|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Astor of Hever: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that explanation. I agree that the amendments should probably have been grouped with the earlier ones concerning utilities. This is a technical point. I shall go back to the utility industries and study what the Minister said. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I start by expressing my appreciation to noble Lords who have put down their names to speak in this short debate. I believe that by the end of the hour my noble friend Lord Whitty will have heard a number of powerful speeches in support of the draft approved code of practice issued by the Health and Safety Commission on passive smoking at work.
There is overwhelming support in the country among most employers, virtually all trade unions and in both Houses of Parliament for new measures to protect employees from the effects of passive smoking. Even many heavy smokers accept the desirability of ensuring a smoke-free environment at work.
The Office for National Statistics carried out a survey which showed that 89 per cent of the public favour restrictions on smoking at work, including some 69 per cent of current smokers. Despite that, there are still 3 million non-smokers who are frequently or continuously exposed to second-hand smoke. For many, it is not just an irritation; it can literally be a matter of life and death. The Government's scientific committee on tobacco and health concluded that,
The scientific committee concluded that passive smoking also causes heart disease and respiratory illness, as well as cancer. From that committee, the issue passed to the Health and Safety Commission, which considered what more could be done. The Government's excellent White Paper, Smoking Kills, proposed that there should be an approved code of practice, which the Health and Safety Commission produced last year after lengthy and thorough consultation from July to October 1999, in which over 400 of 485 respondents backed the code. Taking account of views expressed in the consultation, the commission sent a carefully formulated and reasonable proposal to Ministers on 5th September last year. It is that we are debating.
The code gives most employees the right to work in a smoke-free environment and the expectation that their employers will do what they can to reduce or eliminate smoke exposure. It is understood that there are particular sorts of establishments, such as prisons and offshore oil rigs, where exemptions may have to apply. The hospitality industry presents a special problem. I shall say more about that in a moment.
The code gives practical meaning to the Health and Safety at Work Act as it should be applied. It works rather like the Highway Code. Failure to follow it will not be an offence in itself but its recommendations will strengthen the hand of employees taking legal action if they believe their health is not being sufficiently protected.
When the code is implemented it will mean that for most people smoking in the workplace, other than in specially designated areas if the employer chooses to provide them, will be a thing of the past. It will make a considerable contribution to improving health and a much more pleasant environment for those who do not wish to breathe other people's tobacco smoke. As I said, there is huge popular support for the code. A call for its immediate implementation is the subject of an Early Day Motion in another place and has already attracted 130 signatures.
The consultative document of the Health and Safety Commission included a regulatory impact assessment, which is required for new regulations and approved codes of practice. The original version contained estimates which showed that total costs outweighed total benefits, but those did not include health benefits from stopping smoking and reducing deaths from lung cancer. As those would take some while to work through, the period covered by the regulatory impact assessment was extended from 10 years to 25 years. As a result, the estimated total benefits to society will be between £9.1 billion and £21.1 billion, while the estimated costs are between £2.8 billion and £3.3 billion.
Clearly, when carried out in conjunction with other measures the Government are taking to reduce tobacco consumption, that measure will produce huge benefits for the health of our people. So why the delay? From the inquiries I have made in the past few days it is clear that the problem lies with the hospitality industry, which is clearly being aided and abetted by the tobacco lobby. Between them they are attempting to block or water down the approved code.
I understand why cigarette manufacturers go on trying to stem the tide against tobacco smoking and oppose measures which stop them promoting their products to young people. We must remember that they are killing 120,000 people a year in the United Kingdom and have to replace the customers who die with young smokers. But why do those who represent pubs, clubs and restaurants stand in the way of measures which will not only improve the environment for everyone in their premises and attract people like me who hate going into a pub if the atmosphere is heavy with tobacco smoke, but which will also make the working environment for the staff healthier and more pleasant? They argue that they are already doing their bit by introducing what they call a "public places charter" in which non-smoking is accepted as the norm and the provision of smoke-free places is promised. By 2002 50 per cent of venues are supposed to comply with the charter, which is voluntary.
They have a long way to go. We are already into the second month of 2001 and just 1 per cent are charter-compliant. The public places charter is about giving the customers of the hospitality industry the opportunity to have a drink or meal in a smoke-free environment. The approved code of practice on passive smoking is about protecting employees. The two, therefore, should go together. It is not reasonable for workers in restaurants and bars to have to rely on the compliance of their employers with the voluntary charter, particularly as so many such employees are poorly paid, non-unionised and unable to take their bosses to task if they are not being treated properly. At the very least they have the right to expect that a bar where smoking is permitted is properly ventilated and
I hope that the Government will not give way to the hospitality industry and allow their workers to be denied the same rights and protection that the rest of the working population will derive from the approved code of practice.
