HC Deb 14 October 2003 vol 411 cc1-22WH

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Miss Melanie Johnson.]

9.30 am
Linda Perham (Ilford, North)

I am delighted to have secured the debate on smoking in public places, a subject about which I and many Members in both Houses care passionately.

I pay tribute at the outset to the many parliamentary colleagues who over the years have campaigned, asked questions, introduced Bills and generally badgered the Government on the matter. In particular, the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas), introduced the Smoking (Restaurants) Bill on 14 April and my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor), who chairs the all-party group on smoking and health, introduced the Protection from Smoking (Employees and Young Persons) Bill on 24 April 2001.

I thank Action on Smoking and Health, the British Heart Foundation, the British Medical Association, the Cancer Campaigning Group, the Consumers Association and Smoke Free London for their help and information on the subject and two taxi organisations, the Joint Radio Taxi Association and the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, for campaigning to allow licensed taxi drivers to designate their cabs non-smoking. Many taxi drivers—sometimes it appears all of them—live in my constituency, and I am well aware of how strong their feelings are on the issue. Unfortunately, it was not addressed in the Greater London Authority Act 1999, despite the backing of a majority of London Members of Parliament. Since then, the Greater London Assembly has held an inquiry into the subject and recommended that the appropriate legislation is changed, so that London taxi drivers have the right to work without the threat of smoke fumes.

Will the Minister and, perhaps, colleagues from other Departments make a commitment to review the report led by my colleague Jennette Arnold in the Greater London Assembly to see whether taxis can be brought into line with other forms of public transport, on which smoking is banned?

I have personal reasons for feeling strongly about the issue. I was a victim of childhood asthma and grew up in the 1950s, when my parents and almost everyone else, including people who came to the house, smoked. My condition was made worse by the culture that started with 1930s films, which I believe is what made my parents take up the habit at the age of 14. My parents are now well into their 80s—having given up smoking some years ago, they are, I am glad to say, still going strong.

When I was a child, smoking was allowed on public transport, in workplaces, places of entertainment, restaurants and bars. Now, smoking is banned on most public transport, except, as I said, in taxis, and in cinemas and theatres. We are making progress on having smoke-free areas in the workplace and other public places.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. She, like me, is a campaigner on the issue. Does she find it frustrating that Great North Eastern Railway is introducing a new train design in the coming months that will keep the smoking facilities? That means that the whole train, which travels at 140 mph, is really a smoking train. Does not she find it odd that smoking can be banned on planes, trains and buses, but railway stations and airports are still full of smoke?

Linda Perham

My hon. Friend makes some good points. I pay tribute to his campaigning on this issue and I will mention a contribution that he has made later. There is a problem with trains. Buses, the underground and aircraft are smoke free. I remember the time before there were designated smoking areas when people could smoke on public transport. As he said, stations are also areas where people can smoke and we should deal with that problem. We are making progress, but not enough and not quickly enough to put an end to the thousands of preventable premature deaths and the contraction and exacerbation of thousands more serious illnesses affected by tobacco smoke.

"Smoking kills". That is what it says on cigarette packets. That is what smoking does to a staggering 120,000 people a year in the UK—one in five of all deaths. That costs the NHS £1.7 billion and is a personal cost not just to those who lose their lives, but to their families and friends. According to "Towards smoke-free public places", an excellent report published by the British Medical Association last November, tobacco smoke is a potent cock tail of more than 4,000 chemicals, more than 50 of which cause cancer. Second-hand smoke is now the only proven human carcinogen that is unregulated in the workplace. About 85 per cent. of second-hand smoke is invisible and odourless and is not filtered by conventional ventilation systems.

Second-hand smoke causes at least 1,000 deaths each year and presents particular difficulties to the 8 million people with lung disease, the 2.1 million with angina, the 1.3 million who have had a heart attack, the 300,000 who have had a stroke, the 750,000 pregnant women and the 5.1 million asthmatics, 1.4 million of whom are children. Returning to my own experiences, I remember a photograph taken when I was about 12. It shows me with my shoulders practically level with my ears as I fought for breath. That is partly why I feel so strongly about this issue.

Second-hand smoke puts children at increased risk not only of asthma but of lower respiratory tract illnesses, middle ear infections, sudden infant death syndrome and lower birth weight. It is also connected to reducing children's lung capacity and exercise tolerance at a time when we need to get children to exercise more because of increasing concerns about the health risks of obesity. Indeed, describing children's vulnerability to second-hand smoke, the chief medical officer's annual report 2002 states:

Children's lungs are smaller and their immune systems less developed…Children are smaller and breathe faster than adults and so take in more harmful chemicals per kg of weight than adults. Small children often have less choice than adults to leave a smoke-filled room. As for young people taking up smoking, Action on Addiction estimates that around 450 children a day—more than ever before—are embarking on the slippery slope to smoking slavery.

I come now to smoking in the workplace.

Mr. Sheerman

Before my hon. Friend moves on from children, could I pick up on one point? As Chairman of the Education and Skills Committee I have become aware of the psychological damage done to children. They are constantly told at school and on the news media about the dangers of smoking and how it will kill them and give them cancer. They go home to a smoke-filled environment and see their parents smoking. They worry that their parents will die as a result. That is a serious trauma for children.

Linda Perham

I thank my hon. Friend for making that point, which he brings from his experience of chairing the Select Committee.

In the UK, 3 million workers are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke in the workplace. Less than half of workers are employed in smoke-free workplaces. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) for securing a debate on employee health on 11 March—the eve of national no-smoking day. I had hoped to secure the debate on national no-smoking day itself, but he was fortunate to secure it on its eve. He was supported by interventions from my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron)—another tireless campaigner on the matter—and my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire, and he made a powerful case for more action to protect workers.

The all-party group on smoking and health met in April, on the eve of a conference on passive smoking in the workplace called, "Don't Choke on the Smoke". That conference was supported by ASH, the Trades Union Congress and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health. We were told that it could be calculated that, in the UK, passive smoking causes the annual deaths of more than 900 office workers, 165 bar workers and 145 manufacturing workers. In the last category, three times as many people are estimated to die from passive smoking than all other work-related deaths. Seventeen per cent. of bar workers are estimated to die from passive smoking at current exposure levels. Deaths caused by second-hand smoke among office workers add an estimated 9 per cent. to the total occupational mortality rate.

