The 'debate' this week in Parliament regarding smoking in cars with child passengers had me hanging my head in disbelief. We are talking about an activity that puts more than 4,000 chemicals into the air, a number of which are known to cause cancer. Why are we debating it at all... and why are people in our government still opposing it?
We've already seen the worst that our UK government can throw at us this week, as Department pitted itself against Agency in a blame game that added nothing to the flooding crisis. Then Monday brought us the smoking ban debate, which, it would seem, is all about freedom of choice and the practicality of enforcement, rather than, say, the health of children... the 300,000 that are reported as visiting a GP each year because of second-hand smoke.
Since when did we legislate based on ease of enforcement? How much more difficult could it be to see a car filled with children and smoke versus someone driving with a mobile to their ear? But that's not the main issue for me. My anger is fuelled by the fact that one of our major cultural pillars in the UK - having a democracy focused on acting on behalf of groups that cannot act for themselves - has fallen by the wayside.
Some of the Government's greatest humanitarian achievements have been around the protection of children - moving them out of factories and into schools, stopping abuse, providing basic nourishment. We are proud of our heritage of human rights development - for many years we have led the world, and worked hard to hold that position. Not on this one. We are behind a number of countries on the issue of children and passive smoking and, even with a yes vote, all we have done is 'empower' ministers (who were reported as being split on the issue) to make it a criminal offence. How brave.
Much of the foundation for our current child laws was established towards the end of the Industrial Revolution, when campaigners such as the Earl of Shaftsbury fought against the weight of industry and an apathetic parliament to put in place basic rights. The argument then was that such moves would damage industry and the country's growth. What's the argument now... That we will damage cigarette sales... That we take away freedom of choice to poison our kids?
700 experts wrote to MPs across the country urging them to back the ban. Last night, 107 MPs chose to vote against their advice, citing a range of reasons, all focused on personal choice and law enforcement. It was a 'free' vote - no party had an opinion or position for its members.
Even with the 'yes' vote we have failed on this one, a key belief of 'protecting the innocent' has withered as MPs debated the rights of the perpetrators, rather than those of the victim. As a culture we rate child abuse amongst one of the worst crimes possible and have a zero tolerance for it. But, in this case, the argument of "Well... people do it in their own homes..." seems good enough to let them continue to lock children in fume-filled boxes - a situation that poses a very high health risk for them.
'Nanny state' cry the opponents of the move (crying it with a cigarette hanging out of the corner of their mouths). 'Yes', I respond, 'yes we are... and proud'. Nannies are there to protect our children.