Consideration of Lords amendments
I must draw the House’s attention to the fact that financial privilege is involved in a large number of Lords amendments, which are listed in the notes on the Order Paper. If the House agrees to any of them, I will cause an appropriate entry to be made in the Journal.
Protection of Children’s Health: Offence of Smoking in a Private Vehicle
I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 125.
I am very pleased to speak to this package of Government amendments aimed at protecting young people from tobacco and nicotine addiction. I will also speak to the amendment on smoking in cars carrying children, which was agreed in another place.
I am sure that I need not remind hon. Members that tobacco use is a leading preventable cause of death, accounting for nearly 80,000 premature deaths per year in England alone and being a contributory factor in many other aspects of poor health. Taking action to prevent young people from taking up smoking in the first place is vital in our efforts to reduce rates of smoking.
When I first became the Minister responsible for public health I was made very aware of just how critical the teenage years are in smoking addiction, and that came up repeatedly in a Backbench Business Committee debate at the time. Almost two-thirds of smokers take up smoking regularly before they are 18—that is, they were addicted before becoming adults. That is a shocking reality, which many hon. Members have spoken about in this Chamber.
Stopping smoking can be extremely difficult because the addiction is so powerful. While two-thirds of smokers say that they want to quit, only a small fraction succeed in doing so. That is why we must stop young people taking up smoking in the first place. We want to see our young people enter an adulthood that is healthy and long-lived, but half of all long-term smokers will die from a smoking-related disease.
The amendments we have introduced seek to do the following: introduce regulation-making powers to enable the Government to bring in standardised tobacco packaging, if such a decision is made; introduce regulation-making powers to prohibit the sale of nicotine products to people under the age of 18; and to create a new offence of the proxy purchasing of tobacco. Also returning to this House from another place is an amendment which would provide the Government with regulation-making powers on smoking in cars carrying children, which is for hon. Members to consider.
Will the Minister clarify the Government’s position? Is she saying that the Government are agreeing with the Lords amendment to ban smoking in vehicles because that is what she wants to see achieved, or is she saying that the Government are agreeing with the Lords amendment because it is a passive one and even if passed by this House she intends to ignore it?
Actually it is neither of those two things. Technical amendments are needed to the wording of what was passed in another place and the Government’s view was that the House needed the chance to consider something that was legally workable. I will cover that in a bit more detail later.
Does the Minister not agree that this is actually premature and that we should await the outcome of the Sir Cyril Chantler review? That is an independent review and we should not try to shape his opinion in advance of it. In a famous statement in this House on 12 July last year—a date I will always remember—it was made clear that this was about gathering evidence. Surely we should await the gathering of evidence before we put legislation in place that will allow the implementation of something for which there may not be sufficient evidence.
I will discuss that point in more detail in a moment. We have had these discussions before. The Government are seeking regulation-making powers, but we will await the outcome of the independent Chantler review. Ministers will take all other factors into consideration at that time before making a decision.
I want to set out the key elements of the Government amendments. Let me start with standardised tobacco packaging. As I told the House on 28 November last year, we have asked Sir Cyril Chantler for an independent view of the public health evidence on standardised packaging of tobacco products. Sir Cyril’s report is due in March. During debates in the House, many hon. Members have told me that the evidence base for standardised packaging continues to grow. The Government will introduce standardised tobacco packaging if, following the review and consideration of the wider issues raised by this policy, we are satisfied that there are sufficient grounds to do so, including public health benefit.
We have therefore introduced provisions that would give Ministers the power to make regulations to standardise the packaging of tobacco products, should a decision be taken by the Government to do so. Ministers would be able to regulate internal and external packaging and any other associated materials included with a tobacco product, including the cellophane or other outer wrapper of a cigarette pack. The powers will extend to other forms of tobacco such as hand-rolling tobacco.
The Minister has touched on two important points. One involves the packaging rights of companies. Is there anything in the legislation that would enable compensation to be granted to those companies if the Government chose to remove their trademarks and branding rights? I understand that, under European law, billions of pounds of compensation could be payable in those circumstances. Secondly, will the Minister clarify whether the Chantler review—
I apologise for the longevity of my intervention, Madam Deputy Speaker, but these important issues affect many jobs in my constituency. My second point involves the illicit trade in tobacco products. Will the Minister tell us whether that will be covered by the Chantler review?
As I said in my earlier statement to the House, the Chantler review is looking specifically at the public health aspects of these matters. Sir Cyril is perfectly free to look at whatever he wants, but those are his terms of reference. Other issues will be considered in the round when Ministers come to make their decisions. Those issues were of course fully explored during the consultation that took place before the review.
The amendment sets out the elements of tobacco packaging that could be regulated—for example, the use of colour, branding or logos, the materials used and the texture, size and shape of the packaging. It also sets out the aspects of the tobacco product itself that could be regulated.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, but that is probably a debate for another time.
The Government would not necessarily use all the powers I have just described, and if we proceed, we will need to decide which aspects would be included in any regulations. However, it is prudent to take a comprehensive approach now, so that we are prepared for the future.
My hon. Friend will know that every packet of cigarettes carries the bold message “Smoking kills”. However, that does not influence the purchasing habits of smokers. There is also no evidence yet that the appearance of a cigarette packet will deter anyone from smoking.
Will the Minister clarify a point that she has just made? I understood, perhaps wrongly, that she said that the Government were getting these powers into their armoury in case they needed to be used. Are the Government putting these measures into legislation for potential future use, rather than because there is evidence of a need for them now?
This question came up in the other place, and we have always made it clear that we are seeking the power to make regulations in the event that the Government should decide to proceed with standardised packaging, having received the Chantler review and considered everything in the round. Making the decision on those powers now would enable us to proceed apace at that point. I hope that that clarifies the matter for my hon. Friend.
As I was saying, the Government would not necessarily use all the powers I have just described, and if we proceed, we will need to decide which aspects would be included in any regulations. The House would have the chance to comment further on the matter, through the affirmative resolution procedure, were the Government to decide to go ahead. It is prudent to take a comprehensive approach now, however, so that we can be prepared for the future.
Having had a background in multinational brand management, I know why multinationals invest hundreds of thousands of pounds in brand graphics and mnemonics to exaggerate sales. Does the Minister not agree that that proves that blank or standardised packaging would have an impact on sales?
That is for the review to comment on. I hope that hon. Members will understand that I am not trying to be unhelpful in not responding in detail to their interventions. We have put in place a process that we think will be the most robust way of making policy in this area, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for not commenting in detail on his point. I am sure that the review is looking in detail at all these aspects; they were certainly explored during the consultation.
That is something we have put on record a number of times, and I can confirm it again tonight. We have always said that Ministers would proceed having received the review and given consideration to all the wider aspects of the policy. I hope that that reassures my hon. Friend.
The requirements would apply only to the retail packaging of tobacco products, which means the packaging that will be, or is intended to be, used when the product is sold to the public. Manufacturers, distributors and retailers would still be able to use branding such as logos and colours on packaging, provided that they were used only within the tobacco trade—for example, on boxes used for stock management in a warehouse that are not seen by the public.
