Insult Wins Battle for Welsh Vapers

Posted 17th March 2016 by Mawsley
Months of serious debate, fact-finding and consideration resulted in a shambles. Ministers failed to move from party lines, harm reduction looked lost. On the eve of a vote set to confirm the ecig ban, Welsh Labour’s Leighton Andrews hubris killed the proposal dead.

Plaid Cymru had offered its members a free vote on Mark Drakeford’s bill but that changed when Andrew’s smugly passed comment. Welsh Labour required a single vote to support them from across the Assembly, and this was in place to happen. Drakeford must have been on his final draft of his speech, ready to crow the adoption of his plan of ignorance. “What we heard from Leighton Andrews yesterday was a wholly offensive attitude towards cross-party co-operation and negotiation,” said Plaid Cymru.

Plaid member Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas was far from happy about the change in stance his party took, he had planned to vote for Drakeford’s motion but had agreed not to attend the vote. As part of a pairing agreement, Plaid leader Leanne Wood had also agreed not to vote as she was voting against the bill, Elis-Thomas travelled to London to attend the House of Lords.

The member of the Lords has a history of conflict with Wood and the Plaid party leadership. He said: "I did not imagine that by not being present I would have helped to lose a piece of important Welsh legislation. I've experienced many low points in this fourth assembly in my relationship with the party, but this is the lowest." At least Elis-Thomas will have his £300 Lords’ attendance allowance to help him cope with his disappointment. The Lord was previously in the spotlight for claiming £15,488.70 in expenses despite only voting once that year.

“Things get said in the chamber,” said a bitter Labour AM Carwyn Jones, “including by Plaid Cymru being critical of Labour members, and if a little joke is made back to them, they walk away.” Lord Elis-Thomas’ vote would have tipped the vote from the 26-26 tie that resulted in Labour’s failure, prompting Jones to call Plaid Cymru “childish”.

Mark Drakeford released the following statement: “I am deeply disappointed that the Public Health (Wales) Bill will not pass onto the statute book today. It puts to waste five years of careful preparation and constructive work with a very wide range of stakeholders and supporters. There will be widespread anger that opposition parties, who had exerted a real influence on the Bill, failed to support it into law and abandoned all the important protections for the public it would have put in place, preventing a range of public health harms. They chose not to do so and they must answer for their conduct. It would have introduced important new measures to improve the provision of pharmacy services across Wales and the provision of public toilets for the young and old; it would have introduced a ban on intimate piercing for children under 16 and new outdoor smoke-free places in hospital grounds, children’s playgrounds and schools. Today was also an opportunity to protect a generation who have grown up in a smoke free environment from re-normalising smoking.”

Plaid refute that they shoulder the blame for the bill crashing in flames. Their statement claims they asked for the vote to be postponed until after Easter but Labour refused. A spokesperson said: “On the very last day of the Assembly, Leighton Andrews has shown a disrespect for parties and individual AMs seeking to create a consensus across political divides. He chose to belittle cooperation and put his own Government’s legislation in jeopardy. This afternoon, Plaid Cymru proposed to Welsh Government that the Bill should be withdrawn before the vote and that the Assembly should be reconvened immediately after Easter to vote on a Bill with all sections on e-cigarettes removed. Plaid Cymru would have supported that legislation.”

With the Assembly’s Presiding Officer, Dame Rosemary Butler, casting the deciding vote, stopping the bill, she announced the end of the 2011-2016 Assembly, Labour’s opportunity to re-table the legislation is now lost. Election for the new Assembly will take place on Thursday 5th May and Labour will have to gain a majority in order to ensure they can successfully reintroduce the bill.

A Labour source is quoted as saying: “The decision from Plaid today smacks of a party unfit for Government. The only thing that has changed since last week's Stage 3 vote on the Public Health Bill is a single off-the-cuff remark in a jokey final plenary session. To vote down an important Bill on this basis alone simply brings the entire institution into disrepute.”

The Welsh Conservatives are cock-a-hoop. Darren Millar, the shadow Health Minister, crowed: “I have long argued that introducing this ban would be a huge step backwards for smoking cessation and efforts to improve public health, and I’m delighted that pressure from the Welsh Conservatives and other opposition parties yielded results in the end. Labour ministers are totally misguided in their war on e-cigarettes and in the end their arrogant attempt to force a ban through were thwarted. There is no evidence supporting their plans and they should have been ditched months ago. Ultimately, we should be giving people a helping hand to quit smoking – not placing obstacles in their way.”

The Tories aren’t the only people delighted with the result. Lib Dems’ Kirsty Williams said: “We have given Labour a bloody nose, however the battle is not over yet. For starters, Plaid now need to pledge they won’t vote for this illiberal piece of legislation if it were ever to appear in the Assembly again. Labour’s illiberal plan flies in the face of medical evidence.”

Welcoming the triumph, Simon Clark of FOREST added: “The proposals to severely restrict the use of e-cigarettes in public places were hopelessly misguided and irrational. The proposed measures were based not on evidence of harm but on an irrational fear of nicotine.”

Meanwhile, Richard Hyslop, of the Independent British Vape Trade Association (an alternative to ECITA), is quoted as saying: “This ban was not based on any credible evidence, and it was clear by the wide coalition of organisations opposing this ban, that it lacked any significant support within the public health community or the wider Welsh population.”