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Session 2006 - 07
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Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft Smoke-Free (Exemptions and Vehicles) Regulations 2007

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mrs. Janet Dean
Brown, Mr. Nicholas (Newcastle upon Tyne, East and Wallsend) (Lab)
Flint, Caroline (Minister of State, Department of Health)
Gidley, Sandra (Romsey) (LD)
Heyes, David (Ashton-under-Lyne) (Lab)
Holloway, Mr. Adam (Gravesham) (Con)
Jenkin, Mr. Bernard (North Essex) (Con)
Kawczynski, Daniel (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con)
Keeble, Ms Sally (Northampton, North) (Lab)
McIsaac, Shona (Cleethorpes) (Lab)
Meacher, Mr. Michael (Oldham, West and Royton) (Lab)
Morley, Mr. Elliot (Scunthorpe) (Lab)
Mullin, Mr. Chris (Sunderland, South) (Lab)
Murrison, Dr. Andrew (Westbury) (Con)
Pugh, Dr. John (Southport) (LD)
Rosindell, Andrew (Romford) (Con)
Ward, Claire (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Wright, Mr. Anthony (Great Yarmouth) (Lab)
Hannah Weston, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Second Delegated Legislation Committee

Monday 26 February 2007

[Mrs. Janet Dean in the Chair]

Draft Smoke-Free (Exemptions and Vehicles) Regulations 2007

4.30 pm
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Caroline Flint): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Smoke-Free (Exemptions and Vehicles) Regulations 2007.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenientto consider the draft Smoke-Free (Penalties and Discounted Amounts) Regulations 2007 and the draft Children and Young Persons (Sale of Tobacco etc.) Order 2007.
Caroline Flint rose—
Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): On a point of order, Mrs. Dean. Will you confirm that we will be debating the three orders together?
The Chairman: I can confirm that the debate will cover all three motions.
Caroline Flint: Thank you for clarifying the position, Mrs. Dean. The draft instruments are proposed under the powers in part 1 of the Health Act 2006. I am delighted to introduce them in Committee, as the subjects that they cover were discussed extensively during the passage of the 2006 Act. I hope that the Committee sees the logic in considering the instruments together.
We had full and constructive engagement in respect of the public consultation, and I want to put on the record my thanks to all the organisations that took part, particularly those that will be directly affected by the smoke-free legislation, for their continuing help. We will hopefully achieve a successful outcome later this year, when the regulations come into force.
The Children and Young Persons (Sale of Tobacco etc.) Order 2007 changes the age of sale for tobacco products from 16 to 18 years of age by amending the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. It will also change the signage requirements for retail premises to reflect that change in age by amending the Children and Young Persons (Protection from Tobacco)Act 1991. It is our intention that those provisions will apply from 1 October 2007 in both England and Wales.
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough (Jeff Ennis) and the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire(Sir George Young) will particularly welcome the measure, the powers for which gained cross-party support when they were introduced on Report. I am pleased to say that there was almost universal support for the increase in the age of sale of tobacco to 18 years old in response to consultation in the summer of 2006. It was agreed that the measure will help to reduce the availability of tobacco to young people and reinforce the dangers of smoking. What came back from the consultation was the view that it would make it easier for retailers to comply with the law. Current research shows that 70 per cent. of young smokers buy from small shops, and those in that sector felt that raising the age to 18 may help them in their endeavours to be responsible retailers.
I turn now to the two sets of draft regulationsmade under powers in the smoke-free legislation inthe Health Act 2006. The detailed provisions withinthe regulations were subject to full consultation in the second part of 2006. The drafts have been improved and strengthened, based on the feedback that the Government received from stakeholders and members of the public through the public consultation process.
The draft Smoke-Free (Exemptions and Vehicles) Regulations 2007 will apply only to England. I shall first go through the limited exemptions to smoke-free legislation and then move on to vehicles that willhave to be smoke free. As I said during the passage of the Health Act 2006, I want to make it clear that the Government propose very few exemptions from the protection that the legislation will give the public and employees. It is important to reiterate that smoke-free legislation will not apply to private dwellings, apart from any part of a dwelling that is used solely for work for more than one person or where the public have access.
