Monday, February 10, 2014

Norman Lamb on banning smoking in cars carrying children

In an article for Liberal Democrat Voice Norman Lamb says he will vote to make it a criminal offence to smoke when there is a child in the car.

That does not outrage me: if you think the health consequences of passive smoking for children are serious enough then it is reasonable to support a ban.

What I find really odd is what Norman goes on to say:
There would be no new police resource allocated to enforcing the ban proactively. But this would send a clear message out that smoking in cars with children is unacceptable, and I support the measure wholeheartedly.
So he thinks that a ban is necessary for the sake of children's health, but is comfortable that nothing is to be done to enforce it.

To me that makes it a pointless law, but for Norman it is worthwhile because it will "send a clear message".

I have never had any time for the idea that it is the job of legislators to send a message of give a clear signal.
As I wrote long ago when discussing a proposal to ban smacking:
Laws do not send messages: they involve people in worry and expense even if they are innocent or not eventually prosecuted.
I tend to oppose legislation that impinges on everyday family life because it is likely to be implemented in an arbitrary way. By announcing that no police resources will be devoted to enforcing it, Norman Lamb and the government make it inevitable with their smoking law.

Norman has also confirmed my suspicion that modern liberals only quote John Stuart Mill and On Liberty when they want to curtail our liberty. As everyone else does, he quotes the Mill's harm principle as though that trite little formula is what makes him worth reading.

The truth, as I once wrote for Liberator, the harm principle is only a small part of On Liberty:
The essence of that work is not concerned with curbing liberty at all but is a glorious hymn in favour of its expansion. 
Writing in Prospect magazine last year, Richard Reeves put it well: 
for Mill, liberty consists of much more than being left alone. It requires choice-making by the individual. "He who lets the world… choose his plan of life for him, has no need of any other faculty than the ape-like one of imitation," he writes. "He who chooses his plan for himself employs all his faculties." For Mill, a good life must be a chosen life. 
Or as The Levellers said more recently: "There's only one way of life, and that's your own, your own, your own."
On the whole I found Reeves more impressive as a Mill scholar than as Nick Clegg's strategist.

So if you want to ban smoking in cars when children are present - and as I have been writing this the news has come through that the Commons have supported the proposal - then do so.

But if you do, then have the courage to enforce the law and don't talk about "sending a message".

And please don't blame John Stuart Mill for your lack of courage.


Left Lib said...

Was there more money allocated for the ban on driving without a seatbelt, or smoking in pubs? I don't recall that there was, yet the change in law made a huge difference. In this particular instead the person who has no liberty is the child who has to get in the car. The mistake some Liberals make is that they believe that only the state can take away your liberty. Yet as far as children are concerned, it is more likely to be bad parents

Steve Rolles said...

traffic police, and other street based police - of which there are many, would enforce the law as and when they encountered an offense. It doenst require more policing resources, so i dont follow your argument.

Gawain said...

Good post. How deluded are our MPs and Peers to assume that (a) the exposure of children to smoke in cars is more prolonged or severe than that which the same children receive in their parents’ homes and so is a significant factor in disease (b) that anyone who is thoughtless enough to smoke in their cars with their children will stop doing so because MPs have passed a law .

Classic gesture legislating designed to get doctors and public health lobbyists off legislators’ backs and have a nice fuzzy feeling. Signifying nothing.