Government swiftly backpedals on vetting scheme
Balls up for a quick
The Vetting Database is in trouble: that’s official. Or rather, according to a spokeswoman for the Department of Children, Schools and Families (DCSF), it most definitely is not.
That is why Ed Balls, Secretary of State at the DCSF, is absolutely NOT calling for "a review".
Rather, in a letter to Barry Sheerman, Chair of the Commons Select Committee for Children Schools and Families, Mr Balls was in wistful mood as he reviewed – sorry, considered – the hurtful and untrue things that some critics had said about his scheme.
He stressed the minimal burden that the new vetting scheme will impose on the average citizen. However, he agreed that there might be some scope for readjusting "the line that separates those situations that should be covered from those that should be excluded".
So he is instructing Sir Roger Singleton, chairman of the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), to check the Government has drawn the line in the right place – and to report back by the beginning of December.
This reflects the fact that critics of the new vetting and safeguarding scheme have been quick to exploit some of the more ludicrous aspects inherent in attempting to draw up bureaucratic regulations to determine the circumstances when a relationship of trust might start to appear. At present, for instance, three formal contacts within a three month period – even with different vulnerable groups - would count.
This looks a little like the start of a fightback – not "a U-turn" in any sense, as the DCSF helpfully informs us - as government discovers a sure-fire vote-winner has less support than they expected. Hence yesterday's nannyish finger-wagging from Roger Singleton, reported as urging people to "calm down" and consider the issue "rationally".
He added that the new vetting system "is not about subjecting a quarter of the population to intensive scrutiny of their personal lives". Rather, "it is about bringing an end to the need for repeated CRB checks which so many people have found irritating".
The problem is that neither claim stands up. A document leaked to Josie Appleton, convenor of radical campaigning group the Manifesto Club and Organiser of a campaign against the vetting scheme, suggests that the degree of scrutiny will be mind-bogglingly intensive.
She reports in Spiked Online that the ISA has decided to put in place a scoring system to be filled in by its army of trained bureaucrats. Items will be assessed on the basis of "whether relevant conduct or a risk of harm "on the face of it" seems to have occurred".
Ms Appleton adds: "the case worker will examine... 'predisposing factors', such as 'those factors relating to an individual’s interests or drives'; 'cognitive factors', such as 'strong anti-social beliefs'; and 'behavioural factors', including 'using substances or sex to cope with stress or impulsive, chaotic or unstable lifestyle. Drug use, sex life, favourite films.'"
We are not sure whether readership of El Reg counts as a strong anti-social belief.
Then there are "hazards": for instance "inappropriate physical contact with a 12- to 16-year-old pupil during a lesson". Each hazard is scored for the impact it would have on a child, as well as the likelihood that it would happen. The end result will be a score determining whether an individual is "regulated" – or "barred" for life - from about a quarter of the UK’s jobs.
What then of the abolition of the CRB check?
El Reg has previously stated that it believes the Home Office estimates of the numbers needing to be vetted is hopelessly low. This is because the Home Office is basing it on what should happen, not what is actually likely to happen.
The CRB check and vetting use the same data, but provide totally different outputs. The first is a detailed listing of an individual’s history: the second a simple yes/no in respect of barring status.
According to Terri Dowty, Organiser of Action on Rights for Children (ARCH): "In any system, you have to choose whether you want false positives or false negatives. The vetting and barring system is going to tend towards false positives. That makes it all the more important for employers to see what it refers to in an individual’s history… but the vetting scheme does not do that."
Therefore employers are likely to continue to want to see the detail – because if they don’t request the detail and an employee goes on to abuse, they are likely to be sued.
A spokesman for the ISA was quick to reject suggestions that their new state-run system provided any absolute guarantee of safety. Meanwhile, the Home Office has pointed out that they do not anticipate any reduction in the volume of CRB checks. One official went so far as to say that a rise was not impossible.
Which is all the more reason why the real outcome of the new database is likely to be two systems running in parallel for a long time to come - although with the re-examination of the rules now under way, it is possible that the reach of the ISA will be slightly less wide than originally anticipated. ®
The origins of the vetting database lie in the perceived need to prevent "another Ian Huntley".
Unfortunately, the current guidelines would not do that. Huntley accessed the children he murdered through their relationship with his partner – not through his own job. Current ISA guidelines suggest for most cases – eg looking after exchange students – only the main contact in a household will need vetting. Huntley’s partner should have received a clean bill of health: Soham would have happened anyway.
