We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

New Clause 5 — Smoke-free premises: exemptions

Part of Orders of the Day — Health Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:30 pm on 14th February 2006.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Steve Pound Steve Pound PPS (Rt Hon Hazel Blears, Minister of State), Home Office 4:30 pm, 14th February 2006

Well, the imminently right hon. Member, then. I associate myself with his congratulations on the extraordinary fecundity of those on the Conservative Benches. If Conservative Members keep producing children at this rate, I will be seriously worried that the Labour Government could be threatened in about 18 years. For the moment, however, I think that congratulations, and possibly a cigar, to Mr. Cameron would be entirely appropriate.

We have the unaccustomed and rather intoxicating luxury of a free vote on this subject. A number of my colleagues are already asking how the Whips want them to vote on the free vote, but for once we are able to make a decision without any of the normal party-political baggage. It does credit to right hon. and hon. Members that much of the discussion that has taken place has been non-partisan, and I genuinely believe that we are trying to do what is best.

Let us start from the assumption, revolutionary though it may seem, that tobacco is not actually good for one, and that were it to be discovered today it would be a dangerous drug and we would not have a great deal to do with it. The temptation to take the simplistic approach, however, seems to have gone to the heads of a number of right hon. and hon. Members.

I would suggest that it is not possible to uninvent something. We must look at the sheer practicalities. It is entirely understandable that we wish to stand as sea-green incorruptibles on a snow-capped peak and say "There shall be no tobacco: let a thousand children breathe uncluttered air"—unless, of course, they happen to live in a city or a village or a town, or anywhere where there is a motor car, or anywhere where there is any ancillary industry. But will new clause 5 and the amendments tabled by the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend Caroline Flint, achieve that?

We have the chance to benefit from some empirical evidence. Purely for the purpose of my parliamentary duties, I was in Dublin the week before last. As dusk settled over that wondrous city, I took the opportunity to wander the streets in search of licensed premises—in an investigative role. I had been told that Ireland was the exemplar of the new legislation, as it is an exemplar in so many ways. This was the place where the smoking ban had been imposed, and by heaven, the proud Celts had stepped back and said "That's it: no more cigarettes."

What a vision I observed in Temple Bar! What an extraordinary sight greeted me when, with a number of my parliamentary colleagues and several Members of the Dail, I visited a number of pubs to find that all fell into one or other of two categories. In one category, the entire perimeter area was covered with patio heaters and armchairs, so that anyone who wanted to go into the admittedly smoke-free pub had to fight his way through a tangible fug of nicotine-soaked air to get into the damn place to start with, which made something of a nonsense of the arrangement. If it was not possible to find a pub ringed with patio heaters—there may be some hon. Members, possibly on the Conservative Benches, who are not entirely averse to making a profit from time to time, and I say to them "Buy patio heater shares now"—there were other pubs which, to my amazement, had somehow managed to fit a false ceiling and to claim that part of the pub was no longer part of the integral structure. It was possible to stand where my hon. Friend Patrick Hall is sitting now and smoke away to one's heart's content beneath a false ceiling, while my right hon. Friend Mr. Barron would be on the other side thinking that he was in a smoke-free pub.

The fact remains that people smoke. Admittedly, we want to stop them smoking.