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House of Lords

Wednesday, 14 March 2007.

The House met at three o’clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Rochester): the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.


Earl Howe asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, there is limited information on the health risks associated with smoking hand-rolled cigarettes relative to manufactured cigarettes. However, some studies have suggested that smokers of hand-rolled cigarettes are more vulnerable to developing oral and throat cancer as well as being vulnerable to other smoking-related diseases.

Earl Howe: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that the consumption of hand-rolling tobacco has risen sharply in recent years with as many as 34 per cent of male smokers now using it, particularly men from disadvantaged social groups? Does he also recall that, in 2004, the Chief Medical Officer drew attention to the comparative cheapness of hand-rolling tobacco in relation to manufactured cigarettes resulting from the very wide disparity in excise duty between the two product types? What representations has the Department of Health made to the Treasury since 2004 on this subject, which has major implications for public health?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, this is a relevant Question on No Smoking Day, and the noble Earl is absolutely right to draw attention to the increased use of hand-rolled cigarettes, which I suspect is due to a variety of reasons. He is also right to suggest that hand-rolled cigarettes are cheaper than cigarettes in packets. The duty on hand-rolled tobacco is lower, but since 2001 the tax has increased at the same rate. If we were to raise duty on hand-rolled tobacco to the same level as that on cigarettes there is a risk that smuggling would increase, so the decision has been made to leave the differential but to increase duty at the same rate. That has happened since 2001.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that very many prisoners in Her Majesty's prisons smoke roll-ups? Should there not be more health education about the dangers of smoking in our prisons?

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Baroness draws attention to one of the many health issues for prisoners and she is right to do so. As she will know, the health service has taken on much greater responsibility for healthcare in prisons, which has led to an injection of both resources and the skills of NHS professionals. I certainly take her point and agree that preventive programmes with prisoners are very important.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, does my noble friend agree with the statement today by the chief executive of No Smoking Day that a 20-a-day smoker will save £1,800 a year if they give up now? If they take advantage of National Health Service stop-smoking services, they are four times more likely to remain off the habit.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, it would be hard to disagree with my noble friend on that matter. It is worth pointing out that in the past few years there has been a reduction in the smoking rate in this country, from 28 per cent in 1998 to 24 per cent in 2005. We cannot be complacent, but we are hopeful that we can get the target and get that figure down still further in future.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, how does the Minister justify the statement that the Government are doing all they can to stop and reduce smoking, as I believe they are, when more than half of PCTs have frozen or cut their budgets for non-smoking exercises?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, these matters are for primary care trusts, but the figures that I have suggest that total expenditure on smoking cessation services for the NHS in the first six months of the 2006-07 financial year was £23.6 million. That compares with £23.2 million for the first six months of the previous year, which suggests that PCTs are continuing to invest in those essential services.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, I am pleased to hear my noble friend say that smoking has gone down from 28 per cent to 24 per cent, but can he advise the House how that reduction is distinguished as between men and women?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am happy to report that. In 2001, 28 per cent of men smoked. That is now down to 25 per cent. The figure for women in 2001 was 27 per cent. That is now down to 25 per cent. We are making progress with both men and women.

Lord Naseby: My Lords, I understood the—

Lord Teverson: My Lords—

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, it is time to hear from the Lib Dems.

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Lord Teverson: My Lords, what measures will the Government take to enforce the smoking ban in England later this year? How will they ensure that it is successful quickly and is not avoided?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we are very hopeful that the smoke-free legislation, alongside the advertising ban, will have a long-term impact in reducing the number of smokers. It is estimated that the advertising ban should reduce tobacco consumption in the long term by 2.5 per cent and that the smoke-free legislation will result in a 1.7 per cent fall in smoking prevalence. We hope that all those who provide premises in which smoking takes place will co-operate. We have no reason to think that the majority of responsible businesses and other service providers will not co-operate, but we are working hard with local government and enforcement officers to make sure that appropriate enforcement action can be taken where that is not the case.

Lord Naseby: My Lords, since the experience in Scotland was that you did not need to spend any money to enforce the measure because the trade was responsible, why have the Government allocated £30 million to local government in England to enforce it? Is the Minister aware that hookah pipes use hand-rolled tobacco? If there is to be research, members of ethnic communities, who increasingly smoke hookah pipes, will need to know in-depth the exact implications for their health.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we should acknowledge the success of the efforts in Scotland. None the less, resources should be made available to local authorities to ensure that they are able to take the appropriate enforcement action. I believe that the voluntary approach works best when it is known that there is a backstop of enforcement actions. That is the balanced approach we want to take—to encourage voluntarism but to have enforcement action as a backstop.

Aviation: Gibraltar Airport

3.08 pm

Lord Hoyle asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, there have been seven occurrences at Gibraltar Airport in the past six months that have resulted in mandatory occurrence reports being raised. I undertake to write to my noble friend with full details of these occurrence reports. One of them refers to the occurrence on 29 November, which was the subject of my noble friend’s recent Questions for Written Answer.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, I received misleading Answers to those Questions. The pilot of the 22 November flight stated publicly that he had aborted that flight because a Chinook helicopter was on the runway. When I tabled the Question, I was told that it was a

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fire engine collecting refuse. In view of those remarks and the fact that I was on that flight, how can I have any confidence at all in air safety at Gibraltar?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, my noble friend is slightly mistaken. He said that he was on the aircraft on 22 November and I am told that it was 29 November.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Yes, my Lords, I am told that my noble friend Lord Hoyle was certainly on that aircraft on 29 November. My noble friend raises a very important point. I now have the benefit of having the air traffic control log for that day being made available to me. It is clear from that that indeed the aircraft was asked to take another turn around, because a fire service vehicle was on the runway clearing and making an inspection to see whether there were any foreign objects damaging the runway. I would happily read out the log, but it is full of rogers and wilcos, and it is written in a jargon that is understandable only to those who work in air traffic control and is not accessible to mere mortals like ourselves.

