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Mr. Forth: Sadly, until we have English nationality properly identified in law, that is unnecessary. My main claim to nationality is by length of residence, since I deserted the land of my birth as soon as I reasonably could, as a sentient being, and headed south. I have been happily ensconced ever since, not in two constituencies, let me remind the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), but three, as I had the honour of representing Birmingham, North in the European Parliament before I came to the House in 1983. I have therefore managed to represent three distinct groups of people so far, and counting.
The real question is whether the decision on banning or restricting smoking, as posed by the Bill, is properly taken at regional level. Our debate today has illustrated very well that there are real problems, not simply in the small print of the various Acts that bear on the matter, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) identified eloquently, but on a political level, as to whether the Scots should be able to do it while the Welsh cannot, the Northern Irish cannot and the English have not even got into the
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starting blocks in terms of being represented on the matter. I would therefore resist such a measure on that basis alone.
If the hon. Member for Cardiff, North is as keen on devolution, in the general sense, as she said in her speech, why should she stop at regional level? Why should the Welsh Assembly be identified as the appropriate body to make such a decision? Why not take it to the next level downlocal authority levelwhere, arguably, we are closer to our representatives, and decisions could be made on a district-by-district basis, whereby one district might take a different view from another? If we want to talk realistically about community and local representation, there is a real case for saying that the kind of powers that she seeks to give the Assembly in her Bill would be better directed at local authorities, so that decisions could be made on a truly local level.
Mr. Forth: I would certainly view it with rather more sympathy than I am prepared to give this Bill. Given my starting point, I am not sure that I am happy about giving anyone authority to introduce a banother than, perhaps, this United Kingdom Parliamentbut if there is to be one, I would feel marginally more comfortable about its imposition at city or district level rather than at regional level.
The logic of my argument leads us finally to a workplace decision. The hon. Member for Cardiff, North told us that one chain of public houses had made its own decision, on a commercial basis, to declare all its premises smoke free. I respect that decision and wish the chain well. As I told the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), it has always puzzled me that the 75 per cent. of people in this country who are consumers and voters do not exercise their market power and direct their custom towards premises that have declared themselves to be smoke free. I am a great believer in the power of the market and the consumer, and I think that that is the direction in which people should be looking.
If people are non-smokers or find smoke objectionable, why do they not always take their custom to restaurants, pubs or other outlets that have made the brave commercial decision to become smoke free? I have never understood that. The hon. Gentleman told us the tragic tale of how he went into smoke-filled rooms and, because he is asthmatic, ended up wheezing and with streaming eyes. The thought occurred to mewhy did he walk into them in the first place? If most of his friends do not smoke, as they probably do not, why do they not organise themselves to go to a place where there is no smoke? Why do they not bring to bear the really effective influence on businesses: the power of the market and of expenditure? I would feel much more comfortable with that approach than with a heavy-handed law being brought down willy-nilly across the country or across regions regardless of individual circumstances.
The hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) mentioned Liverpool city council's Bill.
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My right hon. Friend may be interested to learn that the SmokeFree Liverpool campaign, in its literatureprobably paid for by the local taxpayergives free advertising space to all the places in Liverpool that are "socially smoke-free". Those businesses have made a commercial decision to become smoke free, they are being advertised for the merits of being smoke free and they will get their custom accordingly.
Mr. Forth: That is very sensible, and a move in the direction that I am suggesting. It is another example of the exercise of choice by the businesses themselves and, more important, by us as individuals and consumers. We can deploy our custom and our expenditure in a way that may well influence the overall structure of the marketin this case, restaurants, bars and the like. Ultimately, the decision can and should be made on an individual workplace or outlet basis. That would allow an element of choice rather than this rather heavy-handed approach.
Next, we should consider the method by which such decisions should be taken. Much has been made of opinion poll evidence today, which, as we anoraks who attend these debates regularly have observed, is generally the case. I am always intrigued by that. Inevitably, Members cite the polls that favour the issue they want to promote. There is nothing wrong with that: it is a perfectly proper process. Today we have heard all sorts of quotations referring to 80 per cent. of this and 70 per cent. of that, and the proportion of people supporting a ban. In this context, I always say that if we are to make decisions on the basis of opinion polls or referendums, we should do it properly. Let us have a referendum on the restoration of capital punishment, for example. For decades, opinion polls have shown a substantial majority in favour of it.
The deal that I always offer to colleagues is this: if we are going to quote opinion polls and make our decisions on the basis of them, let us do so across the board. If we did, we would get some very interesting results which, I suspect, would not be congenial to many Members of this House. Someone's pointing out selectively that a particular opinion poll happens to support the thing that they are advocating does not impress me in the slightest, and for two reasons. First, we are told that politicians should lead, not follow, which is slightly at odds with the opinion poll evidence argument anyway. Secondly, what about the opinion polls whose outcomes Members do not like? I have quoted just one such example and I could doubtless find several others. So let us not get too carried away with what a particular opinion poll says, because as we all know, the question asked very often determines its outcome, rather than the substantive point at issue.
If the right hon. Gentleman was in the Tea Room this morning, he will have seen that notices have been placed on each of the tables saying that as of Monday 4 April, smoking will no longer be allowed therea decision that some of us in this House have wanted for many years. As I understand it, that decision to ban smoking was taken on the basis of a questionnairean opinion pollthat Members were
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asked to fill in. What is the difference between sounding out Members in that way and sounding out the general public in order to make policy?
Mr. Forth: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, because he has led me into my next point, which concerns the method of decision. He has given a very good example of the way in which this matter could, and probably should, proceed. Having alluded briefly to national, regional and local government levels of decision making, I shall now concentrate on the workplace. Since the Tea Room is almost as much my workplace as this Chamber is, I know exactly what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. I replied to that questionnaire by voting no to banning smoking because I believe that it should be allowed in large areas of this building. I await the day when the health fascists start saying that we should ban smoking in the Smoking Room. That will be the ultimate example of their desire to inhibit everybody's behaviour, but I do not think that we have quite got there yet.
Funnily enough, I go along with the right hon. Member for Rother Valley on this occasion. Yes, Members were consulted and asked to fill in a questionnaire. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a majority voted for banning smoking in the Tea Room. That ban will take effect, but I wonder whether it will have as much effect as the ban on the use of mobile phones in the Tea Room. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, there are natty little signs on each table, consisting of a little telephone with a line through it. I must admit that I am one of those who, when one of these revolting devices intrudes on the enjoyment of one's food, thrust that sign under the nose of the Member in question and insist that they leave the Tea Room.
My point is that that ban seems yet to have had much effect on such Members' behaviour, and I am waiting to see what happens when the first brave Member lights a cigarette in the Tea Room. Will the Serjeant at Arms come rushing in with his sword in his hand? Will other Members manhandle that Member out of the Tea Room? But the point is that Members were given a say and following that, the ban is going to be imposed.
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