Edmund Burke warned us: “Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains on their appetites.” In other words, freedom is a privilege that can only be sustained and deserved if we use our freedom to ensure the well-being of others. Freedom has never been, nor could be, a charter for selfishness, without itself being destroyed.
A vote will be taken today on an amendment that has been tabled to the Children’s and Families Bill by Labour Peers to ban smoking in cars when children are present. This isn’t the first time this idea has been proposed, and it will have cross party support in the Lords as the last attempt was a Private Members Bill introduced by Conservative Lord Ribeiro in 2012. The health arguments against exposing children to smoke -and of course the everyone is at risk – are well rehearsed, and neatly summarised here by the BBC. It is worth reflecting however why we need this law.
Much as I recoil from the thought of more legislation to dictate our behaviours, I also accept that we have brought this on ourselves. Over the past few decades we have seen the rise of liberal individualism and mistakenly seen it as an expression of, rather than a threat to, individual liberty. We have been blinded by the entitlement of choice, rather than seeing through to the consequences of choosing. What remains important is not choice per se, but what we choose, and unless we make choices for the common good we delude ourselves that we can remain free. As the brilliant former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks expanded in his ‘Politics of Hope‘, freedom is a moral achievement; it rests on self-restraint and regard for others.
The freedom to protect our children simply because it is the right and moral thing to do has been abused, so it is only right that legislators now step in to enforce the right of children to be protected from smoke.