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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I expressed my concern at the level of young girls smoking. It is particularly of concern that more girls than boys are smoking at young ages.

The programme can be separated into two parts. First, there is the tobacco education strategy. Over three years £50 million will be spent on a whole series of media campaigns aimed at the general population and young women to discourage them from smoking. Secondly, at the same time, there are the local smoking cessation programmes. They will be run by every health authority charged with developing local programmes, some of which will be aimed at young girls. Schools very much have a role to play. I hope that they will co-operate with the health service to play their part.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, is the Minister satisfied with the progress that the hospitality industry is making in the adoption of its voluntary code of practice on smoking? The latest figures I have seen are that only 1 per cent of its establishments have adopted the code. There are still enormous numbers of places where there is no segregation between smokers

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and non-smokers. The industry is supposed to reach a target of 50 per cent by next year. Are the Government doing anything to make sure that that target is met?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, my noble friend is right to draw attention to the Public Places Charter which is a voluntary agreement in the hospitality sector. That commits signatories to increase the provision of facilities for non-smokers, to improve ventilation and to give customers better information about the level of smoke-free facilities in a given establishment. The targets that have been set are that, by March 2000, 40 per cent of all pubs, bars and restaurants which are members of the Restaurant Association should be aware of the charter and that 1 per cent should be compliant, but by December 2002, 90 per cent of its members should be aware and 50 per cent compliant.

My noble friend is right to say that the impact on the ground has so far been too slow. We are very much committed to working with the industry to encourage it to ensure that its members, as far as possible, take note. For many of them it makes good business sense to offer smoke-free facilities.

Earl Russell: My Lords, while smokers remain about 30 per cent of the population--there is no argument about discouraging people from starting--it would not be wise to make smokers either unemployable or unable to have a meal when away from home.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, as someone who is now on his 30th attempt to give up smoking, I have some sympathy with what the noble Earl says. We must do everything we can to discourage people from smoking. We should also ensure that, wherever possible, there are smoke-free environments for non-smokers. But we should not treat smokers as people to moralise against, nor should we make them feel that their civil liberties and rights of existence are under threat. We want a balance. That is what the Government are trying to achieve.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, is the Minister aware how much I regret not being in the Chamber for the first part of the Question because I was attending the very well attended all-party pipe smokers and cigar smokers luncheon?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, it certainly sounds like it!

Earl Howe: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that NRT works only if the person who is taking it does not continue to smoke cigarettes at the same time? Bearing in mind that the cost of NRT is some £10 to £20 a week, what steps will be taken to ensure that GPs do not prescribe it to those who are not going to take it seriously?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Earl is right to raise the question. In the health action zones

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where NRT has been made available it has been for a period of up to six weeks, which has enabled an effective control to be placed on the use of NRT. That has proved to be successful. The noble Earl asked about GP prescribing. Prescribing is a matter for the clinical judgment of the GP concerned. I am sure that GPs will wish to take account of the point raised by the noble Earl.

Post Office: Public Service Role

2.52 p.m.

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they last discussed the public service role of the Post Office with the senior management of the Post Office and what was the outcome of any such discussion.

The Minister for Science, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, Alan Johnson, the Minister of State, met the chairman of the Post Office on 19th February 2001 to discuss the Post Office's proposed strategic plan for the period 2001-06. The meeting was part of an established process for government, as shareholder, to monitor and discuss the performance and future strategy of the Post Office. The process includes quarterly reviews of the Post Office's performance against its plans. Public service issues are taken fully into account throughout the process.

When the Postal Services Act is implemented later this month, the Post Office will continue to have public service obligations imposed by the Postal Services Commission through licence.

Lord Judd: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Does he agree that public services are first and foremost just that? While we all want to see efficiency and cost-effectiveness, the quality of the service they provide to society is related to the commitment and the morale of those working for them. That is invariably true. Does my noble friend further agree that some of the difficulties encountered of late in the Post Office are perhaps because undue weight has been given to the business dimensions of the Post Office and not enough to its dependence on the well-being of staff for an effective service, not least in rural areas? Can he assure us that in future the Government will emphasise the crucial importance of that aspect of the Post Office's activities?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I am happy to agree with my noble friend that the Post Office provides more of a service to the community than just a narrow business service. In many isolated parts of the country, the Post Office bus is the only kind of public transport. In many cases the postman or indeed the sub-postmaster is a lifeline for the elderly and infirm. It is important that that part of the service should continue. It is also necessary that the Post Office

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should have a firm economic and financial basis so that those services can be properly delivered, which is what I think the staff want to do.

Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, was the abysmal industrial relations record of the Post Office discussed at the meeting that recently took place? Does the noble Lord agree that, apart from the Prison Service, the industrial relations record of the Post Office is one of the worst in this country? Does he further agree that until that problem is solved, there will be great public dissatisfaction in the areas affected?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the purpose of the meetings is to discuss the service performance of the Post Office. The noble Lord asked about the service level. The reason for discussing the service level is that it varies hugely across the country. In many places, people have an extremely good service; but in others, that is not the case. Clearly, it is important to try to deal with those very poor areas of performance.

Lord Blaker: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware of the stubborn and bureaucratic refusal of the Post Office to correct errors on the postal address file? I declare an interest in that the large village in which I live appears from the file not to exist, although it has been there for 1,000 years. This increasingly matters as more people are consulting the postal address file, especially on the Internet. Will the Government ensure that when the licence for Consignia is agreed--it is now under discussion--it will contain provisions requiring errors to be corrected?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the noble Lord raises two different issues. The first is the exact address and the second is the code that is used for transmitting letters to the right place. The second is fundamental because if it is not right the letters will not reach the right place. There are other areas where there is disagreement over what exactly should appear on the envelope. Clearly, the actual code that allocates the letter is important. If it is not correct, the letter will not reach the right place. If there are any such cases, the Post Office will be very keen to hear of them.

Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, I declare my usual interest in these matters. I accept that my noble friend does not have responsibility for the day-to-day running of the Post Office--that is a matter for the Post Office management. In the last few days of the great British Post Office, before it sinks into oblivion and Consignia later this month, will he look into what is happening in the Watford area at the moment? The impasse is about management insisting on rigid rostering or, as it is called in our industry, duty attendance, as opposed to the flexible rostering that staff have been looking for. Some of us have spent 20 years of our lives getting the staff to agree to that. Will my noble friend agree to have a look at that point?


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