Monday, September 16, 2013
British government minister: I’m ending this scandal over children’s care
No longer will the quality, policies and location of care homes be kept a secret, says the Education Secretary
To intervene or not to intervene? That is the question – in almost every area of politics. Well, I’m an unapologetic interventionist. When children are suffering, we need to act. As Education Secretary, I believe there is a direct responsibility on me to protect vulnerable children.
That is why I have fought to make it easier to take children in need into care. We should evacuate them from homes where they are being abused and neglected. I am glad the changes we have made to the adoption system mean more children are now being placed – permanently – with loving families.
Those rescued from neglectful homes, and who have not found stable, loving families to care for them, should find security and support in children’s homes where they can enjoy a fresh start.
But not all do. As we have been learning, through a series of horrific court cases, there are young people who were promised security in care who have been terribly exploited. It has been encouraging to see the energy that the Home Office and the police, who are leading the fight against child sexual exploitation, have deployed in bringing the perpetrators to justice.
But there’s an even greater responsibility on my shoulders – to intervene to make sure children in care are safe.
A year ago, when the first shocking cases of sexual exploitation in Rochdale were prosecuted, we set up expert groups to help us understand what we might do better. A change to the way police and social services record instances of missing children was the result; a new system begins next April.
That initial piece of research threw up many questions I found worrying. Many councils were not using children’s homes in their areas, but were decanting children to homes far from family, friends and the social workers who knew them. Why? Was cost a factor? Did we need to spend more? There was a lack of clarity about costs. And – most worrying of all – there was a lack of the most basic information about where these homes existed, who was responsible for them, and how good they were.
To my astonishment, when I tried to find out more, I was met with a wall of silence. The only responsible body with the information we needed was Ofsted, which registers children’s homes – yet Ofsted was prevented by “data protection” rules, “child protection” concerns and other bewildering regulations from sharing that data with us, or even with the police. Local authorities could only access information via a complex and time-consuming application process – and some simply did not bother.
The people with responsibility for overseeing the protection of children in any area – local safeguarding children boards – told us they did not even know when new homes opened locally, or where, and who were the children in them.
There was one group of people, however, who did seem to possess all the information: the gangs intent on exploiting these vulnerable children. They knew where the homes were; they knew how to contact the children – at the fish and chip shop, the amusement arcade, in the local park; or just by hanging around outside the houses.
In the name of “protecting children” by officially “protecting” their information, we had ended up helping the very people we were supposed to be protecting them from. We shielded the children from the authorities who needed to be looking out for them. An “out of sight, out of mind” culture developed.
I was determined to change this. First, we changed the absurd rules that prevented information being shared. And then we set to work digging through the data. Not all the information is perfect, but some of it stands out: almost half of children are placed in homes outside their local authority areas, and over a third are sent more than 20 miles from home. That is indefensible. So, too, is the fact that more than half of children’s homes are in areas with above-average crime levels.
Today we are publishing as full information as possible about the location, ownership and quality of children’s homes in England, in order to foster transparency and public debate on this issue, as well as improve care.
We are changing the rules so that children’s homes providers, councils and the police will have to risk-assess the location of new homes as part of the registration process. We are working with Ofsted on tougher enforcement powers: no longer will homes be able to languish at “adequate” year after year. And we want to focus on outcomes for these children: what are we achieving for them, at the huge cost of £200,000 per child per year?
We are working on matching data so that we will also be able to see exactly where councils are sending their children and which ones are sending them farthest from home – and force them to justify their actions.
I am sure there will be some who object to this additional scrutiny, accountability and pressure – there always are when there has been failure. But we cannot allow the interests of adults who have failed to trump the needs of children who have suffered.
A sordid orgy and why Max Mosley can't be allowed to erase history
More than any man on earth, the former Formula One racing chief Max Mosley is trying to rewrite the rules that have governed the workings of a free Press for many years, not just in this country but throughout Europe.
