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Standing Committee Debates

Draft Smoking (Northern Ireland) Order 2006

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Greg Pope
Chapman, Ben (Wirral, South) (Lab)
Cooper, Rosie (West Lancashire) (Lab)
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester) (Lab)
George, Mr. Bruce (Walsall, South) (Lab)
Goggins, Paul (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland)
Hamilton, Mr. David (Midlothian) (Lab)
Jones, Mr. David (Clwyd, West) (Con)
McDonnell, Dr. Alasdair (Belfast, South) (SDLP)
Morley, Mr. Elliot (Scunthorpe) (Lab)
Norris, Dan (Wansdyke) (Lab)
Penrose, John (Weston-super-Mare) (Con)
Reed, Mr. Jamie (Copeland) (Lab)
Reid, Mr. Alan (Argyll and Bute) (LD)
Robertson, Mr. Laurence (Tewkesbury) (Con)
Robinson, Mrs. Iris (Strangford) (DUP)
Rosindell, Andrew (Romford) (Con)
Southworth, Helen (Warrington, South) (Lab)
Mark Etherton, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Fourth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Thursday 20 July 2006

[Mr. Greg Pope in the Chair]

Draft Smoking (Northern Ireland) Order 2006

2.30 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Paul Goggins): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Smoking (Northern Ireland) Order 2006.
The purpose of the order is to ensure that the public are protected from exposure to tobacco smoke in enclosed public places and workplaces and that the necessary powers are available to facilitate civil enforcement of smoke-free legislation. The proposals are therefore essentially about where, rather than whether, people smoke.
The order establishes four new offences: failing to display no smoking signs; smoking in a smoke-free place; failing to prevent smoking in a smoke-free place; and obstructing an authorised officer. I also propose that a fixed penalty notice option for the offences of failing to display no smoking signs and smoking in a smoke-free place. That is in line with measures proposed in England and Wales and should help to avoid costs to the taxpayer by reducing the burden on the courts.
In addition, the order includes enabling powers so that the Department can by regulation define “enclosed” and “substantially enclosed”; specify exemptions; set out the amount of fixed penalties; and amend the age limit for the sale of tobacco products to young persons. Perhaps I should make it clear that we have no immediate plans to change the age of sale and simply propose to take a power to enable a future devolved Administration to decide how best to proceed. The regulations will be subject to further consultation in Northern Ireland later in the year.
I am pleased to report that the public in Northern Ireland overwhelmingly agreed with the proposals to strengthen existing controls on where people are allowed to smoke. A major consultation exercise on tobacco use in Northern Ireland elicited more than 70,000 responses with 91 per cent. supporting comprehensive controls as outlined in the order. This widespread support should also make enforcement easier. The order proposes that district councils in Northern Ireland should be the sole enforcement authority. In practice, this will be carried out by councils’ environmental health officers, who already have enforcement responsibilities relating to public health issues, including those relating to tobacco control.
The cost of introducing these provisions in Northern Ireland is estimated to be just under £6 million in 2007-08 and £3 million in 2008-09.
Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): I assume that the Minister is talking about Exchequer revenue estimates. How has that figure been reached? What consideration has been given to the consultation exercise? It seems to me that the figure is impossible to estimate.
Paul Goggins: It is important to calculate these things properly, but the figures that I have just given cover enforcement, including a compliance telephone helpline, a communications programme, signage and support for smoking cessation services. Our estimate is that that will be the additional cost of producing those services. Guidance on the implications of smoke-free legislation will be widely distributed to enforcement officers, employers and the general public.
Although I have stated that the main aim of smoke-free legislation is to protect public health, experience from elsewhere suggests that comprehensive controls on smoking have the additional benefit of encouraging greater numbers of smokers to seek help to give up. A reduction in smoking prevalence as a result of introducing these proposals would lead to a significant reduction in hospital costs. An estimated £4 million would be saved per annum from the costs of treating smoking-related diseases if people give up in increasing numbers.
I am confident that these proposals will have a positive impact on the health and well-being of employees and the general public in Northern Ireland. Implementation of the order will save lives and reduce smoking-related illnesses. I believe it will also provide a fresh impetus for the many smokers in Northern Ireland who regularly tell us that they want to give up. The public health benefits are clear.
2.35 pm
Mr. Robertson: I do not know whether I will be the only member of the Committee to oppose the order. If I am fighting a lonely battle, so be it—it is not the first time and it will not be the last. I understand that, very unusually, I will be in opposition to my friends in the Democratic Unionist party, although I assure the Minister that that will not become a habit. On this issue, I must oppose the measure, just as I opposed it when it was introduced for England and Wales, and I shall give my reasons.