These provisions would apply on a UK-wide basis, as the necessary legislative consent motions have been secured. As I have already said, I will not pre-empt the outcome of Sir Cyril’s review or of the decision-making process, but these provisions mean that we would be able to act without delay if we were to decide to go ahead. I want to emphasise that Sir Cyril will not be making the decision for Ministers on whether to proceed with standardised packaging. That decision will be made by Ministers in the light of the wide range of relevant considerations.
My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) has tabled three amendments on standardised packaging. The first five clauses of the packaging provisions set out the test that Ministers will need to consider before bringing forward regulations. The regulation-making powers in the Bill will allow Ministers to take a reasonable and balanced view of the available evidence regarding the effect that regulations as a whole would have on the health and welfare of children. This approach to ministerial decision making is absolutely appropriate and these clauses are in keeping with the approach that Minsters would ordinarily take in decision-making processes of this kind.
My hon. Friend’s three amendments seek to remove the ability of Ministers to take a reasonable and balanced view of the evidence, and we feel that they would put unnecessary and unwarranted constraints on Ministers’ consideration of how any proposed regulations would impact on children’s health or welfare. Constraining Ministers’ decision making in that way would probably have the effect of stopping the use of the powers altogether. For that reason, I do not support my hon. Friend’s amendments. I also remind the House that the regulations would be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.
I should like to move on to the age of sale for nicotine products. We have introduced provisions for a regulation-making power to prohibit the sale of nicotine products such as e-cigarettes to people under the age of 18. Public health experts, many retailers—particularly small retailers—and the electronic cigarette industry support the introduction of an age of sale restriction for e-cigarettes. At present, no such general legal restriction is in place, and we want to correct this situation.
As e-cigarettes are novel products, we have very little evidence on the impact of children using them. For example, we do not know what impact their use might have on the developing lungs of young people. Public health experts have expressed concern to me that nicotine products could act as a gateway into smoking tobacco, as well as undermining efforts to reshape social norms around tobacco use. Young people can rapidly develop nicotine dependence, and nicotine products deliver nicotine and cause addiction. Attempts were made last year to include an age-of-sale provision applicable throughout the EU in the revised European tobacco products directive, but that was not achieved. We therefore want to take this opportunity to put such a provision in place domestically through this Bill.
The penalty for committing the offence of selling a nicotine product to a person under 18 would be a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale—that is currently £2,500, the same penalty as applies in respect of tobacco. The Government believe it is wrong as a matter of principle to sell nicotine products to children. We have a responsibility to protect children from addiction, which is why this provision is important. I welcome the support that the e-cigarette industry and retailers have expressed for it.
My understanding is that if a nicotine-containing product is licensed for medicinal use—licensed as a quit-smoking tool—it can already be prescribed by doctors. Some e-cigarette manufacturers have already indicated that in order to make a medicinal claim about their product’s ability to help people quit, they will seek to use the medicines regulations. If such a product becomes licensed as a medicine, it will be able to be prescribed as a smoking cessation aid in the same way that other nicotine-containing products can be. I hope that answer is helpful.
On proxy purchasing, we believe we must take action to address both the supply of and demand for tobacco products among young people if we are to reduce the uptake of smoking. Many retailers over the years have felt a little left alone to bear the burden of enforcement in this area, so I welcome both the work of responsible retailers to ensure that tobacco is not sold to people under the age of 18, and the support provided to them by retailer bodies such as the Association of Convenience Stores. There is support in both Houses for creating a proxy purchase offence for tobacco, and the Government have carefully reflected on the arguments that have been made. Retailers feel it is unfair that it is an offence for retailers to sell cigarettes to children and young people, yet there is no offence of proxy purchasing on behalf of children and young people. Retailers also feel it is inconsistent to have a proxy purchase offence for alcohol but not for tobacco. The Government want to continue to tackle the access that young people have to tobacco, which is why we have proposed this amendment.
The provisions would make it an offence for an adult to buy, or attempt to buy, tobacco for someone under the age of 18. That will be enforced by local authority trading standards officers, who will be able to issue a fixed penalty notice if they believe an offence has been committed, rather than taking prosecution action in the first instance. Local authorities will not be required to carry out regular programmes of enforcement in the way they have to on age of sale of tobacco, so we do not believe that this offence will bring into place any significant new regulatory burdens. Local authorities know their communities better than anyone and will know how best to address their public health priorities. We have devolved wide public health responsibilities and ring-fenced budgets to local authorities, and this amendment allows them to take targeted enforcement action on proxy purchasing where they consider it is needed.
The arguments relating to effective enforcement have been well rehearsed in previous debates. Experience in Scotland suggests that we should not to expect a vast number of convictions, and we should not measure the success of this new offence by the number of prosecutions or fixed penalties issued. I expect, however, that the new offence will generate worthwhile deterrent effects. As I said, in a new public health landscape where more powers are devolved to directors of public health there may be opportunities to explore work where there is a particular local problem.
Finally, I will address the issue of smoking in private vehicles carrying children. In another place an amendment was agreed to enable the Government to make regulations to make it
“an offence for any person who drives a private vehicle to fail to prevent smoking in the vehicle when a child or children are present”.
The amendment we are debating today was drawn up by the Government, with the support of the peers who tabled the initial amendment, to deliver the intention of the amendment in a legally workable way. We have a responsibility to be sure that any amendment that could make its way on to the statute book should work in practice. The technical amendment was agreed on Third Reading in another place.
We have been discussing the issue earlier today, but we will look in more detail at that sort of detail when the House has voted on the principle of this and we have the view of both Houses. Today, the House is examining the principle, not detailed regulations, which would need to be brought forward and which would be subject to the affirmative resolution.
I appreciate the Minister helping us to get to the bottom of this. I understand that under rule 148 of The Highway Code a driver is prohibited from smoking, eating, drinking, doing a crossword or listening to a loud radio at the wheel, for very obvious reasons. If that is the case—
I am just responding to another intervention. Let me deal with that one before I take another. Clearly there will be a debate about this provision. The Government have sought to reflect the views expressed in another place by introducing an amendment that is technically workable. There will be a debate on it, we will see what the view of the House is and we will take our steer on the principle of the issue having heard the views of both Houses.
My hon. Friend anticipates some of my next remarks, and I agree wholeheartedly with what he says.
The amendment would amend existing smoke-free legislation in the Health Act 2006 to make it clear that the Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers have the powers to make regulations to provide for a private vehicle to be smoke-free when a person under the age of 18 is present. During the passage of the 2006 Act, Ministers at the time said they did not want to use the powers in that legislation to make private vehicles smoke-free. This amendment, if enacted by Parliament, would make it clear that regulations could be made, if the Government so decided, to prohibit smoking in private vehicles carrying children.
My hon. Friend described this measure as “workable”, but I wonder how she envisages it being enforced. Are we going to have smoking police weaving in and out of the traffic, looking in car windows? There must be a serious answer—how could this be enforced?
