The government has said it will not ban smoking outside pubs and restaurants following a bid by the House of Lords to extend restrictions to new outdoor seating.
But ministers are expected to compromise and say establishments will instead have to make “reasonable provision” for no-smoking areas outside if they want a pavement licence.
Some councils across the UK have closed roads and widened pavements to allow more space for drinkers and diners outside pubs, cafes and restaurants, to aid social distancing by providing more space.
But an amendment by peers set to be considered this week would make all pavement licences issued by councils conditional on outside seating being smoke-free.
As part of its compromise the government says designated areas will have no-smoking signs, no ashtrays and a minimum two-metre distance between non-smoking and smoking areas “wherever possible”.
Liberal Democrat peer Lord German, who is supporting the more sweeping bid, said a total ban in the new seating areas could be part of a raft of “policies that de-normalise” smoking.
“Why not use this limited opportunity to provide an environment which is not just smoke-free but is healthy for diners and staff alike?” he told peers.
“The government can demonstrate that they mean business in the challenge to tackle the harm that smoking does to the health of the nation.”
The Local Government Association, which represents councils, also backed the move this week, but ministers say pubs, restaurants and bars will be allowed to choose to create their own no-smoking areas outside.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local government said in statement that “the government will not ban outdoor smoking”.
“Since the existing ban was introduced, businesses have invested heavily in their outdoor areas and banning outdoor smoking would lead to significant closures and job losses,” the statement says.
“However, today’s amendment will ensure that customers are given more choice by ensuring premises offer separate seating for smokers and non-smokers outside.
The planning minister Christopher Pincher said: “We are supporting our pubs, cafes and restaurants to safely reopen and securing jobs by making it quicker, easier and cheaper to set up outdoor seating and stalls to serve food and drink, whilst protecting public health against the transmission of Covid.
“These changes will allow everyone to enjoy outdoor eating and drinking whether they smoke or not, with appropriate provisions made for non-smokers and smokers.”
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