Changing the rules*

Shouldn't the Trident plans be illegal? Where will a smoker be able to <em>fume</em> in comfort? Let

I am confused by the government's decision to modernise Trident. I thought we'd signed up to a treaty which made that clearly illegal?

Angela, Bolton

You are mistaken. Although the United Kingdom is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, that agreement simply requires the five original nuclear states to withhold nuclear weaponry from countries that do not already possess it. Adding to existing arsenals doesn't constitute "proliferation" - if only because the nuclear powers made sure they drafted the treaty that way.

That said, the NPT also obliges the United Kingdom to "pursue negotiations in good faith" towards "general and complete disarmament", and it is eminently arguable that doing the opposite undermines this. So arguable, indeed, that it was once the view of several government ministers. Tony Blair was famously unilateralist throughout the 1980s. Margaret Beckett declared herself a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in 1994, although she recently clarified that she "may have" left, on a point of principle, four years earlier. Gordon Brown also opposed the weapons system that he now champions, informing the Commons in 1984 that Trident was "unacceptably expensive, economically wasteful and militarily unsound".

As with other areas of international law, much turns on consensus, and the crucial question is how MPs will vote when invited to consider Trident's renewal in March. Here, at least, matters seem more predictable. The government, fearful of a rebellion that would make it dependent on Tory votes, will apparently insist that Labour MPs toe the party line. According to Peter Hain, himself a committed CND member until the birth of his deputy-leadership ambitions two years ago: "You couldn't expect a serious government, in charge of one of the world's global powers . . . just [to] say 'you can do what you like, chaps'." Interpretations of disarmament obligations may be open to debate, but the plans to spend £20bn while ignoring them clearly are not.

I belong to a central London drinking dive, and was shocked recently to hear that its members, consenting adults one and all, will be subject to the forthcoming smoking ban. I can't abide alcohol without tobacco (or vice versa, as it happens) and pavement drinking is my idea of hell. Where to fume in comfort?

Hector Bailey, London

Your options are limited. As of 6am on 1 July 2007, it will be a crime to smoke in almost any enclosed public place in England, and MPs specifically refused to exempt private clubs. The ban will cover any form of incendiary tobacco delivery device, up to and including a hubble-bubble, and "smoking" includes the ignition of any and all herbs.

Royal palaces will be exempt from the compulsory ban, thanks to an ancient constitutional principle that the Crown can do what it likes, and the residents of prisons and secure mental hospitals will be similarly free from legal sanctions. Should you be unwilling or unable to while away your evenings in such establishments, as is highly likely to be the case, the only other potential bolt-holes will be those public structures that are not "substantially enclosed". Smokers will be immune from legal molestation at bus shelters, for example.

That may not sound ideal, but you should probably be grateful for small mercies. A few weeks ago, an officer from Gwynedd County Council contacted a Caernarfon couple on suspicion that they had committed a statutory nuisance by exhaling tobacco smoke in their own home. One does need not an environmental protection officer to know which way the wind is blowing. Smoke, drink and be merry wherever you lawfully can - for tomorrow, it may be too late.

Sadakat Kadri is a barrister and author of "The Trial: a history from Socrates to O J Simpson" (Harper Perennial, 2006). Send your civil liberties and human-rights dilemmas to: Changing the Rules, New Statesman, 52 Grosvenor Gardens, London SW1W 0AU. This column appears fortnightly*"The rules of the game have changed" - Tony Blair, August 2005

Sadakat Kadri is a human rights barrister at Doughty Street Chambers and a writer. His most recent book is The Trial: A History from Socrates to O.J. Simpson, and he is a past winner of the Spectator/Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize for travel writing.

This article first appeared in the 12 February 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni v Shia