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Mr. Barron: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his comments, but surely one major issue is that although we were given a say in whether smoking should be banned in the Tea Room, the staff who work there all day long—unlike us, they do not come and go—have no choice. That said, the staff associations of this House have sought a ban on smoking in their workplaces for many years.

Mr. Forth: I agree that the staff issue is important, but if the Government's rhetoric about full employment is to be believed, people have a choice as to where they work. It is surely perfectly open to any individual applying for a job to inquire whether smoking is allowed in the premises in which they would work, and to make their decision accordingly. Such freedom, I think, still exists, and if there is indeed full employment in this country—as the Government like to tell us—it is up to each individual to decide in which premises they will
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work. So I am not as impressed with the right hon. Gentleman's staff argument as he would like. It is a factor, but only a factor.

Mr. Barron: The freedom in terms of job opportunities that the right hon. Gentleman talks about is a myth. It is like the old argument that we are all free to buy a Rolls-Royce. Of course we are—if we have the money to buy one.

Mr. Forth: I do not accept that analogy. In most parts of the country, there is probably a wide range of choice about how people work. I digress slightly, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I am watching your body language very carefully. I want to say just one or two sentences on this matter. Many people can come to this country from eastern Europe and elsewhere and it strikes me as odd that they can immediately find a job and somewhere to live, when we hear so many sob stories about people being unable to find work or somewhere to live. I accept that that is a debate for another day, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I shall go no further.

The right hon. Member for Rother Valley helped me to concentrate on, or perhaps prolong, the matter, but we must take seriously the method of taking decisions at the workplace. Our questionnaire, funnily enough, is a good example. I see nothing wrong—indeed, I see much virtue—in asking people, workplace by workplace, what they think about a total ban on smoking throughout the premises or the allocation of part of the premises, properly ventilated, for smoking. Incidentally, I do not agree with Labour Members and, in particular, with the hon. Member for Conwy (Mrs. Williams), that the extraction of air is as inadequate a mechanism as they allege. It is perfectly possible to make proper provision in some parts of premises to allow smoking and to have in place proper extraction of the smoke.

We could debate that matter more extensively, but I see no reason in principle why people in a particular workplace cannot be offered a range of options—total ban, partial ban, allocation of areas in which to smoke, and so forth. The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) confirmed that something like one in four of our people still choose to smoke. We may disapprove, but it is their choice. Despite information, penal taxation, exhortation and condemnation, they choose to smoke—and we should pay some attention to that fact.

Much is spoken in this Chamber and elsewhere about minority groups in society, and smokers must be one of the largest and most identifiable of such groups, yet we feel free to condemn them, ostracise them and legislate against them. I suspect that if we did so to any other minority group in the same way, we would probably be hauled up for infringing the Human Rights Act 1998. I shall resist digressing into debating whether there is a human right to smoke, but it is a slight temptation.

There are proper ways of dealing with these problems, but they do not include using legislation and applying it at national or regional level. The hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) mentioned tackling the problem at local authority level, which is worth proper consideration. My favoured approach, however, would allow people to take a decision in their workplace in the light of the huge variety of different circumstances that apply in workplaces throughout the country. That would be the best way to proceed.
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Those are my preliminary remarks, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I shall now say a few words about the Bill. The hon. Member for Cardiff, North need not look so anxious at this stage, because I am not in an expansive mood today, partly because I am keen to divide on the Bill. When we are confronted with a Bill about which such extravagant claims have been made in support, I sincerely believe that we should demonstrate through a Division how much real support there is for it from Members of Parliament in the House of Commons. There are 659 of us and we all have a duty to be here when legislation is proposed. I have no intention of prolonging my remarks unduly and I hope that the Front Benchers will wind up just in time for us to have a Division on the Bill. We shall then know exactly how much support there is for it. Unusually for me, I will restrict my remarks and exercise self-discipline.

For the record, I wanted to give a flavour of what a Bill like this implies and involves. The hon. Lady did what she quite properly should do and went through, in general terms, the provisions of the Bill, but that does not identify the true horrors of legislation of this kind. They start in clause 1, which states:

of smoking; I have said enough on that.

Clause 2 gives an indication of what that approach means. Under the heading, "Display of signs", it says

more regulations—

The Bill goes on to say that the sign should give

Presumably, if a number of different people are in charge—shift managers or supervisors, for example—the sign would have to be changed every time a person is for the time being in charge. Already we have started to get into the nonsense that can arise from such legislation.