Enforcement has been the subject of much of the debate in both Houses over a number of years, and clearly the detail of that would be looked at in regulation, if the House is minded to give the Government a steer on the principle of this. So that is not a matter for today’s debate, but I am sure it will be—[Interruption.] It is not for me to comment on the detail of it, but I am sure it will be explored during the debate that follows my speech.
As with legislation on the use of seatbelts and mobile phones in cars, we will want everyone to abide, but if the vast majority of people abide, it will have a positive impact on the health of children who would otherwise be affected by passive smoking.
I want to make a bit of progress because I sense that a lively debate will follow my speech, so I want to leave time for that.
The Government—and all Members—are clear that children should not be exposed to second-hand smoke, which can be particularly harmful to young children, and we know that young people often have little choice about being in places where they are exposed to smoke. Nevertheless, there are obviously many ways of trying to achieve that aim, which takes me on to the point about education raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Simon Kirby).
We need smokers to protect children not only in the family car, but in any enclosed environment, including the home. Many argue that legislation is the answer, and we will debate that today, but social marketing campaigns to help smokers and parents to understand the risks of second-hand smoke and strongly to encourage voluntary behaviour change are also vital. We would all like to think that the vast majority of parents would not knowingly risk the health of their children. In the event that legislation is introduced to stop smoking in cars carrying children, we should measure its success not by the number of enforcement actions, but by the reduction in exposure to second-hand smoke.
As I have said, the Government will listen carefully to what Parliament has to say about the important principle of whether we should have the power to legislate to prevent smoking in cars when children are present. We will then consider what needs to happen next, which is why, if hon. Members will forgive me, I am not able to talk in great detail about some of the points that they have raised—they are questions for the next stage, once the will of Parliament has been expressed. However, in any event, I have asked Public Health England to continue its work on behaviour change in this area, including through social marketing campaigns. I have asked it to carry out targeted work with local authorities and public health directors in places where we know that there are problems. When Parliament’s will is known and we can assess the maximum impact that can be achieved through education, we will consider putting in place wider public information campaigns.
Arguments about effective enforcement were well rehearsed during the passage of this Bill and the consideration of private Members’ Bills on this matter, including that promoted by the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham). I look forward to hearing the debate on smoking in cars with children present and to finding out the will of the House on the principle of the Lords amendment. I also hope that the House will support our proposals on other aspects of tobacco control: the regulation-making powers on standardised packaging; and measures on the age of sale for electronic cigarettes and the proxy purchasing of tobacco.
Today the House has the opportunity to vote for a number of measures that will protect children, help to transform attitudes and improve our nation’s public health. I am proud to speak in favour of all the amendments in the group, with the exception of amendments (a) to (c) to Lords amendment 124, and I hope that hon. Members from all parties will support the Lords amendments in the Lobby.
It is worth remembering that when the Bill left the House, it did not contain any of the tobacco measures before us today. Those provisions are a credit to those in the other place who successfully argued for them, for which I commend them. The package of measures was passed with a great deal of agreement in the other place, so I hope that we can preserve that consensus in this House.
While I shall focus my remarks chiefly on smoking in cars carrying children, let me first speak to the other measures in the group. I welcome Lords amendment 124, which deals with the standardised packaging of tobacco products. It must be said that the Government have taken a rather long and winding route to get to here, with a few sharp turns along the way. As we heard from the Minister, the Lords amendment is only an enabling provision, because while it gives Ministers the power to introduce standardised packaging, we have no 100% assurance that that will happen. It is no secret that the Opposition would prefer more immediate action, but it is good that we finally see legislation in black and white. Labour Members sincerely hope that, once Sir Cyril has reported, Ministers will do the right thing and use the power. Will the Minister update us on when Sir Cyril will report? Will she guarantee that if he does recommend standardised packaging for tobacco products, secondary legislation will be brought forward before the general election?
I shall keep my intervention brief because many hon. Members wish to speak and we do not have much time. The Minister and the hon. Lady have talked about smoking in cars, but Lords amendment 125 refers to smoking in a “private vehicle”, which means that it will cover any vehicle, including motorised homes. We need to be absolutely clear that any vehicle will be affected, not just cars.
I shall come on to talk about measures on vehicles that were introduced in the 2006 Act. Lords amendment 125 refers specifically to private vehicles.
I also welcome Lords amendments 122 and 123, which deal with nicotine-containing products. I agree with the Minister that it is sensible to prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to under-18s. E-cigarettes can help smokers who are trying to quit, but they should not be available to children, especially when there are so many question marks about the long-term health effects of nicotine and when concern has been expressed that e-cigs might act as gateway products that could lead some young people to take up tobacco smoking.
I am especially pleased to support Lords amendment 121, on proxy purchasing, which will prevent adults from buying cigarettes on behalf of children. Labour proposed that policy by tabling amendments in the other place last year. It is already illegal to buy alcohol on behalf of under-age children, so it does not make sense that the same offence does not apply to tobacco products given that, if they are used as directed, they kill half of all lifetime smokers. I am glad that the Government now agree with us, but I hope that the Minister will be able to share with hon. Members the Government’s rationale for introducing a maximum fine of £2,500, given that the equivalent penalty for the alcohol offence is £5,000.
Let me turn to Lords amendment 125 and the question of protecting children from adults smoking in cars. I pay tribute to everyone who has campaigned for such a measure, especially the British Lung Foundation and my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham). I also applaud my noble Friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, who tabled the original amendment. Since that amendment was successfully passed, the Government have laid out how that Labour proposal could be written into law. In the final analysis, the decision before the House comes down to a simple question: if we know beyond doubt that passive smoking in an enclosed space can do serious harm to a person’s health and that hundreds of thousands of children are being subjected to passive smoking in a car every single week, and if we know from our experience of similar laws passed in this country and others that legislation can have a major impact by changing behaviour and improving public health, should we act and do something, or stand by and do nothing? We say that we cannot afford not to act.
We are considering a specific provision, but if the hon. Gentleman wants to bring forward further measures, I am sure that the House would wish to debate them. We are talking about children who do not have a choice when travelling in a car.
We all know the dangers of passive smoking, but the reality is that its worst consequences are inflicted predominantly on the very youngest in our society. Children are especially vulnerable to the dangers because they have smaller lungs and faster breathing rates than adults.
While it is easy for opponents to make a mockery of the suggestion —no doubt we will hear a great deal more of that this evening—has not the House of Commons a responsibility to do everything possible to protect children from the effects of smoking? If the proposal can work, it is at least worth a try.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. He raises a point that I am seeking to make in my contribution: we have an opportunity to do something, so I hope that Members will support the Lords amendment in the Lobby tonight.
Bronchitis, asthma, meningitis, glue ear, the common cold and reduced lung function are just some of the many respiratory illnesses that can be suffered by children as a result of passive smoking.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I will talk later about the toxicity of smoke in an enclosed vehicle, because many studies have shown that children are susceptible to passive smoke in the back of a car in a way that they are not in a building or in the home.