His latest assault is on the internet giant Google. He has been trying to persuade a French court that the web engine should be prevented from directing users to pictures of a private orgy that he organised five years ago.
The photographs, involving Mr Mosley and five consensual prostitutes, were originally published by the now defunct News of the World in March 2008. It alleged that Mr Mosley had been engaged in a ‘sick Nazi orgy’.
To the astonishment of many, three months later Mr Mosley won damages of £60,000 in the High Court from the paper, which was held to have invaded his privacy.
Although German was spoken, uniforms worn and blood was shed by Mosley during the proceedings, and despite heads apparently being inspected as though for lice, the learned judge declared there was no evidence that this had been a Nazi orgy.
Mr Justice Eady ruled that if it had been a Nazi orgy he might have found in favour of the newspaper, since Mr Mosley was a public figure of sorts whose suitability for his high-profile job would have been seriously called into question by such antics. As there was no such proof, the paper was required to pay damages and costs.
Buoyed by this significant (and to my mind irrational) verdict, Mr Mosley set about trying to restrict the activities of the Press.
In 2011 he argued in the European Court of Human Rights that ‘prior notification’ should be compulsory for newspapers, to give their targets time to obtain an injunction preventing publication.
In other words, a politician or businessman caught doing something wrong could try to persuade a sympathetic judge to kill off the story. Mercifully, the Court had a fit of good sense, and seven of its judges ruled that the right to freedom of expression would be at risk if ‘pre-notification’ was compulsory.
But Mr Mosley was, and is, a man obsessed. One way or another the Press must be curbed. His lawyers have just argued in front of French judges that Google should apply filters so that people would be unable to access photographs of his orgy.
The unwary might suppose that this is perfectly reasonable. If the News of the World was, according to an English judge, guilty of invading Mr Mosley’s privacy when it originally published photographs of his orgy, why should those photographs be available on the net?
Google’s response is that the application of filters would amount to a form of censorship. Access to news sites carrying the pictures, or to innocuous articles containing the images, might be blocked.
In short, the prohibition would extend much further than the photographs.
If anything, Google is understating the case. Should Mr Mosley get his way, the consequence could be the rewriting or erasing of chunks of history.
Whether or not his privacy was invaded, the photographs exist and no one has challenged their authenticity. They amount to a historical record of a sordid event which indubitably took place. Decent people might wish that it hadn’t, but it did.
These images continue to exist not only on the net but in libraries and private homes. If they were wiped out on the internet — actually, they physically can’t be, but access to them can be denied — they would logically have to be destroyed wherever else they might survive. That sounds like a police state.
If Mr Mosley wins this battle, his next step might be to request that any articles which so much as referred to the pictures of his orgy, or the orgy itself, should also be destroyed, possibly including this one.
And then a thousand other people who want to rewrite their pasts would also apply to have access blocked to discreditable information about them on the internet. In fact, it’s already happening.
The European Union’s highest court is considering whether Spain’s privacy regulator may have overstepped the mark when trying to force Google to remove unflattering search results for numerous citizens — for example, a doctor who claimed that a 1991 news article about a dispute with a patient had damaged his business.
Of course, libellous or untrue articles can, and should, be taken off the net. Google says it has removed hundreds of such pages relating to Mr Mosley following requests from him.
Equally, the search engine should do much more to block access to extreme pornographic websites. But such a welcome move does not involve the rewriting of history to which Mr Mosley’s innovations would lead us.
If he had his way, it would not be long before George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four became one step closer to reality. In that book, Winston Smith is employed as a clerk in the Ministry of Truth, rewriting historical documents to match the ever-shifting line of the powers that be.
Do I exaggerate? I don’t think so. Mr Mosley does not like freedom much. At a meeting of a Commons select committee in March he shocked observers. He suggested that access to foreign-based websites could be blocked if they flouted tough new rules that might be introduced by British regulators. That’s what they do in dictatorships such as Iran and China.
