The pub industry is being urged to rally behind a comprehensive English smoking ban to guarantee a level playing field for all businesses.
With last week's news that Labour MPs will receive a free vote on the Government's Health Bill, the race is now on to see if it is simply pubs, or pubs and private member's clubs, that will lose their right to allow smoking.
John Grogan, Labour MP for Selby and head of the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group, said a smoking ban in pubs was now certain, but clubs could still escape. "It would be very effective if the pub industry joined the other groups in campaigning for a total ban," he added.
Former health secretary Frank Dobson agreed. "Pubs now face the very real likelihood of a ban," he said. "It would serve their interests to make sure it is a comprehensive one."
Health Select Committee member Paul Burstow added: "The licensed trade must recognise that they could end up with the worst of both worlds. If the trade comes in behind a total ban, it would carry weight with those MPs that are currently sceptical."
In response to the announcement of a free vote on smoking, the British Hospitality Association, Business in Sport and Leisure and the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) are drafting a paper highlighting the commercial damage hospitality businesses would suffer if private clubs gain an unfair advantage.
However, the pub industry remains divided. The BBPA remains shy of endorsing a total ban, while pub operators such as Laurel and Mitchells & Butlers are giving their full support.
MPs will vote on the final amendments to the Health Bill at the start of February.
Time to make your voice heard on smoking
With just weeks to go until the final vote on smoking, now is the time to let your view known. Fight to stub out smoking completly by contacting you local MP. Visit www.parliament.uk
By Chris Druce
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