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Smoking

8. Mr. Jim Cunningham: If he will make a statement about levels of smoking among young people in England. [13816]

The Minister for Public Health (Ms Tessa Jowell): In 1996, 13 per cent. of all secondary school children in England were regular smokers, but by the age of 15, 33 per cent. of girls and 28 per cent. of boys were smokers.

Mr. Cunningham: Can my hon. Friend ensure that the principal aims of the Government's policy to cut the numbers of young people and teenagers smoking will be maintained?

Ms Jowell: It is a measure of the previous Government's failure that one in three 15-year-old girls are hooked on cigarettes before leaving school. That is why our first priority is to cut smoking among children.

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Mr. Maples: May I remind the hon. Lady, that in a departmental press release on 14 July, she said:


In her article in The Daily Telegraph today, she says:


    "The decision to propose an exemption for Formula One is one that has my total support."

On which occasion was she telling us what she really thought?

Ms Jowell: Policies to stop children smoking that work have my total support. A ban on advertising will stop children smoking. Negotiating a global ban on advertising with formula one will stop children smoking. That is our overriding priority.

Mr. Stevenson: Does my hon. Friend agree that the task facing the Government now is to get on with a ban on advertising smoking, where that can be practically and quickly achieved? Would not such a measure of the Government's determination be in stark contrast to the cowardly attitude of the Conservative party, which steadfastly refused to face up to that important issue?

Ms Jowell: We intend to make progress with a comprehensive range of measures to stop children smoking and to support the seven out of every 10 smokers who want to give up. The mark of success for our Government will be that we make real progress in reducing the needless death and suffering caused by smoking--121,000 people are dying every year and we are determined to stop that.

Sir Raymond Whitney: Does the Minister accept that, given that thousands of young people are interested in motor sports, there is widespread concern about the impact of the Government's recent decision on advertising in motor sports? Does she also agree that, uniquely, be it rightly or wrongly, the conjunction between the allegations of political contributions and the Government's U-turn causes serious concern throughout the country?

Ms Jowell: This Government, unlike the last Government, will ban tobacco advertising. This Government, unlike the last Government, will reduce the rate at which people die from cigarette smoking. The only legacy of the last Government was the fact that health Ministers who stood up and tried to do something about smoking were moved very quickly.

"The Health of the Nation"

9. Mr. Pike: What changes he proposes to make to the "Health of the Nation" strategy. [13817]

Ms Jowell: We shall publish our Green Paper on "Our Healthier Nation" this winter and we shall take careful note of all the responses we receive to the consultation that follows. We shall use them to inform the new health strategy which we plan to publish in summer 1998.

Mr. Pike: Is it not important that, in that exercise, the Government have recognised that health inequalities exist in this country? Doctors and nurses throughout the country welcome the fact that we not only recognise but

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are prepared to tackle those health inequalities. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Department of Health has now removed the ban on its civil servants talking about health inequalities, which will mean that we shall be able to deal with them in a positive way?

Ms Jowell: My hon. Friend is correct to say that we now have the basis for a public health policy that will work, because we are prepared to confront the fact that, the poorer people are, the worse their health is likely to be. We intend to take action to tackle that. In my hon. Friend's constituency, that action would include reducing the levels of coronary heart disease and lung cancer, where Burnley is among the worst 10 per cent. in the country; and reducing the number of girls under 16 who get pregnant, where Burnley is still well above the national average.

Mr. Maples: Given that one of the "Health of the Nation" targets was a reduction in teenage smoking, and given that the Minister refused to tell us what she really thought about that issue in answer to my previous question, perhaps she will try to answer this one. Last week, when she was in some difficulty on the issue, she said that she had acted on the advice of the Secretary of State. He was conspicuous by his silence. Does it ever occur to her that perhaps he set her up?

Ms Jowell: I think that the House will judge that with the contempt that it deserves. The hon. Gentleman's behaviour throughout this matter has been below the standards that people in this country think they deserve. The Conservatives have used nasty smear and innuendo as a way of masking the complete failure of their policies to stop children smoking.

