HC Deb 04 November 2003 vol 412 cc664-5
10. Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

What his latest estimate is of the number of premature deaths in England in the last year for which figures are available; and what action he is taking to prevent them. [135978]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Miss Melanie Johnson)

In 1995, an estimated 98,800 people died from smoking in England. We have developed a comprehensive strategy, including legislation banning tobacco advertising, a mass media information campaign and a national network of NHS stop smoking services. Early figures, published by Cancer Research UK, indicate an encouraging drop in smoking prevalence, but we are awaiting publication of the latest general household survey data for confirmation.

Mr. Foulkes

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on realising that I meant to refer to premature deaths from smoking in my question. Will she join me in congratulating the Secretary of State for Health on having given up smoking for 11 months? What are she and her colleagues doing to encourage other people to follow his example? Will the Government now consider introducing legislation to ban smoking in public places?

Miss Johnson

Of course I join my right hon. Friend in congratulating the Secretary of State on his period of abstinence from tobacco. To share the progress that we are making on services to stop smoking, across England £138 million has now been allocated over the next three years to help reach the target of achieving 800,000 four-week quitters by 2006. The latest statistics show that we are on target, and around 124,000 people had given up smoking at the four-week follow-up quit stage. He mentioned the question of smoking in public places; he will know that we have considered the matter, but believe that substantial progress can be made through voluntary means

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell)

The Minister talks about premature deaths. Is she aware, however, that people's lives are being put at risk today by the mounting crisis in emergency care? We have the unedifying sight of queues of ambulances outside accident and emergency departments unable to get patients admitted to hospitals, and the extraordinary situation in which ambulance trusts have contingency plans to erect tents outside accident and emergency departments for patients, because they cannot get them admitted to hospitals. When will Ministers do something to end this appalling situation?

Miss Johnson

That is absolute poppycock; what is more, the hon. Gentleman knows that it is. The fact is that nine out of 10 patients are seen within four hours in A and E departments across England, and, to the best of our knowledge, tents have never been used and are unlikely to be needed other than for dealing with patients at the scene of a major incident such as the Selby rail incident or the decontamination of patients in the event of a chemical or biological attack. The Opposition are trying to get up a story that is 100 per cent. spin and zero percent. truth.