It’s surely no accident that Mr Mosley should have started his assault on freedom in France, a country with ferocious privacy laws in which newspapers are traditionally cowed by politicians and the courts.
Until shortly before his death, French newspapers did not dare reveal the truth about the war record, private life and financial misdemeanours of former president Francois Mitterrand.
For example, there was scant discussion of the period during the early years of World War II when he supported Petain’s pro-German Vichy regime, and allegations that he protected Nazi collaborators who helped deport French Jews to death camps were also downplayed. It was only in the months before his death that the Press revealed that Mitterrand had fathered an illegitimate child by a secret mistress.
The French court will deliver its verdict on Mr Mosley’s latest legal challenge, subject to appeal, on October 21. Meanwhile, he is also challenging Google in the German courts. He is aiming for Europe-wide controls on the web engine — and of course he has lots of money.
Though he has denied giving donations to Hacked Off, the pressure group campaigning for tougher regulation of British newspapers, he is a supporter of the organisation and has reportedly financed hacking victims’ lawyers. Will Hacked Off now condemn him for wishing to censor the internet? Of course not. What Mr Mosley yearns for, Hacked Off also wants.
He is a very wealthy man who organised a sordid orgy which the News of the World could have justly described as ‘German-themed’. Nevertheless, he won his case. Meanwhile, that newspaper has been closed down for unconnected reasons.
But that is not enough for him. His war of vengeance against the Press continues. It as if newspapers must suffer because he has been damaged.
He blames everyone except himself. It seems never to occur to Max Mosley that he may have acted unwisely or wrongly. In trying to bury his unwholesome past, this peculiar man would, if he could, cheerfully dismantle all our freedoms.
Outrage as 'loopy' UN inspector lectures Britain: She's from violent, slum-ridden Brazil, yet still attacks us on housing and human rights
Raquel Rolnik: A follower of Candomble, a religion linked to slavery that worships African gods
Furious Tories last night demanded the UN apologise for allowing a ‘loopy Brazilian leftie’ to attack the Government’s welfare reforms. Iain Duncan Smith said Raquel Rolnik had undermined the impartiality of the UN with her ‘outrageous’ call for his housing benefit shake-up to be axed.
The Work and Pensions Secretary wants UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon to investigate the senior official’s conduct.
He said she had not asked ministers or officials for their input, adding: ‘I find it staggering that without this official information Mrs Rolnik feels she is in a position to be able to properly prescribe what the future of the policy should be.’
Tory MP Stewart Jackson said Miss Rolnick was a ‘loopy Brazilian leftie with no evidence masquerading as a serious UN official’.
Senior UN officials have an open door to visit the UK but no specific invitation was extended to Mrs Rolnick.
She attended only one Whitehall meeting where the spare room subsidy was among the issues discussed and, according to officials, requested no further information.
The courts have ruled in favour of the housing benefit reform, which cuts payments to working-age claimants with more bedrooms than they need.
However, briefing left-wing newspapers about her report, Miss Rolnik said: ‘My immediate recommendation is that the bedroom tax is abolished.
'I was very shocked to hear how many people feel abused in their human rights by this decision and why – being so vulnerable – they should pay for the cost of the economic downturn, which was brought about by the financial crisis.
In her two-week tour Mrs Rolnik, who is the UN special rapporteur on housing, repeatedly borrowed Labour’s favoured description of the policy as a bedroom tax and appeared with campaigners at protest rallies.
She also suggested the idea of rent controls in the private sector, condemned the right-to-buy policy on council homes and insisted more public money should be spent on building social housing.
Mrs Rolnik revealed a shaky grasp of UK house prices by saying: ‘How many people can afford to buy a £120,000 apartment? Not many.’
Senior Conservatives and Liberal Democrats condemned her intervention, pointing out that the UN more usually provides help in war zones, famines and natural disasters.
They also pointed out that in Brazil, where Mrs Rolnik was in charge of housing policy, tens of millions of people are condemned to living in shanty towns, or favelas.