Healthy Living Centres

10. Dr. Palmer: What action he is taking to develop healthy living centres. [13818]

Ms Jowell: Work is under way to ensure that healthy living centres, which will be funded from national lottery money, contribute to the success of the Government's health strategy and complement existing provision. They will provide a focus for local, community action to improve health, which is one of the pillars of the Government's health strategy.

Dr. Palmer: Is not the priority that the Government are giving to health spending for lottery money not vastly preferable to the priority of the previous Government, who were even willing to give one of their own Members of Parliament lottery money for his grandfather's diaries?

Ms Jowell: We attach very high priority to tackling inequality in health, and the spending of that lottery money to develop healthy living centres is one way in which we intend to do so.

Mrs. Roe: Can the Minister confirm that healthy living centres will not offer services currently provided by the NHS from the taxpayers' money?

Ms Jowell: As the hon. Lady is aware, the principle that determines the spending of lottery money is what is

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called additionality. No, the healthy living centres will not replace the services of the national health service, but will be additional to them, and will be a very important way of our ensuring that people have access to exercise and to advice about health. The centres will help us to promote better health and reduce avoidable illness.

Dr. Brand: Does the Minister agree that the extraordinary decision to exempt formula one racing advertising will undermine the efforts made by those healthy living centres?

Mr. Bermingham rose--

Dr. Brand: Does not the Minister now need to advise the Prime Minister that that extraordinary decision will undermine the campaign to achieve the aim, which we are all trying to achieve, of deglamorising smoking among young people?

Ms Jowell: Since the object of exempting formula one is to ensure that there is less tobacco advertising, not more, it is part of a policy that is entirely consistent with our development of healthy living centres as part of our public health strategy.

Prescription Charges

11. Mr. Peter Bottomley: What is his policy in respect of future prescription charges for pensioners. [13819]

Mr. Milburn: My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury announced on 11 June that prescription charges were to be one element of the Department of Health's comprehensive spending review. We aim to complete the review by next spring.

Mr. Bottomley: Will the hon. Gentleman pass on to his right hon. Friend the message that I am sorry that the Secretary of State was not chosen to answer this question, as, the day after the Treasury Minister made that comment, the right hon. Gentleman was quoted, presumably accurately, as saying that prescription charges for the elderly are "politically unacceptable" and will be brought in only over his "dead body"?

As, a few days later, on 18 June, the Prime Minister used three columns of Hansard, columns 303-05, to say that prescription charges were being considered, what exactly is the policy of the Department of Health, and how does it square with what is in the Labour manifesto?

Mr. Milburn: The policy of the Health Department is that we are conducting a review, and the review will report in due course. I would take the hon. Gentleman's concerns more seriously and they would be more convincing if the Conservatives, when they were in power, had not increased prescription charges fourfold in real terms. The outcome of the comprehensive spending review will be judged by one yardstick: the Government's commitment to the historic principle of the NHS that services should be available according to need and need alone.

Mr. Llew Smith: As the Minister is aware, this week, in my constituency and throughout the land, we are

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celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Nye Bevan. What does the Minister feel Nye's attitude would have been after 18 years not just of Tory government but of prescription charge increases?

Mr. Milburn: Only one party in the House is addicted to charges in the national health service. It is the party that introduced prescription charges, dental check charges and eye test charges into the national health service: the Conservative party.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton: While the prospect of any future charges for prescriptions is immensely important to pensioners and to all elderly people in this country, has the Minister given any thought to another related matter: the ability of people to fund their retirement, and particularly their need for residential or nursing care? The previous Government advanced proposals in that area; are the new Government considering the matter as part of the review?

Mr. Milburn: I know that the hon. Gentleman takes this issue, and health issues in general, very seriously. I assure him that, before too long, we shall announce details of a royal commission that will examine those issues properly. We shall ensure that, in future, older people receive the sort of treatment and services that they deserve.


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