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It is perfectly consistent to be a member of the Conservative party and to take public health seriously by voting for a smoking ban in public places. Of course people should have the freedom to smoke, but that freedom needs to be balanced by the freedom of other people to enjoy clean, fresh air. When the Divisions are called, I shall, without any hesitation at all, vote with the right hon. Member for Rother Valley.
Dr. Tony Wright
: It is always a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young). I wish that he had also mentioned the historic connection between the beer industry and the Conservative party, but apart from that he made some excellent points. I do not want to repeat them, but I want to emulate him by being brief.
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We should celebrate the fact that this matter is being decided on a free vote. That is good for Parliament. I know that we cannot resist the temptation to revert to type by teasing Ministers about this, but it is good that we should approach issues in this way and that Ministers should, quite legitimately, take different views on a matter of judgment. We cannot both celebrate the free vote and attack Ministers for doing that. The more that we can decide issues in this way, the better it will be for Parliament, and not just because it is sometimes politically convenient.
It is a good thing that we are going to ban smoking in public places tonight, but it is extraordinary that we did not do it a long time ago. It is such an obvious public health measure and Parliament should have turned its attention to it long ago. My only dissent from what is being proposedI do not think that it will be tested in the Division Lobbyis that we could have taken a much simpler approach from the beginning. We should simply have proposed to separate the smokers from the non-smokers. The distinctions that the Government originally introduced were not sustainable. The idea that we should distinguish between pubs that served food and those that did not had no foundation in any public health argument. Nor do I believe that the distinction between pubs and clubs is sustainable. Some hon. Members have argued forcefully about the freedom involved in private members' clubs being allowed to do their own thing, but that argument is trumped by the view that basic protections should be afforded to the workers involved, and that overrides the distinction. Those workers would not have the freedom not to be exposed to other people's smoke.
Those distinctions must fall away, but it would have been easier to carry public opinion with us on this by adopting a simpler approach, such as the introduction of some kind of physical segregation in all kinds of premises between the smoking area and the small non-smoking area. I would have imposed onerous conditions on the smoking area involving physical separation and the sealing of rooms, and allowing no children, food or drink. I might have added provisions about sophisticated ventilation equipment
The approach that I have just outlined would have met the public health objectives that underpin what we are attempting to achieve, while ensuring that we retained a certain amount of freedom to exercise a legitimate activity. That approach would have carried public opinion with it. What we do tonight must have clarity and enforceability, and it must have public support. There would have been a simpler way of doing this, as I have just outlined, and we must ensure that clarity, simplicity and enforceability are at the heart of these provisions.
I wish to speak to amendment No. 6, on which I hope we shall have the chance to vote later. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) is lending his support to it. The amendment has come as quite a surprise to many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, because they did not
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realise that the coercive powers that the Government are taking under clause 5 include the power to ban smoking in private motor vehicles. It would be wrong in principle to do such a thing, as well as totally impractical. I have yet to hear the Government offer any defence for taking this power, and, in the absence of any such defence, I hope that the whole House will support my amendment.
I also want to address the issue of prisons. The Government line is that smoking is bad for our health and that of those around us. If that is so, why is smoking still to be allowed in prisons under the Bill? I asked the Secretary of State, in an intervention, why there was a rule about prisons that was different from the rule proposed for clubs and other licensed premises. I did not really receive an answer.
The issue of smoking in prisons has been related to the issue of what a person can do in his or her own home, but there is a big distinction. At present people cannot drink alcohol in prison: thereby the Government accept that being a prisoner is different from being in an equivalent, or an extension, of one's own home.
If prisoners cannot drink alcohol, why should they be allowed to smoke? It strikes me as totally inconsistent to take freedom to smoke away from those who are not prisoners, while allowing it to remain for those who are. Apart from anything else, we know that smoking in prison is the means by which much illegal drug-taking can take place.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) referred to amendment No 8, which I support enthusiastically. It seems that those of us who feel as he does about the legislation will have to vote against new clause 5. The important point is that health and safety law already applies to secondary smoke in workplaces, and the Bill is therefore unnecessary if it is designed to look after the health and well-being of people in the workplace.
The market is already operating to provide a range of options for the general public of smoke-free and smoke-filled premises. In a hotel, it is possible to stay in a smoke-filled bedroom or in one that is non-smoking. That shows that the market is working. The tyranny of the intolerant should not be allowed to prevail over the freedoms of the minority.
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I have never smoked, and despite the provocation from the Government, I do not intend to start now; but smoking is a legal activity. If hon. Members want to outlaw it, let us have a prohibition Bill. Until that time, let us trust the people and the market.
Dr. Alasdair McDonnell (Belfast, South) (SDLP): I too will be brief, or as brief as I can be. I think we could generate an awful lot of nonsense. Perhaps I should apologise, as someone from Northern Ireland, because the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Woodward), has relieved us of responsibility: he has done the wise thing, and provided for a total ban in a few months' time. I hope that the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) will allow my vote tonight in favour of a stronger ban to cancel out the irresponsible vote of someone else.
Smoking is a killer. Smoking maims people. Smoking cripples people. There is a whole spectrum of damage that smoking cigarettessmoking tobaccodoes to people. It is the single greatest cause of serious morbidity and mortality, and one of the single greatest burdens on the national health service owing to the illness that it causes. Others have spoken on the subject, and I do not want to go into the details of the damage to lungs, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema. Smoking does even more damage to the cardiovascular system. There is brain damage, stroke damage and all the rest. We could split hairs on whether we stop that a little bit, a bigger bit or completely, which is as far as we can go. By "completely" I mean stopping smoking in public places completely; I do not accept that there can be an absolute ban on smoking, although I should like to see the day when that might happen.
Excuses are being made in relation to private spaces: clubs, private homes and vehicles. I do not think that anyone would suggest that people should be allowed to grow cannabis in their private homes or private spaces, and put it to whatever use they like, including the corruption of younger people. The reality is that smoking is damaging, and we in the House have a responsibility to ensure that the amount of damage it is allowed to do is limited.
Apart from the damage that smoking does to people, the cost to the national health service is awful. Smoking is crippling the NHS. As a result of the smoking that has taken place over the past 25 or 30 years, we shall have a legacya mortgageof debt hanging over us for the next 30 years, until we remove smoking, reduce smoking or control smoking.
Before I came to the House I was a GP. Smoking, the damage done by it and the challenges involved in stopping presented me with one of my own greatest challenges. Trying to stop smoking is a difficult issue: it all comes down to individuals. A GP can do anything he likes to help people, but the biggest pitfall is what happens on a Friday or a Saturday night, or at the football match at the weekend. When there is a social occasion, people slip back on to the cigarettes. We must ensure that we give those people as much support as possible.
The southern Irish experience has been extremely positive. Faults can be found in it: there are breaches of the law, and people stand outside bars smokingbut
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even that has turned into a benefit, because matches are now being made outside the pub rather than inside. There is a smokers' club outside the door. Let us be serious, however. The Irish experience has worked. Smoking is down, and good public health is rising. It will be many years before that shows its full benefit, but I appeal to Members for God's sake to give people a chance. People are struggling to give up cigarettes. Most sensible people who are smokers want to stop smoking, and want us to help them to stop. We should not put any further obstacles or difficulties in their way.
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