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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, time is short. There will be many opportunities in the future for the Government to answer questions when we bring forward new legislation. I shall therefore confine my contribution mainly to setting out the Government's policy. It would of course not be appropriate for me to answer questions relating to the Bills themselves.

I start by thanking my noble friend Lord Faulkner and the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, for bringing forward these Bills. They both have a fine record in working and campaigning for a smoke-free environment, both inside and outside Parliament. I must also congratulate my noble friend Lord Stratford on his polite and excellent speech. I hope that he is not too exhausted.

I have listened carefully to the views expressed from all sides of the Chamber. We have heard some extremely interesting and constructive contributions, with compelling and alarming facts and figures. Naturally, we will take on board what has been said today in drawing up the detailed legislation to implement the Government's own proposals as set out in the White Paper Choosing Health. I particularly note the points made about inequality.

It is clear that while there are differences in approach and in scope, there is much common ground between the objectives of these Bills and the Government's proposals. The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, asked whether the Bills, if they become law, will override the Government's Act. It is too early in the process to say anything about that. As we are in the middle of consultation on the detail of the Government's Bill, it is difficult to be confident about how the two pieces of legislation might fit together.

The Government's objective is clear. We have set out proposals for legislation to shift the balance significantly in favour of smoke-free environments. The health improvement and protection Bill, announced in the Queen's Speech, will be introduced in the autumn and will include specific provisions for smoke-free, enclosed public places and workplaces. That Bill will cover all of England and Wales. Separate legislation, the Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Bill, has already made its way through the Scottish Parliament and is due to be implemented in spring 2006.

Northern Ireland Ministers are currently considering measures following their own consultation exercise, but as the noble Lord, Lord Laird, clearly stated, public opinion in Northern Ireland has swung swiftly in favour of an Ireland-style ban.

For England, in broad terms, the proposals on which we are consulting further are that all enclosed public places and workplaces, other than licensed premises, will be smoke free. All pubs, bars and other licensed premises preparing and serving food will be entirely smoke free and in membership clubs the members will be free to choose whether to allow smoking or to be smoke free. Smoking in the bar area
 
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will be prohibited. In England, the intention is that smoke-free places will be introduced through a staged process over the next four years.

As a Welsh person, I was working in Cardiff when people celebrated the Smoking in Public Places (Wales) Bill, brought forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and which was supported by this House. I am delighted that she shares my delight that, under the terms of this new Bill, the National Assembly for Wales will be able to make its own provisions. The Welsh Assembly Government have recently announced their intention to accept the proposals of the ad hoc committee on smoking in public places. On 5 July, I understand that the Minister, Brian Gibbons, said in a statement that he envisaged a ban on smoking in public places coming into force in two or three years.

Moving back to the situation in England, naturally, we are aware that the proposals in the White Paper do not go as far as some noble Lords would wish. However, we are also aware that, in the words of Deborah Arnott, the director of ASH, the White Paper is a big step forward for public health. If passed into law, it will save thousands of lives every year, as vulnerable people are no longer exposed to dangerous, second-hand smoke at work and as thousands of smokers are encouraged to cut down or quit altogether.

The Department of Health, jointly with the Wales Office, is currently consulting on the detailed proposals for legislation on the smoke-free elements of the health improvement and protection Bill. That consultation runs until 5 September. We have already received hundreds of responses in the first few weeks. The contributions to today's debate will, of course, help to inform the Government as they draw up their detailed proposals.

The consultation includes particular consideration of the special arrangements that will be needed for places such as hospices, prisons, and long-stay residential homes. We recognise that where a place is someone's home, but also on occasions someone else's workplace, careful thought will need to be given to the practical implications of any measures to protect people from the smoke of others. This is an area where the Liverpool and London Bills appear to be inconsistent with White Paper proposals. The Government will continue to listen to the views put forward in the current consultation on these key areas of implementation.

While people are often sceptical about consultative exercises, I must assure noble Lords that this consultation is a real opportunity to influence government policy. We shall also take account of the experiences of other countries that have introduced smoke-free enclosed public places and workplaces, sometimes over many more years than the timetable that we envisage.

An important point to keep in mind is that whatever the Government's view of the Bills that we are discussing this evening, a number of petitions against the private Bills have been deposited by individuals and by organisations that are opposed and, therefore,
 
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as has been outlined, the petitions will need to be considered in accordance with the usual procedures of the House.

Of course, the principal difference between the proposals in the private Bills and those in the White Paper is the simple fact that the Government are working on proposals for the whole country and not just for some cities or local authorities. The Government's proposals have grown out of a long and extensive series of public consultations on a national level. We have taken full account of the views of the public across the country and will continue to do so with the further consultation process. After that, we will come forward with detailed legislation to tackle smoking in public places.

While there is much in common between our proposals and those contained in the Bills, there are also clear differences. The Government will, of course, not oppose the Liverpool and London Bills, but we point to the proposals for the whole country, which we believe will achieve the objective of significantly shifting the norm to achieve smoke-free enclosed public places and workplaces within the next four years.

In considering future legislation, it should not be forgotten that much has already been achieved. Progress has been made on creating smoke-free environments, and we want this to continue. More than half the population already work in entirely smoke-free workplaces, and there has been a significant shift in recent years in the response to rising public awareness of the damage to health from second-hand smoke.

Finally, I want to make it clear—I agree with the comments of many noble Lords on this matter—that the Government regard second-hand smoke as a serious public health issue. We recognised this in the country's first ever White Paper on tobacco, Smoking Kills, which we published in 1998. As we said in the very first chapter of that document:

We continue to recognise this.

Alongside the White Paper Choosing Health, we published the latest report on the harmful effects of second-hand smoke by our independent scientific committee on tobacco and health which was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth. That spelt out the increased risk of cancer and heart disease.

What has changed since Smoking Kills is the public's significantly increased demand for smoke-free public places and workplaces, and our increased determination to tackle second-hand smoke. The smoke-free elements of the health improvement and protection Bill on which we are consulting will be a major step forward in the level of protection offered to the population in public places and workplaces. Once in place, the vast majority of enclosed public places and workplaces across the country will be completely smoke-free.
 
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This policy represents a major step forward in the protection of the public from second-hand smoke. It will mean that more than 99 per cent of people will work in entirely smoke-free environments.

In conclusion, the private Bills before us relate only to parts of England rather than the whole country. In some measures, they are not consistent with the proposals set out in the Choosing Health White Paper. The Government have put forward a more extensive package of measures with a published timetable progressively to make almost all public places and workplaces across the country smoke-free.

With this approach, we will save thousands of lives, reducing deaths from cancer, heart disease and all the other diseases that smoking causes, as well as all the pain and suffering caused by these illnesses to the individuals concerned and their loved ones.

This evening's debate will certainly inform the Government as we draw up the detailed legislation of the health improvement and protection Bill. I, too, read the moving article by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and, like many noble Lords I am sure, I have nursed relatives as they have died from lung cancer, having given up smoking too late in life because doing so was so difficult in a smoke-filled atmosphere.

I celebrate the fact that with the new legislation, we will not only reduce the harmful effects of second-hand smoke across the country but also provide smokers who are trying to quit with an environment in which it is easier to do so.

10.8 pm


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