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14 Apr 2003 : Column 644—continued

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe): Will the Secretary of State remind the House how many mutilation beatings, shootings, forced exiles and acts of intimidation have been carried out by republicans over the past year? Given those facts, how much trust does he think can be placed in an organisation that speaks the language of peace and justice on the one hand and commits such evil acts on the other?

Mr. Murphy: There is no excuse in this wide world for those acts, which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, are unfortunately committed throughout the community. So-called punishment beatings occur in republican and in loyalist areas, and I agree that they should not exist in any civilised country.

David Burnside (South Antrim): At the start of his statement, the Secretary of State referred to the reason for suspending the Executive and the Assembly as "serious concerns about continuing paramilitary activity, creating a lack of trust." Will he confirm that the reason why the Government suspended the Executive and the Assembly is that Sinn Fein-IRA—the republican movement—was found to have been involved, from last July to November, in a spy ring within the Northern Ireland Office? Will he also confirm that the Unionist community's lack of trust about ever again being in an Executive with Sinn Fein is based on Colombia, the ongoing investigation into the break-in at Castlereagh police station, Stormontgate and the Ormeau road? Is it not time to move on and have a voluntary coalition between the Ulster Unionist party, the Democratic Unionist party, the ever-absent Social Democratic and Labour party and the Alliance party? That would allow us to get Stormont up and running again without Sinn Fein.

Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman is right that the events that he described were responsible for a breakdown in trust between the political parties in Northern Ireland, which led to the suspension of the Executive and the Assembly. On the second part of his question, however, the institutions are based on the

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Good Friday agreement and the people of Northern Ireland voted for that agreement by a majority. It is therefore our duty to ensure that the agreement is implemented as soon as possible.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): Does the Secretary of State agree that the democratic parties in Northern Ireland that do not have links to terrorism—and, more importantly, the people who vote for them—cannot indefinitely be held to ransom by the refusal of the IRA and Sinn Fein to submit to the demands of the agreement?

Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman is right that the republican movement must ensure that it is exclusively democratic and peaceful.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): The Secretary of State has referred several times this afternoon to the agreement, which was voted for by the people of Northern Ireland. Will he accept that the promises made by the Prime Minister prior to that referendum were influential in persuading many people to vote yes? When will the Prime Minister deliver on the promises that he made?

Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman refers to what my right hon. Friend said in those days. The hon. Gentleman is right to refer to the fact that we wanted to change the society of Northern Ireland to help it down the road of peace, democracy and non-violence. I think that my right hon. Friend would repeat those assurances. One of the reasons why we have not obtained what we wanted is that we are not securing the clarity that is required under these circumstances.

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Point of Order

5.18 pm

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): You will be aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that there is a crisis in funding for education in Leicestershire. That is not a party-political point: it is agreed by all the representatives in the county. As a result of the crisis, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Education and Skills asking him to see a cross-party delegation to hear the representations of the people whom we represent. This morning, I received a letter from the Minister for School Standards saying that both he and the Secretary of State were far too busy. That is unprecedented in my experience. May I ask you whether it is unprecedented in your experience and whether the Secretary of State has an obligation to see representatives of the people of Leicestershire, on a cross-party, non-political basis, to hear what they have to say about the rotten funding for their education?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I share the sense of disappointment felt by the hon. Gentleman. I understand that hon. Members always wish to gain access to Ministers, but I am afraid that that is one of many matters that are not in the domain of the Chair. The hon. Gentleman will have to pursue the matter in other ways.

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Smoking (Restaurants) Bill

5.19 pm

Mr. Gareth Thomas (Harrow, West): I beg to move,

I am lucky to represent a constituency that has many excellent restaurants and cafés that I could commend to the House. Among them is the superb Friends restaurant in Pinner, where Harrow's very own celebrity chef, Terry Farr—featured in no less than The Observer food supplement—supports Government action to ban smoking in cafés and restaurants. Indeed, restaurants such as Friends, and Rules, which is already smoke free and which won this year's British restaurant of the year award, are one reason why London's restaurants are rated among the world's best.

The one concern about London's restaurants is that, unlike those of California, New York, Ottawa and, soon, Dublin, there are no controls on whether smoking is allowed. I recognise that since 1997 the Government have initiated a series of strong measures to begin to tackle the public health hazard posed by tobacco smoke. The ban on tobacco advertising, the White Paper "Smoking Kills", and the 42 tobacco control alliances in England that raise awareness and work to increase the number of smoke-free environments are all good examples of the work that the Government have in hand. However, I want my Front-Bench colleagues to go just a little further.

Medical and scientific evidence confirming the health hazard of passive or second-hand smoke has been accepted for some time by all except those who are funded by the tobacco trade or who are part of it. The British Medical Association estimates that at least 1,000 people die from exposure to second-hand smoke each year. Evidence from numerous independent, authoritative studies, including one from the Government's science and health advisory committee, has shown that second-hand smoke is a cause of lung cancer, coronary heart disease and strokes in adults as well as cot death, middle ear disease, respiratory infections and the development of asthma in children.

