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House of Commons

Tuesday 15 November 2005

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Alcohol Sales

1. James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): What discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues about the sale of alcohol on public transport between Scotland and England. [26707]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Alistair Darling): There are no proposals to amend the provisions with regard to the sale of alcohol on public transport between Scotland and England.

James Duddridge: I thank the Secretary of State for that clarification, but he will forgive me for not having been really sure. One thing seems to be happening in Scotland and the Home Secretary seems to be doing another in England. I can forgive the Secretary of State for Transport for not communicating with the Home Secretary, but can he explain why the Secretary of State for Scotland has problems communicating with the Secretary of State for Transport on rail matters, given that it is himself? Can he clarify those matters?

Mr. Darling: I understand the disappointment when a Member asks a question and receives an answer that he was not expecting. All I can say to the hon. Gentleman and the House is that there are no proposals to change the law.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend have any concerns about the sale or consumption of alcohol on public transport between Scotland and England? As far as I am concerned, there is nothing wrong with having a sensible drink and perhaps a meal while travelling on the train from Scotland to England.

Mr. Darling: I agree. Many people enjoy a drink on train services between Scotland and England, as they do on aeroplanes. As I said, the Government have absolutely no plans to change the law in that regard, nor have they any plans to change the law with regard to the
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consumption of alcohol on trains generally in England—in other words, on the non cross-border services. There are no plans to change the law at all.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest) (Con): That was an interesting answer. Did the Secretary of State hear the Home Secretary speaking today at great length about promoting responsible drinking? Does he intend to promote responsible drinking in Scotland, too?

Mr. Darling: All of us would sign up to the proposition that people should act responsibly at all times whether they are on public transport, in a pub, on the street or wherever. That makes sense north or south of the border.


2. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): What devolution issues the Advocate-General has considered since 18 October. [26708]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (David Cairns): The Advocate-General has had a further 74 devolution issues intimated to her since 18 October.

Miss McIntosh: Is the Minister aware of the serious situation arising from the fact that the permanent regulations on Scottish legal aid have not yet been passed by the Scottish Legal Aid Board and the Scottish Executive, meaning that many counsel have to withdraw from representing clients, especially in appeal cases? Not only are their expenses not being met, but it is costing them money to represent clients in those circumstances. Will the Minister make urgent representations to the Advocate-General, the Lord Advocate and the Executive to ensure that those regulations, which were due to be adopted in September, will be passed at the earliest opportunity?

David Cairns: The hon. Lady asked a question in connection with legal aid at the last Scotland questions and I shall give her the same answer as she received then: issues to do with legal aid are devolved to the Scottish Executive and it is entirely a matter for them.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): What advice was sought or given by the Advocate-General on the Government's terrorism legislation? We know that the Home Secretary, in an arrogant and dismissive attitude to Scots law, did not seek the advice of the Lord Advocate and we know that, in a craven way, neither the Lord Advocate nor the First Minister offered advice. The Advocate-General has a role in those matters, so will the Minister tell us whether she was treated in the same dismissive and contemptuous way?

David Cairns: The Advocate-General is a UK Law Officer and as such takes part in a wide range of discussions on all aspects of UK law. Terrorism legislation is entirely a reserved matter. Discussions took place between officials at the Home Office and the
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Crown Office on how the issues would be implemented, but they are reserved matters and it was for the House to decide.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): Surely the Advocate-General should at least have suggested to the Home Secretary that he speak to the Lord Advocate about those matters. Is not the embarrassment now shared by the Home Secretary and the Lord Advocate, because of the failure to consult, the responsibility of the Advocate-General?

David Cairns: No, this is clearly a reserved matter and as such the Advocate-General can give advice, as she does on a range of issues as part of being a UK Law Officer. The policy issues were a matter for the House, and the House has decided that policy.


3. David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) (Con): What assessment he has made of the possible economic impact of the proposed smoking ban in Scotland. [26709]

6. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): What assessment he has made of the likely impact of legislation to ban smoking in enclosed public places and workplaces in Scotland from 2006. [26712]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Alistair Darling): In Scotland, health issues are the responsibility of the Scottish Executive. As the House will know, smoking is the greatest single, preventable cause of ill-health and premature death in Scotland.

David Mundell: I note the Secretary of State's response, but can he tell me what evidence there is that smoking is less dangerous in England than in Scotland? If there is no such evidence, why should my constituents who operate pubs and clubs across Dumfriesshire bear the commercial downside of this differential smoking policy, when smokers can simply go a few miles down the road to Carlisle for a night out?

Mr. Darling: The hon. Gentleman is right to suggest that smoking damages people's health no matter where they smoke. However, health is devolved to the Scottish Parliament, so it is entirely up to it to take a different view from the legislation that applies to England. The experience internationally—for example, in New York and Dublin—is that the ban has not been damaging in the way that its opponents feared. Indeed, many people enjoy the opportunity to go out to a place where they will not breathe in other people's smoke.

David Taylor: I am delighted that, from 26 March 2006, protection will be given against the carcinogenic effects of second-hand smoke to bar workers across Scotland, not least in the constituency of Airdrie and Shotts. Does the Secretary of State agree that next year's comprehensive smoking ban north of the border may result in health inequalities for the expatriate Scottish community in constituencies such as mine, where staff in
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non-food pubs and members clubs will have no such protection under the Health Bill? Will he discuss that with the Secretaries of State for Health and for Defence?

Mr. Darling: I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will have plenty of time to make his proposals when the legislation comes before the House. As I suggested to the hon. Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell) just a few moments ago, devolution inevitably means that legislation will differ, from time to time, north and south of the border. There is nothing wrong with that. Indeed, it was always anticipated that that would be the case. Of course, the extent of the ban in England was set out in the manifesto on which he and I both stood.

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): Given that there are 13,000 deaths each year as a result of smoking and many more thousands of people suffer illnesses as a result of the harmful effects of tobacco smoke, does the Secretary of State agree that the smoking ban in public places in Scotland will improve public health and that a healthier work force must therefore be good for the economy?

Mr. Darling: That is a very difficult question, but I think that the answer is yes.

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