Clause 2 - Smoke-free premises

Part of Health Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 6th December 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health) 12:00 pm, 6th December 2005

I will try to cover all the contributions that have been made, and if I do not I shall be happy for hon. Members to intervene. However, I shall be grateful if hon. Members will give me a chance to answer their points rather than constantly repeating them. The point made by the hon. Member for Westbury applies in different ways to all the amendments put forward by the hon. Member for Northavon. Rather than both of us repeating ourselves, I shall come to them in due course.

On amendment No. 46, clause 3(3) sets out in detail how we might regulate to provide for exemptions from the prohibition on smoking in closed public places and workplaces. They might apply to whole premises or to areas of premises, and the exemptions will apply only if specific conditions are met. We will set out those conditions in regulations. Amendment No. 46 is an attempt to specify in the Bill the sort of conditions that we have clearly said, both during the consultation process and when introducing the Bill, that we intend to put into regulations.

In many respects, particularly in relation to clause 3, we have put headline issues into the Bill to show intent—to help people to understand what the Bill is all about. The regulations will have to deal with the wide variety of ways in which the law might be interpreted. That is why regulation-making powers will be an important part of the next stage of the process. When drawing up and consulting on the regulations, we shall consider carefully the underlying point made by the hon. Member for Northavon in relation to amendment No. 46. As we have made clear previously and as he highlighted, smoking rooms may be one way of delivering in regulations the commitment that we have made to prohibit smoking   in the bar areas of exempted premises. However, I do not feel that we should deal with that in detail in the Bill. I hope that he will allow us to complete our consultation and propose draft regulations with a view to making it clear how the protection of bar areas should be enforced.

Clause 3(4) sets out examples of the sorts of conditions that may be considered when setting out the circumstances in which premises or areas of premises are not smoke-free. We have given the examples of restrictions on what is sold or consumed in such premises or areas of premises apart from alcohol, and the designation of smoking rooms. Amendment No. 48 would add to that list of conditions. In particular, it would add the segregation of smoking and non-smoking areas, ventilation requirements and restrictions on staff in smoking areas. Again, although I understand the intention of the amendment, I am not sure that it is helpful to put into the Bill all the possible considerations that will go towards forming the regulations on exemptions.

We will have an opportunity to discuss whether the listed criteria are exhaustive or too narrow. We believe that the way in which the clause is drafted makes the key considerations sufficiently clear. For example, there are further amendments concerning ventilation. There is a huge debate to be had on the contribution of ventilation, and on what it extracts from the air and what it leaves behind. If we were to go down that route, how prescriptive should we be about what sort of ventilation should be provided? So far, having heard the many views on the subject, we think that we have gone in the right direction.

The hon. Member for Westbury expressed disappointment that the Bill does not focus more on health and safety, and he referred to the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations, which apply to substances that are generated by some work activities. The Bill is neither employment legislation nor health and safety at work legislation. We have been clear about that, both in terms of the outcome of the “Choosing Health” White Paper and in our consultation over the summer. The Bill intends to reduce the number of places in which smoking can occur. Employees should have the same rights with their employers under employment and health and safety legislation as they currently have. That is proper and should be applied regardless of whether a workplace is smoke-free or allows limited smoking.

This morning, some of the focus has been on bar workers. There are other situations to debate—for example, when people go to give services in somebody’s home. I do not think anybody is saying that a pensioner who smoked would have to introduce ventilation or give up smoking before a service—either a home help or something else—that they needed was provided. There would have to be a way to handle such a situation.

As far as I am aware, many employers in the public sector, and some in the private sector—we could be talking about someone coming to read the gas meter—   would expect that smoking would not take place in front of the worker when they visited premises. That raises—