Sir George speaks out on Smoking in Public Places
18 Mar 2005
This is the full text of the speech Sir George made in the House of Commons:

Sir George Young: I do not want to be drawn into other hon. Members' habits on a Friday. Many of them may have legitimate reasons for not being in the House at the moment, and, for all I know, they may be on their way.
I support the Bill, but, if we are realistic, we will admit it might not reach the statute book this time round—it is more likely to land on the snake of Dissolution than on the ladder of Committee.
I do not normally intervene in Welsh matters, but I would be more likely to visit the Principality if I knew that public places were smoke free. Once I got there, I would be more likely to visit licensed premises if I knew that they were unpolluted by smoke, and I hope that that reassures the publicans of Wales.
The Bill will be seen in the context of a broader debate about the Government's role in areas of public health policy, and how far it is legitimate for the state to curb individual freedoms in the public interest. To that extent, there may be surprise that the Bill has support from Conservative Members, who are traditionally the champions of individual liberty and cautious about giving Government more powers. However, I remind my right hon. and hon. Friends that it was under a Conservative Government that it became compulsory for motorcyclists to wear crash helmets and under a Conservative Government that it became compulsory for car passengers to wear seat belts; and I remember when I was a Health Minister some 25 years ago advocating the application of fluoride to water supplies in the interests of dental health. So despite my right hon. Friend's protestations, it is the case that our party has taken important steps forward in public health issues and has in certain circumstances, in the broader public interest, curtailed the liberty of the individual to harm himself. Against that background, I am more than happy to support the Bill.
Turning more specifically to smoking, I find it amazing that it has taken so long for this country to tackle the scourge of smoking-related diseases. In the 19th century, we led the world in combating water-borne diseases. In the 20th century, we led the world in dealing with poor housing, clean air policies and promoting vaccination. But in the 21st century, this country has been overtaken by many other places, including Ireland and five states in America, in the important field of public health; and in the United Kingdom, Scotland has legislation on the way through, with no exemptions for public places. Our debates on health in this place are still dominated by acute medicine and primary care, whereas the advances that we all want in life expectancy are more likely to come about through changes in lifestyle.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, North set out the case for the Bill very effectively. My view is that so far as public places are concerned, a person's freedom to smoke ends where my nose begins. I find it slightly odd that the Assembly does not already have the powers in her Bill. Under the Government of Wales Act 1998, the National Assembly should have control over
"All aspects of public health in Wales, including food safety but excluding international issues where the Department of Health or other agencies lead for the UK."
Banning smoking in public places does not strike me as an international issue, and it is clearly an aspect of public health. Perhaps the Minister can explain, in light of that quote, which came from the Department for Constitutional Affairs, why the Assembly does not already have these powers. It has powers on health promotion in Wales and can therefore promote smoke-free public places, but it cannot deliver the policy if promotion fails.
I do not understand the Government's hostility to the Bill. Last November, the Secretary of State for Health said in the foreword to his White Paper, "Choosing Health", that
"we recognise that some proposals in this White Paper will have implications for other parts of the UK. We will work closely with colleagues in the devolved administrations to identify these, so that joint action can be taken where appropriate and legislative opportunities provided for the devolved administrations where new powers are created for England."
If he meant what he said, the Government should be supporting this Bill, which gives to the Welsh Assembly exactly the powers to which he referred.
On 3 March, the Leader of the House, who is also Secretary of State for Wales, said in the House:
"We are not able to support"
the Smoking in Public Places (Wales) Bill
"for various reasons, but in terms of the thrust of the policy that it contains"
the hon. Member for Cardiff, North
"will find that we are with her in spirit. She will also be encouraged by subsequent legislation that we intend to introduce, which will give Wales the opportunity to implement policies in the way in which the National Assembly choose."—[Official Report, 3 March 2005; Vol. 431, c. 1109.]
But why wait? I am sure that the hon. Lady would have been even more encouraged had the Secretary of State for Wales indicated that the Government would give her Bill a clear run.
The hon. Lady stated the case forcefully, and I will not repeat her arguments. Many potentially toxic gases are present in higher concentrations in sidestream smoke than in mainstream smoke, and nearly 85 per cent. of the smoke in a room results from sidestream smoke. Exposure to second-hand smoke is a serious health risk to non-smokers, increasing their chances of contracting lung cancer and heart disease by about a quarter. As the hon. Lady observed, 617 people die prematurely each year through exposure to second-hand smoke in the workplace.
So far as England is concerned, the Government have come up with proposals which, in my view, do not go far enough. When the Secretary of State made his statement on the public health White Paper in November, I criticised him for not including all pubs within the scope of the smoking ban—a mistake that I am pleased to say would be avoided if the Bill went through, as the Assembly would be given powers to introduce a comprehensive ban. Like the hon. Lady, I view with enormous suspicion the industry's response. Some pub groups would welcome a total ban, but others have argued that improved ventilation is the answer. I simply do not see that as a satisfactory alternative.
I was pleased to hear the hon. Lady say that when the Assembly discussed the matter two years ago, majorities in all four parties voted to be given these powers, including all four party leaders and all four spokesmen on health.

If the Bill reaches the statute book, it will not solve the problem of smoking in Wales but, alongside upward pressure on the price of tobacco and better health promotion and education, it will help to make the Principality a better place in which to live and work. I hope that a comprehensive ban, if introduced in Wales, will encourage English Ministers to revisit the current policy of a partial ban in pubs. On that basis, I am happy to give the Bill my support.



 
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