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Smoke-free Pavements

Volume 816: debated on Wednesday 24 November 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to introduce rules on smoke-free pavements outside pubs and restaurants.

The temporary pavement licence provisions introduced in the Business and Planning Act 2020 and subsequently extended have a national smoke-free condition requiring businesses to provide seating where smoking is not permitted. In addition, local authorities can attach their own conditions, including those that prohibit smoking. The Government have committed in principle to making the pavement licensing permanent and will provide further details in due course.

My Lords, the pandemic has of course seen a major expansion in the use of pavement space, alongside which the Government have committed to deliver a smoke-free nation by 2030 to improve our health. How is the Minister working with his Health colleagues to bring this all together for smoke-free pavement licences to play their part in the forthcoming tobacco control plan? Will the Government take the opportunity to adopt the tobacco amendments to the Health and Care Bill when they come before this House from the other place?

My Lords, this Government can walk and chew gum at the same time. We are working closely with my noble friend the Minister and colleagues at the Department of Health. I should probably declare a personal interest as the son of a vascular surgeon who served on the Chief Medical Officer’s Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health in the period when the noble Baroness was an esteemed Minister in the Administration in the first decade of this century. Of course we have not committed to how we will move forward with regard to the future of this legislation, but it is important to achieve the target of reducing smoking while reviving our economy.

My Lords, I refer to my interests as set out in the register. The pre-pandemic hospitality industry was the third largest private sector employer and created almost 5% of GDP. At present the industry is achieving just 55% of its pre-pandemic sales but is working hard to fully recover. Does the Minister agree that now is not the right time to be discussing more red tape and restrictions for an industry that helps to drive economic growth, social cohesion and job creation?

I agree entirely with my noble friend: we need to see the revival of that industry. We believe that that can be done by taking a proportionate approach of keeping those people who do not wish to smoke in outside pavement space segregated from those who do. In that way we can provide an environment that enables people to exercise their personal choice and enables those areas where smoking rates are higher, which are typically in the north of England, to get back on their feet, which is vital.

My Lords, there is good evidence that exposure to smoking not only damages children’s health but makes them much more likely to go on to become smokers themselves, copying the role model of the adults they see. How does the Minister justify the Government’s current policy on pavement licences, which exposes children to a significant risk of addiction to a lethal product? Do the Government have any evidence that extending smoke-free areas would damage the hospitality industry at all?

My Lords, we need to recognise that we are making excellent progress. We as a Government are committed to reducing the harms caused by tobacco and have made long-term progress in reducing smoking rates, which are currently at 13.9%, the lowest on record, but we need to balance the endeavour to reduce smoking with the need to revive our economy.

My Lords, does the Minister not see an inconsistency between his continued assertion that we are, to quote the words that he used when replying to my Motion of regret on this subject on 14 July,

“on the journey towards a smoke-free 2030”—[Official Report, 14/7/21; col. 1844.]

and the Government’s repeated reluctance to accept that 100% smoke-free pavement licences enjoy overwhelming public support, to say nothing of the overwhelming majority of noble Lords, who are also in favour? Will he at least undertake to find out the experience of the 10 local authorities that have chosen to go smoke free with their pavements to find out whether they have experienced any problems and indeed if their hospitality industry has suffered any ill effects?

My Lords, I have to accept that we are on a journey. We need to learn from local areas, particularly those areas that have chosen locally to introduce a ban on smoking in the way that I think many local Lords are pushing for. We need to learn from that; you test what you want to expand and you expand what you have tested. We will look carefully at their experience.

My Lords, does the Minister recognise that these areas are an extension of inside that is outside and that surveys show that smoke-free areas, inside and outside, are popular, healthier and child friendly? I am glad that he says that he will now work, this time, closely with the Department of Health. Will he ensure that he identifies, sees through and rebuts material that comes from other lobbies?

My Lords, any government Minister needs to be aware of when they are being lobbied. It is important to understand where the information is coming from and whether there is a prejudicial interest. It is also important that we in government work across departments to make the right decisions at the right time.

According to Keep Britain Tidy, cigarette butts are the most littered item. They also have the highest levels of toxicity and are the least recovered, leaching into the ground and into our water systems. What are the Government doing to ensure that the tobacco industry pays towards the costs of cleaning them up and driving down such pollution?

My Lords, I am not sure that that question is directed entirely at my department —my noble friend probably knows more about this than me—but I am happy to write to the noble Baroness specifically on what we are doing in that regard.

My Lords, all previous legislation to reduce the harm done by smoking has been on a national basis, such as the ban on smoking on public transport and the ban on smoking in public places. However, despite representations from the Local Government Association that any ban under this measure should also be on a national basis, the Government declined and left it to local discretion. Will the Government follow up the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, and, in the light of that, consider giving a clear health warning about the risks of damage from smoking and introduce a total ban on smoking on pavements?

I thank my noble friend for making the point about how progress has been made and that it has been on a national basis. However, as someone who spent 20 years in local government— 16 as a councillor and four in City Hall as deputy mayor—I know that sometimes it is right to recognise that we do not have problems equally on a national basis. Smoking rates are higher in the north of England, so let us learn from there first before we take the next step.

My Lords, I recall the intense pressure that was put on me in the 1980s when I introduced a Bill to ban smoking in public places. Will the Minister tell us what representations and meetings he and his colleagues in his and other departments have had with representatives of the tobacco industry? If he cannot tell me today, will he write?

My Lords, I will have to write on that engagement because I will not be able to give a sufficiently accurate answer now. I am happy to do that.

My Lords, it could be said that the Government control too much of our lives. Does the Minister agree that it is right to let local authorities set their own local conditions with regard to smoking on pavements, rather than Whitehall issuing a mandate for pavements to be smoke free? Could he give some examples of where it is working and decisions have been made locally?

My noble friend has not had the opportunity to serve as a Minister—although it may happen in future when potentially I move on—but she has been a very distinguished leader of a local authority and chairman of the Local Government Association, so for her to make that statement means that it is clear that we need to learn the lessons from local government and ensure that we act in a way that builds on those lessons. It is right that some decisions are taken locally; I entirely support that view.

My Lords, would I be right in thinking that the Minister’s view is that if people want to smoke and kill not only themselves but other people, that is all right? Could he tell us how many people have been convicted for smoking in non-smoking areas on the pavements?

My Lords, I have to say that that is putting words in my mouth. We want to discourage smoking. As I said, we as a Government are trying to move towards a smoke-free 2030. We are trying to ensure that the smallest possible number of children take up e-cigarettes—we are seeing great progress on that. We are taking a number of measures to eradicate this and hit that target. At the same time, we believe in personal choice. That is something that this Government strongly believe in and it is also a route to seeing a stronger bounce-back and a stronger economy as a result.

My Lords, is there anywhere in the public square where smokers will be left in peace and permitted to indulge in a legal, if anti-social, habit that they as adults freely choose to indulge in and even enjoy? Does the Minister consider that the rather grungy lean-to behind the bike sheds that noble Lords who smoke have been banished to is suitably far away from any restaurants or bars to be safe from overzealous public health regulators in here, or might we be driven into the Thames? I am asking for a friend or two.

My Lords, I have to say that because alcohol is served in that grungy location, it attracts even me and I am a non-smoker. I believe in personal choice and I recognise what is legal and illegal today.