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MP’s internet porn campaign results in parliamentary inquiry

A major step forward has been taken by the campaign led by Tory MP Claire Perry (Devizes) for online protection against porn and sexual abuse for children using the internet and mobile phones.

More than 60 MPs have now set up a cross-party parliamentary inquiry into online child protection, which will start taking evidence next month and report to government ministers with their recommendations in November.

The inquiry will in particular seek evidence from internet service providers on what they have done to date to protect children online and the extent and possible impact of their future plans to attack the problem.

And it will determine what additional help parents require to protect their children from potential harmful sexual abuse now that eight is the average age a child first uses the internet in the UK.

Mrs Perry, who has three children herself, has already received phone calls and email support from hundreds of parents calling for protection, and also backing from organisations such as the NSPCC and the sexual health charity FPA.

“Parents are understandably worried about the ease with which children can view pornographic content on the internet and this inquiry will provide the ideal platform for all interested parties to discuss how best we can protect our children online,” she told Marlborough News Online.

“This is not just about internet access in a bedroom with a PC. Families from poorer backgrounds are still able to afford mobiles, Wiis, Playstations and all these devices can access the internet via the home network.

“A default clean network level filter would ensure protection for children from all backgrounds. What’s more, of those parents who can afford to buy their children personal computers, 54 per cent use parental controls or others means for blocking or filtering websites.”

She points out that 73 per cent of UK households now have access to the internet while 52 per cent of children say they use the internet alone in their bedrooms, thus making it difficult for parents to monitor effectively their activity.

And she warns: “Eleven per cent of children in the UK have seen sexual content on websites and 24 per cent have seen sexual content online or offline.

“Further small-scale studies have found that almost a third of 14-16 year olds first looked at sexual images online when they were aged 10 or younger while 81 per cent of children in the same age group look at online porn at home.”

The first of the public evidence sessions takes place in Committee Room 7 at the House of Commons on Thursday, September 8 from 2 to 4pm.

Communications minister Ed Vaizey, who will receive the inquiry report, says: “Parents are understandably worried about the ease with which their children can view pornographic content on the internet. This inquiry will provide the ideal platform for all interested parties to discuss how bet we can protect our children online.”

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Deadline date set to sign up for council’s free garden waste collection

Residents are being encouraged to sign up and take advantage of Wiltshire council’s new non-chargeable fortnightly collection of garden waste, due to come until operation next spring.

September 30 is the deadline day for residents to visit www.wiltshire.gov.uk/gardenbin or by phoning the council on 0300 456 0102.

The garden waste collection service is part of a range of improvements to the council’s waste and recycling service, which will start to be rolled out from October. The changes mean that everyone in Wiltshire will receive the same service.

And they are also designed to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill, which will dramatically reduce the amount the county’s taxpayers spend on landfill tax.

Up to 50,000 additional tonnes of waste is expected to be recycled or otherwise diverted from landfill over the next two years as a result of the changes. That will result in savings estimated at more than £3 million in landfill tax.

To find out more about the new waste and recycling collection service, including frequently asked questions visit www.wiltshire.gov.uk/waste

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Tory and Independent candidates prepare for Marlborough by-election battle

They’re on their marks – October 13 has been set as by-election day for a vacant seat on Marlborough town council following the surprise resignation last month of Tory councillor Martin Houlden (pictured).

And already it is known there is to be a clash between Independent and Conservative candidates, whose identities have yet to be revealed as nominations are not due until the week of September 9.

But one is believed to be a senior Tory knight and the other an IT expert, who will fly the flag of independence.

There is some concern over Conservative support since Mr Houlden, who stood as an Independent Conservative against Claire Perry at the last general election, served the town council for such a short time.

He won his seat following a by-election last August, but has now moved with his family to Bournemouth whilst during the past year Marlborough has suffered from austerity cuts in the Wiltshire Council budget.

It has suffered too from persistent traffic jams due to the rebuilding of the Pewsey Road bridge.  Many High Street traders – and residents -- protested that the extended bridge project was undertaken by Conservative-controlled Wiltshire Council without due consideration being given to its economic and environmental effects on the town.

Mr Houlden, 38, married with two children, set up his computer business in Marlborough High Street after arriving in the town in 2005.

“We moved here as Marie worked for Nationwide and was offered a new role at head office in Swindon,” he told Marlborough News Online last month.  “We travelled up one day to the area to look for a nice place relatively near to Swindon.

“Marlborough was first on the list, and we didn’t even bother going to see any other towns after that.”