Self-contained residential accommodation for temporary or holiday use will also not be required to be smoke-free under the legislation, although the manager of the accommodation might choose to make it no smoking. It is interesting that the organisations that have voluntarily decided to go smoke free include hotels. The regulations deal only with premises that would otherwise be required to be smoke free under the provisions of the Health Act 2006. Exemptions are provided to allow managers to designate specific rooms for smoking in the following types of premises. Hotels, guest houses, inns, hostels and members’ clubs may designate smoking bedrooms for the accommodation of guests or members, but all other parts of the premises must be smoke free at all times.
Dormitories and other shared accommodation that is made available under separate arrangements with the individuals who share it, such as that in youth hostels, must be smoke free at all times. Care homes, hospitals and prisons may designate either bedrooms or rooms to be used exclusively for smoking for use by persons over the age of 18. Notwithstanding the exemptions for prisons in the regulations, the Prison Service will introduce stricter controls over smoking in prisons, which will apply to public and private prisons. Those controls will come into being on 1 April. Under the regulations, all areas will be smoke free, with the exemption of cells used solely by smokers. Under-18s establishments will be entirely smoke free. I onceagain place on record my thanks to those in thePrison Service who have helped to provide more comprehensive coverage of the smoke-free provisions than the Government originally intended, which was strengthened by the consultation.
Residential mental health units may designate either bedrooms or rooms to be used exclusively for smoking for use by persons over the age of 18 until 1 July 2008 under amendments to the initial proposals published by the Government last year. The proposals in the regulations take into account the responses from stakeholders received in the Department of Health’s public consultation last year. King’s Fund research from July 2006 shows that 70 per cent. of psychiatric patients smoke, and that 50 per cent. of them arevery heavy smokers. We deliberated over the issues surrounding mental health units for a considerable amount of time. However, I felt that it was right to come down on the side of moving the mental health sector away from an exemption as soon as possible.
I am heartened by the fact that many units are already smoke free. When I visited a medium-secure mental health unit which treats women and young people, I was pleased to find that it had already gone smoke free. That shows what can be done, but in recognition of some of the changes that will need to made, we have provided a sunset regulation that will last until 1 July 2008 to allow any necessary modifications to be made for people to go outside. I have been heartened by the engagement on that particular issue.
Offshore installations may designate rooms to be used exclusively for smoking.
Research and testing facilities may designate rooms as non-smoke free only while those rooms are being used for specified research and tests. I have received some letters from teachers who are worried whether the measure might affect some classroom experiments. I assure the Committee that the provisions will allow legitimate experiments to take place, but such experiments will have to fit with the regulations covering how such types of rooms should be used.
Specialist tobacconist shops, about which we had considerable debate during the passage of the 2006 Act, may allow people to sample cigars or pipe tobacco on the shop premises. Smoking of any other product, including cigarettes, will be prohibited. Under the regulations, any premises that have designated rooms for smoking must meet a number of conditions for smoking to be permitted. If all those conditions are not met, the room would need to remain smoke free at all times. The conditions are designed to protect people from second-hand smoke. They are universally applicable, although they are not unduly onerous or burdensome.
The regulations also include an exemption for performers, an issue discussed in the House of Commons and in the other place. Where the artistic integrity of a performance makes it appropriate for a person to smoke, the part of the premises in which that person performs will not be required to be smoke free.
Sandra Gidley (Romsey) (LD): On the whole, I find the exemptions easy to understand and justify. However, I find what I can only describe as the “luvvies exemption” difficult to justify. There are products available—I have seen them used in school plays—that are quite realistic substitutes for cigarettes. I cannot see the need for an actor or actress to have the real McCoy, as it were, on stage. Why is that being allowed?
Caroline Flint: I have received various views on the issue, and I was lobbied to extend the exemption to rehearsals, an invitation which I declined. Despite the fact that I received information about how important props are to acting and how important it is to have them in rehearsals, I was not tempted down the route of allowing smoking in rehearsals. Such issues require a judgment call. Scotland has decided not to have any exemptions, but New York has exemptions for performances. The reality is that we will keep the legislation under review, and perhaps the exemptions will not be necessary in three years’ time. It seemed to me that performances, of which I do not think there are that many, could be allowed an exemption in such a closely regulated and defined area, but we will be keeping that under review to assess whether our judgment was right. Of course, we are waiting to see what happens with the performance issue in Scotland, too.
Even though the regulations allow a limited number of exemptions, there is no obligation on people in charge of premises to implement exemptions to allow smoking on the premises. The regulations will also require vehicles to be smoke free at all times if they are used either to transport members of the public, whether for reward or hire, or in the course of paid or voluntary work by more than one person as either a driver or as a passenger, even if people use the vehicle for work at different times of day or only intermittently.
