Child protection scheme 'draconian'

Tories promise to rein in 'nonsensical' plan for checking of parents
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The government was under increasing pressure last night to reduce the scale of its controversial child-protection register, after the realisation that full implementation of the scheme will force one in four adults to undergo criminal record checks.

Widespread public anger over the Vetting and Barring Scheme (VBS), which will eventually hold the details of 11.3 million people, prompted the shadow Home Secretary, Chris Grayling, to say: "This scheme cannot be allowed to go ahead in this way. We would review the whole safeguarding process and scale it back so that common sense applies. Of course we have to check out those people who have jobs working with children, but the idea that we would vet 11 million parents is complete nonsense."

Opposition to the scheme was first highlighted by The Independent in July, when a group of respected children's authors announced they would no longer be visiting schools in protest. Since then, the true scale of the scheme's vast remit has slowly emerged. The checks will not only apply to people whose job involves contact with children, but also to parents who referee football matches or help at social clubs.

Even those who drive groups of children for a sports club will have to be vetted, or risk being fined up to £5,000. The tighter rules have caused consternation among volunteering organisations, who fear they may discourage people from offering help.

Sue Gwaspari, director of part-time volunteering at Community Service Volunteers, said "vigilance and supervision" were more important than vetting. "We must do everything we can to protect children from the attentions of criminals, but we must be careful not to add additional barriers that will discourage volunteers from giving their time, creating a world of distrust and apathy."

The Football Association, which relies heavily on volunteers to organise and referee matches for young players, is also understood to be worried about the effect the draconian regulations will have. "Anyone working or volunteering on behalf of a third-party organisation, for example a football club, who has frequent or intensive access to children or vulnerable adults, will have to be registered," an FA spokesman said.

Simon Carter, of the Scout Association, admitted that having to undergo checks and register on a database would "put some people off" volunteering, but pointed out present membership was very healthy. "As an organisation, we started using a vetting scheme long before CRB checks, so any adult that works within the Scouts would already be being checked anyway," he said.

Yesterday, The Independent revealed that the VBS has already cost the Government £84m. But the total cost to the taxpayer is likely to be at least £170m, adding the expense to public services.

The scheme carries a mandatory one-off registration fee of £64, waived only in the case of unpaid volunteers. This means public services such as the NHS and the Prison Service will be forced to register their employees. Almost all of the NHS's 1.3 million workers will have to join, leaving the organisation facing a total bill of about £83m. And because prisoners are classed as vulnerable adults, the 40,000 registered prison officers will also need to register, costing the Prison Service more than £2.5m.

The VBS, which launches next month and will be the largest of its kind in the world, was created after the Bichard report into the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in Soham by the school caretaker, Ian Huntley.

The tighter rules mean that the number of people barred from working with vulnerable groups in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will double from 20,000 to 40,000. A separate but aligned scheme is being set up in Scotland and will be introduced next year.

A spokesman for the Home Office said said: "The VBS does not cover personal or family relationships, so parents making informal arrangements to give lifts to children will not have to be vetted. But anyone working or volunteering on behalf of a third-party organisation – for example, a sports club or a charity – who has frequent or intensive access to children or vulnerable adults will have to be registered."