Each year around 300,000 GP appointments are attended as a direct result of children suffering from illnesses linked to passive smoking, 10,000 have to be admitted to hospital and, according to a 2010 report by the Royal College of Physicians, roughly 40 families lose infants to sudden cot deaths. If the health and tragic human costs were not justification enough, it is estimated that treating children for the effects of passive smoking costs our NHS some £23 million every single year.
I thank my hon. Friend for that contribution. I will mention some of the comments that children have made about that and outline why young people feel so strongly about this important measure.
A significant proportion of the effects of passive smoking felt by children are linked to passive smoking in a car, not least because—this relates to the intervention made by the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main)—tobacco smoke in a small, enclosed car can create levels of pollution that are up to 35 times greater than the level deemed safe by the World Health Organisation. A single cigarette in a car can create concentrations of smoke up to 11 times greater than those in a smoky pub of old.
We are not talking about a small number of cases. Many people have contacted me in recent days, some of them suffering from many of the conditions I have mentioned, including asthma, to say that they wish a ban had been introduced when they were children. Other people have said in recent weeks, “Surely no adult smokes in a car with children.” Unfortunately, according to the British Lung Foundation, nearly half a million children are exposed to potentially toxic levels of smoke in cars every single week. That number is based on children aged between 11 and 15. If we take babies, infants and primary school children into account as well, the number is likely to be even higher. According to a study by SmokeFree Sports in Liverpool, the area I represent, around a quarter of nine and 10-year-olds reported being exposed to smoking in cars.
That brings me to the crux of my argument about why the proposal is justified. This is about children, who often do not have a choice about how they travel and cannot speak out. In 2010, a third of children surveyed said that they were too frightened or embarrassed to ask an adult not to smoke with them in the car. If we want to protect future generations from the dangers of smoking, we need a comprehensive approach.
I agree with the Minister when she says that we need better education and that we have to improve public awareness. Adults and parents have a duty to act responsibly, but we know from experience that when education is accompanied by legislation, it can help bring about profound changes in behaviour. That is why we already have laws on what people can and cannot do in cars, from not using mobile phones at the wheel to compulsory use of car seats for children under the age of five. It is why our existing smoke-free legislation already makes it illegal to smoke in the workplace or in public vehicles. The proposal to protect children from smoking in cars would build on that precedent.
I am not going to take any more interventions, because many Members have prepared speeches and wish to contribute to the debate.
The proposal has the overwhelming support of royal colleges, health experts and leading authorities on public health from across our country. In the past week alone, 700 doctors have written to the British Medical Journal in support of a ban on smoking in cars with children. YouGov polls have shown that the measure enjoys the support of up to 80% of the public. It also has the support of the Liverpool Schools’ Parliament, which voted for such a ban unanimously. Many colleagues who have visited schools in recent days have encountered similar enthusiasm from young people.
To those who say that this law would be unenforceable, unworkable or a dreadful infringement of civil liberty, let me offer this thought: 38 years ago this month this House debated a law that would make a certain behaviour in a car illegal, and Government Members were granted a free vote. There was general agreement about health and safety, but Members raised concerns about whether it would be enforceable or a step too far. One Member said that it was a mark of the fact that
“as a society we are becoming over-governed and over-regulated.”—[Official Report, 1 March 1976; Vol. 906, c. 1006.]
Despite that, the proposal passed that night with a convincing majority and eventually became law. More than 30 years on, no one is arguing that we should repeal the law that made it compulsory to wear a seat belt. In the same way, few people would argue that we should bring back smoking in enclosed public spaces or on the London underground. In the meantime, the proportion of motorists wearing a seat belt has risen from around 25% to over 90%. It shows just how powerful the effect can be when Parliament unites and sends a signal. We have such an opportunity before us today. This is a matter of child protection, not adult choice.
Members across the House will be familiar with the words of the great liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill. He prized liberty above all else, but even he accepted that a civilized society should exert influence over an individual in order to prevent harm to others. This is a simple and straightforward measure that would make a world of difference to hundreds of thousands of children across our country, reducing the misery inflicted by passive smoking, saving millions of pounds for our NHS and protecting children who do not have a choice and do not have a voice, and who in 20 years’ time, I am sure, will wonder how it was ever allowed in the first place. I sincerely hope that Members on both sides of the House will support the measure today.
I have no quibble at all with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), who represents the smug, patronising excesses of new Labour. They think that the only reason they came into Parliament was to ban everybody else from doing all the things that they happen not to like. What perturbs me is that Conservative Ministers appear not to have grasped the concept, even though they claim to be Conservatives, that we can disapprove of something without banning it. This is just another in the long line of triumphs for the nanny state.
I will not give way because I want to rattle through what I have to say in order to give other Members an opportunity to speak. I believe that parents are much better placed to decide what is best for their children than the state is. If we want to encourage parents to take responsibility for their children, we have to give them that responsibility. We will never get parents to do that if the Government say, “Don’t worry about taking responsibility for your children, because we will make all the relevant decisions for you. You don’t have to worry about anything.” That is not something we should be encouraging.
The Conservative party used to believe in the rights of private property, and that people could do as they pleased in their own private property. Their private vehicle is their own private property. If people wish to smoke in a car with children, that is a decision for them to take. As Conservatives, we should not interfere with that.
Members have talked about small and confined places and about restricting the proposal to private vehicles, so why not caravans? I know that Labour Members are not going to ask their friends in the Gypsy community to stop smoking in caravans, so we will never have the prospect of that happening. What is the difference between a caravan and a small car? What is the difference between a small, confined flat and an open-top car? Why is it worse for people to smoke in an open-top car than in a confined flat or a caravan? Why is one much more of a danger to health than the other? This in no way reflects the fact that most car journeys are very short. Why do Labour Members think it is an absolute outrage and terribly dangerous for somebody’s child if they smoke in a two-minute car journey but absolutely fine for them to smoke for hour after hour in a caravan that is, in many cases, just as much of a confined space? The whole thing is absolute nonsense.
We all know where this is going to end up. The people at Action on Smoking and Health, who appear to be the only people the Department of Health listens to, are not going to hand over their company car keys when this measure gets passed tonight—they will be campaigning for the next one, which is of course to get smoking banned in everybody’s homes as well. Once we have agreed to the principle of banning smoking in people’s private cars, how on earth can we logically say that there is a great difference regarding people’s homes? Of course, we cannot. We all know that this will end up in people’s homes and caravans, and all the rest of it.
I have said I am not going to give way. The hon. Gentleman can listen for once.
Moreover, this is totally and utterly unenforceable. What on earth are we doing saying to the police, whose resources are already stretched, that all of a sudden this should be a new priority for them to undertake? Have they got nothing better to do than go up as close as they can to a moving car to see whether there happens to be a small child in the back seat? Of course, this is not just about small children but all children. How on earth does the driver prove that the person in the back of the car is over 18 rather than under 18? What happens when the driver throws the cigarette away and the police have to try to prove whether they were smoking when they were pulled over? The whole thing is completely unenforceable. It is gesture politics of the worst kind, with Ministers and shadow Ministers trying to flex their health zealotry at all these health organisations and saying, “We’re tougher on these matters than the others.”
