Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Nanny State

Philip Johnson laments the loss of freedom in the UK.
With all these laws, our precious liberty is going up in smoke

It is said, though less often now than it used to be, that the basis of English liberty is the rule of law, under which everything is allowed unless specifically prohibited. According to A V Dicey, the 19th-century constitutionalist, this was one of the features that distinguished England from its continental counterparts, where people were subject to the exercise of arbitrary power and were proscribed from actions that were not specifically authorised.

Effectively, this principle limited the scope of the state to intervene in people's lives. Law set the boundaries of personal action but did not dictate the course of such action.

The announcement yesterday that smoking in most public places is to be made an offence, presumably punishable by a fine, is the latest addition to a lengthening list of things that were once allowed but are now to be criminalised.

Some of these, such as the compulsory wearing of seat-belts in cars and a requirement to wear a crash helmet on a motorbike, predate the Blair government; but, since 1997, the pace of proscription has grown alarmingly.

When the current parliamentary session ends tomorrow, there will be several new offences. Under the Children Bill it will be a crime, punishable by up to five years in prison, to smack your own child if a visible mark is left as a result.

The Housing Bill will make it an offence to place your own home on the market without first spending £600 or more on a home information pack, though the House of Lords was last night making an 11th-hour attempt to remove this compulsory provision from the legislation after it was re-inserted by MPs.

The problem is, as Ludwig von Mises said, "Once the principle is admitted that it is the duty of government to protect the individual against his own foolishness, no serious objections can be advanced against further encroachments."

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