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Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for her generous comments about my campaigning activities with regard to Government new clause 6. As she knows, I have been pushing the issue ever since the Government launched their White Paper "Choosing Health". In fact, I have tabled two early-day motions in the past two parliamentary Sessions, as well as presenting my ten-minute Bill, the Age of Sale of Tobacco Bill, on 18 October last year.

I do not want to repeat in detail what I said in Committee, but I am grateful to Ministers for going out to public consultation on the matter over the next few months. I am sure that the public consultation will be very positive. Indeed, the BBC and Sky conducted two polls immediately before Christmas showing support of about 85 or 90 per cent. for raising the age of sale. I have always regarded the measure as common sense. Before 1997, exactly the same proportion of young people smoked in Guernsey as in the UK, but following the implementation of the measure, the rate in Guernsey fell to 50 per cent. of that in the UK. The measure has been
 
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adopted in many European countries as well as in Scotland and Ireland. It has the support of the Trading Standards Institute, which is the enforcement agency that carries out age-of-sale test purchases. A resolution on the issue has been passed at the past two Trading Standards Institute annual conferences.

The measure will bring the age of sale of tobacco in line with that of alcohol and of dangerous knives and airguns, the age limit for which will be increased to 18 by the Violent Crime Reduction Bill.

Most smokers start smoking in their early teenage years—indeed, most of them start before the age of 16. I am sure that raising the age will not stop teenagers, and young teenagers in particular, from trying smoking. We need to think about introducing a more effective education programme in schools, youth clubs and other settings in which young people congregate. As has happened in Guernsey, I am sure that the measure will impact on the number of young people who smoke with the passage of time.

I pay tribute to my local newspaper, the South Yorkshire Times, which has produced a petition entitled, "Petition to raise the minimum age of smoking to 18". It states:

As I said in Committee, I want to single out a campaigning journalist with the South Yorkshire Times, Lee Siggs, for his help. The South Yorkshire Times placed the petition in not only all the local newsagents, but the local further education college, Dearne Valley college. The vast majority of signatories to the petition are young people aged 16 to 25 from not only my constituency and places such as Greaseborough and Swinton, which are in the constituency of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (John Healey), but Denaby and Conisbrough, which are in the constituency of the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint).

I pay tribute to the Minister of State, Department of Health, my right hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Jane Kennedy) and the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley for the way in which they took the Bill through Committee and improved it.

Since I discussed the issue in Committee, I have received a letter from one of the tobacco companies, which are often portrayed in this place as bêtes noires. The letter, which came from Phillip Morris, was very positive. It stated that in that company's opinion the age of sale is a matter for the Government and that as far as it is concerned smoking is an adult activity that is not for children, which shows that tobacco companies can be responsible. It is therefore appropriate to pay tribute to tobacco companies as well as criticising them.

In conclusion, I am glad that the whole House has supported this common-sense measure, and I look forward to the age of sale being raised to 18 and incorporated into the Bill at the end of the public consultation period.
 
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9.24 pm

Steve Webb: The whole House will congratulate the hon. Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough (Jeff Ennis) on pursuing an issue and seeing it through to the point at which the public and the industry will be consulted and the House can form a view through affirmative resolution. When we debated the programme motion, I said that it was an important issue that warranted a debate. As I predicted, we did not get it. Very few people in the House—the hon. Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough was one of them—knew what was happening when the Speaker called for new clause 6 to be added to the Bill. Such an important issue should have got an airing so that we could think it through further. At least the House has a chance to come back to it.

It is always a good day when a Liberal Democrat manifesto policy is implemented. Of the manifestos of the three major parties, only the Liberal Democrats' contained a total ban on smoking, so my colleagues and I am delighted by the outcome of today's vote. It goes further. Of the three Front-Bench speeches that opened our debate, only one—modesty forbids my saying which—unequivocally argued for a total ban, which is what the House overwhelmingly concluded, no doubt persuaded by the oratory. To sway the House, on a free vote, to a majority of more than 200 is one of my early parliamentary highlights but no doubt not the last.

I congratulate the Committee members who assiduously went through the Bill. I was about to say some nice things about the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), but she has left. The hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) was uncharacteristically ungenerous in his remarks about her, because she dealt with all the smoking aspects of the Bill in Committee, although I am not sure that one praises someone for arguing for something that they do not wholly believe in. She was obviously committed throughout to a full ban, and it was poetic that she tabled the amendment that brought it in. That seems only right and proper.

I agree with the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire that the Bill has not been well handled by the Government. In a sense, the Under-Secretary inherited a compromise. It is good that, through the evolution of the provisions, we have ended up with a clearer position. I was just discussing signage with my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Stephen Williams). Presumably we no longer need to put up signs saying that people cannot smoke in these places because it is now the law of the land that one cannot smoke in an enclosed public place, wherever it is. That is one example of how much cleaner, simpler and more effective is the total ban that the Bill now contains. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West, who served on his first health Bill Committee with me and made an important contribution to the debates.

Although the debate was predominantly about smoking, we also heard about MRSA and related issues. My hope would be that, although we have yet another initiative or taskforce—a code of practice, in this case—it will have real teeth. The record so far is disappointing. The Minister of State, Department of Health, the right hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Jane Kennedy) said that the most recent set of figures on MRSA were disappointing in that they are no lower than they were
 
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12 months ago. I join the Government in hoping, if not with a great deal of confidence, that the code of practice will bite and that we will see real changes. That is what we all want.

In the event of a maverick vote—I do not know whether one is planned—I will, with great pleasure, encourage the serried ranks of my colleagues to support the Bill's Third Reading.

9.28 pm

Mr. Kidney: I, too, participated in the Second Reading debate and served on the Standing Committee. It is right to praise the Ministers who steered the Bill through proceedings in this House and the Members who served on the Committee. Ministers listened to concerns expressed on Second Reading and acted in Committee. An example is the changes made on ophthalmic services. Ministers listened to cogent arguments put forward by my hon. Friends in Committee and acted on Report to make changes, the best example being on the minimum age for buying tobacco.

All those Members—I hasten to add that I was not one of them, so I am not praising myself—who diligently chipped away, day after day, at the arguments about the distinction between public houses that did and did not sell food have had their day. They exposed the weaknesses of that distinction and forced hon. Members to make a starker choice between the status quo and a complete ban. A pretty convincing opinion has been expressed in the House on a free vote.

The proceedings have therefore been a success so far. One half of the process has been completed and the Bill will be off to the other place. However, as a postscript, I want to mention my disappointment about the process in this place. Through a spark of ingenuity, I persuaded House officials to accept that amendments about breast feeding came within the Bill's remit. By a stroke of good fortune, the Committee Chairman selected them for debate. Alas, I was struck down by the timetable that was imposed on our deliberations in Committee. My new clauses on breast feeding probably constituted the one issue of substance that was never considered in Committee. The Speaker did not select them for debate today. They will not be considered in the context of the Bill in the House of Commons, but I believe that they raised important issues of public health and discrimination, which must be left for another day.

I do not know whether the same spark of ingenuity can strike twice and enable me to find another way to raise those important matters in the near future, but I look forward to the guidance on breast feeding from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence later this year because we have a poor record in this country—


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