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Smoking (Northern Ireland) Order 2006

Volume 685: debated on Monday 9 October 2006

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 4 July be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of the Smoking (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 is to ensure that the public and employees are protected from exposure to tobacco smoke. The order would introduce provisions to control smoking in enclosed public places and workplaces.

In summary, it introduces four new offences: failure to display no smoking signs; smoking in a smoke-free place; failing to prevent smoking in a smoke-free place; and obstructing an authorised officer.

In addition, the order includes enabling powers so that the department could by regulation: define the meaning of “enclosed” and “substantially enclosed”; specify exemptions; set out the amount of fixed penalties; and amend the age limit for sale of tobacco products to young persons.

I should make it absolutely clear at this stage that the Government have no plans to change the age of sale in Northern Ireland at present and simply propose to take a power to enable a future devolved Administration to decide how best to proceed—so that the power is there if they wish to do so.

I should also point out that, unlike the Health Act 2006, the draft order would not permit an exemption for performers in those theatres which are licensed premises under the Licensing (Northern Ireland) Order 1996.

Article 4(iii) of the draft order provides that regulations may not exempt premises for which a licence under the 1996 order is in force. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Paul Goggins, will take the earliest opportunity to ensure that the position in Northern Ireland mirrors that in England. This has arisen purely as a result of a human error in the drafting.

I am also pleased to report that in Northern Ireland there has been strong cross-party political support for comprehensive controls on smoking in enclosed public places and workplaces, as well as support from a wide range of interested parties including health professionals, local councils, the voluntary sector and trade unions. The cost of introducing these provisions in Northern Ireland is estimated to be just under £6 million in 2007-08 and £3 million in 2008-09. This is to cover enforcement, which includes a compliance telephone helpline, and a communications programme, signage and support for smoking-cessation services. Guidance on the implications of smoke-free legislation will be widely distributed to enforcement officers, employers and the public. The Government are confident that, as a result of this new legislation, lives will be saved and smoking-related illnesses reduced. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 4 July be approved.—(Lord Rooker.)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for presenting the order succinctly, as he always does. I am not very happy about the order. I support, as does my party, the prohibition of smoking in various places. However, it appears that the Government have not reflected in the order the lengthy and constructive debates on the Health Bill as it went through Parliament. The orders contain many of the flaws, in particular the lack of definition and the non-appearance of the detailed regulations in time for industry to comply with them, which were improved in that Bill. That is a significant deficiency.

The debate about the validity of the smoking ban has gone on for a long time, and I do not want to go over any of that ground again. However, we need to pay attention to the question of the premises to which the ban should be applied, and how it should be applied, and to the certainty of its effectiveness or lack of effectiveness. These matters, particularly the definition of “enclosed” and “substantially enclosed”, were debated at some length in our consideration of the other Bill.

If the Government do not bring out sensible and clear regulations soon, places of work will have a very difficult time identifying whether they are to be smoke-free and in making provisions for smokers. Delayed regulations will lead to difficulty in getting planning permission for alterations in time, to unnecessary compliance costs, and to increased uncertainty among the wider public about what is allowed. There is a total lack of clarity in this order, particularly compared with the Health Bill for the rest of the United Kingdom. There are specific exemptions. The Health Bill identified several places that were definitely exempt, including care homes, tobacconists, research facilities and theatre stages in certain circumstances. The orders do not mention any of these places. Why not? The order allows that a private home may be exempt, leaving the power to ban smoking, even in a private individual’s home. Some people also note that the smoking ban will increase smoking in the home. That cannot be good.

Under the order, smoking could be banned in all vehicles at all times. During consideration of the Health Bill, the Government confirmed that they intended to ban smoking in all vehicles used as a place of work, unless they were always used by only one person. Is that not confusing? How will that be enforced? The tractor man across the hill in the fields usually smokes, something happens and his boss has to come and get the tractor. Is he guilty? How ridiculous. This would mean exactly that. A tractor would be smoke-free if each farmer had one of his own, but the world simply is not like that. On many days, people do not know what vehicle they will get into when they get to work, as I am sure noble Lords know for themselves.

The order allows government regulations on signage to be excessive, burdensome and permanent. We have enough burdensome and permanent graffiti in Northern Ireland without having uncontrolled no-smoking signs all over the walls of our lovely buildings. There should be controls and management, and there should be liability for planning permission and proper management.

The order allows the Government to raise the legal age at which tobacco can be bought to any age, as the Minister highlighted. The Health Bill for the United Kingdom states that the age should not be raised above 18 years. Why is that not included in this Bill? In principle, we support the order, but I am extremely unhappy at how it has been put together.

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for introducing this order. I assure him that we very much welcome it. It is a bold legislative step to ban smoking in public places, but it is necessary. I was pleased to see that almost all those who responded to the consultation opted for a total ban on smoking in public places. The BMA’s 2002 report concluded that there are at least 1,000 preventable deaths every year which are the result of passive smoking. We have heard that the BMA and the Royal College of Nursing support a complete ban in enclosed public spaces and we on these Benches agree.

As we have seen from the Republic of Ireland, the issues of compliance and enforcement will not loom large. If Ireland can enforce the law, and publicans and others comply in the way that they do to a large extent, the same should be true in Northern Ireland. This is a basic health and safety issue. A smoke-free environment should be the norm where non-smokers work. They should have freedom to work in an environment free of damaging substances. I believe that that is where the freedom issue lies: it is not in the freedom to smoke in the presence of others, but in being free of other people’s smoke that can damage one’s health.

