Thursday, 30 July 2009

Box of chocolates? We’ll need to see some ID

Two recent stories seem to sum up modern Britain. In the first, a customer at Marks and Spencer was asked for identification to prove her age when she attempted to buy a pizza cutter. In the second, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) announced that it was going to ask manufacturers to cut the size of chocolate bars, confectionery and cans of fizzy drink, in order to tackle rising rates of obesity.

The reason the customer at M&S was asked for proof of age to buy a pizza cutter? A spokesman explained “Our policy is not to sell knives or bladed articles to persons under 18, and a pizza-wheel fits into to that category. We are a responsible retailer, and our customers expect us to be vigilant in providing blades if people appear to be underage.” (In fact, it is a criminal offence for a retailer to sell including knives, axes, and razor blades to anyone under 18.)

Now, I have no problem with M&S wishing to be a responsible retailer, and adopting such a policy. If the customers are happy, then there is no problem. My problem is with legislation that forbids retailers from selling knives, axes and razor blades to those under 18. In 21st century Britain, we accept this nonsense. A couple of hundred years ago, in the age of enlightenment, most people would have reckoned that a) the average 17 year old would have no difficulty finding axes, knives and razor blades around the home, and b) 26 year olds were just as capable of using malicious weapons as 17 year olds. Still, this is the 21st century, and we can’t be expected to be as smart as we were in the 18th century.

As for the brilliant proposal of the FSA to make chocolate bars smaller - well, at least it is only a recommendation, rather than a proposed law. Though one suspects that if manufacturers don’t fall into line, the government will act. Again, one suspects that in the 18th century, people would have scratched their heads and asked what was to prevent people from buying two chocolate bars, instead of one. Presumably this will not occur to 21st century Britons.

What next? Well, I fully expect that in a few years time, we will see new laws that require housewives to keep their kitchen knives in a locked cabinet. And of course, anyone wishing to buy over 100 grams of confectionary will need to show proof that they are over 18 years of age.


patently said...

Presumably, the manufacturers set the sizes of cholocate bars at a level which people want to buy.

So, instead of buying a bar of size x, people will buy a bar of size 0.8x. Then, the reasonable people who can control their desires will be left feeling unsatisfied. Those who cannot will buy another, and therefore consume a snack of size 1.6x.

To put it another way, this is a classic statist socialist rule; it makes things worse for the people it is meant to help, and makes life less pleasant for the rest.

Anonymous said...

My mother is a teacher, one who runs after-school activities as well, and she fears a law she believes will be enacted in the not-too-distant future. I wonder if you will agree.

She suggests that in future parents hosting childrens' birthday parties in their own homes will have to undergo childcare training and the same social disclosure procedures as any leader at a youth event.

I have to say, much as it worries me, that I could see this happening...

Young Mr. Brown said...

I hadn't thought of that one.

But yes, I can see it coming to pass - particularly if something bad does happen at a birthday party.

I can see it all: It gets reported in the press. Someone says "This must never be allowed to happen again." Children's charities call for action. Politicians make a handful of new laws to deal with it.