Rights of Busybodies
In one of the Convention on Modern Liberty videos, Tony Benn said something that, for me, really captured an essential part of liberty: "People said, 'Who gave him the right to do that to me?'"
I think an essential part of why so many people have such a dislike for these kinds of authoritarian schemes is that it comes down to an essential inequality of rights. For example, what right does the busybody have to decide what's in the best interests of the child that the parents themselves don't have? Who has the right to give those busybodies such rights, and, in doing so, to deny the parents themselves those same rights? If the parents themselves don't have those rights, who else does?
As I understand it, an essential concept - if not the central, fundamental concept - in liberal democracy (or democratic liberalism, or whatever you want to call it,) is the idea that as each individual will naturally, and rightly, object to this kind of authoritarian hypocrisy, the majority of individuals will therefore democratically oppose authoritarianism in favour of true liberty.
When we're talking about this Vetting and Barring Scam/Sham/Scandal, we're talking about bureaucrats (or whatever they want to call them) exercising rights to decide that others are therefore denied. Who gives them the right to decide who is and is not fit to work with children and vulnerable adults? Supposedly, we, the people, do, through parliament - so it goes back to the sham of "democracy" that the government relies on for its claimed democratic legitimacy. (I still remember, in the early years of this New Labour government, Labour ministers claiming to be doing the "will of the people" as a justification for ramming their legislation through parliament.)
What people need to realise, as Apocalypse Later pointed out, is that when people call for other people to be subjected to vetting, it's not just other people who will be subjected to it, but the people calling for it as well. Apocalypse Later said, "There are no other people, just us." Putting it another way, we're all other people. There's no "them and us": we're all "them"; "they" are us.
What people need to realise is that when they call for what amounts to the abolition of the rights of innocent people to be treated as innocent - that's what the presumption of innocence essentially is - it's their own rights to be treated as innocent that they're calling to have abolished. It should be no surprise when, as Apocalypse Later explained, they find that they themselves are being treated with suspicion, prejudged "just to be on the safe side", and so on.
We need to cultivate a culture, in our society, of stopping and thinking of ourselves as being the targets of what we're calling for. When we want people to be presumed guilty, "just to err on the side of caution, for the sake of the children," we need to stop and think about how we ourselves will find it when we're being presumed guilty.
(This is also a tremendous opportunity for the Lib Dems to evangelise, to spread the Lib Dem message of liberal democracy. I hope they don't waste it!)
So, when and where are the public protests to begin?
Malleus, 1692, McCarthy, CPC, ISA
The latest draft of the ISA guidelines is essentially the 1692 Salem protocol but re-phrased in NewSpeak and ported to Windows. I suspect that the e-Reports of ISA barring hearings will be much the same as reports of CPCs and will read much the same as those in 1692, but with more stringent threats of penalties for disclosure. The issues will be the same: mis-interpretation of malicious, deranged or standard gossip, normal childhood scatalogical behaviour and language as being evidence of adult malfeasance, and with the each meeting resulting in progressively more widespread and lurid phantasy. (One can create a first draft of the new reports by taking the witness transcripts and contemporaneous newspaper coverage then replacing all occurrences of Satanism with paedophilia and all occurrences of indigenous population with terrorists. What you get is a climate of fear building up and manifesting itself with suspicion that one's neighbour, rather than the clan over the hills, is an immediate serious threat.)
One of the most alarming prospects is paragraph 5.6.1: "...A barring decision can, therefore, be
made, having regard to all the circumstances, if the ISA is satisfied that the
events concerned happened, on the balance of probabilities, notwithstanding
an acquittal at court...." So if you are genuinely innocent, and have had that assertion upheld in a criminal court (or family court or civil court or "other competent body", apparently), the verdict (or finding of fact) can be overturned by three bloke(tte)s in Darlington, leaving you with something like an ISA appeal (£10000???) or judicial review (£100000??) as your only recourse.
Better use of the money
Give the £700,000,000 to the scout/guide movement to increase the quality of life for our kids.
Anyone know how to do a freedom of information enquiry? Remuneration packages of the ISA (and CRB) senior staff, I bet they're being paid well enough to be very determined in defence of this hare-brained scheme.
I do know of a kids charity currently discussing whether the need for ISA is the final straw (they provide an enrichment activity for physically handicapped kids so "touching" is inevitable).
Although I have an ECRB showing absolutely nothing on record anywhere I will use ISA as a pretext to end my volunteer youth work although the real reason is the rest of the infrastructure which prevents us doing any remotely adventurous outdoor activities.