A paper published in the British Medical Journal in July 2002 entitled, "Effect of smoke-free workplaces on smoking behaviour: systematic review", found:

Totally smoke-free workplaces are associated with reductions in prevalence of smoking of 3.8 per cent.", and

3.1…fewer cigarettes smoked per day". It continued:

If all workplaces became smoke-free, consumption per capita in the entire population would drop by…7.6 per cent. in the United Kingdom". It concluded:

Smoke-free workplaces not only protect non-smokers from the dangers of passive smoking, they also encourage smokers to quit or to reduce consumption. Employers bear the costs of workers' smoking, including higher maintenance and cleaning costs, increased risk of fire damage and increased fire insurance premiums. The economic and health costs of passive smoking at work include increased absenteeism due to illness and decreased productivity, and 86 per cent. of the public are in favour of smoking restrictions in the workplace, banks and other public places.

Although the hospitality industry fears that smoking-free workplaces would be expensive, evidence shows that smoking bans do not result in decreased profits. A detailed summary of studies assessing the impact of smoking restrictions on the hospitality industry is regularly updated by the VicHealth Centre for Tobacco Control in Australia. It finds no negative effects on business.

I concede that efforts have been made recently to curb smoking in the workplace, including designating whole buildings or areas as non-smoking. The Department of Health became smoke free only on 1 April 2003 and, unfortunately, the opportunity was lost to introduce a total non-smoking policy in our new building, Portcullis House. I was one of three Labour Members on the Accommodation and Works Committee to vote for that in 2000. Unfortunately we were defeated by the narrowest of margins. That was a great pity. A message could have been sent to the country at large that the new parliamentary building would be smoke free, but we did not take that chance.

Mr. Sheerman

Will my hon. Friend confirm that those of us with offices in Portcullis House were never consulted on that decision? As I understand it—I would like us to nail this one if we can—there was a meeting at which a no-smoking policy was approved, but the meeting was then reorganised, new people attended and the decision was reversed.

Linda Perham

I can speak only from experience on the Committee of which I was a member. It was argued that hon. Members could not be prevented from smoking in their own offices and therefore we could not enforce a total ban. However, there are total bans in other places and I think that, with a brand-new showpiece building, the chance should have been taken to make people aware that we are serious about the message that smoking should not be acceptable in public places.

Mr. Sheerman

We were not consulted.

Linda Perham

I think that that was probably the case. I do not remember my Committee going to every hon. Member on this issue. I can really remember only the discussions that we had in Committee, but the situation is extremely disappointing.

Some restaurants and pubs are introducing smoke-free areas or banning smoking completely. Pizza Hut did so recently. I shall mention some restaurants and pubs in my local area that are taking a lead. An Italian restaurant in Gants Hill called Don Pietro's has a completely separate non-smoking area, which is extremely popular. I spoke to the owner and manager last week to congratulate them on their initiative and to say that I would mention them in the debate. The JD Wetherspoon chain operates a public house in Barkingside called the Fairlop Oak. I do not agree with the views of its chairman, Tim Martin, on the euro, but I applaud his initiative to provide non-smoking areas in his pubs.

Our local health services have done a great deal towards attacking the problem of smoking. There is a smoking cessation service, with which my parliamentary assistant has been involved, with some success. A scheme was set up in May 2002 to help pregnant women to give up smoking. Each year in my London borough of Redbridge, 960 babies are born to women smokers. There are 40 community advisers across the boroughs of Redbridge and Waltham Forest. In April this year, the "Together" initiative was the first of its kind designed to support smokers at key stages in the giving up process.

Two years ago, Smoke Free London's British Market Research Bureau social research led a spokesperson from the then health authority in my area to say:

Cancer is the 2nd biggest killer in this area. Banning smoking in public buildings would help reduce this figure". Research shows that three quarters of residents in Redbridge and Waltham Forest want mainly smoke-free pubs. More than 96 per cent. want smoking restrictions in restaurants and cafés. Another figure from this local survey is that 90 per cent. would agree with a move towards a complete ban in hospitals. The figures are 76 per cent. for sports and leisure centres and 68 per cent. for shopping centres. Furthermore, 95 per cent. agreed that taxi and minicab drivers should have the right to a smoke-free environment.

Voluntary measures are not enough. An increasing number of other countries are forging ahead of the UK in their determination to protect the public from the dangers of environmental tobacco smoke. Closest to home, Ireland will ban smoking in all workplaces from 1 January 2004. Legislation for smoke-free places has been successfully introduced, or is about to be introduced, in Australia, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, Finland, Norway, South Africa, Hong Kong, Romania and Kashmir, and in more than 100 cities in the United States.

Last year, my daughter was in San Francisco as part of her American studies degree, and my husband and I went out to visit her. It was a delight to know that we could go out for the evening in San Francisco and find a restaurant in which no one would be blowing smoke over us during the meal. It made me think how nice it would be if that were the case in the UK.

In July, the European Union Health Commissioner, David Byrne, proposed a ban on workplace smoking, referring to the fact that more than 500,000 EU citizens die of tobacco-related diseases each year. The Welsh Assembly passed a motion on 22 January in favour of the principle of legal restrictions to control exposure to tobacco smoke in indoor public places.

What should the Government do? In one of its calls for action in 2003, the Cancer Campaigning Group, which consists of 20 national cancer charities, calls on the Government to introduce effective legislation to create smoke-free public places. In the UK, no single piece of legislation pi-Meets against passive smoking in public places or the workplace. Governments have sought to control exposure to second-hand smoke through a series of voluntary measures. However, current UK health and safety law offers no explicit protection from the health effects of second-hand smoke.

Five long years ago, in the 1998 White Paper entitled "Smoking Kills", the Government recognised that hundreds of people die every year in the UK as a result of high levels of exposure to passive smoke. They also recognised that smoke-free areas offer the best protection and agreed that completely smoke-free places were the ideal.

However, the White Paper did not advocate an outright ban on smoking in public places, but focused on making progress through voluntary measures. Those measures included the tobacco education programme, which was launched in December 1999, and support for helping smokers to quit and to prevent children, in particular, from starting. More recently, funding has been provided for raising awareness of the dangers of second-hand smoke, working with Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation. The British Medical Association proposes a new tax on all tobacco company profits to fund public awareness campaigns on the health risks of passive smoking.