Mr Duncan Smith said: ‘Britain has a very strong housing safety net and we will continue to offer this valuable support, but also begin to get to grips with the £24billion housing benefit bill left behind by Labour and make better use of our housing stock. We’ve given councils £190million to support their residents who may need some extra help.
‘I find Mrs Rolnik’s approach to this whole report utterly unacceptable and frankly her actions undermine the impartiality of the UN.’
Tenants affected by the shake-up will face a 14 per cent cut in housing benefit for the first excess bedroom, and 25 per cent where two or more bedrooms are unused.
Ministers, who estimate the average affected household will lose £14 a week, says the policy will save taxpayers £500million a year.
They also say it will encourage people to move into smaller properties to relieve pressure on stock, helping families crammed into homes that are too small.
Tory party chairman Grant Shapps said he was writing to Mr Ban to make a formal complaint. ‘It is pretty outrageous – she has done this all under the wire,’ he said.
I quite simply do not know the answer to why she came here. Who invited her? Why not Brazil where there are 50million people living in shanty towns?’
Mrs Rolnik said last night she stood by her conclusions and claimed ‘everybody in the UK’ called the policy a bedroom tax. She also insisted she was invited by the Foreign Office.
Censorship by Fear
While the Church had been censoring written and spoken speech for centuries, government censorship of plays in Britain began in earnest with the Stage Licensing Act of 1737, to protect then Prime Minister Robert Walpole from criticism by satire and mockery on the stage, and ended with the Theatres Act of 1968. But other forms of censorship subsequently were enacted in Britain, many conforming to the legislative censorship of the European Union, rendering freedom of speech in Britain contingent on those laws, which amounts to a Byzantine maze of "negatives."
Article Ten of the European Convention reads:
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.
Given the woozy state of any definition of freedom of speech today, or even its practice, in virtually any country, Article Ten not so much guarantees freedom of speech, but wraps it in a Rubik's Cube-like conceptual straightjacket which only a puzzle-master or a consummate politically correct judge would be able to grasp. It is burdened with so many qualifications and exceptions it may as well decree: "We will let you know when you are 'free' to say anything. Until then, be quiet, or it's a fine and the lockup for you."
For example, a Swedish man has been charged with "intentionally disrupting a religious or spiritual ceremony," in this instance, the Friday call to prayers outside a Stockholm mosque, by honking his car horn. This is an example of Sweden's fatal dhimmitude and deference to its growing Muslim population. But, I am betting that no one has ever been charged with the same offense for honking a horn outside a church while its bells were ringing.
Of course, the local Swedish law must conform to the European Convention one, or at least not conflict with it. But, how does one categorize "horn honking" as unprotected speech? Does it encourage "disorder or crime"? Does it violate "the rights of others"? Is it a dereliction of one's alleged "duty and responsibility"? How does one reconcile the "right" not to hear a honking horn and the "right," if you are not a Muslim, not to hear some talentless muezzin screeching and wailing for between three to five minutes every Friday afternoon?
Well, you don't reconcile them, because these are not "rights." On the one hand, the government frowns on literal horn honking if it bothers Muslims. On the other, it protects the equivalent of malicious horn honking, that is, the loud call to prayers. The call to prayers is "spiritual"; horn honking is not. So says fiat, non-objective jurisprudence.
While the Swedish man denies he deliberately honked his horn to disturb the congregated Muslims - we cannot know the contents of his mind, that is, what he intended - it would not have mattered had he confessed that this was his intention. He is still liable under the city's municipal code. He disturbed the "peace" of the faithful. Period.
In Austria, a man was charged with "ridiculing" or "disparaging" Muslim beliefs by yodeling and mowing his lawn at the same time while his Muslim neighbors were trying to lift their arses and bang their heads on the floor of their home in prayer. Again, local Austrian law must conform to EU law, or not contradict it, and doubtless a European Union judge would concur with the Austrian court's decision to fine the man. His neighbors claimed that his yodeling was a satirical attempt to copy the wails of a muezzin. (Personally, I find both a call to prayers and yodeling esthetically abominable. I would be a harsh judge if a muezzin and a yodeler ever appeared on "Austria's Got Talent.")
