Could tradeable fat permits be the answer to the nation's growing waistlines? Or how about booze permits to tackle the growth in alcohol abuse? The idea's an intriguing one and comes from a working group set up by David Cameron to look at how to make business more responsible. The group's just floating ideas at this stage but it wants the Tories to examine whether the methods being used to tackle pollution and climate change could also be used to confront other social ills.
So, just as airlines will soon be able to buy and sell permits to emit carbon, food and drink firms might be able to buy and sell them for producing fatty foods or intoxicating drinks. The aim is to give businesses incentives to move away from doing what's bad for society and do more of what's good and to rely less on government regulation.
The group proposes that firms that act responsibly could be rewarded by being regulated less. The ideas will be unveiled today at a summit on social responsibility - the Tory leader's Big Idea. He's determined to prove that it's a coherent alternative to what he dubs Labour's big government approach. He wants also to show that he's not been scared off by rows about chocolate oranges and padded children’s bras.
So far, social responsibility's not really flown as a big idea. It's been dismissed either as a headline-grabbing soundbite or mere exhortation to business and society to do more. What the Conservatives are trying to show is that there is a role for government in setting the framework for policy even if politicians themselves actually do less.
PS. There will not be permits, I'm assured, for curried chips. I'm grateful for the messages of sympathy from those who've heard that a man in a pub threw the afore-mentioned culinary delicacy at me last week. The tale has grown somewhat in the re-telling so that many have wondered how I continued working after a plate of vindaloo was poured over me.
The truth is a little less exciting. A drunk in a pub in Rochdale (where I was filming opinions on the Act of Union - 300 years old this year) objected to my failure to take his views seriously and the decision of the landlady to throw him out. He returned to the pub, shouted at me for failing to bring the boys home from Iraq and chucked his chips with curry sauce in my general direction. The chips missed, the sauce hit leading to me spending the next day in Edinburgh apologising for the curious smell. You can see the report on the Act of Union on the 10 O'Clock News tonight. Look hard and you might see the curry stain.