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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 5:45 pm on 14th February 2006.

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Photo of Tony Wright Tony Wright Labour, Cannock Chase 5:45 pm, 14th February 2006

It is always a great pleasure to follow 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.

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 proposed—I do not think that it will be tested in the Division Lobby—is 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—