HC Deb 08 May 1987 vol 115 cc1015-26

Order for Second Reading read.

1.35 pm
Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

As hon. Members will see, this Bill has all-party support. That support includes the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) who unfortunately cannot be with us today, as he has not been well recently. The House will know that the hon. Gentleman is not standing in the next general election. He has been a formidable proponent on the health front, particularly over smoking and tobacco products. The House will miss his contributions in the future, and I am sorry that he cannot support me in today's debate, as I know that he would if he were present.

The Bill has, as it were, two prongs. Its aim—I quote from the long title—is To limit smoking in public places; to make provision with regard to smoking and employment". I have sometimes been described as a vehement anti-smoker. Perhaps I should explain that I am not a great fanatic or zealot on the issue. Nor am I a converted smoker; I have never smoked, although I claim no great credit for that. I well understand the pleasure that other people obtain from smoking. I can even say that some of my best friends are smokers. Indeed, I must confess that my wife enjoys the occasional cigarette, and that my loyal and very hard-working secretary valiantly types out letters about my Bill encompassed by wreaths of smoke. I should add that, as she is fortunate enough to have a room to herself, she would not be affected by its provisions.

I can also understand people who find that they are, as the saying goes, "dying for a fag". There are times when I feel that I could just do with a tot of whisky. I can also understand those who find themselves addicted to tobacco products. I confess that I, too, have an addiction—to a certain well-known brand of glacier mints. If I were told by the medical authorities that glacier mints were harmful to me, I dare not contemplate what might be the withdrawal effect on me of ceasing to be able to have them. I am therefore not without sympathy for the smoker.

However, the medical evidence on the harm done by cigarette products is overwhelming. Smoking is the largest avoidable cause of disease in the United Kingdom. The medical authorities estimate that 100,000 people a year die prematurely from smoking. That means that about 10 people die every hour, simply because they smoke. They do not have to die.

Prohibition is not practicable, and I do not suggest that it is, but it is the duty of Parliament and the Government to persuade smokers to reduce their smoking, or to stop smoking, and to dissuade young people from starting to smoke. To this end, a number of steps have been initiated.

Some of us were disappointed that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not increase the price of tobacco products in his last Budget. Advertisements and cigarette packets carry health warnings, and the larger the warnings and the stronger the language the more effective they will be. Some believe that there is a strong argument not simply for restricting the advertising of tobacco products but for banning it altogether.

As for the promotion of tobacco products, all sorts of stories are put across by the tobacco companies about what they are trying to do. I am a marketing man and I know the value of promotion in trying to sell a product to new markets. Means are used to attract public attention to tobacco products, such as the sponsoring of concerts and sports events. I am strongly of the opinion that it is wrong that sports events should be sponsored by the tobacco companies, because of the implied connection between sport and health. That is clearly inappropriate. It is particularly sad that from time to time the BBC and the independent television companies have televised events that are sponsored by tobacco companies. I welcome the modification of the extent to which that happens, as evidenced by the recent televising of the snooker championship. There are more subtle and insidious ways in which cigarette companies use their names by promoting concerts and holiday agencies, and they should be the subject of further action. My Bill would be another way to reduce the incidence of smoking.

I have referred to the proven harm of smoking, but there is increasing evidence that harm is done to the nonsmoker by so-called passive smoking. The House will be familiar with the recent report of the Independent Scientific Committee on Smoking and Health that refers to the increase in the risk of lung cancer from exposure to environmental tobacco smoke. It suggests that the risk of lung cancer for people who are living with smokers, is increased to the extent of 30 per cent.

Apart from the medical arguments, one has to have regard to the social arguments. Smoking creates a very unpleasant atmosphere and a smell that clings to other people's clothes. If I were to go into the Members' Tea Room, or into the waiting room of a railway station, or into an office or work place and produced an aerosol that let out a foul smelling odour, I should be considered at the least, to be anti-social, if not offensive, yet it is considered to perfectly normal in those settings for somebody to light up a cigarette or, even worse, a cigar and to puff smoke all over those in the immediate vicinity. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-East (Mr. Lightbown) is looking uncomfortable— as well he may the next time he sits beside me in the Tea Room. It can be argued that one does not have to be there and that one can leave, but I do not see why one should have to leave because of the circumstances I have described. It is far more difficult for those in a work place. They cannot leave.

