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Mark Wallace: Councils must resist the demands of local NHS nanny-staters which would have the effect of banning Popeye for under-18s

Mark Wallace Mark Wallace of The TaxPayers' Alliance says that local councils must ignore the demands of some increasingly zealous primary care trusts.

Long-standing readers may recall Eric Pickles' admirable call last year for councils across the land to refuse to collaborate with the stealth taxes and schemes of central government. As one city has demonstrated this week, it is also necessary for councils to be constantly resistant to the nannying tendencies of organisations more close to home than the national government.

Unbelievably, Liverpool City Council has been confronted with a demand from its local Primary Care Trust that all films showing smoking except in an unremittingly negative light should be automatically issued with 18 certificates. This means, as the Liverpool Daily Post acutely ascertained, that any future film about Popeye, for example, would be adults-only viewing unless the heroic sailor died of lung cancer as a result of his smoking habit.

It is a bizarre anachronism that councils have the power to increase the age restrictions on films being shown in their area. The vast majority of councils are absolutely right never to use the power at all. The only result of them attempting to force their personal tastes onto local cinemas would be to harm those cinemas by driving their customers elsewhere and then to make the council itself a laughing stock.

Torbay, for example, banned The Life of Brian in 1979 to protect the people of the town from what the council felt to be an anti-Christian message, and that ban was only lifted last year. Is Torbay now notably more God-fearing than any other comparable town in the country? Did the ban succeed in preventing Torbegians (I’m guessing, but I hope that’s their official name) from being exposed to the supposed evils of Monty Python for 29 years? Of course not – the only result was that local cinemas missed out on ticket and popcorn sales for one of the most popular film releases of that decade.

So it is little wonder that so few councils use their film classifying powers. Indeed, with the general social trend of the last 30 years being away from moralistic intrusion into others’ private lives and towards greater tolerance, one might have hoped that we had seen the last of councils poking their noses into their local projection rooms.

Sadly, that hopeful thought is under threat from the rise of the new prudes who increasingly inhabit “public health” offices throughout the land. Rather than focus on improving services in the wards and surgeries of the NHS, increasingly some of the more zealous primary care trusts have decided that their role extends to social engineering, too.

This mission creep is apparently done with no regard whatsoever for the fact that the NHS is currently struggling to fulfil its core mission. If you are so minded, it is possible to decide that every factor in one’s life has some health impact. In fact, the thinking of the more extreme officials will undoubtedly lead to the conclusion that the NHS’ mission necessitates them being allowed to manage the redistribution of property, or to decide the History syllabus.

Hence the attempt in Liverpool to ban children from watching Popeye. No matter how much you may dislike smoking, it is a ludicrous situation that while ill people in Liverpool are struggling to get the doctors appointment or treatment that they need, the local health budget is being squandered on strategy papers discussing how best to judge which cartoons to ban.

Happily, NHS Trusts have not (yet) been granted the powers to implement their dreams of invading our private lives in order to force us into supposedly healthier habits. In this case the City Council are, initially at least, resisting the demands of the moralising medics. Let us hope that every council is as sensible and robust on this issue.


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