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« Judi Dench calls for ban on smoking in cars with children | Main | Threatened with violence ... for smoking »

The future of smoking in pubs

While (some) students were running amok in Parliament Square on Thursday and MPs were debating the issue of tuition fees in the House of Commons, another debate was taking place simultaneously in Westminster Hall.

The subject was the future of pubs and the sponsor was Lib Dem MP Greg Mulholland, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group. However, with the tuition fees debate pulling MPs (especially Liberal Democrats!) in different directions, the two-and-a-half hour debate in Westminster Hall was introduced not by Mulholland but by Karen Bradley, Conservative MP for Staffordshire Moorlands.

Now, I won't pretend that the smoking ban dominated proceedings - far from it - but a number of MPs did make reference to it and despite a briefing note to MPs from ASH (above), the usual anti-smoking/pro-ban propaganda was largely absent. (Interestingly, the strongest supporter of the smoking ban appeared to be Labour MP Jack Dromey, husband of Harriet Harman.)

Anyway, here are those smoking ban references in full. Draw your own conclusions:

Mr Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that members of the previous Government bear a large share of the blame for the predicament that many pubs now find themselves in, first because of the overly bureaucratic Licensing Act 2003, which means that many pubs are now unable to provide live entertainment, and secondly because of the implementation of the heavy-handed smoking ban?

Karen Bradley: I acknowledge my right hon. Friend's comments. Although I do not believe that we want to make this a terribly party political debate, I think that he has made some very valid points ...

Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con): Does [my hon. Friend] accept that the smoking ban was one major reason why so many wet trade pubs, which focus predominantly on selling beer, closed? Many local pub customers left because the smoking ban was introduced. Although not many people in the industry are calling for the ban to be overturned-I do not think that that is what people want-does she recognise that those pubs have been hit particularly hard?

Karen Bradley: I do not dispute that some pubs have closed as a direct result of the smoking ban, but I do not think that the industry wants the ban to be rescinded. The pubs that have closed as a result of the smoking ban would not reopen if it were rescinded. The wet pubs that are successful have adapted to the smoking ban and compensated for it ...

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): I declare straight away that although I am not a pub landlord, I am a member of the Campaign for Real Ale, and so often associate the words 'beer' and 'pub' ... The difficulties pubs face can also be the result of a lack of support and a lack of customers, perhaps because of changes in lifestyle. I think that another Member plans to talk about changes in permitted practice, particularly the ban on smoking indoors, which some have indicated has led to a drop-off in the number of people attending pubs. Anecdotally, I recognise that to be true. As most landlords will confirm, the smoking ban has led to a lack of drinking because people are outside smoking, so there is an element of transactions falling as well ...

Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con): As has been discussed often and at length, the smoking ban probably affects all pubs throughout the land. Overall, the smoking ban has been positive. It has improved the environment of pubs no end, especially for those that rely on serving food as a key part of their business, and it makes for a much more pleasant experience for most people who are non-smokers. It has also made pubs more family friendly. But there needs to be a re-think on having a dedicated smoking area inside buildings, with extractor fans, where no children would be allowed and no food would be served. I realise that this would not be possible in every case, but it would allow many pubs to utilise extra space or even have a smoking bar and non-smoking bar or room/lounge-whatever-and end the practice of smokers being thrown outside in all weathers at any time of day or night, with the problems that can be caused with disturbance to local residents who live close by. That would generate a significant increase in business for pubs that are currently struggling and it could make the difference between a pub staying open or closing ...

Andrew Griffiths: There is no doubt that the smoking ban had a dramatic impact on many pubs throughout the country. Many pubs that were reliant on the wet trade were unable to find alternative income when drinkers who had used their pubs for many years decided that if they could not enjoy a cigarette with their pint they would stay at home with a can of lager and sit in front of the television to smoke. That is regrettable, but we all recognise that the time to overturn the smoking ban has passed.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): My hon. Friend is right to say that there is no chance of overturning the smoking ban, but I like to think that there may be a chance of introducing legislation to allow smoking somewhere inside pubs. Overturning the smoking ban is not realistic, but it is a realistic ambition for people to have the opportunity to smoke in pubs somewhere where other people do not have to go.

Andrew Griffiths: I understand my hon. Friend's concern, and many people support his suggestion. The danger is that if we lose sight of the real problems facing pubs and focus on reintroducing smoking in them, we may lose our focus on the more pressing problems that lead to pubs closing.