Let me make it perfectly clear that the purpose of my Bill is not to restrict the liberty of smokers but to safeguard the rights of non-smokers who are, after all, in the majority; it is estimated that nowadays probably no more than a third of adults smoke. The idea of setting aside separate places in which people can smoke is not a new one. We are familiar with smoke rooms in pubs, for example. For many years, there have been railway carriages marked with "No smoking" signs, and to the credit of those who run public places, such as restaurants, some now have areas marked "non-smoking". But that implies that there is something slightly eccentric about being a non-smoker—that one is the odd one out, and that special provision has to be made. I should like to change that attitude so that it is accepted that non-smoking is the norm and areas have to be designated for smokers.

My Bill is drawn in general terms, and I intend that the detailed provisions should be set out in regulations that the Secretary of State is empowered to make. I envisage that, for example, in very small places, or in places to which the public resort for relatively short periods, no smoking would be allowed. That would include lifts, escalators, taxis, shops, public toilets, and so on. Similarly, it would include business and Government offices to which the public had access and, I think, theatres, cinemas, classrooms, lecture halls, hospitals and clinics. It would seem reasonable that in restaurants at least one third of the total area should be designated for non-smokers. In view of the proportion of non-smokers to smokers, which I mentioned, I should have thought that it would be generous to allow two thirds of the space for smokers— unless, of course, a room was particularly small, in which case it would be designated a non-smoking area.

In places of employment, areas such as the cafeteria should have at least a third of the space designated as nonsmoking areas. It must be assumed that shared work areas are non-smoking areas unless they have been otherwise designated with the agreement of all those who work in them.

People will ask whether a Bill such as this will be acceptable, whether it will work and whether there is a demand for it. I think that it is certainly acceptable— that is evidenced by the way in which the complete non-smoking policy of London Underground has been accepted. We know, too, that a number of restaurants and cinemas now have non-smoking areas and that in most theatres no smoking is allowed.

On the question whether the Bill will work, similar legislation is working in the United States, where 40 states have a complete ban on smoking in public places and 11 others have legislation restricting smoking in work places. The Americans have had few problems of enforcement, and it is not uncommon to find that the cost of signs and posters stating whether an area is a no-smoking area is often offset by the cleaning costs. I am afraid that smoking is a filthy and dirty habit. I remember talking to a British Rail employee who had to deal with complaints about labels being scratched off the windows of non-smoking carriages. He said, "You can always tell which are the non-smoking carriages. Just look at the colour of the ceilings." That is perfectly true.

Is there a demand for this legislation? I can only say that, since my Bill was published, I have received letters from people all over the country supporting it warmly. I shall not take up too much time of the House, but should like to quote from a couple of those letters. A couple wrote: There is nothing more objectionable when going for a meal, to arrive, start ones meal only to find the people on the table adjacent just finishing theirs and lighting cigarettes all round! Another gentleman wrote: I am a sound engineer for the BBC and have to sit alongside smokers for hours at a time. The BBC management gives no support for an all-out smoking ban in studios areas. Legislation is the only real answer. If our ventilation plants leaked smelly dirty smoke into work areas, no one would work there, but smokers see nothing wrong in polluting the air around them. Another lady explained how smoke seriously affects her throat and chest, so she must be extremely careful whenever she goes to a public place to ascertain whether people are smoking. I received some interesting correspondence from a public transport operator who is faced with determining the extent to which he can introduce and enforce non-smoking in a competitive environment. He commented: This is a matter which should be dealt with by legislation. There is pressure for legislation. I am conscious of the fact that I shall be opposed from at least two directions. One is the so-called libertarian lobby—those who feel that people should be free to do as they like. We all know that life is not like that. To live in a reasonable civilised environment we all have to consider each other and adjust our behaviour accordingly. As I have implied, I believe that my Bill strikes a reasonable balance between the liberty of the smoker to smoke and the liberty of the nonsmoker to breathe smoke-free air.

