Edinburgh in the new time-table operational from December 2008; regrets the failure to provide the much promised early morning direct service to Edinburgh in that timetable; and notes the increased need to use connecting trains when travelling to or from the South.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons call upon the Secretary of State for Transport to, firstly, reconsider the recent cuts to the number of services serving Lockerbie and,
secondly, to instigate the introduction of a balanced timetable designed to meet the needs of Lockerbie station users, and specifically to allow commuters to travel from Lockerbie to and from Glasgow and Edinburgh at times suitable for the start and end of the normal working day and to allow return from Edinburgh and Glasgow late in the evening so that people in the South of Scotland can take advantage of evening entertainment in these cities.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I am delighted to present a petition on behalf of Quaker Peace and Social Witness. It is in the names of Michael Bartlet and Debbie Taylor and 1,500 other signatories. It seeks to raise the age at which young people may enter the armed forces.
The Petition of people of this country,
Declares that the Petitioners welcome proposals to raise the school leaving age to eighteen; and further declares their regret that young people joining the armed forces at the age of sixteen currently commit themselves to a period of four years service beyond their eighteenth birthday.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to bring forward legislation to delay enlistment of recruits into the armed forces until after their eighteenth birthday.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD):
I am privileged to be the Member of Parliament for the headquarters of the Health and Safety Executive in Rose Court on Southwark Bridge road. I present a petition signed by James Davies, who lives in Greater London, and supported by more than 1,900 people. It has been organised by the Public and Commercial Services Unions protect public services unit, and it has been signed by people from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and all parts of England who work in many
branches of the public services, many Departments of State, many Ministries and many agencies. They include people working as public servants in this building.
The Petition of the Public and Commercial Services Union,
Declares that the Petitioners are seriously concerned about the closure of the Health and Safety Executives London Headquarters; further declares that the business case for the single Headquarters assumed that 40 per cent. would move to Liverpool; notes that so far only 12 staff (4 per cent.) have expressed an interest in moving; and further notes that this means that 310 people will lose their jobs, with HSE losing the competence, knowledge and know-how of a significant portion of their workforce.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to reconsider the closure of the Health and Safety Executives London Headquarters.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab): I have the greatest concern about Wirral councils regrettable decision to close 11 libraries and potentially to close 22 halls, civic centres and other valued community assets. One library that could close as early as this Saturday, 4 April, is that in Higher Bebington. This petition has been signed by some 500 residents of Higher Bebington and others.
The Petition of residents of Higher Bebington, and others,
Declares that the decision by Wirrals Council to close Higher Bebington Library does not take into account the high regard in which it is valued by local residents and users; further declares that there was strong representation for the retention of Higher Bebington Library during Wirrals consultation period over its Strategic Asset Review; notes that Higher Bebington would benefit from the continued existence of a library facility in the sense that it serves just that community; and further notes that the concept of community transfer (which, according to Wirral Council, could be vigorously pursued after the closure of Higher Bebington Library) has not been sufficiently thought through.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to encourage Wirral Council to reconsider its decision to close Higher Bebington Library.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): I am grateful to have secured this debate today. I want to tell part of the story of my constituent, Nick Cousins, because that will allow me to ask how a teacher who has never been found guilty by a court is now unlikely to be able to return to his vocation because, in effect, of the intervention of the Government and their agencies. The story raises serious questions about the balancein our schools, in the education system as a whole, in government and in our popular culturebetween the protection of pupils and justice for teachers, and about the consequences for those schools, that system and our education and popular culture if that balance goes awry. It also raises profound questions of justice and equity.
Let me now begin. In 1998, Mr. Cousins was a senior housemaster at Dulwich college in London. A pupil made an allegation of inappropriate behaviour against him. There followed an internal inquiry in which Mr. Cousins was cleared. In 2001, he became deputy headmaster of the Royal Grammar schoolor RGS, as it is sometimes knownin my Wycombe constituency. In 2004, another Dulwich college pupil made allegations that Mr. Cousins had indecently assaulted him during the late 1990s. Later, a third boy, a contemporary of the other two pupils, made similar allegations. In July 2004, Mr. Cousins was arrested. In April 2005, he was charged with indecent assault; in March 2006 he went on trial.
Obviously, that series of events created difficulties for the school, which understandably suspended Mr. Cousins from his duties. I should say at this point that nothing I say this evening is meant to be in any way a criticism of the school, which acted in crucial respects, as we shall see, on the advice of the authorities.
At the trial, Mr. Cousins was acquitted on three counts and the jury did not reach a decision on the other two. The Crown Prosecution Service decided not to order a retrial, but instead left the other two counts on file. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), who is aware of Mr. Cousins case, has pointed out that this is a standard method of disposal of counts on which juries are unable to agree verdicts, and is entirely neutral in its implications.
Following the trial, the RGS decided to set up its own internal inquiry in relation to the suitability of Mr. Cousins to work with children. I should say at this point that nothing I say this evening takes a view on his suitability to work in that regard. Rather, as I say, my central purpose is to ask whether he has been treated fairly by the Government and their agencies.
In my view, the RGS was justified in setting up its inquiry. There are evidently circumstances in which there are grounds for proceeding against people, even if they are cleared in court, especially perhaps where child protection is concerned. The school asked Buckinghamshire county council for advice, which is understandable, and the council recommended that the school use an independent investigatoragain understandable. The council also recommended who that investigator should be. His report turned out to be controversial. The investigator allegedly met Mr. Cousins and the RGS
headmaster only briefly and based his report mainly on the polices evidence in relation to the Dulwich college charges, which the House will remember were not upheld by a court. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield, who saw the report, raised concerns at the time about its impartiality.
