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Bill Etherington (Sunderland, North) (Lab): This has been an interesting debate. There appear to be two diametrically opposed views. There are those who want smoking to be banned altogether in all enclosed public spaces such as public houses or working men's clubs, and there are those who say "Just let it go".

I should like to think that the Secretary of State has got it right, although I am not sure whether that has come about for good reasons. I see the Bill as an interim measure. I think that we will see more progress after this, and I wonder which way that progress will go.

I entirely accept, as most people do, that no employee or customer who does not want to breathe another person's smoke should have to suffer that. There is no argument about that, but we could look at the issue in another way, and I would like to see a bit more lateral thinking in this debate. I use the term "segregation". I have heard a lot of nonsense spoken here tonight about it being impossible to eliminate smoke by ventilation. With a proper segregated room and a proper extractor fan, a vacuum is created, and the only air that moves has to come into the room and go out through the fan. Decent doors are needed to make a smokeproof room, but we have one of those in this building: we have a Smoking Room in the House of Commons. The only problem with it is there is no protection for the person who serves there; that is wrong.

However, there is no reason why people in a segregated room should not be required to go and get their own drinks and bring them back to that room. Most pubs have more than one room, and very few public houses, working men's clubs or private clubs could not provide a room for smokers, properly ventilated and properly looked after. That would eliminate the problem.

I accept the fact that 75 per cent. of the public do not smoke and do not want smoke around them, but I am also concerned about the one in four—the 25 per cent.—and I do not want to see those people marginalised. That is not necessary.

If there is the political will to do something, and make provision for smokers as well as non-smokers, the problem could be overcome—but whether the Government have the gumption to do that, I do not know. I hear what the zealots say, and it seems to me that those who shout loudest generally get their own way. A tremendous head of steam is being generated on this issue, and those who want a total ban will probably succeed eventually, unless we start thinking in a different direction—not being defensive, but using a bit of lateral thought to get round the problem.

I do not believe that only one in four of the people who go into public houses smoke. In my area, nearly 50 per cent. of the people who frequent pubs, private clubs, working men's clubs and the miners welfare are smokers. If they are prohibited from smoking in those places, no doubt they will find other ways out. As a result, the people who want to go into a bar but do not want to see any smoke might find that they are not only
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devoid of smoke but devoid of a bar to go to. It may no longer be feasible or economic to keep premises open if people cannot go there and smoke.

That is just a suggestion. I am not arguing about people's right to avoid smoke, and I think that the Government are heading in the right direction. However, we need less simplification and more profound thought on this issue. It is quite a complex subject; it is not just about banning or not banning, but about thinking about how to satisfy people and make progress.

We need more education, and we should try to imbue young people's minds with the disadvantages of smoking. I am a smoker myself, although I am a bit of an oddity, because I did not smoke until I was about 45. [Interruption.] That was before I came here; it had nothing to do with this place, although being here probably could drive somebody to smoke.

If we alienate what I think is the more likely estimate of 50 per cent. of people in clubs and pubs who smoke, we will cause tremendous trouble. People whom we might have been able to persuade by education and good practice will be alienated if they believe that they are being coerced.

I have no great truck with the tobacco lobby, which only wants to sell its product. We have all been glad enough to take the tax that comes from smoking; that applies to both parties. If we think that smoking is so bad, why the hell do we not ban it altogether and have done with it? We do not do that. We do not live in that world. That is not the way things work. Instead, we try to do things gradually—and that is what we are doing now.

I hope that we can cut the number of people who smoke. Let us hope that eventually we will be able to get rid of the habit, and the problem, altogether, but we will not do that by alienating minorities. We have to carry them along with us. I beseech the Government to consider the fact that by proper scientific segregation, we could achieve all that the people who favour a total ban want. They might not agree with that, but I believe that it is true.

For anyone to say, as one of my hon. Friends did earlier, that it is impossible to get rid of smoke by ventilation, is nonsense. I am not talking about the nonsense described by my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson), who mentioned some obscure airline with smoking on one side of the plane and non-smoking on the other, or about someone saying, "If you sit at one end of the room and smoke, non-smokers can sit at the other end." That is unsatisfactory and does not solve the problem. We need a proper scientific approach, with segregation so that those who do not want to breathe smoke do not have to, but also so that we do not alienate the people who do smoke, and who want to continue to go out and meet their friends in an ambient atmosphere in a pleasant pub.

Mrs. Betty Williams : Does my hon. Friend not remember the train operating companies' system, with a no-smoking section and a smoking section in each train? The doors were not secure enough to keep the smoke away from non-smokers, and the only way to get round that was to ban smoking altogether on all trains.

Bill Etherington: I thank my hon. Friend for that contribution, and I am pleased to be able to give her a
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detailed answer. I have travelled a lot on GNER services, and that company spent hundreds of thousands of pounds creating segregated smoking areas. The doors did work, and the smoking area was ventilated. Indeed, it was so well ventilated that people complained that it was too cold. All the air was sucked out of the non-smoking area; no air went back there. Why, after all that expense, the company then decided to stop smoking altogether, I do not know; it was not because the system was ineffective or inefficient. The system worked, and I shall never know the answer to that question.

The real answer to my hon. Friend's point is that I suspect that train operating companies, like some companies that operate bars, just do not want to spend the money. They will give all sorts of reasons why something cannot be done, but it all comes down to the simple answer that they do not want to make that investment. For example, Eurostar trains had a separate coach for smoking, and no smoke went out of that into other coaches—but Eurostar stopped it, because it could get more passengers and more flexibility if that coach was turned into a non-smoking one.

A lot of myths circulate about such matters, and all that business about needing 10,000 changes of air an hour to clear a place out is utter palpable nonsense.

Dr. Doug Naysmith (Bristol, North-West) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend has been talking about alienating minorities, but what does he think the difference is between what is happening in Ireland and what he thinks might happen here? I assure him that during the Health Committee's visit to Ireland it was clear that a total ban, introduced very quickly, has been accepted by almost everyone—including smokers in pubs, who go outside to have a smoke. What is the difference between Ireland and here, that makes him anticipate trouble?

Bill Etherington: We all get to hear different views. Yes, the thing might have been accepted in Ireland, but many things are accepted, and that does not always mean that the situation is totally satisfactory. I do not think that it is very satisfactory if someone has to go outside to have a smoke. I do not like to see people huddling in shop and office doorways having a smoke. I would have thought that a decent employer, who did not want smoking in the workplace, would make proper provision for employees to have a smoke in a room such as I have suggested. It always come down to investment and a lack of will.

All that I am asking the Minister to consider is the possibility of integrating smokers into our pub scene without making things impossible for them. I believe that it can be done. All we need to talk about is scientific segregation. As I say, it can be done; all it needs is the will.

8 pm

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