The other opposition will come from the tobacco producers—the industry which sees itself, even today, having to become smaller because of the reduction in smoking, and it is very anxious about that. I hope that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) does not mind my pinching one of his best lines, which is that the industry kills off 100,000 people a year, so that it has to find more customers to keep up consumption.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

I shall seek royalties from the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Sims

Of course there are more subtle ways in which the industry will use its influence, especially by advertising in the press. A few months ago, an article in the Daily Telegraph was critical of those trying to restrict sports sponsorship by tobacco companies. The article was a fair comment on a matter of some controversy and I wrote a letter to the Daily Telegraph responding to it and putting counter-arguments. I thought that, perhaps, as a Member of Parliament, and in particular as the chairman of the all-party parliamentary Action on Smoking and Health group, my views might merit publication. Not only was my letter not published but not a single letter responding to that article was published, despite the fact that I know that several doctors wrote in similar terms. I subsequently wrote to the editor of the Daily Telegraph a letter that was not even acknowledged. Despite the fact that I wrote it to him privately inviting him to comment on the fact that there had been no printed response to the original article, I heard nothing further.

I do not like to feel that the independence of the press is influenced by commercial considerations, but I simply invite the House to note the volume of advertising by tobacco companies in The Telegraph Sunday Magazine and the one-sided presentation of the argument which I have described.

I accept that there will be objections to my Bill, but I hope that I have persuaded the House about its desirability. In particular, I hope that I have persuaded my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State — the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie)—who has so effectively promoted the need and the means for healthy living and that she will consider my Bill sympathetically.

1.55 pm
Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) on introducing the Bill and on the way in which he presented it. He has made a very good case for it. As a libertarian, I agree principally with the Bill. We should always encourage people to have freedom and to enjoy themselves, provided that they do not impinge upon the freedom and enjoyment of other people. What has influenced me considerably has been the effect of the no smoking ban on the Underground. The effect has been remarkable, not only because the atmosphere is so much better but because there is less litter, dirt, cigarette ends and packets, and bits of silver paper laying around in the tube and on the trains. That has made a remarkable difference to the Underground and has done a great deal to influence public opinion that smoking is all right, but only in the right places.

I have some reservations about parts of the Bill, such as the places where the public would have access, which could be places such as solicitors' offices or business premises. That will have to be gone into thoroughly and clarified in Committee.

I am glad that there is provision in the Bill for full consultation with employees so that management and employees can agree on places where smoking should be permitted and where it should be banned.

I imagine that the Bill will not apply in the Palace of Westminster. However, I would hope that it will have a spin-off effect because, while we have an admirable Smoking Room, as a reformed smoker—somebody who used to smoke large quantities of cigarettes but who went through the painful process of giving it up, for which I feel much better — I have no objection to other people smoking. However, I find smoke a difficulty in some of our Committee rooms, which are rooms where the public has access on occasions. Hon. Members could learn quite a bit about how to improve our own air and environment by introducing the concept that it is not welcome for hon. Members to smoke, particularly in some of the smaller Committee rooms and in other parts of the Palace of Westminster.

I believe that there will be difficulties in implementing the legislation, if it goes through, in restaurants. I can well sympathise with people who want to sit in a part of a restaurant where smoking will be disallowed. But it is extremely difficult for restaurateurs, particularly in some of the smaller restaurants, to earmark those spaces. It depends so much on their custom and on what sort of bookings they get whether they can place people in those areas.

It would be preferable to work towards a voluntary code of practice. That is something that could emanate from the debate. Many restaurateurs already say to people, "Would you like to be in a non-smoking area?". If possible, I always go for the non-smoking area. It is not essential that we have legislation to do so much of what is in the Bill. I hope that today's debate will lead to a greater awareness — I believe it will—of the desire of many people to see smoking banned from some areas and concentrated in other areas.

I suspect that the Bill will not make progress. If a general election intervenes and prevents its progress, I hope that we can return to the subject in the next Parliament.

1.59 pm
Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

I do not want to detain the House for very long, but I should declare an interest, as indeed should every hon. Member, as I am presently standing, and a few Members are sitting, in a public place where smoking has been banned for nearly 300 years. The Standing Orders have provided since 1665, That no Member do presume to take tobacco in the gallery of the House or at a committee table, on the assumption that nobody would be so offensive and inconsiderate as to smoke in the Chamber. That was not decided in an attempt to get hon. Members to look after their health but because people found the fumes, smell and smoke from other people's pipes—that is presumably what they were smoking at that time—too noxious to be acceptable in civilised company—if the House of Commons could ever be described as "civilised company".

