Children and Families Bill — Report (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:45 pm on 29th January 2014.

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Photo of Baroness Hughes of Stretford Baroness Hughes of Stretford Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 5:45 pm, 29th January 2014

My Lords, this has been an important but very long debate. However, my name is attached to three of the amendments in the group and I beg the indulgence of the House to make a few comments in, I hope, concluding the debate before the Minister responds. I want to thank the Minister in particular for his role in responding to the widespread support for standardised packaging within and beyond the House. The crucial role that he personally played in the Government conceding on this measure is recognised across the House. I am also grateful for his commitment on the record today that it is the Government’s clear intention to implement these measures as soon as possible, subject to the outcome of the evidential review. I hope that he can further confirm that the action will follow very swiftly in response to the questions raised by my noble friend Lord Hunt and the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, about the timetable.

The Government’s intention to bring forward at Third Reading measures to ban proxy purchasing of cigarettes and e-cigarettes, taken together with this amendment on standardised packaging, will make a significant difference to the exposure to and take-up of cigarettes by young people. However, there is one other distinct and significant health hazard to children from smoking that we should include in this package of measures, and that is in relation to smoking in private vehicles and enclosed vehicles.

Our Amendment 57BB would simply enable the Government to bring forward regulations to make it an offence to expose children to tobacco smoke in cars, once the Government, with others, had reviewed the detailed implications and practicalities that such a measure would entail. That process of review and developing regulations would take account of all the questions raised across the House today about what if, would it mean this and would it mean that. It is an enabling amendment.

When it was first proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, in Grand Committee, I was profoundly struck by the power of her argument about the particular vulnerability of children in this very enclosed situation and the impact on their health and development at their immature stage. It is obvious. I have heard no dissent in the House today about why passive smoking by children in cars is a very bad thing and ideally should not happen. I will not rehearse those arguments, which have been very well made again today by Members across the House.

However, I want to focus briefly on concerns that have been expressed about the amendment and the arguments against it. There have been three main arguments. One is the basic libertarian argument that people should be free to do what they like in their cars because they are private spaces and should not be fettered. But when we are considering freedoms, as we have done in our history, there is always a balance. Freedom for some is often at the expense of freedom for other people. The balance we are considering here is between the freedom for adults to smoke in cars when they like and the freedom for children not to breathe in that smoke in a situation from which they, by definition, as several noble Lords pointed out, cannot escape.

When responding to the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for whom I have great respect, as he knows, said that there is a difference between smoking, which is a legal activity, and other things that we have prohibited in the home in relation to children. But the things that we were talking about then, such as neglect of children and the beating of children, have not always been illegal in the home. They were made illegal because they are particularly harmful to the well-being of children. We take it for granted now that such things are illegal but they were not always. We invaded that private space because of the need to protect children. The same argument applies. Because of the degree of damage that we know smoking in cars causes, we should apply the same argument here.