Greg Mulholland: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. I apologise, Mr Benton, that I did not explain earlier that at the request of the Speaker I must return to the main Chamber after his speech. The Save The Pub group does not have a position on the smoking ban, but we called for a review of its impact on pubs and clubs. That was promised by the previous Government, and it is disappointing that the response by the Department of Health to the save the pub group was that it would not go ahead with that review. We believe that it should take place ...

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): I was a Member of the National Assembly for Wales when the smoking ban was passed. My libertarian instincts are such that I was one of only six Members who opposed the legislation. Although I do not want to criticise another parliamentary body, I must say that when we initiated a debate about wanting to retain a smoking room, or a place in which people could smoke without affecting anyone else, there was a comprehensive antipathy towards the whole idea. Although I felt that we were arguing on a rational basis-I thought that the case that we were making was bombproof-it was almost as if there was no willingness at all to compromise or to look at common sense, and it is that attitude that we need to change ...

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Why are pubs closing so quickly? I submit that it is because our way of life is changing, as are social trends. Some 30 pubs close every week, which is 1,500 a year. In the average constituency, a dozen pubs will close before the next election if it is in five years' time. The problem is that we have had not too little red tape and regulation on our pub sector but too much. Very often that results in unintended consequences. Members will know that I introduced a ten-minute rule Bill on 13 October to give landlords the freedom to decide whether or not to have a separate room in which people could smoke provided that no food was being served and proper ventilation was in place. The Bill was defeated, but it is time for the Government to review the operation of the smoking ban.

Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): There was one point made in the debate that I think should be disregarded. It was absolutely wrong to resurrect the issue of the smoking ban. I say that for numerous reasons, but in particular because, having represented the union members concerned, I knew people who contracted cancer and died as a result of working in licensed premises. I think that that debate should rightly remain closed as we move on ...

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Robert Neill: I am with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington on the smoking ban. I know that some hon. Members have misgivings about it, but the fact is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands rightly said, that this is not a debate that will focus on the most important priorities for public health. I respect the views of those concerned, but I think that there are other ways to make progress more swiftly and constructively.

So, there you have it. As I say, these comments must be put in perspective. There were issues (the beer tie, supermarket pricing etc) that got far more attention, but the impact of the smoking ban is still an issue otherwise it wouldn't have been mentioned at all.

PS. Prior to the debate Forest sent briefing notes to MPs highlighting the impact of the smoking bans on pubs throughout the United Kingdom. Supporters of the Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign who attended the debate included Greg Knight, David Nuttall and Simon Kirby. Unless I'm mistaken, supporters of ASH were noticeable by their absence. They were certainly very quiet.

Reader Comments (16)

Dreary Dromey

How would ASH have got to hear about this?

Jack Dromey – I would like to see his evidence about people whom he knew conveniently (adds support to the smoking ban) died of cancer whilst working in licensed premises…perhaps he can name them for us.

How on earth does he know they died of cancer because they worked in licensed premises? Did their doctors give this post mortem evidence to Dromey?

I think we should know.

This from a man ‘parachuted in’ to the Birmingham safe Labour seat of Erdington…when the short-list was made up of women only.

Cameron was right when he suggested that Dromey should come into the House next time appropriately dressed.

December 11, 2010 at 18:52 | Unregistered CommenterBill

Encouraging (I think) but, depressingly, they still seem to be unquestioningly accepting that SHS is a danger. Do they ever think things out for themselves? Work still to do but a hint in the right direction.

December 11, 2010 at 18:53 | Unregistered CommenterFrank

Huge thanks to those MPs who support us.

December 11, 2010 at 19:02 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Until the SHS Fraud is accepted as fraud, things are not going to change in a significant manner. But this does give hope that minds may beginning to open if based only out of economic reality becoming difficult to deny.

December 11, 2010 at 19:50 | Unregistered CommenterManfred

I'll knock that draft off of my to do list then. Nice rundown, Simon.

I was thinking the same as Bill. Dromey was lying. Period.

December 11, 2010 at 20:56 | Unregistered CommenterDick Puddlecote

Dromey is more than dreary, but typically of the left tendency who believe that the state is the guardian against all evils. It is precisely the opposite - the state can be the harbinger of all evils.

I just wonder if just a few thousand had reacted against the smoking ban in the same fashion as the students recently, then we would probably not be in this mess.