I have another interest to declare. As chairman of the London group of Labour Members I was a party to the decision-making process within the Labour party in London which led to the prohibition of smoking on London Transport. I recall that we had a few discussions about whether that was likely to prove unpopular and whether it could properly be portrayed as a gross invasion of people's liberty and so on. We concluded that some people might portray it as an invasion of other people's liberty but that, generally speaking, it would work, be successful and that not many people would take offence. I am glad to say that that is how it turned out because no one in politics likes to be unpopular. I am convinced that the ban on smoking on London Transport, both at the stations and on the Underground trains, has proved to be popular.

One of the things we need to remember is that that ban has proved popular with the large proportion of smokers. All the surveys show that a large proportion of smokers would like to give up and welcome any outside deterrent because it brings them nearer to giving up.

All that was done—the House banning smoking and the prohibition of smoking on the Underground — before there was really any substantial evidence to show the adverse effects of somebody smoking close to another individual. That has now been described as secondary smoking, which seems more popular on the Conservative Benches than secondary picketing. However, there is little doubt about the effect now and there are very few people of any scientific merit, except for a few wholly financed by the tobacco industry, who would dispute the claim that the inhalation of other people's smoke is damaging in the long-term. It is not as damaging as smoking but it does make a considerable contribution to lung and heart disease as well as being a general irritant causing people to cough and so on.

I am not entirely sure whether the Bill of the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims)—he has the support of a number of my hon. Friends — will do the trick. However, we need legislation to help the extension of non-smoking in public places. If it is left purely to a voluntary effort we shall not see the progress that we expect. largely because people such as restaurateurs will be as dubious about the effects on their popularity as we in the London Labour party were about the effects on our popularity of banning smoking on the Underground. As their immediate livelihoods would be at stake they might not be willing to take too many risks in that respect. However, we need some legislative back-up for the developments that are taking place.

Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that it is now part of the Labour party's official policy that, if by some mischance it was to become the Government, it would legislate to prohibit smoking in some public places?

Mr. Dobson

The logic of my argument was so obvious to the hon. Gentleman that he has moved on to my next sentence but one. I believe that we should look at the overall problems and at ill health caused by smoking and bring forward comprehensive measures to restrain it in a variety of ways. In formulating that legislation, we should have to give careful consideration to the merits of proposals to restrain smoking in public places. I am not saying that we commit ourselves to that at this moment, so it is no use the hon. Gentleman suggesting that I am. My own view is that some legislative back-up is needed, but we have not concluded that that is necessarily part of our general approach to reducing smoking.

What we have said, which I believe would have a greater impact on the reduction of smoking that almost everyone wants, is that there should be a total prohibition on the advertising and promotion of tobacco products. With 100,000 people dying of smoking-related diseases or afflictions every year, we owe it to them and to everyone else to take whatever steps are necessary to restrain smoking. That would be my first priority and it is certainly that of the Labour party. Nevertheless, we need to consider the question of smoking in public places.

One of my doubts about the measure before us, although I have considerable respect for the promoter's efforts, relates to the definition of a public place.

Mr. Colin Moynihan (Lewisham, East)

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that it is the Labour party's intention to introduce legislation to ban the sponsorship of sporting events by tobacco companies?

Mr. Dobson

We have made that perfectly clear for several years. To those who object that some people in sport would be less well paid if their pockets were not being lined by the tobacco barons, I can only say that, having met some of the Middlesex cricketers earlier this week, many sports people in this country have their incomes substantially increased beyond what they could command by getting people to pay to watch them. So far as I know, W. G. Grace did not need any sponsorship to boost his income. Amateur though he was supposed to be, he obtained a substantial income from cricket, as the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan) will know.

It is totally unreasonable and irrational for any sporting activity in this country to be subsidised, and the pay of people in it substantially enhanced by the tobacco industry, when the clear purpose and objective of such sponsorship is to promote the sale of tobacco and, in particular, of a limited number of brands of cigarette. It is absurd for sporting activities, which are supposed to make people healthy in mind and body, to be used as a vehicle to persuade young people to take up smoking, as a result of which their health will almost automatically be damaged.

