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Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that we cannot discuss what is not in the Bill on Third Reading.

Mr. Kidney: I wondered how long it would take you to remind me of that point, Madam Deputy Speaker. I simply say that the Bill will go to the other place in a good condition and I wish it well.
14 Feb 2006 : Column 1385

9.31 pm

John Bercow : The Bill is a good measure, which was improved this afternoon. It deserves a Third Reading and, in the event of a Division, I shall be pleased enthusiastically to vote for it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone), who is sadly no longer in his place, intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) proudly to observe that he had voted in accordance with the requirements of the previous Conservative election manifesto, which specifically pledged that the Conservative party, if it formed the Government, would not introduce smoke-free legislation. I have the highest regard for the parliamentary diligence of my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering and considerable respect for his decision to vote in accordance with his convictions and interpretation of his duty.

However, I politely observe—I hope within the constraints of order—that, as an hon. Member who was not exclusively guided by the contents of the Conservative election manifesto before we fought the election, I perceive no especially good reason to be overly guided by its contents after we have fought and rather decisively lost the election. The manifesto contains some good and some bad features. We were soundly defeated and we should review—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I have been reasonably lenient with hon. Members, but I believe that I ruled a few moments ago that discussions should not take place about manifestos, but be confined to Third Reading.

John Bercow: That is absolutely right, Madam Deputy Speaker. My focus on the manifesto related specifically to the contents of the Bill, as I carefully explained in advance. I shall continue to focus on Third Reading.

The House secured an advance this afternoon. It was frequently but wrongly suggested that the House had to choose between freedom and the nanny state. That is a perfectly honourable view, but I believe it to be mistaken. My judgment is that we had a choice between acting decisively in the interests of public health and burying our heads in the sand, ignoring the evidence and declining to do our public duty. I am glad that the House voted by such an overwhelming margin in support of a complete ban on smoking in public places.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

John Bercow: In a moment.

There are of course colleagues who, if pressed, would probably favour banning smoking per se altogether. I think that they would be wrong. There are certainly colleagues who believe that the law should not have been changed at all. They are entitled to that view, but I think that they, too, are wrong. The bulk of the argument today focused on variations on a theme of two main options, each of which was honourable, and between which we had to decide. The options were a partial ban, of one form or another, or a total ban.
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My view is that the Bill has been improved this afternoon because a partial ban would have been undesirable. A partial ban based on a distinction between pubs that serve food and those that do not struck me as risible. It would certainly have been inequitable as between one employee and another, and it would unquestionably have been unfair to children. It would also have been a source of legal challenge, and it would demonstrably have been conducive to unfair competition between different outlets. That does not mean that it was a dishonourable proposal, but it would have had all sorts of hazardous consequences. Most Members, irrespective of party allegiance, believe that we have a duty to legislate in terms that are simple to understand, readily accepted as fair, and capable of straightforward enforcement, and I do not think that that proposal would have satisfied those criteria.

The alternative approach was to introduce a partial ban of the type that characterised much of this afternoon's debate, namely, a ban on smoking in pubs, clubs and restaurants, with the exception of private membership clubs. I could not for the life of me see a justification for the creation of that special, untouchable category of private membership club. We seemed to be facing an unholy alliance between the devotees of gentlemen's clubs in and around St. James's, and those who are dedicated to the continued privileges of their—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. May I remind the hon. Gentleman, as I have reminded other hon. Members, that we are debating the contents of the Bill, not the proposals that have been excluded from it?

John Bercow: The House has made the right decision, and I am delighted to have got my point on the record, Madam Deputy Speaker. I know how keen you are that I should focus on the contents of the Bill.

I believe that the Bill's smoke-free provisions are manifestly in the interests of public health. We do not have to look into the crystal ball when we can read the book. If we look at the evidence of what has happened in Ireland, we can see an improvement. We can observe what has taken place in New York, and recognise that it has resulted in a betterment of public health. It would have been curious if we had not done what we did this afternoon. After all, Scotland is to enjoy smoke-free legislation, as is Wales, and the Government certainly intend that Northern Ireland should do so. It is very much in the public interest that England should do so as well.

This provision is good news for smokers and non-smokers alike. I believe that those who suggested that a ban would be bad news for smokers and their families are wrong. The overwhelming likelihood is that significant numbers of smokers will be encouraged, as a result of the passage of the Bill, to give up their habit. The notion that they would simply smoke in private houses in front of their children on any significant scale seems profoundly misconceived. Parents care about their children, and I do not believe that they would do that.

David Taylor: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

John Bercow: No, I will not, because I know that other colleagues wish to contribute to the debate.
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The great benefit of the Bill for non-smokers is that the threat of a massively increased chance of contracting either heart disease or lung cancer has been removed. This is a good Bill. One of the best and most pithy speeches in support of it was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young). Tories are in favour of public health as well, and I am glad that significant numbers of them demonstrated their commitment to it earlier. I am sure that, if tested, we should do so again.

9.39 pm

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow), whom I like and admire in equal measure, but I am afraid I cannot share his general euphoria over what happened earlier. Although the vote was not surprising, I think that this is an incredibly sad day.

We have heard excellent speeches from those on both sides of the argument. The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound) made a very good and courageous speech, and my hon. Friends the Members for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson), for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) and for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) brought a large dose of common sense to the debate.

I do not smoke, and I do not like going into smoky places—so I do not do so. That is my choice. I believe that if I owned a pub or a restaurant, I should be able to decide whether people are allowed to smoke on my premises on the basis of feedback from my customers and my employees. I do not see the need for any more nanny-state Government interference. I know that Labour Members pretend to support the free market, but although they now say they support it, I do not think that they understand it. If so many people had wanted a ban on smoking in pubs, restaurants and bars, the free market would have delivered it. Businesses survive and thrive by delivering what their customers want—that is how businesses prosper.

Some companies were beginning to become non-smoking, and I welcome that. I welcome it when bars and restaurants become non-smoking.

Edward Miliband (Doncaster, North) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Philip Davies: Of course I will.

Edward Miliband: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I want to be nice to him because his mother lives in my constituency. Does he agree, however, that the most powerful argument advanced today concerned the right of employees to work in a smoke-free environment? The Bill gives them that important right.

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