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Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): My two least favourite words in the political lexicon are "modernisation" and "prohibition". When I looked through the Bill, I found that although the first of those is, happily, not present, the second one, sadly, is—right up front. I also found that "regulations" occurs 18 times, "offence" occurs 20 times, and "enforcement" occurs 10 times. In schedule 1, "penalty" occurs 19 times, "offence" six times and "enforcement" three times. What have we come to, that we are being asked to take this approach in order to do what many people see as the right way forward?

I very much agree with the approach taken by my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell), who succinctly set out the case that is in danger of going by default in this debate: in a mature, informed society, we should surely leave individuals as much opportunity as possible to exercise their choice and discretion. That should be informed, of course. There is a duty on the Government of the day, and on us, to do what we can to inform people about the risks that they may be taking in terms of their health and safety.

Stephen Hesford : Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the logic of his position is that he would legalise class A drugs?

Mr. Forth: The policy on drugs has been such an overwhelming failure until now that it is time that we
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had the courage to look at the issue properly, instead of being afraid of it and cringing from it. That is for another day, however. I shall happily engage in a debate on that subject with the hon. Gentleman, but not here.

I would certainly want to push as far as I could the freedom of adult, informed individuals to decide what they do with their bodies, and indeed with and between each other. That is my preference. I always recoil when I have presented to me proposed legislation that seeks to impose on a large number of people the wishes of experts or politicians, because that is not why I came into politics or why I am here.

Another irony is that all of us, in all political parties, pay lip service to local community decision making. I agree with that. However, when we are faced with it as a reality, we tend to recoil from it and resort to centralised decision making and imposition. My solution is that we should encourage workplace decision making of the kind that my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood mentioned. I see no reason why proprietors and work forces in offices, factories, restaurants and pubs should not be able to get together to make their own decisions about whether their premises should allow smoking, ban smoking or allow different things in different parts of the premises.

Last night, I went to St. Stephen's tavern, right next door to us here in Westminster, to assess the effectiveness of the removal of smoke from the atmosphere. I even lit up a cigarette and puffed at it energetically to see what would happen. Everyone present in the room agreed that although people were smoking, there was no trace of cigarette smoke at all. I can see one or two hon. Friends who were also there. Instead of instinctively saying, as so many politicians do, "We're going to try to use the force of the law to make you good people out there do what we think is right for you", why cannot we challenge people to take a sensible approach to the vexed subject of smoking? Why cannot we challenge proprietors to ensure that their premises are smoke-free by using the technology that is now freely available and was demonstrated to some of us last night? Why not allow that element of choice to prevail?

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood said, we can use our power as consumers to try to persuade people to do what we think is right. In other words, if we find smoke offensive, we can decide not to use bars, pubs, restaurants or other premises where it is present. If sufficient of us were prepared to do that, their proprietors would have to make a decision on whether to deem them smoke-free or partly smoke-free.I see no reason why we, as consumers, as well as proprietors and members of the work force, cannot make rational choices in the workplace and in the community. That is preferable to having us here reaching for the law—as we so often instinctively, and wrongly, do—and seeking to impose our view on our citizenry and voters.

I shall reluctantly support the Bill on Second Reading in the hope that we can water it down in Committee or on Report to move it towards a more truly liberal approach than the rather heavy-handed approach that it takes at the moment. I am not terribly optimistic, but I shall do my best to move it in that direction.
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6.55 pm

Mr. Bob Laxton (Derby, North) (Lab): Unlike the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), who could by no stretch of the imagination be described as a zealot about anything, I admit to being a bit of a zealot when it comes to smoking. Indeed, I have been a virulent anti-smoker for many years. If someone put my name into Google or looked me up in "Who's Who", they would see that I once described smoking as a dirty, filthy, stinking, antisocial, expensive, bourgeois habit. [Interruption.] That is my weird sense of humour. We all know that these days smoking is generally a working-class habit.

I approach the subject with an almost missionary fervour. About 10 years ago, when the issue of not smoking was not particularly fashionable, I was leader of Derby city council, where we brought in an anti-smoking policy. We stopped all smoking in the work force and required people who indulged in this dirty, filthy, stinking, antisocial and expensive habit to go to little nicotine-ridden rooms where they could have a quick drag in clouds of smoke. We did that because there was a huge conflict between smokers and non-smokers in open office areas.

We introduced that policy in June 1995. In November 1995, we went further and wrote it into people's contract of employment and stated it in all job adverts. Applicants were advised that we had a clear non-smoking policy and that, if they wanted to smoke in the workplace, they need not bother to apply for a job at Derby city council. I came in for some heavy criticism. I was told, "You're denying the city council the chance of employing the very best employees around." I replied, "I think that people who smoke are stupid, and why would Derby city council want to employ stupid people?"

Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab): If someone wanted to work in a pub that allowed smoking, would my hon. Friend use exactly the same argument and therefore argue for allowing smoking in pubs?

Mr. Laxton: Yes, there is an argument for that.

By now, anyone would have concluded that, as a virulent anti-smoker, I would be very much in favour of a total ban across the piece. I took that view until about six months ago, but I have finessed it a little because of some of the impositions that have been put on the statute book. I do not want to drag up banning hunting with dogs, but we have seen that people are circumventing that legislation and operating illegally, or with dubious legality.

I have changed my position and, if there is a Division tonight, I shall support the Government. The Bill gets us 90 or 95 per cent.—some would say 99 per cent.—of the way to achieving our aim. In talking to heavy smokers, I have found that some accept that smoking is bad for their health, colleagues and families, including their children, but have no intention of kicking the dirty, filthy, stinking, antisocial and expensive habit. Those people will smoke, come what may.

Martin Horwood: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Laxton: No, I shall not take interventions.
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The Bill gives people such as me an element of choice, which I do not currently have. Most pubs allow smoking in part of their establishment. Perhaps they do not allow it in the restaurant or perhaps they have a no-smoking area, but most restrictions are ineffective in practice.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Laxton: No.

Mr. Knight: To me?

Mr. Laxton: No, not even to the previous Conservative Member for Derby, North, whom I was pleased to defeat at the time.

The non-smoking facilities in many public houses are inadequate. Under the new arrangements, I shall have a choice. I will be able to go to a wide variety of establishments if—as I do—I wish to socialise in a non-smoking environment. Those who want to smoke, insist on smoking and demand the right to smoke will be able to go to establishments that are full of cigarette smoke where they can indulge their dirty, filthy, stinking, antisocial and expensive activity. The Bill provides an element of choice that hitherto did not exist.

Some Conservative Members suggested that public houses would decide to junk food and become drinking-only establishments so that they could get the punters in, chuffing away fast and furiously. I do not believe that that will happen. If we consider how social activity and public houses have changed in modern Britain, we realise that most establishments need to sell food to stay in business. In my locality—I guess that it is not very different elsewhere—all country pubs, pubs on the fringes of cities and those near city centres sell food. If they did not, they would not survive. If they decided to get rid of food to attract people who wanted to indulge in the dirty, filthy, stinking, antisocial and expensive habit, they would go out of business. Market forces mean that there will be public houses full of smoke and—thank God—public houses that have a clean environment, where people such as me can go and breathe reasonably fresh air and, perhaps for the first time, enjoy the wonderful aroma from the head of a good pint of Marston's Pedigree.

The Government have got it just about right. That is why I shall support the Bill.

7.3 pm

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