The Labour party has made it absolutely clear that that is our approach. We regard it as wholly unreasonable for any sporting activity to be used to promote smoking and we stick by that view. Plenty of people with much less offensive products and services are willing to sponsor sport. As the hon. Member for Lewisham, East knows, some have even come forward recently in relation to cricket sponsorship. There is nothing new in what I have just said. We have made it clear that that is our policy.

I am not sure that we accept all the various definitions of "public place", and so on, in the Bill, but I have considerable sympathy with it. As people who work in places in which we or our predecessors have had the power to ban smoking and have done so, we owe it to large numbers of employees to encourage employers, if necessary by legislative action, to provide them with workplaces that are free from other people smoking. We have devoted a lot but not enough effort to making workplaces safe, wholesome and healthy. I believe that it is absurd for an employer to take the necessary steps to make a workplace safe, wholesome and healthy and then for the employees to make things unsafe for their working colleagues.

I personally have most sympathy for the aspect of the Bill which encourages and, if necessary, would give power to employers to make workplaces free from smoke that workers did not want. That is a wholesome and reasonable proposition that we should explore. However, to return to the point that I was making before the interventions, we need a comprehensive approach to help people to stop smoking and to deter them from smoking. Similarly, we would do better to have a comprehensive approach to the consumption of booze.

Mr. Moynihan

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way because I know that he wants to speak only for a short time. However, in view of the arguments that he has put forward with regard to tobacco, would he argue equally as strongly that a Labour Government would seek to place legislation on the statute book to prohibit the sponsorship of sporting events by the alcoholic drinks industry?

Mr. Dobson

No. The hon. Gentleman is clearly simply getting things written into the record. He knows full well that we distinguish between—

Mr. Wiggin

That is the purpose of this Bill. That is the purpose of the whole exercise.

Mr. Dobson

I am sorry, I cannot cope with two interventions at the same time.

Mr. Wiggin

I apologise for making a sedentary intervention. However, of course we are here to put things on the record, just as the sponsor of the Bill is absolutely certain that it will make no progress. Even if we all voted, there would not be enough support for the Bill to make progress. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) knows perfectly well that that is the purpose of the exercise.

Mr. Dobson

As long as the hon. Member for Lewisham, East does not race around to the press and say that the Labour party has suddenly enunciated a new policy on these matters, I do not mind. I have been trying to make a short speech so that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security can make her ministerial contribution. We have made it clear that we shall prohibit the promotion and advertising of tobacco products. However, we have not said that about alcohol because there is a clear distinction between the consumption of tobacco products and the consumption of alcohol. The plain fact is that virtually any smoking is harmful, whereas very few people other than those who are dead set against drinking in any form would claim that the limited and sensible consumption of alcohol from time to time in various forms is particularly harmful. Conservative Members must have friends who are habitual drunks, and we all have friends and acquaintances who suffer from alcoholism. Indeed, I do not suppose that there is any hon. Member who does not have such an acquaintance. Therefore, as a society we must recognise that we must pay attention to the way in which we counter alcoholism. It needs a different approach from the one that I and the Labour party take towards smoking. Nevertheless, there must be a comprehensive approach which would involve changes in the licensing laws, but only as part of a comprehensive package.

I have considerable sympathy with the objectives of the Bill. However, I have considerable doubts about some of the detailed propositions and drafting aspects. The matter must be dealt with as part of a comprehensive Government-promoted approach to the reduction of smoking.

2.14 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mrs. Edwina Currie)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) on his efforts this Session with the Bill. If my postbag is anything to go by, he has a great deal of public support. I welcome the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) and I noted the words of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), who has found a novel way of keeping me quiet—by talking a lot himself. Never mind.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst has a long record in this area, as parliamentary adviser to ASH. He has served his constituents—and indeed the nation — very well in the efforts that he has made and the way in which he has presented his case.

As my hon. Friend knows, ASH is funded partly by the Department of Health and Social Security. Last year we paid it £177,000. Its grant has gone up by about 52 per cent. in real terms since 1978–79, which shows our commitment to the work that it is trying to do. I have been associated with it. I worked with ASH for no-smoking day on 11 March and in November for the launch of the booklet "Women and Smoking. A Handbook for Action".

