I’m not one of those MPs who instinctively cry “It’s the Nanny State” whenever the Government steps in to manage or regulate the conduct of our country’s citizens. There are many times when it’s necessary to consider the health and well-being of people and that not everyone is as well informed as we would like them to be or indeed always able to make an informed choice. That’s why I voted to ban smoking in cars with children. It’s why I believe in minimum price alcohol, am open to arguments for a sugar tax to tackle the obesity epidemic in the UK and I’m glad I was proved wrong, when I voted in the Commons against smoking in public places in 2008.
It’s why I’m a Conservative and not a social liberal or a libertarian – I believe that in exchange for taxes, that the State is duty bound not just to deliver core services but also provide a civilised regulatory and permissive regime for governing how people live and behave and that this “social contract” is broadly accepted.
Of course, it might be your right to get drunk or drugged up - but just don’t expect others to pay to pick up the pieces, whether it’s on the street, in accident and emergency or on board a Ryanair flight transporting yobs to a stag night in Slovakia.
Were it not for this pragmatic attitude, then Conservative Governments would not have been pioneers in areas like employment law, child labour, public health and housing, as they have been over the last hundred years and more.
But has this trend towards control, authoritarianism and a risk averse society gone too far?
This week, a group of doctors proposed banning tackling in rugby matches. Yes – banning an intrinsic part of a game which, whilst we have growing numbers of fat and unfit kids, develops camaraderie, discipline, fitness, resilience, commitment and teamwork. A game that will always carry risk – as does marathon running, diving and boxing – but surely has as well a hugely positive impact on many young lives.
Of course injury and trauma, especially head injuries, are important and we need proper training and coaching to prevent these incidences but the level of risk of serious injury is very small.
We should trust in the professionalism of those who run the sport and those medical experts who can help minimise risk. I hated rugby at school – and was useless at it – but I know it’s been the making of many boys and girls and men and women at Peterborough RFU and Peterborough Lions.
Rugby without tackling would be like yachting without the sea. A pointless waste of time. It’s time we got a grip and managed the risk rather than wreck a well-loved sport.