We live in a representative democracy. This means that we elect people democratically, whose job is then to represent us in the legislature. This is not direct democracy; we do not gather in the market place to vote on whether we should build a new fire station or dig another well. Having elected our representatives, they look after our interests for us until the next election. Very rarely, we are given the chance to offer an opinion directly on something which our representatives propose to do. I remember voting on one such occasion in 1975 and again last week. We do not make a habit of these referenda, because ultimately they harm the democratic process.
I have watched with fascination the events surrounding the amendment of the Pupils Registration Regulations. Let us just remind ourselves about this. A pupil deregistered by his parents would have been left on the school roll for twenty days. This would have had no practical effect upon home education whatsoever. Nevertheless, a small number of diehard reactionaries, people opposed to any change at all in any law relating to anything remotely connected to home education, were against this minor change in the regulations.
I say a small minority; this is understating the case dramatically. Home educated children are perhaps 1% of the general population. Of this 1%, an estimated one hundred an fifty thousand home educated children, I doubt if the parents of more than a few hundred objected to this change in the regulations. Opposition was coordinated through one or two Internet lists. Let us assume that a third of those belonging to the list which made the most fuss, actually contacted MPs and so on. That would be around five hundred people. I don't believe for a moment it was that many, but let's go with that figure for a moment. Home educators are less than 1% of the population and a fraction of 1% of them opposed the new regulation. That is to say a fraction of 1% of the original 1% have managed to derail a piece of legislation. There is no suggestion that any home educators but the members of these lists were involved here. In other words, maybe 99.6 % of home educators have said nothing on the subject.
Once again, an elected government is caving in cravenly to the demands of a small and democratically unrepresentative, special interest group. It is disgraceful.
We do not back off from making new laws about gun ownership because 0.3% of gun owners complain. Nor do we revise the law on burglary because thieves are not happy with it. What we see happening with home education is a vociferous minority believing, quite rightly, that if they shout loudly enough they can stop anybody looking too closely at what they are doing and trying to find ways of protecting the rights of the children involved. In other words, make enough fuss and they will be able to get anybody with concerns to back off.