HL Deb 24 June 2004 vol 662 cc1350-2

11.23 a.m.

Lord Janner of Braunstone asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will take steps to ban smoking in all workplaces.

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

My Lords, our wide-ranging consultation on public health includes questions about what action should be taken to tackle second-hand smoke. One of the options discussed is whether legislation should be introduced to ban smoking in workplaces and in enclosed public places. The consultation period has been extended until 28 June and responses to this consultation will inform a White Paper later in the year.

Lord Janner of Braunstone

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that this is now a matter of urgency? Thousands of people in the United Kingdom die from active smoking and hundreds die from passive smoking each year. The period of consultation has been extended. When can we have action? If there is not to be action to prevent people exercising a choice and going into pubs, restaurants or cafes where there is smoking, surely immediate steps should be taken to prevent people being forced to go into those places. In their workplaces, people have no such alternative. So how long must we wait for action?

Lord Warner

My Lords, in 2002 an ONS Omnibus survey showed that smoking is either banned throughout, or limited to smoking rooms or areas, in 86 per cent of workplaces, so a great deal of progress has been made on the workplace protection of people from second-hand smoke. I suggest that we need a mature debate about how to tackle the key health challenges and how to support people to become, as Derek Wanless says, fully engaged in their own health. We are taking these matters forward on a basis of partnership and consultation and will be publishing a White Paper later this year.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, according to recent polls, public opinion opposes smoking bans in hospitality venues and supports choice with facilities provided for nonsmokers and smokers alike? Is the Minister also aware that I share the views held by national government that individual choice on whether smoking should be banned in public places is preferable to legislation?

Lord Warner

My Lords, I am always pleased to have a variety of views expressed to me on this subject from all sides of the House—a warm range of views is coming from behind me in particular. We have committed ourselves to the path of consultation with the public and I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her support. We know that the public has conflicting views on the extent to which there should be restrictions on smoking in pubs and restaurants. That is why we are going carefully through a proper process of consultation.

Lord Addington

My Lords, is there any truth in the matter that if a new drug were introduced as damaging to people as second-hand smoke it would be banned? Under those circumstances, should not the Government take vigorous action to create more smoke-free environments?

Lord Warner

My Lords, we are well aware that second-hand smoking is dangerous. We understand that. We have instigated research in this area and are continuing to get work done. At the risk of becoming even more boring than normal, as I said, we are going through a process of public consultation. We will continue that process and produce a White Paper in the autumn.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, my noble friend is never boring. When he assesses the results of the consultation, will he take into account the experiences of the Republic of Ireland? It appears from surveys there that both a majority of non-smokers and a majority of smokers welcome the ban. If smokers and non-smokers are united on an issue, surely the way forward is clear?

Lord Warner

My Lords, I am glad to have been able to provide my noble friend with entertainment. He is of course right. Ireland's experience has been encouraging. We know that there has been good compliance with the provision on smoke-free workplaces. The Government will take account of that experience in considering their position in this area.

Lord Boston of Faversham

My Lords, does the Minister recall that the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, recently informed your Lordships that, ever since she had given up smoking, passive smoking had become one of her few remaining pleasures? Would the Minister do whatever he can to ensure that the noble Baroness never becomes a passive Member of your Lordships' House, because she gives us such joy and entertainment?

Lord Warner

My Lords, I am sure that any therapy that would stop the noble Baroness being a major contributor to your Lordships' debates would prove to be both unfundable and unfindable. We are always glad to have her contributions.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that some of the so-called research that demonstrates attitudes towards smoking in public places and in the hospitality industry needs to be taken with a substantial pinch of salt? A lot of that research is commissioned and paid for by the tobacco industry. Is it not the case that most responsible members of the hospitality industry are looking to the Government for a lead and would welcome a nationwide ban, provided that it applied everywhere?

Lord Warner

My Lords, we are aware that there are differences of view within the hospitality industry, just as there are among the public. That is why we are going through a process of consultation. We will take all these views into account and come forward with a White Paper in the autumn.

Lord Renton

My Lords, although I always hesitate to disagree with my noble friend Lady Trumpington, would it help the Government to know that I was a regular smoker from the age of 19 to the age of 66 when I gave it up, and that that has enabled me to live nearly 30 years longer?

Lord Warner

My Lords, the noble Lord is echoing the views expressed by Sir Richard Doll, who himself was a smoker for 19 years and who, at the age of 91, is now producing his 50-year study. He has shown conclusively that it is never too late to give up.

Lord Harris of High Cross

My Lords, would the Minister acknowledge—

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I am sorry, but we must move on to the next Question.