Alice Thomson writes in The Times (and therefore behind a disgusting paywall) that "there's pain ahead. But freeing people from petty rules would be popular – and cheap." She illustrates it with a good bit of health and safety absurdity – a trainful of people being held up for hours rather than being allowed off to shift a cow from the tracks. She concludes by discussing yesterday's superb Civitas release, "Licensed to Hug" – which points out that if we carry on the way we're going, 'ere long we'll all be suspected paedophiles, required perpetually to prove our innocence.
So if you have forked out their filthy fee or if you happen to see a hard copy of The Times, have a read.
Philip Johnston has a similarly excellent article in today's Daily Telegraph, which you can read online, also discussing the Civitas paper. He writes:
"It should go without saying that checks must be made on people seeking to work with children or old people or anyone applying for jobs that require good character. If you were looking to employ someone to look after your children or an ageing parent, you would want to be sure that the individual could be trusted. To that end, most of us would – or used to – rely upon references and word-of-mouth recommendations. These were not foolproof but at least you could talk to someone who knew the individual personally and then make a judgment about their suitability.
Once this function is taken over by the state with its Vetting and Barring Scheme, the temptation is to rely upon a clean bill of health from the ISA. Yet this is not infallible. A potential employee turning up with their clearance certificate is not guaranteed to be safe and reliable: all the bit of paper tells you is whether they have had a conviction in the past, logged by another recently created body, the Criminal Records Bureau. It cannot predict what they might do in future.
More insidiously, as the Civitas study Licensed to Hug observes, we are developing a unhealthy culture of suspicion that discourages adults from stepping in to help children in trouble for fear of being considered a potential molester and reported to the police. Increasingly we live in a society where adults distrust each other and children are taught to regard everyone with suspicion, apart from their immediate family members (who are often the people who cause them greatest harm). The vetting scheme further undermines the concept that the best protection for children is the vigilance of other adults. Moreover, a Big Society based on a culture of mutual suspicion is doomed from the outset.
Initially, the scheme was set to cover 11 million people – not just those who work professionally with children, like teachers, but parents who volunteer their time to coach children in sports, or run Scout groups or adventure outings. After an outcry last year, the Labour government modified the requirements so that people arranging among themselves to drive children to a football match or a dance class on an occasional basis would not first have to obtain clearance. Yet this still left nine million people facing checks, many of them volunteers who resented being told they had to register with the ISA (on pain of a £5,000 fine) before continuing to offer a service they had been providing for years.
How can it be good for children if these people, with their experience and skills, give up volunteering?"
* Philip is speaking on a Big Brother Watch panel in the Freedom Zone at Conservative Party Conference, at 10.15 on Monday 4 October – it's free and you don't need to have a security pass to come!
By Alex Deane