It is a disgrace that the Coalition is not at least reviewing the effects of the smoking ban after three years, as promised.

December 11, 2010 at 21:01 | Unregistered CommenterBill C

This is all well and good - pubs have problems BUT so do customers and and communities. They've suffered simply because one of the mainstays of society has been destroyed along with all the benefits they brought.
An essential pleasure and source of temporary relief was erased for so many people and their lives are even poorer for it.
Lives, unless you are of the bullet-proof bureaucrat brigade, have got more & more & more bl^^dy impossible. Anyone capable of 'Doing' has been hit and has to go cap in hand to 'government' to claim benefits simply because their skills, they themselves and their society are given no respect. Pubs existed because communities needed them and yet they were taken away without any consideration of their true value.
In some respects I don't worry about individual pubs and certainly not about the fate of Pubcos. If some choose to become gastro-pubs it's up to them.- It's the loss of benefit for ordinary people that I mourn.

I am amused by my main local that was 'going down the pan' not simply because of the smoking ban that decimated trade overnight but also due to inept management and a more enticing little place that opened down the road. - New management came in and, as advised, laid EVERY table up for food. They had a good 3 month summer with the monopoly in a popular tourist area
Once the season was over the landlord realized he had no customers and wisely asked advice from a respected local barmaid of many years standing in the village --- an apologetic landlord realized the value of wet-led customers, removed the cutlery, introduced a drinks incentive scheme and is now reaping the benefits (hopefully he'll be able to satisfy the brewery!). I also reap the benefit since I can ask advice from real people/tradesmen and even put some work their way eve although we might be tempted to bypass any formal payment system.!

People matter and if we are given no respect we gladly return that respect by acting like an underclass!

December 11, 2010 at 21:42 | Unregistered CommenterChrisB

What I take from the polite discussion is that the smoking ban debate is over, that any tinkering with current rules would reverse the public health gains. What isn't overtly said but not too hard to imagine is that increased pub attendance with or without a limited relaxation of the smoking ban is not compatible with the future goals for public health. The state wants less alcohol consumption, not more. So the impact that the smoking ban had in the first place is probably viewed by naggers and nudgers as a net positive.

Aren't common attitudes regarding alcohol consumption on the list of targets to be manipulated for the sake of public health anyway? Tobacco and alcohol have already been delinked in the public mind. Separating groups is an effective means to suppress their behaviour.

Arguments made on behalf of tobacco use normalisation for the sake of the pub sector are doomed to failure, because pubs and their primary product are considered antithetical to 'public health' which I am afraid trumps individual autonomy.

I disagree with that line of reasoning, but I have no power to discredit it. For now there's no reason for a direct assault against the pub as the industry itself is declining just fine without additional pressure from the state. Drink up.

December 11, 2010 at 21:53 | Unregistered CommenterDr. Brian Oblivion

Dr Oblivion, your comment raises a specific point, and that is: Is the gov deliberately allowing pubs to go to the wall in order to cut the consumption of alcohol? My own opinion is that I doubt it. The reason is that I do not think that politicians think much beyond the here and now - at most, as far as the next election. But that is not to say that 'the establishment' has not thought these thoughts!

But the whole idea of causing pubs to close makes little sense, does it? All that dose is transfer the purchase of alcohol from pubs to supermarkets. I can use myself as a reasonable example. Before the smoking ban, I rarely drank alcohol at home - I went to the pub for a little fun as well as a few pints. Now, I only go to the pub 40% of the time that I used to. Instead, I get a bottle of wine from the shop and drink at home. If anything, the smoking ban has caused an increase in my alcohol consumption and my tobacco consumption rather than the reverse.

But what I think is far more important is your suggestion 'that the smoking ban is settled'. It is not. The more that politicians shout that it is, the more certain it is that it is not!

We will not give up and we will not surrender. Tonight, I went to my local and there was entertainment - a singer and a comedian. FOR THE FIRST TIME, I heard a comedian making jokes about the smoking ban. As more and more comedians find the silliness of the ban to be material for fun, the more the ban will be seen to be an affront to our collective intelligence.

December 12, 2010 at 1:59 | Unregistered CommenterJunican

Notice the BBC carefully reported the entire debate without a single reference to the smoking ban.

December 12, 2010 at 11:48 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge Speller


Is the gov deliberately allowing pubs to go to the wall in order to cut the consumption of alcohol?