The White Paper proposed two initiatives: the public places charter for clean air, aimed at the hospitality trade, and the introduction of an approved code of practice on smoking in the workplace. The public places charter was introduced in March 2000, and is a voluntary agreement between the Department of Health and the licensed hospitality industry. However, since its introduction, the proportion of smoke-free premises has increased only from 1 to 2 per cent.

The approved code of practice would provide legal guidance to employers on the steps that they should take to comply with their duties under the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974, which is the principal legislation that covers smoking in the workplace. The code would have a special status under the law—it would not be an offence not to comply with the code, but a code could be introduced as evidence in a prosecution. Compliance with the code would offer some legal protection to employers against claims that they had failed to protect employees from passive smoking.

Considerable effort was put into drafting the code. Yet, despite the Government consultation on it having been completed in 1999 and the Health and Safety Commission recommending its adoption after a further consultation in spring 2000, it has yet to receive final approval, in the face of continuing pressure from Members of both Houses. The code falls far short of legislation to ban smoking in public places, but it goes some way to protecting public health. I call on the Government to publish the approved code of practice together with the regulatory impact assessment produced at the time, which I understand provides the economic background for implementing such a code.

Mr. Sheerman

Many of us are worried not only that the code has taken so long hut that international experience shows that voluntary agreements and codes do not work. From 1997, this Government have been timid, timid, timid on this issue—that has been their watchword. When does my hon. Friend think that they will take action to protect people in public places and workers in their workplace?

Linda Perham

That is why I mentioned the initiatives hat have been taken in other countries. I carefully read the report of my hon. Friend's debate from March in preparing for today, and, like now, he did not mince his words in calling for the Government to implement the code, as many Members of both Houses have done in the three and a half years that the process has taken. That is partly why I wanted today's debate—to move the agenda along.

We want to see the code in place. I was involved in campaigning on age discrimination, the result of which was the introduction of a code on age diversity. However, as we know, the problem with voluntary codes is that some people and organisations always say, "Well, it's only voluntary, so I don't have to do anything." The worst must be brought up to the level of the best. Once such a code is in place, if sufficient progress is not made I hope that the Government will consider legislation.

As well as record investment in our health services, the Government have achieved a great deal to promote public health issues, including banning tobacco advertising last year and establishing the first ever post of Minister responsible for public health—my hon. Friend the Minister has recently been appointed to that post. I urge her and her Government colleagues not to drag their feet in working towards enabling the people of this country to live, work and enjoy themselves without suffering the scourge of smoke in public places.

9.58 am
Mrs. Patsy Calton (Cheadle)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Linda Perham) on securing what both the Liberal Democrat party and I consider a very important Adjournment debate. I congratulate her on the quality, number and range of arguments, because the debate is worthy of wide dissemination. I hope that it will not be disregarded because it is the first Adjournment debate after the recess although so few Members have turned up for it. Far more would have turned up had they been aware well in advance that it was going to take place. Even yesterday, notice was given only on a separate sheet rather than on the advance warning blue papers. It is a pity that more Members are not present.

We are in a transition stage in dealing with smoking as a public health issue and people's perception of it. Smokers and the public at large are finding that their attitudes are changing, and slowly—perhaps much too slowly—subjecting others to smoke is becoming as unacceptable as drinking and driving. Successive Governments have managed to produce a change in the attitudes, particularly of young people, towards drinking and driving. The same job needs to be done with smoking in public places and elsewhere. I hasten to add that I am not arguing that legislation is unnecessary, and I shall come to that in a minute.

There is now no doubt that smoking kills. Smoking is linked with a range of cancers besides lung cancer. There is no doubt too that passive smoking kills and worsens a range of illnesses and conditions such as asthma and heart disease. There is no doubt that giving up smoking is the single most important thing that any individual can do to improve not only their quality of life but their life chances after doing so. Furthermore, smoke makes people's eyes smart, offends the olfactory organ and destroys quality of life. Providing information about the likely disbenefits, such as low birth weight, is accepted practice with pregnant mothers, and was 20-odd years ago when I was pregnant for the first time. I gave up at the time, as I had smoked for 10 years. Giving up was so difficult that I determined that I would never smoke again; I have not and will not do so. That is why I have a view about why people fight so hard to maintain their ability to smoke whenever and wherever they wish: quite simply, they are addicted, as I was, and are under the influence of a drug that is very difficult to be rid of. That is not true of everybody—some people give up more easily than others—but large numbers of people find it very difficult. I suspect that some of our colleagues are among them.

It is now standard practice that pregnant mothers, and mothers and fathers of young children, are given information that makes it clear that their children may well suffer if they are exposed to cigarette smoke, either in the womb or by being in the presence of smoking. I do not think that we can accept that such information should be available yet not take steps to ensure that children are not exposed. If we know that children are at risk, we should ensure that that risk is lessened in every situation that we can. Low birth weight—one of the factors associated with pregnant women smoking—is also a risk factor for lower achievement at school. Children are being put at risk for the whole of their lives because their mothers smoke. Everything that can be done to encourage people to give up smoking and not to expose themselves to passive smoking should be done to improve both public health and children's individual life chances and quality of life from the word go.

Mr. Sheerman

The hon. Lady is making some extremely good points and speaks compassionately. Does she agree that those of us who hate smoking and campaign on smoking too often come over as do-gooders who know best, and who hector and lecture people? Those who are addicted to tobacco have a severe form of addiction and sometimes that is the wrong approach to the problem.

Mrs. Calton

I agree that reformed smokers are often regarded as public enemy No. 1. As the hon. Gentleman says, we are regarded as do-gooders. I prefer to think of smokers as victims and when I listen to people who, for whatever reason, began smoking and then found it extremely difficult to give up, I think in terms of the drug speaking rather than themselves. It is best to regard people who put up such a fight for their right to pollute the atmosphere as victims of a very addictive substance that is extremely difficult for them to get away from.

Case law—Stockport had a famous case a few years ago—indicates that employers are liable if they fail to take action to reduce the risk of workers developing illnesses because of exposure to smoke. Those cases are rarely brought to court because they are expensive and extremely difficult to prove. The code of practice, as we heard from the hon. Member for Ilford, North, has taken a long time to implement, and it is time for it to be finally approved.

