Given the number of times we've written about the pathetic, annoying, bullying Nanny State we've developed in this country - following in Uncle Sam's footprints in this as in everything else - and the self-serving Elf'n'Safety Industry that has grown up to feed off it, we could hardly ignore today's (16th January 2008) report in the Times …
"Unnecessary warnings that bags of peanuts "may contain nuts" and overly protective rules banning conker fights in schools will be targeted by a new watchdog intended to restore Britain's spirit of adventure.
Gordon Brown is so concerned that the cotton-wool culture is denying people the freedom to enjoy themselves that he has asked the watchdog to report to him personally.
The move comes after a festive season in which actors in pantomimes were banned from throwing sweets to children in case someone got hit on the head and Christmas lights were banned in towns and villages for fear that they might pull down lampposts. A Rotary club in the Midlands was even made to put its Father Christmas in a body harness in case he fell off his sleigh.
Last summer hanging baskets were banned in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk in case they fell on the head of a passer-by, and home-made cakes were banned from a fête for fear that they might cause food poisoning.
There will be disappointment that Mr Brown's response to such killjoy acts is not to halve the number of health and safety officials or revise the hundreds of regulations introduced under this Labour Government.
The Risk and Regulation Advisory Council has been set up in response to recommendations from the Better Regulation Commission that it has replaced.
The body for common sense will be set up alongside a national campaign to emphasise the importance of self-reliance and a sense of adventure. It is intended to engage the public, and remind them that the Government is not responsible for every accident or piece of bad fortune that befalls its citizens. The team of seven will tackle policy areas where there are fears that the Government is in danger of overkill.
Defensive labelling - of which the nut allergy warning on bags of peanuts is an example - is in its sights. Somewhat unnecessarily, the council says that such warnings are "laughable" and breed resentment. Also in line for scrutiny is whether the Government's response to obesity is in proportion to the problem.
The first project to be taken on by the council will look at the frenzy of government initiatives to tackle the MRSA superbug, to see if they are doing any good. Healthcare experts cast doubt this week on whether the most recent plan - a deep-clean of all hospitals announced by Mr Brown last autumn - would do any good.
Rick Haythornthwaite, who heads the council, has made his name and fortune out of the risk involved in investing in private equity.
He told The Times that the combination of "well-intentioned people" and a policymaking process that "collapses in the face of a confrontational parliamentary system, the media and short-term career pressures" was responsible for the present culture of risk aversion. "If you ask someone, 'Do you want the world to be a safer place?', of course they will say yes. But there is always a trade-off. Self-reliance and a spirit of adventure are important national characteristics that could be lost. I want the public to understand that in the trade-off, some important things can be lost." The key to challenging the killjoys was listen to the general public, he said.
Pantomime artists told not to throw sweets to children in the audience for fear of causing injury
Children told to wear goggles to play conkers at school
Teachers told not to hand out plasters in case of allergic reactions
Hanging baskets banned in case they fall on people
Parents asked not to bring homemade cakes to school fêtes
Flowers banned at a hospital in attempt to stop spread of MRSA
Manufacturers stamp bags of peanuts with warning that they "may contain nuts"
Children banned from using egg boxes in art class in case they catch salmonella
Children forced to ride inflatable sheep at a Welsh Donkey Derby
Gloucestershire cheese-rolling banned for a year."
Sir Bill Callaghan, Head of the Health and Safety Executive, who is due to stand down in September after eight years in the job, famously told health and safety inspectors to "get a life" last year if they were considering excessively cautious "bans on hanging baskets or whatever it happens to be". He says "People use health and safety as a convenient excuse when what they mean is it's too expensive or they can't be bothered or they don't want to take the rap for an unpopular decision."
The GOS says: Well, that's just fine and dandy, isn't it? There's a problem with over-regulation in the country? What's the government's solution? Another regulatory body - just what we need!
By the way, we learn that the Gloucestershire cheese-rolling wasn't banned, exactly. The organisers cancelled it because their first-aid team had gone abroad to do some earthquake relief.
Good for them. Very worthy cause, I'm sure. And they were the only first-aiders in Gloucestershire, I suppose?
And I eagerly await the first prosecution of a peanut purveyor for falsely advertising that his product "may contain nuts". Because that's a lie, isn't it? It bloody does contain nuts. When I pick his product off the shelf I want to be assured that I am buying something that definitely contains nuts and nothing but nuts, not something that just might have the odd fragment.
As I may have mentioned before, I used to be a teacher. Towards the end of my career I moved into a job which required me to organise and lead a lot of trips for groups of young people, often to destinations in mainland Europe. Travel was usually by coach.
The instruction given to me by my County Council manager was "When first boarding the coach, inform the children that the coach is fitted with seatbelts, but do not tell them or advise them to wear those seatbelts. And don't go round checking that they've put the seatbelts on.
"If you do any of those things, and there's an accident and a child without a seatbelt is killed or injured, you will be liable because you undertook the task of ensuring that every child wears a seatbelt. If you don't undertake that task, it won't be your fault if anything goes wrong."
So there you have it, in a nutshell (caution: may contain nuts) - we don't care if somebody's son or daughter is killed or maimed, the only important thing is not to behave in a way that may lead to us being sued or prosecuted for negligence.
Needless to say, I spent the next twelve years studiously ignoring the advice I had been given. Nothing new there, then.
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