Finally, I want to say a brief word about the conditions under which employees work in your Lordships' House and the application of the approved code of practice here. On 23rd October last year in a Starred Question I asked how it was envisaged that the House authorities would comply with the approved code of practice and whether we stood by the statement on page 34 of the House of Lords Staff Handbook that,
We look forward to the outcome as far as it affects your Lordships' House. But even more important, for our welfare and that of our staff, is the need to see that the Approved Code of Practice and Guidance on Passive Smoking at Work is adopted by the Government and implemented across the country. I hope that my noble friend Lord Whitty will have positive comments to make on these matters when he replies.
Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester for introducing the debate. I strongly support the Approved Code of Practice and Guidance on Passive Smoking at Work and hope that Ministers will adopt it. It is, of course, not new law; it clarifies existing law, and careful consultation has taken place. Consultation is also recommended as part of a workplace's adoption of an approved code. I shall discuss that later.
Most smokers want to give up. Most non-smokers do not want to inhale other people's smoke. Public attitudes to smoking are clear in relation to smoking at work, in restaurants and in public places, even among smokers. As my noble friend Lord Faulkner said, 89 per cent of people want smoking restricted.
I shall not go into the adverse health consequences of smoking in detail--for example, cancer, heart disease, stroke, infertility, erectile dysfunction and respiratory diseases--because they have been discussed and will no doubt be discussed further.
It is significant that a passive smoker takes in 1 per cent of the smoke which an active smoker inhales. Passive smoking is dangerous and people should not be put at risk. The effects on clothes, furnishings, books and so forth are unpleasant and costly. Absenteeism and illness among smokers has a cost for employers. A study in Scotland estimated this to be as high as £33 million during 1995.
I am particularly concerned about young people who may have no choice about avoiding passive smoking; for example, in schools, youth clubs and community centres. Perhaps passive smoking can encourage young people to become smokers, although I have no evidence for this. Employers have a duty to help employees to avoid passive smoking. Under the law of negligence, they are in danger of being sued or taken to a tribunal if they do not respect this.
In some cases, smoking policies at work are not strong enough to protect employees. In 1999, a coalition of organisations recommended a process for implementing a code of practice in the workplace. In summary, there are five steps: consultation and negotiation with the workforce; time to prepare, implement and monitor a policy; assessment of costs involved and publicity for the policy; rearrangement of staff working areas; and providing help for those who want to stop smoking. That seems to me to be fair and democratic. It is about where and when people smoke, not about whether they choose to smoke. It is not a ban on smoking.
Lord Monson: My Lords, I was tempted by the noble Baroness's quotation from James I to refer to that well-known anti-smoking zealot, Adolf Hitler, but I shall refrain from doing so. I must declare an interest as a supporter of the Freedom Organisation for the
I must also state that no more than 10 per cent of my extended family and my friends smoke nowadays, so I am well aware of the sensitivities of non-smokers. Indeed, as a decidedly light smoker, I dislike a very smoky atmosphere.
I must confess that I expected the document we are debating, which I saw only last night, to be as intolerant, absolutist, exaggerated and health-fascistic as most of the stuff put out by the anti-smoking lobby. So it was a pleasant surprise to find something relatively liberal, which I am sure would please the champion cigarette consumer in your Lordships' House, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, were he in his place. The document is liberal; it is cautious in its interpretation of statistics; and it is open to all points of view. However, it is not without fault, as I hope to show.
One cannot assess the health risks, if any, in passive smoking until the risks in active smoking have been judged correctly. For reasons which I have given on at least three or four previous occasions--there is no time to do so in the five allotted minutes tonight--I contend that the estimate of 120,000 smoking-related deaths annually is highly suspect. A few years ago, the Government gave us a figure of 50,000, so it is curious that it should have risen 2.4 times in such a short time. Incidentally, a full-page article in today's press claims that 100,000 people die each year from consuming too much salt in their diet. That is an interesting claim to contemplate.
