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Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy) (Lab): I thank you for calling me to speak so early in the debate, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a very great pleasure to be able to speak in support of the Bill being brought forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan), and I congratulate her on the stand that she has taken on this issue. She has worked hard for many years on it.
Given the proposals in the health White Paper published earlier this year for a partial ban on smoking in public places, some might wonder about the need for the legislation that is being proposed today. However, I believe that the Government's proposals strengthen the case for this Bill. Every argument that is made in favour of the proposals in the White Paper raises the question: why not go further now? Why do we lack the will or the courage to tackle the health time bomb that is second-hand smoke? Do we really believe that we will not be revisiting these proposals four or five years down the line in order to strengthen them?
As in so many fields previously, Wales has shown itself to have the will to push forward further and faster. The all-party vote of the Assembly in January 2003 called for powers over smoking in public places to be devolved to Cardiff. That has been backed by opinion polls showing that more than three out of four people in Wales support legislation along the lines of that recently introduced in the Republic of Ireland.
My hon. Friend's Bill is in response to an overwhelming demand from the people for decisive action. Throughout this Parliament, we have heard encouraging noises from the Leader of the House about the possibility of the Government acting to devolve this responsibility. Sadly, as yet, no action has been forthcoming. Nevertheless, I believe that there is some understanding in the upper reaches of Government as to the illogical situation in which we currently find
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ourselves. Responsibility for the health of the people of Wales is devolved to the National Assembly for Wales, yet it is handicapped by having no power over one of the areas of public policy in which its intervention could have greatest effect.
In Wales, 30 people die per year as a result of passive smoking, and countless more contract serious medical conditions. The policy that permits smoking-related illnesses to develop is made here in Westminster, yet the Assembly Government in Cardiff must pick up the bill to provide support to those who develop such illnesses. The bill to the NHS in Wales for treating smoking-related diseases amounts to between £75 million and £85 million per year. When responsibility for health was devolved to Scotland, the power to regulate the use of tobacco in public places went with it, and the Scottish Executive is in the process of using those powers as an integral part of its public health policy. If it is right that protection against second-hand smoke should be given to the people of Lanarkshire, why should it not also be given to the people of Llandudno and, indeed, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwll-llantysiliogogogoch on the Isle of Anglesey?
Wales, of course, is not alone in its desire to push for stronger measures than those proposed in the White Paper. The concerted campaign by Liverpool to become a smoke-free city, ably supported by my hon. Friends representing the city, and particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman), has been an inspiration. In October last year, the leaders of all 33 London boroughs agreed to ask for powers similar to those that we are requesting for Wales today.
The international wave of interest in limiting smoking in public places is not coincidental. It results not just from an ever-increasing body of evidence that passive smoking kills but from the discrediting of myths perpetrated by the tobacco industry that jobs and profits in the leisure and entertainment sectors are dependent on the so-called right to smoke. With an ever-increasing list of nations and cities becoming smoke free, the tobacco corporations are unable to point to any reputable evidence that the hospitality industry has been harmed in any significant way by the introduction of such restrictions.
In New York, as we have heard, receipts in bars and restaurants increased by nearly 9 per cent. in the first year after the city banned smoking in public places. The tobacco lobby also raised the unlikely spectre of a collapse in visitor and tourist revenue in areas that implement a smoking ban. Liverpool is flying in the face of that claim by prominently linking its campaign to its 2008 European capital of culture celebrations. Surveys conducted in Liverpool found that more than three quarters of visitors were bothered by smoke in enclosed public places. Twenty-one per cent. of respondents said that they would be more likely to visit Liverpool in the future if a ban were introduced, with 72 per cent. saying that it would make no difference.
The experience of the Republic of Ireland, with a ban now in effect, supports those figures. During the first year of the ban in 2004, tourism rose by 3.2 per cent. over the previous year. It would be foolish to attempt to present a causal link between those two events, but the evidence is clear that this type of legislation does not put off potential visitors.
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Surely, if a nation's or city's tourist appeal rests solely on the right of visitors to smoke in its pubs and restaurants, it needs to take a long, hard look at its publicity campaigns. We sell Wales largely in terms of its dramatic scenery, fascinating heritage and fresh air. This last attraction will be all the more credible if it extends beyond the mountainside into all enclosed public spaces.
