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The Leader of the House of Commons and the smoking ban e-petition

The story so far.

On Thursday August 4 the Government launched its new e-petition website. As most readers know, I'm not a fan of petitions in general. Nevertheless I spoke to Forest patron Antony Worrall Thompson and he agreed to submit a petition entitled 'Save Our Pubs and Clubs – Amend The Smoking Ban'.

It was submitted that afternoon and received the following response: 'Thank you for submitting your e-petition. An email will be sent to you now to confirm your email address ... We can't check your e-petition until you've clicked on the link in this email'.

An email was duly received and the link clicked. Antony's PA tells me: "The petition definitely registered - there was confirmation."

A week passed and we heard nothing more. Not even a rejection.

On Friday I sent an email to the Cabinet Office (which I understood was responsible for the e-petition website) enquiring about the fate of Antony's petition. Within an hour I received the following response:

Dear Sir

The E-Petitions website is administered by the Office of the Leader of the House of Commons. I have therefore forwarded your email there.

Kind regards,

This morning, eleven days after AWT's petition was submitted and in the absence of any further response, I rang the Office of the Leader of the House of Commons. I had a brief conversation with a member of staff who told me that someone would get back to me.

That was at ten o'clock.

Meanwhile I checked to remind myself who is the Leader of the House of Commons. It is of course our old friend the Rt Hon Sir George Young MP. Remember him?

Sir George backs anti-smoking campaign
Sir George speaks out on smoking
Sir George backs No Smoking Day
Sir George addresses fringe meeting at party conference

PS. For the record, I am NOT a conspiracy theorist!!


The road to prohibition

The anti-tobacco lobby is developing plans to prohibit smoking altogether, writes Chris Snowdon:

A recent paper in BMC Public Health has suggested ways of going about it. The study – entitled ‘Daring to Dream’ – puts forward three different methods by which prohibition could be introduced ...

1. Incrementally reduce the number of cigarettes produced each year until it reaches zero in ten to 15 years.

2. Make a law to force the tobacco industry to reduce smoking prevalence (punishable by fines).

3. Change the law to make it easier for individuals to sue the tobacco industry, thus bankrupting it.

He adds:

Notice that all these strategies embrace the prohibitionists’ fallacy of assuming that industry is the root of the problem. It is a constant trait of those endowed with the certainty of the zealot to believe that people desire products because industry produces them, and not – as is the reality – that industry supplies products because people desire them.

Full article: Planning for Prohibition (The Free Society)


Review of the week


Petition passes 100,000 signatures

My back is turned for 48 hours and what happens?

An e-petition entitled 'London rioters should loose (sic) all benefits' passes the threshold of 100,000 signatures and has been forwarded to the Backbench Business Committee for consideration for debate.

Needless to say the e-petition website has gone into meltdown ... One or two government ministers may be sweating too.


And now for some good news

Further to previous posts ...

Local Government Minister Bob Neill has sought to clarify newspaper reports that councils may ban smoking in parks and cars:

“Reports suggesting that the Localism Bill will allow the introduction of smoking bans in public places are wide off the mark. There is nothing in this Bill that provides additional powers to prohibit smoking in open spaces or in private cars.

“We are giving councils a general power of competence - this will allow them to do the things that any individual generally could. It will particularly help councils find new ways to work to save money and protect frontline services. But that does not permit the introduction of new regulation on the broader public.”

I also have it on good authority (from a different government source) that the papers that reported the story "didn't bother to contact us" to check the facts.


Smoking in parks – it's a riot

I was interviewed yesterday for BBC1's Look North (North East and Cumbria).

The item was about smoking in parks but when I arrived to record the interview at the BBC studios in Cambridge I was asked, "Are you here to talk about the riots?"

For a split second I was tempted to say "Yes" and do a completely different interview.

Instead I made the point, on camera, that in the middle of a financial crisis, with thousands of people rioting in the streets, it seemed absurd to be talking about smoking in parks. "Politicians and local councillors," I said, "need to get their priorities right."