Explaining his decision to leave, he said: “I think if I were the only Conservative councillor for the area – or the MP – then I might have made a different decision, but when you’re only one of 16 town council members, the impact of departing is of course a lot less.”

“Plus now whomever replaces me will have time to get up to speed and see if they want to run for the unitary Wiltshire council in 2013.”

It is understood that no Lib-Dem candidate will contest the by-election, which will avoid splitting the vote, but the by-election is equally open to be contested by Labour, Green or any other candidates.

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George Orwell would have been horrified by the riots – and our celebrity culture too

George Orwell, the inspired fighter for democracy who wrote 1984 and Animal Farm, would have been horrified by the riots that have torn apart London and other major cities.

He would have opposed today’s celebrity culture and a consumer society of greed in which too many teenagers believe they have a right to enjoy  – and have no responsibilities.

And he would have accused the Labour Party for introducing an immigration policy that has fundamentally changed the culture of Britain, and for its failure to provide social housing for those in need.

That is the belief of Professor Peter Davison (pictured), the acclaimed editor of Orwell’s complete works, as well as editing Orwell’s newly published diaries and letters, who will be one of the star performers at next month’s Marlborough Literary Festival.
George Orwell:  A Life in Letters
edited by Professor Peter Davison

He admits, apologetically: “I like to believe I am thinking along the lines Orwell might have suggested, but that is not to say that I am always entirely successful.”

But as he graphically recalls the grim results of the violence of the looters, which he believes are the worst since the Gordon Riots of 1780, Professor Davison declares: “George would have been horrified by all this.”

“People were killed in these riots – six have died so far, and 36 people have lost their homes and everything they had as a result of buildings being set ablaze.  George would have been repelled by all that.”

As he approaches his 85th birthday at his home in Barton Park, he finds it an ironic backdrop to his own self-educated life, brought up in an institution after his father died and leaving a Masonic school at 15 with no prospects of university education, now available to so many.

“I’ve been out of work several times, I’ve been made redundant, I’ve been constructively dismissed, but I never ever thought of rioting,” he insists.

“There are at least two things George would have warned about.  One of them which he would have found extremely distasteful is the celebrity culture syndrome.”

“I have never looked at the Celebrity Big Brother show.  However, from the publicity trailers, which one cannot avoid, I should think he would have been appalled.”

“It seems to me to be a denigration of what makes us human, and not conducive to a good happy society.”

“And he would probably have pointed to the things the Labour government was very guilty of doing.  Its immigration policy encouraged thousands of people to come here.  Yet their record on building social housing was even worse than that of the Conservatives in providing anywhere for these new people to live.”

“So you’ve got this problem of dodgy landlords and you’ve got this other system where by a woman who has 10 or 11 children by four different men, none of whom support her, who receives £31,000 a year, and no doubt other benefits too.”

“If I’ve got the figure right, that is more than I’ve earned in a year – and I’ve worked for 70 years.”

He refers to changes in our culture which have gone unrecognised.  While phoning for NHS help when his wife injured herself one weekend and a doctor wasn’t available, and the first question she was asked was, “What is your ethnic group?”

And he protests: “I thought what the hell has that got to do with it?  If somebody asked me now, I would say, ‘I’m an Angle’. I don’t know if they would know what I meant.”

“I can trace my family back to Northumberland in Shakespeare’s time, to a lot of stonemasons and cobblers.  To me, now I live in a foreign country.  I must be a foreigner if someone has to ask me my ethnic group?”

Yet he has lived among and met Austrian and German Jewish refugees, Polish pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain and has lectured to thousands of students.

Orwell too “loved things that were French and Spanish” and spoke at rallies calling for Indian independence.  He would have also believed that education and reading was one antidote to today’s dilemmas.

“It may be thought of as a joke, but nobody raided Waterstones’s bookshops when all this rioting was going on,” adds Professor Davison.  “They didn’t want books.”

He fears that the media – and in particular television – has brainwashed generations of children by portraying life in which fictional soaps rely on rape, arson, theft and fraud as the reality facing those living in London’s East End or Manchester’s Coronation Street.

“Because I’m old and jaundiced, I tend to think that greed, moral corruption, and the belief that we are owed what we don’t have and haven’t earned is undermining the striving for a democratic world,” he points out.

“The greed of our MPs surely has undermined our democracy, and the sense that politicians have, understandably, to win over those who wield considerable power in the media – not just the Murdoch-type press but the BBC too, which is far from guiltless in this respect.”