Importantly, that reproduces the same level of protection for people in enclosed or substantially enclosed workplaces and public places that are vehicles as people will have in places that are not vehicles. Public or work vehicles will not be required to be smoke free when conveying people if the roof has been completely removed or stowed. So for those with a nice sports convertible, there is that option. However, the vehicle would be required to be smoke free, if the roof was in place. Under the new law, a roof would include both a removable hard top as well as a canvas or fabric cover. We were lobbied on that issue. I was not sure how many convertible cars are used for work, but perhaps there are some work cars that have such a feature, and they will not be covered by the need to be smoke free.
Like private dwellings, private vehicles will notbe covered by smoke-free legislation. Under the regulations, a vehicle will not be required to be smoke free if it is used primarily for the private purposes of a person who either owns the vehicle or has a right to use the vehicle that is not restricted to a particular journey. For example, if a group of parents car pool and travel in a private car to run a sports activity, they would not be covered by the requirement. However, if a charity or a school minibus were used for such an activity, it would be covered by the smoke-free legislation. The drafting of the regulations has been improved by listening to the stakeholders who responded to the public consultation run by the Department and by clarifying that private vehicles used only occasionally for work purposes will not be required to be smoke free.
To recap, the offence relating to the display of no-smoking signs is level 3 on the standard scale, which is currently a £1,000 fine or a fixed penalty of £200 discounted to £150 if the penalty is paid within 15 days from when the notice is issued. The offence of smoking in a smoke-free place is level 1 on the standard scale, which is currently a fine of £200 or a fixed penalty of £50 discounted to £30. The offence of failing to prevent smoking in a smoke-free place is level 4 on the standard scale, which is currently a fine of £2,500, and there is no fixed penalty given for that offence. The levels are fair and proportionate, and they reflect the advice that was received from the Home Office and the responses to earlier consultations that were held on smoke-free legislation.
It is clear that fines for the offences of failing to display appropriate no-smoking signs and failing to prevent smoking in smoke-free places have to be sufficient to act as a deterrent. Enforcement authorities will be working hard with businesses to help them understand and properly implement smoke-free legislation in their premises in the lead-up to 1 July.
The approach to enforcement will be non-confrontational. The Government are encouraging people to comply with the new laws from the outset, and if they comply, no enforcement action, penalties or fines will be necessary. In the first six months of the ban in Scotland, 210 fixed-penalty notices were issued to individuals and 11 to businesses. It was not until January that the first court conviction occurred for failure to display the required no-smoking signage, which is heartening and helpful. If we proceed well with the work of the next six months, we should be able to limit the numbers who will fall foul of the regulations. Experience has shown that most breaches are likely to occur in the first few months, with a considerable falling off after that.
Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, East and Wallsend) (Lab): I think that my hon. Friend’s broad approach is right. May I ask what guidance hasbeen given to enforcement officers and planning departments in local authorities on what will constitute “outdoors” in the case of hospitality outlets such as country pubs and other such premises? Landlords of such premises might reasonably try to find the most comfortable possible place for customers who wish to smoke outside, and they might want to provide a roof and perhaps some walls. However, there will have to be a gap between the walls and the roof, so that the definition of “outdoors” is fulfilled. How precise is the guidance, and how much is being left to local authorities’ discretion?
As I have said to my right hon. Friend, one reason for choosing 1 July was to leave enough time for businesses to engage, while permitting the regulations to go through. We were conscious of the local elections, and we wanted to give sufficient time for such questions to be asked at the local level.
Experience in Ireland, Scotland and other countries has shown that pubs and restaurants have developed canopies outside their establishments, and in some cases there was a bit of rush on patio heaters as well. We need to ensure that people do not invest in outdoor structures that fall foul of the legislation, which is why local engagement is important. The website that we have already set up goes into great detail on such issues, and we have asked businesses to register with it so that they receive regular updates between now and 1 July.
Let me say to my hon. Friends and to Opposition Members that anything they do to ensure things go well on the ground will be appreciated. That applies to contacts both with affected businesses and with local authorities.
Mr. Brown: May I press a little further? Does the website contain specific, objective guidance that sets out clearly what is and is not permissible? If not, where can those objective criteria be found?
