New Clause 1 - Amendments to the Health Act 2006
Children and Families Bill

‘(1) The Health Act 2006 is amended as follows.

(2) After section 8, insert—

“8A Offence of failing to prevent smoking in a private vehicle when children are present

(1) It is the duty of any person who drives a private vehicle to ensure that that vehicle is smoke-free whenever a child or children under the age of 18 are in such vehicle or part of such vehicle.

(2) A person who fails to comply with the duty in subsection (1) commits an offence.

(3) A person convicted of an offence under this section who has not previously been convicted of such an offence shall have the option of attending a smoke-free driving awareness course in place of paying a fine under subsection (4).

(4) A person who does not wish to attend an awareness course or who has previously been convicted of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine of £60.

(5) The Secretary of State may introduce regulations to alter the level of penalty payable under subsection (4).

(6) The Secretary of State shall update all relevant regulations regarding the offence created under subsection (2) within six months of this section coming into force.

(7) The Secretary of State shall introduce regulations within six months of this section coming into force to prescribe the format of the awareness course in subsection (3).”.

(3) In section 79(4)(a), leave out “or 8(7)” and insert “, 8(7), or 8A(5).”.’.—(Mr Steve Reed.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

11:30 am
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Steve Reed (Croydon North, Labour)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

It is a joy, as ever, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Havard. The new clause is in my name and that of my hon. Friends the Members for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham), for Sefton Central and for North West Durham. Our intention is to protect children from the damaging effects of passive smoking in cars.

One in five people in the UK are affected by lung disease at some point in their lives. By far the biggest single cause of lung cancer is smoking, including passive smoking. The new clause would prohibit smoking in cars when children or young people under the age of 18 are present. The harm that passive smoking causes to children’s health is well documented. Although members of the public are protected from passive smoking on public transport and in work vehicles, large numbers of children are regularly exposed to toxic, cancer-causing second-hand smoke in family cars. Children exposed to passive smoking can suffer from asthma, bronchitis and reduced lung function. Every year, 165,000 more children are affected by diseases related to passive smoking. The cost to the health service of the GP consultations, hospital admissions and treatments for such illnesses is estimated at around £23 million a year. Children are particularly vulnerable to second-hand smoke as their lungs are smaller, they breathe more quickly and their immune systems are less developed.

Smoking in cars is a particular concern because of the confined nature of the space. A single cigarette smoked in a moving car with the window half-open exposes a child in the back seat to two thirds as much smoke as they would be exposed to in smoke-filled pub; that increases to 11 times more smoke than in a smoky pub when the cigarette is smoked in a stationary car with the windows closed. Around one in five children aged 11 to 15 report often being exposed to second-hand smoke in cars, and over half of all children report being exposed to it in that way at some point. Unlike adults, who make informed decisions about smoking or entering places where passive smoking is a risk, children are  often unaware of the dangers, or feel unable to try, or embarrassed about trying, to stop adults smoking around them.

In 2011, the all-party group on smoking and health concluded that, alongside educational campaigns, legislation would be necessary to reduce children’s exposure to second-hand smoke in cars; seat belt wearing increased from 25% to 91% after legislation was introduced alongside awareness campaigns. In a survey of parents conducted by the British Lung Foundation, 86% of respondents supported a ban, including 83% of smokers.

There is a clear case for banning smoking in cars with children present on health, cost and moral grounds. I urge the Minister to support the new clause, to save thousands of children from having their health damaged or, potentially, their lives cut short.

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Sharon Hodgson (Shadow Minister (Education); Washington and Sunderland West, Labour)

In government, Labour took a number of steps aimed at reducing the number of deaths and illnesses caused by smoking and second-hand smoke, including introducing a ban on smoking in public places, which came into force in July 2007. However, smoking still remains by far the largest preventable cause of cancer, and we can definitely do more to protect children from smoke, as was said so eloquently by my hon. Friend. Eight out of 10 smokers start by the age of 19, and if we are to discourage children from ever starting to smoke, we need to look at the marketing of highly addictive and seriously harmful products.

When he was Health Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) proposed that the next front in the fight would be standardised or plain packaging, and we urge the Government to stop stalling and introduce measures to ensure that as soon as possible. If recent media reports are to be believed, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), who has responsibility for public health, is using all the means at her disposal to agitate for such measures, including briefing journalists and so on. The Opposition support her in those endeavours, even if her colleagues do not.

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Dai Havard (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, Labour)

Order. Before you continue, I must say that the new clause is about smoking in private vehicles. Context is helpful, but please constrain your remarks to the new clause.

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Sharon Hodgson (Shadow Minister (Education); Washington and Sunderland West, Labour)

I was just coming back to order, Mr Havard. We also need to look at what else we can do. Children are particularly vulnerable to second-hand smoke, and there is clearly a strong case for banning smoking in cars when children are present. As my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North outlined, as part of the Opposition’s policy review on public health, we are looking at this issue to ensure we are doing all we can to protect children and young people from the effects of smoking and second-hand smoke. Front-Bench colleagues in the health team look favourably on my hon. Friend’s position; I hope that the Government will as well.

