Amendment made: No. 26, in page 84, at end insert—
'Health and Social Care Act 2001 (c. 15)
In Schedule 1 to the Health and Social Care Act 2001 (exempt information relating to health services), for paragraph 11(a) (as substituted by paragraph 72(2) of Schedule 11 to the 2003 Act) substitute—
"(a) is or was formerly providing primary medical services, primary dental services or primary ophthalmic services under a contract under section 28K, 28Q or 28WA of the 1977 Act;".'.—[Jane Kennedy.]
Amendment made: No. 23, in title, line 2, after 'vehicles' insert
'and for amending the minimum age of persons to whom tobacco may be sold'.—[Jane Kennedy.]
Order for Third Reading read.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I am proud to move the Bill's Third Reading. I particularly want to thank the Minister of State, Department of Health, my right hon. Friend Jane Kennedy and the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend Caroline Flint who have done a superb job in piloting the Bill through Committee and much of the Report stage that we have just had. [Interruption.] Despite some of the sedentary comments by Opposition Members, I also pay tribute to Members on both sides who have adopted a positive and constructive attitude to the elements of a Bill that not only protects public health inside and outside hospital but will further improve the performance and efficiency of the national health service.
Of course, the main focus of our debate and of public attention has been on the Bill's smoking provisions. This evening, the House voted absolutely decisively to introduce a complete ban on smoking in all enclosed public places and workplaces, including all licensed premises and private members' clubs. We have therefore not only delivered on the manifesto promise to ban smoking in virtually all public places and workplaces on which we were elected 10 months ago but have gone additional steps further. That reflects the excellent debate that took place on the smoking provisions in which I and my hon. Friends, who genuinely believed, and always have, that the arguments about private members' clubs were finely balanced, have none the less voted for a complete ban, particularly in the interests of ensuring a level playing field between different businesses such as small pubs and members' clubs. I recognise that there will be some disappointment among at least some members of private clubs at the outcome of the vote, but I nevertheless believe that it was the right one.
The comprehensive ban for which the House has decisively voted will mean, over time, that some 600,000 people, beyond those who would have otherwise given up smoking, will be led to abandon it. The result of that and the protection that we are giving to people from second-hand smoking will be thousands of people's lives being saved and thousands of families being spared the grief of losing a loved one prematurely. That is why I think today's vote and the Bill will be seen as historic legislation on public health equivalent to, for instance, the legislation on seat belts of some decades ago.
I am also delighted that, although it was not debated this afternoon, we have taken power to raise the age for the purchase of tobacco from 16 to 18 following the consultation in which we engaged. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Jeff Ennis, who has campaigned vigorously and effectively on that issue.
Other vital provisions include the statutory code of practice on MRSA and associated health care infections. It will be very widely welcomed not only by the public, who quite rightly expect every hospital to get down their MRSA and other infection rates, but by staff in both the NHS and the independent sector.
The Bill will also provide for much stronger management of controlled drugs in response to some of the shortcomings identified in the Shipman inquiry and will improve safeguards against the very small minority of people who would divert those drugs for personal abuse, financial gain or even, regrettably, for criminal purposes. It will also help us to continue improving and modernising NHS pharmacy services, ensuring, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of State said, that we can continue expanding the services offered by our pharmacists and make them much more convenient to patients.
I was pleased to read the discussion in Committee during which the provision of ophthalmic services in England was praised. Although there was concern that the Bill would tamper with a service that is already excellent, I hope that hon. Members on both sides are reassured that by removing the restrictions on with whom a primary trust may contract to provide ophthalmic services the Bill will help to increase patient choice and thus continue to improve services. The new framework for ophthalmic services will ensure that we will be able to provide enhanced services in the community of the kind that are often available at present only in hospitals. That will be in line with the direction that we have just spelled out in the White Paper.
We did not have the opportunity to discuss general ophthalmic services on Report. Does the Secretary of State agree with the sentiments of amendment No. 17 that when primary care trusts use their powers to contract general ophthalmic services, they should maximise the choice available to patients? We want to ensure that PCTs will be able to continue to exercise choice on accessing services, so it would helpful if the Secretary of State said whether that is firmly her intention.
