Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill: Final Stage

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 6:30 pm on 15th March 2016.

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Photo of Maeve McLaughlin Maeve McLaughlin Sinn Féin 6:30 pm, 15th March 2016

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. On behalf of the Committee for Health, Social Services and Public Safety, I welcome the Final Stage of the Bill. As the Minister outlined, the Bill has been significantly altered, and I believe that it has been altered for the better with regard to its nature and operation.

The Bill started off with two main purposes: first, to allow the Department to make regulations on banning the sale of nicotine-containing products to minors; and, secondly, to amend existing provisions in areas such as dental services, pharmaceutical services and charges for services provided to persons not ordinarily resident. However, as the Minister outlined, the Bill widened somewhat as a result of its passage through the Assembly, with the inclusion of the provision on smoking in cars carrying minors, the promotion and reporting of organ transplantation and organ donation, and the study by the Department on a levy on sugar-sweetened drinks.

The evidence received by the Committee on the Bill as introduced was positive. There was firm support for banning the sale of nicotine-containing products to persons under 18 years of age. That support was carried through to the creation of an offence for proxy purchasing for nicotine-containing products. Very little comment was made on the clauses that amend provisions in areas such as dental and pharmaceutical services and charges for services provided to persons not ordinarily resident. However, stakeholders were content with the provisions as made.

There was significant comment on what was not included in the Bill: the banning of smoking in cars carrying minors. During Committee Stage, the Department provided the text of an amendment that would give it regulation-making powers to allow for the creation of offences for smoking in a smoke-free private vehicle and failing to prevent smoking in a smoke-free private vehicle where under-18s were present and also for fixed penalty notices to be applied to that offence. The Committee welcomed the new policy and agreed to support the amendment, which was subsequently tabled by the Minister at Further Consideration Stage and supported by the House.

The Committee considered the provisions on transplantation and organ donation as part of its scrutiny of the Human Transplantation Bill. The majority of the Committee supported the duty to promote and report on transplantation and organ donation. I am pleased that the Bill has reached Final Stage today and look forward to its implementation.

I will make a number of comments now as an individual MLA. I welcome the inclusion of my party's three amendments, albeit that, to some extent, they amended themselves, particularly the ban on smoking in cars carrying under-18s. That, quite simply, is the right thing to do. The right approach to public health involves the early intervention and prevention that we hear and speak so much about. This is simply to protect children from the effects of second-hand smoke or from even taking up smoking. The stark fact remains that 2,300 people die every year in the North from tobacco-related illnesses. I welcome support for that amendment and hope that it goes some way to playing its part in the delivery of a robust tobacco strategy across the North and across the island.

Moving to the amendment on the sugar tax levy, I thank Members for their support. It needs to be stressed that this is not a panacea for all our ills, but it is, in our view, the right public health approach. There is a direct link between sugar consumption and ill health, whether that be diabetes, obesity, dental decay or, in many cases, cardiovascular disease. Our amendment, which has been further amended by the Minister, provides an evidence base of the impact and details how a levy on sugar sweetened drinks would be administered, and I welcome the fact that it has progressed to Final Stage.

I welcome the amendment on organ donation and human transplantation, and I acknowledge the work that Jo-Anne Dobson did to take her Bill to a certain point in the legislative process. I do not think that I need to rehearse the very stringent and robust evidence that we heard or the learning that we all underwent from her Bill. However, we have something going forward in law that is what the clinicians and charities asked us to do. It does what it says on the tin. We now have a responsibility to the Department of Health to promote and report on organ donation. That should not be the end of the road for transplantation or organ donation, but, as we stand here today, it is the appropriate legislation.

Finally, as these are my last comments as Chair of the Health Committee, I want to pay particular tribute to the staff and Clerk of the Committee. All in the House will acknowledge that the portfolio is a wide and varied one, and I pay particular tribute to the staff who have done that work very diligently. I also pay tribute to the departmental officials who often had to bear my wrath and that of the Committee and did so in a very professional manner.

I also want to join in the love-in that has broken out in the Chamber today and thank the other Committee members. I pay tribute to the current Health Minister for his cooperation on a number of key issues, and, in particular, I pay tribute to Kieran McCarthy. During my baptism of fire in this brief in the last number of years, I thank him for his input and his valuable role. Suffice it to say, Kieran, that "Any other business" will never be the same again without you.