Democracy is not just about voting Ė itís also about freedom under the rule of law.

Politicians should only take freedoms from some people to protect the greater freedoms of others. It is wrong to ban something unless it causes actual harm to our fellow human beings. Simple disapproval is never a valid reason to stop people doing something they chose to do.

So how does all that theory work in practice? It can lead you into really controversial decisions.

For example, itís why I am sure it was wrong to ban fox hunting. No human being was being harmed by it. We should not deny people the choice of how to control the fox population in their area. (But the appalling barbarity of badger baiting and dog fighting brutalised their human spectators and it was right to ban them Ė they did harm to humans.)

Itís why I voted in favour of gay marriage. Many people remain uncomfortable about allowing same sex couples to marry under the same circumstances as heterosexual couples. But, I concluded it would be wrong to deny two people the opportunity to express their love for one another through marriage. No actual harm comes to other human beings from allowing same sex marriage.

And itís why I voted on Monday to ban smoking in cars with children. All the representations I received on the subject supported a ban, but I also thought carefully about it. I concluded that, although making it illegal for people to smoke in cars with children restricts their freedom, children just should not be exposed to second-hand smoke. So a childís freedom to enjoy good health is undermined if they are in a car with a smoker.

Many social changes are controversial at the time, but become generally accepted quickly thereafter.

In the past people were also against compulsory wearing of seat belts in cars and banning smoking indoors in public areas. But I doubt anyone would now vote to reverse them as passengers and drivers are much safer and non-smokers are no longer at risk of breathing in otherís second-hand smoke.

Politicians should not take decisions to restrict freedoms lightly, but these decisions are sometimes necessary for the greater good.


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