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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, first, "environmental tobacco smoke" is better known as passive smoking. I agree that there are many areas in which smoking can be inhaled if one is a non-smoker. I believe that by the efforts we are making--I have referred to the public places charter, and there is reference to the Health and Safety Executive, to see whether we can adopt an approved code of practice in relation to the work place--we are taking a responsible approach to encouraging more smoke-free areas while at the same time allowing choice.
Lord Peston: My Lords, bearing in mind that we are discussing a filthy product that is deadly dangerous, has the Minister seen the report in the Lancet which showed how the producers and purveyors of this disgusting product endeavoured to subvert the latest scientific research on the dangers of passive smoking in a way that was not only dangerous to the interests of the public but also subverted the very science involved?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I have seen the report. However, I cannot comment on the specifics without knowing the full detail. We would be very concerned about any effort made by tobacco companies, or any other interest, to influence unduly the results of scientific research.
We are careful to ensure that research sponsored by my department is conducted under rigorous circumstances, that there is always peer review and that members of research committees with a direct interest in the area being investigated declare that interest.
Lord Renton: My Lords, does the Minister agree with that famous Conservative, Edmund Burke, that example is the school of mankind and that therefore school teachers and the parents of school children should be discouraged from smoking.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am sure it is right that if people set an example it is much easier for children to follow it. I have to say that a degree of humility is due on my part. Another area where example would be effective is among nursing staff. In relation to staff in the NHS, the number of nurses who smoke seems to be relatively high.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I cannot quantify the damage, but I am prepared to write to the noble Baroness in that respect. Clearly, there is potential for damage and we must do all we can to ensure that women do not smoke during pregnancy.
Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, will my noble friend follow up that answer by saying what steps the Government are taking to warn parents of unborn children of the dangers of people smoking in their home during the pregnancy?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, last autumn the Government launched a health education strategy designed to bring home to everyone in the country the dangers of smoking. It addresses adult groups, young people, pregnant women and the less advantaged. In particular, general practitioners giving direct advice in their surgeries can have a powerful impact on people's smoking habits.
Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, as my noble friend is aware of the dangers of smoking, will he ensure that the Government take robust action against the spending of 1,000 million euros from the EU budget on subsidising tobacco growing in the EU?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, insurance companies cannot require genetic tests to be carried out. The Government have established the Genetics and Insurance Committee to assess whether there is sufficient scientific and actuarial evidence to justify the consideration of genetic test results when assessing insurance premiums.
Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, which did not give the full reassurance that I sought. First, does he agree that any decision to allow genetic testing by insurance companies, particularly of those with congenital illnesses such as the early onset of Alzheimer's disease or breast cancer, would prejudice them as regards life and travel insurance and endowment mortgages, thereby considerably increasing social exclusion, lessening the protection of consumers and contributing nothing to public health? Secondly, will he ensure that before any decision is made, whatever it may be, insurance companies abide by the code of practice?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the Government are concerned to prevent the unfair and inappropriate use of genetic information in any circumstances, including by the insurance industry. I understand that the deliberations of the committee will reach a conclusion at the end of this year. The insurance industry has agreed to respect its decisions; to stop using the results from any test that does not meet the committee's criteria; and retrospectively to consider insurance premiums written as a result of a test that the committee does not subsequently approve.
Earl Howe: My Lords, will the Government bear in mind that one consequence of obliging people to take a genetic test is the likelihood of a large number of people finding themselves uninsurable? Does not the Minister consider that to be an important point?
Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is important to undertake medical research into the prevention of conditions such as spina bifida and leukaemia? However, will he ensure that no individual is penalised because he has such a condition?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Yes, my Lords, we must invest in research into such conditions. However, a number of issues in relation to genetic testing and research will need to be carefully considered. I refer to the fairness and appropriateness of tests and the confidentiality of genetic information. We should question whether testing should be performed when no treatment is currently available. As regards the insurance industry, we have set up a committee to review the use of current tests and have established the Human Genetics Commission to examine wider issues.
Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, I am greatly reassured to hear that the issue will be considered by the Human Genetics Commission as well as by the Genetics and Insurance Committee. However, is the Minister aware of the prediction that within perhaps 20 years it will be theoretically possible for each of us to carry a microchip giving details of our individual genome, not only identifying genes which may be responsible for single, fatal diseases, but also genes conferring susceptibility to illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and strokes? Does not that issue make this matter of very urgent importance?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Lord is right. None of us can fully foresee the impact of the new developments, which is why we must be careful in making assessments about the legal and ethical basis on which they are being undertaken. There could be a tremendous challenge for the health service in ensuring that our services are geared up to take advantage of some of the work.
Lord Puttnam: My Lords, will the Minister do all he can to achieve cross-party agreement in order to ensure that the insurance companies do not begin to play politics with this very serious issue which should be kept right out of the political spectrum?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am sure that the Government can look for the support of the opposition parties on this and many other matters. I believe that this country has taken a sensible approach to genetics and genetic testing. We have set up a number of advisory bodies, including the two
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