HL Deb 22 April 2004 vol 660 cc382-4

11.23 a.m.

Lord Dubs asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are contemplating similar action to that of the Irish Government in banning smoking in public places.

Lord Warner

My Lords, the Government have consistently said that smoke-free enclosed public places are the ideal. There are no plans to ban smoking in enclosed public places, but we look forward to faster and more substantial progress on smoke-free places from employers and businesses, especially the hospitality industry.

On 3 March, we launched a major public health consultation that included questions about smoking in public places. Responses to that consultation will inform a White Paper later in the year.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his Answer, although I am not enthusiastic about it.

Is my noble friend aware that, according to early reports, sales of cigarettes in the Republic of Ireland have fallen quite significantly since the introduction of the ban? Even heavy smokers in Ireland to whom I have spoken welcome the ban. Is it not the answer for the Government to show some imagination and courage on the issue and do what the Republic of Ireland has done? As we have a common border with the Republic of Ireland, it would make sense to do the same.

Lord Warner

My Lords, the Government are always looking for good ideas, from all sources. We will monitor carefully what is going on in Ireland.

I remind my noble friend that we have started a process of consultation. It includes specific sets of questions on which we have encouraged people to make their views known. We will await the outcome of that process before taking any further measures.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree with the estimate made by ASH that 4,800 people die every year from diseases caused by passive smoking? Does he also agree with the SmokeFree London campaign, which estimates that 1,100 beds in hospitals in our capital are taken up by people with a disease caused by smoking? In view of those horrifying statistics, is not the Minister's attitude rather complacent?

Lord Warner

My Lords, neither my attitude nor that of the Government is complacent. The Government have nothing to be ashamed of in the work that they have done to reduce the use of tobacco, to control the supply of tobacco to price tobacco products appropriately and to educate the public and make available information about the dangers of smoking. However, we have to go through a process of consultation about public places and workplaces, and we want to hear what people have to say.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff

My Lords, do the Government recognise that two-thirds to three-quarters of people in Wales consistently wish to have a ban on smoking in public places? That result is a credit to the work that they have done to raise awareness of the dangers of smoking and passive smoking. The time is coming when people should be allowed to have regulations that they specifically want.

Lord Warner

My Lords, as the noble Baroness knows, I have no responsibilities relating to Wales in this area. This is not the time to get into the terms of the noble Baroness's Bill, which we will discuss tomorrow. The Government have done much to increase public awareness of the dangers of second-hand smoking.

Lord Tomlinson

My Lords, the Government appear somewhat ambivalent, proposing that there should be a reduced level of smoking in the workplace while supporting through the common agricultural policy the promotion of the growing of tobacco in the European Union. Will my noble friend give an undertaking to the House that, at each stage of decision-making about the CAP budget, a report will be submitted to Parliament stating precisely the action that Her Majesty's Government have taken to propose the abolition of that subsidy, the way in which they promoted that point of view and their degree of success.

Lord Warner

My Lords, I say gently to my noble friend that the common agricultural policy is a little wide of the mark with regard to this Question.

Noble Lords


Lord Warner

My Lords, it is good to see unanimity in the House. I am deeply touched by the support for the common agricultural policy from the Benches opposite, in particular. I shall look into the points that my noble friend made and draw them to the attention of my noble friends.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, can the Minister be diverted from the illiberal attitude of even thinking of banning smoking in public places? I am in your Lordships' House only because my father smoked and died at the age of 57. That is why I have been here for a long time. That, in itself, may be a good reason for not having me here.

The proposal is illiberal. People are grown up enough now to know that smoking is incredibly bad for them. It is very unpleasant. People cough up globules of disgustingness, and it does them no good whatsoever. However, stopping people killing themselves in their own way—and so saving the pension money—is thoroughly illiberal.

Lord Warner

My Lords, if only the noble Earl's father had been alive during the time of this Government, we could have advised him of the dangers of his behaviour.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, is it not dangerous to follow the noble Earl's argument that it is simply an issue of the liberty of those who want to smoke and damage their own health? The crucial point about a ban on smoking in public places is the protection of non-smokers, whose health can be harmed by others who choose to harm themselves.

Lord Warner

My Lords, my noble friend is right. Survey after survey has shown that a large number of people, including smokers, think that there should be restrictions on their exposure to second-hand smoke in public places. The Government want to hear what people have to say in the consultation that is in progress. We await the public's opinion.

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