Nevertheless, like Orwell, Professor Davison does not share the belief that the system is no longer fit for purpose.

“Orwell had tremendous faith in the good sense of ordinary people,” he proclaims.  “Despite all our shortcomings, I’m sure he would have retained hope for the future.”

“The man who wrote that ‘if there was hope, it lay in the proles’, would not give up on what good human nature is capable of.”

Peter Davison speaks on An Orwellian Nightmare at The Merchant’s House, Marlborough, at 5.15pm on September 23. For tickets at £8 phone 01249 701628 and www.marlboroughlitfest.org.

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Many more Wiltshire people kicked the smoking habit in 2010

Across the nation the number of people who successfully quit smoking has trebled over the last three years.   In Wiltshire 3,000 people stopped smoking during 2010 – and that’s four times the number who stopped in 2000.

This achievement – making people healthier and saving the NHS a great deal of money – is partly down to the work of NHS Wiltshire’s Stop Smoking Service which has been working more closely with individuals and groups who are not always particularly keen to give up their habit.

This local service supports people using a variety of methods and treatments, providing specialist support for groups such as pregnant women, people with mental health problems and young people.  The team of advisers work at GOP surgeries and health centres, clinics, pharmacies, children’s centres and in hospitals.

Darrell Gale, a consultant in public health at NHS Wiltshire, reports that nearly 5,000 people used the Wiltshire Stop Smoking Service last year – and sixty per cent of them quit.  That beats the national average success rate of fifty per cent.

Gale says: “People aren’t always successful the first time round, and those who sadly did not achieve the quit they set out for can always try again using the same method or a different one, and are warmly welcomed by the service. Our aim is to make Wiltshire a healthier place to live and there are many more people we can help to quit.”

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Tory MP Claire Perry backs tough sentences and eviction for guilty rioters

Tough sentences for rioters are spot on.  And so too eviction from council housing and a halt in benefit payments if they are found guilty.

So declares Claire Perry, Tory MP for Marlborough, in an exclusive statement to Marlborough News Online following her return home from holiday in America.

She missed last week’s recall of Parliament – on the advice of government whips – but suggests that it might have been better to recall schools and put pupils back to work instead of allowing them to loot shops in major cities across the country.

And she believes in the creation of the UK’s own Bill of Rights, to ensure that there is a proper balance between rights and responsibilities for all citizens.

“The shocking scenes of rioting and mayhem on British streets were shown around the world last week and I saw first hand, while on holiday in America the impact they had on people's perception of this great country,” she writes.     

“The most common question was, ‘from the Royal Wedding to this in a coupla months - how did that happen?’    The quick answer is ‘young people off school, up for a ruck’ given that one fifth of those convicted were 17 or under and the most common occupation given in court was student. ”

“In my view it might have been more effective to recall schools and teachers early rather than Parliament.    But of course, these events were not like the tuition fees protests, where there was a solid grievance that was applicable particularly to one group.”

“Instead, from the initial trigger of an Operation Trident policing event (itself ironic since the Trident team was set up in response to accusations of police insensitivity at the time of the last major period of urban unrest in Britain in the mid-1980s) the riots spread and spread to become more about mayhem and looting and less about protest.”

“Politicians from all parties, as well as the well-informed British public are now asking themselves how best to deal with these events, both immediately and in the long term.”

“While there have been mutterings of 'knee jerk reaction' to the tough sentences handed out for various crimes committed during the riots, I think they are spot on and reflect exactly what people want.  I also have to note the incredible efforts made by the Police and magistrates -- who are, let’s not forget, unpaid volunteers-- in swiftly arresting and prosecuting those involved.”

“I also applaud the moves to evict or sanction those found guilty who are in social housing or housing benefit tenants.   We have a huge shortage of social housing in this country (I would estimate that one quarter of my surgery cases involve housing problems) and it is time to make the contract between social housing tenants and the state very clear.   Access to subsidies or state-provided housing brings with it certain responsibilities and breach of those should result in sanction.”

But Mrs Perry is concerned about other policy proposals such as shutting down social networking sites.

She points out: “We cannot applaud the use of Twitter or Facebook in spreading news and information during protests in Iran or Egypt and then call for its restriction on our domestic networks.”

“But these concerns aside, we must act on the true causes that lie behind these events and this has been the main question from the 35 emails and letters I have received on this subject – ‘What are you going to do over the long term?' ”

Her conclusion is, first, employment or activity.  

