Health Bill

During a debate on the Health Bill, Charles Walker makes a passionate speech against a ban on smoking in public places.

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this important debate.

My father died at 46 from throat cancer. I am an ex-smoker who smoked a lot. We both made our choices. I might therefore be expected to speak in favour of a total ban, but far from it. I have read the briefs from the learned gentlemen and organisations proposing a ban—the chief medical officer, the British Medical Association and the British Heart Foundation. They are all experts and they all want the Government to implement a comprehensive ban on smoking. I congratulate the Government on having the courage to say, "Yes, you are experts, but the role of Parliament is to balance the interests of various groups, non-smokers and smokers." If Dr. Liam Donaldson wanted to have a hissy fit because he is an expert and the Government would not implement his advice, they would have been well advised to accept his resignation.

What confuses me about this debate is why we get so pious about second-hand smoke even though the science is still a little shaky. We all experience the implications of second-hand alcohol—drunks who turn our town centres into war zones, drink-drivers who maim and kill thousand of people on our streets, and alcoholic parents and children who destroy families. When, Madam Deputy Speaker, was the last time you smoked 20 B& H and went home and beat up your husband or partner? It simply does not happen. If we are interested in protecting innocent parties, why on earth did this House vote to have 24-hour drinking? The implications of alcohol are far more pronounced and far better known than those of smoke.

Is smoking the ultimate evil afflicting our modern society? I talked to a headmaster at one of my local comprehensive schools who said, "Yes, smoking is a bad thing, but what really worries me is young people coming to school hungover or drunk and unable to participate in the day from beginning to end. A few of my students may be smoking behind the bike sheds two or three times a day. I disapprove of that, but at least they can take part in the school day." We compare cigarettes to drugs and alcohol. Cigarettes are addictive, but they do not rob people of their free will as drugs and alcohol do.

We have several extremely bold and courageous charities in Hertfordshire that help people to break severe addictions that lead them to violence against others and themselves. Several of them smoke and I am pleased that the Bill provides for people in residential situations to be allowed to continue to smoke. However, the charities also provide day-care services. It would be appalling if the Bill did not allow those who receive treatment for drug and alcohol addictions to smoke and, because they could not smoke to relieve their tension and angst, they went back on to the streets and pursued a life of violence again to feed their habits.

I have probably spoken for too long—I am full of passion and I would love to go on for longer. I shall make one final point. In Scotland, it appears that £66 million will be provided over the next three years for enforcement. If that were extrapolated to the UK, the figure would be £660 million for smoking-cessation officers. If the British public were presented with a choice between £660 million for smoking-cessation officers and the same sum for 4,500 new police officers, I believe that they would opt for the latter.

9.5 pm

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