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Last Updated: Monday, 5 July, 2004, 11:29 GMT 12:29 UK
Head to head: 'Nanny state'
Boy in anti-smacking march
Are laws governing child abuse sufficient?
With the government considering issues concerning smacking and public smoking, critics fear Britain could be turning into a "nanny state".

Two people with opposite views spoke to BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

ROBERT WHELAN
DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF RIGHT-WING THINK-TANK CIVITAS

I don't see why we shouldn't have a ban on smoking in places where non-smokers want to be and have smoking allowed in places where smokers are segregated.

I don't see why we have to go along with this mentality that what appeals to some people has to be imposed on everyone. It's a denial of freedom of choice in society.

We seem to have managed pretty well so far with non-smoking areas in restaurants and some restaurants have non-smoking rooms.

It seems to me that what these people are campaigning for is a non-smoking world
Robert Whelan

It seems to me that what these people are campaigning for is a non-smoking world. Because something doesn't appeal to them, they want to make sure no-one else does it. But we all do things that irritate other people.

We all drive fast, we all take risks in certain ways. There are all sorts of ways you can die - we are all going to die one day.

The argument for passive smoking isn't actually particularly strong. There may be holes in it and there may be other reasons why people die from lung cancer who haven't smoked.

I just think we've got to be terribly wary about allowing the fad of the moment to become the law of the moment.

As regards smacking, of course children have to be protected because they're small and not able to defend themselves.

Some people want these powers to intervene in happy, functioning households.
Robert Whelan
I think we already have very good laws to prevent the abuse of children - unfortunately they are not being enforced and many children are being harmed. Many children are being harmed while they are in the care of their local authority.

Social workers seem unwilling to intervene in cases where there are obvious risks to the children because there may be PC reasons for not taking a child away from certain types of households.

Yet they want these powers, or some people want these powers, to intervene in happy, functioning households.

But I agree it's a question of when this will happen, because the anti-smacking lobby is in the ascendant. It's a popular cause and they're going to win.

They'll just keep on coming back until they do.

RICHARD REEVES
NEW STATESMAN ESSAYIST & INTELLIGENCE AGENCY, A SOCIAL & ECONOMIC THINK-TANK

I think it's interesting that Robert has just used the example that we all drive quickly as well. Of course we have laws to try and prevent us from driving quickly.

I think the smoking in public places issue is really fairly straight forward, even from a liberal perspective.

We all accept that individual freedom to do a certain thing is restricted by someone else's freedom not to be harmed by that person.

I think that's what's changed about smoking, as we now have very good scientific evidence for secondary smoking and I think that gives us a very liberal case for restricting the freedom of one person to smoke because it harms another person.

My freedom to smoke, in this case, or do anything else, should only be restricted if it can be shown to be doing harm to somebody else
Richard Reeves
I think we've got to stick as fast as possible to the liberal principle that my freedom to smoke, in this case, or do anything else should only be restricted if it can be shown to be doing harm to somebody else.

In the absence of compelling evidence that smoking actually harmed other people and so was not merely unpleasant, I think it would be much more difficult to justify government intervention.

As it is, we have very good evidence.

I think it's worth saying that all these issues are very difficult for government. Increasingly, we're onto issues of lifestyle, we're having to use legislation in very difficult areas, though I do think that's where the meat and drink of politics is now.

Smacking is another example of how we would only restrict someone's personal freedom if it could be shown that somebody else was being harmed by that individual freedom.

It's not a question of whether this will happen but just a question of when
Richard Reeves
In this case, of course, we are talking about harm to children. There is increasing evidence that children who are hit turn out to be more violent in later life and that it's not very effective in terms of a disciplinary mechanism anyway.

There will inevitably be grey areas. Inevitably we are talking as much about symbolic legislation as legislation to be enforced.

But I think it's inevitable this will happen, just as the laws were changed to prevent husbands from beating their wives.

I think the arguments are similar and it's not a question of whether this will happen but just a question of when.




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