The Joint Committee on Human Rights examines every Bill presented to Parliament. With Government Bills its starting point is the statement made by the Minister under section 19 of the Human Rights Act 1998 in respect of compliance with Convention rights as defined in that Act. However, it also has regard to the provisions of other international human rights instruments to which the UK is a signatory.
The Committee publishes regular progress reports on its scrutiny of Bills, setting out any initial concerns it has about Bills it has examined and, subsequently, the Government's responses to these concerns and any further observations it may have on these responses. From time to time the Committee also publishes separate reports on individual Bills.
In this Report the Committee considers two Government Bills: the Health Bill and the Commissioner for Older People (Wales) Bill.
In the Report the Committee considers the human rights implications of Part 1 of the Bill, which makes provision for the prohibition of smoking in certain premises, places and vehicles.
After consideration of the relevant European and international human rights instruments and case-law, the Committee concludes that the positive obligations on the State to take measures to protect the lives and health of non-smokers under Articles 2 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), or under Article 8 of the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, do not require the introduction of a total prohibition on smoking, although the UK would be at liberty to do so under both those instruments provided that it did not act incompatibly with any other provisions in those treaties (paragraphs 1.28 to 1.32).
In relation to the Article 8 ECHR rights of smokers, the Committee concludes that in view of the evidence adduced by the Government in its regulatory impact assessment on the health and financial benefits of the proposed ban, the fact that the prohibition does not extend to a person's home and that provision is made to exempt places which are people's de facto homes, the interference with the private life of smokers is likely to be upheld as being proportionate (paragraph 1.37).
In relation to the proposed exemptions from the prohibition on smoking for licensed premises not serving food and for membership clubs, the Committee notes that this gives rise to differential treatment of employees and members of the public which requires objective justification if it is to be compatible with Article 14 ECHR in conjunction with Articles 2 and 8. The Committee has written to the Minister pointing out the nature of this problem and asking what is the objective justification relied upon for these proposed exemptions (paragraph 1.41 and Appendix). The Committee may report again on this point on receipt of the Minister's reply.
Commissioner for Older People (Wales) Bill
The Committee considers that the provisions of the Bill give rise to no risk of incompatibility with the ECHR or other international human rights instruments. Indeed, the Committee positively welcomes the Bill as likely to lead to the promotion and protection of the human rights of older people in Wales, particularly for those in residential care accommodation in relation to their rights under Article 8 and, in extreme cases, Articles 2 and 3.