Just 30 minutes of exposure to second-hand smoke is enough to reduce blood flow to the heart. A non-smoker regularly exposed to second-hand smoke faces a 20 per cent. to 30 per cent. greater risk of lung cancer than a non-smoker who has not been similarly exposed. The most recent analysis of the impact of second-hand smoke on health estimates the number of annual deaths from second-hand smoke in the United Kingdom at 12,000—a figure comparable to that for those who died as a result of the great London smog 50 years ago. The figure is also greater than the 10,000 occupational deaths in the UK each year, and it is triple the 3,500 annual deaths from traffic accidents.

Increasing the number of smoke-free environments is clearly sensible and would protect the health of non-smokers. Making smoking less of a social norm can only help current and potential smokers to fight their addiction. The Government recognised early the need for action and commissioned the Health and Safety Executive to draft an approved code of practice on passive smoking at work. The draft code was ready for introduction in 1999, but it has yet to emerge into the

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light. The excellent Action on Smoking and Health and the TUC have highlighted the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974, which places a general duty of care on employers to provide a safe working environment for their employees. We need the Government to take further action through an approved code of practice or through legislation to ensure smoke-free workplaces if we are properly to protect those who work in the hospitality industry, restaurants and cafés from the dangers of second-hand smoke.

A study of non-smoking employees in the hospitality industry in Australia found that after at least four hours work, employees had four times the carbon monoxide levels of workers in a smoke-free workplace. One third of those studied had carbon monoxide levels consistent with light smoker status. A University college London study in 2001 went further, showing that workers in the hospitality industry in London had levels of second-hand smoke seven times greater than that of the average English non-smoker. Similarly, a study of California bar workers showed that respiratory health among both smokers and non-smokers improved measurably after smoking was banned in Californian workplaces.

Governments have, over the years, recognised the need to protect the health and safety of employees at work. Considerable effort has been made to deal with the risk of exposure to asbestos, for example. Yet second-hand smoke offers a greater threat to the health of workers than asbestos does. Some in the restaurant trade, already concerned about the impact of passive smoke, have made their restaurants smoke free, and I welcome that. Others who want to be smoke free worry about the proximity of competitors who would allow smokers, and have instead considered the option of ventilation. However, the evidence from America is that ventilation does not work. For that reason, the World Health Organisation concluded some three years ago that there was no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke and that better ventilation on its own could not achieve a smoke-free workplace. Indeed, the current industry initiative—the public places charter, whose self-stated aim is to resolve the public smoking issue through ventilation and/or no-smoking areas—makes absolutely no attempt to set a level of second-hand smoke that is safe by occupational or environmental health standards, or a level that restaurant owners who adopt the charter should ensure is not breached in their premises.

Acknowledging those issues, some in the hospitality industry are beginning to speak out for a ban. Mr. David Elliott, who is the managing director of Greene King Pub Partners, highlighted in December the many major cities in the world that have already established a smoking ban with no adverse impact on restaurant owners' incomes. He also noted the impact of nicotine on the fabric of business premises and speculated on the reduction in refurbishment and redecoration costs that a ban on smoking would deliver. Evidence from California shows that sales continued to increase after the state's ban was introduced.

The excellent Smoke Free London yesterday published a MORI opinion poll showing that almost a third of those surveyed would be more likely to dine out more frequently if they knew that restaurants would be smoke-free. The poll also showed that some three

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quarters of people thought that staff working in cafés and restaurants should be able to work in a smoke-free environment.

One of the more miserable arguments that I have heard against a ban is, and I paraphrase, that it would be the nanny state trampling over the rights of individuals to enjoy a smoke or of the individual restaurant owner to run their business in the way that they see fit. It is time that we recognised that second-hand smoke is now the main source of air pollution indoors; that it has an impact on health beyond that of the individual smoker; and that, given the number of deaths and diseases that passive smoking causes, and given the impact that second-hand smoke has on the health of employees, it is surely right for this state to follow the example of so many others and legislate for a ban. We do not allow business men and women to get away with other forms of pollution, and there are already many reasonable duties on employers to protect the health and safety of their work force. This issue is surely no different.

Many MPs have campaigned successfully for the Government to tackle air pollution outside. Now is surely the time for us to take serious action on indoor air pollution. One hundred MPs from all parties—and I am grateful to them—have told me that they support this proposal. Some, such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) and my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor), have been campaigning hard on this issue for some time now. Countries such as France, Norway and Ireland, and states in America such as California, Delaware, Massachusetts and New York, have already taken similar steps. There must be something in a proposal that both American and French legislators agree on at the moment.

A ban on smoking will not harm restaurant and café owners' incomes; it may even increase their sales and reduce their costs. This is surely a sensible public health measure to protect the health of British workers and the public more generally. It has already been road-tested for us by a number of other countries. I commend the Bill to the House.

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