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Would you leave your child alone with a cabinet minister?
Govt says kids safer with politicians than authors
When it comes to vetting adults who may come into contact with children, there is yet again one rule for politicians, another for the rest of us.
There is much fuss in this morning’s papers over a statement by Philip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials trilogy, that once the government’s new vetting system is in place, he will simply stop making visits to schools. In an interview in the latest Bookseller, he says: "This is Labour's Section 28 — the implication being that no adult could possibly choose to spend time with children unless they wanted to abuse them. What will it say to children? It'll say that every adult is a potential rapist or murderer, and that they should never trust anyone."
He expresses his regret that he may never be allowed inside a school again, but adds: "I refuse to be complicit in any measure that assumes my guilt before I've done anything wrong. The proposal deserves nothing but contempt."
Mr Pullman is not alone in his refusal. Other authors who object to being vetted include Anne Fine, Anthony Horowitz, Michael Morpurgo and Quentin Blake. According to former Children's Laureate Mrs Fine: "The whole idea of vetting an adult who visits many schools, but each only for a day, and then always in the presence of other adults, is deeply offensive."
However, spokespeople for the relevant departments – including the Home Office and Department of Children Schools and Families – appear adamant that authors should be registered on the new database and vetted accordingly.
They are not so clear on the need for their own Ministers to do so. A Spokesman for Number 10 could not confirm whether Gordon Brown was planning to be vetted. A similar response was received at the Home Office in respect of Alan Johnson, who masterminded the legislation that put this requirement in place.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health appeared unaware of the implications of this legislation and opined that vetting was for "people with access in their work". Therefore Health Secretary Andy Burnham "doesn’t need to be vetted as part of his job".
Best of all, though, was the Department of Children Schools and Families (DCSF), where a spokesman argued that Ed Balls would not need to be vetted because he "doesn’t work with children directly and in an unsupervised way". He went on: "the reason authors are required to register is because they go to the same school over and over again: familiarity means that a teacher could go out of class and leave them unsupervised, whilst a one-off visitor (such as a government Minister) would never be left alone."