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The Leader of the House was asked—

Private Members' Bills

32. Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): If he will invite the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House to examine the case for providing more time for private Members' Bills to be considered on the Floor of the House. [18509]

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): The new Modernisation Committee was established on 13 July, and has since met twice. It is currently discussing a programme of work, and is happy to receive representations on that from all colleagues. Currently, I have no plans to propose changes to the time available for consideration of private Member's Bills.

Hugh Bayley: Over the years, private Member's legislation has established some important rights and, sometimes, duties, for citizens of this country. I have been a Member of the House for more than 13 years, and apart from a short time when I inhabited the Front Bench, I have dutifully entered the ballot every year to try to get selected to put forward a Bill, but have never been successful even in securing the last place. The House would benefit if more time were available for private Member's legislation. Will my right hon. Friend ask the Committee to consider whether Wednesday evenings, on which we no longer sit, could be used to discuss private Member's Bills?

Mr. Hoon: I sympathise with my hon. Friend's difficulties with the ballot. I have the same problem with the lottery every Saturday evening. His practical suggestion of finding extra time was considered by the previous Modernisation Committee, which examined the idea of moving private Member's Bills to Tuesday evenings rather than Wednesday evenings, although the principle remains the same. It concluded that such a move would

Obviously, the House has since come to a different conclusion as to the pattern of hours of business. Given the history of the issue, I do not propose to disturb those arrangements for the moment, as I do not want to plunge the House into a further debate on our hours of work.

Sub Judice Rule

33. Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): If he will bring forward proposals to implement the Procedure Committee's recommendations on the sub judice rule. [18510]

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Nigel Griffiths): The Procedure Committee published its report on the House's sub judice rule in April this year. The conclusions and recommendations are largely
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matters for you, Mr. Speaker, and the House authorities to consider in the first instance. We are, of course, ready to respond to any points that come out of that process. That applies particularly to the recommendations concerning the application of the rule to coroners' courts, which I know are of concern to my hon. Friend, who gave both written and oral evidence to the Committee during its inquiry.

Ms Keeble: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he have any comment in particular about the recommendation that when an inquest is adjourned for a long time, there should be some consideration of what happens to the sub judice rule? He will be aware that 18 months have elapsed since the adjournment of an inquest that affects a matter of great public concern, not just to my constituency but more widely. It is wrong that we should be completely unable to ask questions or to call the Government to account on the matter during that period.

Nigel Griffiths: Of course I am not indifferent to the mental anguish experienced by my hon. Friend's constituents; but while coroners' courts do not determine the guilt or innocence of individuals, their findings can be very important and serious, and are obviously important to the discharging of our obligations under the European convention on human rights. Their proceedings risk being prejudiced through statements in the House. The Attorney-General said in evidence to the Procedure Committee that there might be a case for some relaxation in relation to the timing.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): The hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) gave excellent evidence to the Procedure Committee. I suggest that Members read the Committee's report on the sub judice rule.

The Speaker who presides over our affairs in the House has an important role. He can often make it easier for Members to ask the questions when there is a danger that, without advice, the sub judice rule would be breached. I respect the Speaker's role very much. He can be very helpful to Members in such circumstances.

Nigel Griffiths: I was grateful for the opportunity to serve on the Procedure Committee under the distinguished chairmanship of the hon. Gentleman, and I am grateful to him for telling my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) something that you know already, Mr. Speaker, but that other Members will have wanted to know.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I agree that the Procedure Committee's report is extremely good, and rightly recognises your discretion, Mr. Speaker, to give advice on the sub judice rule. There is an issue relating to coroners' courts, however. May I ask the Leader of the House, through his right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader, to make it clear to Cabinet Ministers in particular that sub judice rules apply to them as well, and that they are much more likely to prejudice the outcome of a court case than any Member raising an issue on the Floor of the House?

Nigel Griffiths: I am sure that Ministers are well aware of their obligations. I do not think that there have been too many examples of breaches of that kind.

Speaker's Statement

3.32 pm

Mr. Speaker: I have a statement to make to the House.

Following yesterday's personal statement by the right hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mr. Byers), I received from the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) a complaint of breach of privilege relating to the evidence given by the right hon. Gentleman to a sub-committee of the Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions on 14 November 2001.

My only role in this matter is to decide whether or not to allow the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell to have precedence over the Orders of the Day to move a motion relating to his complaint. It is not for me to make any judgment on the merits of the matter. I have concluded that the question is one which should be submitted to the decision of the House; and accordingly the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell will be able to move a motion relating to his complaint at the commencement of business tomorrow.
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Work and Families

Mr. Secretary Johnson, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Blunkett, Mr. Secretary Darling, Secretary Patricia Hewitt, Secretary Tessa Jowell, Mr. Secretary Hain and Secretary Ruth Kelly, presented a Bill to make provision about statutory rights to leave and pay in connection with the birth or adoption of children; to amend section 80F of the Employment Rights Act 1996; to make provision about workers' entitlement to annual leave; to provide for the increase in the sums specified in section 186(1) and 227(1) of that Act; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 60].