In addition to the immediate effect on employees and customers, there are of course wider benefits to be reaped in banning smoking. Such a ban would clearly help to reduce smoking in the population as a whole, which can be only a good thing. No-smoking laws have been shown to support smokers to quit. In the Republic of Ireland, a survey by the National Smokers’ Quitline service revealed that about 10,000 smokers reported that they had reduced their consumption since the ban came into force. According to the Irish Revenue Commissioners, cigarette sales fell by nearly 16 per cent in the first six months of the ban.

Finally, we should note the words of the BMA’s head of science and ethics. Dr Vivienne Nathanson said:

“The medical profession is united in its calls for a total ban on smoking in all enclosed public places and workplaces. Recent research reports that second-hand smoke kills 30 people each day. The situation in New York, Ireland and other cities and countries that have gone smoke-free show that these policies do not harm business, they do not cost jobs. The policies are popular, they encourage people to quit and they protect health and save lives. What possible argument is there for not implementing a total ban?”.

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for introducing this draft order. I speak briefly and simply to assure the Minister that many of us who live and work in Northern Ireland generally welcome and support this order.

My Lords, I also welcome with great enthusiasm what the Minister has said and that the Government are now bringing this in. When we look back on the debates that have taken place, we will not wonder why we did it. We will wonder why it took us so long to introduce these measures, which are self-evidently sensible and proper. They have the support of the majority of people, even smokers, as is evidenced from research in Ireland. They have the support of the medical profession and they accord entirely with common sense.

When is the proposed starting date? In Scotland in August, I asked a man who ran a pub what he thought. He said, “Well, it’s very straightforward now. I suppose if there is any tension, it will be in the winter when people can’t smoke outside”. I am sure that my noble friend has answers to the following specific points. What will happen in prisons, in long-stay hospitals, particularly mental illness hospitals, and in hospices? These questions are not intended to be hostile. I am totally in favour of the Government’s measure. I wish them good luck in implementing it.

My Lords, I am deeply appreciative of the comments made by my noble friend Lord Dubs, the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond. I am slightly less appreciative of those made by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. They were a bit churlish because they showed support in some ways but in others not, and I genuinely think that some of the issues he raised were misplaced. There is widespread support for this and from a practical point of view I am absolutely certain that the introduction of this policy will be as successful as it has been not just elsewhere in the United Kingdom and the Republic, but also as far afield as New York.

In my brief introduction to the order—I am not going to take much longer over the wind-up—I have been reluctant to flood noble Lords with statistics, but a few are worth repeating. Some 74 per cent of adults in Northern Ireland do not smoke, leaving an estimated 330,000 smokers. It is reckoned that 14,000 people will give up as a result of the change. Currently there are around 2,300 deaths per year from smoking-related diseases, which is nearly 50 people a week. Expenditure by the NHS is running at around £44 million. Based on other evidence, it is estimated that around 60 deaths will be avoided as a direct result of the ban, both by people giving up and by not starting to smoke. So there are some clear benefits. As my noble friend Lord Dubs said, the question that will be asked in the future is why we took so long to do this.

My noble friend asked about the date the regulations will come into force. It is envisaged to be in April next year, although the exact date has not yet been decided. However, I am sure that the Minister will give us a date fairly soon. There is a choice of 30 days so I am not sure which one it will be.

Draft regulations are currently out for consultation. They will put meat on the bones of many of these issues. The consultation will close on 3 November and I do not want to pre-empt it. However, on prisons and hospitals, we have to take a pragmatic view. The director-general of the Prison Service is committed to following the spirit of the regulations in prisons, but one has to remember that people sometimes live and work in the same place and therefore one has to look at the issue from more than one perspective. I do accept the point made about hospitals and hospices. I think I mentioned before that at one time I spent a lot of time in the cancer ward of a hospital. Hidden away in that hospital was a room with a sign saying, “Smoking: cancer patients only”. There comes a time when you have got to be fairly pragmatic about some of these aspects of the issue.

The responses to the public consultation exercise show that an overwhelming majority are in favour of doing something within a ban, but there is not always a consensus about its particular aspects. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, made a point about the minimum age for smoking. I do not want to start another debate, but I did mention that we want to leave it to locally elected politicians to decide this. I do not care what age is chosen, but if elected politicians in Northern Ireland decide on a minimum age at which tobacco can be purchased, that is their decision for which they will be accountable. I cannot think of a better way of doing it. We have therefore put a power in the regulations for the assembly to choose whatever age it considers appropriate for Northern Ireland. That kind of thing should not be set down by us here.

We are keen to see the results of the present consultation, and that is why we have not specified everything in the order. On the assertion that a smoking ban will mean that smokers will smoke more at home, I believe that in the end the message will get across that smoking is not a healthy thing either for smokers themselves or other people. It is difficult to legislate for that. Nevertheless, international experience provides no evidence to support the view that there will be more smoking at home. Information relating to New York, where the Smoke-Free Air Act was passed in March 2003, shows that between 2002 and 2004 exposure to second-hand smoke in New York homes dropped by more than one-third. I cannot believe that smokers here would operate any differently.

Another point in relation to what happens was contained in a report in Environmental Health News in July 2005, which suggested that the number of smoke-free homes in the Republic of Ireland had increased by 5 per cent in the year following the introduction of smoke-free legislation. So it may seem like an old wives’ tale but I say to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, that the evidence is on my side.

The definitions of “enclosed” and “partially enclosed” set out in the regulations are currently subject to consultation and we will get them in due course. As I say, this is a two-stage process. The Government’s aim is not to penalise smokers but to protect the public and employees from exposure to second-hand smoke. It is clear from our point of view that there is widespread support across Northern Ireland and I am grateful for the overwhelming support that has been given to the order. I am fairly certain that the details—I shall not call them nitpicking—that were raised will be fully answered in the consultation on the current draft regulations.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at eighteen minutes before nine o’clock.