HC Deb 12 May 1992 vol 207 cc483-4
5. Mr. Steen

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many organisations have responded to the Green Paper "The Health of the Nation".

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

Almost 1,200 responses were received from organisations and associations; a further 900 replies were received from individuals. That demonstrates the very great interest in the initiative to improve health, which is high on the Government's agenda and to which I attach the highest importance.

Mr. Steen

I welcome the excellent Green Paper, particularly as it points out the need to reduce smoking in all age groups. Bearing in mind that some 60 per cent. of patients in hospitals are there because of some smoking or smoking-related disease, does my right hon. Friend agree that we should ban smoking in public places or at least cordon off an area so that smokers can enjoy smoking without infecting all those who do not enjoy it?

Mrs. Bottomley

I thank my hon. Friend for his generous remark about the Green Paper, the credit for which is entirely due to my predecessor, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. For the first time, we have a strategy to prevent ill-health as well as to treat it, and that is a significant achievement. My hon. Friend has long been a champion of the anti-smoking cause. Great progress is being made in banning smoking from many public places. As my hon. Friend will know, we prefer the voluntary approach, but there are times when legislation is required. We are now seeing the removal of smoking from various forms of public transport, from many public places and from Government offices, and we shall continue to maintain the momentum.

Mr. Eastham

May I impress upon the Secretary of State the need to give greater thought to dental care, especially for young children? Would not it be a good idea to include the sugar content on soft drink labels on such as Coca Cola, which I understand contains about seven spoonfuls of sugar and is detrimental to children's teeth? Will the right hon. Lady do something about that?

Mrs. Bottomley

I am able to report that our record on children's dental health is impressive, but I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's thinking, which is exactly the thinking behind the health strategy. We want to think widely about labelling and how we can improve health and prevent disease. In addition to thinking in terms of health services, the effective provision of information is exactly the way forward.

Mr. Jessel

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that back pain causes massive absenteeism, distress and waste and that the problem is increasing by 13 per cent. a year? Does she agree that the National Back Pain Association deserves positive support and encouragement?

Mrs. Bottomley

Having just welcomed my constituent, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley), to the House, I am well aware of the difficulties caused by back pain. My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) is right. Back pain is a significant cause of disability and disease, not least among health service staff, and it is one of the matters that we are considering. The Health and Safety Executive is bringing forward guidelines through the Health Service Advisory Committee. The organisation to which my hon. Friend referred clearly has an important part to play in promoting awareness and understanding.

Mr. Robin Cook

I add my congratulations to the Secretary of State on her promotion. I also congratulate her on presiding over a team which contains the largest number of Ministers in the history of the NHS, which may seem odd since they administer the fewest hospitals in the history of the NHS. Can the Secretary of State confirm that since the Green Paper was published she has received a report from her own officials that an advertising ban would cut tobacco consumption and, therefore, cancer? Why, then, does she not drop Britain's objection to a European advertising ban? It surely is not because Imperial Tobacco provided the Conservative party with 2,000 poster sites during the election and on this issue the health of the Conservative party comes before the health of the nation.

Mrs. Bottomley

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome, but he never seems to change. He always has a cynical reaction. He always concentrates on means, not ends. In the same way as he comments on the number of hospitals and not on the quality of patient care, he is always addressing the wrong issue. We are determined to achieve a further fall in tobacco smoking in Britain. We have one of the most powerful records of any country in the EC. It is interesting that many of those countries which support a ban on tobacco advertising have their own nationalised tobacco industries and all of them except one have cheap cigarettes. We believe in fighting smoking by means of price and advertising and we do not support the subsidy on tobacco growing through the common agricultural policy. We will achieve the ends. I am fed up with the hon. Gentleman constantly looking at the means and not the ends.