The code of practice should be approved for the workplace not only outside the House but inside it. Hon. Members should be consulted. Early-day motion 866 provided a form of consultation and won considerable support from Members, but it is important that they are given the opportunity to make their views clear. Hon. Members should be able to take a lead in designating smoke-free areas and environments.

Many workers are not adequately protected from smoking in enclosed spaces and—this has been mentioned—the public have little or no protection apart from smoke-free areas, which are often next to and influenced by smokers' areas.

I applaud Virgin trains, although few people will hear its users do so. Its timekeeping has improved quite a lot in the past few years and it insists on a smoke-free environment. Like several north-west MPs, I travel up and down on its trains most weeks, and now that smoking is not allowed anywhere on its trains the environment is much improved. I applaud it for banning smoking and for reminding people that they should not smoke on its trains. The issue affects not only those of us with chest infections; the journey is more pleasant and the carriages are not nearly as dirty as they were when smoking was allowed. That is another important issue.

The Liberal Democrats are developing policy in that area. I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Ilford, North tell us about taxi drivers. In fact, the Liberal Democrats used to have only one policy on smoking. At one party conference—I cannot remember which—we decided to ban smoking in taxis. I hasten to add—before anyone else says anything—that that may have been at the time when the whole parliamentary party could have fitted into one taxi, but we live in happier times and we certainly could not all fit into one now.

Liberal Democrats have a health policy paper out for consultation. Smoking is in the prevention of poor health section and we are looking for comments on it. When the paper goes before the party at its conference next spring, we will have extensive, possibly heated, debate about whether it is liberal to ban smoking in enclosed public spaces. No doubt some organisations would support a heated debate given that they believe that they would lose business. As the hon. Lady said, however, the evidence does not support that argument; it supports the argument that making an environment smoke free does not reduce business.

Clearly, in these circumstances I cannot say what our party will do when it makes its decision at conference. I have made my position absolutely clear. I would welcome a ban in enclosed public spaces. That is my position, until we have party policy on the matter. I will try to influence the outcomes, but one can never tell about such things.

A number of countries, and states and cities in the United States, have already introduced legislation to ban smoking in restaurants, cafés and bars without, as I understand it, any particular ill effects. Such bans probably contribute to smokers being put in an environment in which it is less and less acceptable to smoke, and must make it easier for them to give up.

Personally, I would ban smoking from all enclosed public spaces, but, as has regularly been pointed out to me, there is no one as sanctimonious as a reformed smoker. I do not believe that people who are addicted to a drug with lethal side effects should be allowed to determine the quality of the environment

10.10 am
Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell)

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Linda Perham) on having secured the debate and kicked off our return this autumn. I am sure that this debate should be thought about in terms of quality, not quantity. This is a valuable opportunity to discuss what I have no doubt will be one of the most important areas of public health debate in the months and years ahead, whatever one's perspective may be.

We have also heard from the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), who has carried out extensive work on the matter through his Select Committee role, and from the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mrs. Calton). I do not doubt that she speaks with great sincerity, although I am not entirely certain how the Liberal Democrat spokesman can avoid speaking for her party in a debate such as this. I await the results of her conclusions with interest.

Mrs. Calton

May I help the hon. Gentleman? It may seem strange, but, in our party, policy is made and confirmed by the party and not by spokespeople. In the absence of written policy, the party will make a decision. Perhaps that is not so in all parties.

Chris Grayling

We shall wait with interest to see what comes out of that exercise, but I want to be slightly more clear-cut this morning.

I shall start by setting out some principles that underlie my contribution. I have a lot of sympathy with the sentiments that have been set out this morning. Smoking is a fundamental health issue in our society. In an ideal world, no one would smoke. All those involved in public health education—in whatever capacity they serve and in all the different ways in which that takes place in our society—should see reducing the number of smokers as a core aim. That is unequivocal. I strongly believe that people who do not want to be exposed to cigarette smoke—I am one of them—should not be forced into a situation in which they are so exposed. I shall touch on that in particular in relation to the workplace.

There is a caveat, and those of us who hold strong views about smoking need to remember one crucial point. Smoking is a legally accepted practice in our society, whether we like it or not, and the provision of adequate protection for those who do not want to smoke must be balanced, reasonably, against the interests of those who do. We cannot just forget smokers, even though those who do not like smoking would perhaps sometimes like to do so. Nowhere is that point brought into starker relief than in the debate about whether we should ban smoking in public places, and, particularly, in the debate oil the impact of passive smoking.

In recent weeks both the British Medical Association and the chief medical officer have made contributions and issued warnings about the threat to public health from passive smoking. Some places, such as New York, have decided to take action against passive smoking by banning smoking in public places altogether. Most recently, the Commissioner in Brussels indicated that he is reviewing the issue. I fundamentally disagree that this is a matter for the Commission and very much hope that the Minister and her colleagues will ensure that the interest taken by Brussels is stamped on quickly. This is a matter for national Governments—for her and her colleagues, and their counterparts in other countries—not a Europe-wide issue. The Minister and her colleagues may not be able to resist the pressure, but their counterparts in France very likely will.

The arguments tend to focus strongly on health, and clearly the debate about the health implications of passive smoking is important. However, it is not always easy for politicians to be protagonists in such a debate, because we are not experts or scientists. Like everyone else, we amass and analyse evidence from those who bring professional expertise to the debate. I do not want to take one side or the other in the argument about the specific health implications of passive smoking. It is not necessary to do so, because the matter is clear-cut beyond purely the health situation. The issue is about balancing the freedom of individuals not to suffer unwanted exposure to cigarette smoke against the interest of not turning those people who want to smoke into pariahs in our society.

I wish to be absolutely clear this morning, first and foremost, that I do not want people to smoke and to inconvenience others when they are out and about. However, I do not in any way support a blanket ban on smoking in public places. That may seem slightly odd, coming from someone who is not a smoker, who does not like smoking and who wishes it would disappear. Such a ban would be impossible to define in a legally sound and fair way, and it would create anomalies that my colleagues and I could not personally defend. I shall give some examples.

I intensely dislike smoke-filled pubs and restaurants. I have sat in restaurants wishing that the people smoking at the next table would leave. If one is not a smoker, it is not pleasant while eating a meal to be exposed to smoke from someone sitting at the next table who is.

