HL Deb 09 February 2004 vol 656 cc917-20

2.44 p.m.

Lord Janner of Braunstone asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will now introduce legislation to ban smoking in public places throughout the United Kingdom.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner)

My Lords, the Government have consistently said that smoke-free public places are the ideal, but there are no plans to ban smoking in public places. It is important to listen to different views on any ban on smoking at work or in public places, including whether any such ban is a matter best left to local decision. We look forward to faster and more substantial progress on smoke-free places from employers and businesses, especially the hospitality industry.

Lord Janner of Braunstone

My Lords, how many people does my noble friend estimate die as a result of smoking in the UK every year; and what percentage of such lives have been estimated as likely to be saved if smoking were banned in public places? Is he aware that in a recent poll in London, 78 per cent of respondents were in favour of banning smoking in public places indoors? Surely it would help enormously if such a ban were imposed to save lives, as has been done in Ireland, New York, Finland and elsewhere. Why are the Government waiting when they accept that the case for banning is without question vital and could save so many lives?

Lord Warner

My Lords, we know that many millions of people have died as a result of tobacco smoking. The number from second-hand smoking is somewhat smaller, although we know that second-hand smoking contributes substantially to lung cancer and heart disease in particular places.

The Government have engaged in a major public education exercise on second-hand smoking, which forms an important part of making people aware of its dangers. For example, we launched our "Smoking Kids" TV advert last summer for that public awareness purpose. We do not think it appropriate to engage in a national ban in public places although, as I said, we are interested to know how much progress is being made in that area locally.

Lord Clement-Jones

My Lords, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport displayed a touching faith in enlightened self-interest in the hospitality industry in a recent article in the Times. When will the Government wake up to the views of the Chief Medical Officer?

Lord Warner

My Lords, the Government always pay extremely close attention to the views expressed by the Chief Medical Officer. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and my honourable friend the Minister for Public Health met representatives from the hospitality sector on 5 February—last Thursday—and the sector representatives agreed to come back to the table with proposals for faster and more substantial progress in two months. It is worth bearing in mind that the Laurel Pub Company already has non-smoking pubs and is considering expanding the number of such outlets.

Baroness O'Cathain

My Lords, first, if the Government think that something is ideal—I am putting the Minister's words back to him—why do they not take some action on it? Secondly, the Government interfere—well, perhaps not interfere, but get involved—in other areas where lives can be saved; for example, ensuring that people who drive motorbikes wear helmets and that seat belts are fitted in motor cars. That is all done with the intention of saving lives. Why are they not prepared to do something in this area to save even more lives?

Lord Warner

My Lords, the Government's record in this area is strong. We have introduced a comprehensive ban on most forms of tobacco advertising. We have introduced quitters programmes in the National Health Service. That is government action. The most notable quitter is my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health. I am sure that the House will want to congratulate him on that. As I said, we are developing public awareness through advertising campaigns and have seen good achievements through the voluntary process in the workplace: 86 per cent of workplaces have now banned smoking or have smoke-free areas.

Lord Walton of Detchant

My Lords, bearing in mind that, as the noble Lord, Lord Janner, said, the risks of active and passive smoking to human health are enormous, and that the definition of a public, place may cause difficulty in legislation, will the Government at least consider introducing legislation to ban smoking in all areas where food is served; and to make it incumbent on those who own bars, restaurants and similar places to ensure that there are smoke-free areas?

Lord Warner

My Lords, we will take into account the noble Lord's suggestions as part of the ongoing public debate. It is worth bearing in mind that we are working with around 30 cities, including Birmingham, Manchester and Brighton, so that they can become smoke-free. It is an important issue for many localities and best taken forward for the local area.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, can my noble friend expand a little on his answer to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, about the Government's dissatisfaction with the progress made by the hospitality industry in the implementation of the Public Places Charter? Is he saying that, effectively, it has two months to put its house in order and that at the end of that period we shall see firm government action to deal with the problem of smoking in the workplace and public places?

Lord Warner

My Lords, I do not want my noble friend to get too carried away, but I said that we expected more, and faster, progress in the hospitality industry. My right honourable friend made clear the Government's expectations. We shall wait to see what comes forward from the hospitality industry in two months' time.

Earl Howe

My Lords, in autumn 2000 the Health and Safety Executive drafted an approved code of practice on smoking in the workplace that would cover practically all enclosed places that the public might ever enter. Are the Government still considering whether to adopt that code? If so, why have they so far taken three and a half years to do so?

Lord Warner

My Lords, the Government are still considering the question of an approved code of practice. The Health and Safety Executive has been asked to look further at the costs as they affect small business in the hospitality sector. As I said earlier, over 50 per cent of people's workplaces are free of smoke, which is an increase of about 10 per cent from 1996. In addition, some 36 per cent limit smoking to specific areas only. Effectively, that means that in 86 per cent of workplaces smoking is banned throughout or limited to smoking rooms or areas.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the Government appear to be becoming increasingly lenient about cannabis. Do they envisage cannabis-smoking being allowed in public places in future when tobacco smoking is not?

Lord Warner

My Lords, I think that the noble Baroness is well aware of the Government's policy on cannabis. It has not been decriminalised.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, given that 28 per cent of the population smoke, surely to follow the wording of the noble Lord's Question would mean criminalising a huge proportion of the population. I urge my noble friend to consider the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Walton, to see whether it is possible to come up with a much clearer definition that would lead to smoke-free environments in food and other outlets but would not take us down the route of causing the police and other agencies to be involved in behaviour that until now has been legal. If the wording of the noble Lord's Question were followed, that would lead to about 12 million people becoming liable to criminalisation.

Lord Warner

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his helpful suggestion. I intended to indicate that we would consider the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Walton, as part of the public debate. The House will be aware that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health announced that there would be a consultation exercise on public health more generally. I do not think that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary would welcome the criminalisation of another 12 million people.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes

My Lords, will the noble Lord, who has spoken of the costs of having to change the existing laws, not consider that it is relatively cheap to erect a notice that says. "No smoking on these premises"?

Lord Warner

My Lords, I tried to say to the House in an earlier answer that we know, for example, of one pub group that is creating "no smoking" areas in its pubs.