The long-anticipated public health bill was widely expected to pass a vote and become law as the Welsh Assembly wraps up its final session before a break and elections in May. The bill includes a controversial measure that would ban e-cigarette use in a range of public places.
The Welsh Labour party, the main supporters of all measures in the bill, has 30 of the 60 Assembly seats and with support from some members of Plaid Cymru, the Welsh nationalist party, Labour thought it had enough votes to see the bill through.
However, in speeches before the debate Welsh Labour’s minister for public services, Leighton Andrews, joked that Plaid Cymru was a “cheap date” as it had gone along with another Labour-led proposal earlier in the legislative year.
Plaid Cymru did not take kindly to the comments and the bill failed to pass after a 27-26 vote against. The bill now faces an uncertain future, as there is no guarantee Labour will return as the majority party after the elections.
“Today I voted against the Gov’s Public Health Bill. I worked with Labour on a fair compromise on e-cigs, but my party is not their ‘cheap date’,” said Plaid Cymru assembly member Elin Jones. “All who know me know that I work sincerely across parties, but I will not have any agreement dishonoured and cheapened by others.”
— ITV News Wales (@ITVWales) March 16, 2016
Hostilities did not end with the defeat of the bill. All parties used its demise as a platform to crow.
The leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, who have included opposition to the e-cigarette ban as a plank in their manifesto since it was first proposed, described Plaid Cymru’s decision as “utterly bizarre and somewhat farcical”, although Kirsty Williams added that she nevertheless welcomed it.
Labour, meanwhile, blamed Plaid Cymru and focused on the other measures in the public health bill that have now fallen through – including rules on tattooists and the piercing of children – while glossing over the reason for Plaid Cymru’s change of mind
“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,” said Welsh Labour’s health and social services minister Mark Drakeford.
“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,” he said.
“Even some Plaid AMs [assembly members] think their own party’s behaviour last night was appalling,” added a Labour spokesperson.
Meanwhile the Welsh Conservative party, the largest opposition group in the assembly, claimed credit for the defeat of the bill. The Conservatives have opposed the vaping ban.
What This Means: The failure of the bill has been greeted with joy by groups such as the Independent British Vape Trade Association. But, while it is indeed a positive for them, it is important to remember that the bill would almost certainly have been passed if it were not for the petty vindictiveness of politicians.
Some will consider that throwing away five years of work (which went far beyond the flawed arguments over e-cigs) in reaction to an offhand if ungenerous remark typifies much that is wrong with politics today.
– Freddie Dawson ECigIntelligence staff
Photo: Don O’Brien