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Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): The hon. Gentleman is making a compelling point. I got involved in this campaign many years ago, because I believed in the protection of workers' health. I joined the Labour party because I thought that protecting workers' health was one of our fundamental principles. Is not this also about changing the culture? That is why it is important to take the clubs out as smoking venues:
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we want to change the culture of how people perceive their leisure and their fun. It is important to have smoke-free leisure and smoke-free fun.

Steve Webb: The hon. Gentleman is right in the sense that a total ban would have that effect—total bans have done so where they have been implemented—but that is not where I am coming from. Clearly, a total ban is much easier to enforce than a partial one. I want to return to the loophole point, because the profit-making issue has been raised. Again, I cannot understand the relevance to someone who works in a smoky environment of whether or not they are making more or less money from the sales than it is costing them to sell the goods. That seems to be a red herring.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): May I push the hon. Gentleman in a different direction on loopholes and private members' clubs? A private members' club such as the Garrick in London is a very different beast from a private members' club such as Treorchy working men's social club, because the working men's clubs in constituencies such as mine are, to all intents and purposes, the place that people normally go to do their drinking, as if it were an ordinary pub. If we exempt working men's clubs, we will do nothing for the vast majority of the poorest people in my constituency who are equally affected.

Steve Webb: The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue about, for example, communities with one members' club and one pub. To the extent that a set of people will vote with their feet, a pub that is prevented from allowing anyone to smoke could lose business and thereby possibly be undermined. Again, it would be unfair to introduce such a distortion using legislation.

The Secretary of State spoke about space around the bar. If we do not pass the ban on smoking in private members' clubs, I am not sure whether people must chalk lines on the floor or use white tape to show that people can smoke on one side of the line but not the other. A distance criterion has been suggested, as though the smoke will come to a screeching halt at the line. That is a strange basis on which to protect people's health. Will we say that people can smoke if they face away from the bar but not if they face towards it? It seems incredible that ministerial comments so far have suggested a distance criterion. People can smoke if they stand away from the bar, but not if they are close to it. The Secretary of State shakes her head, but that is exactly what was said on Second Reading, as the record will show. In a sense, the proposal is a fudge that accepts that passive smoke is bad for the people who work in such clubs.

Anne Milton (Guildford) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, whatever our views—there have been heated exchanges across the Floor and within the parties—it is crucial that there is clarity and not confusion? We must be clear exactly what we will end up with. If we are not, the law will be unenforceable and unworkable.

Steve Webb: I very much agree with that point. We may have clarity for pubs, but applying the rules will be much more difficult in clubs if there is a distance
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requirement or the rules apply only to parts of the building. Enforcement is much more difficult if there is a lack of clarity.

Michael Fabricant: Will the hon. Gentleman give the lie to what someone said about it being a huge breach of tradition in this place if there were legislation for private members' clubs? That is not the case. We all know that health and safety regulations apply equally to private members' clubs, pubs and factories. Would it not be sane for legislation such as this to apply also to private members' clubs?

Steve Webb: Not only is the hon. Gentleman right, but that might be the outcome even if the House tried to make such a distinction. The idea that there would be a set of workers who had second-class protection seems unsustainable. Even if that were the will of the House today, I have a feeling that the issue would return here via the courts very soon.

I wish to make further observations about some of the arguments that are used for exempting private members' clubs. The first is that we have some sort of carriage in which people would not have to work. People would presumably have to get in and out of such rooms and smoke goes to and fro. People would also have to clear the glasses in such rooms and sort out any scuffles that might take place. Smoke will remain in such areas, especially if they are sealed, for a considerable time. Without the ventilation found in a jumbo jet—I gather that it is what it would take completely to purify the air—there will be residual toxins in the air. The well-being of the workers cannot be protected just by having a partitioned-off room.

We have made progress on the Bill, but clearly we have not gone far enough. There is a balance of liberties to consider. People want to be able to smoke and they will still be able to do so in their own homes and out of doors, but it is the job of the House to protect the liberty of people to work in an environment that does not potentially fatally damage their health. That is why I have argued consistently throughout—I will again vote for this in the Lobby tonight—that a total ban is the only proper approach to the issue.

Mr. Barron: I thank my Front-Bench colleagues and the Government for giving me and all Labour Members, both Front and Bank Benchers, the opportunity of a free vote.

When I and my colleagues on the Health Committee began to consider the issue, we did not know what the outcome would be. It is fair to say that some of us held widely differing views, while others had not yet made up their minds. We did what the House and the Select Committee system asked us to do. We took evidence and heard from witnesses. We heard from doctors, public health experts, the tobacco industry, the hospitality trade, trade unions, the Health and Safety Commission, the chief medical officer at the Department of Health and others. Having heard and read all the evidence, we reached a conclusion without dissent. Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and independent Members signed the report and the subsequent amendment tabled for Report that was withdrawn when the Government tabled new clause 5 and amendments (a) to (d).
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It is relatively unusual for such a clear view to emerge from a Select Committee. I say that as I look at my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), whose Committee has presented a report to the House in recent weeks. Because our Committee took such a clear view, I believe that what it said is worthy of careful consideration by the House tonight. I am grateful to my colleagues on the Committee—from all parties and none—for their hard work and willingness to consider the evidence fairly before reaching an objective decision.

5.15 pm

Michael Fabricant: The right hon. Gentleman has campaigned on the issue for a long time. Did his Committee consider the possibility of using air conditioning? Does he think that it is a practical proposition or that it is impractical, as the Californians and those in New York city have found?

Mr. Barron: I said earlier that when the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Woodward), made a statement on comprehensive legislation on the matter for Northern Ireland, which will be considered in the House because of the suspension of the Assembly, he said that ventilation did not work. We examined ventilation and found no evidence to support its use. An academic from the university of Wales could supply us with no evidence that air conditioning works. It might work if there is a system such as that in a hospital theatre, but opening windows and doors does not protect bar workers.

If, as I expect and hope, this proves to be a good day for Parliament, I suggest that it will also be a good day for the Select Committee system. Let me summarise what the Committee found. First, scientific evidence on the health effects of second-hand smoke is clear and overwhelming. We accept the verdict of the Government's advisers from the Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health—SCOTH—that exposure to second-hand smoke increases the risk to non-smokers of heart disease and lung cancer by about a quarter.

In most, although not all, cases, the tobacco industry continues to deny such evidence. Representatives of the industry continued to pursue that line when they gave evidence to the Committee. However, it should not be forgotten that for many years the industry denied in public that direct smoking was a cause of cancer, although its private view was very different. Indeed, action that was taken in the United States meant that it opened its archives, which gave us evidence that it knew about the consequences of direct smoking years ago, but hid those facts.

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