No one would deny that heavy smoking is dangerous. Two good friends of ours, both barely into their 60s, died recently; one from emphysema and one from lung cancer. Both women smoked 60-plus cigarettes a day, as people tended to do 50 years ago. Thankfully, that is no longer the case. Against that, we should remember Mme Jeanne Calment, the Provencal lady who lived to the age of 119--or was it 121?--and who smoked two cigarettes a day, of course accompanied by plenty of wine, until she was 110. Mme Calment may have been lucky, but when one compares her two cigarettes a day with two cigarettes a year, which is equivalent to what a non-smoker in a smoking household passively inhales in the course of that year--that is shown by Dr Nilsson, a Swedish toxicologist--things are put into perspective.
Commendably, the report does not try to link passive smoking with either lung cancer or heart disease but it does suggest a link with bronchitis and asthma. The only problem with that theory is that the incidence of asthma is increasing while the incidence of smoking is sharply decreasing. There is a much closer correlation between asthma and exhaust emissions from petrol and diesel engines.
Luckily, there is one matter on which we can all agree; that is, the conclusion at paragraph 27 that tobacco smoke causes discomfort and irritation. On the assumption that that means "excessive" tobacco smoke, no one will deny that. However, solution (a) in
There is one other much cheaper improvement that involves no wiring or machinery. It is common practice in the Indian subcontinent and South East Asia for ashtrays to contain a little sand or, more usually, water to ensure that when a cigarette is stubbed out it stays out. It is smouldering cigarettes that produce the nastiest smoke, as I am sure noble Lords have found. Moreover, the ashtrays are much easier to clean since they contain no tarry residues that must be scraped off. I believe that if your Lordships' House experimented with it for a trial period noble Lords would be pleasantly surprised by the improvement in the atmosphere, in every sense of the word.
Baroness Gale: My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Faulkner for initiating this important debate. Passive smoking kills. There is overwhelming evidence that people who are exposed to cigarette smoke but do not smoke themselves are in danger of contracting many illnesses that can lead to death. As to your Lordships' House, I was absolutely shocked when I used the Library for the first time and discovered that smoking was allowed. I do not know how many libraries in the country allow smoking, but there cannot be many. I have never smoked, and I do not wish to inhale other people's smoke. When I use the Library and find myself next to a noble Lord who smokes I must remove myself, which is extremely annoying. While I can remove myself, the staff in the Library cannot; they must carry on working there. That applies to all other areas in which staff work.
For a number of years scientific evidence has been available to show that exposure to second-hand smoke causes diseases, worsens existing problems and in some cases may prove fatal. I am particularly concerned about the health of women staff in the House. Of the 200 women employed in your Lordships' House, many are of child-bearing age. Nowadays, even some noble Baronesses are young enough to become pregnant. Passive smoking has a harmful effect on pregnant women. This is extremely worrying. For example, a mother's exposure to passive smoking has been associated with lower birth weight, a higher risk of perinatal mortality and spontaneous abortions or miscarriage.
New research carried out by the University of Bristol has shown that female fertility is reduced by passive smoking. That study of pregnancy and childhood found that if a non-smoking woman was exposed to passive smoking at home or in the workplace the chances that she would take more than 12 months to conceive were increased by 14 per cent.
The results of the research show that women who want to conceive should avoid all places where smoking is allowed. How can a woman member of staff in your Lordships' House do that? We have an obligation to provide a safe environment for all staff, men and women, but especially women of child-bearing age. I believe that the Health and Safety Commission's code of practice should be implemented. Given all the evidence available on the dangers of smoking, including passive smoking, I cannot understand why it is taking so long to implement a policy that is acceptable to staff and Peers.
I am aware that over the past few years different committees have looked at this issue and some recommendations have been implemented. Small changes in smoking policy have been made but, while they are welcome, they are not enough. Smoking kills. However, people who smoke do so in the knowledge that they endanger their health. Passive smokers cannot always avoid the situation.
My preference is for a total ban on smoking throughout the whole House. I welcome the day when as I drive into the car park I see huddles of noble Lords puffing away merrily. I doubt whether that day will ever arrive. While I await that great day, I welcome a much more positive approach to the serious matter of passive smoking for the sake of the staff and Members of your Lordships' House. I look forward to the day, in the not too distant future, when a positive policy based on the code of practice is implemented.
Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester for tabling this Unstarred Question and allowing noble Lords to debate this extremely important issue. I declare two interests. I am a former member of the Health and Safety Commission and served on that body at the time of the drafting of the ACOP, and an official of MSF, part of whose membership includes the former Tobacco Workers Union which has a proud history of promoting its members' interests and gaining good conditions of work for them.
