The Labour back bench piled in to support the minister (perhaps things are worse than they look). Ruth Kelly put her case with such assurance that it took a moment to realise the Jesuitical drivel she was offering.
"I take full responsibility," she kept saying. Those Westminster words mean: "You can't blame me." Didn't you know that? Even after Hutton? "I take full responsibility" means, "I have reckless and idiotic underlings but they are under my protection and I will do the decent thing - despite pressure from an hysterical, witch-hunting, pitchfork- waving opposition - by refusing to name them. Too much integrity, I fear. It's my only fault."
She ended up producing the worst ministerial performance of the new parliament, we can at least be grateful for that. She had nothing of substance to say except she refused to present "provisional facts" to the House. That suggested she had no proper facts on file. It's an odd defence: if it were true, everyone involved should resign.
She began by immediately acknowledging the role the previous Tory government had played in setting up the child protection systems. Nastily, I wrote: "So it's their fault" in my notes. In fact, she went on to defend her department's actions in precisely that way.
Remember, she is defending one of her ministers who over-ruled the provisions of List 99 to allow people accessing child pornography to work with children. But the minister wasn't to blame. The junior minister and/or officials weren't to blame. Whose fault was it? The system? Yes, the system came in for the worst criticism (there are far too many sex offender lists, all with different protocols).
The schools themselves didn't escape either. Schools have a duty of care to check records, you see. "List 99," she said three times, "does not give approval for people to be employed in schools." She said she "would very much hope" that employers would never employ known sex offenders.
Hang on, hang on, Ruth Kelly (or Ruth Kelly's proxy) has personally waived the rules to allow (I'm repeating myself now) about a dozen people who have accessed child pornography to work with children. And yet the minister says the schools should have ignored the ministerial directive. Yet (a further yet) while ministers had done nothing blameworthy, the minister was going to make everything all right by removing ministers from the decision-making process. Critics "didn't understand" the obvious points she was making. She also said that police cautions should now be given the same weight as criminal convictions. That's quite a jurisprudential innovation, I'd have thought. Hazel Blears would be proud of that. Out of personal panic, Ruth Kelly is tearing up the regulatory framework to absolve herself of guilt. William Hill immediately offered odds of 4/7 that she'd be out of her job by the end of the month.Reuse content