Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

There is a yet another plan to reform the House of Lords, getting rid of lots of life peers, proposing partial direct election and, as always with these ideas, the fuller representation of ethnic minorities.

Commentators and politicians may be tempted to look at these plans 'on their merits' and go through them minutely. This is a waste of time. All Lords reform talk is mere displacement activity to avoid facing the far more serious parliamentary problem that the House of Commons does not work any more.

No political party will address this, because all, once in office, prefer it that way.

This column recently commented on the boredom and pointlessness of the process by which everyone working in any way with children must now undergo checks by the Criminal Records Bureau. Now a freedomloving organisation called the Manifesto Club has produced a report showing exactly how boring and how pointless. By 2005-06 the number of CRB checks per year had almost doubled from its start in 2002-03 to 2,772,929.

As the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill heads to the statute book, the report predicts that a third of the British population will be checked. You have to go through the process if you are a cricket umpire, a plumber who checks school radiators, a secretary in a hospital, a teenager present while his parent is minding a young child, a private tutor or a grandmother who volunteers in schools. This costs money (£250,000 a year for the Scout Association) and often delays the time at which the worker can start. It breeds suspicion of adults by children, and it makes organisations slovenly about scrutinising candidates for posts because they are bogged down in the bureaucracy of compliance.

Perhaps worst of all, it gradually cripples voluntary work because the volunteers cannot bear the aggravation and the implied insult. If it is true that 'There is such a thing as society, but it is not the same as the state', then the state must not persecute that society with accusation and regulation. The 'little platoons' will not survive if they are frogmarched off to boot camp. The logic of the new regulations is inexorable -- the only remaining group of people working with children who are not yet vetted are parents. How long before the state vets their criminal records and, when these are found wanting, forbids them to breed, or takes their children into care?

Two severe blows have recently been struck at Annabel's, the nightclub in Berkeley Square. The first is in David Blunkett's newly published diaries (The Blunkett Tapes). Mr Blunkett went to dinner there and met a girl called Sally Anderson, who later got him into some trouble, falsely alleging that she had had an affair with him and had miscarried his baby. Mr Blunkett describes Annabel's as 'a trendy nightspot which had been the favourite haunt of John Selwyn Gummer, Virginia Bottomley and many other Cabinet ministers years before'.

Mr Blunkett is obviously trying, rather desperately, to hint that Tories, too, do silly things in nightclubs, but the collateral damage to Annabel's is grave. Obviously, it cannot be 'trendy', or otherwise alluring, if haunted by John Selwyn Gummer and Virginia Bottomley. I am not a member of Annabel's, but on the occasions when I have been there it has always seemed to me to be extraordinarily well run and completely free of John Selwyn Gummer, Virginia Bottomley and David Blunkett. …

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