Clause 2 - Smoke-free premises

Health Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:55 pm on 6th December 2005.

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Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Shadow Minister (Health) 3:55 pm, 6th December 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 66, in clause 2, page 2, line 26, leave out subsection (8).

I will not detain the Committee for long. This is a probing amendment, which would remove voluntary work from the clause. I have proposed it because I am concerned about people doing voluntary work in, for example, a village hall. We have heard a lot about village halls in the past few months in connection with the Licensing Act, and they are close to my heart.

I am thinking about the volunteer participating in a village fete who is smoking, believing himself not to be in a workplace, in his own time, and who is thus exposing those around him to what one might call a trivial level of tobacco smoke. I do not believe that it is the Minister's intention to criminalise that kind of activity. I would also point out that those who have gainful employment are one thing, but volunteers are in a different league.

I do not want to belittle the valuable contribution that volunteers make to our society—quite the reverse. Nevertheless, they have a degree of control over what they do that those whose livelihoods depend on what they are doing arguably do not. Therefore, I consider that the two classes of activity fall into different categories, yet the Bill lumps them together. I should be grateful for the Minister's reflection on that. Although I do not intend to press the point, it would be helpful if the Minister would agree that the two categories are different and should be dealt with differently.

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams Shadow Minister (Health)

I am pleased that the hon. Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison) said that this was a probing amendment, because we were puzzled about the intention behind it. There are many circumstances in which voluntary workers come into contact with the public—I am thinking of the charity shops that operate all over my constituency, and no doubt in those of all other hon. Members. I recently opened the Christmas card charity shop in my constituency. That is run entirely by volunteers in a church hall. If this amendment were to be agreed, I assume that it would be acceptable for the volunteers there to smoke, although they are in contact with the public in an entirely enclosed space. Charity concerts and fund-raising events would also be covered by the exemption if the amendment were accepted.

Earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Northavon (Steve Webb) mentioned his oboe lessons. If he were   giving an oboe recital—I do not know whether he is still capable of such things—

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Secretary of State for Health

I do not want the hon. Gentleman to proceed on an erroneous assumption. Although the amendment would remove voluntary work from the definition of work, the situations in his illustrations would not be exempt, because they involve events or premises that are open to the public. They would still be required to be smoke-free because they are open to the public.

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams Shadow Minister (Health)

I am grateful for that clarification, and I shall not pursue my hon. Friend and his oboe. Let me give another example, on which it would be interesting to hear the Minister's clarification of the Government's position. Another event that I attended recently was the opening of what is to be the homeless hostel in the centre of Bristol. Homeless people will be able to spend Christmas and the period up to the new year there. That is run entirely by volunteers, but most of the people in the hostel will want to smoke. It is in an enclosed space, and it is run by volunteers. When the Government included voluntary work in the definition of work, did they think through—

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Secretary of State for Health

The hon. Gentleman is moving to another example; although the amendment would not itself exclude such a hostel, such hostels are likely to be excluded by virtue of the exemptions in clause 3(2)(a), as they are places where people have their home, albeit temporarily.

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams Shadow Minister (Health)

The hon. Gentleman will have heard me ask the Minister to say whether, when the Government included voluntary work in the definition, they had considered all aspects of voluntary work. By the very nature of their work, volunteers come into contact with people who habitually smoke. Running a homeless hostel would seem to be a good example. I would be interested to hear the Minister's view on how people running such hostels would be affected by the Bill.

Photo of David Kidney David Kidney PPS (Mr Elliot Morley, Minister of State), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

A question arises as a result of this short debate about where volunteers work. Stafford, like many places, has a council for voluntary services, and volunteers and workers paid by voluntary organisations work together. I would expect the Bill to make those premises smoke-free for the benefit of all who work there, including the volunteers.

This morning's example of the plumber working in someone's bathroom makes me think of all the volunteers who go to people's homes—for instance, those from Home-Start and Age Concern, which provide house-sitting services. I would expect those homes not to be considered places of work; otherwise everyone's home would become an obligatory smoke-free area. That is a different point from the one raised by the amendment, but it is nevertheless important.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Secretary of State for Health

I think the hon. Gentleman has hit the nail on the head. We are all familiar with political party work. During the last election for the county council division of Melbourn, which happily, we won from the Liberal Democrats, my party had its committee rooms in my house. Did it become a place   of work under the Bill while people were working there voluntarily? We are trying to find where the boundary lies between work space and private space, and I would cite the elephant test: we look at it, and we know what it is. In this case, the test is whether people are working. Work is often defined by the fact that people are paid, but not always. Trying to discover whether something is an elephant will sometimes be extremely difficult.

Photo of David Kidney David Kidney PPS (Mr Elliot Morley, Minister of State), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I would not expect the Bill to create smoke-free zones in every home simply because volunteers might sometimes work there. Perhaps the Minister can assure us about that.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

We have had an interesting discussion. The Bill clearly covers public places. We would expect some of the places mentioned in the examples—village halls and so forth—to be smoke free because they are places where the public go, perhaps when gathering to prepare for the Christmas fete.

