Vetting and barring. Where are the sensible MPs when you need them?
It is funny how issues go in and out of the news. Over the last few days there has been a lot of huffing and puffing over the new Vetting and Barring measures (designed to prevent paedophiles getting at our kids) and how these are likely to discourage hockey mums from helping out the local scout troop -- as taxis for the neighbourhood. A few weeks ago the same measures were under scrutiny because they were likely to prevent Philip Pullman and others visiting schools.
I had my pennyworth then, wondering if I would have to be vetted in order to visit schools to talk about doing classics or applying for Cambridge. The jury is still out on that one, but one of my administrative colleagues pointed out that this would be likely to hit our visits to state schools hard -- as they were much more likely than independent school to feel that they had to obey the rules more scrupulously (or be made to feel...). So here we are trying to reach state schools who don't commonly apply to Oxbridge -- while another arm of government makes that more difficult.
Anyway, when it all came back into the news, I decided to have a look at what our expert legislators had said when this bill was going through parliament. There has been some righteous indignation from (eg) Kenneth Clarke, But what had these protesters said at the time? Not much, as far as I could see.
I should explain that the reason I was looking at this back story was that I was driven to boredom by getting an article ready for submission. It was for a publication by the National Gallery in Washington. They had all along made it clear that it should follow the Chicago Manual of Style, but I had ignored this, in the interests of getting the article written. So I was spending a day changing the position of the commas (inside or outside the quotation marks?) and was in need of distraction -- and resorted to Hansard.
I should also add that there was a huge amount of discussion of this bill, and I cant claim to have read it all. But I did give it a good sample.
Were there any parliamentarians saying that this was all deeply flawed? NO. Mostly they were concerned with tightening up the legislation (how could they make sure that FOREIGN convictions for paedophile (and other relevant offences) would get picked up?) No one dared speak without supporting the aims of the bill. ("Paedophiles" are the witches of the twenty first century.)
The Lords did a bit better than the Commons, so far as I could see. A few peers did raise the issue of Civil Liberties (what was the redress to be if you were barred from working with 'the vulnerable" unfairly?) and the questions of how far volunteers would be discouraged from working with kids. But did anyone say that the whole scheme was bonkers -- or that it would catch well meaning academics trying to sell Oxbridge to the uncertain and unfamiliar, or well meaning writers? No they didn't.
OK -- maybe I could submit to being vetted. But why should I? And what if I failed the test?
The point here is that the best response to the fear of paedophilia (which is only partly justified in any case) is not to create a database of the banned. See Anthony Seldon's sensible views on this.
We are told that this legislation was introduced in the wake of the Soham murders, when the country wanted "something done". Well for a start it was introduced four years after the murders -- and, anyway, don't we elect people who are capable of telling us that we SHOULDN'T rush to legislate, just because we THINK something should be done?
The point of a representative democracy is that the representatives don't always follow the herd, when the herd has only knee-jerk reactions.