The actor Sir Ian McKellen has become the latest high-profile artist to speak out against the Government's vetting scheme for all adults working with children.
He said that if he had not been able to perform as a child alongside adults in small voluntary theatres, “the 15-year-old Ian McKellen would be absolutely miserable and wouldn't have grown up to be this person today”.
The new Vetting and Barring Scheme will mean that nine million adults will have their data stored with a new agency, the Independent Safeguarding Authority, before they are allowed to work “frequently or intensively” with children or vulnerable adults.
The combined pressure from the scheme and the separate regulations governing the use of children in performances has led some small theatres to reconsider whether or not to include children in their performances.
Sir Ian is patron of the Little Theatre Guild – the UK’s association of more than 100 independently controlled amateur theatres, which he says are struggling to meet the demands of the new scheme.
Amateur theatres say that the new scheme, coupled with a Government proposal to extend chaperoning requirements to include rehearsals and not simply dress rehearsals and performances, will mean small theatres will struggle to meet the requirements necessary to keep children in their performances.
Last year The Independent reported that several authors who occasionally undertake work in schools, including Philip Pullman, Anthony Horowitz and Quentin Blake, all said they objected to being registered on the database. Mr Pullman described the policy as “corrosive and poisonous to every kind of healthy social interaction”.
Meg Hillier, the junior Home Office minister responsible for the scheme, insisted: “I do not believe there will be fewer volunteers as a result of the Independent Safeguarding Authority scheme.” She added that it was “the rightful role of Government, drawing a line about how far we go, but I think it's fair to have that line when you give your children over to people in a professional setting.”