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Mr. Randall: I should not be greatly surprised to learn that Labour Members have had damascene conversions or changed their minds on specific issues. However, I should not hold out too much hope to the hon. Gentleman of Labour Members trooping through the Lobby to support the new clause.

As I said--bearing in mind the views of many of my hon. Friends on the issue--I find it somewhat worrying to be supporting the new clauses. However, I should also assure the House that I support them not because I am the only Conservative Member with a beard, but because they have great merit.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley): Although I am not an expert on the matter or a parliamentary draftsman, and the new clauses may not fit into the Bill, I, too, have some sympathy for the objectives that the new clauses seek to accomplish.

I have a letter that was sent to the British Heart Foundation by the London Taxi Board, which represents the owners and drivers of London taxi cabs. Moreover Transport and General Workers Union--which my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford) mentioned in his brief speech--members comprise one of the board's sections.

As my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London will know, the London Taxi Board has been campaigning for the Bill to be amended so that taxi drivers will be able to designate their cabs as non-smoking. The board believes that such an ability

The board is also right to say that such an ability would fit in with the Government's White Paper on smoking, which was published in December 1998.

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The Health and Safety Executive is working on a code of practice on smoking in the workplace, which should provide even further direction on how we should address the issue.

Some of the comments and laughter that greeted the speech of the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) in moving the new clause were inappropriate, as hon. Members should be a bit more serious about the issue of people in enclosed work spaces having to be exposed to smoke. It is not true that passive smoking is not harmful, because good scientific evidence shows that it is. It may not be much of a problem for people like me to get into a cab that has recently been filled with smoke, but, if I were asthmatic, it might be a different kettle of fish. We should appreciate that such a smoky environment can quite easily trigger asthma attacks for those who are vulnerable to them.

The letter also deals with the board's proposal that cabs should be clearly marked as either smoking or non-smoking, so that customers might be provided with a choice. I do not think that such a provision would suggest the action of a nanny state, because we should have a choice in the matter. Many national pub chains now offer the choice of going to a public house and drinking in a smoke-free area, and restaurants in most major towns not only offer smoke-free areas, but may be entirely smoke free. As an individual, I choose to use those restaurants, rather than ones that allow smoking anywhere on the premises. Everyone agrees that there is an anomaly in current smoking policies, and that anomaly should be cleared up.

The board wrote to the British Heart Foundation seeking support for the consultation described by my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London. May I ask her what stage that consultation has reached, and what mechanism a cabbie will be able to use to ensure that his or her workplace--the cab that he or she owns--is smoke free? Does provision of such a mechanism require primary legislation, or could it be dealt with by other means? I thought that the Bill dealt more with constitutional issues, and not with issues that have been dealt with in other parts of the public sector without primary legislation. There are many forms of public transport on which smoking is banned or severely restricted.

Dr. Rudi Vis (Finchley and Golders Green): We should not overlook the fact that when someone hails a cab and the driver accepts them, it is no longer public transport; it is private transport and the passenger owns it for the trip. The same applies to hotels. We are told that taxis should be compared with public transport or other public places such as pubs, but that is not the essence of the situation with cabs. That does not mean that I am not sympathetic to what my hon. Friend is saying.

Mr. Barron: I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Minister agrees with that. I understand that the transport White Paper suggests that cabs are public transport.

I would like a sign on the front of a cab, not necessarily lit up, saying that it is a smoke-free cab. I would hail those cabs rather than ones that allow smoking.

9.15 pm

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford): It comes as no surprise that the Government might support the dictatorial nature of the new clause. The fact that it was moved by

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the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) merely proves that there is nothing liberal about the Liberal Democrats.

Surely hon. Members understand that such a matter should be decided by the new Greater London Authority, not by this House. What is the point of anyone in London voting for the Greater London Authority if it cannot even decide on how smoking bans should be enforced in cabs?

It is appropriate that different legislation should apply on such an issue in different parts of the country. Hon. Members may have read over the weekend, as I did, about an American tycoon who flew into this country on Concorde smoking a cigar, against the aircraft's regulations. Despite all the authority of British Airways, he could not be persuaded to put out his cigar. He appears to have breached some element of this country's legal code. British Airways has attempted to bring him to justice, but cannot lay a finger on him because he moves around the world so fast that he cannot be found to have the warrant served on him.