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Chris Skidmore (Kingswood, Conservative)

Although I am sympathetic to hon. Members’ arguments, I want to ask for more detail on the new clause. What is a

“smoke-free driving awareness course”,

and how much would it cost? I want more information on the table before the new clause is approved. Surely a smoke-free driving awareness course simply means saying, “Don’t light up a cigarette.” What would that awareness course cost the taxpayer?

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Andy Sawford (Corby, Labour)

I rise to speak briefly in support of the new clause, although the hon. Member for Kingswood makes an important point. Changes such as this require substantive work to understand the implications and the costs. I am very interested in the comments that my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West made about Labour’s policy review. If the new clause is not approved today, I hope that the policy review will set out the detail of this work, with the intention of banning smoking in cars when children are present.

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Edward Timpson (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education; Crewe and Nantwich, Conservative)

The new clause seeks to amend the Heath Act 2006 to create a new offence of failing to prevent smoking in a private vehicle containing children under the age of 18. The hon. Member for Stockton North has played an important role in raising awareness and stimulating public debate on the issue of the exposure of children to second-hand smoke in private motor vehicles with his private Member’s Bill last year and his sponsorship of Lord Ribeiro’s Bill.

Clearly, this is principally a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, and I have consulted him about this new clause. Smoke-free legislation has been in place since 2007, as the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West noted. We know that those laws have been effective in reducing exposure to harmful second-hand smoke in enclosed pubic places and workplaces. Smoke-free legislation has been a success, and compliance levels are high.

It goes without saying that hon. Members on both sides of the House want to see the end of smoking in cars in which children are present. Evidence of the harm to children from second-hand smoke is well documented, and many children continue to be exposed in family cars and homes. However, we must find the most proportionate, appropriate and workable way of achieving and enforcing that. Some believe that legislation is the right way forward, although the all-party group on smoking and health, to which the hon. Member for Croydon North referred, acknowledged in its report of November 2011 that it is not obvious what the most appropriate form of intervention is. It recognised that laws prohibiting smoking in cars carrying children would not ensure the protection of vulnerable adults, and would not be easy to enforce.

The Government published a tobacco control plan in March 2011, which stated:

“Rather than extending smokefree legislation, we want people to recognise the risks of secondhand smoke and decide voluntarily to make their homes and family cars smokefree.”

With that in mind, the Government undertook to run a marketing campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of smoking in vehicles and in the home, especially when children are present. That campaign ran in April and May last year and aimed to encourage positive behaviour change in parents and other adult smokers in the presence of children.

An evaluation of that campaign showed that it was successful in changing attitudes and behaviours. Some 87% of those surveyed agreed that second-hand smoke can cause significant harm to children, and 70% said that the campaign made them realise that smoking out of an open door or window is not enough to reduce the health risk to children. The Government have decided to rerun the campaign in June 2013, which fulfils a recommendation of the all-party group’s report on smoking in private vehicles. Again, the success of that campaign in encouraging positive behaviour will be rigorously evaluated. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has committed to look at this issue again once he has had the opportunity to consider the impact of this year’s marketing campaign. With that in mind, I urge the hon. Member for Croydon North to withdraw the new clause.

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Steve Reed (Croydon North, Labour)

I thank the Minister and the other speakers for their comments. In response to the hon. Member for Kingswood, of course a cost would be associated with giving lessons in driving smoke-free when there are children in the vehicle to people who offended against the law, but that would undoubtedly be significantly less than the cost of dealing with the ill health that arises among children exposed to passive smoking in that way. As I said, the Royal College of Physicians estimates that cost to be about £23 million each year, so we would be looking overall at a saving to the public purse, as well as improvements in the health of children who are exposed to passive smoking.

I know that the Minister shares my worry about the issue, but his response was not sufficient to tackle the scale of the problem, given the professional estimate that there are about 165,000 new cases each year among children of diseases linked to passive smoking, much of which occurs in family vehicles. We need more than educational campaigns. They have not proved sufficient. If we consider the example of seat belt wearing, the percentage of people who started belting up after regulations were in place alongside educational campaigns increased from 25% to 91%. We would see a significant reduction in the number of adults smoking in vehicles with children present if legislation were introduced. I wish to put the Government on notice that we shall pursue the matter further on Report, although I shall not press the new clause to a Division now. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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Dai Havard (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, Labour)

Before we proceed, I wish to make a couple of administrative points. I have taken off my jacket; that is the usual signal. It is a bit clammy in here, so if hon. Members want to take off their jackets and so on, that is fine. As far as our progress is concerned, as you can see, the business in the Chamber may or may not attract a vote when it ends; I do not know when that will be. If there is a vote, we will have to suspend the sitting for 15 minutes. On how we shall proceed after that, I will tell you more about that once I have had a discussion with the Whips and other members of the Committee.