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11 Mar 2003 : Column 260—continued

6.59 pm

Donald Anderson: With the leave of the House, I rise to give a brief final blessing to the debate. It seems a long time ago that I rose to commend the report of the Foreign Affairs Committee to the House. I spelled out the aim of the Committee: to use our privileged position

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to provide information to the House. I believe that it shows the relevance of Select Committees in providing that information, and in providing a monitoring device to place a check on the Executive. In a professional world, the legislative body must itself be expert.

In my judgment, the debate has lived up to expectations. The many contributions have included the case for war and peace, a look at the law behind that case, a discussion of post-war reconstruction and the middle east peace process.

I congratulate all hon. Members who contributed to the debate, which has been more reflective than the one that may take place in the next week or so. That will be a debate on whether there should be war or peace. We are at a crucial stage, and events taking place now in New York will determine the future.

This worthwhile debate has given the House an opportunity to look at key issues. I congratulate all my colleagues, and I know that those hon. Members who serve with me on the Foreign Affairs Committee will be confident that our labours have been very well justified.

It being Seven o'clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker proceeded to put forthwith the Question relating to Estimates which he was directed to put at that hour, pursuant to Standing Order No. 54(5) (Consideration of estimates).

Question put and agreed to.


It being after Seven o'clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker proceeded to put forthwith the Questions relating to Estimates which he was directed to put at that hour, pursuant to Standing Order No. 55 (Questions on voting of estimates, &c.)




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Ruth Kelly accordingly presented a Bill to authorise the use of resources for the service of the years ending on 31st March 2002 and 2003 and to apply certain sums out of the Consolidated Fund to the service of the years ending on 31st March 2002 and 2003: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on 12 March 2003, and to be printed. [Bill 68].

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Employee Health

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Stephen Twigg.]


Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): Few of my hon. Friends would disagree that workers' health is crucial in all the communities of our country. Having a healthy work force benefits individuals, employers and the United Kingdom as a whole. Tonight, I want to focus on a particular sector of that work force—people working in bars, pubs, clubs and restaurants. Employees in that sector are especially vulnerable. They are vulnerable because they are almost always on the minimum wage, or just above it, and because they are hit by serious health risks—risks that regularly affect 3 million people. The effects of those risks kill 1,000 people a year. I refer to passive smoking—something that is entirely preventable.

The debate is timely, as tomorrow is no smoking day, although I was not aware of that when I made my request for an Adjournment debate.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): As my hon. Friend points out, national no smoking day is tomorrow and my early-day motion 833 refers to it. Does he agree that the sizeable group of workers to which he refers includes people in this place, the Palace of Westminster? Like those hon. Members who signed the early-day motion, does he lament the fact that smoke-free air is still not the norm in the bars, restaurants and corridors of the precincts of the Palace of Westminster?

Mr. Sheerman: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend, who is well known for his activity in and chairmanship of an all-party group on smoking and health.

My focus this evening lies outside the world of education. When one is the Chairman of a Select Committee, it is a great relief to speak on other subjects in this place; one sometimes feels that education and skills are the only things that one ever discusses. However, we have a life outside Select Committees and my passion for protecting the health of vulnerable workers is of long standing.

I am disappointed by the Government's record. The Labour Government who came to power in 1997 have had 2,016 days during which they have chosen to do little or nothing to protect the health of workers in the pub and club industry. The measures that they have tried to introduce have, on the whole, been half-hearted and ineffectual.

The White Paper, "Smoking Kills", published in December 1998, commissioned the Health and Safety Executive to draft an approved code of practice. Where is it? Is it buried somewhere at the HSE? The code is ready but successive Ministers have said, "No, not just now; it is too hot to handle."

There is no reason for that. Why did the Government ask for a draft code and then not introduce it? Instead, they called on the hospitality trade to adopt a voluntary non-smoking policy in facilities for customers. That is fine for customers, but anyone who visits busy pubs, clubs or restaurants, where much smoking takes place,

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knows that the people who work there—on long shifts, for low wages and at unsocial hours—spend many hours absorbing polluted air. One large pub chain, J.D. Wetherspoon, has introduced non-smoking areas, but that does not affect its employees. Voluntary adoption of a code is not enough.

Polls commissioned by the Government found that the public favoured Government involvement to control passive smoking at work. Polls tell us simple things, such as that 70 per cent. of the people of this country do not smoke. However, those people are excluded from many public and private places by people who smoke. That antisocial behaviour is regrettable.

Despite the fact that the HSE approved the draft code of conduct in 1999, it has not yet been approved by the Government. There is speculation as to which Minister buried the code and why it cannot be resuscitated. Such speculation points to concern about bureaucracy and the costs to business, especially bars, pubs and clubs.

Experience in other countries shows that the introduction of such protection for workers leads to more people deciding to go out for a night. Pub and club entrepreneurs found that when there were no-smoking areas in pubs, clubs or restaurants, more people in the non-smoking 70 per cent. decided to go to them. Indeed, in New York, where a code was introduced by former Mayor Giuliani, but implemented by the present mayor, there has been a rise in the volume of trade in the leisure industries. More people have been liberated to get out there and enjoy an evening's entertainment.

The HSE is privately consulting the hospitality sector about an informal agreement on passive smoking, but in my view and that of my colleagues that is not a matter for an informal arrangement when 1,000 people a year die as a result of passive smoking. Of course that is a large number, but 120,000 people a year die from smoking-related causes.

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