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House of Lords

Monday, 2 November 2009.

2.30 pm

Prayers-read by the Lord Bishop of Exeter.

Health: Tobacco Products


2.36 pm

Asked By Lord Walton of Detchant

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the Government intend to introduce regulations under the tobacco control provisions in the Health Bill as soon as practicable following Royal Assent of the Health Bill 2009 and completion of public consultation on the proposed regulations. The proposed regulations were published for consultation on 12 October. The consultation period is due to end on 4 January 2010.

Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Can she confirm that following the passage of the McCartney amendment in another place, which proposed a complete ban on the sale of cigarettes from vending machines, that matter will also be included in the consultation process? Can she further confirm that the requirement to notify the EU of the regulations under this Bill should go ahead immediately after Royal Assent, which hopefully will be next week, in the interest of protecting the health of children?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the Government have every intention of moving as quickly as we can on this matter. As regards the consultation period on the regulations, as the part of the regulations concerning vending machines will have to be looked at again, those orders might be laid slightly later. However, we are currently considering the timetable. We will very shortly be notifying the European Commission on all the regulations though not those in relation to vending machines. Those regulations will depend on what happens next week. However, we intend to notify the Commission very shortly indeed. So that will run concurrently with the consultation period.

Lord Judd: Can my noble friend assure the House that in whatever deliberations take place the Government will never lose sight of the fact that they are dealing with a substance that kills and adds huge cost to the administration of the health service?

Baroness Thornton: My noble friend is completely correct. We are very much aware of the need to move forward on tobacco regulation, education and health issues as quickly as we can.

Lord Borrie: My Lords, does my noble friend recall telling the House during the passage of the Health Bill in this place that it would cost a retailer typically less than £120 to comply with the "no display" regulations? Does she agree that that was a very serious underestimate because it was based on bulk sales and did not include installation or shipping? Bearing in mind the severe impact of the credit crunch on the typical small confectioner-tobacconist-newsagent, and the number of bankruptcies last year in that field, some delay would be warranted in this case.

Baroness Thornton: There has indeed been a great deal of debate and misunderstanding around the cost of installation. In the cause of complete transparency, all the records of exchanges between Department of Health officials and the major Canadian company that provided the estimated costs have been placed on the website. The most recent estimate is £450, which would provide 25 square feet of display for a single small shop. We are working with the Association of Convenience Stores and other retailers to develop the proposed regulations. These regulations will not come into force until 2011 for supermarkets and 2013 for small shops, by which time I anticipate, although it is beyond my brief, that the downturn will be over.

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Lord Crisp: My Lords, perhaps I may return to the question of vending machines and ask the Minister to clarify the Government's position on them. As I understand it, the proposal is that tobacco should be prohibited from sale in vending machines, but that an alternative proposal has been put forward that mechanisms should be put in place to allow, for example, bar staff to operate vending machines automatically. Is it the case that the Government are not accepting that proposal? Further, is the Minister aware that a recent survey of landlords showed that most of them are not in favour of those alternative arrangements because they think that they are unworkable?

Baroness Thornton: I am aware that landlords think that those arrangements are not workable. However, following the debate and decision in another place, the Government do not intend to try to reverse the decision, but to support it when we discuss the Bill again next Monday. We have already allowed vending machine operators more than 10 years in which to tighten up their operations to prevent underage sales of tobacco to children and young people. That is the context in which the decision was taken in another place.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords-

Baroness Barker: My Lords-

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): My Lords, we have time to take both questions. Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, should speak, followed by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, I refer to the question asked earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Borrie. I, too, was present for our deliberations in Grand Committee on the Health Bill and, particularly, on the provisions concerning smoking. I asked a question several times then to which I never got a satisfactory answer, so I will ask the Minister this question. When she looks at the cost of installing these fixtures in small shops, will she please ask whether it will be the shopkeepers or the tobacco manufacturers who pay for them? I have a feeling that the answer will be that it is the latter.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a pertinent point, and I will indeed ask that question. However, I fear that the answer will be, "We shall see as these things move forward".