Standardised packaging—it is not plain packaging, as some people say—is also nonsense. In many cases, the standardised packaging is more colourful than the existing packaging, so this measure will not do anything for the people who say that all the colourful packaging encourages people to smoke. It is already the case that cigarettes cannot be displayed in large shops. What on earth is the point of having plain packaging for products that are already behind a counter and cannot even be seen? Again, the whole thing is complete nonsense.
All these arguments are arguments for banning smoking altogether. If people had the courage of their convictions and said, “We should ban smoking altogether”, I would at least have some respect for them, but they dare not say that that is what they want to do, even though we know it is their real agenda. While cigarettes are a legal product, brands should be free to use their own branding on the packs. Standardised packaging would simply be a triumph of the nanny state that would presumably soon be followed by plain packaging for alcohol, sweets, crisps, and all the foods that supposedly lead to obesity. Once we have gone down this road for one thing, why would we not have plain packaging for everything? We know, particularly given the current Ministers and shadow Ministers, that that is what it would quickly lead to.
I have tabled three amendments to Lords amendment 124 to try to make it more sensible. The Lords amendment states that the Secretary of State can make regulations if he believes that they
“may contribute at any time to reducing the risk of harm to…the health or welfare of”
children—I repeat, “may” contribute. This gives the Secretary of State the authority to make a decision on a whim just because he happens to think that it might make a difference. My first amendment would change “may” to “will” so that he would need to have some evidence for making a change rather than just doing it on a whim.
The second amendment relates to regulations. Under Lords amendment 124, the Government are saying that they can make lots of provisions and as long as some of them are capable of having a positive effect, that is fine. They can propose 10 ridiculous things and two sensible ones, and the regulations allow them to do it as long as some of them are sensible. My amendment says that “each” provision that they want to bring in should be capable of making a difference, not just the odd one or two in a whole series.
The Minister said that it would be a constraint on the Minister’s power to accept my amendments. Well, I make no apology for trying to constrain the Minister’s power. That is what the House of Commons is all about—trying to make sure that sensible decisions are taken based on evidence, not just on the latest whim of the nanny state brigade whom she has listened to. We are supposedly here to try to defend the freedoms of people in this country. This Government want to trample over every single one of those freedoms. It makes me wonder what is the difference between having Labour or this Government in charge. I expect no better from Labour, but I did expect an awful lot better from a supposedly Conservative-led Government.
Listening to this debate, I could have heard the same things said in 2006 when the House came to a decision on smoking in public places. That is public health legislation which the Prime Minister says is good legislation, although he did not vote for it at the time. I hope that Members will bear that in mind.
I hope that Members will also bear in mind, as we always must when considering such legislation, that currently in the UK over 100,000 people a year die prematurely from smoking tobacco. I support the amendment, which will, I hope, further restrict the use of tobacco not just by young people but, in turn, by adults. As the Minister said, two thirds of people who start smoking are young when they do so, and it is addictive.
One of my points relates to what the Minister said about e-cigarettes not being sold to people under the age of 18. Some people argue that e-cigarettes are a gateway to tobacco use, but the organisation that I have worked with on this over many years—Action on Smoking and Health, which the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) clearly admires—says that there is no firm evidence for that at this stage; it is doing another survey this year. The important thing is that over 2 million people are using e-cigarettes, some of them so that they smoke less tobacco and some so that they smoke no tobacco. I agree with the Minister that we should view them as a medicinal product—as part of the family of nicotine replacement therapies. That should be our approach in stopping these awful deaths from smoking. VAT on nicotine replacement therapy products is currently 5%. If e-cigarettes were also licensed and charged at the same rate, that would benefit everybody.
I support what the Minister said about proxy purchasing. This has not yet been addressed and it should have been. Alcohol and tobacco are harmful, depending on how they are used, although alcohol is not as bad as tobacco.
We have debated standardised packaging many times in the House and heard the arguments about printers being affected, and so on. The hon. Member for Shipley said that standardised packages are very complicated, and of course they are. I hope that we will have better safeguards to stop people engaging in contraband activities. There is no way that this measure will do anything other than stop people advertising on cigarette packets the products that cause all these premature deaths.
I support the Government and the Opposition on banning smoking in cars with children. Enforcement is always an issue, and we accept that. When I first started driving, people had to have seat belts in cars but did not have to wear them, and only one person in four did so. When the law was changed, 90% of people started wearing them practically overnight. This is about changing habits. We could not have a worse situation than somebody in a confined space like a car smoking cigarettes when children are there.
Everybody said that the ban on smoking in public places would never be enforced. I was on the Health Committee when we had that debate and we went to Dublin to look at what had happened in Ireland. A guy there tried to get publicity by saying, “I’m going to be smoking in this pub tonight. Will you come down and get me?” However, there were very few problems with enforcement and the same is true of us now. We have not seen all the details, but, as far as I am concerned, the provision is a further step towards protecting young people and future generations from premature death as a result of ill health, and we should support that.
My concern about the Lords amendment is that we are in danger of criminalising otherwise very loving parents. We should guard against that. It would be appalling if people who have been good parents in every other way found themselves being criminalised as a result of smoking in a car when their children were present.
I hear the argument about seat belts and it is perfectly and entirely reasonable for the Government to set the terms of their use on the road. If the Government decide that someone who wants to drive on a road has to wear a seat belt, that is highly reasonable. I suggest that, if the Government really are determined to press ahead with banning smoking in cars, that is exactly what they should do: they should ban the consumption of alcohol in cars by any person of any age and ban smoking in cars by any person of any age. That would be a much more honest approach, because, as I have said, if we go down this road we will be criminalising hundreds of thousands of parents. Will a repeat offender—someone who has been penalised three or four times—have their children taken into care because they are deemed to be an abusive parent?
There is an enormous degree of hypocrisy in this House. I am pleased to say that I am a teetotal non-smoker. There are many people in this place who want to ban smoking because they think it is not done by very nice people, but they are much more relaxed about alcohol because of their own habits. If Members are genuinely concerned about the welfare of children, they need to realise that alcohol is the problem, not tobacco. Hundreds of thousands of children have their lives blighted by alcoholic parents and the problems associated with alcohol, yet we never talk about that in this House, because some Members think, “We, as nice people, drink.” I am extremely concerned about the direction of travel.
My final point—I know that others want to speak—is that we will drive another wedge between the police and those they are policing if we implement this provision. It is nonsense. We will expect the police to intervene and that will further widen the gap between them and those they are policing. That should be avoided and we should be very careful about widening that gap.
Like a number of Members, I am deeply concerned that this provision means that Parliament will slowly but surely become a farce. If Parliament wants to start legislating on issues for reasons of good public relations, this provision is a good idea. However, if we peel it back and look at the evidence, we will see that it is not essential.
