Glenda Jackson: View from the House

Smokers are last of a dying breed... The last week of Parliamentary business before we rose for recess promised to be, according to most political commentators, a make or break week for the Government in general and the authority of the Prime Minister in

Smokers are last of a dying breed...

The last week of Parliamentary business before we rose for recess promised to be, according to most political commentators, a make or break week for the Government in general and the authority of the Prime Minister in particular.

This assessment by the media stemmed from the undoubtedly controversial nature of the Bills being debated. Or rather, in the case of the ID Cards legalisation and the Terrorism Act, amendments passed by the House of Lords, opposing certain aspects of the Government's legislation desires and introducing new safeguards.

As no moves were made by the whips to ensure the return of the Prime Minister from South Africa where he had been stranded because his plane had developed engine trouble, I did not think that there was much danger of the Government losing the vote and I was proved correct.

The whips were somewhat more exercised over a possible loss, when on Wednesday the debate centred on the clause which makes glorification of terrorism a criminal offence.

Here again, despite Labour back-benchers, one of whom was myself, voting against the amendment, the Government was not broken.

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Tuesday saw the return of the Health Bill and here the debate centred on smoking, both actual and passive and whether there should be exemptions for certain enclosed workplaces: the example given was that of private members' clubs.

But the mood of the House was for a total ban and as the Government had tabled an amendment to that effect and announced a free vote on the issue for Labour MPs, matched by a similar shelving of the whip from the official opposition, the Ayes numbered 453, the Nays 125.

The desire for a total ban on smoking is one that has prompted a sizeable post-bag from the residents of Hampstead and Highgate for a considerable period of time, well before the actual Bill was introduced.

The medical evidence presented during the debate was, as the Secretary of State said: "absolutely clear - smoking is the principle consideration in premature deaths".

And the chairman of Health Select Committee, Kevin Barron MP, having detailed the very wide range of evidence the committee had obtained from expert witnesses, stated that the committee had accepted that exposure to second-hand smoke increases the risk to non-smokers of heart disease and lung cancer by about a quarter.

The House, because of its status as a Royal Palace, is not bound by the new legislation, but it is, in my view, untenable, unacceptable and unprincipled for MPs to pass laws defining and improving work-place conditions for everyone other than those who work here.

The decision is one for the House and I've little doubt we will extend the non-smoking principle which is already in place, to that last bolt-hole for us smokers, the Members' Smoking Room.

Now that we are back, the next big event is the publication of the Education Bill, which I am sure I will be discussing with you all soon.

The Government claims to have made concessions, on admissions, LEA's powers and who may compete to build a new trust school.

I'm not so sure, and the Bill will make interesting reading.

q Glenda Jackson is

the Labour MP for

Hampstead & Highgate

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