Laura Perrins: MPs put parents on the naughty step

Banning smoking in cars is another step in the State's takeover of parenting

When Parliament voted to ban smoking in vehicles that carry children I had a Twitter meltdown. I just could not believe that MPs had voted to prohibit an otherwise lawful activity in a private space. I accused them of being drunk on power, as high as kites, and setting a dangerous precedent. Many agreed and disagreed, including George Freeman MP who said that all they did was to make ‘poisoning children illegal’.

I tweeted that I would start smoking with the kids in the car as form of civil disobedience (I do not smoke or drive) or perhaps take to the wendy house with the kids to smoke and see what the position was there. It is an enclosed space so I guess I would be ‘poisoning’ them.

But since then I have thought about this carefully to determine what brought on such a melt down. My main objection is using the criminal law to limit ‘bad parenting’. This in my opinion is a gross abuse of power by our MP’s.

The key aim of the criminal law should be prohibit action that causes ‘harm to others'.I do not believe passive smoking passes the test of causing harm to another as otherwise it should be outlawed in the home. Nor does it fall into the category of a regulatory offence (of which there are thousands).

Instead, it is the State prohibiting ‘bad parenting'. As Parliament frowns upon parents who smoke they have decided to put such parents on the naughty step.

Using the criminal law to coerce parents into the behaving better is heavy-handed to the say the least. Instead of using a public health campaigns, or the massive resources of the NHS, health workers and midwives, MPs (bored to tears it seems with nothing else to do) have reached for the most coercive method possible – criminalisation.

Make no mistake that the criminal prohibition of smoking in cars is the equivalent of hitting parents over the head with a baseball bat. It is not subtle and it is not persuasive. It is heavy handed and disproportionate.

Do MPs realise the consequences of this law? It could mean a mother who is picking up her child after school –maybe she is a bit stressed – and lights up in the car being stopped, hauled out of the car by police to be given a penalty notice? Is this kind of public shaming of parents really in the child’s best interests?

If she disputes the offence is she to be hauled before the magistrates’ court, tried,  convicted and fined? The mind boggles. It really does. If it is just a fine that is levelled chances are these fines will be levelled against parents least able to afford it. Heaping more misery upon mum and family. It is odious.

But we are told that smoking in cars is “poisonous” for children. Oh really. Well I hazard it is a lot more poisonous for children who have parents who smoke in the house (a major risk factor in cot death) so why don’t you ban it there also? And one chap told me that “surely the principle of Best Interests of the Child has been upheld in this case?”

Best interests as interpreted by the State, is what they mean. You hear this kind of rubbish day in and day out to justify the State takeover of parenting.

Let me tell you what is in the best interests of the child – not to have a parent who is going to be fined for having a fag on the school run. Not to have a parent who is stressed out because there is copper around the corner who may or may not pull her over for committing the ghastly sin of smoking in the car.

Smoking is now unique in that it inhabits some kind of hinterland between the legal and illegal. It is illegal in most public places and illegal in the private space of the car but legal in the home and the wendy house. I would have more respect for the power crazed MPs if they went the whole hog and just outlawed it completely. That, at least, would be consistent.

Laura Perrins