Why is it that running an after-school club requires a higher level of security clearance than selling explosives? This is one of many questions posed in a report recently published by The Manifesto Club, a new initiative which advocates a freer and more humane society.
The report, The case against vetting: how the child protection industry is poisoning adult-child relations, highlights the fact that there has been a 100 per cent rise in the annual number of criminal checks issued by the Criminal Records Bureau since 2002. Vetting has expanded to include anybody who comes into contact with children through their work. Where checking previously occurred once - when a teacher started his or her first job - it now happens for every new position. So if a person is a football coach, a teacher and a mentor, he or she will need to get three different checks. If they change job or organisation they will have to get rechecked.
Vetting is a multi-million pound industry and is taking a growing part of the budget of organisations that work with children. The Scouts Association carries out 50,000 checks a year, at a cost of pound;250,000.
The Manifesto Club argues that the expansion of vetting encourages the mistrust of adults: it implies that every adult is a potential abuser and must be declared "safe".
Even if CRB checks were straightforward, vetting would still change the quality of people's relationships. The new child protection agenda implies safety should come before all else - before teaching children, offering them new experiences, or caring for them.
Working with children is becoming a state-licensed activity rather than a normal part of life. Adults are divided into those certified "safe" and those considered potential abusers, that is, everyone else. Becoming a "licensed adult" means submitting to intrusive checks rather than winning the trust of children and other responsible adults.
The expansion of vetting does little to increase child protection - it is just as likely to be harmful to their welfare. The Scottish Parent Teacher Council warns that a generalised mistrust makes children less streetwise and unable to make judgments about which adults they can trust.
Many of the points made by the Manifesto Club are strongly reinforced by the findings of the Better Regulation Commission in its first report Risk, Responsibility and Regulation: whose risk is it anyway?, published last month.
The commission challenges the assumption that governments can and should manage all risks. It wants to see a new understanding between government, regulators, the media and the public that all share a responsibility for managing risk and that, within the right circumstances, risk can be seen as beneficial and should be encouraged.
Who benefits from this regulation? The Capita Group plc, for one. It has won a pound;400 million contract to develop the CRB information systems over the next 10 years. Now that is a risk, given the track record of computer companies developing systems for government departments.