Tories to counter Britain’s health and safety neurosis

December 3rd, 2009

David Cameron will today pledge to cure the ‘national neurosis’ caused by the explosion of health and safety rules under Labour.

The Conservative leader wants police, schools and volunteer groups to be freed from the fear of being sued.

He said the culture in which someone has to be blamed for every mishap must be countered.

Mr Cameron, speaking to the Daily Mail ahead of a major speech, set out plans for a Civil Liability Act to streamline hundreds of different pieces of legislation and regulation.

He said he wanted to exempt entire categories of workers and organisations from the fear of litigation or prosecution because of ‘over-the-top’ health and safety rules. Mr Cameron said a Tory government would amend the Compensation Act to abolish negligence claims for activities where it should be obvious there is a risk – for example, sport and adventure training.

He is also considering introducing a Good Samaritan Act to protect from liability those who choose to aid others who are injured or ill.
Mr Cameron has been impressed with similar legislation in Australia, which has helped reduce bystanders’ hesitation to assist for fear of being sued or prosecuted for unintentional injury or wrongful death.

It has also dramatically scaled back the potential for medical negligence claims against doctors.

‘I want to see if we can extend this sort of legal protection for all people acting in good faith – especially public service professionals,’ Mr Cameron said.

He insisted that health and safety legislation had ‘noble origins’ and had done much to make Britain’s workplaces among the safest in the world.

But he said it was clear something had gone ‘seriously wrong’. He highlighted the examples of children made to wear goggles to play conkers, trainee hairdressers not allowed scissors in the classroom, and staff at a railway station refusing to help a mother carry her baby’s buggy because they were not insured.

‘The rulebooks keep getting thicker. The restrictions keep getting sillier,’ Mr Cameron said. ‘In Britain there is just a great sense that there are too many rules and regulations and petty bureaucracy that are mucking up people’s lives.

‘The impact of this national neurosis should not be underestimated.’


Daily Mail

This is very interesting, but of course neither the article nor the Tories go far enough.

Before we start, we have to get to the root of what ‘the nanny state’ is. The nanny state is the logical conclusion of the idea that ‘we’ need the state to control the shadowy, ever-present group of people who are not capable of doing things ‘properly’.

It doesn’t matter what you are discussing, there is always a rationale for the state to license something, and the only thing that stops the state licensing everything is that there are not enough apartchiks to operate such a gargantuan scheme.

The evil of the nanny state starts out with what seems to be reasonable and rational idea; for example, ‘we’ need to control people who cook food for sale because there are some people who would not cook properly and poison others, or, ‘we’ must have a system of compulsory vehicle checks and licensing otherwise, people will not maintain their cars and cause accidents.

Ideas like this are at the root of the nanny state, and they are totally false:

A recent editorial by Amitai Etzioni in the Washington Post discussing drivers’ licenses was “brave” enough to point out that “In a civil libertarian utopia, they would not exist.” Etzioni declared, “I know that driver’s licenses as a means of identification are a joke. Fake ones can still be ordered on the Internet or purchased for about $60 in many cities, and real ones can be obtained fraudulently.” He had the facts to back him up. “[T]he General Accounting Office described a test in which GAO agents had been able to enter the United States using counterfeit driver’s licenses without being stopped – 25 out of 25 times in late 2002 and early 2003.”

Unfortunately Etzioni then jumped to the entirely wrong conclusion, because “drivers’ licenses” are all but worthless, he argued that the United States needs to include biometric information on drivers’ licenses, such as fingerprints and retinal scans. (See “It’s Not Just a Driver’s License Anymore,” Washington Post, May 16, 2004; page B03) As usual, Etzioni and others who advocate such measures fail to explain how putting finger prints on a license is going to stop counterfeits. It might prevent people from stealing other people’s license and using it (something which is actually quite rare because it is so easy to make a counterfeit, see, but counterfeit licenses will just put the person’s finger prints on the document, just as they use the person’s photograph.

As usual the solution to worthless government bureaucracy is simply to redouble its worthless efforts. It is unfortunate that so many people try to justify this intrusive and utterly pointless government scheme. I have refused for more than ten years to get a drivers license (and yes, I’ve driven hundreds of times without one), and I know a number of other people who have done the same thing. Yet, even many so-called libertarians when they find out that I drive without a license profess to be shocked.

Let’s be clear, however. Drivers’ licenses have nothing to do with safety and everything to do with keeping tabs on people. If someone is driving recklessly then he or she should be stopped and can be fined or imprisoned. God knows there are enough traffic cops, and busy-bodies with cell phones to keep track of people who really do drive recklessly. Of course, it goes without saying that almost all speeding tickets (like drivers licenses) have nothing to do with safety but are a means of raising government revenue. If the person is not driving recklessly, why should the person have to “prove” to the government beforehand that he can do it, anymore than hair dressers should be required to get a license to cut hair.


