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    27 May, 2005

    Smoking in Public Places

    Earlier this year, I ran an opinion poll on this blog about smoking in public places. The Assembly's Committee on the subject subsequently reported, and its report was debated on Tuesday.

    I had some concerns about whether the Report had really considered the economic impact on small Valleys and rural pubs, so I put down an amendment which, though defeated, received support from some Labour, Tory and Plaid AMs.

    My speech in the debate follows:

    Leighton Andrews: I propose amendment 1 tabled in my name: delete ‘looks forward to the’ and insert

    calls for a full study of the economic impact on smaller businesses before any.

    I start by congratulating Val Lloyd and her committee; I think that they have done important work. I had certainly not focused in detail on the issues until they started that work. I accept the health arguments put forward in the report. I am not just a non-smoker, but pretty much an anti-smoker. I have been an asthmatic since the age of two, and I know of the effect of tobacco smoke on my lungs, and I take steps to avoid it. Therefore, I support what the committee says on the health issues.

    The amendment I propose is not designed to block progress towards a ban on smoking in public places. It is designed to test out the conclusion that was reached on the economic impact of a ban. The amendment does not say, ‘Do not move towards a ban’. My reason for bringing the amendment forward derives directly from the committee’s report. Let us remember that the committee was established, among other things, to

    ‘consider current evidence on relevant issues, including the health risks of environmental tobacco smoke, and the economic impact of restrictions on smoking in public places’.

    That is a quotation from the committee’s terms of reference. I have drafted the amendment specifically because of the conclusion on page 13, where the committee says that

    ‘It recognises that some smaller businesses may have difficulty in adapting to the changes and opportunities a smoking ban would bring.’

    Those are the committee’s words, not mine. It is also borne out by evidence from the licensee trade, including many in my constituency. Indeed, evidence from the Rhondda is cited on page 11. Most of the publicans questioned said that they would have to lay off staff. Forty two publicans, over 50 per cent, said that their pub would probably close. I pay tribute to the publicans from the Rhondda, who have taken an active part in the debate. They have been to the Assembly, some have given evidence, and they also held a meeting in Tonypandy before the report’s publication. I will hold a further meeting with them in Ton Pentre next month, now that the report is published. It is an issue for them, and it will also be an issue for private clubs, including labour, trade union and ex-service people’s clubs. It is important that the debate gets a wide hearing.

    The amendment calls for a full study of the economic impact on smaller businesses before any legislation is introduced. Legislation will not happen tomorrow—we do not have the powers. There is plenty of time for a full economic impact study to take place. That is not necessarily the same as a regulatory impact assessment—it is a wider examination. I was not too chuffed to find that the questions that I had tabled to the Minister for Economic Development and Transport asking about the economic impact of a ban on smoking were transferred to the Minister for Health and Social Services for answer.

    Jeff Cuthbert: Will your study into the economic impact—and I accept that you are mainly talking about small businesses—also include the economic effect on the NHS, in terms of dealing with people suffering from passive smoking, particularly those with breathing difficulties and heart conditions?

    Leighton Andrews: My understanding is that part of the work has already been done, and that would be carried out prior to legislation, through the overall study. I am looking specifically here at work in relation to smaller businesses, which I do not think has been carried out.

    It will be said that pubs are declining anyway, due, for example, to the availability of cheap drink at supermarkets. That may be true, but a ban on smoking might accelerate matters—we need to know the facts.

    Others will say that the publicans did not provide convincing evidence, either in the Assembly or in Ireland. That does not obviate our need to ensure that the legislation for which we are responsible is robust, and can stand up to scrutiny.

    Peter Black:
    In the report, there is reference to a study by Professor David Cohen on the economic and health predictions for Wales, in relation to the impact of a smoking ban. How will the study that you are advocating differ from that study?

    Leighton Andrews: I am glad that you raised David Cohen’s evidence, because he gives an extraordinary range of estimates on the impact on the hospitality sector in Wales, from minus £48 million to plus £131 million—a difference of £180 million. So I do not think that that work has been done in detail.

    It will be said that pubs should gear themselves for the non-smoking market and look at the example of Wetherspoons. I am not talking about large, open-plan Wetherspoons-style pubs—I am talking about Valleys and rural pubs usually run by one person or a family. What if an economic impact study finds a problem? At least we will know where we stand, and we can take steps to mitigate the situation, give people time to prepare, and examine the options for progress towards a ban. For example, in the past, the Assembly has looked at giving mandatory rate relief to rural pubs that have faced difficulties. This presents us with an opportunity to take people with us.

    It is also an opportunity for us to consider our responsibility as, in this context, a legislative body. It is a useful opportunity to test the readiness of the Assembly to take legislative responsibility. Too often, our debates sound like party conference debates; we do not get into the subtleties of issues. Our system of devolution gives great powers, through orders, for Government to offer proposals on a take it or leave it basis. The opposition can oppose, but backbenchers on the Government side are too often faced with a nuclear option, which, unsurprisingly, we are loth to take.

    Here, because we have an issue that is not whipped, there is a real opportunity for us all to engage in the detail of the issue. It is good for our democracy; we should be exploring this issue in detail. We want more powers. Let us use them responsibly, let us know the full facts, and let us ensure that, as a legislative body, we are seen to be capable of exploring the difficulties of issues as well as the potentialities.

    2 comments:

    Sebastian25P said...

    The smoking indoor ban is also a chance for smaller pubs. At the moment these pubs only cater for smokers, but when going smoke-free (like all others) they open their pubs for all kind of guests.

    I would not visit such kind of pubs as a tourist, but prefer going to a bigger city with a wetherspoons for example.

    Especially in the poorer ares, smaller pubs cater for people who often smoke. So calculate if thousand of them can quit (like in ireland)! That means more money for them, and also more money to be give n out for food and drinks in these smallers pubs. If 5% can stop in some years, they can give out more money of course, especially in the poorer areas with smalles pubs.

    Smaller pubs have no interest that their guest have less money to give out (because of buying cigarettes), with a smoking ban this will change to the positive in mid-term.

    And like in the past there were closed pubs, also in the future pubs will close, but this don't depend from smoking or not.

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