I agree with the suggestion about the way in which norms might be presented in future. I do not like the negative approach. I do not like to talk about no-smoking areas. I prefer to talk about smoke-free zones. Perhaps that is because I am a natural optimist, but it should be the norm that people take a close and effective interest in their health in this country, as people do in many other countries. It should be the norm that our public behaviour is pleasant and non-hazardous to others. My hon. Friend will share with me a memory of the time when, on buses or public transport, there would be a notice saying, "No spitting. Penalty £5." We do not see those notices any more because it is now not regarded as normal to indulge in such behaviour. Perhaps the time will come when certain other types of behaviour join that.

It does no harm to rehearse the dangers of smoking. Smoking causes lung cancer. There will be about 40,000 deaths from lung cancer in this country this year — about 30,000 men and about 10,000 women. In Scotland, lung cancer is now the leading killer of women prematurely and has overtaken breast cancer. Deaths from lung cancer overall have fallen by about 9 per cent. since 1979, but are up 20 per cent. among women. As the Minister responsible for women's health, I regard those figures with the greatest alarm. Among teenagers, girls now smoke more than boys. What a terrible future heritage that is.

The chances of lung cancer are 11 times greater for smokers than for non-smokers. About 1 million lung cancer cases are reported worldwide every year, and most of them are dead within two years. The survival rate of lung cancer victims five years from diagnosis is only 7 per cent., which is therefore a worse survival rate than for AIDS and many other things about which we are most concerned.

Smoking is also associated with most other common cancers, and it is a particular problem for those who enjoy drink. The death rates from cancer to the upper digestive tract for those who smoke and drink are between four and seven times as great as for those who drink but do not smoke. Therefore, I would say to people: "If you enjoy a drink, don't smoke." Smoking is strongly implicated in other respiratory diseases, especially the English disease, bronchitis, and emphysema and, most important of all, it is a factor in our biggest killer, coronary heart disease, which will kill about 150,000 people this year. There is one heart attack in this country every three and a half minutes. One third of all men under 65 will have a heart attack and half of them will die, about 40 per cent. within the first hour or so. Such a toll cannot be tolerated in this country for much longer.

Why should the Government take an interest? Surely personal freedom should matter. I say to hon. Members on both sides of the House that I am probably about as Right-wing as anybody in the House, and I am very proud of it. But there are two reasons why the overriding principle of personal freedom may sometimes be breached. The first reason is if there are substantial costs to the public purse. One of my other deeply-held Tory principles is that I would wish to see public expenditure kept under control. To the National Health Service alone, heart disease has a cost of some £400 million a year. Cancers do not cost quite so much because people tend to die fairly quickly, so they are not a burden for very long, but I would mind less what people got up to if it did not cost the Government and taxpayers an enormous amount of money. We also have to recognise the costs to industry in working days lost and in lost productivity, particularly when the people concerned are cut down in their prime.

The other main reason is that individual actions may harm others. I am an asthmatic—that is my interest. So smoking is an irritant to me and to the many thousands of asthmatics in this country.

There is now plenty of evidence that passive smoking causes illness in others. We know of the effect, in a smoker's household, of respiratory diseases in children and other family members. We know also that the contaminants in smoking can cross the placenta of a pregnant woman and damage her baby. That is even the case if she is a non-smoker, but lives with a smoking husband. We now know also that there is a chance that lung cancer can be caused in non-smokers by people who smoke.

The interim statement of the Independent Scientific Committee on Smoking and Health was published on 13 March 1987. Having considered the relevant studies., the committee concluded while none of the studies of passive smoking and lung cancer can on its own be accepted as unequivocal, the findings overall are consistent with there being a small increase in risk of lung cancer from exposure to environmental tobacco smoke, possibly between 10 per cent. and 30 per cent. That is possibly 200 or 300 extra deaths from lung cancer a year. The final report will be available later this year and the Government will then consider whether action is required, and, if so, what.

