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New Clause 5 — Smoke-free premises: exemptions

Part of Orders of the Day — Health Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:15 pm on 14th February 2006.

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Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Secretary of State for Health 4:15 pm, 14th February 2006

I recall the figure to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, although I think that it appeared in a different BMJ study. I do not dispute that a significant number of deaths have been and continue to be associated with exposure to second-hand smoke in the workplace, which is one of the reasons why we have always supported protection in the workplace. As we set out in our manifesto, the objectives of policy should be to reduce the incidence of smoking, to ensure that non-smokers are not exposed to smoke unless they want to be, to protect workers in the workplace and to ensure that children are not exposed to second-hand smoke. We set out that position in our manifesto; I said it again on Second Reading and I have not departed from it. We are debating how those objectives will be achieved and the balances to be struck, which I shall discuss in a moment.

As shadow Secretary of State for Health, I must say—not least to my hon. Friends—that it is imperative on health grounds to stop unwanted exposure to second-hand smoke and potentially reduce the prevalence of smoking, especially among young people whose smoking habits tend to become entrenched in the workplace. The Secretary of State accepted that point when she introduced the Bill at the end of last year, but she then made a perverse and bogus distinction between pubs that serve food and those that do not. On Second Reading, we asked her to explain the health grounds for making such a distinction, but she offered no evidence on that point. However, given the effect of that on health inequalities, which was subsequently exposed in great detail by the Select Committee on Health, we knew that it was wrong when it was presented. I think that most Labour Members knew that it was wrong and, frankly, that the Secretary of State knew that it was wrong, but she would not admit it. Her acquiescence in the Airdrie and Shotts provisions was a failure on her part. She is condemned by the fact that she would not stand by her own instincts and, as Secretary of State for Health, by the views and recommendations of the chief medical officer.

We now have the utter humiliation of the Secretary of State voting against her own legislation. Never before has a Government Minister brought forward a measure and voted against it in this way.