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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 May, 2005, 18:29 GMT 19:29 UK
End compensation culture - Blair
A hand signing a cheque
The pressure to eliminate risk is 'out of proportion' says Blair.
Tony Blair has called for an end to the so-called compensation culture in the UK and says there should be a more realistic attitude towards risk.

Speaking to the Institute of Public Policy Research on Thursday, the prime minister said the culture put undue pressure on public bodies.

There was a danger of having a "wholly disproportionate attitude" to normal everyday risks, he warned.

The Conservatives said effective action rather than "more talk" was needed.

'Common sense culture'

Mr Blair said the government would reflect on how it reacted to scandals or accidents in future.

The prime minister's comments formed part of a wide-ranging speech on the need for a "sensible debate" on risk in public life.

Mr Blair said we should replace "the compensation culture with a common sense culture".

Prime Minister Tony Blair
Mr Blair talked of hanging baskets being removed for fear of injuring pedestrians.

"This [compensation culture] is putting pressure on policy making not just in government but in regulatory bodies, in local government, public services, in Europe and across parts of the private sector; pressure to act to eliminate risk in a way that is out of all proportion to the potential damage," he told Institute members in London.

"The result is a plethora of rules and guidelines and responses to scandals of one kind or another that ends up having utterly perverse consequences."

"We cannot respond to every accident by trying to guarantee ever more tiny margins of safety. We cannot, in other words, eliminate risk. We have to live with it and manage it and sometimes we have to accept no-one is to blame".

He cited the cases of a local council removing its hanging baskets because of fears they could fall on someone's head and a Cotswold village pulling up a seesaw because it was judged a danger under EU regulations, even though there had not been any accidents.

'Action not talk'

Shadow constitutional affairs secretary Oliver Heald said the Conservatives welcomed "the government's stated aim to curb the compensation culture".

But he said the government itself had encouraged such behaviour "through their promotion of such things as the Human Rights Act".

"After eight years we need effective action rather than more talk," he added.

He said changes to legislation should be balanced, taking into account both "claims-farmers" and others who flood the system with bogus claims and genuine claimants who should be protected by law.

The prime minister also attacked what he described as "unnecessary interference" by the EU in businesses and in the lives of individuals.

He promised members he would make curbing EU red tape a "central theme" of Britain's European presidency starting in July.

"Europe has done itself more damage through what is perceived as unnecessary interference than all the pamphlets by Eurosceptics could ever do," he said.

"About 50% of regulations with a significant impact on business now emanate from the EU. And often it seems to want to regulate too heavily without sufficient cause."

A recent EU directive which would outlaw thousands of vitamin products, was a "good example" of the problem, he said.

The price of too much regulation would be the loss of business to countries like India and China which were prepared to accept higher levels of risk, he added.

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