Mrs. Calton

Surely, it is not just that that is not pleasant. The people in the next seat who are blowing smoke over are passing on something that could kill. It is not just unpleasant; it is lethal. Usually, people are not allowed to do things next to others that are likely to cause ill health or, possibly, death at a later date.

Chris Grayling

Obviously, the hon. Lady was not listening to what I said a moment ago. Because politicians are not experts, we are not always best qualified to indulge in the fierce health debate that is taking place at present, and we do not need to. Even if passive smoking turned out not to be a health threat—I am not suggesting that it is not—the debate is more fundamental. Clearly, someone who suffers from asthma or lung problems has a right to sit in a restaurant and not have someone smoking at the next table.

Mr. Sheerman

What is worrying me is that it is taking a long time for the hon. Gentleman to find the courage to say where he and his party stand. People who work in restaurants, pubs and clubs are very vulnerable, and that is particularly true of those who really are at the edge, in rooms where there is constantly a great deal of smoke day after day, year after year. Why should that group of workers be subjected to poisonous fumes that will affect their health and do them great damage? Surely, this is not just about the inconvenience to the hon. Gentleman of going to a restaurant and having someone smoke at the next table.

Chris Grayling

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish my remarks, I will come on to the workplace. Let me deal initially with whether there should be a blanket ban on smoking in public places.

Are we going to make it illegal for someone who owns a bar or restaurant to target their venue specifically at smokers? Will it be illegal for one pub in a high street in which most of the pubs and restaurants have banned smoking to be a smokers' pub? That would be the problem if we introduced a blanket ban. We would be saying, "It is illegal for you to have a pub specifically targeted at smokers." I do not believe that that is sustainable, nor is it justifiable in the context of human rights.

I hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but are we going to make it illegal for a rail company, private or public, to decide that it wants to make one sealed or unsealed compartment on its train an area designated for smokers? And in the natural correlation of that, are we going to make it illegal for an airport to provide a smoking room in a passenger terminal? I do not believe that that is sustainable.

How do we define a public place? If people smoke in a park, is that a public space? Are we talking about indoors or outdoors? Are we concerned with arenas where people are getting together for sporting events? What about a deck on a cross-channel ferry, a cliff-top walk on National Trust land or the platform of a railway station which is partly under a canopy and partly open? A law on the matter would be impractical to define and draft, unworkable and probably unenforceable. It is the wrong way of tackling a very important problem.

Mr. Sheerman

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that we have one of the most sophisticated and advanced democracies in the world? That is what we always tell ourselves. Other countries have grappled with the issue, come to a balanced decision and banned smoking in public places. With common sense and good legislation, that works. Is he saying that this democracy cannot manage to do that?

Chris Grayling

I am saying that it is not possible to draft a law that is just, fair and practical. However, although I think that a blanket ban would be impractical and wrong in principle, that does not mean that I do not recognise the importance of the issue, or that I do not want action to be taken to protect people.

I would be much happier for the Government to focus their attention on employee protection in the workplace, which I regard as a fundamental issue of rights. With the one caveat that I shall come to in a moment—the entertainment industry—smoking in the workplace is a difficulty that we need to address. I do not see why employees should be forced to sit in a workplace exposed to cigarette smoke day in, day out, when they do not want to do so. They should not feel that to complain about such a position, or to take action, would be to jeopardise their position. That would be fundamentally wrong.

Of course, most responsible employers now operate perfectly reasonable policies that provide space for smokers away from main working areas. I do not like the concept of a large office building with a total ban, which means that anyone who wants to smoke ends up in the car park or the street. There is nothing more unedifying than walking past an office building and seeing a group of people outside on the doorstep smoking. There is nothing wrong with providing a smoking environment that is entirely separate from the main workplace where people can go during the day to have a cigarette if they choose to do so. Frankly, I wish that they would not use that space, but it is wrong for employers not to provide that opportunity.

Not all employers do provide such a space, and that is to be regretted. Sometimes that is through choice, and sometimes it is because of practical difficulties. In too many places, such as small minicab offices, firms of half a dozen people or behind the scenes in the local corner shop, the employee who does not smoke has little choice but to put up with the smoke of colleagues. In my view that is neither fair nor just. There are grey areas, such as the hospitality industry where public pleasure and the working environment go hand in hand, and they are much more difficult to deal with. I shall talk more about that in a moment.

I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Ilford, North. Employment protection seems to be an area on which the Government have put their head in the sand during the past four years. It is four years since the Health and Safety Commission published its draft approved code of practice, and interestingly it said then that there was already sufficient health and safety and welfare law that could be applied to the question of passive smoking. What is needed is for the law to be better understood and followed. It said that the case for more law is not yet convincing because the existing legal framework is sufficient to deal with the issue. We need greater clarification to help employees to understand their rights and employers to understand their responsibilities, and to create the right framework for managing smoking in and around the workplace.

It is extraordinary that the draft approved code of practice is still sitting on the shelf. I have read it, and it is not perfect. It is too bureaucratic and focuses too much on employers drafting policy documents rather than on doing things. It also fails to reflect the fact that the entertainment industry is a genuinely special case.

Do the Government think that there should be an approved code of practice? If they do, let us see a document based on what they believe to be the next step after the initial draft document. Do they believe, as the Health and Safety Commission put it, that the law should be better understood and followed? Why has the code of practice sat on the shelf for so long? There is no justification for that—I would be fascinated to hear the Minister's justification.

I want to make it clear that although I may have an issue with the practicality of a total blanket ban, we should not put employees in a position where they must be exposed to cigarette smoke. This is a question of fundamental rights. It is very easy to discuss smokers' rights; let us discuss the non-smokers' rights. Why should people be exposed to cigarette smoke in the workplace if they do riot want to be? Of course, nothing is ever that easy. The leisure and entertainment industry is a particular challenge. It has advanced a robust case that it is working to improve the particular difficulties that it faces in protecting employees from passive smoking. Some people say that those efforts have not gone far enough.

The public places charter, which I have read, is a desirable step forward, as the hon. Member for Ilford, North acknowledged. She highlighted the fact that JD Wetherspoon has introduced non-smoking policies in parts of its pubs in her constituency, which is entirely desirable. Step by step, public pressure will make it less commercially viable for organisations to run big, smoke-filled pubs, as they have done in the past.

