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Public Houses and Private Members’ Clubs (Smoking) Bill

Volume 516: debated on Wednesday 13 October 2010

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to exempt public houses and private members’ clubs from the requirements of part 1 of the Health Act 2006 relating to smoke-free premises; and for connected purposes.

Let me first declare an interest, in that I am a member of the Salisbury Conservative club in Bury, which is a private members’ club. In common, no doubt, with many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, I also visit public houses from time to time. I must also declare at the outset that I am a devout non-smoker. I have never smoked, and indeed I would encourage others not to start smoking. I would also encourage those who do smoke to stop. I am entirely persuaded that smoking can cause potentially fatal diseases. That said, however, smoking remains entirely legal, and the Treasury benefits by many billions of pounds each year from excise duties and VAT on the sale of tobacco products.

It is now more than three years since the outright prohibition on smoking in public places was introduced on 1 July 2007. Since that time, the ban has been widely accepted in most areas. Although there are arguments for it to be completely repealed, this Bill aims to deal with what has perhaps been the most contentious aspect of the ban—namely, its application to public houses and private members’ clubs. This Bill would exempt such premises from part 1 of the Health Act 2006 and allow them to reintroduce a smoking room if those in charge chose to do so. Smoking would be permitted in a separate room, provided that appropriate and effective air extraction equipment was fitted. Smoking would continue to be prohibited where food was being served.

In considering this motion, it is worth recalling that the Labour party’s 2005 manifesto stated that

“all restaurants will be smoke-free, all pubs and bars preparing and serving food will be smoke-free; and other pubs and bars will be free to choose whether to allow smoking or be smoke-free. In membership clubs the members will be free to choose whether to allow smoking or to be smoke-free.”

If only the previous Labour Government had stuck to their manifesto commitment, there would perhaps have been no need for this Bill.

I submit that there are two main reasons why the blanket ban should be relaxed and smoking should once again be permitted in public houses and private members’ clubs. First, there is the economic case; and, secondly, there is what I believe to be an even more important reason—namely, freedom of choice and the desirability of devolving decisions to the lowest appropriate level.

Let me deal briefly with the economic argument. Since the ban was introduced, thousands of public houses have closed down. As ever with statistics, it is possible to choose the ones that best suit the desired argument. Few could argue against the fact, however, that since the introduction of the smoking ban, thousands of public houses have closed down. I do not claim that the smoking ban was the only cause of all those closures, as other factors such as the availability of lower-price drinks from supermarkets, the cost of satellite television and the general economic climate no doubt all played a part. For many, however, the smoking ban was the final straw.

One does not have to travel very far in my constituency to find a public house that has called time for the very last time. There are closed public houses in Bury and in Ramsbottom that are now for sale, and “To let” signs outside public houses are becoming increasingly commonplace. This picture appears to be replicated in constituencies throughout the country. When a rural pub or a local community pub closes down, everyone loses out, not just those who wish to smoke.

Let me turn to deal with the second reason—freedom of choice and localism. I believe that in the case of a private members’ club, the decision should be taken by the members of that club. I believe that the decision on whether smoking takes place in a public house should be taken by the pub landlord. I believe in trusting the people. This means giving individuals the power and the responsibility to take decisions for themselves.

Pub landlords are the right people to decide whether allowing a smoking room is the best thing to do for their establishments. Some would no doubt choose to take advantage of the freedom that the Bill would give them, but I know from my own constituency that many would not. As smoking would continue to be prohibited where food was being served, many public houses would remain just as they are today. Customers would have a choice whether to use a completely non-smoking pub or to use one with a smoking room. The establishment of separate smoking rooms in some pubs would also reduce the incidence of smokers’ being forced to gather on the pavements outside pubs.

The Bill puts into practice the principle of localism that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out with such clarity in his speech to the Conservative party conference last week. It transfers power from the state to the citizen, from politicians to people. It puts the “local” back into localism, and I commend it to the House.

I oppose the Bill. The same argument was put to the House not so many years ago in a debate that resulted in the current legislation. The hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) was right to say that the original legislation, proposed by the then Labour Government, did not provide for a comprehensive ban in areas of all public houses or private members’ clubs. In 2005 the Select Committee on Health, which I chaired, conducted a detailed inquiry into the issues before the Bill that became the Health Act 2006 had completed its passage. When it had done so, the amendments that had been tabled were put to the vote. Labour Members were eventually given a free vote, as, I understand, were Opposition Members.

Let me give the House a flavour of the results of that vote. The hon. Gentleman described this as a contentious issue. The result of the vote on clause stand part, as amended—there had been an attempt to remove the amendment—was 452 Ayes and 127 Noes. At no time did any Member trying to defend the hon. Gentleman’s position manage to persuade more than 200 Members into the Lobby. It followed a great tradition that in the other place, shortly after the votes in February 2006, Lord Tebbit rose to defend the Labour party manifesto of 2005. At the time some of us, although we had stood on that manifesto, thought it was nonsense from the point of view of public health.

In the same year that the House made that decision, Spain implemented a smoking ban exempting small bars and restaurants. The law was not seen as a success, and as a result of public dissatisfaction with the exemptions the Spanish Government have proposed to extend the ban to all pubs and restaurants, although they are considering an exemption for private smokers’ clubs. An evaluation of the Spanish law found that levels of second-hand smoke were reduced only in bars where smoking was prohibited by law, and that

“Most hospitality workers continue to be exposed to very high levels of SHS”—

that is, second-hand smoke.

