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We have heard that passive smoking in the workplace kills four times as many employees a year as asbestosis. My hon. Friend would not support for one minute a club that refused to remove flaking asbestos that posed a hazard to its staff. That would not be a matter for democratic decision for club membersit would have to be done. Why does he not apply the same standards to a health hazard that is more dangerous to the staff of clubs?
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Mr. Clelland: We are not considering the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974, but the Health Bill. If the Government want to pursue the issue in the way that my hon. Friend suggests, the health and safety legislation should be amended. I repeat that if smoking is so lethal, it should be banned completely. What is the case for not doing that other than perhaps the case for the Revenue, which is important to any Government?
Chris Bryant: My hon. Friend said that he was not opposed in principle to private members clubs banning smoking. The Secretary of State said that if an exemption were made for private members clubs, an annual vote would be insisted upon. If such a vote is held annually, should it be conducted by a postal ballot of all club members or at an annual general meeting? In the case of such a vote, should people be able to reverse the decision that they made the previous year? Should they be able to change year after year?
Mr. Clelland: I shall consider the annual vote shortly, but I will not discuss the complexities of how the ballots should take place. That is for another day. Today, we are debating the principle of the matter.
The licensed trade has argued that the Bill will sound the death knell of many pubs because people will move from pubs to clubs. Pubs have open access and far more freedom than clubs to introduce attractions that will bring in the public and lead to their continuing patronage. The bingo clubs and casinos claim that people will flock from them to private clubs. That is nonsense because people who patronise bingo clubs and casinos go for much bigger prizes than any working men's club could offer. They would certainly not be attracted merely by the ability to have a cigarette.
If, as we are told, the non-smoking population is growing and the smoking population is declining, the non-smokers may migrate from the smoking to the non-smoking establishments. Banning smoking in pubs and restaurants may benefit rather than cause problems for those places. I do not therefore accept the trade's arguments. It is worried because it erroneously believes that the measure will give non-profit-making clubs an advantage. It is concerned about its profits, not anyone's health.
The hon. Member for Northavon (Steve Webb) claimed that if exemptions were made, the Rose and Crown might turn itself into a private club. If he believes that, he does not understand the Licensing Act 2003. To become a private club, a pub has to satisfy all the conditions, including becoming a non-profit-making members' club. I do not believe that the Rose and Crown wants to be a non-profit-making establishment, so it is unlikely to become a club.
Many clubs already take action to restrict and even ban smoking on their premises. The annual ballot, which my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) mentioned, will accelerate the process. They will have to consider the matter annually and I am sure that the smoking restrictions will continue. Let us not use a good Bill to erode the traditional freedoms of our private clubs and, in too many cases, threaten their existence.
I hope that when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary responds to the debate she will clarify something that the Secretary of State said earlier. My right hon. Friend
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appeared to imply in a radio interview this morning, and in an answer that she gave me earlier, that there will be regulations to restrict smoking in any room where there is a bar. Today is the first time that we have heard that. The letter that the Secretary of State sent to clubs when the point was first queried stated:
Mr. Clelland: I am not sure what the lack of clarity is. Clubs are dealing with those issues as we speak. There are already restrictions on smoking in the bar area and most club members uphold them. If they do not, they will not be club members for long. Clubs discipline their members if they do not stick to the rules.
I do not opposeand I shall supporta smoking ban in public places, but I cannot accept that we should legislate against private members' clubs in that way. It is against all our traditions. The best answer, as in so many cases, is education rather than legislation.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): I want to make an extremely brief speech, as many other Members wish to speak in the debate. It was disappointing that the Secretary of State was unable to share with the House how she plans to vote on this matter. She is the Secretary of State for Health and this is one of the most important public health issues that this Parliament will debate. It would have been helpful if, under the protection of a free vote, she could have indicated to the House what her preference was among the options available to us. She said that she would listen to the debate. I have been listening to this debate for 30 years, and it would be astonishing if some new and decisive argument were to emerge in these two hours to clinch the debate one way or the other. The last time we debated this matter, she put forward a view, constrained by collective responsibility, with which we know she disagreed. Against that background, and with the protection of a free vote, it would have been helpful if she had been able to tell us her views on this occasion.
I want to pay tribute to the work of the Select Committee. It was courageous of the Committee to confront head on a pledge in the Government's manifesto, six months after the general election. The role of the Select Committee has been decisive in this debate and it is a model of what Select Committees should do. It detected an argument that had unsound foundations, exposed it, then produced a clear, unambiguous, unanimous report that has been of enormous assistance to the House.
I want to pick up a point made by the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor), and I make no apology for raising the West Lothian question. In the Standing Committee, we had a vote on whether
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the distinction between pubs that serve food and those that do not should be removed. The Government won by one vote, that of a Scottish Member whose constituents will have the benefit of a comprehensive ban. His vote was decisive at that stage in ensuring that my constituents would not have the benefit of such a ban. At some point, the Government will have to address that issue, because it is going to recur time and again.
I hope that, at the end of this debate, Parliament will send out the clear signal that smoking is a harmful activity that it wishes to discourage. My concern, however, is that we are about to remove one indefensible distinction, namely, the distinction between pubs that serve food and those that do not, with another indefensible distinction, namely, that between pubs and clubs. As the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) has just explained in his excellent speech, no public health argument, no employment argument and no public nuisance argument can be used to distinguish private clubs from pubs. He also explained that the barrier between a private club and a pub is a very narrow onea £3 subscription will give access to a wide range of clubs. The tobacco industry wants a confused signal to emerge from Parliament that smoking is an activity that can be validated in certain circumstances. It would be much better to send a clear message that people can, of course, smoke in private but that smoking in a public place is something that Parliament wishes to discourage.
Finally, I want to make a point to my right hon. and hon. Friends who feel that there is something about being in the Conservative party that means that they should not vote for a ban. The Conservative party has a long history of taking public health seriously. Crash helmets were made compulsory for motor cyclists under a Conservative Government. Seat belts were made compulsory for rear passengers by a Conservative Government. A Conservative Government were in favour of putting fluoride in the water supply
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