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Mr. Speaker: Order. Perhaps we can leave that for a speech. Interventions should be short.

Ms Hewitt: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Livingston makes an important point, to which I shall return not only this afternoon but in Committee.

Several hon. Members rose—

Ms Hewitt: I shall make a little more progress at this point and then I will take further interventions.

Today, only 51 per cent. of the work force enjoy a totally smoke-free environment. The Bill, even with the limited exemptions that we are proposing, will give 99 per cent. of the work force complete protection from smoking. That is an enormous step forward for public health and for the health and well-being of our people.

Several hon. Members rose—

Ms Hewitt: I shall give way in a moment. Smoking is already—thank goodness—far less common than it used to be. Many of us can remember when it was the norm for people to spoke in cinemas, on trains and buses and in most factories and offices. Today, smoking is banned on almost all public transport and in many other public places. Thirty years ago, about half of men and almost half of women smoked; today, only one in four people do so. That number is continuing to fall, in part thanks to the excellent smoking cessation services provided on the NHS.

Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD): Can the Secretary of State clarify a simple factual question: did she try to persuade the Cabinet to go for a total ban?

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): Hand on heart.

Ms Hewitt: My hand is always on my heart. We had a debate in the Government on how best to implement
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our manifesto promise, just as we will have a debate this afternoon and in Committee, but I stress that Labour Members are completely committed to legislating for public health and for a smoking ban to strengthen the provision of smoke-free places.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Ms Hewitt: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, and I hope that he will tell us whether he proposes to vote for the Bill or against it.

Philip Davies: I thank the Secretary of State for giving way, but I would prefer to put points to her. I do not smoke. I do not like going into smoky places, so I choose not to. Does she not agree that, if I own a pub, I should be free to decide whether or not people are allowed to smoke on my premises based on the feedback that I get from my customers and my employees? This should not be a matter for more nanny-state interference.

Ms Hewitt: I take that as a statement that the hon. Gentleman and, no doubt, many of his hon. Friends will vote against the Bill, because they do not accept that the Government have a responsibility to act in this respect.

Several hon. Members rose—

Ms Hewitt: I will take further interventions in a moment, but I want to make a little progress because there is an extremely important point of principle, which divides Labour Members from the Conservative party. Fewer people now smoke and more people demand smoke-free public places and workplaces.

Several hon. Members rose—

Ms Hewitt: I have just said that I will make a little more progress before I take further interventions.

I have no doubt at all that, even without legislation, in the fullness of time, we would eventually see a self-imposed ban on smoking spread to virtually all public places and workplaces. The reason why that is not good enough is that it would take too long. Smoking kills and so does second-hand smoke. Even if the Opposition cannot make up their mind, the Government have a duty to legislate. The public consultation that we conducted made it plain that the public agree. They want the Government to speed up the change that is already happening. They want the Government to do more to protect people from second-hand smoke.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): I do not know whether the Secretary of State managed to hear Mr. Tony Benn—a former Member of Parliament for Chesterfield, whom I am sure she knows well—on the radio on Saturday morning. He said that he found it rather odd that, at this stage of their life, the Government were allowing 24-hour drinking, with all the damage that alcohol can do to people, yet they somehow believe that smoking should be banned.
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Ms Hewitt: There will not be 24-hour drinking as a result of very sensible changes in the licensing laws, which, of course, Opposition Members have called for and which will enable responsible adults to drink rather more without the current restrictions—[Interruption.] We will enable responsible adults to drink without the restrictions that are currently imposed by out-of-date licensing laws, but we will give the police much tougher powers to deal with the minority who binge drink and then attack other people.

Helen Jones : I accept that the Bill is a great step forward. I feel a bit like a bag of ailments this afternoon—as well as being short-sighted, I am asthmatic. Breathing in second-hand smoke doubles the chances of an adult developing asthma and inhibits the action of the drugs that are used to control asthma. Can my right hon. Friend explain why someone who works in a pub that does not serve food should be exposed to that risk, when someone who works in a different establishment is not exposed to it?

Ms Hewitt: I will return to that very point in a moment. It is precisely the damaging effects of second-hand smoke that have led us to conclude—in striking contrast to the Conservative party—that we need to legislate on the matter.

Ann Keen (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab): The Government are putting forward a strong public health message. Will the Secretary of State examine the line of the Royal National Institute of the Blind on the effect of smoke on sight, especially on macular degeneration of the retina? Will she consider putting warnings on cigarette packets that smoking can cause blindness?

Ms Hewitt: My hon. Friend raises an important point. We will shortly be consulting on strengthening the general health warnings on cigarette packets by putting pictures on them to illustrate the damage that smoking does to people's health.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend will know that I admire what she tried to do at earlier stages of the Bill's life. Does she agree that we must set against the drift downwards of the prevalence of smoking in the general population—she accurately described that as about one in four people—the fact that two groups buck the trend? One such group is in working-class communities. Work done by SmokeFree Liverpool, which is an immensely effective organisation, shows that in the most deprived wards, as much as half the population smokes. From her observations and statistical analysis, my right hon. Friend will have noted that the number of younger women who are starting to take up smoking is increasing significantly. What does she believe can be done in that regard?

Ms Hewitt: My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. The prevalence of smoking in England and other parts of the country is going down among all groups, including working-class men. Indeed, the evidence on young women is not as clear cut as he suggests. Smoking rates are going down. They are going
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down even faster among better-off groups. Of course, we need to do more on smoking cessation programmes, in particular, alongside the Bill.

The Bill is an enormous step forward for public health. It will help to reduce the number of people smoking by a further 500,000 to 750,000 over time. It will help to reduce the number of deaths of people in the work force that are associated with second-hand smoke, which is estimated at some 500 to 600 a year.

In framing the legislation—this was the point of many debates and the public consultation that took place before the publication of the "Choosing Health" White Paper and, indeed, the election—we are striking a balance between two extremes: on the one hand, an over-prescriptive state; and on the other, which is represented by Conservative Members, an irresponsibly laissez-faire Government. We are responding to the clear wish of the public to be protected from other people's smoking in public places, especially restaurants, on the one hand, and on the other hand allowing people who want to have a cigarette with a drink to do so.

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