We should take time to reflect on the evidence in favour of the Lords amendments. On legislating to prevent people from smoking in cars when children are present, let us be clear that the law, under rule 148 of The Highway Code, currently prevents a driver from smoking in any vehicle. He or she should not smoke in any vehicle when driving, so Lords amendment 125 is about the behaviour of passengers and not necessarily that of the driver. That will make it even more difficult for the enforcer—the police officer—to determine the actions and age of those smoking in a vehicle. We should be in the business of making good, sound and solid legislation, and I do not believe that this provision has been properly thought out. It should be taken back to the drawing board and we should consider who the passenger is and who the provision will affect.
The issue of enforcement is utterly critical, because the police are already not properly resourced to do the job they are currently asked to do in combating real criminals. If we set up another criminal class in the community, we will have to ask the police to go after them. Some police officers will take great joy in going after a soft-touch conviction, but that is missing the point and we have to recognise that the police would not have sufficient resources to tackle the issue.
The crux of the matter is: how many people actually engage in smoking in a vehicle when there is a child present? All we have heard from Members on both Front Benches is a guesstimate, not facts. When New Zealand carried out a similar action, it found that 0.13% of people smoked in a vehicle with a child present. We are asking this nation to legislate on something that is an incredibly minor problem.
I was interested to hear the hon. Gentleman’s point about rule 148 of The Highway Code. It is, in fact, only advisory with regard to avoiding distractions such as smoking and playing loud music in vehicles. It is not mandatory in the sense the hon. Gentleman might have been suggesting.
I was not suggesting that it was mandatory, but it does say that people should not do it. Rule 148 is very clear that people should not do a crossword, read a map, eat a sandwich or smoke while driving.
That takes us back to the crux of the matter. A person who lights up and smokes in front of a child—I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept this—is a prat, in my view, and we as a House should not be legislating on that, but educating. What we should really be engaging in is educating people. We do not require legislation to educate people not to be prats and to be sensible.
The number of people involved is minuscule, so is it right that this House is taking time, money and effort to legislate on such a minor problem? I do not believe it is.
The hon. Gentleman says that the number of people smoking in cars with children present is minuscule, but he has produced no evidence to back that up in relation to the UK. If the number is so minuscule, why is the provision so disproportionate and excessive and how would it make enforcement impossible in the way he suggests?
Let me take one of the facts raised by Labour tonight. According to tobacco consumption rates in the United Kingdom, 22% of people smoke in the Liverpool district, but according to the statistic put in front of us tonight, 25% of all children are subject to being in front of smokers. The number of people smoking is, therefore, higher than the Government statistics show. We need more clarity on the stats being put about by Members on both sides of the House. Labour and Government Front Benchers should wait, as they said they would in November, for the outcome of the Cyril Chantler independent review. If we wait for the gathering of evidence that we can all accept, we will be in a much stronger position to make the decision we are making tonight.
I am also concerned about the plain packaging measures, which will decimate an industry. There is not sufficient evidence to show that they will do what everyone wants them to do, which is to stop people smoking. A pound store I visited sells boxes for people to put their fags in. It is even possible to get ones that say “Vote Labour” or “Vote Conservative” on them. Believe you me, Mr Deputy Speaker: whenever cigarettes are sold in the future under this provision, these boxes will be given out freely by certain companies because they will take away the one warning that we do know is important, which is that smoking kills. Tonight we are putting in place an opportunity for people to cover cigarettes with no warning whatsoever.
The biggest problem that this country faces on tobacco is the illicit trade: 25% of all cigarettes smoked in the United Kingdom tonight will have been smuggled by criminals. We as a House should do something, on a united basis, to wipe out such criminal empires, instead of making it easy for them by giving them plain cigarette packages that are simpler to print, smuggle and get into the hands of children. That should be our real cause and health concern.
I rise to support Lords amendment 125 for the very simple reason that children have no choice about getting into a car. Every day, up and down this country, children are told to get into a car by their parents or guardians; they have no choice. I think that we should operate on the basis of the “Do no harm” principle. The facts are clear: 165,000 incidents of childhood disease are caused every year by passive smoking. Not all car journeys are short: a close family member of mine was made to get into a car and to travel many hours to go on holiday while a pipe was smoked in the car. Despite protests, that pipe continued to be smoked.
On enforcement, many laws are not properly enforced—like all hon. Members, I want full enforcement—but is anyone saying that we should abandon the law against driving while holding a mobile to one’s ear because it is not always properly enforced? I have written to my police force to ask how many convictions they have had for people holding a phone to their ear.
Yes, in a perfect world we would change this situation through education, and of course we should refrain from banning things unless we have to, but the fact is that too many children—an estimated 185,000 every day—have to put up with it. Against their will—they have no choice—they are told to get into a small metal unit. We are here to speak up for those who have no voice, which is why I am proud to support the measure tonight.
“I would ban smoking in cars where children are present. I would do that for the protection of children. I believe in protecting children. I would see it as a child welfare issue.”
Those were precisely my feelings when I introduced the Smoking in Private Vehicles Bill under the ten-minute rule exactly 964 days ago. I did so after a briefing from the British Lung Foundation, with which I have been proud to work ever since. My thoughts have not changed in the two and a half years since, and I am delighted that the day has come when hon. Members have the opportunity for a decisive vote to make life healthier for half a million children. Although I share the sentiment and could hardly have put it better myself, the words I started with are not mine; they date from February this year and are those of the then public health Minister, the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry).
In Committee in the other place, an amendment was tabled and supported by all political parties, with eight peers speaking in favour of the ban. Such is the cross-party nature of the measure. This will be the fourth time that Members of this House have asked for a definitive vote on the issue. After my ten-minute rule Bill failed to get a Second Reading, the noble Lord Ribeiro’s private Member’s Bill won support in the other place but failed to make progress in the Commons. In this Chamber, we tried to amend this Bill, but we failed again. Now, after sustained pressure from a cross-party group of Back Benchers and Lords, four measures are proposed in the Bill—including powers to bring in standardised packaging of cigarettes and to prevent smoking in cars with children present—and I welcome them all.
It is not just parliamentarians who support such a ban—quite the opposite. The changes are backed by many professional bodies and research groups. I have been delighted to work closely with other organisations, as well as the British Lung Foundation. The list is too long to name every person and organisation, but it includes Cancer Research UK, Action on Smoking and Health, the British Medical Association, the British Heart Foundation and Fresh, our own campaigning organisation that has done so much in north-east England. We must not forget the royal colleges and the 700 health professionals, who have already been mentioned.
Facts, figures and statistics in abundance have highlighted the appalling dangers of passive smoking, particularly to children and young people, and specifically in relation to smoking in vehicles. A plethora of studies have returned the same results: smoking in a vehicle significantly increases children’s exposure to harmful toxins and particulates. Numerous surveys and opinion polls have consistently shown that the public support such recommendations. I have no doubt that my fellow Members will draw attention to them as the debate progresses.
I want to focus on the arguments about enforcement and intrusion. It is important to remember that the police already have a number of duties with regard to private vehicles, and to recognise that the additional enforcement costs of a measure to outlaw smoking when children are present are minimal.
I will not.