Following the inquiry and report, the RGS decided to reinstate Mr. Cousins on the balance of probabilities. It is perhaps not surprising that both prior to the inquiry and following it, the RGS, backed by the council, approached Mr. Cousinss union representative to discuss a compromise agreement, whereby Mr. Cousins would resign in return for a compensation payment. Mr. Cousins rejected both offers since he wished to return to work at the school.
In mid-August 2006, Mr. Cousins was told by the school that he would have to complete a new enhanced Criminal Records Bureau checkapparently, on the advice of Buckinghamshire county council. By the beginning of September, the CRB check had not arrived. Mr. Cousins was then told at a meeting with the headmaster, which was also attended by a representative from Buckinghamshire county council, that he would therefore be unable to return to work at the beginning of the approaching autumn term. Consequently, when the new term began later that month, Mr. Cousins worked from home.
At the end of September, he was allowed to return to work at the school, subject to the restriction that he should not seek contact with the boys without the headmasters permission. He then had to wait a further five monthsuntil February 2007to receive the results of the enhanced CRB disclosure. According to Mr. Cousins, this disclosure contained no new information, but it did apparently contain no fewer than 14 factual errors in the so-called soft box, which is where chief police officers can add additional relevant information at their discretion. The soft box also included allegations that had not been upheld in court and that had obviously been inserted there by the Metropolitan police. The House will remember that Dulwich college, the site of the original accusations against Mr. Cousins, falls within the Metropolitan police area. On that basis, Buckinghamshire county council was unable to issue a certificate clearing Mr. Cousins to return to work, in an unrestricted way, at the RGS.
Needless to say, Mr. Cousins challenged the terms of the disclosure. At the beginning of June he met Metropolitan police officers, and, following further correspondence, a new disclosure was agreed. Later in June, it arrived. Mr. Cousins claimed that it was still inaccurate in two significant respects, and that the agreed form of words had not been used. Consequently, the Criminal Records Bureau referred the matter to the information commissioners. I do not know whether the commissioners have published a view.
I now return to events at the RGS, where, as the House will remember, Mr. Cousins had returned to work pending receipt of a certificate from the county council, subject to the restriction that he should not seek contact with the boys without the headmasters permission. At this point, we have a new entrant to the story. On 14 May 2007, the then Department for Education and Skills wrote to Mr. Cousins stating that it had come to the Departments noticemore than a year after the trialthat he had been charged and tried with respect
to certain allegations. The letter announced that the DFES was to launch its own investigation of Mr. Cousins under section 142 of the Education Act 2002.
Nearly two years later, neither Mr. Cousins nor I, his Member of Parliament, have been able to obtain any explanation from what is now the Department for Children, Schools and Families of why it became involved. I understand that neither Buckinghamshire county council nor the Met referred the case to the DFES, as it then was. Mr. Cousinss solicitor has claimed that the DCSF received a newspaper cutting about the case. I shall return to that later.
On 18 May, four days after Mr. Cousins received the letter from the then DFES, he was handed a letter by the headmaster of the RGS claiming that he had broken the restrictions imposed on him following his return to school. On 12 June, Mr. Cousins was asked to leave the school. The RGS then appointed another investigator to write a report regarding Mr. Cousinss alleged infringements of the restrictions imposed on him on his return to the school. According to Mr. Cousins, the investigator was being advised by Buckinghamshire county council.
At the end of August 2007, Mr. Cousins was dismissed at a disciplinary hearing. I believe that the dismissal was upheld at an appeal at the beginning of November 2007, with the result that Mr. Cousins took his case to the employment tribunal. This part of the story finally ends in October 2008, when he reached a settlement with the RGS and the council. In a statement agreed by all three parties, the governors of the RGS acknowledged that Mr. Cousins had been unfairly dismissed, and the council apologised for not providing him with the level of support that he had expected in relation to his dismissal. The council also agreed to review the way in which the whole matter had been handled, and to learn lessons for the future. Mr. Cousins, for his part, acknowledged that the school had acted on advice and therefore in good faith.
The story of Mr. Cousins does not end with that agreement, however. The House will remember that in May 2007, more than a year after the trial, the then DFES wrote to him to say that it would launch its own investigation of his suitability to teach. However, it was not until January 2008 that he was interviewed by a psychologist from the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, which provides consultancy services for the DCSF. During the interview, it apparently emerged that she did not have any of the defence papers relating to the case, as they had been mislaid by the foundation. In the summer of 2008more than a year after the Department had first written to him Mr. Cousins finally received a copy of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation report. According to him, the psychologist stated in the report:
I would not consider Mr Cousins to represent a risk of harm to children and young persons in education or other settings.
By the beginning of this year, however, the DCSF had still not issued any recommendation with regard to Mr. Cousins, despite having initiated the investigation more than 18 months earlier. When Mr. Cousins finally managed to speak to an official in the Department at the end of January 2009, he was informed that his case had been transferred to another worker, and that the Department was still working through its internal reviews before a recommendation was made to the Secretary of State. I wrote to the DCSF at the beginning of February to ask why the inquiry was taking so long.
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