Gaby Hinsliff and Jamie Doward
Sunday October 9, 2005
Smoking is set to be banned completely in pubs and restaurants in England after cabinet ministers united to demand a U-turn on plans for a partial ban.
The Prime Minister has let it be known that he will not block Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt’s calls to overturn the present plans, under which smoking would be banned only in places where food is served.
Toughening up the ban risks a backlash from smokers driven into the street. However, the current compromise is now widely considered unworkable in Whitehall, because it is opposed both by brewers – who argue it would be simpler to apply the same rules to all pubs – and doctors, who believe more lives could be saved by an outright ban.
Blair has let it be known that if the cabinet, which meets shortly to consider Hewitt’s proposals, can agree on an outright ban, he will not stand in the way. Hewitt has now won the backing of cabinet big hitters – including the Chancellor Gordon Brown, Tessa Jowell, whose Culture Department oversees the pub industry, and Trade Secretary Alan Johnson.
The Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, who once opposed the ban, has also indicated he will not block a majority of colleagues. This leaves opposition only from John Reid, who as Health Secretary drew up the original plans for a limited ban.
‘We are broadly supportive and we can see the reasons for this: we are happy for the debate to be opened up,’ said a senior Downing Street source. ‘If cabinet wants to go for it, that’s fine. Then we say “What do the people think”?’
Smoking will be banned in Scotland next year after the Scottish Parliament passed legislation. The Welsh Assembly has applied for powers to impose a ban, leaving England alone as a place where people can still smoke in some pubs.
In England, one possible compromise, if agreement cannot be reached, is for so-called ‘smoking carriages’ – rooms that pubs would set aside with no bar staff, no food and no drink, where smokers could simply go for a cigarette before returning to the bar. Private members’ clubs would also be excluded.
The pressure for change follows research showing pubs in poorer areas would respond to a limited ban by stopping serving food so that they can allow smoking – making a mockery of the ban and worsening the gulf that already exists between the rich and poor over smoking-related deaths.
There are also concerns over the health of bar staff forced to breathe customers’ smoke, while ministers have argued that once-controversial smoking bans in New York and Dublin have now proved popular.
Hewitt has worked closely with Jowell to rally cabinet support. ‘Tessa has always been in favour of a total ban but John Reid was against it, and this time last year, for all sorts of political reasons, the Prime Minister was not willing to override him,’ said a senior Whitehall source close to the negotiations.
‘But a number of things have happened now which have changed the politics of this. One is that we have a new Health Secretary, and we have evidence from Dublin and New York that the initiatives there have settled down.’
Ministers argue a total ban would be a brave step, and popular in retrospect, like Ken Livingstone’s controversial introduction of a London congestion charge. ‘The Prime Minister is minded for a complete ban but doesn’t want to impose his own view. He wants Patricia to build a consensus,’ the source added.
Sources close to Hewitt warned, however, that the deal was far from done, arguing that smoking was not Blair’s current priority, while sources close to Reid said he stood by the partial ban that was in Labour’s election manifesto. If the cabinet agrees the outright ban, Blair is expected to order a swift public consultation to ensure there is no major backlash.
Health groups last night welcomed the move. ‘This step will be more effective than anything else the government could do to lessen the waste of life caused by smoking-related disease,’ said Deborah Arnott, of Action on Smoking and Health.
Leek het er eerst op dat een compromis gesloten zou worden, waarbij rokers toch nog in een deel van de pubs terecht zouden kunnen. Nu blijkt dat anti’s geen compromissen dulden en alleen en totaal rookverbod acceptabel vinden. De anti laat zijn ware aard weer eens: hij moet en zal ook het leven van anderen controleren.
Overigens dient ook vermeld dat te worden dat de horeca en de overkoepelende organisaties hier zelf mede schuldig aan zijn. Discussies over omzetpercentages die behaald mogen worden met het serveren van voedsel en andere discussies in de marge hebben de zaak zeker geen goed gedaan. Men had ten strijde moeten trekken tegen de merookleugen, die de basis is van elk onterecht rookverbod.
En nogmaals: een pub is geen publieke gelegenheid, maar een private onderneming.
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