“We know that unemployment continues to hit hard among our youngest members of the workforce and this has been a persistent and intractable problem,” she says.   “This is even a relative problem in the Devizes constituency, which consistently ranks amongst the lowest in Britain for unemployment.”

“July's figures showed another year on year fall in local unemployment and we rank 620th out of 650th for unemployment by constituency in the UK.  But youth unemployment has risen almost 6 per cent in the last 12months.”

“There is both a demand side issue -- lack of jobs, and a supply side issue -- lack of skills to be addressed in solving this problem.”

“The government's progress in creating hundreds of thousands of real apprenticeships, setting up dozens of Enterprise Zones and getting the education system to focus on real subjects rather than qualifications that are not worth the paper they are written on, will help.”

Mrs Perry’s second concern is the question of rights vs. responsibilities.  

“The riots have forced all of us to focus on those tough questions about the balance of our ‘rights’ as citizens with our responsibilities to each other and to society,” she writes.   “For years many of us have been grumbling about the mission creep of (initially) perfectly laudable and welcome health and safety and human rights legislation into all areas of our lives, including police tactics, benefit sanctions, prisoner rights and many other areas.”

“While there is welcome government progress in cutting red tape and bureaucracy and reigning back health and safety restrictions, I think it is time to go further, stand up for common sense in these areas, and define what we, as a country want, with a British Bill of Rights.”

Social cohesion is her third priority.

“A fancy term for what many of us in Wiltshire feel instinctively -- a commitment to our local area and our neighbours,” she declares.   

“This brings a sense of restraint and responsibility that will stop us from looting a local shop because we know the owner or from smashing up the streets because we would likely be part of the clean up gang.”

“This is perhaps the most difficulty area to tackle, because of the huge underlying problems such as uncontrolled immigration that can destroy local communities.”

“Long term unemployment and welfare dependency that makes people depend entirely on a faceless ‘state’ for their well-being rather than on local employment or activity and a centralisation of political decision making.”

“That means local councils are dependent on Westminster handouts, not local rates or council taxes and local schools care more about what the Department of Education, not local parents, think of their performance.”

“But these are exactly the problems that the Conservative policies with a  Big Society agenda are trying to tackle.   Local jobs.   Local volunteering.  Strong local high streets, not faceless supermarkets.”

“Local councils with a stake in the local economy.   Vibrant schools that look out not up.   A national citizenship service that gets all young people working together on local projects.  “Supporting social cohesion and responsibility is perhaps the most important thing that central and local government can do.”

Yet she fears it is a long term problem and that any solutions will equally be a long time in coming.  

She adds: “But perhaps the riots have done us all a favour by making us focus on the underbelly of British society and the problems that we must solve to be a strong and prosperous society.”

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Seeking support for global education and school links to the wider world

Eight members of the Marlborough-based national charity BUILD will be meeting the schools’ minister, Nick Gibb, in London on September 12.

They will be discussing with him the importance of global education in the school curriculum and how the role of partnerships between school in the UK and schools in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean contributes to children’s education.

Claire Perry, MP for the Devizes constituency, will be attending the meeting in her role as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group Connecting Communities.

BUILD – which stands for “building understanding through international links for development” – is a national charity which promotes the importance of educating young people to understand the global context in which we are all living, our interdependence and how actions taken in the north can affect people in the south, and vice versa.

There are now about 4,000 partnerships between schools in the UK and in Africa. They involve exchange visits and innovative curriculum work – involving climate change, cultural and religious differences, and such simple things as the impact of the differing journeys children make to get to school.

Looking ahead to the meeting, Nick Maurice, BUILD’s director, said: “We hope that the minister will appreciate the importance of development education in schools and continue to support it.”

This meeting comes at a time when development education has received support from the Department for International Development, but when the education secretary, Michael Gove, wants to restrict schools to fewer and more academic subjects and to do away with course work for GCSE students.

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Pick your local hero to carry to Olympic torch en route to London

Eight road shows are being held by Wiltshire Council across the county next month to give people a chance to nominate a local hero to carry the Olympic Torch next year.

And they will give an opportunity to residents in Marlborough and Devizes to express their views on matters of concern to council staff, including how they view the council.

From August 30 Wiltshire Council will be encouraging local people to attend the events and fill in a nomination form for a special person they believe should carry the iconic flame as it passes through the county en route to the opening of the Olympic Games in London.

Jane Scott, leader of Wiltshire Council tells Marlborough News Online: “The Olympic Torch will be in Wiltshire next year and we want everyone to feel a part of this historic event.  We are hoping local people will come along to these road shows and nominate someone they believe makes a difference in their community to carry the torch next year."