Actually, I have long thought that the Government are doing worse than deliberately allowing pubs to go to the wall – I honestly think they are actively trying to close them through legislative and regulatory means. But I don’t think it’s to cut the consumption of alcohol, as you suggest that some people might believe (although I realise that you don't agree with that line of thinking), because, as we have seen from the smoking ban, people will simply drink at home, and they’d probably drink more (just as they are now smoking more), and the Government know this full well.

No, I think it runs much deeper than that. I think they want pubs closed precisely because they are central and vital to local communities and, for all their rhetoric, politicians don’t actually want communities. They want us all living in our isolated little boxes – terrified of our own shadows, working during the day and eating and sleeping at home with just our families, so that we can be monitored and kept an eye on and, most importantly, so that they know where we are and what we are most likely to be doing.

I think they want pubs closed because they are where people meet and chat and talk and exchange opinions and where – and this is a vital feature of social interaction such as occurs in pubs – those who don’t conform to the Government-dictated “accepted” views of life can learn that they are not alone and that others share the same thoughts. Just as an aside, it was for precisely this reason that Saddam Hussein closed all the coffee-shops in Iraq during his reign.

I think they want pubs closed because it is within little local pubs that people learn to drink responsibly and socially – most of the so-called “binge drinking problems” stem from the large chain-owned pub-warehouse establishments rather than from little local pubs. And for all they may bat on that “we aren’t targeting moderate, sensible drinkers,” in fact they want, over time, to foster the image that people – any people – who drink are “a problem,” just as they have succeeded in establishing that people – any people – who smoke are “a problem.” That way, those “problem people” will then become the “good reason” for increasingly restrictive legislation regarding alcohol.

And, maybe the most important reason of all for closing pubs, from the Government’s (financial) point of view, is hinted at above by ChrisB in his comment:

I can ask advice from real people/tradesmen and even put some work their way, even although we might be tempted to bypass any formal payment system.

In short, I think there are lots and lots and lots of reasons why it would be to the Government’s advantage for pubs to close – real pubs, I mean, not the big town-centre bars. And, leaving aside for a moment all the other factors such as pandering to powerful single-issue lobby groups and individuals (which have, of course, had their part to play), at a fundamental level, the smoking ban was designed as a major step in this direction. Why else would the Health Act specifically require any change to the law to be returned to Parliament for approval only in respect of licensed premises, whereas changes in any other areas can be made as and when deemed necessary on the nod from a Secretary of State?

December 12, 2010 at 14:33 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

Jack Dromey = Mr. Harriet Harperson.

He did well on Labour's all women shortlists.

December 12, 2010 at 17:56 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

I'd rather risk a little paranoia than be caught with my trousers down. I can only speculate, not having access to the grand plan, but it's pretty obvious that alcohol is a target. Two for the price of one. Maybe nanny got lucky. Delinking smoking and drinking in the public mind also is reminiscent of the divide and conquer strategy.

I shudder to imagine whether the coming nudge is a metaphorical one or if it's worse. The way things are going we'll probably be assigned literal nudge buddies, each checking any potentially risky or unapproved choice. I can almost envision the enthusiastic health buddy I'll get... Ugh. Out the window I go....

December 12, 2010 at 20:34 | Unregistered CommenterDr. Brian Oblivion

Misty, an interesting point. I remember my brother, who studied in what was Czechoslovakia in 1968/69. He told me about the drinkiing cellars in Prague and Brno where lots of students and artists went. He said that the best discussions were in the early hours of the morning, when they were sure no 'strangers' were around. That is when they were able to speak openly about their suppresion.

December 13, 2010 at 0:55 | Unregistered Commentertimbone

This might be a stupid question, but how did the whole "smoking room so long as no food is served" thing come about? I mean, if there are people happy to go into a smoking room, why shouldn't the same people be allowed to eat if they want?

Or was them some bizarre thought that eating in a room with smoke would somehow allow the food to get contaminated thus causing EVEN MORE cancers?!

Presumably most smokers, even very light ones like me, enjoy nothing more than a post-meal cigarette. I barely ever eat out since the ban.

December 13, 2010 at 19:30 | Unregistered CommenterRose W

From where do they get this BS about "the time for overturning the ban is past"???? The US had alcohol prohibition for 13 years before it finally bit the dust.

December 13, 2010 at 22:24 | Unregistered Commenterchris

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