Friday, September 14, 2007

Regulation of risk

Yesterday I delivered my submission on the Regulatory Responsibility Bill. I focussed on the regulation of risk. The written submission is a little lengthy but the notes I used for the oral submission (I only had ten minutes) are below.

But first, funnily enough this morning I spotted this little piece in the DomPost which confirms something I mentioned in my written submission; the endless tinkering with the DPB legislation (part of the Social Security Act) because it wasn't properly scrutinised at the outset. The original Social Security Act (1938) gave certain groups a statutory entitlement to other people's money and the ensuing wrangling over it has been interminable.

Oral Submission notes for select committee - the regulation of risk

Accidents happen. The expression seems to have dropped out of common usage.But it’s time we started using it again and MPs and Ministers could take the lead.

When it comes to regulation of risk there should be a ‘do nothing’ option.

I don’t believe there can be any doubt that we are now over-regulated but it isn’t just this country.

I have taken the liberty of getting copies for each of you of a report written by members of the British Better Regulation Commission – Risk, Responsibility and Regulation. This book is full of examples of over-reactions to risk. For example dangerous dog legislation and mandatory school lunch box inspections. Some, as you would expect, mirror this country. I understand how stretched your time is but if you can read just one page have a look at page 34 entitled “Naked streets – handing back responsibility.”

In a nutshell the naked streets policy, originated in the Netherlands but adopted in some parts of Britain, involves removing road-markings, street signs, traffic signals etc. Counter-intuitively this has reduced speeds and accidents. Why? Simply because people become more careful and cautious when they aren’t being told what to do.

The ‘naked streets’ policy is a great analogy for remedying over –regulation in all sorts of areas.

But as MPs and Ministers, you may find resisting calls for government – spurred on by the media - to ‘do something’, near impossible. As the BRC points out, you are criticised for both intervening and for failing to act. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

What you need are mechanisms to demonstrate that more regulation might not be the answer. Britain has established the BRC to act as a watchdog and advisor to the public and government. We could do even better than that by adopting the Regulatory Responsibility Bill.

And you are going to need it. Leaving aside business regulation there will continue to be calls to regulate all social aspects of our lives – what we eat and drink, how we raise our children, and what we do with our money. You are going to face calls to ban;

Pokie machines, access to birth and death certificates, cigarette smoking, gang patches, direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising, pies and sausage rolls in schools, the docking of dog’s tails, food advertising during children’s programmes, dangerous dogs, fireworks, artificial sweeteners etc, etc. A number of vocal lobbyists have an overwhelming faith that government should be involved in all of these areas.

But I don’t believe most MPs agree. You need some form of protection from those who want to misuse state power. For your own sake and that of future MPs I urge you to recommend this bill be passed.

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