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Lord McColl of Dulwich: My Lords, will the Government use their influence to persuade the authorities in the Palace of Westminster to help noble Lords who suffer from asthma by making this workplace smoke free?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I know that a hotbed of contention surrounds this issue. As a very new stand-in Minister I fear to tread in that direction. However, I have witnessed the fact that some Members of the House have been directly affected not only by tobacco smoke but by accidental association with it. We have to be extremely careful. We should certainly consider referring the issue to the House authorities.

Lord Rogan: My Lords, I suffer from asthma. Does the Minister agree that education about asthma and its treatment should be delivered at a primary care level, thus reducing pressure on our hospitals?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, the noble Lord is right. Most of our care and treatment for asthma is delivered at the primary care level. The chronically sick management programme has been in place for 10 years and has been assisted hugely by the guidelines issued by the British Thoracic Society. These excellent guidelines were updated this year and are absolutely

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first rate. But it is in doctors' surgeries, with asthma nurses, where asthma patients are best identified and followed up.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, do the Government have plans to free those with severe asthma from the costs of their prescriptions?

Baroness Andrews: No, my Lords. Eighty-five per cent of prescriptions are now free. Many of those with asthma, including young children and old people, receive free prescriptions. So we feel that people are being well treated.

Viscount Simon: My Lords, my noble friend knows that I am severely asthmatic. Is she aware of the study which indicated that very few GPs know how to use a puffer inhaler? Would not the education of GPs in this respect benefit asthmatics?

Baroness Andrews: Yes, my Lords. I do not know the research the noble Lord is referring to; I am sure he is right that GPs, in the normal way, would and should receive updated training. I know that the British Thoracic Society gives this sort of advice. I will follow up what the noble Lord has said.

Lord Rea: My Lords, my noble friend said that she would be using asthma as an exemplar in the national standards framework for children. How will this affect prevention and the treatment of children with asthma in the education system?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, asthma has a whole section in the guidance issued in 1996 on supporting pupils with medical needs in schools, which I understand is working very well. The guidance stresses that children with asthma must have instant access to reliever inhalers when they need them. The staff are informed what to do, what triggers an attack, what treatment and support they can give and when an attack is sufficiently urgent to bring in medical advice and the ambulance. The guidance also promotes the idea of an individual care plan for children, and we are content that it is working well in schools.

Earl Russell: My Lords, can the Minister give the House an assurance that those who cannot in conscience accept pay for work done in a no-smoking environment will not be subjected to the penalty of voluntary unemployment?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, as I predicted, I find it difficult to answer the question. However, we might test this out in the Department of Health; it has just declared all its workplaces smoke-free, and we are hoping to promote that across government. That may be the way to go rather than the apocalyptic vision of the noble Earl, Lord Russell.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, will my noble friend reiterate the connection between asthma and smoking? Will she welcome the response given last

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week in another place by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Patricia Hewitt, who said that women's health was being severely affected by smoking and that women's health should be taken as a priority? She welcomed the Secretary of State's consideration that smoking should be banned in all public places, which would benefit women and children.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I certainly agree that smoking triggers asthma and makes it worse. There is no question about that. We also know that women tend to smoke more at different ages, so I certainly support my noble friend in that respect.

Food Containers: Safety

2.53 p.m.

Lord Harrison asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in the light of the Department of Trade and Industry's 23rd annual report of the home and leisure accident surveillance system entitled Working for a Safer World, they will encourage the food and packaging industries to redesign food containers and cans, for example those containing corned beef.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, my department has not taken any specific actions with the packaging industry as a result of the 23rd HASS report. However, based on information from earlier editions of the report, during the 1990s my department published a number of research reports aimed at helping manufacturers improve the design of cans and make them easier for consumers to open safely. Statistics show that the number of accidents from corned beef cans has been declining and they are not a major cause of accidents now. Packaging, as with many products, is covered by the provisions of the general product safety directive, which imposes a general safety duty on it.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer, but does he understand that many of us still believe corned beef tins and, indeed, other varieties of pull-top cans, to be inherently unsafe? Will he ensure that his department pursues its interest in helping to have those redesigned by the food and packaging industry? Will he also note that the report shows that some 6 million of us each year attend accident and emergency units in hospital, and that some 90 children under the age of five die as a result of accidents at home? Is he satisfied that the Government's accident taskforce has sufficient resources and powers to reduce the incidence of these accidents at home?

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Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Lord has asked me a Question about corned beef cans. I have been answering questions about them all my life and I regard them as one of my real areas of expertise.

There is a real problem about corned beef cans. They have a trapezoidal shape and a key kind of ring. The DTI has done much work on this issue in giving further instructions and also special coatings for the cans which enable the corned beef to be extracted more easily. There has in fact been a remarkable drop in accidents with corned beef cans. They have fallen from 8,720 per year out of 26,000 accidents caused by all tins to 3,091 out of 19,000. I should point out that the really dramatic decrease came after 1997.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether ring-pull cans are safer than ordinary cans which are opened with a tin-opener? Which is safest?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I am not sure that I can give exact details between the different kinds of can, but the one which is used for corned beef is particularly disliked by people, mainly because they lose the keys and then attack the corned beef can with whatever is at hand. If the noble Baroness would like to pursue this point, I can probably find her some detailed statistics.

Lord Razzall: My Lords, will the Minister allow me to rescue him from his worldwide expertise on the topic of corned beef and ask a slightly wider question? Does he agree that, taking the nub of the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Harrison—working for a safer world—a reduction in the use of products which have an impact on the environment would be highly desirable? What steps are the Government taking to ensure that clear, verified information is available to consumers on the environmental impact of such products?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, that goes wider than my knowledge of corned beef; it strays into a completely different department and area—the impact on the environment. This report is very specifically about recording accidents which take place in accident and emergency departments of hospitals. The impact on the environment is a totally different question.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, is the Minister aware that if, having taken off one end of the corned beef can with the twisty thing provided—assuming that you have not lost it—you then take a common, ordinary, household tin-opener and take off the other end, it is very easy to push the corned beef out of the tin without any danger to yourself?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: Yes, my Lords, I was aware of that, and I am very glad that that essential piece of information is passed round for the benefit of this House.

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Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, does the Minister agree, as the noble Baroness has demonstrated, that most home accidents are avoidable, arising out of carelessness, and that therefore paying attention is one of the best cures?

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