Caroline Flint: All the guidance should be available on the website. There is also a reference group with representation from all the various industry organisations and associations, which examines the information that we are providing so that we have a sense whether the language is right and understandable. All the information has been provided to colleagues in local authorities and to the environmental health departments, and I am happy to provide my right hon. Friend with the details.
The local authority co-ordinators of regulatory services will be providing guidance for local authorities on implementation and enforcement. However, the responsibility remains with premises managers to ensure that they find out how the law will affect them. There is no reason why anybody should not understand clearly what is required. If my right hon. Friend is worried about a particular situation in his constituency, he should let me know, but the guidance is as extensive and transparent as one might wish. If anyone is not getting the information, they should let me know. One business has contacted me at my constituency to say that it has received two lots of information. That might also happen, because of the lists available to us.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): The construction of external shelters might require planning permission in many cases. One local authority in my constituency has made clear its concerns that that will lead to increased costs. I appreciate that the Government have allocated some money for the enforcement of smoke-free legislation, but the letter states that
“sadly, any fees currently payable rarely recoup the actual cost of anything but the very simplest of applications.”
Has the Minister factored such extra planning costs into the compliance cost assessment, or will the measures finish up as an increased burden on the council tax payer?
Caroline Flint: We had a long discussion about the moneys that we will provide to local authoritiesfor enforcement—I think that the figure is between£29 million and £30 million. We discussed that with the various organisations, and the settlement was agreed. What we are doing now, before the legislation comes into force, is making the exercise as seamless as possible and ensuring that people are aware of what they do and do not need to do. For example, we are providing all the signage from the centre, so people will not have to go out and buy it themselves.
As I have said, our experience in Scotland, Ireland and elsewhere is that things have gone amazingly smoothly. In terms of logistics, coverage and population, we are dealing with the largest exercise of its kind in the world, but the Government feel that we have worked through the issues with all our stakeholders.
The planning situation for some businesses may mean that they will have to seek a revision of their planning conditions or a new planning arrangement. Again, we listened to the voices of those, particularly in the business community, who wanted a bit of extra time to determine where that will be appropriate, but it will not be necessary for everybody to have the time to follow that through.
On the whole, the feedback that I have heard from the business sectors affected, local authorities and the professional organisations, which will be at the forefront of implementation, is that they are pleased with how things are proceeding and have no complaints so far. However, we will have to monitor that as we move forward and as people become more aware. We might need to focus particularly on small businesses to encourage more awareness of how the arrangements will affect them. We should not forget that a huge number of workplaces are already smoke-free, so it will just be a question of other workplaces coming on board.
Mr. Jenkin: The Minister has given a full answer, but not to the specific point that I mentioned. Is the question of extra planning costs included in the compliance cost assessment? Colchester borough council expects to have to find an extra sum of money, which will have to be paid by council tax payers because the Government have not allocated money to cover the expense. Will she comment on that? Maybe she thinks that that will be justifiable extra expenditure for local taxpayers, but the measures will have an effect. It is not so much workplaces as bars, pubs, restaurants and publicly used premises that will apply to put up extra shelters, which will require planning permission.
Caroline Flint: We agreed with the Local Government Association how to proceed under the new burdens doctrine to prevent an increase in council tax. We held extensive discussions with the LGA on the issue. The money that we have provided is meant to fund the costs of local implementation as well as enforcement. We believe that local authorities will not be out of pocket in implementing the new laws, and we have no evidence to suggest that they will be.
Sandra Gidley: I am somewhat confused by the argument advanced by the hon. Member for North Essex. If businesses want a planning application for some sort of hut for people to huddle in and smoke, surely they will pay for that application and the costs will be covered by the businesses themselves. I do not understand the argument about the burden on the taxpayer.
Caroline Flint: Yes; I am not sure whether the hon. Member for North Essex has a specific problem in his constituency. As I have said, we engaged strongly throughout the discussion on smoke-free legislation even before the vote on 14 February last year with all our stakeholders, particularly those on the front line. All in all, there has been a sense of harmony in our efforts.
When we voted on 14 February last year, the final vote created more of a level playing field than we first envisaged when we presented our proposals. That has been widely welcomed by industry, because it will not create a situation where one part of the community, for example clubs, will be allowed to open but pubs will not, or where pubs with food will not be exempt but pubs without food will. We created as much of a level playing field as possible. In doing so, we have provided for a less onerous regulatory impact than might have been the case. It is far less complicated than our original proposals, for which I am incredibly thankful.