Other hon. Members have mentioned the non-wearing of seatbelts, which is a tricky misdemeanour to spot if ever there was one. It needs an eagle eye, but the police routinely monitor drivers and passengers alike to ensure compliance with the law. The introduction of legislation in 2006 to make the use of appropriate child restraints mandatory for children under the age of 12 were also considered very complex, and similar concerns were raised at the time. However, implementation went ahead and has been successfully enforced.
To argue that it would be too difficult and burdensome for officers to spot the act of smoking in a car, or to identify whether a child is being carried at the same time, is therefore no excuse. Indeed, I argue that such actions are markedly easier to recognise than gauging the height of a seated child to ascertain whether correct restraints are used. To suggest that officers would be unable to identify such instances is to underestimate their competence. I take much comfort from knowing that when educational campaigns on seatbelts accompanied the legislation, seatbelt use shot up from 25% to 91%, and from knowing that Department of Health figures indicate that there was 98% compliance from the moment the smoke-free legislation was introduced. I hope that the instances of such rules being flouted would be few and far between as a result of Britons’ law-abiding nature. I remain confident that, as with compliance on seatbelts, such regulations would become largely self-enforcing. Let us not forget that it is the role of the police to enforce the law.
Unlike most adults, children lack the freedom to decide when and how they travel, and do not know how harmful second-hand smoke is. Other hon. Members have already covered that point, so I will not repeat it.
There are international precedents for action: South Africa, Mauritius and Bahrain have all outlawed smoking in cars with a child present, as have seven of the eight states or territories of Australia, nine—I understand it is soon to become 10—of the 13 states in Canada and six of the 50 states in the United States. One published study from Canada has documented a positive impact on reducing second-hand smoke exposure in the relatively short term after implementation. Positively, it did not find any displacement effects of smoking being shifted to the home. It is time that we followed suit, heeded public and medical opinion, and got out of the slow lane.
I am only too aware that a positive decision for a ban still requires the Government to introduce the necessary regulations. I hope that the Minister will indicate when that is likely. The evidence strongly supports the Lords amendment, and I urge that Members on both sides of the House do likewise and stand up today for the protection of children.
I rise to support the Government amendments to put the two regulation-making powers in the Bill, and to support the initiatives taken by Cross Benchers in the other House and by a cross-party group in this House. I speak as chair of the all-party group on smoking and health.
We have been asked to be clear about the evidence. One area in which the evidence is absolutely clear is that smoking is a childhood addiction, not an adult choice: 40% of smokers are addicted by the age of 16 and two thirds by the age of 18, while 200,000 children take up smoking every year. That is why I strongly support, and urge hon. Members on both sides of the House to support, the Lords amendment to provide for the power to regulate and standardise packaging. I do so not least because of the evidence from the tobacco industry’s campaign against it, and from documents released through court cases that have demonstrated that it knows that packaging is a way of driving market share, as well as of driving people to smoke in the first place.
On passive smoking in cars, both the NHS and the World Health Organisation are very clear about the dangers of second-hand smoke for children. Other hon. Members have already listed that evidence. I do not know where the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) was in relation to the data. Every week, 430,000 children aged 11 to 15 are exposed to second-hand smoke in their family cars. That is not their choice. The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) is absolutely right. This issue is not about a child’s choice, because they have no choice. They have to get into the car if their parents want them to do so.
The concentration of toxins in a car makes it a significantly different environment from a smoky pub or home. The evidence demonstrates the impact that that environment has on a child’s health. That is where the Millsian test applies. The harm to the child should trigger us to act in the way that I hope the House will act tonight. That is why I support the free vote.
On enforcement, the laws on smoking in work vehicles, wearing seat belts and using child car seats have been introduced successfully. It has been suggested that we will criminalise parents in some way. We have not criminalised them in relation to child car seats and we will not do so by legislating in this area. There is a clear case for banning smoking in cars when children are present. I hope that the proposed regulations will do just that.
The Minister spoke about social marketing. I agree that that has a key part to play in the successful implementation of such changes. However, we know that it is not enough. We saw that with the legislation on wearing seat belts. Only 25% of people wore their seat belts before the law changed. Afterwards, the proportion went up to 91%.
We can debate whether we should replace the words “smoking in cars” with the words “smoking in enclosed public places”. However, the arguments that are made by Government Members are all too often the wrong arguments and they are being left behind by society, which wants us to move again. That is why I support the Lords amendments.
Protecting children is one of the most important responsibilities that we have. We know that smoking kills, we know the dangers of passive smoking and we know that children are more at risk than adults from the effects of smoke.
Half a million children are exposed to potentially toxic levels of second-hand smoke in family cars each week, according to the British Lung Foundation. Children’s lungs are smaller and children have faster breathing rates. They are therefore particularly vulnerable to second-hand smoke, especially in a confined space such as a car.
Children have no choice but to travel in a family car. Would it be good if car drivers, including parents, chose not to smoke when children were present? Absolutely. However, in the case of seat belts, it took a change in the law to ensure that there was a change in behaviour. The proportion of people wearing seat belts went up from 25% to more than 90% after legislation was introduced.
As I said, protecting children is one of our most important responsibilities. We can exercise that responsibility today. We have to choose between the right of an adult to do as he or she chooses in the privacy of his or her car and the protection of the health of children. Throughout the passage of the Bill, Government Members have rightly agreed that the protection of children is paramount. I hope that all Members will agree that we should make it an offence to smoke in a vehicle when children are present.
I have never heard of a more illiberal, nonsensical and unenforceable proposal than Lords amendment 125. I am sorry that it is being proposed by the Government and that Members are being asked not to consider the detail, because the devil is in the detail.
As has been said, the word “vehicle” refers to a broad spectrum of containers, if I may put it like that, including motor homes, Traveller caravans and, potentially, narrow boats. The proposal suggests that smoking while driving an open-top car, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) referred, is more injurious to health than a mother smoking while pregnant. I find that impossible to accept.
I do not know how the police will arbitrate between two 17-year-olds in a car if one of them has been smoking. I do not think that we should be considering using this resource if we are not banning cigarettes, full stop. I do not smoke and have never smoked. I am a mother of four children. I fundamentally believe that we should not make bad, unenforceable law.
If the Labour party represented the working class far more than it suggests it does, it would be making a very different argument, because a huge tranche of the population will see itself criminalised. We should be advising people not to smoke in front of their children. We have been winning the argument on smoking. The Government have adverts on the television that show a mum blowing the smoke out of the door and then say, “What if you could see what it does to your child’s lungs?” We will not stop those adverts because we are trying to educate people.
Under the proposal, we will be saying that a child can get into a fog-filled car after their mum has been smoking in it. As long as she is not still doing it, that will not be an offence. We will be saying that it is an offence to smoke in a van if Traveller children or others who live in transit are sitting in the back. However, if I sit in my kitchen and people can see me through the front window, fag in hand and baby over my shoulder, comforting the child, that will not be an offence. It would be easy to track down such behaviour, so why do we not say that smoking in front of children should be banned or that smoking should be banned? It is because we think that it would be illiberal to go into people’s homes. However, some people’s homes are vehicles. I look forward to people explaining that to the communities that will be affected disproportionately.
