Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Laird: My Lords, I commence by referring briefly to the very good and distinguished maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stratford. I do not understand the suggestion, in his own words, that he is a somewhat robust and possibly ill-mannered person. I do not recognise that at all, but I do recognise that he has the privilege of being, like myself, born in the great city of Belfast. I look forward to his contributions to this House. No doubt they will bring much honour and credit to his native city.

It gives me great pleasure to support these Bills and to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, on bringing them forward. My colleagues in the Ulster Unionist Party and I support a ban on smoking in all public places in Northern Ireland. I welcome the Bills for Liverpool and London in the hope that similar legislation will be introduced across the United Kingdom in the very near future.

Ours is certainly not an isolated view. When the Northern Ireland Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety recently carried out consultation on a smoking ban, an overwhelming 91 per cent—yes, 91 per cent—of over 70,000 respondents supported Option C: a total ban on smoking in all enclosed public places and workplaces. That is up considerably from the already impressive two-thirds of people who responded to a MORI poll
 
20 Jul 2005 : Column 1573
 
last year in favour of an outright ban. Public opinion is swinging dramatically in favour of such a ban. The Government must pay attention.

Despite such a mandate, however, the Northern Ireland Office Health Minister, Mr Shaun Woodward, announced last month that, instead of grabbing the bull by the horns in the knowledge that he had the backing of the public to carry it off, he would actually delay making a decision on whether to introduce a blanket ban in Northern Ireland until the autumn. Apparently, he needs another couple of months to make up his mind. I do not understand why he cannot press ahead with the ban when such a large majority of people in Northern Ireland already support it.

The British Medical Association in Northern Ireland published a report earlier this year called Behind the Smokescreen: the myths and the facts. It exposed the myths surrounding the arguments in the smoking ban debate.

The Federation of the Retail Licensed Trade in Northern Ireland argues that a ban on smoking in pubs would lead to an increase in uncontrolled smoking and drinking at home. No such evidence has been found following the ban in the Republic of Ireland. Indeed, the smoking ban in the republic has actually encouraged more people to give up smoking altogether.

The tobacco industry has said that there is no risk to health from exposure to second-hand smoke. Again, the BMA has exploded that myth. The report points to an independent review of all available evidence on second-hand smoke and cancer, published by the International Agency for Research on Cancer in May of last year, which concluded that exposure to other people's smoke increases the risk of lung cancer in non-smokers by 20–30 per cent.

I support these Bills and pay tribute to the work of ASH and other charities and the agencies behind the drive to ban smoking in public places. I hope that Liverpool and London will be an example to us all. I urge the Government to pay careful attention to this debate and to the wishes of the public. I particularly call on the Northern Ireland Health Minister, Mr Woodward, to introduce immediately what 91 per cent of the population want—a total ban on smoking in enclosed public places and workplaces in Northern Ireland.

9.39 pm

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the promoters of these two Bills, and the noble Lord, Lord Stratford, who, I am sure, will quickly learn how, with great subtlety, it is possible to be extremely impolite in this Chamber—the infrequency makes it all the more telling. I declare an interest as joint president of the Association of London Government; that is, the association of the London boroughs.

Noble Lords who are veterans of these debates will know better than I do whether any new points have been made today, apart from the geographical ones. As a novice to the debate, I confess that I arrived with my mind made up: to support, personally and on
 
20 Jul 2005 : Column 1574
 
behalf of these Benches, the two Bills. It is Liberal Democrat policy to support such measures. Our manifesto in the recent election dealt with a ban on smoking in all enclosed public places.

I am, and have always been, a non-smoker, although there have been many times of tension when I wished I did smoke. There have been many more times when I have realised that non-smokers have one great disadvantage: they miss out on a whole sub-culture of office life. I watch the gaggles of smokers clustered outside City Hall and realise that I am probably missing out on quite a lot of plotting and certainly a lot of good gossip.

I knew that we would hear about the rights and liberties of the individual, but I do not find any great dilemma in this regard. Years ago there were similar debates on seat belts, but in this issue one does not even get to the level of asking whether one can be permitted to harm oneself, given the cost to the public purse of treatment. This is about harming other people. Society is justified in applying a restriction to the individual—the restriction is limited to other people's workplaces, which may also happen to be one's own—given that the individual's actions harm other people. Having listened to noble Lords' contributions and read about the subject, I know that those actions cause significant harm to others. The need to safeguard the health of workers trumps "the right" to smoke.

I was struck by the relatively new term—new to me, at any rate—"second-hand smoke". It is much more vivid than "passive smoking", which suggests an air of neutrality and calmness. "Second-hand smoke" is a more helpful term.

We have heard medical evidence today, although I appreciate that not everyone accepts that it is evidence. I am no expert but I have noted that none of those in this House with medical expertise has opposed the Bills.

Although I have no medical or technical expertise, I have a little personal experience. When the firm in which I was then a partner moved premises, some years ago, into a brand-new building, we created a smoking room. The bright white walls swiftly changed to the most extraordinarily nasty colour. Things have moved on since, and employers do not provide smoking rooms because of the inherent dangers. We are now told that a smoking area in a restaurant is not effective; it means only about a 50 per cent reduction in the risk. Most people would expect a much greater reduction in risk as a result of being able to eat in a separate part of the same enclosed space. Perhaps that false expectation is a danger in itself. I had not realised until I read the briefing that ventilation would have to be almost at gale force to be effective.

Some in the hospitality industry seem to miss the point that, in any event, the Bills are about protecting employees. It is no answer to say, "Go and get a job elsewhere". Why should they? Secondly, can they? Bar jobs may be all that is available to, say, a student paying his way through study or training. Jobs in the hospitality industry are often low paid and may be
 
20 Jul 2005 : Column 1575
 
difficult to find. There is not a lot of choice. Those in the lowest socio-economic groups are at the highest risk of exposure.

I mentioned the geographical issues. I am concerned about the disparities. There are, I suspect, very many more pubs in Kensington and Chelsea which sell food than there are in Barking and Dagenham. The Government's White Paper proposals, on which they are now consulting, go less far than the Bills—and I congratulate Liverpool and the London boroughs. They have not gone further because it would be easier to enforce their proposals, although I suspect that that might be a by-product of their logic.

My noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby made a point about local authority autonomy. One point with which I profoundly disagree in these Bills is the Secretary of State having reserved powers to intervene on the level of fixed penalty and ring-fencing. But that is the world in which we live. It may have been that the advice given was: "This is what the Government want, so do it so as not to make a fuss".

I was interested in and take the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, but perhaps we have several stages to Bills so that that sort of issue can be hammered out. The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, who seems not to have rejoined us, talked about the consultation with council tax payers. We have heard about consultation in Liverpool. In London, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, has explained, these are adoptive Bills. Any local authority which intended to go ahead with them without consulting would be rather daft. The noble Lord also painted a picture of the humble smoker up against the big guns of QCs. I have to say that that is not a picture I recognise at all against a background of the very substantial tobacco companies.

These issues are often best expressed by members of the public rather than, perhaps necessarily, in rather dry reports. A couple of days ago, I received an e-mail from a member of the public—someone whom I do not know—who wrote:

Normally at this stage on Bills that these Benches support, I would say that I wish them an easy passage. I doubt that the passage of these Bills will be very smooth or very quick. Most of all, I hope that they will be unnecessary because government legislation, as extensive as I would like to see it, will overtake them.

9.47 pm


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page