14 May 1998 : Column 1167

House of Lords

Thursday, 14th May 1998.

The House met at three of the clock: The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Carlisle.

Smoking in Public Places

Lord Janner of Braunstone asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will introduce legislation to ban smoking in restaurants and other eating places.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, as my noble friend may be aware, the Government will set out their plans to tackle smoking in a forthcoming Tobacco Control White Paper. This will include provisions on public places. The White Paper will build on yesterday's important vote by the European Parliament to ban tobacco advertising and sponsorship by EC directive. However, the Government are also aware that in the case of public places there is considerable scope to build on the voluntary progress which has been made over recent years.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, does not my noble friend agree that adults should continue to have the freedom to endanger, damage or destroy their health through smoking if they wish, but that there is a matching freedom for those of us who do not smoke not to have our health endangered by those who do? Does she not agree that it is especially important that steps be taken--in the way that has been done in some parts of the United States--to ban or at least to limit smoking in public restaurants and other eating places, or to confine it to specified areas, preferably out of doors?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I certainly agree with the first part of my noble friend's question and his remarks about the difference between children and adults being exposed to smoking. The House may welcome the fact--I am sure the business managers will--that the Government do not seek unnecessarily to legislate when we can achieve our ends through other means. There has been a great change in recent years in attitudes to smoking in public places. This has meant that many places such as workplaces, public transport, theatres and restaurants have become smoke free without changes in the law. We are encouraged by the extent to which these measures have been effective, but we shall keep the situation closely under review.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, the noble Baroness mentioned the excellent decision yesterday of the European Parliament. Will she confirm that this means that the European Union will no longer continue to subsidise tobacco growing at public expense?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, as I am sure the noble Lord is aware, that comes under another remit

14 May 1998 : Column 1168

of the European Community. As I said, we have taken great steps to ban tobacco advertising. Perhaps the European Community will see the logic of the noble Lord's suggestion.

The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, will the Government's White Paper include hints on how to give up smoking for those who are addicted to it?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, the Government's forthcoming White Paper is very much directed at those 70 per cent. of smokers who say that they would prefer to give up.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords--

Lord Mason of Barnsley: My Lords--

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I am happy to give way to a smoker.

Lord Mason of Barnsley: My Lords, I thank my noble friend. Is my noble friend the Minister aware that I understand that the Government's position on this issue of smoking in workplaces is one of self-regulation and not the intolerant imposition implied by my noble friend? Is she not aware that the Health and Safety Executive has suggested that the best course is the voluntary approach in order to avoid friction in the workplace?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, as I said in my original reply, we have been encouraged by the effective action which has been taken on a voluntary basis in relation to public places. I draw noble Lords' attention to the voluntary understanding which has been recently agreed in another place that there should be no smoking at all in the other place's Library.

Viscount Long: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that if there is one thing worse than smoking it is chewing gum?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am not sure what the noble Viscount is suggesting. Is he suggesting that we should legislate on chewing gum?

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the riskiest thing people can do in restaurants and eating places is to eat? Is it not a fact that thousands and thousands of people suffer from food poisoning after eating in such establishments due to infection from, for example, E.coli, salmonella, listeria--you name it, it is there--and worst of all due to infection contracted from human faeces of staff who handle food, go to the lavatory and do not wash their hands afterwards? In restaurants there is a far greater risk from eating than from passive smoking.

Finally, will the noble Baroness join with me in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Grade, on reaching the age of 91 and having a photograph taken with a great cigar in his mouth, and enjoying it, after 91 years of life?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am always ready to congratulate people who reach those extremely great ages, and who I am sure will lead active lives until perhaps 100.

14 May 1998 : Column 1169

Perhaps I may add to my noble friend's extremely gloomy catalogue of risks that one runs in restaurants. The Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health recently published a report on passive smoking. It stated that there is a 20 to 30 per cent. increased risk of lung cancer for those who had exposure to smoking; and that there is a clear increased risk of heart disease. Those are two factors that we should guard against in restaurants.

Lord Harris of High Cross: My Lords, perhaps I may ask a question on behalf of 15 million current British smokers. I must declare an interest as chairman of the leading European smokers' rights organisation. Fifteen million smokers represent a larger constituency than that which voted Labour--was it last year; it seems rather longer ago--in 1997.

Am I right in congratulating the Government on the fact that in their pursuit of inclusive policies they have now declared an intention to turn away from divisive legislative remedies and instead to support, for as far ahead as one wishes to look, the more mutually accommodating programmes of voluntary choice between smoking and non-smoking areas?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord accepts that the European directive on tobacco advertising is non-divisive. I am grateful for his support.

The White Paper on tobacco control in its wider context will be published before the Summer Recess. The Government recognise that a large number of people in this country are addicted to nicotine. It has never been our policy that we shall ban tobacco.

Algeria: UN Human Rights Commission Visits

3.14 p.m.

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to persuade the government of Algeria to accept visits from the United Nations Commission on Human Rights special rapporteurs on summary, arbitrary and extrajudicial executions and on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, we maintain a broad-based dialogue with Algeria at both political and senior official levels. This process offers the best chance of contributing to an improvement in the situation there. In our regular contacts, we encourage the Algerians to fulfil the obligations of UN human rights mechanisms, of which a visit by special rapporteurs would form an important element. We are disappointed that they have not yet done so.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, is the Minister aware that we welcome the forthright statement made at the

14 May 1998 : Column 1170

Commission by Ambassador Audrey Glover on behalf of the European Union, in particular the statement on 22nd April under agenda item 3 on the necessity of compliance with United Nations mechanisms directed at Algeria? What happens if a state persists in its defiance of the United Nations and permanently declines to comply with the requests for visits by rapporteurs?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, as EU president, we co-ordinated its discussions within the UNCHR to try to promote rapporteur visits to Algeria. We regret that that was not agreed with the Algerians. The EU's disappointment was made clear in a statement delivered at the UNCHR in Geneva on 22nd April. As that statement made clear, the EU will be watching closely developments in Algeria to ensure that there is progress. It will consider its position carefully at the UN General Assembly and the 1999 UN Commission on Human Rights if there has been no progress. We shall continue to raise this with the Algerians.

There is a way for special rapporteurs to compile reports without visiting the countries. Perhaps that is the point to which the noble Lord refers. Special rapporteurs can draw on that information. But direct information is more valuable than second-hand reports.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page