Although there might be some glitches along the way, if local authorities work with those in their communities who will be affected, there should be no reason why people should not be able to introduce smoke-free legislation in a relatively straightforward and simple way. As the hon. Lady has said, if someone seeks planning consent for a structure, they might have to pay for it, but the funding that we have agreed will go towards the costs of local implementation as well as of enforcement.
Compliance will be straightforward in most instances, consisting of displaying no smoking signs, which we will provide, and taking necessary action to ensure that people do not smoke in any enclosed or substantially enclosed part of the premises. I commend the regulations to the Committee.
4.57 pm
Dr. Murrison: Thank you, Mrs. Dean, for reminding us that it would have been possible for us to spend four and a half hours on the regulations if we had decided to take each of them separately—in truth, they hang together naturally. I shall be as brief as I can. The Conservatives have no objection to the regulations—indeed, we actively support at least one of them—but I want to make one or two points and hear the Minister’s answers.
The Minister has said that the implementation of similar regulations, plus a few others, in Scotland resulted in about 250 fixed penalty notices. I am not quite sure what that figure represents, but I have multiplied it up to see what it might mean for the English population, which is that there would be about 2,500 fixed penalty notices. The Minister is keen to dismiss that outcome, but it is significant. I hope that the regulations will come into force with a light touch and will not be seen as draconian. I hope that, through education, there will be an understanding of precisely what represents a smoke-free place, and that there will not be too much anti-smoking zealotry or the introduction of smoking police, both of which might annoy people rather than achieve the objective that we all want—a reduction in smoking. We do not want to vilify smokers if they want to smoke, although I think they are hugely misguided. The understanding during passage of the Health Act 2006 was that if that is what people want to do at the end of the day, and if it does not have an adverse impact on other people, they must be allowed to get on with it.
I am pleased that the age for sale of tobacco willbe raised from 16 to 18, and that the Minister acknowledged that the increase was something of a joint effort between the hon. Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough and my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire. I remember dealing with the matter at some length in Committee. The increase is sensible—it will equate the age for the sale of alcohol with that for the sale of tobacco, which has to be right, and it will make things a lot easier for retailers.
What assessment has the Minister made of the effect of the change on illicit and marginal sales and on sales of cigarettes to children by outlets other than shops? Shops will be easier to control by means of the regulations, but I fear that illicit and non-shop sales will inevitably increase as a result of the measure, although they are fairly small at the moment—the Minister has said that they account for only 30 per cent. of current sales.
I was slightly surprised that failing to prevent smoking in a smoke-free place will be a level 4 offence on the standard scale. That seems to be a peg or two too high, and I am interested to know why the Minister has set it at that level. The people who might ask others not to smoke may not be the owners of the premises—they might be fairly casual employees, and they might feel less willing to dissuade individuals from smoking than one would hope, especially in a situation in which alcohol is being consumed as well as tobacco. It seems a little harsh to put such a burden on them, and I wonder whether the Minister can think of mitigating circumstances that would get such people off the hook. I am sure that none of us wants people in subordinate roles to feel that they have to approach individuals who might become aggressive if asked to desist from smoking.
I was also a little surprised at the apparent conflation of nursing homes and prisons in the draft regulations on exemptions and vehicles. They seem to be being treated together for the purposes of the regulations, which should not be the case. Nursing homes are places where people live, but they are places in which people’s liberties are nevertheless to a greater or lesser extent restricted—perhaps not actively, but de facto. We should ensure that people’s right to smoke if they want to is protected, and it is wrong to deal with nursing homes in the same breath—if that is the right way to put it—as prisons. Prisons are not homes; they are places where people go to be punished and to have their liberty withdrawn.
I am concerned that the inability to have mechanically closing doors in a prison, unlike in a nursing home, might make it more difficult to ensure that prisons in general are smoke-free places. If a person in a cell can smoke, it might be more difficult to contain the smoke in certain circumstances and in certain prisons than in a nursing home, where mechanically closable doors are part of the standard fittings.
The Minister reassured me to some extent when she implied that it will be for the governor of a prison to determine whether that prison is smoke-free, but I hope that she will say a little about the discussions that she might be having with the Home Office on its guidance to prison officers on that point. Prisoners do not have the freedom that the rest of us enjoy, and we have an obligation as the state into whose custody they are passed to ensure that they come to no harm. Given the debate on health inequalities and the fact that prisoners are among the most unhealthy populations in this country, it is reasonable to give guidance to prison governors along the lines that they should assume that their prisons are smoke free, unless there are very good reasons why they should not be. The Minister is nodding her head, so I trust that she agrees with me on that point.