I am happy to reassure the House that we want more choice for patients in ophthalmic and other medical services. We want the best possible services to be available in every community, with, of course, the best value for money.
The Bill has important provisions that give new powers to the counter-fraud service, which already does excellent work to ensure that taxpayers' money is used for the purpose for which hon. Members vote—better patient care. The Bill also responds to the Public Administration Committee's report on government by appointment and reconfirms our commitment to an independent appointments process.
The Bill is a major and historic step forward for public health. It will help us to continue to improve the national health service and will give patients and the public better, faster, more convenient and safer health care. The Bill was good, but it has been made even better by today's votes. I commend it to the House.
I am sorry that Mr. Barron is not in the Chamber. If congratulations are being offered on the outcome of the Bill's principal measures on smoking, we must accept that they probably owe much to his work and leadership of the Health Committee. Whatever one's view of the precise details of the final outcome, his approach was clearer and more decisive than any ever taken by the Government.
I am surprised that the Secretary of State has claimed on Third Reading that she has implemented the Government's manifesto because that is the one thing she has not done. On Second Reading, she quoted the part of the manifesto that said that the Government would legislate to ensure that
"all enclosed public places and work places other than licensed premises will be smoke-free . . . all restaurants will be smoke-free, all pubs and bars preparing and serving food will be smoke-free."
She also expressly told us on Second Reading that the Government would consult on whether there should be smoking rooms in pubs—that has gone. She asserted that it was right to strike a balance and said:
"we have made the judgment that the right balance to strike is between banning smoking in virtually every enclosed public space and work space, and exempting the membership clubs and the licensed premises that do not serve food, in order to protect freedom of choice for that minority of people whom nobody is forcing to go into a pub that allows smoking".—[Hansard, 29 November 2005; Vol. 440, c. 156.]
Although we knew what was going to happen, the Secretary of State did not have the courtesy to tell the House how she was going to vote—if she knew at that stage—at the start of the debate on new clause 5. However, she and the Prime Minister have voted completely contrary to the exemptions that Ministers presented to the House three months ago. She may congratulate herself and her colleagues on their stewardship of the Bill, but the truth of the matter is that the House was taken in precisely the wrong direction on Second Reading. Additionally, a substantial amount of time was expended on the matter in Committee, although we all knew at that point that Ministers were on an impossible wicket.
On Second Reading, the Conservatives pressed for a free vote, and it was quite obvious that it would have been better for the Government to abandon the distinction between pubs that serve food and those that do not. There are often mutual congratulations on Third Reading, and I shall offer mine in a minute, but I must tell the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State for Health—the so-called public health Minister—that the Bill was not well handled. It was one of the most astonishingly badly handled Bills in recent years. It should not have been introduced in the form in which it was introduced, it should not have been pursued in that way, and even if it has produced a solution with which Parliament is happy, that was not by virtue of ministerial design. Ministers should therefore not accept congratulations. [Interruption.] If the Secretary of State is saying that my colleagues voted for a more comprehensive ban, I do not have a difficulty with that. She should perhaps remember that we made it clear on Second Reading that there would be a free vote on the express basis that Opposition Members had distinct views on the judgment that should be made. A free vote was not offered to Government Members. The Government should accept that there was a crass error on their part, for which they should apologise.
As a Conservative candidate, I stood on a manifesto commitment that we would not introduce legislation on this issue. Labour Members, however, stood on a commitment to introduce such legislation. They have broken their word, because they have extended the legislative effect of their proposals. I am proud to have stood by my manifesto to defend individual liberty in this country.
Our manifesto made it perfectly clear that people must take responsibility for their own health. We made it clear before the election that we would pursue a more vigorous self-regulatory solution. However, if that did not deliver the substantial protection that we sought within three years, so that non-smokers were not exposed to smoke, children not exposed to second-hand smoke and staff protected, we would take legislative powers. I do not wish to disagree with my hon. Friend, as we have discussed the matter and participated in free votes. He should accept, however, that we were committed at the election to public health legislation, which would have included powers on smoking.