Baroness Barker: Can the Minister assure the House that the implementation of Section 3 of the Health Act will be carried out in conjunction with trading standards officers so that while the clear intent of Parliament to ban tobacco advertising and vending machines is carried out, it is done in such a way that it is as feasible as possible for retailers to comply with the law?

Baroness Thornton: Trading standards officers have been absolutely vital in both the development and the implementation of this policy.

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Lord Winston: My Lords, I congratulate the Government on supporting this legislation. Does my noble friend agree with the overwhelming scientific evidence that cigarette smoking is more dangerous than cannabis and ecstasy?

Baroness Thornton: I am not going to venture into that area, which I think we will be addressing later. What I will say is that people who become addicted to cigarettes usually get the addiction before they are 18 years of age. That is what this legislation is about.

Lord Naseby: My Lords, will the Minister explain the point of our Committee process given that she said from the Dispatch Box then that, on vending machines, the Government would wait and appraise what happens over the next two years? Is it not correct that there have been no appraisals other than that of the joint health service and manufacturers working party, which has produced a scheme that certainly is working in clubs and pubs late at night?

Baroness Thornton: The noble Lord will know that another place is perfectly within its rights to take a different view from us, as it has done on this issue. As I said, vending machine operators have already had 10 years to get their house in order.

Elections: Armed Forces


2.45 pm

Asked By Lord Roberts of Llandudno

The Minister for International Defence and Security (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): First, my Lords, I am sure the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the family and friends of Staff Sergeant Olaf Schmid of 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment Royal Logistical Corps, who was killed on operations in Afghanistan this past week.

Turning to the Question, military personnel and their families who are posted or serving overseas are able to vote by post or by proxy. The Government are working with the Electoral Commission to support their participation in any future elections. A defence instruction notice is published to inform personnel of the date and nature of the election and key dates by which individuals must be registered to vote. Additionally, the Electoral Commission distributes publicity campaign posters to all units worldwide.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: I thank the Minister for her reply. Remembering that one-third of Armed Forces personnel are not registered to vote, would it not be easiest, especially for those whose lives are at risk for us, to register automatically everyone who is recruited into the Armed Forces and then give them the opportunity to apply for a postal or proxy vote?

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Will the Minister arrange a meeting of the various political parties to ensure that their election literature reaches those in the Armed Forces who are eligible to vote?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: On the first point, my Lords, it is important that we make it clear to those who serve on our behalf that we hope that they will participate in the election process. With regard to those being introduced into our services, information about registration is given at the time of the induction procedure, and the MoD and others try to keep registration up to date, paying particular attention to it when people are deployed abroad.

On the latter point, getting party political material to any voter is the responsibility of the parties themselves, and it would be wrong for the MoD to intervene in that. I do not know whether the Ministry of Justice, which has overall responsibility for elections, might be willing to consider that point, but I will ensure that that is brought to its attention.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, we also send our condolences to the family and friends of Staff Sergeant Schmid. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, pointed out that a low percentage of Armed Forces personnel are registered to vote. Have an increased number of such personnel registered to vote since the Electoral Administration Act 2006?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: Yes, my Lords. The service voter registration order increased the period of registration for service voters. However, we are finding that the majority of service voters are actually registered at a domestic address; three-quarters are registered in that way. It is true that not as many are registered as we would wish, but the trend is improving. The next survey to identify any changes in the past 12 months is currently being undertaken.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: Although this is not the Minister's departmental responsibility, does she recognise that there are other personnel who serve overseas-British personnel with the United Nations and other international organisations, for example-who also do not get the vote? Will she make representations to her colleague in the Ministry of Justice that it is high time that a solution was found for these British personnel, who are not there for personal gain?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, the issue indeed goes wider than military personnel. I know that the Ministry of Justice, with the Electoral Commission and other interested parties including the MoD, is considering whether there are other means of facilitating participation in elections by those who are abroad. Obviously this has to be thought through very carefully in order to avoid the potential for fraud, but there is real awareness of this problem and a clear intention to do everything possible to ease the situation.

Lord Addington: My Lords, while associating these Benches with the tributes made by the noble Baroness earlier, can she think of another group who should be encouraged to take part in general elections as strongly as our serving personnel? Will the Government ensure that everything is done to allow them to take part as there cannot be a more deserving or important group?

