There is a danger inherent in being an MP that you are always questing after novelty, looking for the ‘next big thing’ to sink your teeth into, and therefore you sometimes forget issues you have done a lot of work on in the past. I often think of it as being akin to ‘life is like a box of chocolates’ in that an MP can get involved in so many different things, that it becomes overwhelming, and many end up achieving nothing.
So last week was almost a refresher course for some of the issues I have focused on in the past, but which are rising up the agenda once again. First and foremost, I did a Westminster Hall debate on youth participation in the commemoration of World War One. For those unaware, Westminster Hall is a bit like a mini-House of Commons, but in the Grand Committee Room. It still ‘counts’ to parliamentary activity, but you don’t quite have the grandeur of the Chamber itself. Nonetheless, I find the quality of debate slightly better, and the level of courtesy between members of differing parties significantly elevated. Why is it that people seem to be able to treat each other’s arguments with respect here, but not in the Chamber?
One constant theme has been the need to recognise the fact that Blackpool is a veteran’s town, and that veteran’s issues matter. I continue to believe that Government should enable the judiciary to make greater allowance when sentencing those who abuse war memorials – the sentence that was meted out to the woman who desecrated the Blackpool Cenotaph remains appalling. So I welcomed the chance to reflect on how the nation can best pay tribute to the fallen of World War One.
Anyway, you can read my contribution to the debate at http://www.theyworkforyou.com/whall/?id=2013-03-06b.299.0&s=speaker%3A24764#g299.1 where I try to encourage the Government to follow the Canadian model of encouraging the younger generation to act as ‘meeters and greeters’ at the memorial sites so as to ensure all generations feel a link to what occurred there. Parliament is currently giving quite some thought to how it commemorates the centenary of the outbreak of the war. It’s striking that almost 20 Members of Parliament died during World War One on active service – and its little noted even when we sit in the Chamber that their heraldic shields surround us as a tribute to them.
The second revisiting relates to child neglect – an issue I raised with the Prime Minister after an appalling incident in Blackpool which many will recall which saw a young boy effectively imprisoned in a coal shed. Whilst the boy’s parents received their due punishment, the case raised the issue of how ineffective the current legislation is, which dates from as far back as 1933. I attended a useful seminar organised by Action for Children (the Methodist child protection charity) who have campaign on this issue for a while, and it was a useful reminder of how the law covers only physical abuse and neglect, excluding emotional and developmental neglect which are now known to be hugely damaging to the development of children. The wording of the criminal offence stems from the Poor Law Amendment Act 1868. Its terminology is out-dated and confusing, creating difficulties for police officers and social workers to use the criminal law to respond to neglect when it is appropriate. The criminal law definition of neglect is substantially different to that contained in the Children Act and related guidance. This results in further difficulties for agencies in preventing and responding to neglect collectively. The term ‘wilful’ creates substantial difficulties for the police in pursuing cases of child neglect. It is an antiquated term no longer used in modern law.
I was thus able to join a number of colleagues from all parties in signing an amendment to the Crime & Courts Bill which tries to update the legislation. We’ll see what happens. What it does show is that many causes which are worthwhile take an awful long time to come to fruition – and it takes real dedication from many campaigning charities to achieve change. We might not always agree with a charity’s campaigning stance – and the simplest solution there is not to donate money, I suppose – but it is right (if awkward sometimes) that charities do campaign to change the law in accordance with their own charitable stance.
My final ‘back to the future’ was an excursion to Vitalise, the holiday centre for the disabled in Southport, to unveil their new minibuses. This is part of an exciting transformation of how they provide day-trip excursions (including to Blackpool) with a switch from one coach going to one destination that took ages to load and unload to smaller mini-buses that give the guests greater choice over where they go and what they do. This is Vitalise’s 50th Anniversary year – it began as the Winged Fellowship Trust – and they are an excellent example of what is loosely termed ‘social tourism’, so it was a pleasure to be able to support them.
Last but not least, it would be remiss of me not to keep plugging the e-petition for a debate in full Council on Blackpool’s transport strategy. The petition can be reached viawww.getblackpoolmoving.co.uk and many of you may have seen the hoarding on the prom at the Canasta. Of course, the petition isn’t just about the Prom, nor is it about the past, so I’m pleased to see the continued focus and pressure from not just me, but councillors, taxi drivers and many others in the town is already seeing a focus on the strategic process. Let’s keep working at it. If you’ve tried in the past, and the e-petition system has let you down, then have another go, or drop an email to[email protected] and we’ll help sign you up.
And it would be remiss of me also not to reflect on the continued and growing success of Showzam, which attracted some 30,000 extra visitors to Blackpool during the month of February. We may all think that the Illuminations is the only season-extending gain in town, but Showzam’s celebration of Blackpool’s heritage and variety is proof that creativity and enthusiasm can add to the local economy, whether in the form of coloured lightbulbs or the focus on our town’s artistic and creative roots. Well done to all behind the programme of events, especially “Professor Vanessa” Toulmin, the intellectual genius behind it all.