“This also gives us a good opportunity to listen to people and find out what matters to them at a local level.  We want to hear how people view the council as it will help us to improve what we do and address the concerns raised."

Nominations close in September so it is important to nominate your local hero now before the Olympic torch route is unveiled in November.

The road shows, which run from 10am to 2pm, will be held in Marlborough High Street on September 7 and in Market Place, Devizes, on September 8.

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Now is the time to snap an apple a day

With apples dripping – and dropping -- from the boughs, now is the moment to whip out your camera to take a winning shot for Marlborough Apple Day’s photographic competition.

Open to everyone either resident or at school in the area, the competition invites amateur photographers to take an apple-related photo in celebration of apples and orchards.

Entry forms are available from White Horse Bookshop, Marlborough Photo, Quality Stationers and St John’s School.  There are two categories: 16 and under, and 17 and over.  Entry costs just £1 (free for students) but and the closing date is 24 September at midday.

Marlborough Apple Day organiser, Philippa Davenport tells Marlborough News Online: “Due to a cold winter and a mild spring, it’s set to be a bumper apple crop again this year, so get snapping – even if you’ve only got a camera phone.

“Not only do we have some lovely prizes but the glory of having your winning shot displayed.”

An exhibition of entries – the competition is sponsored by Sheepgrove Organic Farm -- will go on display at Marlborough Apple Day on Saturday 29 October, when the winners will be announced and prizes presented.

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St John’s students shine at A-level exams

Two St John’s students have achieved stunning results in their A-level exams.  Tom Bolton learned he had got A* grades in maths, physics, chemistry and further maths.  This more than assures him of his place at Oxford to read physics.  Samir Kamal achieved A* grades in chemistry, maths and physics and has secured a place at University College, London to study chemical engineering.

A* is the top grade and was first awarded in 2010.  It was brought in to meet the annual criticism that A-level grades were getting easier to achieve and to help universities distinguish between students who are good and those who are excellent.  Twelve other St John’s students received at least three A*/A grades.

Almost 130 St John’s students have now received their A-level results.   And ninety per cent of those planning to go to university have confirmed places already, including those who took the international baccalaureate and got their results last month.

Year twelve students taking AS-level exams were also celebrating their results. Three students – Alice Duffy, Dan Jones and Katie Mills – have achieved five A grades.

It is not yet clear how the school’s overall results compare to last year’s figures.

Marlborough College told Marlborough News Online that they would be making no comment on their A level results.

We will return to this story when the nationwide tables are published.

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Marlborough’s MP Claire Perry is now back from American holiday

Marlborough’s Tory MP Claire Perry, who was advised by government whips not to return from holiday for last week’s recall of Parliament, has now done so.

She was on holiday with her husband and children at Lake Tahoe, on the California/Nevada border, when rioting broke out in Tottenham, then spread across London and to other major cities.

In a message to Marlborough News Online, she says: “I have been knocked for six  by the death of my closest friend's son in Norway and trying to help them.”

Mrs Perry did in fact contact Brian Moore, Chief Constable of Wiltshire “as soon as rioting reported to see if there were any potential trouble spots in Wiltshire.”

But apart from incidents in Calne and Swindon, the county as a whole was unaffected and was able to send 25 officers to London to boost the Met police’s presence on the streets of the capital last weekend.

And Mrs Perry adds: “I was advised by whips to remain in States rather than attend debate but followed it closely.”

“I think there is a major shift in opinion happening where people are starting to think of responsibilities that come with state support.”

“I will be writing on this (subject) this week and will let you have it soonest.”

Marlborough News Online has also been in contact with Brian Moore’s office concerning the latest announcement by Home Secretary Theresa May that the government will be calling on police forces to introduce more riot training for officers while still maintaining budget cuts in police funding.

But he declines to make any comment.

The county force, one of the smallest in the country, is facing a 16 per cent cut in funding over four years and expects to lose 125 police and 186 civilian posts.  That will give an operational 1056 police officers and 827 civilian staff by March, 2015.

Chief Constable Moore has had talks with Mrs Perry over the government’s proposals for elected local police commissioners, a policy opposed by the police nationally, but has not put his views in the public domain.

The current tension between the police nationally and the government’s reform proposals, aimed at making police forces more accountable, are seen as a matter of politics.

And that is a debate the majority chief constables have refrained from taking part in, Mr Moore included.

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