I am a little surprised about mental health units. In statutory terms, they are something of a halfway house between nursing homes, which we have discussed, and prisons. I had assumed that the units would be exempt from the regulations. I should be interested to know what professional advice the Minister has taken about such matters because many people in mental health units are deeply distressed and—to add to their woes—to be told that they will have their beloved cigarettes removed from them might be counter-productive in some instances. I expect that the hon. Lady has spoken to the Royal College of Psychiatrists and received its agreement to the non-exemption. Such matters are difficult for the college, because it is made up of both psychiatrists and doctors, so their enthusiasm to reduce harmful tobacco use might influence their view. However, from my limited experience of such matters, there could be problems with a few patients in mental health units as a result of the regulations. I shall appreciate her comments about that.
I wish to make some observations about vehicles. We debated the matter at some length in Committee. I am particularly concerned about white van man, the classic bloke in his van who is wedded to his cigarette. What effect will the regulations have on him, and, indeed, how will authorities reasonably enforce them in such circumstances? I assume that hire cars are included in the regulations, and I wonder whether it is possible to have designated smoking hire cars, because there will be people who want to smoke in vehicles. In respect of large hire fleets, it might be reasonable for an individual to say that he wants a vehicle in which he is permitted to smoke. However, nothing in the regulations would allow that to happen.
I am concerned about cars and vehicles which are used habitually by one person but which may be used by someone else on rare occasions. It seems from the regulations that it would not be possible for such a vehicle to be used by another, if it were used habitually by a smoker. Conversely, that smoker would be forbidden from smoking in the vehicle, if there were a vague possibility that it might be used by a non-smoker.
My initial thoughts were geared towards stopping exposure to second-hand smoke. It is a bit mean to insist that every last trace or molecule of tobacco smoke should be eschewed from a vehicle before a non-smoker can use it, but the regulations seem to be saying that in connection with vehicles. I hope that the Minister will recognise that, for many commercial drivers, their vehicle is their home on wheels—indeed, some of them sleep in their vehicles. We must be a little careful about completely removing the liberties that they currently enjoy, if there is no realistic prospect that their activity is having a deleterious effect on the health of others.
5.9 pm
Sandra Gidley: I do not intend to detain the Committee for long. I welcome the legislation. It is heartening that the consultation process seems to have been meaningful—we do not always stand up and say that in this place. It is quite rare to receive briefings from people who have a long-standing interest in the subject and who feel that nearly all of their concerns have been taken on board. I would like to place on record my congratulations on achieving that. It is not necessarily an easy subject. In some ways, the level playing field that we have ended up with has made the passing of regulations that much easier.
Many of the points that I jotted down have already been covered by hon. Members. I want briefly to mention the age limit. The increase to 18 is welcome, but as we go about our everyday business, we all see many under-16s smoking on street corners. Clearly, those under-16s can easily access cigarettes. The hon. Member for Westbury has mentioned that only 30 per cent. of cigarettes are sourced via an illegal mechanism, which highlights the fact that 70 per cent. of them are accessed through the corner shop or another legitimate means of sale. Therefore, it is all very well to increase the age limit, but we must do more to prevent sales to young teenagers and possibly do more in school to get the message across.
Dr. Murrison: How does the hon. Lady square what she is saying about raising the age of sale to 18 withher party’s general thrust of making 16 the age of competence for young people? Will she compare her attitude towards smoking with her party’s attitude towards cannabis?
Sandra Gidley: We are not here to discuss cannabis. We are here to discuss smoke-free legislation. I think that the hon. Gentleman is being mischievous, because we have never said that there should be a blanket age for everything. I admit that we have wanted to reduce the voting age, but there is a case for having different age limits for different permissions. The hon. Gentleman does himself no favours by trying to raise a totally irrelevant point.
If the Minister were to clarify what else is being done to try to prevent under-age smoking, it would be very welcome, because that is the only outstanding query that she has not answered. I look forward to the day when the regulations come into effect, because we will be able to enjoy smoke-free environments without fear of any adverse effects.
5.13 pm
Caroline Flint: I will try to cover all the relevant points raised during this short but constructive debate. I will deal with the points made by the hon. Members for Westbury and for Romsey concerning the impact of the age change on the purchase of illicit cigarettes. We do not think that there will be any significant knock-on effect on illicit sales, and we are not aware of any evidence on that point from Ireland, which has recently increased the limit from 16 to 18.