There are countries that do not have state mandated compulsory annual vehicle testing, and the accident rates in those places is not higher than it is in the UK. The accident rates in Germany, where there are no speed limits on the Autobhan. Quite apart from all that, your right to drive your vehicle on public roads is being interfered with by the arbitrary imposition of what is nothing more than a tax on your personal property and how you choose to operate it, and of course, if you refuse to co-operate, violence is used against you.

And for the enchiladas:

In a Libertarian world the government would be VERY limited. It wouldn’t do things like inspect restaurants, audit banks, or license contractors and doctors. To be a Libertarian, you have to change the way you think. Libertarians have come to realize that anything the government “protects” us from is a freedom that has been taken away. For example, if you want to buy tamales from the Mexican lady next door, current laws forbid such transactions. Why? To protect you from her potential unsanitary cooking methods. No matter that you’ve known her for ten years and trust her completely. Until the government inspects her kitchen and issues her a restaurant license, you are not allowed to buy food from her.

How about the enterprising young man who lives one block over? He installed a sprinkler system for his parents at their home. You need a sprinkler system. All the quotes you’ve gotten from more experienced contractors are WAY out of your price range. He says he’ll do it for a price you can afford. You paid him for a couple hours labor to design a system for your yard, and it was actually better than the designs proposed by the contractors. You’d like to hire him to do the work, but you can’t. Why? Because he could be arrested, jailed, and fined for contracting without a license.

Are you beginning to see how a government that protects you from things, also limits your freedom. As a Libertarian, I believe I should be allowed allowed to enter into any agreement I find acceptable. I should not have the government hovering over my shoulder protecting me.


The same goes for the licensing of people who want to sell food. Before the licensing regimes were introduced, people sold food to each other for literally thousands of years without significant numbers of poisoning incidents. It is only now, in this unprecedented state of hysterical mass neurosis that it is deemed necessary and morally justifiable that anyone cooking food for remuneration needs to be licensed and regularly inspected. Even people who collect eggs from their own chickens are not allowed to sell them without a license. And we have all heard about the restrictions on people who know each other looking after each other’s children.

Of course, if you do any of those things without the permission of the state, violence will be used against you to stop you from voluntarily transacting and interacting with other people.

If people who cook for others need to be licensed, then why should not a mother who is cooking for her children be licensed also? There is no difference between the two actions, and no doubt, there are some who would like to see kitchens in the home licensed and regularly inspected.

If we accept that the state has a legitimate power to license any activity, then the state has the power to license all activities; one cannot pick and choose which items on the laundry list of ‘risky’ activities one thinks should or should not be licensed based on our personal lifestyles or prejudices, or what we reflexively believe is ‘reasonable’.

This is the double edged sword; it is the ever-present ‘other’ that ‘we’ need to be protected from, it is never ‘us’; “You and I are safe, dependable and stable as parents, but we must protect those children out there who have bad parents”, “Our kitchen is clean and we never get sick, but it is the OTHER restauranteurs who are the dangerous ones; that is why we must inspect everyone and license them all”, “My eggs are always sold when they are fresh, but it is the OTHER chicken owners who we have to be careful of”.

This is irrational. This is neurotic thinking. And it is utterly foolish to think that there are not other people sitting in judgement of your perfectly legitimate activities, saying that it is YOU that is an unknown quantity that needs to be controlled, using precisely the same arguments with total conviction.

This sort of illogic is the thin end of the wedge; first we start licensing only those people who want to sell food (skilful entrepreneurs, who are a minority providing a service that you can take or leave) then it is expanded and expanded until you cannot do anything with food in any context without state permission.

First, education is made compulsory, then school attendance is made compulsory, then all forms of schooling and education, and the associate materials like textbooks that are not approved by the state are outlawed, and everyone who teaches or who supervises education, or even spends one minute in the presence of a child needs to be CRB checked, inspected and licensed.

First, cars are licensed, then drivers are licensed, then the driver’s licence, needs to be renewed regularly, then it morphs into a universal ID card.

Swimming on beaches is unmonitored, then there are volunteer lifeguards, then the lifeguards are taken over by the state, then it becomes illegal to swim or surf without a lifeguard being present.

Once the state gets its hands onto something, it keeps pushing its fingers deeper and deeper into it until it has total control, all from the initial false pretext that the state is needed to protect people because there are ‘people out there’ who are a danger to others, or even to themselves.