Can we, however, really reach a situation in which a blanket ban is imposed? I would be mighty reluctant to see us impose an absolute ban on anyone deciding that either part or all of their premises—a private venue—should be designated a smoking area. That approach would be questionable.

Mr. Sheerman

Does the hon. Gentleman not recognise the deep flaw in his argument? He does not want a blanket ban—people who support a blanket ban always worry me because they use it as an excuse for not thinking the issue through clearly. If he does not want a blanket ban, however, what are the implications for protecting workers in public places? If one is serious about protecting workers in public places, that must include pubs, bars, restaurants, clubs, railway stations and trains. If the health of workers is to be protected, smoking cannot occur in any of those places. The hon. Gentleman cannot have his cake and eat it.

Chris Grayling

I fully accept that. As I said, nothing is ever that easy. However, it is not sustainable to say to somebody who owns a pub, "You may not position yourself in the high street as the smoking pub."

When I examined the detail of the public places charter, I realised that it does not contain solutions to all the problems or go far enough on all the issues. It is, however, a positive step forward. It is definitely a foundation from which the industry and the Department of Health—it has been signed by both sides—can try to find solutions to a difficult and complicated problem. Although those on the anti side of the argument are wrong to dismiss it, it is not the only acceptable way forward. It is, however, a valuable next step in the debate. I accept the hon. Gentleman's point that the entertainment industry is a difficult issue in what is otherwise a broad-brush picture in which the issues are fairly clear.

Smoking in public places is often a nuisance, it has potential health implications and it should be reduced wherever possible. That is happening. Smoking has disappeared in airlines, on buses, on the London underground and in many public buildings around the country. It is in the hands of the whole public sector, which controls a significant number of public venues around the country, voluntarily to decide to make those areas smoke free in the same way that airlines and the London underground have. They have taken those decisions because that is what their passengers want.

There is already substantial proof that fewer and fewer organisations and people are willing to tolerate cigarette smoke in areas where smokers and non-smokers mix. However, I do not believe that a draconian Bill to ban by law any public venue from specifically targeting smokers would be workable or right. It would be hard to define in legal terms and almost impossible to enforce. Smoking is still a legal activity in this country. We should not go down that road.

By contrast, the Government's inactivity in the debate on employee protection in the workplace represents a real failing on their part. There is no rational reason for them to have taken four years to resolve whether there should be an approved code of practice. Does the Minister plan to bring forward a revised code for debate? Does she think that there is a stronger case for employee rights? What does she plan to do to address smoking in the workplace, an issue that the Government seem to have forgotten since 1999? That is where there is the most pressing need for immediate work to be done. Sadly, I see no evidence that the Government are doing that work.

I agree with many of the sentiments expressed by hon. Members this morning, but, as a society, we have to find a balance between proper and appropriate public health measures and draconian measures that ultimately remove the freedom to undertake activities even in isolation from others. That is what a draconian Bill could do. Let us see action to define employers' and employees' responsibilities and rights in the workplace. Let us encourage, by whatever means possible, those who provide public venues to continue to segregate and to provide spaces, protection and smoke-free environments wherever possible—but let us not, ultimately, be draconian in how we instruct our society to behave.

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

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Alford, North (Linda Perham) on securing this Adjournment debate. It is clear from the quality of the contributions that this is an important debate. I entirely accept that had it not been the first debate today it might have attracted a much greater attendance. I reassure my hon. Friend and other hon. Members that I am not concerned about the lack of people here. I know that this is an important debate that contributes to a wider public discussion on the dangers of tobacco smoke. It is a valuable reminder of the need to tackle those dangers.

In the hour that this debate has taken so far, more than 13 people in the United Kingdom have died from smoking. We must remember that all these discussions take place in that context. The vast majority of those people have died from smoking directly, but that is not to belittle the contribution that secondary smoking makes. It is also important to recognise that half all smokers will die of a smoking-related disease. This is an enormously important matter.

The debate gives the Government an opportunity to say what we have been doing to raise awareness of the health dangers of second-hand smoke and to reduce the risk to smokers and all those around them. Smoking kills more people than any other avoidable cause of ill health in the UK. There are 120,000 deaths, as has already been said, and the cost to the NHS of such diseases is £1.7 billion a year. Smoking causes more than 80 per cent. of deaths from lung cancer, and one in seven of all deaths from coronary heart disease is the result of smoking. Tobacco smoke is probably the biggest single cause of health inequalities because it affects not only those who smoke but those exposed to it.

There are many reasons why smoking has been, and continues to be, a top priority for the Government since we came to office in 1997. One of the first things we did was to launch the White Paper "Smoking Kills", which outlined a tobacco control strategy for the country as a whole. It has been echoed in subsequent documents such as the NHS plan, the cancer plan, the national service framework for coronary heart disease, the national service framework for children and others. The cancer plan recognised the major health inequalities that result from smoking and set specific targets to reduce its prevalence among manual workers to bring their smoking rates closer to those in the general population.

I want to say something about the nature of those who are addicted to smoking tobacco and the fact that 70 per cent. of them do not want to smoke. In respect of all the comments made about the evangelism of reformed smokers and about where people are coming from on the issue, we must remember that the vast majority of those who suffer from this serious addiction do not wish to smoke. We have therefore set targets to reduce smoking rates in the population, focusing particularly on young people and pregnant smokers. The targets take into account the impact of tobacco smoke, not only on the health of the smoker, but on those around them. Reducing smoking in the general population will reduce exposure to second-hand or passive smoking.

In June, the Government signed up to the World Health Organisation's framework convention on tobacco control. The framework convention is an international legal agreement agreed unanimously by the 192 member countries of the World Health Assembly. The convention covers all aspects of tobacco control and makes a specific recommendation that action be taken to provide for protection from exposure to tobacco smoke. It is the Government's aim to increase provision of smoke-free or non-smoking areas.

On smoking in public places, the Government have always recognised that completely smoke-free places are the ideal. Seven out of 10 smokers do not want to smoke and many people do not want to breathe the smoke of others. Furthermore, many smokers do not want to breathe other people's tobacco smoke. At the time of "Smoking Kills", the Government took the view that a universal ban on smoking in public places was unjustified while we could make fast and substantial progress by other means.

