Independent Safeguarding Authority

Baroness Murphy

I add my voice here to the chorus of protests about the establishment of this new authority. Actually it’s not really the Authority I object to; we already have an unwieldy and ineffective system of checks on a whole range of individuals who come into contact with children and vulnerable adults and the Authority does provide an opportunity to consolidate their multiple efforts. What I really object to is the notion that these wholesale checks will do anything except bring a false sense of security to schools and services about their employees and volunteers and do nothing to prevent abuse or murders of children. The response is disproportionate as even the Chair of the Soham inquiry Sir Michael Bichard has said.

There are on average netween 5 and 7 sexually motivated child murders outside the family annually and the figure has not changed since the 1970s.  That’s a tiny percentage of child murders, of which about 75% are perpetrated by parents. Most child homicides are within the family.  The chances of having specific data to  distinguish the dangerous stranger from the harmless porn watcher is small indeed. It is reckoned that there are between 3,500 and 72,600 children sexually abused every year, a figure range so wide as to be predictably meaningless. The likelihood of the offender being on the Sex Offender Register is small. The cost of the current checks is vast to both employers and employees; even a simple Criminal Records check costs about £34.

I have been involved in various organisations which are obliged to check the CR records of employees and the most damaging thing is not that you get a record of sexual offences but you get a record of ALL offences, shop lifting when the person was 14, minor fraud, pub brawls, mostly long gone youthful minor criminal episodes of no relevance to their working with vulnerable people but events that people have long put behind them but are now waved in front of them in applying for a job and now will apply to volunteers too. Would you want to risk a long forgotten misdemeanor resurfacing when you volunteer to ferry the club to swimming?  Are we saying that we are going to discriminate in employment in education and health care against people like this? Yes we can and do through these new systems.

The answer to safeguarding children is to be vigilant, train children to be knowledgeable and for authorities to pass on information. Lots was known about Ian Huntley which could have protected the  two girls but no-one thought it right to pass it on. This is a great mammoth overkill system which will cost us all dear and I’ll be amazed if it prevents one death.

17 comments for “Independent Safeguarding Authority

  1. Jonathan Hogg
    14/09/2009 at 10:00 pm

    The greatest cost, I would have thought, is going to come with the loss of people willing to volunteer to help out with children’s events.

    It’s a shame that media frenzy, a populace largely unable to comprehend statistics and a political class unwilling to explain them have unwittingly conspired together to create a culture of fear and distrust that makes us all poorer.

    I expect that after a while with parents being unable to find out-of-school activities for their kids, the whole sorry mess will be discarded again.

  2. Senex
    14/09/2009 at 10:28 pm

    Baroness: “The answer to safeguarding children is to be vigilant, train children to be knowledgeable and for authorities to pass on information.”

    I agree entirely with your sentiments, my kids where always taught not to speak to strangers or to take money from them. However, in taking this view we would both be asking society to accept risk when they have become very risk averse. Again Parliament assumes an ability to pay for these checks. PEOPLE HAVE NO MONEY PARLIAMENT GAVE IT ALL TO THE BANKS for our own good of course.

    There is another victim of trust in society at the moment, the very large number of long term unemployed.

    I have been made aware that the Home office issued instructions to employment bureaus or their like that prospective employment must be accommodated by a personal reference of the type used for passport applications but in addition referees should be being asked for confirmation that the individual has not left the country on the basis that they may have attended a terrorist training camp.

    How would you feel if somebody you trusted was though of as a prospective terrorist. Would it put a doubt in your mind? What is a double whammy for the unemployed is that many individuals outside of a workplace live very solitary lives and cannot account for all of their time in the manner required. Combined with long term unemployment the state operates prejudicially towards such individuals, in fact it criminalises them.

    What is making all of this possible is electronic technology and the constitution is not protecting the individual from it. The states use of this technology is becoming tyrannical.

  3. Troika21
    14/09/2009 at 11:34 pm

    The database state is a solution looking for a problem, its been said, and I think it can look forever.

    I think that Jonathan Hogg’s comment pretty much sums up most of it.

    I’m not even sure if this idea is well meaning, it seems to be something that has come out of an unthinking politician panicked by the media.

  4. 15/09/2009 at 1:12 pm

    I feel the whole thing is another step towards a general presumption of guilt until proven innocent.

    Another problem with the proposal is that it leads to people taking less responsibility for themselves and their children, as they outsource that to the state.

