Thursday, January 12, 2006

Vote free, smoke free

In a sop to the backbench rebels, the government is to allow Labour MPs a free vote - unbound by the party whip - on the ban on smoking and they are expected to vote in favour of an amendment to bring about a total ban in all workplaces, including pubs and restaurants. The Telegraph leader attacks this as the restriction of the liberty of smokers, which it is - but in pursuit of freedom for the majority who don't smoke and whose health is threatened by this minority. It is, primarily a health and safety at work issue - not exposing employees to toxic fumes is taken for granted in other businesses. Almost all large companies ban smoking in the workplace - why should the health of bar staff be worth less than that of a secretary or the managing director at head office?

The partial ban was always daft - it would have led to parliament having to define what was meant by 'serving food.' Would crisps count? What about pre-packaged sandwiches? Would it have to be a sit-down meal to qualify? It is even sillier when we look at the examples in Ireland and Scotland - why should others be left out? A total ban is easier to understand and to enforce.

I'm just sorry that the government can't be proud to stand up for the rights of the workers, rather than directing the blame from the right-wing press on to the backbenchers.

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