The fact of the matter is people who call for the state to license and regulate others are statists, and whats more, they are violent, because if anyone does not agree that they should be licensed to sell eggs, or omelettes, or apples or anything else, these collectivists agree that violence should be used on their behalf to shut down those restaurants, egg sellers or orchard owners that refuse to be inspected or licensed. Car drivers who are perfectly competent should be violently arrested and their money stolen from them upon the say so and whim of the state, with the consent of the collectivists. And yet, many of these collectivist statists balk when it comes to someone else saying that what they do should be licensed, regulated and controlled. It doesn’t make sense.

Not only is the proposition that the ever-present other needs to be licensed, monitored, regulated, inspected and controlled immoral and illogical, but it is also not the only mechanism that can increase the safety of all products and services.

Look at Underwriter’s Laboratories; it is a non state entity that is in the profitable business certifying consumer devices. This is an example of how private people can interact with each other to weed out the statistically insignificant number of incompetent, malicious or stupid people who may be in the business of manufacturing electrical goods.

The next argument that is normally trotted out at this point is, “well, if it (whatever flavour of state interference you like) saves even one life, it is worth it!”. This is false. The nanny state has most definitely not been ‘worth it’, and in any case, who is to make this measure of what is or is not worth while?

No one has the right to assess risk for other people and then force them to live at a standard set by others; in my opinion, a life without risk is not worth living. You learn and are enhanced by risk. Children in particular, need risk to shape and develop a correct perception of what life really is; so that they can become rational adults who are not capable of being gulled into accepting a nanny state or knee jerk collectivism.

That is my opinion, and it applies only to me. I have no right to impose those or any other idea on anyone else, and this is why the Libertarians are morally superior to the collectivists; they cannot accept the philosophies and lifestyles of other people, whereas Libertarians accept all other lifestyles, and they would not EVER agree that violence should be used against people who are minding their own business and voluntarily interacting with others to no one else’s harm.

The nanny state and its proponents also distort the economy, as well as restricting people’s rights. The incandescent light bulb is the latest example of how the state, in its never ending push to protect everyone, has diverted billions into inferior lighting technologies.

That example, based on the now completely discredited and highly destructive Climate Change hoax, is a perfect example of nanny statism based on lies, false presumptions and nonsense.

Rent a wreck is a company that would never have been possible in the UK, since the prohibitive and unnecessary M.O.T. would have made the original business model unworkable. The many second hand car lots selling dilapidated cars would not be in business if the M.O.T. system was in operation in the USA. Because it is not, there is a thriving economy in second hand cars, greater access to cars to people with low budgets and more people on the move. At least, that’s the way it used to be.

I’m sure you can come up with your own examples.

Many of the things this illogic breeds are so irrational it beggars belief that they are even being proposed, and yet, they all come out of the same cesspool of illogic ; “We must do something for the common good”. There is no such thing as ‘the common good’. This is just another pretext to engineer totalitarianism, and literally anything can be shoehorned into it:

This is a staggering range of activities, and yet, they are all connected by the same thread, the same core assumption that the state has a legitimate role in protecting people from risks that they may want to take for themselves, or that may be posed to others by voluntary interactions.

Until the fact of this matter is faced, it will be very difficult to argue that you should be left in peace to pursue your own interests in your own fashion, because there will be innumerable counter examples where the state is interfering with other aspects of life that everyone accepts as reasonable, that overlap with what you do.

It will not matter that their ideas are inefficient, corrupt, evil or just plain insane; to someone, somewhere, you will be ‘the other’ that needs to be controlled to protect everyone, and there are a legion of people who are willing to call for violence against you. This is the fatal flaw in the thinking of those who accept a limited role for government to license activities and regulate risk. There is no such thing as a ‘limited role’ in this instance, just as there is no such thing as being a little bit pregnant.

There is no need for a state, there is no need for a state to protect people from each other or to regulate risk of any kind, and certainly there is no excuse for calling for violence to be used against people who live differently from you.

This is the best way that each person can reach their fullest potential, and for the least harm to be done in a population. As long as there is even a single person to whom the power to use violence is given in a context where no one is doing harm to anyone else, then that person is the seed of the state; the state always grows, and like a weed it never regulates its size and the end is always the nanny state and totalitarianism.

Rothbard on Risk:

The Proper Burden of Risk

We conclude, then, that no one may use force to defend himself or his property until the initiation of an overt act of aggression against him. But doesn’t this doctrine impose an undue risk upon everyone?

