Leading article: Database of distrust

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The Independent Online

The vetting and barring scheme represented the worst instincts of Labour in office: the assumption of guilt, the love of bureaucracy, the obsession with databases, the reflexive statism. The previous government did scale back the scheme last year. But the new Home Secretary, Theresa May, is right to go a step further and call a halt altogether.

No sensible person disputes that some form of vetting procedure is needed for those who are employed to work closely with children. Recent revelations of sickening abuse by paedophile priests remind us why there need to be special safeguards.

But Ms May is right when she argues that the previous administration's vetting and barring scheme, even in scaled-back form, was wholly disproportionate. It would have required virtually every adult who wanted to work with children, from full-time teachers to occasional volunteers at the local scout group, to register. It would have affected around nine million people.

There was every reason to believe that volunteers would have been put off by the bureaucracy involved. One does not have to be a fully paid-up subscriber to the Conservatives' vision of "The Big Society" to grasp why this would have been undesirable. Children would have been the ones to suffer under such circumstances. The previous Government's stubbornness in pushing through this unwieldy project was especially maddening because the existing screening methods for those working with children are adequate. Employees must already go through criminal record checks to work in schools. And there are official lists of individuals barred from working with children and vulnerable adults. There is a case for combining these procedures, which the review announced by Ms May yesterday should look into.

But it is important that there is room for some discretion in the system too. If the Independent Safeguarding Authority, which was established to oversee the vetting and barring scheme, is to survive it needs to avoid making snap judgements based on potentially malicious allegations or unsubstantiated pieces of gossip.

The core problem with the vetting and barring scheme was that it threatened to inject a hysterical level of distrust into all relations between adults and children. Now that the scheme itself has been halted, the Government's task is to make sure that this counter-productive mentality goes too.