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Age of Sale of Tobacco

3.33 pm

Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): I beg to move,

I am delighted to have an opportunity to present this Bill. I believe that it is an extremely important measure, which the Government should implement if we are serious about reducing smoking in this country, particularly among younger people. The stimulus for the Bill came in 2004, when the Government published their White Paper "Choosing health: making healthier choices easier". The White Paper contained a chapter dedicated to the reduction of smoking through a number of different initiatives, none of which included raising the age at which people could buy tobacco. I found that something of a mystery at the time, especially in the light of the BBC's 2004 Healthier Britain survey, which revealed that 80 per cent. of the public—particularly those aged between 18 and 24—supported such a move.

Since then, I tabled two early-day motions during the last two parliamentary Sessions proposing such a measure. My early-day motion 226, which I tabled in May, has already attracted well over 50 signatures in this Session from Members in all parts of the House. It states that this House calls on the Government to give serious consideration to raising the minimum age of sales of tobacco from 16 to 18 years to bring it in line with sales of alcohol. I urge all Members who have not already signed it to do so.

My main reason for introducing this Bill—other than its obvious beneficial impact in terms of preventing youngsters from smoking—is that in the past couple of years the Government have made great strides in the age-barring of many other products. For example, under the terms of the Gambling Act 2005, the use of many gaming machines will be restricted to over-18-year-old players. Through the Violent Crime Reduction Bill, the Government intend to raise to 18 the age of sale of airguns and dangerous knives. Such measures doubtless enjoy popular support, so it is common sense to implement a similar measure in respect of tobacco. Doing so would show unequivocally that this Government do not condone young people smoking to the same extent that they do not condone young people drinking.

My Bill would not be a world first. A number of European countries—including Sweden, Ireland, Finland, Iceland, Malta, Norway and Poland—have already introduced such a measure. North of the border, Scotland is considering implementing such a measure through the Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Act 2005, thanks to the tabling of an amendment by my Scottish Labour parliamentary colleague, Mr. Duncan McNeil, the MSP for Greenock and Inverclyde. So in effect, we would be following in the footsteps of some of our enlightened European colleagues.

Of course, my Bill would not totally stop young people smoking, but it would impact on the number who become smokers in their teenage years, which is when some 80 per cent. of smokers begin smoking. The best
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example of the impact of such a measure can be seen on the island of Guernsey, where the age of sale was raised to 18 as long ago as 1997. Before then, the number of young smokers in Guernsey was roughly the same, as a percentage, as in the rest of the UK. But by 2003, thanks primarily to that measure and to the setting up of an appropriately named organisation, GASP—the Guernsey Adolescent Smoke-free Project—the number of young people reporting that they smoked had reduced by half. Now, nearly twice as many youngsters smoke in the UK as smoke in Guernsey, and when questioned, only 3 per cent. of Guernsey's 11-year-olds said that they thought they would smoke when they were older. Guernsey is now credited as being the world leader in reducing smoking among young people.

So there is clear evidence that raising the age of sale can reduce the number of youngsters who smoke, and I am delighted to say that my Bill enjoys the support of a number of different organisations and agencies, such as the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation and the Trading Standards Institute, to name but two. Having spoken to Mike Unger, the chief executive of the foundation, I know that he is very supportive of my Bill. The foundation is currently funding a 12-year study into children's attitudes to smoking and it has just published the primary results. I am sure that the Government will want to look at its findings in great detail.

The TSI, which is responsible for enforcing the laws relating to age-restricted sales—including sales of tobacco—across England and the rest of the UK, also strongly supports my Bill. In 2004–05, trading standards services prosecuted some 117 retailers for selling cigarettes to children aged under 16. The retailers received penalties ranging from a conditional discharge to fines of up to £1,000; many more received cautions.

After its annual conference in June this year, the Trading Standards Institute, in a press release entitled "Call to raise age limit on cigarettes to 18", said:

The call for action is also backed by the local authorities' co-ordinators of regulatory services. Stephen Butterworth, the TSI's lead officer on health, said:

Mr. Brandon Cook, TSI joint lead on age-restricted sales, added:

The TSI has previously requested raising the age to 18 without success and it is TSI policy to continue to press for action on the issue.

It is also my intention to continue to press the Government on this issue. The current age restriction on tobacco dates back to the beginning of the last century—well before scientific evidence was available to demonstrate the real health impact of smoking.
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Knowing what we do today about the dangers, it is our duty to do all that we can to prevent young people from smoking. This Bill is a common-sense measure which I hope the Government will have the common sense to implement.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Jeff Ennis, Mr. David Chaytor, Mr. David Drew, Mrs. Betty Williams, Harry Cohen, Mr. Terry Rooney, Mr. Stephen Crabbe, Mr. David Crausby, Chris McCafferty, Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson and Mr. Mike Hancock.

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