Commons Hansard
14 Feb 2006

Health Bill (Smoking)

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

The Secretary of State for Health (Ms Patricia Hewitt): I will make a little more progress before I take further interventions.


Mr. Clelland: As my right hon. Friend knows, I have added my name to her new clause 5. However, I am a little concerned about what she has just said. I heard her say the same thing on the radio this morning. When she says that smoking will not be permitted in the bar, does she mean any room with a bar or just the main bar of the club? Will she clarify that?

Ms Hewitt: What I have just said to the House, and what I said this morning, is that even if membership clubs are exempt following the vote in the House and the final decision of Parliament on that point, in the regulations we will ensure that smoking cannot take place in the bar itself. We will want to consult widely on the precise details of the regulations, and those will come to Parliament through the affirmative resolution procedure.


Patrick Hall: Those who argue that private members' clubs should be exempt accept that they should not be exempt from health and safety legislation. They rely, therefore, on the analogy between a private members' club and a person's private home. My right hon. Friend has already mentioned that, but does he agree that it cannot be emphasised enough that that analogy is entirely false and has no basis in reality?

Mr. Barron: The analogy is absolutely false. I hope the House will see it for what it is and vote accordingly after the debate.

Mr. Clelland: Although I accept that the analogy is not a good one, does my right hon. Friend accept that the Bill does not make smoking in private illegal?

Mr. Barron: Indeed. I shall come to that, if I do not have to take any further interventions. I am keen to finish my speech because others want to speak.


Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): I support the case for excluding private members' clubs from the ban. I am grateful to Ministers for giving all Members the opportunity to vote for a number of options, but I want to emphasise that clubs are different. That was outlined in the guidance issued under section 182 of the Licensing Act 2003, which states at paragraph 9.2:

"The 2003 Act recognises that premises, to which public access is restricted and where alcohol is supplied other than for profit, give rise to different issues for licensing law than those presented by commercial enterprises selling direct to the public."

It says that those premises include

"Labour, Conservative and Liberal Clubs, the Royal British Legion, other ex-services clubs, working men's clubs, miners welfare institutions, social and sports clubs."

Every one of us has several such establishments in our constituencies. The guidance acknowledges that

"the premises are considered private and not generally open to the public".

It goes on to say:

"The Secretary of State wishes to emphasise that non-profit making clubs make an important and traditional contribution to the life of many communities in England and Wales and bring significant benefits. Their activities also take place on premises to which the public do not generally have access and they operate under codes of discipline applying to members and their guests."

I am not a smoker, but I do not like smoke blowing in my face from smokers sitting nearby any more than anyone else does. Nor am I opposed to a ban on smoking in private members clubs. However, I believe that the decision on whether to ban it should be for the members of that club to make. That is the important principle that I wish to pursue.

I do not refute the health arguments, although there is great deal of exaggeration in that regard, particularly when hon. Members accuse club members of killing their staff. That is a little over the top. As the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) pointed out, the Bill does not make smoking illegal. Smoking in private will still be legal. Unless we want to take the bull by the horns and ban smoking completely, some of the arguments smack of hypocrisy.

We have long maintained in this country the right of people to form private clubs in which they - the members - decide what legal activities go on. Clubs must be allowed to make those decisions for themselves and in their own time. They are democratic, non-profit-making organisations, and many of them are struggling. If this is forced upon them and they cannot make these changes in their own way and in their own time, many will close, and their staff, far from being in a smoke-free environment, will be in a work-free environment.

Hugh Bayley: We have heard that passive smoking in the workplace kills four times as many employees a year as asbestosis. My hon. Friend would not support for one minute a club that refused to remove flaking asbestos that posed a hazard to its staff. That would not be a matter for democratic decision for club members - it would have to be done. Why does he not apply the same standards to a health hazard that is more dangerous to the staff of clubs?

Mr. Clelland: We are not considering the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974, but the Health Bill. If the Government want to pursue the issue in the way that my hon. Friend suggests, the health and safety legislation should be amended. I repeat that if smoking is so lethal, it should be banned completely. What is the case for not doing that other than perhaps the case for the Revenue, which is important to any Government?

5.45 p.m.

Chris Bryant: My hon. Friend said that he was not opposed in principle to private members clubs banning smoking. The Secretary of State said that if an exemption were made for private members clubs, an annual vote would be insisted upon. If such a vote is held annually, should it be conducted by a postal ballot of all club members or at an annual general meeting? In the case of such a vote, should people be able to reverse the decision that they made the previous year? Should they be able to change year after year?

Mr. Clelland: I shall consider the annual vote shortly, but I will not discuss the complexities of how the ballots should take place. That is for another day. Today, we are debating the principle of the matter.

The licensed trade has argued that the Bill will sound the death knell of many pubs because people will move from pubs to clubs. Pubs have open access and far more freedom than clubs to introduce attractions that will bring in the public and lead to their continuing patronage. The bingo clubs and casinos claim that people will flock from them to private clubs. That is nonsense because people who patronise bingo clubs and casinos go for much bigger prizes than any working men's club could offer. They would certainly not be attracted merely by the ability to have a cigarette.

If, as we are told, the non-smoking population is growing and the smoking population is declining, the non-smokers may migrate from the smoking to the non-smoking establishments. Banning smoking in pubs and restaurants may benefit rather than cause problems for those places. I do not therefore accept the trade's arguments. It is worried because it erroneously believes that the measure will give non-profit-making clubs an advantage. It is concerned about its profits, not anyone's health.

The hon. Member for Northavon (Steve Webb) claimed that if exemptions were made, the Rose and Crown might turn itself into a private club. If he believes that, he does not understand the Licensing Act 2003. To become a private club, a pub has to satisfy all the conditions, including becoming a non-profit-making members club. I do not believe that the Rose and Crown wants to be a non-profit-making establishment, so it is unlikely to become a club.

Many clubs already take action to restrict and even ban smoking on their premises. The annual ballot, which my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) mentioned, will accelerate the process. They will have to consider the matter annually and I am sure that the smoking restrictions will continue. Let us not use a good Bill to erode the traditional freedoms of our private clubs and, in too many cases, threaten their existence.

I hope that when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary responds to the debate she will clarify something that the Secretary of State said earlier. My right hon. Friend appeared to imply in a radio interview this morning, and in an answer that she gave me earlier, that there will be regulations to restrict smoking in any room where there is a bar. Today is the first time that we have heard that. The letter that the Secretary of State sent to clubs when the point was first queried stated:

"we will uphold our manifesto commitment to protect employees by prohibiting smoking in the bar area".

That is completely different. If we are to impose a ban on smoking in every room in a club where there is a bar, we may as well include clubs in the overall ban.

Mrs. Ellman: Does my hon. Friend accept that the complexity and lack of clarity to which he refers are an indication of the problems that will arise unless there is a comprehensive ban?

Mr. Clelland: I am not sure what the lack of clarity is. Clubs are dealing with those issues as we speak. There are already restrictions on smoking in the bar area and most club members uphold them. If they do not, they will not be club members for long. Clubs discipline their members if they do not stick to the rules.

I do not oppose - and I shall support - a smoking ban in public places, but I cannot accept that we should legislate against private members clubs in that way. It is against all our traditions. The best answer, as in so many cases, is education rather than legislation.


Mr. Clelland: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir George Young: I will not, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind, because I want other people to get in.

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