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Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) on her position in the ballot and on her choice of Bill. I support the measure not as a Welsh Member but as someone who represents a constituency in the borough of Stockport, which had the misfortune a few years ago to be the first local authority that had to pay out on a passive smoking compensation claim by an employee. It has been, perhaps understandably, sensitive to the issue ever since. I am a non-smoker and I declare that I have done no pheasant shooting in Bedfordshire.
My party also strongly supports the principle of devolution and was in favour of the Welsh devolution measure. We are fervent supporters of the Assembly and its power, so when we have a proposal before us to allow the Welsh Assembly to mitigate the damage caused by passive smoking, it gets a tick in two boxes. I want to express the particular support for the measure of my hon. Friends the Members for Brecon and Radnorshire
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(Mr. Williams) and for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik). [Hon. Members: "Where are they?"] Unfortunately, neither of my hon. Friends can be here today. A huge majority of Conservative Members also support the Bill.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Cardiff, North on her presentation of the measure. She had a well argued case and she produced plenty of graphic evidence. I do not want to waste the House's time by repeating those arguments; I simply note that the number of deaths from passive smoking is three times as high as that from industrial accidents. Yet I suspect that we spend more legislative time and public money on dealing with the industrial accidents issue than with that of passive smoking. Several hon. Members mentioned the impact of passive smoking on children, and I believe that that is its most pernicious effect.
The Bill allows Wales to legislate. If it did not, we might have an interesting position whereby we had legislation for England that did not apply in Wales. It is therefore right for the House to pass the Bill. It has the advantage of being popular: it has 78 per cent. support according to the MORI poll; the sort of ratings that we all wish that we had. It would work: the Library briefing's evidence about New York and Ireland shows that a ban is an effective instrument when applied. When we have legislation that is popular, that is life saving, and that works, it seems to me that the House should not spend too much time in debate, and should simply get on with it.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): I must confess at the outset that I am instinctively and politically against bans and prohibitions. I have spent quite a large part of my modest political career trying to fight them, and I hope to continue to do so, if that is the wish of the electorate. I feel very uneasy when well intentioned groups of people decide to use the power of the law to prevent other people from doing what they want to do. We are rightly proud of being a mature, civilised society whose people are given an education and certain information. I would like those people to be allowed to make up their own minds as to what they do or do not do.
Mr. Forth: I try to resist legislation of all kinds, at all times, wherever possible. Had I been in the House at the time, I would probably have voted against compulsory seat belts in cars and against compulsory crash helmets for motor cyclists, for example. I continue to cling to the belief that we should respect the right of educated individuals to make a judgment about the risks that they take in regard to their own activities. I always feel uneasy when people here reach so readily for the law to try to impose our wishes on society at large.
That is my starting position, and I try to stick to it whenever I possibly can. The arguments here go much wider than that, however. Of course it is right that we
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should inform people that smoking will damage their health. Similarly, many other things damage health. A reference was made to the risks attached to smoking in the home, but it must be well known to right hon. and hon. Members that the risks in the home are very considerable indeed. A large number of sad and regrettable deaths occur in the home every year from a variety of causes. Sporting activities also cause many deaths and injuries of different kinds.
Life is full of risks; it can be hazardous. The judgment that we have to make here, on this Bill and on other matters, is how far we seek to use the law so to shape or constrain people's behaviour as somehow to immunise them from the risks that occur naturally in life. My inclination is always to give people the maximum freedom to take risks and, if necessary, even to damage themselves, providing that we inform them properly of those risks. Indeed, much is now done, quite properly, to give people the maximum amount of information about the risks of smoking.
Mr. Barron: I am interested to hear the right hon. Gentleman talk about risk. Will he tell me why he decided a few years ago to move away from the risk of losing his seat in the west midlands and to move down to his present constituency of Bromley and Chislehurst?
Mr. Forth: I defer to you, of course, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I would be more than happy to respond privately to the right hon. Gentleman later. Funnily enough, the seat that I am now happy to represent is broadly politically the same as the one that I left behind, so there was no political gain for me in moving. I will tell him afterwards what happened, possibly in graphic detail, if he can spare the time.
I was trying to explain the philosophical position, to put it rather grandly, that I adopt when faced with a Bill of this kind. Here, however, we are also faced with certain other interesting decisions. The hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan), for perfectly understandable reasonspolitical if not domesticstarted from the position that the National Assembly for Wales should be the key decision-making body in this case. That is not an uncontestable statement. In my view, when we are considering whether to place restrictions or bans on smoking, in the workplace or elsewhere, we should really ask ourselves, "What is the best mechanism for doing that? Where should that decision properly be made?"
Obviously, there are a number of different levels at which such a decision can be made. It can be done at a national level, and much has been made of decisions by national Governments to do that; the Irish and the Norwegians have been quoted. In the United States, the decision has been made at state level, which would be broadly the equivalent of the Welsh Assembly. The alternative, obviously, would be local authority level, which would be closer to the community and would allow decisions to be made on a more local basis. To take it further down, we could consider allowing decisions to be made by individual buildings, institutions or workplaces. There is a range of possibilities as to the level at which such decisions can be
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made. When judging the efficacy of this Bill, we must ask ourselves at which level the decision should properly be made.
Given what I said in my introductory remarks, it should be obvious that I would be uneasy about such a decision being made nationwide by central Government. We might have that debate in the foreseeable future, depending on the outcome of the upcoming election, as I hope that my party would not want to move in that direction, although I sometimes wonder. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) will reassure me when he catches your eye shortly, Madam Deputy Speaker. There is a debate to be had about how far the British Government of the day, of whatever party, might be tempted to follow the example of the Irish or Norwegians. I doubt whether I would be persuaded in that regard, but we might have that proper debate when the Government consider whether to seek to ban smoking in workplaces or elsewhere.
Whether devolution is the answer is a different question altogether. In the context of today's debate, we can already see some of the problems that ill-thought-out devolution has started to cause. We have been told that the legislative Scottish Parliament will be able to make its decision on the matter on behalf of the people of Scotland. The non-legislative Welsh Assembly cannot do that, and the hon. Lady's Bill seeks to find a way of allowing it to do so. I am not certain whether the Northern Ireland Assembly, were it to be operative, would be able to do thatI suspect that it probably would not. That leaves the poor old people of England, as ever, completely unrepresented. As an English Member of Parliament, and a naturalised Englishman, I resent very much that, through devolution, we are giving all these magnificent political powers to the Celtic fringes, whereas the people of England, the vast majority of the country, who pick up all the bills, are given no say. That flaw must somehow be addressed.
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