Legislation that will require all authors who visit schools to be registered on a national database has been branded "Labour's Section 28" by bestselling author Philip Pullman. Section 28, or clause 28, a controversial piece of Conservative legislation, aimed at preventing the promotion of homosexuality in schools, was scrapped in 2003.
From November 2010, professional and voluntary staff working regularly with children in sectors including education will need to be registered on the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) database.
Pullman said: "This is Labour's Section 28—the implication being that no adult could possibly choose to spend time with children unless they wanted to abuse them. What will it say to children? It'll say that every adult is a potential rapist or murderer, and that they should never trust anyone."
The His Dark Materials author added: "Naturally I shall have nothing to do with any such 'clearance', and in consequence, I suppose, I shall never be allowed into a school again. I shall regret that very much, but I refuse to be complicit in any measure that assumes my guilt before I've done anything wrong. The proposal deserves nothing but contempt."
Trollogy author Steve Barlow branded the legislation "undemocratic", "ineffective" and "in violation of one of the cornerstones of English law—the presumption of innocence until proved otherwise".
Authors will need to register with the ISA through an umbrella organisation and pay a one-off £64 fee. A spokeswoman for the Vetting and Barring Scheme at the Home Office confirmed that specialist children's librarians, and those librarians and authors visiting schools, would need to be registered. Currently, checks are at the discretion of local authorities. Foreign authors visiting UK schools would also have to register, as will booksellers going into schools once a month or more.
Chair of the Children's Writers' and Illustrators' Group of the Society of Authors Celia Rees said: "We have a number of reservations because it is not clear how people will be affected by this, and what the costs and process of application will be. I am sure that, as more people become aware of it, there will be a groundswell of opinion against it."
However, author Gillian Cross backed the new checks. She said: "I understand entirely why people are enraged about the whole child abuse suspicion frenzy, which is particularly hard on men. It is nevertheless true that many children are abused. Theirs is the real suffering, and if checking can help to prevent that, I'm not opposed to it. Though I would be interested to know how often CRB [Criminal Records Bureau] checks have actually prevented known abusers from working with children."
Cross said that the scheme that replaces the current Criminal Records Bureau checks could be better as it is automatically updated rather than being repeated annually.
This madness, like all other madness, will one day just go away. People will scratch their heads, and wonder how it was that people went so completely mad.
Thankfully there are people out there who will simply not comply.
If everyone refused to comply, all the schools in the country that rely upon and who enjoy visits would cry out for the system to be abolished.
Of course, Home Educators can group together and invite whomever they want into their homes, without having to consult with or receive permission from anyone.
But you know this!