Lord Chidgey: My Lords, the Minister will be aware that since the signing of the Cordoba agreement there has been an increased number of scheduled flights at Gibraltar, although I am not sure about fire engines. The Governor of Gibraltar has increased investment in both the approach roads and the terminal buildings. The problem seems to be airside—the operational side of what is still a Royal Air Force base. When can we expect to see the normal five-mile exclusion zone around the airfield to protect it? When can we expect to see the normal five-mile straight-in approach on landing? When can we expect to see upgrading of the radar and navigational aids so that there is no further exclusive reliance on a visual-only approach to Gibraltar Airport?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I do not have those details. Obviously the noble Lord raises a very important point; the need to ensure that it is perfectly safe to land at Gibraltar Airport, which I assure the noble Lord it is, as a result of its integration into the EU common aviation area following the Cordoba agreement. I am advised that satisfactory progress is being made towards that objective. However, the airport has one fundamental problem—a major road runs across the runway. That will have to be dealt with in the fullness of time.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, as perhaps the only Member of your Lordships’ House who has flown an aircraft in and out of Gibraltar—

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, contrary to some of the ribaldry that we have just heard, the air traffic controllers at Gibraltar, who are by and large RAF controllers, are absolutely first class, despite the difficulties that they have to face?

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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I have absolutely no doubt that they are first class.

Lord Luce: My Lords, I declare an interest as a former Governor of Gibraltar, who has used the airport very regularly indeed for three consecutive years. While I have every sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, and support very much his priority that safety comes first at Gibraltar Airport, will the Minister confirm that the very important agreement that was reached between the Spanish Government, the British Government and the Government of Gibraltar in Cordoba in September last year should be leading by now to the end of all restrictions on the use of Spanish airspace neighbouring Gibraltar Airport, thus enhancing safety for all military and civilian aircraft landing there?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Lord speaks with tremendous experience on this matter. That is the objective of the Cordoba agreement and I am sure it is an objective that the whole House will share.

Lord Garden: My Lords, to correct the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, I have also flown in and out of Gibraltar.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Garden: My Lords, I have to tell the Minister that the approaches there are what are technically called by airmen pretty hairy on occasion. Will he take back the questions that my noble friend Lord Chidgey asked as they relate to important aspects of future flight safety at Gibraltar?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, despite the hilarity that has accompanied this Question, all of these issues are important because they relate to aircraft safety. The points made by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, are important and should be taken into consideration.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, will my noble friend encourage NATS Ltd to continue to give all the assistance that it can to the air management authorities in Gibraltar to ensure that we have the safest possible skies there? Secondly, will he congratulate NATS Ltd on being one of the top 20 companies in the UK and on being seen by its staff as being so good, following the introduction of the PPP by this Government?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I congratulate NATS. It does a fine job, and its advice on this matter has been first-class and first-rate. It should be congratulated on the way in which it maintains our safe skies.

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Aviation: Open Skies

3.15 pm

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the Government are considering their view with regard to this agreement. It will be discussed at the European Transport Council on 22 March. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that it would not be appropriate for me to pre-empt the discussion in the Council or to set out the Government’s negotiating position in detail at this time. However, I can assure him that the Government will not sign up to a deal unless they consider it to be in the overall interests of the United Kingdom to do so.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer. Is his definition of the United Kingdom’s interest the flying public or the two airlines that currently have slots to fly to the US? Will he ensure that, whatever is agreed this week, the agreement will be much fairer and include the ability for European, including British, airlines to pick up domestic passengers in the US, as the US airlines are apparently going to be able to pick up passengers in Europe?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, my noble friend makes an important contribution to this debate. The key issue is the role that the Government play in securing a balance of the full range of United Kingdom interests—passengers, airports, our wider economic interests and the interests of airlines. A range of views have been expressed by those airlines, but it is our job to do the best we can in representing all those interests to secure the best possible deal for the UK.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, I understand that the agreement would lead to an increase in transatlantic air passengers from 50 million to 76 million a year within five years. Is that acceptable in terms of global atmospheric pollution and airport pollution in the form of air noise and road congestion?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Earl needs to look at this in the round. The UK is obviously involved in a delicate negotiating position and we have to protect our commercial interests while striking an environmental balance. That is why we are involved in longer-term discussions about emissions trading and ensuring that we have sustainable airports.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, although Morocco has signed the open skies treaty with the European Union, it continues to be charged a higher rate of air passenger duty, similar to that charged to other non-EU nations

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that have no such agreement? Will he assure the House that this issue will be considered and that he will speak to colleagues at the Treasury and the Department for Transport to ensure that we find a just and fair solution to this obvious inconsistency?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am sure that the position in Morocco is being considered. We have, no doubt, given it careful thought and it will play an important part in the way that we discuss these issues as the situation develops.

Lord Mawhinney: My Lords, why does the Minister persist in referring to an open skies agreement, when those of us who have had responsibility for transport—and I may have been the last Secretary of State to negotiate an aviation agreement with the United States—know that the US is not into open skies and is not into open skies on this proposed deal, either?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on his past life; no doubt he made an important contribution to those negotiations. Open skies is a very important objective, and it is part of the Government’s bargaining position. We have to attempt to secure the best possible deal for the United Kingdom and we have to encourage our friends in the United States to ensure that the market is opened up, liberalised and made available to all those who play a part in it.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords—

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords—

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, I think that we should hear from my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the United States has put forward a very unbalanced proposal? It is contending that there should be no entry for European airlines and it is demanding access to Heathrow. What does my noble friend now intend to do about this appalling reaction by the United States?

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