I cannot believe that we are not supposed to inquire about the detail.
No, I will not give way because many colleagues who have been here from the very beginning wish to speak. I am sorry if my hon. Friend is one of them.
I cannot think that this proposal will be enforceable. We all want to protect children. In that case, perhaps we should get out the fat callipers when we see very lardy children walking down our high streets because their parents feed them junk of an evening. Perhaps we should ban fattening foods because there are more than a million people with type 2 diabetes, as has been said in the media today. Where will it stop? We need to educate people. We need to ensure that parents do what is best for their children because they believe in doing what is best for them. We cannot legislate every single risk and danger out of existence.
I met the school council at Broadmead primary school in Croydon last Friday and I took part in a school assembly at Norbury Manor primary school this morning. I asked the children what they thought of the proposal to ban smoking in cars that are carrying children like them. Every single child supported the ban. When I asked how many of them had been inside a car when an adult was smoking, nearly half the children put their hands up. I asked one little girl what she did when she was in a car and an adult was smoking. She held her nose and told me that she tried not to breathe.
Although those children hated the experience of being forced to breathe in cigarette smoke, they did not understand the damage that it does to their health. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and other professionals estimate that up to 160,000 children a year develop lung diseases, including asthma and bronchitis, as a result of breathing in second-hand cigarette smoke. Developing lungs are far more susceptible to smoke-related disease than those of adults. That raises the question of why we protect adults in the workplace, on public transport and in pubs from the dangers of second-hand smoke, but subject children to it in cars.
I have listened carefully to the arguments against this proposal, but I find very little merit in them. The idea that this measure is an example of the illiberal nanny state is misguided. Law making is often about striking a balance between competing rights. On what balance of rights does the right of a smoker to smoke outweigh the right of a child to grow up healthy? I do not accept that an adult should have the right to harm a child who is powerless to protect him or herself. An adult who is in a car with a smoker can get out if they want to. Often, a child cannot.
To those who say that the measure is unenforceable, I say that we heard exactly the same about the seat belt law. Education in this case has clearly not worked well enough. We need to change behaviour. That requires a strong education campaign but, crucially, that needs to be backed up by law to show how seriously the country takes the issue and to create a sufficiently powerful deterrent.
We have taken many steps to protect people from passive smoking. Without this further measure, too many children will be left struggling to avoid breathing in smoke in the back of cars and, far worse, could find themselves struggling with lung disease in later life. It is our duty today to act to protect them.
I am a veteran of many children’s Bills. Yet again, such a Bill has been hijacked at the 11th hour by a subject that was not part of the original Bill. Usually, the subject is smacking; today, it is smoking.
I hate, loathe and detest smoking. I do not want any of my children or anybody else’s children to smoke. However, I also hate, loathe and detest the nanny state and its increasingly frenetic and insidious tentacles, which are creeping into individuals’ private lives and spaces.
I support many other measures that will suppress smoking and reduce the prevalence of smoking. I am for in-your-face, horrific graphics that show people the ghastly things that smoking does to their insides. I am in favour of higher tax. I am in favour of pariah status for people who smoke. I have no problem with the Lords amendments on packaging and on discouraging people from buying tobacco for under-age people.
However, I am against a measure that yet again undermines the parenting role of parents in favour of the state. The state makes for a poor parent. This measure will criminalise good parents, as my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) said. People should not smoke in front of their children, whether they are in a car, outside a car, in a house or wherever else, not because the state threatens them with a fine or a criminal record, but because it is a stupid thing to do. I will not quite use the language of the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), but it is stupid on so many levels. We should have much more empathy towards the health and welfare of our children, but we should support parents, not seek to supplant them, as the state has an increasing tendency to do and is trying to do yet again with this amendment.
If we are serious about this measure, we should have the courage of our convictions and ban smoking altogether. There is only one way that this legislation can go, and the natural conclusion is that there will be a ban on smoking in private homes. As I said earlier—not entirely facetiously—we must face the logic that pregnant women who can do untold damage to their unborn children through smoking and through foetal alcohol syndrome, which affects one in 100 children with very serious consequences, should be criminalised for doing the same thing in principle that this amendment tries to criminalise. Then there are the implications of not feeding our children healthy food. The amendment is unenforceable. It is bad law and is about supplanting, not supporting, the parent, and I cannot support it.
There is the notion that this amendment on the safety of children in cars is an attack on freedom, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) rightly said, a model society will always need to put various restrictions on what individuals can and cannot do.
Reference has been made to seat belts, and it so happens that I was in the Chamber during the debates on that. I imagine that if the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) had been present at the time, he would have argued strongly against compulsory seat belts in cars—of course he would have because when I was listening to him today, I heard the authentic voice of primitive Toryism.
I do not necessarily work on the assumption that whatever the hon. Member for Shipley opposes I should support, Mr Deputy Speaker, but nevertheless that is usually the case.
I was also around when we debated banning smoking in most places, which it was argued at the time was a grave restriction on freedom. Who in the House of Commons today, in 2014, would argue that, apart from the hon. Member for Shipley and a few others? The ban, which was so controversial at the time, has been widely accepted in the country. People said that it would not be accepted and that the law would be broken, but has it been? Where is the evidence that the law on smoking passed in the previous Parliament has been broken?
I accept entirely that it may be difficult to implement the measures that have been suggested on smoking in cars, and I do not underestimate the difficulties. I do, however, say simply that it is worth a try. Every organisation that has been mentioned and is concerned with public health has argued that the amendment should be put into law, as I believe it should be. It provides an opportunity to protect children in the way it describes, and it is likely, however difficult it may be to police, that people will accept that the law has been passed by Parliament, and that there will be a greater desire to ensure that it is observed. This measure is worth a try, and anything that can protect children from the dangers of smoking should certainly be supported tonight.
I speak as the secretary of the all-party group on smoking and health. There is only a brief time available, but the facts and figures have been presented to the House. The fact is that the younger people start to smoke, the more damage they do to their health and the shorter their lives as a result. The key point is that most young people start smoking because of their parents, siblings, friends or the media marketing of big tobacco. We need to take away the capability of big tobacco to market to young people, and I support wholeheartedly the measures on standardised packaging. Those opposing measures to stop parents smoking in cars carrying children should understand that a car contains 11 times more tobacco and nicotine than a smoky pub. Even more importantly, if a parent is driving a car with all four windows open, the level of pollution is treble the amount recommended by the US Environmental Protection Agency or the World Health Organisation. That is extremely damaging to children’s health, and I support the Lords amendment.
Ninety minutes having elapsed having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on Lords amendments, the debate was interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83F), That this House agrees with Lords amendment 125.
Lords amendment 125 agreed to.
The Deputy Speaker then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83F).
Question put, That this House agrees with Lords amendments 121 to 124 and 150.
Lords amendments 121 to 124 and 150 agreed to, with Commons financial privileges waived.