Mr. Sheerman

We all recognise that this Labour Government have very good intentions on the matter, but it is 2003 and we have been in office since 1997. We have had a succession of Under-Secretaries of State for Health and my hon. Friend knows that I have the highest regard for her as a politician and as a Minister. This is an opportunity for her to make her name as the one public health minister anyone will remember for taking a really tough stand on the issue. I hope that she will not make excuses, but will tell us why there has not been much concrete action so far.

Miss Johnson

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's kind remarks and his desire that I should be remembered for achievement on this matter. I disagree with his recollection of the achievements of my predecessors, which are considerable. In the course of dealing with some specific matters, I hope to reply to his remarks.

On smoking in taxis, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North, the Department for Transport consulted nationally in 1999–2000 and in March 2001 announced that it recognised the merits of banning smoking in taxis, but that it did not consider the case to be strong enough to make a commitment to legislate. It was satisfied that the voluntary approach of drivers being able to ask passengers not to smoke—in other words, to make the decision per cab—was adequate.

Chris Grayling

I am on the side of Labour Members on this point. It is not always easy for a minicab driver picking up a group of drunken revellers on a Saturday night to persuade them not to smoke. Does the Minister accept that the voluntary code brings with it some serious shortcomings?

Miss Johnson

If I were a taxi driver picking up a group of drunken revellers late at night, I would probably be concerned about other things that could go wrong, but forgive me if I do not elucidate.

Linda Perham

The problem is that taxi drivers feel that they do not have the force of the law behind them. As hon. Members will have seen, many cabs carry a sign saying "Thank you for not smoking", but drivers do not feel that that can be enforced. Rather than a ban, they want the choice to designate their cabs as smoking or non-smoking. They cannot do that at the moment and they feel that an opportunity was missed during the passage of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 as such a provision could have been introduced. That is why they continue to campaign.

Miss Johnson

I understand my hon. Friend's arguments. They appear to be matters for the Department for Transport, although I can report on the current state of play. I have travelled in many taxis in which smoking is banned by the choice of the taxi driver. As a non-smoker I can tell whether someone has smoked recently in the cabs by the smell, and most cabs have remained smoke free. There is scope, but I understand my hon. Friend's point about some cab drivers' anxiety.

Children and smoking was the starting point for my hon. Friend's interest in the subject. Teenage smoking is one of the greatest challenges that we face and 82 per cent. of smokers start the habit when they are teenagers. We have taken many measures to tackle teenage smoking, including banning tobacco advertising—something that the previous Government consistently refused to do—and introducing tough enforcement on underage sales. From 13 September 2000, the Government launched an enforcement protocol with local authorities to ensure that existing legislation on underage sales was properly enforced. That is monitored by trading standards officials from time to time. The Government also support proof-of-age card schemes that protect shopkeepers and children alike, and there are tougher new restrictions on the siting of cigarette vending machines, which must be located in a monitored and supervised area.

My hon. Friend also spoke about the effects of passive smoking in the home. In 2002, the International Agency for Research on Cancer conducted an extensive review of the evidence. It concluded:

There is sufficient evidence that involuntary smoking (exposure to second-hand or environmental tobacco smoke) causes lung cancer in humans. The overall conclusion was that involuntary smoking is carcinogenic to humans, and the agency is the accepted world authority on carcinogenic risks.

Second-hand smoke exposure causes lung cancer and ischemic heart disease. It also causes serious respiratory illness and asthmatic attacks in children, as my hon. Friend said, and second-hand smoke exposure triples the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. Middle ear disease in children is often associated with exposure to smoke, which also causes pregnant women to give birth to lower birth weight children.

Mr. Sheerman

Although my hon. Friend is expounding a brilliant set of facts, we still have a Government who refuse to ban smacking and smoking in pre-school nursery settings. We have the information, and if we believe it we should surely deliver on it. Campaigners within the Chamber and outside are waiting for her to explain what will be done to protect children and workers in particular, since they are at the forefront of the battle.

Miss Johnson

I will deal with some of my hon. Friend's points shortly. I have the luxury of a little time and I am trying to use it as constructively as possible. I am sure that I will not satisfy him on all those points, but I will come to them.

I will deal with the workplace as that has particularly concerned my hon. Friend, as shown in his recent remarks. The point was made that public opinion is in a transitional state on smoking in confined public spaces—not open spaces but all others—and that is correct. There is a shift in public opinion to banning smoking, but also a division of view among both smokers and non-smokers.

When the subject arose in a recent discussion, I was struck by the fact that some trade unions, such as Amicus, whose job it is to protect workers, circulated material arguing against a ban on smoking in workplaces, particularly in the entertainment industry, due to a concern about jobs. That is no reason for the Government not to introduce a ban, but some people who might be expected to argue strongly for it are not doing so.

Mr. Sheermanindicated dissem.

Miss Johnson

My hon. Friend is shaking his head but I do not know why.

Mr. Sheerman

I am a member of the union that the Minister just mentioned and I spoke at a recent conference held by the TUC on the matter. The trade union movement has dealt slowly and poorly with that aspect of workers' rights. However, as we both know, in the TUC and across the trade union movement, change is coming fast. If she is not aware of that, she should be. I have not seen the material that she mentioned, but will take it up with the general secretary at Amicus as soon as I leave this Chamber.

Miss Johnson

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's remarks. I suggested that there is a transition in all public opinion and that includes the trade unions.

Existing legal requirements on employers in the workplace come under the scope of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974, which states:

It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safely and welfare at work of all of his employees. If we are to ensure protection against second-hand smoke in public places, there must be action nationally and locally both to raise awareness of the risks associated with passive smoking and to increase the prevalence of smoke-free environments. The Department of Health will continue to encourage the development of smoke-free policies, working with both employers and communities.

Locally, the Department funds tobacco control alliances across England to work in communities to raise awareness and increase the number of smoke-free environments. Findings from those projects will inform the development of the Department's work. The Department of Health will, in addition to existing action, develop educational and information resources to raise awareness and understanding of the risks associated with passive smoking.

In that context, the Government are still considering the code of practice and I understand hon. Members' frustration. However, the Health and Safety Executive has been asked to examine the costs further, as they affect the small business and hospitality sector.

Chris Grayling

The Government have taken a long time to consider the issue—when will they stop?

