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A new report has called on the government to pay more attention to the risks to personal liberty posed by new legislation.

The report, by the House of Lords economic affairs committee, Government Policy on the Management of Risk, examines government and public attitudes to risk. It argues that threats to liberty are not adequately considered when policy is formulated and that the government should 'take greater account of the specific and accumulated impact of legislation on personal freedoms'.

The evidence is available here.

The committee recommend the introduction of a more formal procedure to ensure that the potential impact of legislation on personal freedoms is properly considered.

The report examines the government's general approach to risk management and concludes that while a useful framework for the assessment of risk has been developed, there are problems with the way this framework is applied.

The committee are concerned that reward and assessment systems in the public sector may emphasise the adverse impact of failure rather than the gains from success, so encouraging excessive risk aversion.

The committee consider two specific cases, the recent decision to ban smoking in public places and levels of public expenditure on rail and road safety. In both cases they argue that proper balanced assessments of the risks involved have not been conducted.

Passive Smoking

On passive smoking and the coming ban on smoking in public places, the committee, while recognising the well-established health risks of smoking, argue that the risks associated with passive smoking do not justify a ban. They say that the aims of the legislation have not been made clear and that greater attention should have been given to the scientific evidence, which suggests that passive smoking in public places is a relatively minor problem compared with passive smoking within the home.

The committee conclude that: 'Failure to consider these matters properly has resulted in the introduction of a policy that appears to demonstrate a disproportionate response to the problem'.

Road and Rail Safety

The committee welcome recent moves towards uniformity of treatment for road and rail safety. However, they argue that expenditure on road safety is lower than should be expected when the risks are properly compared to those associated with rail safety where public spending is proportionately higher.

The committee conclude that 'there is .still a need for government to ensure that road safety expenditure is set at an appropriate level, consistent with expenditures on rail safety.''

Lord Wakeham, chairman of the economic affairs committee, said:

'The way risk is assessed by government and local authorities has a major impact on public policy and on how our taxes are spent.

'The committee were satisfied with the framework established by the government for assessing risk, but they were not convinced that this framework is always applied properly, in a balanced, consistent and proportionate manner. Two examples are the ban on smoking in public places and spending on road and rail safety. In both these cases, we do not think that government guidelines on risk assessment were properly applied.

'We are also concerned that the government does not pay enough attention to the cumulative impact of legislation on personal freedom and choice.'


The report is published by The Stationery Office, Government Policy on the Management of Risk, House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, 5th Report of 2005/06, HL Paper 183-I, ISBN 010 400868 7, Price£10.

The members of the committee who conducted the inquiry were:

Lord Wakeham (Chairman)

Lord Kingsdown

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

Lord Lawson of Blaby

Lord Layard

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston

Lord Roper

Lord Paul

Lord Powell of Bayswater

Lord Sheldon

Lord Sheppard of Didgemere

Lord Skidelsky

Lord Vallance of Tummel

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