Mr. Simon Hughes: The hon. Gentleman's argument about leaving the issue to the Greater London Authority is superficially appealing, but I believe--I stand to be corrected--that it would not have the power to cover such matters without promoting a private Bill to introduce a new criminal sanction. If it had the authority to deal with the matter, I would agree with the hon. Gentleman, but as it has not, we have to make provision in primary legislation.

Mr. St. Aubyn: A new clause should be inserted in the Bill to give the authority the power.

Many tourists visit London. It is patently absurd to suppose that the police in London would be able to catch up with those who breached the clause. There is not sufficient police time available, nor should there be. A law that could not be enforced against many of the people who use London cabs, but would be enforced against others who happened to be here all the time would be considered most unjust by many people. Regardless of whether we agree with the thinking behind the clause or sympathise with the plight of the poor London cabbie, we should reject the clause.

The London cab enjoys several privileges. If we park our car in the wrong place on a rank reserved for taxis, we are fined heavily. Taxi drivers who go to that rank agree to accept any customer who comes along. The clause would breach that important principle, elevating the situation of cab drivers beyond what they deserve.

I run a joinery business--in a non-executive capacity, these days. Sometimes in that business, people have to put up with dust and other problems. That is not a satisfying part of the job, but it is a part of the job. The hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford) may not enjoy using a vacuum cleaner on the ash in the back of his cab, but that is tough, I am afraid. With that goes the pleasure of serving millions of Londoners, for which all of us are grateful to him. We hope that he continues to do so without the intrusive nature of this proposal.

Ms Glenda Jackson: If the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn) runs a joinery business and provides his

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employees with no protective clothing, he would be well advised to ask the Health and Safety Executive to examine his business.

Mr. St. Aubyn: Will the Minister give way?

Ms Jackson: No.

Mr. St. Aubyn: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for a Minister to attack a Member of this House and not to accept an immediate intervention from that Member?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: That is not a point of order. A point of debate was at issue, which seemed to lie outside the terms of the new clause.

Ms Jackson: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

This is a very important issue, although one would not have known it if one had listened exclusively to the speech by the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) and to some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Guildford. The speeches by my hon. Friends the Member for Eltham (Mr. Efford) and for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), and by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), were serious in their intent.

The Government support the principle of designating taxes as non-smoking vehicles. There has been no U-turn. On 29 July last year, in reply to a parliamentary question from my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell), I said that the Government intended, when parliamentary time permitted

The Government stand by that commitment. We also stand by what I said in Committee; that this Bill is not the appropriate vehicle for such a measure.

The widest-possible consultation must be carried out before we could consider proposing such legislation. I am pleased to announce--I trust that my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley will be pleased--that the Government will be consulting on the issue. There is a clear need for consultation.

As we have heard from the speeches this evening, there are problems in terms of defining the evidence that will be needed. First, there is the taxi driver's legal obligation to take a hiring. A change to allow a non-smoking provision will mean that, for the first time, a taxi driver will be able to choose for whom he stops. That carries the risk of discrimination for reasons other than smoking.

There are also the practical problems of a non-smoking measure. How would a taxi driver deal with a passenger who lit up during a journey? Would the driver or a constable be able to evict the passenger? What if a passenger was evicted late at night, and was female or disabled and could not get home? Those are serious safety issues, which need to be looked at.

Fares would be a problem. Would the passenger pay up to the point when they were thrown out, or when they were taken to the nearest police station? How would the driver obtain the fare, if the passenger did not want to pay?

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I have touched on the question of evidence. How could it be proved that a passenger had lit up inside a cab? A taxi is not like a bus or a train. If a driver headed for a police station, presumably, the passenger's first move would be to throw the cigarette out of the window.

Who should be responsible for designating a taxi as a non-smoking cab? Would it be the proprietor or, if they are not the same--as they are not in many cases--the driver? In the case of several drivers using one taxi in shifts, should it be possible to designate and de-designate the cab according to the driver?

Clearly, consultation will need to be wide. Obviously, the taxi trade, the local authorities, the licensing authorities, the police and judiciary and organisations concerned with safety, such as the Suzy Lamplugh trust, will all need to be consulted, and the results will have to be carefully considered.

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