By Jonathan Isaby
Follow Jonathan on Twitter
Labour MP Alex Cunningham yesterday presented a ten-minute rule bill to ban people from smoking in private vehicles where there are children present.
He argued that children are are at particular risk from passive smoking, the public favour such as ban as he proposes and that MPs ought to support his bill to protect the health of children.
But Philip Davies, fresh from his controversial remarks about the minimum wage last week, rose to oppose the proposal. He explained:
"My opposition to the Bill is not based on self-interest: I do not smoke, I have never smoked and I am unlikely ever to start smoking. In fact, as it happens, I do not actually enjoy going into smoky places. However, many of my hon. Friends might not be surprised to see me here today, because I also voted against the smoking ban in 2006. My opposition to this Bill is similar to my opposition to the original ban, and is threefold: first, it is rooted in my strong belief in freedom; secondly, it is rooted in my belief in parental responsibility for bringing up children; and thirdly it is based on the complete lack of evidence surrounding the proposal. I am not surprised that the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) is continuing to champion the extension of the nanny state into every aspect of the British public’s lives, because it is something that the Labour party excelled at during its time in office, and is still trying to do today. The proposal is excessive, intrusive and insulting to British parents who smoke.
"In England, smoking has already been banned in a vehicle unless it is used primarily for private purposes by a person who owns it or has the right to use it, or is used at work by only one person or has an open cab. The suggestion of banning smoking in private vehicles while a minor is present is yet another unwarranted intrusion on individual freedom. The Government should have no role in regulating the private lives of adults making decisions as adults. Adults should be free to smoke in a private vehicle providing they do not light up or smoke in a way that distracts from safe driving. Of course adults should show courtesy to others in a private vehicle, but that does not require the nanny-state legislation proposed by the hon. Gentleman.
"I would like to know how the hon. Gentleman would implement and enforce his proposal. Perhaps he envisages a scenario where children go around informing the authorities that their parents might have broken the law. Given that the Labour party is so upset about cuts to the police budget, does he really think that the police should be taking time out from catching burglars, rapists and other serious offenders to go around stopping cars to see whether anyone might have smoked in them while a child was on board? Does he think it a serious enough matter for the police to concentrate on? I presume that he would also like cars to go around with tinted windscreens, which might be the only upshot of his proposal. The whole thing is completely ludicrous.
After questioning Cunningham's evidence and the credibility of Action on Smoking and Health, he concluded:
"This proposal is also a solution looking for a problem. Let us look at the evidence on second-hand smoke exposure. A study carried out by Sims et al concluded that second-hand smoke exposure in children declined by nearly 70% between 1996 and 2006—that is, before any ban on smoking was even introduced, which reinforces the point that this Bill is clearly over the top and unnecessary. A survey of smokers showed that 85.3% do not smoke in a car with children in any event, while 6.5% said that they would seek permission before doing so. Again, this proposal is a solution looking for a problem.
"We are here to defend the freedoms of people in this country, not to interfere in every aspect of everybody’s lives, as the Opposition would like us to do. This proposal would be one infringement on people’s liberties too far. Whether hon. Members decide to vote against it or allow it to wither in the long grass is a matter for them, but one thing I know for sure is that the Government should have nothing to do with such a ludicrous infringement on our liberties."
The House divided on the matter and MPs voted to allow Cunningham to take his bill on to the next stage by 78 votes to 66 (although it has little chance of ever passing into law without government support).
Genuine free votes for Conservative MPs are relatively rare, but for ten minute rule bills the convention is that the payroll vote of ministers and PPSs do not vote, and backbenchers can exercise a free choice.
So it's interesting to note how the Conservative MPs split on the matter, with 13 backing the ban and 56 backing the libertarian view expressed by Philip Davies.
The 13 Tories backing the ban were:
The 56 Tories opposing the ban were: