Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Smoked Fishy

There's something fishy going on in Blackpool, and I'm not talking about seafood. Mr Hamish Howitt, the first landlord to be prosecuted under England's draconian new anti-smoking laws for allowing customers to light up in his pub, has lost his licence according to the Blackpool Gazette.

Naturally, the powers-that-be in Blackpool are doing their damnedest to distinguish this incident from Mr Howitt's conviction, with Councillor Norman Hardy, who chaired the licensing panel at Blackpool Town Hall yesterday, saying that health and safety was the council's top priority. But smokers - and, indeed, non-smokers - everywhere will recognise the signs easily enough; a small businessman stands up for his beliefs and his customers' rights to self determination, and before you know it his business is threatened.

Health and Safety is the weapon of choice for the terminal control freak, used to bludgeon everyone from schoolkids playing conkers to the Metropolitan Police, and it's hardly surprising that it has been deployed in an effort to bring Mr Howitt to heal. Fortunately, Mr Howitt has an Ace or two up his sleeve in the form of a letter from Anjum Khan, health and safety executive at Workplace Health Connect, a government-funded service providing advice to small businesses. The letter, dated April 2006 described his firm's "strong approach towards health and safety". Bet the local Health and Safety Heavies weren't expecting that!

But then, they're not very subtle, are they? No amount of denial is going to shake the suspicion that this is just one more attempt to scupper Mr Howitt's opposition to pointless and unpopular legislation. District Judge Peter Ward described Mr Howitt's determination to resist the imposition of anti-smoking laws as "silly", and, from the point of view of self-preservation, perhaps it was - after all, I very much doubt he'd have lost his licence if he'd allowed himself to be bullied.

But, silly or not, Mr Howitt deserves a great deal of respect for his stance. The Judge, perhaps having a little more oil in his can than local politicians, refused to "make him a martyr". Now the local Council has done just that by demonstrating how far they will go to sink his campaign. I can't help thinking that, come local election time, Councillor Norman Hardy might have some ground to make up in the eyes of Mr Howitt's customers.

Billy Seggars.

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