I am never churlish—cross, perhaps, but never churlish.
I agree with the Secretary of State that we have engaged in constructive discussion at every stage in the Bill's progress. That was very true in Committee, where Jeff Ennis and my right hon. Friend Sir George Young rightly pressed for an increase in the age at which tobacco can be purchased. I am delighted that we have moved in that direction. However, even though I have no doubt that another place will respect the decision of the House on a free vote, and with a significant majority at that, it should consider issues relating to smoking including definitions, what additional places will be specified under the legislation, under what circumstances private vehicles might be specified, and whether vehicles used for work are to be included in the smoke-free provisions. Those are important matters, and some valuable work will no doubt be done in another place.
We have not discussed specialist tobacconists, but I hope Ministers will understand the desire for them not to be put out of business. I should also mention penalties, which we discussed in Committee. I was not entirely happy with the scale of penalties that the Government proposed. In some respects they have been increased, which the Minister thinks appropriate, but I hope that that will be reconsidered in another place and weighed up relative to other legislative penalties.
As our last group of amendments made clear, the nature of the regulatory provisions and how they are to be made is important. In addition to the remarks of my hon. Friend Dr. Murrison, we suggested in Committee that it might be better for the regulations to be made by affirmative procedure in the first instance, rather than by affirmative procedure in every case. Subsequent technical amendments to the regulations could be made by negative procedure, but the initial regulations, which will contain substance as well as technicalities, might well be made on an affirmative basis.
We discussed infection control previously and had the opportunity to raise some of the issues on Report and in discussions with the Minister in Committee and elsewhere. The issues are important and intractable. As the Minister will acknowledge, the latest six-monthly MRSA statistics do not show the progress that she and we might have wished. That demonstrates the difficulty of making progress and the necessity for the measures described in the code to be implemented effectively. Isolation facilities must not only be appropriate but must follow a risk assessment. We need to work on the design of hospitals and ensure that the necessary facilities are built in from the outset.
Clinical data, which the Minister agreed should be collected by a clinical department, should be used as a performance management tool in hospitals to deliver improved infection control, should be a basis on which health care providers are held to account, and should be used by them better to inform public debate about infection control. One of the central issues that we constantly try to highlight is the distinction between prevalence and incidence. Not all incidents of infection in hospitals are by any means the consequence of infection being contracted in hospital. Distinguishing between the two can make an enormous difference to public understanding. I hope that another place will take a substantial interest in those matters and in model cleaning contracts, nursing uniforms and standards. Committees in another place have done significant work on those aspects in the past, and I hope they will follow it up.
We hope that the pharmacy contract will increasingly be implemented innovatively. Only a few weeks ago, we discussed the White Paper and the desire for greater opportunities for people to be screened for disease and to initiate for themselves more checks on their health status. It is perfectly clear that pharmacies can do a great deal in that direction, and the pharmacy contract always allows that. The issue is whether primary care trusts are contracting for such an approach. One aspect that needs to be followed up is not merely legislating or contracting for such possibilities, but ensuring that the structure of commissioning inside primary care trusts with regard to pharmacies allows for them.
One issue that we have not had a further opportunity to discuss is the span of control of a pharmacist, and I hope that those in another place will pursue it. The professional confidence that we place in pharmacists is important, and the profession itself attaches considerable importance to that. Many pharmacists do not want to move beyond the rule of one pharmacy, one pharmacist, or if they do, it is only in very exceptional circumstances and it must be delineated. I do not think that we have yet arrived at a point at which it is delineated in the Bill, and I hope that that will be pursued further.