It is probably worth pointing out that that committee was set up by a Tory Government in 1973. Indeed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst knows, Tory Governments have been prepared to use legislation to take the sort of action that he seeks. The first legislation against smokers was in the 1960s. However, it was a Tory Government in 1972 who banned smoking among those handling food. It was also a Tory Government who, passed clauses in the Transport Act 1983 to provide opportunities to restrict smoking on public transport. As has been mentioned, that has been taken up by the London Underground, and by air companies such as Loganair and by Belfast Citybus Ltd. British Rail has told me that in the new timetables that are to be published next week only 25 per cent. of the places will be available to smokers. That is a spectacular improvement. Therefore, Governments have taken action on this matter.

However, even without legislation, the British are now giving up smoking faster than people in any other country. About 2.5 million smokers took part in no smoking day this year. An attitude survey that was conducted in connection with "Look After Your Heart" showed that three quarters of our people do not smoke and that three quarters of those who do wish to change. Therefore, we are making a lot of progress.

However, I must advise my hon. Friend that at this stage I do not feel that this Bill should join that collection of legislation. I do not like telling people what to do; I would much rather persuade. In principle, I would rather use almost any means but compulsion, and I especially dislike using the law. When, as a Back Bencher, I supported legislation such as that on fluoridation, the sale of scented erasers or that on seat belts, it was only because I had become convinced over a long period—in the case of fluoridation after more than 10 years' experience in the city of Birmingham — that progress on public health would be hampered by the lack of a legal framework. In those cases, I was prepared to support changes in the law. However, at this time, and in the form of this Bill, I am not yet so convinced. I do recognise, with the greatest appreciation, the motives and the evidence presented by my hon. Friend. I suspect that we agree about ends but at this time, we probably disagree about the means.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

I thank the Minister for giving way, especially as I have not heard all of the debate. As someone who is passionately antismoking, I should like to draw her attention to the problems of the staff within her own Ministry at the DHSS who wish to be able to work in a smoke-free atmosphere. It seems that the guidance given to local offices by the DHSS head office is unclear about that. I have a case of a young woman who medically and emotionally cannot stand smoke in her environment. As a result, she is unable to work in a particular office. Can the Minister give some help to her and to other people in the same position by guaranteeing at least one smoke-free area in each DHSS local office?

Mrs. Currie

I too have had several letters similar to that. I assure the hon. Gentleman that in the DHSS we are discussing not only the question of smoking but other aspects of public health and the ways in which we might encourage our staff to take advantage of the facilities that are available, such as the screening programme. If he would like to send me the letter about which he is concerned, I shall endeavour to do what I can.

The timing of this matter is important. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst will recognise the sense of what I am saying about that. It is not just that this Session may be shorter than it might otherwise be; I am reluctant to take steps before the final report of the independent committee. I am aware that public opinion is shifting fast on this issue and that we still have too many smokers, but many people are being enabled and helped to give up, not least my husband, and I am pleased about that. Therefore, this year we may well see a sharp reduction in the number of people who may be upset, troubled or find the Bill difficult to accept.

I am also concerned that action now may be counter-productive. I do not wish to antagonise smokers or to put them on the defensive; I would much prefer to proceed on the basis of co-operation, if possible. There are plenty of examples where that is happening. ASH told me that it has had numerous requests for its document, "Smoking and Work: Ideas for Action", and that in many cases employers have reported surges in job applications from top employees of rival firms as a result of providing a smoke-free working environment. That shows that there is a great deal of movement.

I have a further fear. I am keen that business should take an interest in all aspects of health education, not just smoking, but food in the canteen, drink policies and the encouragement of a fit lifestyle. I am slightly worried that if we legislated only on smoking—I hasten to add that I have no proposals to legislate on any of the others—we may be seen to be putting the other items in the background. However, if a company, its employers and employees co-operate successfully on smoking they may wish to go further and to give attention to other practical issues, all of which will help to contribute to a healthier nation. I would be happy to see progress in all those directions.

The Bill has objectives which, from the point of public health, we support. I hope that my hon. Friend will recognise the reasons for our slight reluctance to accept it now. I congratulate him on all his efforts, which I know will continue and I wish him well with them in future.

2.26 pm
Mr. Sims

By leave of the House, I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for her remarks about me and for her comments on the Bill. In the light of what she has said and possible impending events, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion and the Bill.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill withdrawn.