That was the issue then, and it is still the issue today: people who work in the leisure sector are exposed to people’s life-threatening habits. It was the issue in 2006, when the original legislation went through the House, and it remains the issue today. Unless bars contain NHS operating theatres with doors that are rarely opened, it will never be possible to avoid the effect of Bills such as this on workers. Evaluations of other partial bans have found limited evidence of health gain, and they are believed to aggravate health inequalities.

I remind Government Members that they have just fought and won a general election criticising the then Labour Government for not ending health inequalities in this country. I agree: they did not do away with health inequalities, and some 50% of health inequalities are created by tobacco use. If Members on the Government Benches are going to continue saying what they said when in opposition, this Bill is the last measure I would expect their Front-Bench team to support, because health inequalities are writ large in tobacco use in this country.

An Australian study of 2004 found that no-smoking areas in licensed premises contained as many tobacco toxins as smoking areas. Even in clubs with completely separate no-smoking rooms there was no material reduction in the levels of harmful toxins in the air. Ventilation systems in smoking areas in rooms that are not fully segregated will not protect people in non-smoking areas. The Select Committee on Health—an all-party Committee, I might add—came to that conclusion. It is also the finding of research by D. Kotzias and others at the European Commission Joint Research Centre. We cannot isolate smoking in smoking rooms and think it has no effect elsewhere. That will not work, and it is the reason why the original Health Bill put before the House in 2005 was changed in the House in 2006.

Let us look at the health gains, because that is what this is about. It is not about leisure; it is about the health of the public. Hospitality industry workers have benefited most from the UK legislation. Evaluation of the Spanish partial ban found that the law had failed to protect them significantly. The most notable health gain for members of the public is the fall in the number of admissions for acute myocardial infarction. Researchers at the university of Bath have calculated that there has been a 5% drop in the number of heart attacks in England, attributable to smoke-free legislation. The figure was higher for Scotland and it was measured within 12 months of the ban coming into force—as Members will know, the ban was introduced earlier in Scotland than in the rest of the UK. Similar reductions have been observed in other jurisdictions with a comprehensive ban, including New York, Ireland and Italy. Indeed, the Health Committee went to Ireland when taking evidence for our report.

It has also been suggested that having more people smoking out on the street might increase young people’s perception that smoking is a normal adult activity and so increase the number of under-age smokers. In fact, international research shows that smoking bans are associated with reducing smoking among teenage boys in particular, possibly because it is seen as less normal. This topic has been debated in the House throughout the decades during which I have been a Member, and I have frequently argued for legislation to de-normalise smoking.

Some 50% of people who smoke will die a premature death, as well as having suffered from various diseases and all the other burdens they will carry throughout their life—and that taxpayers will carry for the rest of their lives in having to treat these people in the NHS. It is sometimes argued that we must recognise that smokers put money into the Treasury as opposed to looking at the ill health that is suffered as a result of tobacco use. That is a ridiculous argument.

It was claimed at the time of the Health Bill that banning smoking in pubs would displace smoking into the home, thereby increasing children’s exposure. The reverse has been true. The proportion of homes in England where smoking is prohibited throughout has increased to 79% and children’s exposure has fallen because of that. I have not got the figures to hand, but recently—within the past 12 months—research has found a link between cot death and smoking. That affects young children who do not have anything directly to do with cigarettes, but who are exposed to them through passive smoking. It is irresponsible for any Member to stand up in this House and say we should reverse this measure which has led to such great health gains in this country.

Support for smoke-free legislation in England has risen to more then 80% of adults, many of them smokers themselves who agree that this legislation is right. Support has risen fastest among smokers, half of whom support the legislation as it stands. Most smokers believe the law has been good for their health, good for the health of the public and good for the health of most workers.

There is an issue with the effect on business. I have looked at all the evidence and I must say that trying to introduce smoke-free rooms ventilated to the level that would be necessary would have a negative effect on business; there is no way that will benefit businesses.

Let me finish by discussing the issue of trusting the people. This morning, I found the following words on the hon. Member for Bury North’s website—he has a blog and people post things on it. He said that we should trust the people, and these are the comments of someone called Jim:

“Mr Nuttall, I am a tory voter and a pub landlord, you are so wrong on this and I suggest you use your common sense to drop this headline catching cause.

The smoking ban was one of the few things labour got right in their last reign.”

I dispute that, to some extent. He continued:

“To even suggest undoing it in this manner brings yourself and the party into disrepute. As a landlord my biggest fear about the smoking ban was the proposal you are advocating. In my humble opinion it will create an unfair playing field, that panders to the weak and stupid.

Many people because of the ban have given up smoking, myself included, I do not want to go back to the days of smoky pubs, the blanket ban has worked. My business is proof, I am still trading and making a living”.

I shall not read out the rest, but there are many other comments on the hon. Gentleman’s blog, including some from nurses in his constituency. One of them says that they wished he had put this proposal in his manifesto when he stood for election in May, because they may have then had a different view about the Conservative candidate. I would like to oppose this Bill. [Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Member for Northampton South (Mr Binley) has been in the House for five years, so I feel sure that he is keenly conscious of the fact that there are two speeches on these occasions and no more.

Question put (Standing Order No. 23).