The Conservative Party says this morning that Government guidance to local authorities will create a new layer of smoking inspectors and risk turning employers into "secret police" when the smoking ban comes into effect on July 1st. The guidance is for local authorities who are responsible for enforcing the ban, levying fines and collecting (and keeping) the revenue and says:
- Bosses to act as smoking spies: Businesses are to be instructed to implement “management controls” of keeping written records of any person smoking. A template Smoking Incident Form is provided for firms to fill out, and firms are to be told to pass the detailed records of incidents to town halls “to inform them of the occurrence”.
- Fines by town hall inspectors: These Smoking Incident Forms will provide sufficient evidence for town halls to levy £50 fines on anyone who smokes. If any individual fails to provide assistance or information to the state inspectors when requested, they in turn can be fined £1,000.
- Snoopers’ charter: The guidance explicitly authorises the use of uncover and “intrusive” surveillance – including the use of snooping devices like hidden cameras. It asserts that the Human Rights Act and Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act provide no rights against the snooping.
- Inspectors’ power of entry: The legislation gives town hall inspectors forcible rights of entry into any premises where the public may be. The guidance encourages “proactive inspections”, “to generate lists from their premises database”, and to particularly target small and medium firms.
- ‘Stasi State’ raids by police: Town halls are told to draw up an “enforcement protocol”, and get local police officers to assist in “targeting individuals as part of a pre-arranged programmed activity”. Yet this will inevitably displace the police from tackle violent crime, car crime and burglary.
Eric Pickles, the Shadow Local Government Minister, says:
“Experience from abroad shows that smoking bans are largely self-enforcing. Yet rather than relying on common sense and peer pressure, I am concerned that Labour Ministers are giving the go-ahead to a snoopers’ charter of heavy-handed surveillance and zealous inspections to impose the smoking ban on England. This is a municipal sledgehammer to crack a nut.
"Step by step, Labour Ministers are introducing a Stasi State – giving ever stronger powers for state officials to spy and enter private property, and now, even asking bosses to act as secret police.
“Councils are under such intense financial pressures due to fiddled funding and new burdens, that I fear that a town hall Taliban could be tempted to use the easy target of a smoking ban as a cash cow. Minsters would be better to encourage councils to target their limited resources on serious risks to public welfare like under-age drinking and commercial fly-tipping.“