Dr Eamonn Butler argues that the Government is overcautious about the risks not just from paedophiles but from all aspects of modern life.
Watford Borough Council’s decision to ban parents from the playground in case they are paedophiles are another case of the Bully State gone mad. We’ve seen it in the past week with the Independent Safeguarding Authority (whose .gov web address shows it to be anything but independent), telling piano teachers and others that they ought to get CRB checks, or parents might ask why not.
So now we are living in a Britain where all adults are presumed to be paedophiles unless they can prove themselves otherwise. It’s the precautionary principle gone mad. If you can’t prove something safe, you have to treat it as dangerous. That thinking also gave us the EU’s Reach directive, which prescribed in-depth tests on “hazardous chemicals” – such as salt – before they could be licensed for our use.
Why do bureaucrats act like this? Because there is no upside for them. A business person will take a risk because the chance of failure is balanced by the chance of making a fortune. Civil servants aren’t rewarded with fortunes when their decisions go right, but they are sidelined or barred from promotion when they go wrong. So they focus on stopping the downside, not boosting the upside.
That is why we are being softened up for a 20mph speed limit in towns, particularly near schools. Yes, pedestrians are much less likely to be killed at this speed than 30mph. But today we have a third of the child road deaths that we had in 1922, when the national speed limit was 20mph. Why? Because parents warn their kids about traffic. They remove their kids from the risk. What the bureaucrats want to do is to remove the risk from the kids.
But we take risks for a reason. There are benefits too. With a 0mph limit you could eliminate road accidents entirely. But at huge cost to the community.
Why does Network Rail spend billions on train safety systems? Because train crashes are spectacular news, while car crashes aren’t. In 2007 about 24 people were killed on the railways, including pedestrians at level crossings. Nearly 3,000 died on the roads, but that’s less obvious.
Seat belts are another celebrated case. Strapped into their cars (which are advertised for their safety), drivers feel safe. So they drive more riskily, and more pedestrians are killed and injured. We’d be better installing a huge spike in the middle of each steering wheel. Accidents would plummet.
We take risks for a reason. Life would be impossible without it. The idea of a risk-free world is futile. And unless we – parents, children, drivers, and everyone – are exposed to risk, we will never learn to cope with it.
Published on Telegraph.co.uk here.