On general ophthalmic services, the Secretary of State made it clear that PCTs should pursue the maximum choice consistent with value for money for the Exchequer. That must be true. Many people are wondering precisely what the motivation is for the legislation and what is going wrong in general ophthalmic services that demands such a change. Currently, optometrists and registered opticians can offer services, and patients can use them; they have maximum choice, and there does not seem to be a difficulty with that. If we are to move to a new design, let us ensure that those things continue. Let us ensure that the central funding is clearly set out, either in the legislation or in ministerial commitments for the future, so that the free sight test is available and cannot be compromised by budgetary pressures on individual primary care trusts; that the scope of the sight test can be adapted in line with best clinical practice as we move forward; that optometrists and opticians are able and encouraged to provide sight tests and related tests that not only focus on the basic question of visual field, but go beyond that to try to detect disease to the maximum extent; and that the free sight test itself is not infringed in years to come.
We have spent almost three months on the Bill. In many ways, it has ended up where I suspect many of us thought and said it would, although not necessarily as easily as it should have done. Many parts of the Bill are of a nature that commands consensus across the House. On smoking, many of my colleagues object—[Hon. Members: "Yes."] I know that they object to what the House has decided, but frankly, it was always our view that the matter was best dealt with on a free vote. Since we have at last come to that and the House has taken a decision on a free vote, for my part, whether or not I agree precisely with the outcome, I think that that is a fair basis for the House to reach its conclusion. I am content for the Bill as a whole to go to another place in its current form, and I hope that it will be further improved there.
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
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 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:
"The South Yorkshire Times is supporting Mexborough and Barnsley East MP Jeff Ennis in his bid to raise the minimum age of smoking from 16 to 18 with his Age of Sale of Tobacco Bill. Sign below to show your support for this measure to improve the health of our young people."
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 John Healey, but Denaby and Conisbrough, which are in the constituency of the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend Caroline Flint.
I pay tribute to the Minister of State, Department of Health, my right hon. Friend 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.
The whole House will congratulate 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, Caroline Flint, but she has left. 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 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, Jane Kennedy said that the most recent set of figures on MRSA were disappointing in that they are no lower than they were 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.
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—
My hon. Friend Mr. Hollobone, who is sadly no longer in his place, intervened on my hon. Friend 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—
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.
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.
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—
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?
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.
No, I will not, because I know that other colleagues wish to contribute to the debate.
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 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.
It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend 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. 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.
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.
I greatly admire the hon. Gentleman as well, and I am sure that there is an incredibly bright future ahead of him, whoever happens to be leading the Labour party. I am delighted that he mentioned protection for employees, because I was about to mention it myself.
When an employer offers someone a job, he will say "These are the working hours, this is the pay that you will be given, and this is the environment in which you will work." I believe that people are intelligent enough to decide for themselves whether they want to apply for and accept that job. Those on the other side of the argument appear to feel that they are far too dim to make the decision themselves, and that the Government must decide for them.
I believe that before he was elected the hon. Gentleman worked for Asda, which has bacon-slicing machines in its workplaces. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that, in a reputable company such as Asda, if a bacon-slicing machine was not guarded it would be up to the individual to decide whether to take a job working with that unguarded machine, thereby risking cutting off his fingers, or does he believe that there should be legislative protection—as there is, and as I believe there should be?
I knew that it was a mistake to give way to the hon. Gentleman. I was nervous about doing so. I am not entirely sure that his point has any relevance to the issue of smoking.
What worries me about the Bill is this: where will it stop? Where will it lead to? The health fascists and the zealots will not stop here—they will carry on until they have banned everybody from smoking and from eating fish and chips. There are an awful lot of dangerous jobs out there. Are we going to ban people from doing any of them? I understand that it is very dangerous to join the Army. Perhaps we will ban people from doing that.
I suspect that the last person whom anybody who was struggling with their speech would ask for help is Mr. Sheerman.
Although I fear that employees will now have more harm done to them walking to work and breathing in car fumes than they ever would have suffered by breathing in tobacco smoke at work, I will conclude my contribution, Madam Deputy Speaker, given your earlier ruling. The Bill's smoking provision marks an incredibly sad moment for someone such as me, who believes in individual liberty and freedom. However, although it is sad it is not disappointing, in that it is consistent with this, the most authoritarian, illiberal and intolerant Government whom we have seen in many a year. For all the good things that may well be in this Bill, because of this intolerant, illiberal and authoritarian measure, I am unable to support it tonight.