We know, however, that children get their cigarettes from a variety of sources, not only shops but friends and family. Street sellers are one source, but our information indicates that only about 5 per cent. of young smokers have bought cigarettes from street sellers, while a smaller number get them from their parents. Therefore, we do not believe that that is a matter of major concern, although it is concerning. It is wise for us to monitor future surveys to identify and act on any changes that might occur. Obviously we will study those countries that have increased the age limit to 18—I think that Spain and Malta have recently done so—and we will learn from some of their experiences.
The hon. Member for Romsey asked what elsewe are doing on young people. We ran a joint consultation on raising the age for the sale of tobacco and strengthening sanctions against retailers who persistently sell to under-age children. Both measures gained great support in the consultation responses, but measures to strengthen the sanctions would mean looking for a primary legislative opportunity, and we shall be looking for parliamentary time to deal with that matter in the future. Despite the present arrangements, it appears on the basis of responsible retailer schemes run by local authorities, in which children often help by going into shops and attempting to buy cigarettes, that some retailers persistently flout the law. We shall return to that issue, which I wanted to raise because we consulted on it during the exercise.
On a wider issue, which is linked to the point made by the hon. Member for Westbury about the changes in smoking patterns, there is no doubt that over generations, since the time years ago when the link between cancer and smoking first reached public consciousness, there has been a decline in smoking. As I said in last week’s public health debate, although I shall not say anything to detract from the decline in smoking under previous Administrations, I want the Committee to reflect that the present position is good. The percentage of adults who smoke is 24 per cent., and we think that the measures that we are considering and other activity will further reduce the figure to about 21 per cent.
We recognise that for all sorts of reasons smoking is still a strong feature of some communities and families. That is where the job gets harder, which goes for a host of public health areas including smoking, diet and exercise. Many of my hon. Friends argued for the level playing field, which the measures will introduce, because of the need to avoid exacerbating a situation in which the well-off tend not to smoke while the poorer tend to smoke to the detriment of their and their families’ health.
Dr. Murrison: The Minister, if I may say so, is coming dangerously close to agreeing with her right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in his observation that one of the few pleasures open to women on estates is smoking. I hope that she will not endorse those remarks, will she?
Caroline Flint: I am saying look at the evidence. That suggests that people from routine and manual working backgrounds, as opposed to those in professional and managerial jobs, tend to smoke more. Therefore we must understand what is happening and why. Part of that is to do with supporting the opportunities for every community to think positively about health and how it is important to quality of life. This Government have recognised the fact that health inequalities exist, although the task of bridging the gap is difficult. Inits 18 years in government, the hon. Gentleman’sparty refused even to mention the words “health inequalities”.
The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the fine of up to £2,500. It is clearly within the courts’ power to take into account the circumstances in each case of failure to prevent smoking in a smoke-free place. There was extensive debate about the matter in Committee last year and the year before, which included discussion about who will be responsible. First and foremost, managements are responsible for the way in which their establishments are run. They therefore need to train their staff and make them fully aware of the obligation to prevent smoking in a smoke-free place.
On prisons, I have been through the different areas in which we allowed or debated exemptions. Designated rooms in prisons will not be required to have self-closing doors for safety reasons, as I understand it. A requirement for self-closing doors was suggested in the public consultation, and I will be happy to provide the hon. Gentleman with more information on why it was not felt necessary. Last week, the Prison Service published an order requiring all prisons to have a new smoking policy implemented and enacted on 1 April. Area managers must sign off the arrangements for each establishment in their area. Again, that will engage the people who run both public and private prisons with the issues to ensure that they understand their responsibilities.
The view that we have taken on mental health units was shared by stakeholders including the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Cancer Research UK, the Royal College of Physicians, the British Medical Association, the London assembly, and many of the NHS organisations that responded to the consultation. A range of reasons why mental health units should become smoke free in closed areas was given. First, people with mental illness already face health inequalities. Secondly, the stigma attached to mental illness might be exacerbated by perpetuating smoking in mental health units. Thirdly, a culture of smoking exists in a number of mental health units among both residents and staff for all sorts of reasons. Some patients and staff who enter mental health units as non-smokers leave as smokers, and we are challenging that culture. As I have said, parts of the mental health service have already established smoke-free policies—I visited one such medium-secure unit only a short while ago. Fourthly, there were concerns that smoking in mental health units may deter people from wanting to work in the sector. The sector is important and we want to attract people into it, so to disincentivise people for any reason is the wrong way to go. We are aware that some mental health organisations have concerns, which is why we have introduced a sunset clause and why we are committed to working with those organisations over the next few years to try to make the measures as effective as possible.
