Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Julie Morgan: Will my hon. Friend go further and make a commitment that, when the Committee has finished its consultation and produced a report and the Assembly has responded to it, the Government in Westminster will enable the Assembly to implement the results?

Mr. Touhig: When the report is published, the Assembly will debate it and eventually ask us for a Bill. I am sure that the report will inform the Government's response. I shall revert to that point in my concluding remarks.
18 Mar 2005 : Column 563

My hon. Friend the Member for Conwy asked, "Why not go further now?" The proposals in the White Paper are a major step forward. They will make almost all public places and workplaces smoke free. I believe that we shall save thousands of lives by doing that, but our policy is to balance the different and conflicting views expressed by the public. Again, in the Welsh context, we await the report from the Assembly's Committee.

The hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr.   Garnier) began by paying tribute to Private Johnson Beharry of the 1st Battalion Princess of Wales's Regiment, who was awarded the Victoria cross today. All hon. Members share in the congratulations to that brave soldier and to all the soldiers—men and women—who serve Britain throughout the world. I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for his remarks. His contribution was interesting. He began by describing an imaginary home in Wales and how the Bill would affect him if he were to hold an event there to raise funds for a church or organisation. Madam Deputy Speaker, I am sure that, as a Welsh girl, you will appreciate that since Wales has done so well on the rugby field lately, many people are now discovering that they have Welsh grandparents or Welsh aunts and uncles. Everyone now wants to be Welsh. I commend the hon. and learned Member for Harborough for his comments in that regard, and I hope that he will join us in celebrating when we win the grand slam on Saturday.

The hon. and learned Gentleman went on to talk about the Bill's constitutional implications, at which point "passive devolution" was mentioned. I wondered whether anything prevents devolution from being taken forward by a private Member's Bill. There is nothing to prevent that from happening, although clearly, it would not be a suitable way of achieving a major change, certainly as far as primary legislation or tax-raising powers are concerned. I would not seek to deny my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North the opportunity to introduce a private Member's Bill in this way—indeed, as someone who has introduced a private Member's Bill in the past, I strongly defend Members' right to introduce legislation through that channel—but I would say to the hon. and learned Member for Harborough that there is not a great deal of difference between us on how we believe Parliament should determine the question of future devolution.

I pay great tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), who will be leaving us at the general election. He will be greatly missed. He highlighted the fact that our colleagues in the Assembly voted in January by 39 to 10 in favour of a ban, and pressed the Government to take the measure forward at that stage. I have no doubt that, at some stage, when legislation is enacted, that will be taken fully into account.

The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) thought that a ban in Wales might come as a result of a ban in England, and that it might come in on England's coat-tails. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. The hon. Gentleman knows that, in constructing legislation in partnership with colleagues in the Assembly, there is always a great deal of discussion. When the Assembly wishes to pursue a particular agenda, we shall seek an appropriate legislative vehicle
18 Mar 2005 : Column 564
to take forward that agenda in this House. He mentioned the impact of a ban on trade and tourism in his constituency, which is in a most beautiful part of Wales. That important point gives us all the more reason to await the Committee's report, so that we can consider the views of all the interested parties before taking a final decision on legislation.

The hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) made an important contribution, stating that we should be conscious of the views expressed in the Assembly. We certainly want to do that, and at an appropriate time when legislation comes forward, we shall do so.

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) started his speech as he often starts his speeches on these occasions: he underpinned his continued opposition to making legislation, which is a perfectly valid and proper view to hold. He went on, however, to say that he would exercise an unusual degree of self-discipline. I am not sure whether that might present an ideal opportunity for a private Member's Bill, and perhaps we could introduce counselling for Members involved in seeking self-discipline.

The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) made some important comments. When he started, I thought that he was going to say that the Opposition would support the Government when we introduce legislation on a ban some time in the future. However, his comments turned out to be nothing more than warm words. He made a number of points on the delivery of the health service in Wales. You rightly pulled him up at that point, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sure that you would recognise that what we are doing in Wales is putting right 18 years of underinvestment from when the hon. Gentleman's party was in power, during which time it closed 70 hospitals and cut training for nurses and midwives. Now we have more doctors and more nurses, and only yesterday, we announced new targets for the health service in Wales—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The same restriction applies to the Minister.

Mr. Touhig: I take note of what you say, Madam Deputy Speaker.

How do we proceed from here in a sensible manner, bearing in mind the complexities of the situation and the strong feelings that have been expressed, both for and against a ban? [Interruption.] I note the comment made by the hon. Member for Hazel Grove from a sedentary position, and he might be interested in what follows this debate.

Our White Paper proposals on anti-smoking measures in England came as a result of extensive consultation with stakeholders. It is essential that any legislation on such an important matter should be informed by consultation with those most affected by its implementation—the general public as well as businesses and public organisations. The equivalent consultation is still under way in Wales. I know that my hon. Friend is aware that the Welsh Assembly set up an all-party Committee last year to consider how best to tackle the problem of second-hand smoke, and smoking, in public places in Wales. Therefore, the Government believe that it would not be wise to set out
18 Mar 2005 : Column 565
proposals for Wales before that Committee reports, which is due to happen in May. Any recommendations that the Committee makes, based on consultation with stakeholders, will, I hope, be an accurate reflection of the needs and wishes of the people of Wales. Such recommendations will help to inform the Government's view on future legislation on smoking.

In the light of what I have just said, I believe that this Bill is premature. While the Government share the concerns that have led my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North to introduce it, we are also concerned to ensure that the views of all stakeholders are taken into account. I also have a number of concerns about the Bill as drafted in relation to technical questions, particularly enforcement and cross-border matters.

For example, the Bill proposes to provide enabling powers for the Assembly to prescribe a ban by regulations. It would be possible, under the current devolution settlement, for the Assembly to be given additional public health powers for that purpose. I am not clear, however, that the role of the enforcement and policing agencies has been fully taken into account in the Bill's drafting. On the role that the police and legal system might be required to take on—we must bear in mind that police and criminal justice are not devolved and are reserved matters—I am concerned about the Bill's cross-border impact. Should local authorities become involved in enforcing a ban in Wales, it is possible that there would be practical difficulties in implementation, especially as the cost of that has not been calculated. With such issues outstanding, I am not confident that the Bill can deliver a practical and workable arrangement for effectively banning smoking in public places in Wales.

Let me emphasise that the Government are committed to ensuring that there is a major step forward in providing smoke-free environments for people to live and work in. In his preface to "Choosing Health", my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health said:

He stated:

I suggest to my hon. Friend that that presents an excellent opportunity to introduce legislation for smoke-free public places and workplaces in Wales, and we are committed to making that happen.
18 Mar 2005 : Column 566

Notwithstanding my comments about my hon. Friend's Bill, I hope that she can take comfort from the Government's approach, which I have outlined. I am sure that she would agree that we need the case for a ban to be made, with full consultation on all the issues, and after the report of the Assembly's Committee has concluded, the Assembly's deliberations and proposals should be put directly to the Government. I hope that she will not be too disappointed, and I hope that she will join me in wanting to ensure that whatever legislation is proposed recognises both the views and the needs of the people of Wales and provides the most practical vehicle for implementation.

While I regret that I cannot support my hon. Friend and her Bill for the reasons that I have given, she can be in no doubt that the Government share many of her hopes and will seek to resolve this matter before too long. Once again, I thank her for presenting the Bill to the House and for providing the opportunity for this debate.

Next Section IndexHome Page