Julie Morgan: Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, in Ireland, all this was worked out adequately and is working effectively?

Mr. Forth: I have never been impressed by what happens in other places, frankly, and Ireland does not impress me on that or on many other matters. I am well acquainted with Florida where, happily, the compulsory motorcycle helmet law was rescinded recently. I might be tempted to say that I am impressed by what happens in Florida, but I will not burden the House with that. I am interested in what happens here and in our role as elected Members of Parliament in protecting our citizens from politicians—and by golly, they need protecting and this Bill is a good example of that.

The sign will have to change every time a new person is in charge, which strikes me as being potentially rather odd. The sign must also give

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That is classic gobbledegook of a kind that we are inevitably led to when we attempt to legislate in this area. This innocent little sign will have to say not only that one may not smoke, but will also have to give the name not of one person but potentially of several. As well as that, the sign may have to change fairly rapidly in terms of what it says.

Clause 3 says that

We cannot have such things without penalties. The clause goes on to say that the

We now have an interesting retrospective element entering the Bill. It is not only the person who is currently doing it but those who may have done it at some unspecified time previously. Among those who may be guilty are the occupier or manager of an enclosed public place, and

The Bill is now spreading its tentacles alarmingly wide. Let us not imagine that it is just the person who lights up a cigarette, deliberately or inadvertently, or who may have smoked in the past that we are talking about; all sorts of other people are drawn into it. Such provisions—the Irish experience notwithstanding—worry me. There is the possibility that a potentially large number of people would be criminalised and made responsible for something for which any reasonable person would say they should not be made responsible.

Then we come on to the provisions that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough analysed with his usual forensic skill. Therefore I need not spend much time on them, except to refer to clause 4(1). Labour Members must sometimes wonder what they are doing when they are forced by the drafters of such Bills to include such things. It is worth quoting the clause fairly fully:

So now we are getting involved in Orders in Council, functions exercisable by Ministers, the discretion of the Secretary of State and so on, all in the context of this apparently innocent and well-meaning measure.

These are deep waters indeed, as my hon. and learned Friend pointed out. When such implications are buried none too deep in such a Bill, we are entitled to pause at some length to wonder whether this is the appropriate vehicle for the matter that the hon. Member for Cardiff, North has brought before the House.

Then we come to interpretation in clause 6. The Bill attempts to grapple with the difficult problems of defining an enclosed public place. Again, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough referred to
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this. It is worth reading the clause into the record so that we can appreciate its full horror. An enclosed public place means

That is the convoluted attempt to define an enclosed public place.

My hon. and learned Friend, whose legal mind is legendary, was rather kind to that provision, because I do not think that we could begin to implement it in any meaningful sense, given the almost infinite variety of circumstances that might arise, locality by locality, site by site, building by building or even in the open spaces to which he referred. I can see all sorts of difficulties arising from this attempt to define an enclosed public place.

The clause goes on to attempt to define "premises", which are

wait for it—

There is not much left out of that list. The question was asked earlier of the hon. Member for Cardiff, North, which she properly answered: does this mean that people would no longer be able to smoke on the open deck of ship? She said that that is what passing her Bill would mean. We have gone so far with the attempt to interfere in people's behaviour that I would no longer be able, if I wanted to, to light up a cigarette on the open deck of a ship, on the open sea or wherever. I am not sure that that would be well understood by many people in considering the Bill.

Touchingly, the Bill tells us what smoking is. For the avoidance of doubt, I should point out that it tells us that

So smoking would no longer require the inhalation or ingestion of tobacco; it would simply involve holding a lighted cigarette, cigar or pipe. That could get us into all sorts of fascinating territory, and if I wanted to detain the House I probably could for quite a while just on that simple definition, but suffice it to say, "There it is."

All I have tried to do is illustrate the lengths to which the drafters of such a Bill have to go to provide definitions that they think cover all the possible circumstances that they think should be covered. Whether in respect of public places, premises or smoking itself, one can foresee enormous difficulties with implementing this Bill in any way satisfactorily.

All in all I am unhappy with the philosophy of bans, as I have tried to explain. The Bill is looking at entirely the wrong level of decision making for such an important issue, touching as it does on individual liberties and freedom of choice. The Bill itself is flawed and I do not think that it could be corrected in Committee, even if it were to get there. If there were not a general election to intervene in the Bill's passage, I would hope that it would get a great deal of repair in
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Committee. We will find out hon. Members' support for the Bill shortly when we have a Division and see whether it lives up to the extravagant claims of its promoter.

1.15 pm

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