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Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I do not think that anybody would dissent from those comments. My honourable friend in another place, Kevan Jones, met the chair of the Electoral Commission in September on this issue. Michael Wills, who is the Minister at the Ministry of Justice, has met the families federations to discuss this, and, as I said, all three of the interested parties-the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Defence and the Electoral Commission-are working together to ensure that every facility is available to increase the number of Armed Forces personnel who are registered and who, I hope, will turn out and vote in the election.

Lord Grenfell: My Lords, can my noble friend satisfy me on a point of curiosity? It seems that over the decades it has become more and more difficult and complex for our Armed Forces to vote from wherever they are. Some of us on these Benches recall a time when, some 64 years ago, the Armed Forces had no difficulty whatever in voting into office the greatest Administration of the 20th century.

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I am sure that Members of this House remember that very well, and I am also sure that Members have voted as service personnel. I do not fall into either category but I hear what my noble friend says.



2.51 pm

Asked By Baroness Northover

Lord Brett: My Lords, we have made it clear that the Goldstone report on Gaza has its flaws, including not adequately recognising Israel's right to protect its citizens. However, the report raises important issues that are of serious concern. Attacks by Palestinian militants in Israel constitute a breach of international humanitarian law. The report also makes allegations about Israeli conduct, and we urge the Israeli Government to carry out full, credible and impartial investigations.

Baroness Northover: I thank the noble Lord for that reply. He will probably recall that when we called for accountability in the wake of the conflict in Gaza, we were told to wait for the Goldstone report. That report has been published and says that there is serious evidence of war crimes which ought to be investigated. Yet, as the Minister has just repeated, the Government say that the report has flaws. Will the Minister publish the legal advice on which this conclusion is based and, if there is no accountability and justice, will he say whether he thinks there can be any hope of peace in the Middle East?

Lord Brett: My Lords, the report to which the noble Baroness refers is due to be debated in the United Nations on 4 November, which I believe is the earliest

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opportunity. That debate will reveal the arguments and why nations support or do not support the Goldstone report. It made broad interpretations of international law with which we did not agree, which will become evident when we make our views known on that occasion. It does not allow us to resile from our obligations to have an independent and thorough investigation into the Israeli defence forces. It has happened in respect of previous conflicts and Israel can be proud of those reports because they have hidden nothing and revealed everything. That will help everyone involved in the peace process.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, the United Nations Human Rights Commission devalued itself by putting Libya into the chair and finding itself able to criticise only Israel. Is there not a danger now that this new council, created by the United Nations in 2006, will go the same way by its manner of selecting from the Goldstone report only those sections dealing with the allegations against Israel and ignoring those against Hamas?

Lord Brett: My noble friend makes a point that many fear. Having spent some time in the United Nations system, I can say that we have to live with the system that emerges. I rely on those who are prepared to challenge such a position to do so when the United Nations debates this more fully early this month.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, does the Minister not recognise that the Goldstone report criticised Hamas just as it criticised the Government of Israel? Does he not agree that the Israeli Government's rather intemperate attacks on the Goldstone report might be a little more credible if they had actually been prepared to admit Judge Goldstone and his colleagues to Israel, and to co-operate with them, which they refused to do? Would it not be better if they addressed the report rather than playing the man?

Lord Brett: Personally, my Lords, I have a lot of sympathy with the views of the noble Lord. After a decade of negotiating in that part of the world, I have come to the conclusion that the farther one is from the conflict, the clearer the solution. The negotiations therefore become opaque and very difficult. The Israelis thought that the process was flawed from the beginning, because of the basis of the terms of reference, but in hindsight it seems to me that in any situation we will make less progress by apportioning blame and more by looking to the future.

Lord Turnberg: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that even Goldstone thinks that his report cannot be used as evidence in law, and has said so? Does he also agree that there is a danger here for any army engaged in war-for example, our own in Afghanistan? If we were to ask the Taliban what they thought of the civilian deaths occurring in Afghanistan, for example, and were to report that to a largely hostile United Nations commission, it would make it extremely difficult for any army to go to war in any situation.

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