I do not have a declarable interest, but I am a smoker. The fact that I am a considerate smoker means that the measure annoys me. I fully respect the rights of non-smokers to enjoy their work, their social life and other leisure activities in smoke-free environments. All I ask of them is the same consideration and that they allow me to enjoy my pint in my local pub on a Sunday lunchtime with a cigar. It is very relaxing, and I am doing no harm to anybody. I ask for the same consideration that I give to non-smokers.
My solution would be to give restaurant owners and pub landlords the right to make the decision themselves, based on what their clientele and their staff want. That seems a sensible way forward. Already some pubs have gone smoke free. There are a number in my constituency. I sometimes go into them. There are also many more pubs and restaurants that have divided areas where smoking is allowed in one part and not in the other, which seems a reasonable solution. How someone runs their business is a matter of free choice, as is whether somebody goes in the smoking area or not. It annoys me that one place where one will be allowed to smoke is in prison. If I go into my local pub often enough and break the law eventually I will be sent to prison where I will be allowed to smoke, which is completely stupid.
I understand that there is a concern about protecting staff. I would be first to say that we should indeed protect staff. I would make the point that the dangers of passive smoking are not proven. Various studies have been carried out and they are not conclusive by any means. Let us assume that there is a problem with passive smoking. Many staff in pubs smoke themselves. My local pub does not have any staff and the landlord and landlady smoke, so where is the problem? They would be caught up in this ban in Northern Ireland, as they have been in England and Wales.
There are options for staff. These days, one of the reasons why so many illegal immigrants are employed in catering is because people cannot get staff. Staff have the ability to choose what kind of establishment they wish to work in. Certainly I would want to protect anybody—staff, customers, or anyone else—who does not want to inhale smoke, but I do not think that this is the right way to do it. The measure is a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
I am particularly annoyed that when introducing the ban in England and Wales, the Government said that 95 per cent. of passive smoking takes place in the home. Where is the one place that they are not banning it? The home. Exactly how concerned are the Government about passive smoking? And exactly how concerned are they about children? Children do not need to go into pubs, but they need to be in homes, where they have absolutely no choice about inhaling their parents’ cigarette smoke, which will probably increase when the ban is introduced. Yes, some people will stop smoking because of the ban in public places, but many more will stay at home and smoke even more in front of their children. The logic behind the measure is just not there.
I would happier if the Government were less hypocritical on this matter. If they banned smoking everywhere at least they would be consistent, although I would still oppose it. I wondered why they do not do that, but I did not wonder for too long, because when I looked at the revenue that the Government get from tobacco, I got the answer. At the last count, the figure was £8.1 billion, and it is expected to rise to £8.4 billion in the next year, for which figures are not yet available but are on their way.
Against that, there is the offset cost to the health service of tobacco-related diseases. I accept that that cost exists, but it comes to £1.7 billion, which is less than a quarter of the revenue. I am not arguing that such matters can be decided by such a crude analysis when it comes down to people’s health, but the Government seem reluctant to ban smoking entirely, because they would lose £8.1 billion at the last count in revenue. That analysis just takes into account revenue from tobacco. If a number of country pubs close because people do not go to them any more, because they cannot enjoy what they have enjoyed for many years, will there be a loss in revenue from alcohol sales? I do not know, because I cannot estimate that.
I was perhaps slightly premature when I intervened on the Minister—I apologise if I misunderstood the figures that he was quoting—but the explanatory memorandum states:
“Exchequer revenue, from tobacco duty, is expected to decrease by £6.2m per annum”.
I understood that the Minister was quoting that figure, although he may have been quoting the costs of implementation. The estimated drop in revenue is £6.2 million, but I cannot see how that can be calculated and simply do not know where that figure came from. I should like a explanation, because the matter is important. We are talking about the financial effects of the order. I suggest that the estimate is a guessed figure, because there is no basis for the calculation.
The Minister may say that this is a reason to introduce the measure, but people in Northern Ireland apparently spend more than people in any other region on tobacco—they spend £8.50 a week compared with the UK average of £5.40 per week. I do not know why that is the case, but I do not think that this is the way to address the issue. If people in Northern Ireland smoke, the matter should be considered by the Assembly, which we do not have at the moment. Again, it is regrettable that we are discussing the measure in Committee with just a few hon. Members present, most of whom do not come from Northern Ireland, when the Assembly could discuss it. This is one issue that should be left to the Assembly to discuss, hopefully in the not-too-distant future.