Miss Johnson

That is not entirely under my control, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that I acknowledge that the process has gone on for some time. It would be good to conclude the discussions, but the time scale is not under my control—it involves parts of the Government over which I have no say.

Linda Perham

I think that my hon. Friend's argument about small business was also advanced in a colleague's reply to a debate secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) in March. I mentioned the problems that employers have with insurance premiums—the risk of fire and so forth—because of people smoking. I hope that not only small businesses but all businesses will regard attacking the problem of smoking as an opportunity as far as health and safety is concerned, not as yet another bit of red tape.

Miss Johnson

I share my hon. Friend's enthusiasm for the approach that might be taken and I agree with her remarks.

The public places charter—a hospitality industry-led initiative—declared an intention to improve facilities for non-smoking customers and for pubs and restaurants to highlight their smoking policy through universal signage. That was mentioned by several hon. Members, not least my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North in her opening remarks. The charter set the target that, by January 2003, 50 per cent. of pubs should have a formal smoking policy in place and available to customers. However, an independent validation showed that by January only 43 per cent. of pubs had the appropriate signage in place, which could mean that smoking is allowed throughout, and a formal written policy available to customers. That obviously fell short of our target. Most pubs still have smoking throughout and only a handful are entirely smoke-free. That is not satisfactory progress.

Later this month, officials from the Department will meet the charter group, which is responsible for the charter, and will consider any positive suggestions for improving health. As more companies recognise the health benefits for their staff and customers of becoming smoke free they will follow suit, but it is true that more motivation and enthusiasm need to be engendered in some to make the progress that is right and proper.

The Government acknowledge that much needs to be done in tackling smoking, but we have an excellent record of doing so—a record that is recognised worldwide. We have put in place a number of measures that have an impact on smoking. We have set up a comprehensive support service for smokers to help the 70 per cent. who want to quit. Cessation aids such as nicotine replacement therapy are available on the national health service. There are dedicated helplines for all smokers, for pregnant smokers and for south Asian tobacco users. The NHS stop smoking service is designed to help smokers to give up with expert professional support.

Among the measures having an impact is the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002, which brought to an end billboard, newspaper and magazine advertising of tobacco products. From the end of July this year, virtually all sponsorship featuring tobacco products had gone.

In July, we launched the UK's first television campaign to raise public awareness of the health risks from second-hand smoke. It is estimated that 42 per cent. of children live in a house where at least one person smokes and that approximately one third of smokers—more than 4 million people—continue to smoke near children. Smoking near children is linked to cot death, serious respiratory illnesses, asthma attacks and serious breathing problems. As the advert says, every year thousands of children have to go to hospital because of breathing other people's cigarette smoke.

The advert is the first step in a campaign to increase awareness of the risks of second-hand smoke not only to children, but to everyone. We have followed it with more information, newspaper advertisements and billboards highlighting the risks. In addition, the new, larger health warnings on cigarette packets, which became compulsory at the end of September, include the messages: "Smoking harms you and those around you", "Protect children: don't make them breathe your smoke" and "Smoke contains benzene, nitrosamines, formaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide."

We aim to raise awareness of the health risks from second-hand smoke to enable the public to take steps to avoid them. The chief medical officer, in his annual report published earlier this year, drew particular attention to the seriousness of second-hand smoke.

Mr. Sheerman

Will my hon. Friend the Minister talk to the Health Minister in the Irish Republic about the planned introduction of a ban in public places, and will she listen to and learn from him? Will she remind my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that he said that we are at our best when we are at our boldest? Although there were many good things in her speech, it did not sound bold or like a Government at their best.

Miss Johnson

I shall ensure that we are in touch with developments on the smoking ban in Ireland. In any case, we take a wide interest in what is happening on the issue around the globe, not only across Europe. I shall ensure that we see whether any lessons can be learned from it.

As a result of the tobacco control alliances a number of cities and towns have declared their intention, on a voluntary basis, to create more smoke-free environments and thereby be able to declare themselves smoke free. From 1 April this year, the Department of Health has become entirely smoke free. We offer support and help to staff who want to give up smoking, and encourage others to follow that example.

This autumn we sponsored conferences in each of the English regions so that local organisations could meet to share examples of good practice. The conferences have been chaired by regional public health directors—there is a high-level commitment on the public health side—who have an important role in any event in increasing local awareness. Various businesses are getting involved in that initiative. There are speakers at the regional conferences from organisations as varied as the Cambridge Blue pub, Mars in Slough, the Land Registry in Plymouth and Aston Villa football club. It is a fairly disparate collection of interested parties, but that gives the feel of the range of businesses and employers—in the public and the private sectors—that recognise the importance of tackling smoking and responding to the wishes and needs of workers and their customers.

Chris Grayling

Will the Minister give way?

Miss Johnson

I should like to finish if I may. Public attitudes towards smoking and smoking in public places have been gradually changing in the past two decades. The days when cinemas, theatres, underground stations and trains were filled with smoke are in the past, notwithstanding the earlier remarks about GNER. It is in response to such changes in public attitudes that many businesses have moved to provide smoke-free premises. It is particularly noteworthy, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North commented, that the popular chain of restaurants, Pizza Hut, chose to go smoke free in response to both customers' and workers' wishes. When a restaurant business that is a name recognised throughout the country takes such a step, others should take note and act accordingly.

There has been a measurable shift in the number of smoke-free workplaces since "Smoking Kills" in 1998. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that in 2002, for the first time, more than 50 per cent. of workplaces were free from smoke—that is up from 40 per cent. in 1996. Perhaps that is not enough, but it is progress. The same publication shows that the number of people wanting to eat in a smoke-free restaurant has been well above 80 per cent. for several years in a row. That statistic should be used to encourage operators of restaurants to respond appropriately to public demand.

Of course, old habits die hard—we know that that is particularly so with smoking—but things are changing, and we are more aware than ever of the risks of smoking and the effect of passive smoking. I recognise that we have some way to go and I encourage those employers and businesses that can make a real difference to show leadership in responding to public and customer demand for more smoke-free places. I am committed to real progress in all aspects of reducing smoking and assure my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, who has urged on me the opportunity to make a name for myself in this regard, that I shall do all that I can to ensure that all partners who can help to achieve this result make more steady progress than they may have made to date towards achieving what we all want to see in the due fullness of time.

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