(This is the text of Rob Slane’s letter in response to the consultation on the Government’s proposals to regulate and inspect out-of-school education settings)
I write in response to your consultation document, Out-of-school education settings: call for evidence. I write from the perspective of someone who is hugely concerned by these proposals, believing that they are inimical to the values that have been established in Britain over a period of hundreds of years, and fearing that they have the potential to trample on the rights of perfectly law-abiding citizens.
The first thing to say about the proposals is that they are, by their very nature, an admission of failure. No such laws have ever been deemed necessary before in this country (at least not for many centuries), and the reason for this is not that the potential for “extremism” never existed before. It surely did. However, Britain throughout much of its history has been far more cohesive than it now is, and the potential for extremism was largely neutered by the closeness and the shared values of communities from the bottom up. The fact that the Government is now proposing to deal with a problem from the top down, testifies to the fact that we have become in many ways a broken society. I think the Government would do well to ask why this might be, and to question whether its policies, and the policies of previous governments, have in any way contributed to this fragmentation and therefore the perceived need for new regulations.
The second point to make is that any state that seeks to monitor “the many” in order to protect “the many” against the potential actions of “the few”, has clearly lost its moral bearing and has by definition taken on an extreme nature. Such an approach is contrary to the traditional system of law which has operated within this country for centuries, and yet ironically the consultation document repeatedly suggests that the idea of this proposed legislation is based on the need to protect “British values”. But is it really possible to defend a set of values by using another set of values that are basically hostile and contradictory?
Continuing with the theme of “British values”, which are said to include democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs, a case could be made that each and every one of these concepts would be under attack by these proposals. However, let’s just concentrate on the rule of law for a moment. If this phrase means anything, it means a country where the purpose of law is to protect the innocent, and within this concept is the idea that a state cannot enact laws that punish or infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens and still be said to be operating within the rule of law. By regulating and monitoring every out-of-school education group meeting for more than six hours per week, the State will indeed be infringing on the rights of law-abiding citizens to go about their lawful business without having the finger of suspicion pointed at them.
It might be objected that the whole point of the proposed legislation is to protect the innocent by deterring radicalisation or extremism. However, there are basically two views of how law deters. The first is what might be called “back-end law”, which is basically the idea that law is there to punish evil doers for what they have done, and by implication to stand as a threat to those who might consider doing the same. In other words, it punishes a person for what they have done, not for what they might do.
Then there is what you might call “front-end law”. This is basically the opposite, in that it seeks to regulate behavior to prevent wrongdoing before any evil has occurred. In other words, it holds everyone under suspicion for what they might do, not for what they have done.
It is the first concept of law that has been prevalent in this country for centuries – it might be called a fundamental British value – and it is this concept that has helped to keep us freer than many more unfortunate lands where the State has adopted something more like the second concept. There is always a temptation for the State to adopt the second approach – which is what is being proposed in the consultation – but doing so comes with numerous costs:
- Firstly, there is the temptation for overreach. This is where those doing the regulating begin with reasonably good intentions, but then find themselves calling for more and more regulations to be added as they find that the initial regulations “didn’t go far enough”. And with each new set of regulations, the chipping away of more of our ancient liberties continues.
- Second, there is the issue that those doing the regulating invariably end up doing great harm themselves when – according to the law of unintended consequences – they end up preventing perfectly law-abiding people doing perfectly law-abiding things. And make no mistake, once you begin this process of regulating out-of-school education groups, you will inevitably end up closing many groups that have been meeting for years if not decades, as well as deterring many other equally reasonable groups from starting up. For which reasonable or rational being is going to want to start a scout group, or a craft group, or a soccer group, if doing so means they will be subject to inspections and paperwork, as well as the general finger of suspicion pointed in their direction?
- The flip side of the last point is that while proposals such as these will make life miserable for the law abiding and deter them from perfectly reasonable and wholesome activities, they will do nothing whatsoever to deter the very people that these proposals are allegedly aimed at. Allow me to speak frankly, but if I were the sort of person that was intent on radicalising a group of young people into Wahhabism (which incidentally I am not), your proposals would not make the slightest bit of difference to me. I would simply arrange to have those young people come around to my house for dinner or lunch, and I would radicalise them then. And unless the Government is proposing that Ofsted regulate meal times and hospitality, I’m afraid they would have zero chance of stopping it. All of which is to say that these proposals will damage the law abiding, but have no effect on Salafists and Wahhabis who may be intent on radicalising others.
Britain has, for centuries, operated on the principle of punishing and threatening to punish the guilty, but leaving the innocent well alone, not just in terms of punishment, but also in terms of suspicion. Simply put, the view of the law that has traditionally been a part of these Isles does not even allow for the Government to suspect someone of wrongdoing, simply on the basis that a few others might be doing harm. You might just as well suspect all men of wanting to kill their wives because they have knives in their houses and a man has just been found guilty of killing his wife with a knife.
In short, I believe these proposals are themselves both extreme and contrary to fundamental British values. They are an attempt to regulate the lives of the law abiding in ways that are simply unacceptable. No peaceful and free community was ever built on this kind of approach, but an awful lot of tyrannies were. Is that really the kind of place we wish to live in?