While it is easy enough to establish that a ban is possible and workable, we also need to make the positive case for such a measure. A ban's opponents will speak a lot about rightsthey will say little about responsibilities or the need to balance rights. No one proposes to remove the supposed right to smoke, merely to find a way of balancing it with others' rights not to be subjected to second-hand smoke.
We will be told that a voluntary scheme will suffice by giving consumers the choice of smoking or smoke-free environments. A voluntary scheme already exists in Britainit has led to just 1 per cent. of pubs becoming smoke free. That hardly equals consumer choice. Nor will a voluntary scheme do anything to help staff in pubs, clubs and restaurants, the people who suffer the worst effects of passive smoking. Customers might be able to choose their environment; employees are not so lucky. It is estimated that in Britain, one bar worker a week dies from second-hand smoke. The only choice that they are given currently is the classic one of working people the world overbetween their job and their health. That applies in relation to slate quarrying, coal mining, asbestos and many other industries in which generations went to early deaths because of their working conditions.
We will be told that proper ventilation and no-smoking areas will solve the problem. But those are partial solutions at best. In most public settings, it will prove impossible to provide effective separation of smoking and non-smoking areas, nor will they help staff who must continue to work in smoky environments. The British Medical Association tells us that no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke has ever been established. Such measures cannot therefore be seen as a long-term solution. Ventilation systems in premises are, of course welcome, but they fail to provide anything approaching full protection. Atmospheric physicists have warned that to be fully effective in removing second-hand smoke from the air, any ventilation system would have to produce something approaching a tornado-like gale. That seems no surprise given that pollution levels in a smoke-filled room can reach 50 times those in a busy road tunnel.
"Passive smoking kills 500 Norwegians each year. We now know that half measures such as designated smoking areas and ventilation cannot protect health . . . These measures were simply not good enough. There is no reason for others to repeat this experiment."
Given the overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, it is impossible to contend that segregated areas or improved ventilation can come anywhere near fulfilling our World Health Organisation commitment.
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Since 24 February, all WHO signatories have had a duty under the framework convention on tobacco control to
An increasing number of the 193 WHO member states that voted unanimously for the agreement are reaching the conclusion that a total ban on smoking in public places is the only way of providing the protection required by the protocol. Given the often remarkable successes of the bans that are already in effect, that is not surprising.
Smoke-free environments do not just benefit those suffering the effects of second-hand tobacco. There is also evidence that banning smoking in public places helps those who do smoke to quit. The social aspect of smoking which has become so deeply ingrained in many cultures can be challenged effectively only by the removal of smoke from the vast majority of social settings.
Society can send no stronger message about the dangers and antisocial aspects of smoking than the message that it is unacceptable in social, commercial or cultural interaction. Such a step could be worth more than all Government health warnings in conveying the seriousness of the anti-smoking message. It could, at a stroke, reduce the peer-group pressure that is instrumental in encouraging many young people to take up smoking. If smoking immediately becomes less visible, its attraction will inevitably fade. According to evidence from the Republic of Ireland, in the six months leading up to enforcement of the ban 7,000 smokers quit, with sales of cigarettes falling by almost 16 per cent. over the same period. Tobacco sales have continued to fall following the ban's introduction.
The combined effects of a reduction in passive smoking and a decreasing number of tobacco users can have impressive effects on public health. In California, which in 1998 was the first American state to become smoke free, lung cancer rates have fallen six times faster than in states that have not introduced such laws. That statistic alone makes a convincing social, medical and economic case for the introduction of legislation banning smoking. I believe that if this Parliament is not prepared to do that on a national basis, it is only right for Waleswhich has some of the highest levels of smoking and smoking-relates diseases in the United Kingdomto be able to follow Scotland and makes its own decisions.
Public support is already there, and can only strengthen as more and more of the leading overseas tourist destinations become smoke free. Ireland, Italy, New York, California, Sweden, Norway and even Cuba, the home of the Havana, have introduced bans. Now clean air in enclosed public places begins to seem less like an exotic novelty and more like an aspiration within our grasp.
Of course a ban on smoking in public places must also include political environments, and Wales has already taken that step. To mark no smoking day last week, it was announced that from July all Welsh Assembly Government buildings would be smoke-free zones.
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I regret the fact that the Palace of Westminster may again end up following the devolved Assemblies in banning smoking, rather than leading them.
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