Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Win Griffiths: Surely, the hon. Gentleman is wrong. He should look at the experience in the United States, where more than 300 cities and seven states already have smoking bans. It does not appear that there is any problem, but perhaps he has researched the matter and can tell us about it.

Tim Loughton: I do not need to research the matter too closely to be able to tell the hon. Gentleman that the United States has a population five times the size of this country's population, and it is a much larger country that is less densely populated. It is easier for states to introduce bans or other legislation relating to local tax and so on than it is for this country to do so. In places such as London, where there are 30 or 40 different boroughs, restaurants and pubs on different sides of the same street may be in ban and no-ban areas. The situation is very different from that in the United States, and it is a recipe for chaos.
18 Mar 2005 : Column 557

I am all for a localism agenda. My party is all for giving back many more powers to local authorities that are accountable to local people to make decisions for local circumstances. That is absolutely right, but smoking in public places is a national public health issue. It is this House that should be legislating or not legislating on a national issue as part of a Government's national public health agenda; otherwise, there will be an open season, and an awful lot of the time of the House will be taken up in considering the requests of whichever town or local authority has decided to apply for a ban. We will be faced with a legislative timetable nightmare.

Should the Welsh Assembly be doing other things? I applaud the fact that it has produced a number of initiatives to deal with smoking cessation. It has produced the Smoke Bugs club for eight to 11-year-old children who pledge not to smoke. Club members receive positive messages about staying smoke free via quarterly newsletters to their home. A "smoke-free class" competition offered to pupils in years seven and eight is part of a European initiative that currently involves 16 countries. Pupils enter as a class and pledge not to smoke for the five-month competition period. There is also a "smoke signals" resource for smoking education in the primary school, for pupils aged from three to 11, and a "burning issues" resource that looks at smoking as a social issue and is designed to be used in a variety of subjects.

The Welsh Assembly has produced programmes through the inequalities in health fund that was established in 2001 by the Minister for Health and Social Services in order to stimulate and support local action to address inequalities in health and the factors that contribute to it, including inequities in access to health services. The fund supports a total of 62 active projects, covering a wide variety of activities that target coronary heart disease. Many good initiatives are under way in Wales and I applaud that, but I hope that it is a matter of quality outcomes, rather than simply quantity of initiatives.

In other respects, however, Wales is lagging well behind England in health care and the quality of the health of the population and of the service provided. I believe that the Welsh Assembly should be concentrating on improving that parlous situation rather than on the high-profile headlines that a smoking ban brings, which are no substitute for doing something to improve the health system of the country as a whole and health outcomes for the people of Wales, who are being let down badly by the Labour party in the Welsh Assembly.

Mr. Forth: I do not want unduly to embarrass my hon. Friend, but may I ask whether he has any figures about the relative expenditure per head on health in Wales as compared with that in England? If, as I assume, the Welsh are blessed with a higher expenditure per head, it strikes me as rather odd that health outcomes are so poor in Wales. Can he explain that?

Tim Loughton: My right hon. Friend is certainly not embarrassing me, and I can give him a few figures. Expenditure per head on health in Wales is somewhat larger than in England. We have been told for many years that if we in England were to achieve European
18 Mar 2005 : Column 558
averages of health spending as a percentage of our economy, health outcomes could be expected to improve magically to the levels that our fellow European citizens enjoy on the continent. Those levels were achieved in Scotland and Wales some time ago, but those two parts of the United Kingdom have worse health outcomes than England. If one examines how much money was spent on health in Wales, between 1999 and 2003—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. A passing reference to that matter is allowed, but the Bill is about smoking legislation. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will return to that subject.

Tim Loughton: I am grateful for your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The Welsh Assembly Government's record on health is atrocious, but this Bill would give them more powers over health. They must get their act together on looking after the health of their citizens before they take on more responsibilities, because they are not doing a good job. That is the second reason why Conservative Members cannot support the Bill.

Mr. Barron: When the hon. Gentleman discusses health expenditure in Wales, he is discussing the treatment of illness in Wales. If not for this generation, then for the next generation and for many more to come, this Bill promotes the improvement of public health, because people do not need hospitals and clinics if they avoid smoking and passive smoking, which currently put so much pressure on our acute services.

Tim Loughton: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman's intentions, but such a national public health issue should be dealt with as a national public health priority. People who live in Wales are no less entitled to good public health and good public health advice from the Government than citizens in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Despite the 31.5 per cent. increase in expenditure in Wales, hospital activity fell between 2000 and 2003, and waiting lists and waiting times have deteriorated gravely.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Once again, may I bring the hon. Gentleman back to the Bill currently under discussion?

Tim Loughton: I will take your blandishments, Madam Deputy Speaker.

We are considering giving further powers to the Welsh Assembly Government, who are currently not handling such powers in the best health interests of their citizens, which concerns me.

That brings me to my third point: is an outright ban is the best way forward? Conservative Members do not think so. A lot of progress has already been made under the voluntary code with, for example, the hospitality industry. In the recent past, 26 companies representing 40 per cent. of the UK's pubs and bars have committed to a new no-smoking strategy, agreeing that by the end of December 2005 they will have in place no smoking at the bar, which has already been mentioned, no smoking in back-of-house areas, an increase in no-smoking
18 Mar 2005 : Column 559
trading floor space from a minimum of 35 per cent. to a maximum of 80 per cent. by December 2009, and a minimum of 50 per cent.—in future, that percentage is intended rapidly to increase—of restaurant dining area floor space being designated as no smoking. Companies will also continue to develop exclusively smoke-free pubs and bars, where it is appropriate and practical.

Office for National Statistics figures from July 2003 indicate that via a voluntary approach, 86 per cent. of workplaces have a smoking policy—either an outright ban or separate smoking areas. Of the remaining 14 per cent. of workplaces, 5 per cent. consist of single-worker businesses, where an individual is well placed to make up their own mind whether they will smoke. Some 50 per cent. of those workplaces are completely smoke free, and by 2003 the number of pubs with non-smoking areas was in the region of 46 per cent.

A number of hon. Members have also mentioned that the home is one of the most common places in which passive smoking occurs, and that children are among the most vulnerable. One side effect that has been experienced following smoking bans in other countries, without setting too great a store by such evidence, is that off-licence and supermarket sales of drink have increased because people are drinking socially at home so that they can smoke, which means that they can smoke in front of children. The amount of alcohol sold by supermarkets now represents more than 50 per cent. of total alcohol sales, up from some 13 per cent. 20 years ago. The whole dynamics of how people buy their alcohol and where they enjoy it have changed. We must be mindful of the fact that such legislation will have detrimental consequences if we drive smoke into another confined place where the most vulnerable citizens may be the victims.

Mrs. Betty Williams: Can the hon. Gentleman give the source of his research and the figures that he is quoting?

Next Section IndexHome Page