In Rennes, France, a butcher was driven out of business because local Muslims, objecting to his selling of pork, repeatedly threatened him and vandalized his shop. Did Article Ten protect the butcher? No. Because some freedom of speech is "more equal" than others, particularly if it is a Muslim's freedom of speech. The Muslims spoke; the butcher left the building.
In this country, singer Miley Cyrus ignited a controversy with her super-vulgar performance during a Brooklyn concert. Conservatives were up in arms. Breitbart News sort of condemned her cacophonous gyrations:
"The former teen star's sexualized romp might have made Madonna blush--with envy"
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with a "sexualized romp." It can be vulgar, or it can be tastefully stimulating. There is a difference between a sexualized romp and the simulated pornography exhibited by Cyrus. Sexualized romps have been around at least as long as the live stage. But, I dare anyone to compare Cyrus's performance, or Lady Gaga's, or Madonna's, with, say, Rita Hayworth's performance of "The Heat is On," and claim they are all on the same level. They are not. Aside from the fact that neither Cyrus, nor Gaga, nor Madonna ever had a thimbleful of Hayworth's talent, Hayworth is esthetically appealing, as well.
Rita Hayworth sizzles. Miley Cyrus? Yawn.
Someone might object: But how can such outrageous performances as Miley Cyrus's be protected as "freedom of speech" or "freedom of expression"? Easily. Don't watch them. Don't patronize the likes of Cyrus. That's their protection. "Entertainers" such as Miley Cyrus can degrade themselves as much as they wish, but one has the choice of not rewarding them for it. One has the freedom to avert one's eyes and stuff one's ears when Rita Hayworth is performing, as well. One may even wish to criticize such behavior, but one hasn't the right to stop it, unless one wishes to resort to force. Resorting to force as a means of surcease in the realm of speech has always been a government's tyrannical prerogative.
A more fundamental objection would focus, instead, on the state of a culture that would generate and encourage such crude performances as Cyrus's as entertainment values, entertainment which appeals to the mindless, prurient hedonism and tasteless interests of countless esthetic illiterates. Artists with nothing to say usually resort to gross behavior and call it "novel" or "ground-breaking." In the musical, literary, and visual realms, they are the avant-garde of nihilism. Miley Cyrus has joined a populous club that includes such notables as James Joyce and Jackson Pollack.
There are many individuals in government who do know themselves and dare to impose their mediocre, mean little souls on the rest of us. They are the "soul-brethren" of Miley Cyrus. Of far more danger is the choice of self-censorship. Fear of retaliation in the way of direct or indirect government force can cause an individual to not speak out when it is important that he speak, or even to commit self-perjury.
While we now know that the government can and will monitor our phone calls and emails, and has selectively targeted particular and prominent individuals at the behest of presidents and other powers that are satellites of the Oval Office to discredit political opponents or neutralize or silence opposition of any kind (e.g., General David Petraeus), censorship needn't be overt. A more effective means of silencing ideas and truths is to instill fear of retaliation in individuals. The National Security Agency (NSA) is completing a multi-billion dollar facility in Utah that will store every phone call and email of Americans and others.
For what purpose? To "fight terrorism"? You "fight terrorism" by eliminating states that sponsor it, not by snooping into the privacy of citizens which your agency is chartered to protect from state-sponsored terrorism, and collecting data that can be used to silence citizens via blackmail or threatened coercion lest they oppose government policies or speak truths.
In short, you don't fight state-sponsored terrorism by instituting state-sponsored terrorism.
That, in short, is the mind-numbing character of censorship by fear. And its advocates know it. After all, if one remains silent for fear of retaliation or retribution, one can't claim that one is being "censored," can one? Where's the gun pointed at one's head?
The person holding the gun...is you.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.