Last week I welcomed the launch of an action plan to tackle the sexual exploitation of children, which contains a number of measures that I had previously called upon the Government to adopt. This is a far more widespread problem than many of us like to accept.
Just after I was elected I was shocked by the discovery of groups of men living here who had committed these horrendous crimes. I met with the local police and professionals working with young people whose painstaking and careful work led to these criminals being detected and prosecuted. I took their experiences directly to the Minister responsible for developing the plan. I believe that it is vitally important that professionals working hard to deliver our public services should be involved in the development of policy.
The plan outlines forty six separate proposals which will further enable the prosecution of child abusers and enhance the protection of abuse victims and those at risk of abuse.
Earlier this year I presented Justice Secretary Ken Clark with evidence that the judicial system was failing victims of child sexual abuse, as children giving evidence against abusers were often subject to intimidating cross-examinations in court. I argued that such intimidation saw many children break down, weakening their testimony, and making it easier for their abusers to go free. I called for urgent change to the judicial system to avoid such intimidation of children giving crucial testimony.
This change is now proposed in the action plan on child sexual exploitation, which puts forward reforms that would change the treatment of children in court. The reforms include a proposal, to be considered further by the Department of Justice, that the cross examination of children should take place in private, with recordings being then shown to the court.
In addition for pressing for more co-ordination of professionals working with children via the local safeguarding children’s boards, I have also campaigned for longer prison sentences for those found guilty of sexually abusing children. Last month I welcomed the Department of Justice announcement that sexual offences against children will now be placed in the category of ‘most serious sexual and violent offences, meaning that any person convicted of child sex offences for a second time will be liable to receive a mandatory life sentence.
The action plan on child sexual exploitation confirms this change, and pledges that new extended sentences will be imposed upon first time offenders. The plan also instructs the Crown Prosecution Service to improve the effectiveness of its prosecutions against child abusers.
Improving our local rail services is another issue that I consistently work hard to deliver. I was pleased that the popular Maritime Line whose passenger numbers have grown over 90% since 2007 will have an extra carriage from next year – easing overcrowding.
Department of Transport has signed an agreement with First Great Western with Cornwall Council and the Devon and Cornwall Rail Partnership contributing to the funding required.
The extra carriage is part of a wider effort by First Great Western and the Department of Transport to enhance rail capacity across the South West, First Great Western now operate over fifty more vehicles across the region than specified in their franchise.