HC Deb 06 July 1988 vol 136 cc1081-2 4.39 pm
Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to authorise the prohibition, by notice displayed alongside the meter, of smoking in taxi-cabs. In January 1985, Richard Carless, a cabbie from Basildon, refused to take a pipe-smoking passenger at London airport. Richard Carless suffers from acute bronchitis. The passenger was quite happy to wait for another cab but the incident was seen by a traffic warden who called the police. The police prosecuted Mr. Carless, and he appeared at Uxbridge magistrates court in May 1985. The alleged offence was that he, being a taxi driver at an authorised standing or in portion thereof failed to be available and willing to be hired immediately contrary to Article 9(5) of the Heathrow Airport London byelaws 1983 and Section 9 of the Airport Authority Act of 1975. He was fined £20, which he refused to pay, and he appealed against the conviction and sentence. He appeared at Southwark Crown court where the fine was increased and he was ordered to pay costs. He refused, and in July 1986 he went to prison for seven days. He appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, but the case was ruled inadmissible. It is ironic that the passenger who wanted to smoke his pipe in the taxi wanted to do so because he had been prohibited from doing so on the airline that brought him to Heathrow.

A cabbie has as high priority the comfort, safety and security of his passenger and all future passengers. Two thirds of the adult population of this country are non-smokers who, according to the Fourth Report of Her Majesty's Government's Independent Scientific Committee on Smoking and Health, have a 30 per cent. enhanced risk of contracting lung cancer due to the effects of passive smoking. That means that it is 50 times more dangerous than exposure to asbestos in buildings. The same passive smoking unquestionably exacerbates existing health complaints, such as coronary artery disease, asthma, tuberculosis, emphysema and bronchitis, adding greatly to the consequential demands on Health Service resources and finance.

In the light of such scientific comment, the public should be able to protect their health from the increased risk of passive smoking. The cabbie has a personal right to working conditions that are free from this risk. By designating the cab as a non-smoking zone the cabbie can offer two thirds of the adult population carriage in a relatively smoke-free atmosphere. By declaring such a designation by a sign displayed openly alongside the meter, prospective passengers would be able to choose whether to enter the cab and, if boarding the vehicle, whether they would have to refrain from smoking during the journey. Such freedom of choice would bring taxicabs in line with other forms of public transport in providing an atmosphere untouched by tobacco fumes and much freer from the risk of passive smoking.

The proposals are supported by Radio Taxicabs (London) Ltd. and the publishers of the Cab Driver, who say: Like many of the laws appertaining to the cab trade, which were formulated as long ago as 1832 and which are still very much extant, they seem to consider the importance of the vehicle and the passenger in detriment to the health and well-being of the driver. Altering, adapting or even bringing in new laws, like yours, that would go some way in making the professional taxi driver's job much less stressful, are not just logical but crucial. Not only are taxi drivers subject to the continuous inhalation of toxic vehicle fumes, to be bombarded too with tobacco smoke, and without the legal redress with which to ask the passengers to refrain from smoking, is an imposition which should be removed as quickly as possible. The Licensed Taxi Drivers Association Ltd. Supports the Bill, saying: Whilst not wishing to dictate to those caught up in drug-like habits of smoking, it seems reasonable to me that likewise the non-smoker should have the right, where practicable, to work in an area free from the killer nicotine. It goes on to say: I pray that your fellow Parliamentarians, whatever their relationship may be with their connections outside the House, will see this Bill as one of national importance and do not oppose it for narrow motives. The cabbie section of the Transport and General Workers Union said: we are 100 per cent. behind you in your endeavours to obtain for cab drivers the right to designate their own working conditions. The British Medical Association goes further. It says: The BMA would like to offer its support for the principles of the Bill. The BMA has long been aware of the potential health risks involved in passive smoking. We believe that the publication of the Frogatt Report leaves the Government no choice but to take realistic action and that means legislation which will protect the health of the non-smoker, allowing people to breathe clean air at work and in public places. The Government must acknowledge, in the face of the evidence of its own scientific committee, the undisputed fact that passive smoking is harmful. Talks with the tobacco industry are beside the point and if consultation is needed, it should be with organisations like ours … which can discuss the health aspects of this report and how the report's recommendations can be introduced. No smoking is the norm and non-smokers should be protected at their place of work and in public places. Protection should be made for people who need to smoke while the majority who are non-smokers should be free to breathe air unpolluted by the toxins in tobacco smoke. This is not a non-smoking measure, any more than it is a pro-smoking measure. All I am suggesting is that cab drivers should be allowed to designate their vehicles as smoking or non-smoking vehicles and that that designation should be displayed alongside the meter. If a smoker comes to a cab designated as a non-smoking vehicle he will know that for the duration of the journey he must refrain from smoking and put his pipe in his pocket. If a non-smoker finds a cab designated as a smoking vehicle offering itself for hire, he will realise that he will have to undertake the journey in the atmosphere of a stale ashtray. The choice is there for fare and driver. There is no compulsion on anybody. In that spirit, I hope that the Bill will be supported.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Frank Cook, Ms. Harriet Harman, Mr. Roger Sims, Ms. Joan Ruddock, Mr. Sam Galbraith, Mr. Eddie McGrady, Mrs. Gillian Shephard, Mr. George Foulkes, Mr. Andrew Mitchell, Mrs. Maria Fyfe, Mr. John Home Robertson and Mr. Keith Mans.