Yesterday, we discussed the extension of direct rule to April next year, and I said that I would not support the measure again. I accept that it is necessary to take the Assembly forward for another six months—it will be just more than six months, because of the recess—but I am not prepared to vote for a further extension. It is up to the Government to introduce proposals to change the way in which we consider Orders in Council. I understand that the Government are considering that matter, which is a chink of light.
The Government Whip has suggested that I should not speak for too long, because I will need a cigarette. I am not quite at that point yet, but I am in need of a light drink. I hope that I have made my point that this is a matter of personal choice. I accept that there is a case for restricting smoking to certain areas in Government buildings and many other places and not allowing it on the grounds of schools and hospitals. However, when it comes to pubs, restaurants and clubs, and particularly private clubs, it should be up to the staff, the clientele and the landlord or restaurant owner to decide. It is a matter of personal freedom, which is perhaps where I differ from Government Members. I hope that I have put together a reasonable case for voting against the measure and look forward to hearing other contributions and the Minister’s response.
2.44 pm
Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): I welcome the Government’s proposals to ban smoking in enclosed public places. In addition to the deaths of smokers themselves, the 2002 British Medical Association report concluded that at least 1,000 preventable deaths every year in the UK are the result of passive smoking. The side effects include a series of dreadful illnesses such as lung cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease, middle ear disease and asthma attacks.
Both the BMA and the Royal College of Nursing support a complete ban in enclosed public places, and I agree. The problem with a partial smoking ban in, for instance, pubs and restaurants is that it would leave workers at risk from the effects of second-hand smoke. Although customers and owners might have a choice, workers, if they want to continue in employment, do not.
The ban has already been introduced in Scotland and has been a widespread success. There have been no enforcement problems, and the ban has wide public support. All the dire forecasts that pubs and restaurants would go out of business have proved to be untrue. In fact, many restaurants and pubs report increased business, because people prefer a smoke-free atmosphere.
I add only one caveat. Although I support the order in principle, I was disturbed to find when reading through it that I kept encountering the phrase:
“the Department may make regulations”.
Would it not be better if the regulations were subject to parliamentary scrutiny rather than being made by the Department? Yesterday we debated the continuation of the six-month order, and I was encouraged by what the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office said—if the Assembly does not continue after 24 November, the Government will seriously consider introducing better methods of scrutinising Northern Ireland legislation in Parliament. I hope that future orders will not include the phrase:
“the Department may make regulations”.
I do not understand why the Government could not have consulted and returned to the House with a final version of the regulations. With that slight caveat, I support the order.
2.48 pm
Mrs. Iris Robinson (Strangford) (DUP): It is a pleasure to have you chair our sitting, Mr. Pope. I hope that you will take this in the spirit in which it is meant—this is the first time that I have ever had to work under a Pope.
As the Democratic Unionist party spokesperson, I welcome this much-needed order, which, as the Minister has said, has the overwhelming support of the people of Northern Ireland—it is always nice to have that. Sadly, many things are foisted on the people of Northern Ireland without their direct say or input. This morning I raised the issue of the right to adopt children within civil partnerships in Northern Ireland, which will go down badly within a strong Christian Province.
I shall point out a few items in the legislation. There should be strong support for those trying to give up smoking. Studies show that smoke-free workplaces encourage smokers to quit or to reduce consumption, and the fall in tobacco sales in the Republic of Ireland is further evidence of that. Tobacco is the single greatest cause of death and avoidable illness in Northern Ireland. It is estimated to contribute to approximately 30 per cent. of all cancer deaths and is a significant risk factor for coronary heart disease. Those two diseases are the two greatest causes of death in the Province.
On possible exceptions for particular facilities such as prisons and psychiatry hospitals, the key factor should be eliminating the risk of passive smoking to others, including staff. The right to protection from toxins overrides any right that individuals perceive that they should have to smoke wherever they want. I agree with the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) that there should be a total ban. I also hope that he never has to go to prison.
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Prepared 21 July 2006