The basic reply is that life is always risky and uncertain and that there is no way of getting round this primordial fact. Any shifting of the burden of risk away from one person simply places it upon someone else. Thus, if our doctrine makes it more risky to wait until someone begins to aggress against you, it also makes life less risky, because as a non-aggressor, one is more assured that no excited alleged victim will pounce upon you in supposed “self-defense.” There is no way for the law to reduce risk overall; it then becomes important to use some other principle to set the limits of permissible action, and thereby to allocate the burdens of risk. The libertarian axiom that all actions are permissible except overt acts of aggression provides such a principled basis for risk allocation.

There are deeper reasons why overall risks cannot be reduced or minimized by overt legal action. Risk is a subjective concept unique to each individual; therefore, it cannot be placed in measurable quantitative form. Hence, no one person’s quantitative degree of risk can be compared to another’s, and no overall measure of social risk can be obtained. As a quantitative concept, overall or social risk is fully as meaningless as the economist’s concept of “social costs” or social benefits.

In a libertarian world, then, everyone would assume the “proper burden of risk”[28] placed upon him as a free human being responsible for himself. That would be the risk involved in each man’s person and property. Of course, individuals could voluntarily pool their risks, as in various forms of insurance, in which risks are shared and benefits paid to losers from the pool. Or, speculators could voluntarily assume risks of future price changes that are sloughed off by others in hedging operations on the market. Or, one man could assume another’s risks for payment, as in the case of performance and other forms of bonding. What would not be permissible is one group getting together and deciding that another group should be forced into assuming their risks. If one group, for example, forces a second group to guarantee the former’s incomes, risks are greatly increased for the latter, to the detriment of their individual rights. In the long run, of course, the whole system might collapse, since the second group can only provide guarantees out of their own production and incomes, which are bound to fall as the burden of social parasitism expands and cripples society.


Finally, back to the tories:

The Conservative leader wants police, schools and volunteer groups to be freed from the fear of being sued.

The police service should not be provided by the state. If you call someone for help, then you are wavering your right to sue them if the rescue goes wrong. A volunteer is not entering into a contract with you when he arrives to help you; it is a different sort of arrangement where you should not expect anything whatsoever or any particular result. If you want a particular result, and a guarantee of a level of performance, then you need to take out insurance, or subscribe to a security firm where the terms are set out in advance for you to either accept or reject.

Mr Cameron, speaking to the Daily Mail ahead of a major speech, set out plans for a Civil Liability Act to streamline hundreds of different pieces of legislation and regulation.

All those pieces of legislation should all be abolished, and the state should get out of the business of compulsory arbitration of disputes and measuring of risk.

He said he wanted to exempt entire categories of workers and organisations from the fear of litigation or prosecution because of ‘over-the-top’ health and safety rules.

He thinks they are over the top, others do not, clearly. Who is right? Neither. Everyone should be responsible for the contracts they enter into. This is not the proper role of the state.

Mr Cameron said a Tory government would amend the Compensation Act to abolish negligence claims for activities where it should be obvious there is a risk – for example, sport and adventure training.

It should all be abolished. If I decide to indulge in some equasy, then that is entirely an affair between me, the horse, its owner and no one else. If I am thrown off, it is my fault for getting on a frisky horse. Period.

He is also considering introducing a Good Samaritan Act to protect from liability those who choose to aid others who are injured or ill.

This is ridiculous. A Good Samaritan Act would not be needed if the state backed out of the business of risk. This is an example of the state creating problems with legislation to which it needs to find a solution with more legislation, just as it is in the case of Local Authorities being given responsibilities that they should not have, being unable to fulfil them, causing more insane legislation to be required. The root cause must be removed to restore sanity, and that means the state must be pruned back.

It has also dramatically scaled back the potential for medical negligence claims against doctors.

Going to a doctor is the same as entering into any other type of agreement. It is up to you both to come to terms that are agreeable to you. In a state where there are no private doctors, this is a slightly more complex issue, because the doctor does not contract with you directly, but instead, is working for the state. Who should you sue in this case, the state, or the doctor working for the state?

‘I want to see if we can extend this sort of legal protection for all people acting in good faith – especially public service professionals,’ Mr Cameron said.

This is putting the cart before the horse.

He insisted that health and safety legislation had ‘noble origins’ and had done much to make Britain’s workplaces among the safest in the world.

All the predations of the state have noble origins, and it always ends up bad. As for Britain’s workplaces being the safest in the world, many of the ‘dangerous’ manufacturing jobs have left precisely because risk is controlled by the state.

But he said it was clear something had gone ‘seriously wrong’.

But what is it? What is at the root of it? Until this is addressed the problem will not go away, and clearly, more legislation is not the answer.

7 Responses to “Tories to counter Britain’s health and safety neurosis”

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