The UK is a world leader in tobacco control, and we will publish a new tobacco control plan shortly, building on our success. That plan will set out new national ambitions to further reduce smoking prevalence, particularly among disadvantaged groups.
I need to declare an interest as a Suffolk county councillor. Given the health responsibilities of local government, will the Minister tell the House what can be done to deal with the situation in which the actuarial advice from local government and other public sector pension schemes is that they are not at liberty to disinvest from tobacco stocks?
I will have to look into the exact point that the hon. Gentleman raises, but I should like to welcome him to his place. I worked closely with his predecessor, and the hon. Gentleman has a tough act to follow. When we publish the tobacco control plan, there will be clear local tobacco plans as part of it. We in the Government can give the best evidence of what works, but we need to recognise what is needed in each local area. I know that he has specific needs in his local area in relation to tackling this issue.
I welcome the Minister to his place. Does he agree that it is vital that anyone who approaches the national health service with a smoking-related disease should be pointed towards smoking cessation services? Does he also agree that it is vital that local authorities continue to run those services?
Yes, absolutely. Local authorities have an obligation to do that, but as I said to Sandy Martin, it is important that local plans come forward alongside the new national plan. Local solutions are needed for different areas, and that will be the case in my hon. Friend’s borough just as it is in my area of Hampshire.
Last week marked the 10th anniversary of the smoking ban across the UK, but sadly the celebration was dampened by the fact that we have yet to see the Government’s new tobacco control plan, which was promised in December 2015. The previous two Health Ministers I have shadowed repeatedly said that we would see the plan shortly, but they failed to set out an updated strategy for working towards a smoke-free society. I welcome the Minister to his new post—we have worked well together in the past on the all-party parliamentary group on breast cancer—and I am hoping that, although he has not yet given us a date for the plan, he will be able to give us an indication. Is it going to be published before Christmas?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. I think I can call her that; we have worked closely together in the past. I am new to my ministerial post, but I have been through the plan, and it is I who have to stand up and defend it. I want to be sure that it is right and that I am as happy with it as everyone else in the Government is. My intention is that it will be published before the summer recess.
Within East Sussex, Wealden has the highest number of smoking-related deaths. I welcome the update on the tobacco control plan, but how will my hon. Friend raise awareness and provide equal access for rural communities?
Rural communities are as important as any other. It is up to East Sussex County Council to come forward with a local tobacco control plan, and I know my hon. Friend will be taking a close interest in that, as she does in all matters when representing her constituents.