Strike a Light and Reverse a Ratchet. It may be your round, but thanks to Labour, it’s no longer your choice.
As I entered Parliament for the first time earlier this year, I was not able to vote for or against the smoking ban which came about in the last Parliament. I have always felt that it was completely wrong for the ban to extend to private clubs and public houses and have been increasingly concerned about the effect it has had on them. I have also, perhaps even more importantly, been worried about the further erosion of our freedoms that the ban has caused and I was delighted, therefore, to be able to seek leave to introduce my Bill – the Public Houses and Private Members’ Clubs (Smoking) Bill – to the Commons.
The Labour Party’s 2005 manifesto said 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.
Alas, the blanket ban that was actually voted through remains. If only they had stuck to their manifesto commitment on the latter points then there might never have been the need for a bill like mine, as this is precisely the element that it seeks to reverse.
I am a non-smoker and would cheerfully encourage others to give up smoking or not to start at all. But as a Conservative, I believe in devolving power to the lowest possible level and the matter of smoking in pubs and clubs is one of those very issues which should surely be decided by publicans and, ultimately, their customers or club members.
The strongest argument for the smoking ban is that smoking causes diseases and even death. I don’t deny this but then car drivers injure and kill people too and we haven’t, yet, got to the point where ‘liberal minded’ people want to ban cars. I believe the principle of freedom ought to be consistently applied by politicians who claim they believe in it, and its outcomes, and that was why I decided to highlight this matter in Parliament yesterday.
I know that some pubs and clubs would remain non-smoking places if the ban was lifted – that’s the whole point. It should be up to them to decide. The value of this freedom of choice should never be underestimated as those who habitually want to ban things and roll on with the nanny state will simply move on to their next target. There’s clearly a ‘ratchet effect’ at work here, with personal freedom the target, just as there was one with earlier forms of socialism, and too many Conservatives having been willing to tamely accept those left wing gains. Under Mrs Thatcher we reversed the industrial and economic ratchet effect, but it’s now long past time to challenge this one. It’s quite wrong to ban something which is a perfectly legal pursuit just because you don’t like that something and Tories need to fight those who do go down this route with vigour.
In addition to the issue of freedom there is the economic argument. The ban has had the effect of hastening the closure of many pubs. And it’s not just smokers who have suffered as a result, non-smokers have too. Since the ban was introduced, thousands of public houses have closed down. As ever with statistics, it’s possible to argue with the ones that best suit the desired conclusion but few could credibly contest the fact that since the introduction of the smoking ban, many public houses have closed down. I do not claim that the smoking ban is 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 have all played a part. For many, however, the smoking ban has been 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 pubs are becoming increasingly commonplace. This picture appears to be replicated in constituencies throughout the country. I believe that when a rural pub or a local community pub closes down, everyone loses out, not just those who wish to smoke.
86 MPs voted in the House of Commons yesterday for the motion to introduce my bill which would have restored some of the freedom lost under the last Labour Government. Unfortunately, 141 voted to continue this anti-choice measure. I would like to thank all those who supported me in this battle and to assure them and others that the fight will go on. My bill would have been a great way to start to put into practice the principle of localism that David Cameron set out in his speech to the Conservative Party conference last week. It would have transferred power from the state to the citizen, from politicians to people. It would have put the “local” back into localism and I sincerely hope that one day Tory words will lead to Tory actions.You have restored my faith in democracy David and I hope there are more like you in that den of iniquity called parliament.