Smoking is an emotive issue. The Health and Safety Commission had a number of long and detailed debates before issuing the first consultative paper in July 1999. The resultant draft approved code of practice was drawn up after detailed consideration and discussion. The Health and Safety Commission worked very hard on the wording of the draft ACOP. I led on behalf of the TUC, and Rex Symonds, a splendid commissioner, led on behalf of the CBI. Rex Symonds was very aware of the attitude and fears of the hospitality industry about the ACOP, and he impressed those upon the commission. He and I spent long periods producing a wording which would be acceptable to both sides of industry. By 5th September 2000 we had achieved it.
The ACOP is much milder than many wanted, but as currently worded it can still be effective. At that time it satisfied both sides of industry. When the draft ACOP was launched on 5th September 2000, Bill Callaghan, chairman of the Health and Safety Commission, said:
Many employers have already taken steps to stop smoking in workplaces and so protect non-smoking workers. The effects of this can be witnessed daily as we travel around London. The sight of smoking workers huddled together outside their places of work is a familiar one. I, too, am not sure that it will ever happen here. However, I do not believe that that should be necessary. Surely a well ventilated room inside the building can be found to allow those who are addicted to cigarettes to satisfy their habit rather than have them exposed to London's inclement weather at all times of the year.
As a non-smoker I have been lucky in my employment: I have not been exposed to passive smoking in my workplaces; indeed, my former employer, Clive Jenkins, was a fanatical anti-smoker. The first notices that I ever read about the dangers of passive smoking were in my union's head office. Therefore, the extent to which smoking was allowed in your Lordships' House came as an unpleasant shock to me.
It has already been said that passive smoking is dangerous, particularly so for young children. Having a grandson with acute asthma brings that danger home to me in a stark way. Passive smoking also has non-health effects. I try to avoid smoky places because I do not wish my clothes, hair, car or home to smell of smoke. I expect smokers get used to it, but I never shall.
The Government's delay in responding to the draft ACOP is very disappointing. Following an initial burst of great enthusiasm for action to be taken over smoking, there has been an ominous silence. Knowing the Ministers who were involved in the first discussions about taking swift action, I am sure that they have not changed their minds, but why the delay? Is it that the "big boys" in the hospitality industry have rejoined the debate? Can it be that government departments are at variance over the ACOP? Are the demands of the ACOP, which merely asks employers to take reasonably practicable steps to protect their staff, still too much? Is it still hoped that some kind of watered-down compromise can be reached over the already mild suggestions in the ACOP? I look forward to hearing from the Minister the reasons for the delay.
Finally, at the beginning of my speech I referred to those working in the tobacco industry. As an ex-trade union official, I am well aware that what we are debating today will affect jobs in the tobacco industry. I urge the Government to remember that in their
The Government have estimated that a 2.5 per cent reduction in tobacco consumption will result in approximately 1,700 job losses. Thanks to the efforts of the Tobacco Workers' Union over the years, those will be skilled and well paid jobs. Additionally, they may be in areas where other work is unavailable; for example, in the North East--in Darlington and Spennymoor. So if actions of this kind are taken, it is incumbent on us all to approach in a constructive manner any measures which will reduce tobacco consumption and to seek to provide alternative employment for any who lose their jobs.
The effects of passive smoking on health are well documented, despite the denials of many smokers. I only wish that it was not necessary for me to have to reiterate them. However, it seems that the slow progress of the Government in responding to the HSC's recommendations compels me to.
The Government are committed to reducing smoking across the board because they recognise the damage smoking does to people, especially children. Ministers have introduced a raft of measures aimed at reducing smoking which I wholeheartedly welcome; public health campaigns to encourage smokers to stop; nicotine replacement therapy on prescription; and a new helpline to support pregnant mothers who want to give up, to name but a few. In addition, of course, the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill is currently making its way on to the statute book, or so I hope. It greatly troubles me, therefore, that, in the face of all these wonderful measures, the Government appear to be dragging their heels on responding to the HSC's approved code of practice on passive smoking at work.
I feel that this is an appropriate time to declare an interest. As some of your Lordships may know, I developed asthma some six years ago, a debilitating long-term condition that affects the airways and causes symptoms of coughing, wheezing, a tight chest and increasing difficulty in breathing. The National Asthma Campaign, an independent charity, estimates that I am one of 3.4 million people in this country with asthma. That figure is rising rapidly. It is for that reason that I wanted to speak today, to highlight the effects of passive smoke inhalation on asthmatics and to urge the Government to make the ACOP a reality as soon as possible.
