Debate on the Address — [1st day]

Part of Outlawries Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:47 pm on 4 June 2014.

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Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Conservative, Chesham and Amersham 5:47, 4 June 2014

I agree. I almost intervened on the hon. Lady earlier because half my family live in Denmark, so I am familiar with the child care facilities there. The importance of this issue is now being recognised in the highest echelons of Government.

As we are legislating not just for child care but for the protection of children, I would like the Government to consider again an important matter that I have raised before—the mandatory reporting of activity around children by those engaged in regulated activities. Since 1950, the reporting of suspected and known abuse of a child by a member of staff at a school or location of a similar regulated activity has been entirely discretionary. Despite legislation in 2002, nothing has changed. There is still no legal requirement to report abuse of a child in an institutional setting. The statutory guidance says only that such abuses or allegations “should” be referred to or discussed with the local authority designated officer.

Given the flood of non-recent cases of child abuse in schools that we see reported every week in the media, we now know that discretionary reporting does not work. Mandate Now has done some terrific work of which I am very supportive, as are a number of MPs across the House. We should consider a law that requires professionals who work with children in regulated activities and who know, suspect, or have reasonable grounds for knowing or suspecting child abuse to compulsorily inform the local authority designated officer or, in appropriate circumstances, children’s services. Failure to do so would be a criminal offence. At the moment, the guidance is frequently ignored. The legislation that the Government have proposed on the protection of children could allow us to consider introducing this measure in this Bill at this time. I hope that they will at least consider that.

The Government are legislating not only for those at the start of life and our young people but for those in the twilight of their years. I welcome the pension provisions, which are long overdue and welcomed by many of my constituents. However, I remind the Government that there is still a running sore in the pensions world—that is, Equitable Life. The fact remains that nothing has been done for the people who took out pensions with Equitable Life before 1 September 1992. I pay tribute to Paul Braithwaite and the Equitable Members Action Group, who have done so much work in this area. As the economy is now starting to grow and to look much healthier, now is the time for the Government to strike—to go back and collect those people, who are getting fewer and fewer in number. I very much hope that my words will be heard in the Treasury. The compensation scheme needs to be seen to be fair. At the moment, there is some controversy about the fact that the actuarial firm that is calculating the compensation payouts and the one assessing the validity of appeals is one and the same. I hope the Government will look at that, because it does not send out a message that the situation is fair and equitable.

I have had a long and privileged association with the land of my birth, Wales, and I am pleased to see the proposed measure on carrier bags and plastic bags. We often think that devolution is a one-way street, with us giving things to the countries that have devolved powers to themselves, but this is just a little proof that we can carry out a measure in Wales or in Northern Ireland and bring it back to this House. However, although the measure will take a large number of plastic bags out of circulation, let us not be lulled into a false sense of security that it will save the environment. At first, people’s habits are formed by the charge, so they save their bags and take them to the supermarket, but then they forget and buy the 10p bag for life, so the number of bags for life mounts up at home in the same way as the little, thin, annoying bags mount up from every visit to the supermarket. I want to avoid having to re-legislate on this matter, so I hope the Government will look closely at the detail of the Bill, but so far, the action taken has been a force for good. When I did some research, I found that since 2007 Marks & Spencer has charged 5p for all its standard food carrier bags—as I know to my cost, because when I do not have a bag with me, I end up having to juggle a large number of parcels or buy a bag for 5p. The profit from that charge goes to charities—the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Marine Conservation Society—and towards educational projects in primary schools to promote awareness of marine life. I believe that since the measure was introduced in Wales, it has raised some £4 million for good causes, which is something we could all support. We could bring about a similar result from making these charges across the board.

I was also pleased to have it reaffirmed that NATO will meet in Wales. I think it will have a warm welcome and enjoy very good facilities in the Principality.

The proposed change in the planning laws to ease access to land for the process of fracking will prove controversial. I hope the Government will learn a lesson from the experiences of my constituents about to access to land and High Speed 2. It has not been a happy event. HS2 and the Government do not have statutory powers to access private land without the owner’s consent; that will only happen once the hybrid Bill has been approved by Parliament. I wonder whether the Government’s new proposed provisions will override those in the HS2 hybrid Bill with which my constituents have come to terms, and whether they will allow, in effect, compulsory access to people’s land. Many of my constituents have been very concerned that giving access could result in them losing some rights over their land. Indeed, I think that some 40% of the phase 1 route of HS2 has yet to be examined, in some cases because landowners have refused access.