On cars, under the regulations a vehicle will not be required to be smoke free if it is used primarily for the private purposes of the person who either owns it or has a right to use it. That means that a leased car provided to an employee under their contract or a rented car would not have to be smoke free if it is used primarily for private purposes. I hope that that goes some way to addressing the hon. Gentleman’s point. Rental vehicles will not be covered by the regulations, if they are used for primarily private purposes.
Dr. Murrison: The Minister has not exactly hit upon the point that I was trying to make. I can envisage a situation in which commercial travellers, for example, might wish to smoke in their vehicle, which they habitually hire through a large hire firm such as Avis. It would be commercially reasonable, in that situation, for Avis to say that it has, for example, two smoking cars that are reserved for those who declare that they are going to smoke in the vehicle. However, the statutory instruments make no provision for that as far as I am aware, which seems slightly unfair.
Caroline Flint: We received some suggestions that rental cars should be designated as smoking or smoke free. We felt that the market would help to regulate itself, so that if a care hire firm wanted to say that a part of its fleet is completely non-smoking, they could engage with the issue on a contractual basis with either the company leasing cars for its employees or the individual renting a car. I am happy to provide the hon. Gentleman with further information. We were looking for a light-touch approach whereby if the market can deliver and regulate itself, it will.
Dr. Murrison: Is the Minister saying that Avis, for example, would be able to designate cars in its fleet as smoking cars for the purposes of those who declare that they want to smoke in the vehicles that they hire? Those vehicles, of course, would not necessarily be on long-term hire, but might be hired from time to time and would always be hired by smokers. Is she saying that that facility would be available?
Caroline Flint: I will write to the hon. Gentleman on that point. As I understand it, an organisation such as Avis could do so if it wished, but it would depend on what the vehicle was used for. If it was used partly for employment but primarily for personal use, it could be so designated, but we must be clear about vehicles used solely for work as opposed to a hybrid of the two. I am trying, as I did on many occasions when we debated the Health Act 2006, to think of a scenario in which that might happen.
I shall write to follow up more specifically, but let us say for argument’s sake that a company wanted a fleet of vehicles but did not want to own them itself, and entered into a contract with Avis or whoever for a works vehicle in its purest sense. If that vehicle were used only for work purposes, I think that the smoke-free legislation would have to apply. There would not be a case for saying, “These vans are smoke free, and these vans are smoking.” In certain circumstances, as we know, some people—commercial sales travellers, for example—use a car both for work and as a private family car, in which case the legislation would not apply. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman with further detail.
We have had quite a lot of discussion with all stakeholders and feel that we have arrived at a happy place. Having said that, I remind the Committee that the Government have committed to a review of the legislation. If anything comes up in practice that we have not thought about, I am sure that we can consider it then. I asked before coming here today whether we have received any briefings from organisations about their worries, which we have not. The issue has not generated a lot of post, but I shall be happy to look into it and to write to the hon. Gentleman if anything that I have said today is misleading or does not reflect the consultation or our response to it.
I hope that I have covered the points raised. I welcome the opportunity to sign off the regulations with hon. Members. The matter is not over, and it will not be over on 1 July, but I feel that the legislation is good. On the whole, we have tried to address the different concerns of those directly affected. As has been said, the level playing field has made the issue simpler, and I thank Parliament for that. I look forward to what I hope will be seen in the language not of bans but of smoke free, and as something that people can enjoy as we move to 1 July. I hope that all Members will think about how they can celebrate the measures on 23 March, which is the beginning ofthe 100-day countdown to 1 July, and consider opportunities in their constituencies to make people aware of what will happen later in the year.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft Smoke-Free (Exemptions and Vehicles) Regulations 2007.


That the Committee has considered the Draft Smoke-Free (Penalties and Discounted Amounts) Regulations 2007.—[Caroline Flint.]


That the Committee has considered the Draft Children and Young Persons (Sale of Tobacco etc.) Order 2007.—[Caroline Flint.]
Committee rose at twenty-nine minutes pastFive o’clock.

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