The National Asthma Campaign believes, and I agree with it, that people with asthma have a right to breathe air that is free from the triggers that exacerbate their symptoms. One such trigger--other people's tobacco smoke--has a detrimental effect on as many as 80 per cent of people with asthma. At this stage I feel obliged to give one--I promise that it is only one--personal example within your Lordships' House which
The following day I measured the number of steps I had managed to walk before becoming very ill--only 15 paces. That is one reason why the HSC-recommended code is such a significant step towards improving the lives of the 3 million non-smokers, including people with asthma, who are still exposed to tobacco smoke at work. It is impossible to overestimate the positive impact the code will have on employees' health and quality of working life. There are some appalling stories of people having to compromise their health for fear of losing their jobs. For example, a middle-aged man was recently forced to leave his job as a greenkeeper because his colleagues refused to stop smoking when they took their breaks in the confines of a portakabin. He has not worked since.
There has been some suggestion that elements of the Government are determined to block the code and that is the reason it is taking so long for the Government to respond to the HSC. I would ask those Members who see the code as nothing more than bureaucracy or an infringement of smokers' civil liberties: what about my right, and that of other people with asthma and other respiratory conditions, to go about my business free from the threat of an asthma attack brought on by those of my colleagues who refuse to confine their smoking to outside the workplace? Why should it be me who has to take precautions to avoid tobacco smoke at work by having to shut myself away at my desk, smoke-free, for most of the day? I will digress slightly to make the observation that those public houses that have either banned or curtailed smoking have increased their takings.
The issue of passive smoking is a plain and simple one for the majority of people with asthma, whether it is at work or in any other public place; if we are in a smoky environment the impact on our symptoms is clearly visible and often immediate, as it is with me. People with asthma should not be forced to choose between unemployment and their health. I ask for the sake of the one in seven children with asthma--the workforce of the future--that the Government do not allow the code to be blocked by a tiny minority and that they make their response to the HSC known immediately.
The Health Select Committee commended the code in its report on the tobacco industry and the health risks of smoking in June 2000. The Health and Safety Commission approved the new ACOP later that year.
But from the Government there has been a thundering public silence on the subject, other than a statement in December by the Minister with responsibility for public health that the Government are still considering their response. Certain clues emerged in the Independent in December. But why should this be? Why are we waiting for action two years after the White Paper on smoking? Has the health risk diminished? The answer seems to be no.
The Health Select Committee report concentrated heavily on the health evidence. As your Lordships have heard from the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, passive smokers are at greater risk in terms of lung cancer, heart disease, and strokes and respiratory disease in particular. There may be some disagreement about the extent to which the risk has increased, but certainly there can be no dispute that it has. Now we have the recent evidence conducted by Sarah McGhee, of the University of Hong Kong, among 10,000 police officers in Hong Kong about exposure to passive smoking and the effect on respiratory symptoms.
Has the character of the code changed? The answer is no. The code is not compulsory. It is not legally binding. It does not constitute an absolute ban on smoking in the workplace. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, used the word "liberal" in describing the code. What higher term of praise could I possibly envisage? As a number of noble Lords have pointed out, businesses must simply do what is reasonably practicable to control environmental tobacco smoke. Furthermore, it does not impose a total ban on pubs and clubs. In so far as they are affected, they will have two years to implement any changes needed to comply with the code. In the meantime they will be covered by the public places charter. Action will mainly take the form of installing extra ventilation. Certain noble Lords in the previous debate, as the noble Lord, Lord Monson, has done in this debate, described how this was already under way in the hospitality industry.
Is environmental tobacco smoke a problem still? It is. A recent Consumers Association survey used in evidence to the Select Committee found three-quarters of respondents said that they were exposed to passive smoke in home, place of work, or places visited socially.
Is restricting smoking unpopular with the public? Absolutely not. Surveys show an overwhelming majority in favour of restrictions on smoking. Will the approved code of practice be a major burden on business? This is where some of the rather contentious figures put forward in the regulatory impact statement come into play. When I looked at the statement, my mind boggled. It seemed to be one of the most wildly exaggerated RIAs I had seen for a very long time. It seemed to be designed to kill the code of practice. I do not know where it emanated from. Even if one takes the figures of a FOREST supporter, such as those of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, the cost of ventilation in the hospitality industry seems to have been wildly exaggerated.
What is my conclusion? The fact is that people should be entitled to avoid the dangers attached to other people's tobacco smoke. Without the appropriate codes, particularly at the workplace--
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page