  5. 15/09/2009 at 1:24 pm

    I would recommend looking up The Today Programme:

    Sat 12th Sept (see the discussion at 8:32):

  6. 15/09/2009 at 1:29 pm

    I’m also reminded of a File on Four programme:

    Sorry for the multiple posts.

  7. Bedd Gelert
    15/09/2009 at 3:01 pm

    It is wonderful to read these thoughts, but surely if the House of Lords is to have a role and a future, it must stop nonsense like this BEFORE it reaches the statute book. How did this slip through the net ??

  8. franksummers3ba
    15/09/2009 at 3:27 pm

    I live in the country that decided to got war with the world’s most powerful empire and found that the way to get the local formers agitated was to point out that the Btish would put stamps on the tea crates. There were real grievances on which good books have been wtitten but these stamps were “intolerable”. Your Ladyship cannot be wrong that this sort of involvement of the bueaucracy and risk of exposure dampens community spirit. However, what compensation have modern societies made to exteneded families, neighbourhoods, parishes and other institutions for the dislocations of modern life?
    How great is the possibility that many harms go unreported in a society where individuals are less embedded in personal relationships than their grandparents?
    I fear the world must either really allow an agressive and creative conservatism to influence all of our societies or else live as though everyone is proximate to some horrible epidemic or other. To use a medical metaphor, the advice “Go home and stay there a while” has been a way of preserving public health that has saved millions. But if we all live in a global dormitory it does not work. Socialy we appraoch the global dormitory ever more closely.

  9. 15/09/2009 at 3:35 pm

    Bichard’s proposals were known for quite some time before the old Dept of Education & Skills had cleared at least two sex offenders, convicted or not, to become teachers. Gvt must set a higher standard than it expects of us to be credible.

    This is one of the most crass, unworkable Acts, so far, to have been passed since, oh I don’t know, say HIPs? The Cooper/Balls appear to be touched by the requisite vile madness for Brown’s Cabinet.

    Congratulations, Baroness Murphy, for a decent round-up of this pile of doo-doos. It should be clear that I’m spitting too many feathers to be coherent, though I disagree that ISA are not objectionable. Their web site does not fill me with warm, fuzzy feelings about them. They should get out and talk more to normal people.

  10. 15/09/2009 at 8:07 pm

    And all this at a time of economnic gloom, awaiting sizeable public sector cutbacks, when we are likely to be more in need of the voluntary sector than ever.

    And if Ian Huntley wasn’t at the school, and if these other people were not in their posts, where would they be? Either society needs protecting from them or not.

  11. 16/09/2009 at 1:03 pm

    …and, breathe out.

    Since no similar Sex Offenders List exists in the majority of countries, two questions immediately come to mind:

    first, if a UK citizen commits a crime abroad that would put them on a list here, does the record follow them to the UK list and,

    second, how can a UK employer possibly fulfil their obligations under this law if they want to employ from outside the UK – this will lead to automatic discrimination, surely?

  12. baronessmurphy
    16/09/2009 at 3:07 pm

    I take Bedd Gelert’s point and have been scratching my head to remember this Bill. The provisions were in the Safeguarding Vulnerable Group Act of 2006 and looking back at the debates a fair number of concerns were raised at the time. It was because of theseconcerns that the Government decided to implement the Act over several years rather than all at once. But as is so often the case, the real detail of how it the Act would work in practice were not spelt out. The Act simply said that the Secretary of State would fill the gap at a later date through regulations. And that is how, as so often happens with regulations that aren’t subject to parliamentary scrutiny such restrictive measures were brought in.

    The good news is that these regulations can be revised.

    • Senex
      20/09/2009 at 3:01 pm

      Baroness: I stand to be corrected on this but a regulation is not law and is not mandatory until a breach of regulation is tested before a tribunal or a court of law?

      If so then contrary to the needs of the regulation people can still supervise children without a check?

  13. Bedd Gelert
    16/09/2009 at 10:38 pm

    Baroness Murphy, that is very interesting.

    As a wise person once said “The less we know about how sausages and laws are made, the better we sleep at night..”

    [and I speak as someone who has just had some sausages for supper without the ‘red tractor’ on the packet, so I guess I am not in a position to complain about people not scrutinising laws more closely.. ]

  14. 28/12/2009 at 1:38 pm

    This is one of the dangerous steps towards a totalitarian regime.

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