Sadly that and other comments ("Are they going to ban obese people from parks too?") were edited out.

Click here to see the report. It starts about ten minutes in but is only available online until 6.00pm today.

PS. Eagle-eyed viewers who know me well may spot that I wasn't wearing glasses for the interview.

Moments before we began recording the producer asked me to take them off because they were causing a distracting reflection.

Now, without my glasses I can't see a thing – it's all a blur – so what you see is a man with hugely impaired vision sitting on a stool and squinting in the direction of a remote controlled camera several feet away.

Ah, yes, the glamour of television. You can't beat it.


Smoking ban e-petition update

Well, that's interesting. The Government's e-petition website has suddenly been flooded with smoking ban-related petitions.

Most have been rejected ("There is already an e-petition about this issue"). Two have survived the cull, including the one above (proposed by Daniel Connolly). I've no quarrel with it at all. It says what it is on the tin:

Amend the smoking ban

Amendment of the smoking ban allowing proprietors of businesses to decide whether or not to allow smoking on their premises.

The second published petition reads:

Smoking Ban Review

The smoking ban has lead to economic misery for many thousands of businesses. Pubs are closing at an unprecedented rate. Even non-smokers admit that the atmosphere in pubs has been adversely affected. The streets in our towns and cities are now being blighted by crowds of smokers gathering outside pubs, causing noise and litter pollution. Give landlords of public houses the choice - smoking or non-smoking! At the moment there are enough pubs for people to be given this choice - but for how much longer?

As for the rejected petitions – you can see them here.

There is no sign (not even a rejection) of the petition we submitted. For the record it was proposed by Forest patron Antony Worrall Thompson and reads as follows:

Save Our Pubs and Clubs: Amend the Smoking Ban

Since the introduction of the smoking ban there has been a dramatic increase in pub closures. Working men's clubs have been hit badly too. The ban has damaged local communities with thousands of people deciding to stay at home instead of going out. Let's be fair. Tobacco is a legal product. In Britain ten million adult smokers contribute £10 billion a year in tobacco taxation alone. It'’s only right that they should be accommodated in some public places. If the government doesn'’t want adults to smoke at home in front of the children or litter the streets, they should be allowed to smoke in pubs and clubs. Give licensees and customers a choice. We want the smoking ban amended so landlords can choose to provide a separate, well-ventilated smoking room for adults who wish to smoke. Let common sense prevail. A modest change in the law is all we ask.

We'll give it one or two days and if AWT's petition doesn't appear we'll reassess the situation, probably throwing our weight behind Daniel's petition.

Update: I have just checked our records and Daniel Connolly is a registered supporter of the Save Our Pubs and Clubs campaign. He also registered to attend our reception at the House of Commons in June but work intervened and he couldn't come.


Labour MP: I voted for smoking ban but I wouldn't vote for it again

Interesting article in The Times today by Natascha Engel, Labour MP for North East Derbyshire who chairs the Backbench Business Committee.

Commenting on the launch of the Government's e-petition website, Engel writes:

We do need to find better ways of letting MPs know what people outside Westminster are talking about, but the problem isn't what we don't debate, it's the feeling that MPs aren't listening to the people they represent.

When I was canvassing during the general election, an ex-miner opened the door and shouted at me about immigration, MPs' expenses and the smoking ban. He asked why I wouldn't come down to the miners' welfare and hear what people had to say there. Before I could respond, he shouted: "Because you're scared, that's why."

I arranged to meet him there that night. He was surprised when I turned up, but friendly enough. When we stood outside, smoking in the rain, he told me about his father-in-law, who used to come to the welfare every night and spend all evening drinking one pint of Guinness. He was a chain smoker. Since the smoking ban he's never been back.

"He can't stand outside in the rain like this. He's an old man." He told me about how his father-in-law never goes out any more. "He's lonely and miserable. And he still chain smokes." I voted for the smoking ban because I was convinced that smoking, even secondary smoking, is bad for you. If I had a second chance I wouldn't vote for the ban again.

I wonder how many other MPs – Labour MPs especially – think the same?