Clause 2(8) includes a specific reference to voluntary work because we want to ensure that workplaces in which volunteers are part and parcel of an organisation's work force are not exempted simply because voluntary workers are present. A good example might be a charity that asks volunteers to come in once a week to stuff envelopes; we would not want such a workplace to have different rules for the volunteers.

As I said before, the Bill will make a substantial number of workplaces and public spaces and buildings smoke-free for the first time. I hope that I have explained why we reject the amendment. It would differentiate between volunteer workers and paid workers in one workplace, and that is not right.

As for the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) and the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), we are clearly not in the business to make smoking in people's homes illegal.

On the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford, we should reflect the fact that an individual's private space—for example, in a homeless hostel that serves as a place of residence for individuals—may be recognised in the exemptions. We are discussing how we recognise permanent or temporary residence in relation to such institutions, as well as mental health institutions, prisons and so forth. At the same time, we recognise that even in a homeless hostel, the communal areas could still be smoke-free and should be covered by our proposals.

For those reasons, I hope that the Committee will not accept the amendment and I ask the hon. Member for Westbury to withdraw it.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Shadow Minister (Health)

This has been a fruitful line of discussion, as we seek to tease out what is public and private and what constitutes trivial as opposed to habitual exposure to tobacco smoke. However, I would see volunteering as different from one's occupation, and I am sure that on reflection, the   Minister would agree. Nevertheless, given her words, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Secretary of State for Health

I do not want to delay the Committee, because we have already discussed several of the issues that arise on the clause. However, I want to register one question, although the Minister has already kindly undertaken to think about it. We are developing our understanding of how the Bill works, so perhaps I can characterise what we understand to be the position, and the Minister can tell us whether we are wrong.

Essentially, somewhere that is open to the public will be smoke-free. There are obviously exemptions, which we shall discuss in relation to licensed premises and clubs. With a place of work, there may be a presumption that it is smoke-free, but subsequent exemptions—particularly those for

''premises where a person has his home''— would override that presumption.

I hope that the Minister agrees that that is broadly what the Bill is intended to do, but what degree of work is being undertaken, and by whom? That governs whether a home, by virtue of its also being a place of work, might none the less be required to be smoke-free. We cannot say that the two are simply segregated, and that various activities sometimes happen in the same space, at different times and to different degrees. I am not entirely clear how those specific illustrations will be dealt with. From our point of view—or rather, I should say my point of view—we are in the business of trying to ensure that the Bill does not excessively intervene in people's use of their own private space.

If the general presumption is that a place of work is smoke-free unless it is someone's home, that person's decision is likely to take precedence. I might tell my plumber and his mate that they cannot smoke in my home—indeed, that is the most likely thing to happen. Equally, if I have no problem with them smoking and I want them to smoke, that is my decision in my private space. We simply need to be clear at this stage that although there will inevitably be specific difficult issues with the definition, we are dealing with a hierarchy of decision making.

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Health

The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting question about the plumber's mate. If their workplace, all day and every day, is bathrooms across the land, does the plumber's mate have the right to a smoke-free working environment?

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Secretary of State for Health

The hon. Gentleman is asking me for the answers. My personal view is that if the plumber is acting as the employer of his mate, he may have a responsibility to his employee not to smoke. However, the plumber cannot decide for himself whether he can smoke in someone's private home; that is a decision for the owner. I am attempting to establish clearly—unless the Minister tells me otherwise—that there is a general hierarchy, but with some difficult exceptions. We must be clear that those are exceptions rather than the rule.  

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

It is important that we have the opportunity to air these issues in Committee. This is a question of what is proportionate and practical, but there is a hierarchy in some areas, especially when a residence is partially used as a workplace or when people provide a service in a private residence. Those are the two areas on which the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire sought clarification. I shall expand a little on our discussions before lunch to give an idea of where we are going.

A number of scenarios must be examined with regard to regulations and guidance rather than the Bill. Let us return to the example of the music teacher mentioned by the hon. Member for Northavon. If the oboe lessons took place in a dedicated teaching room, and that was the sole purpose of that room, within a private house, my inclination is that it should be smoke-free at all times. That should not be an issue, because the room is a defined space. That is like the GP's surgery in this morning's discussion, in which consultation rooms or the reception area are defined spaces only for that use, not for other domestic activities. If, however, lessons took place in the music teacher's living room, I would expect the room to be smoke-free only while the lessons are taking place. That would be a sensible and proportionate scenario.

Moreover, common sense must be used by the public when choosing to buy services from someone who provides services at home. The customer has the choice to opt for the pipe-smoking oboe teacher referred to by the hon. Member for Northavon, or the non-smoking oboe teacher down the road, who also provides services from home. There must be a sensible common-sense approach.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Secretary of State for Health

I hope that this is not a difficult question. The Minister's reference to some of the examples raises the parallel question of whether a space is part of a premises treated as non-domestic for rateable valuation purposes. I wonder whether there is a way to link what we are doing to some pre-existing determination, rather than creating an entirely new mechanism.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

I will reflect on that question. We attempted to address some of the issues that were faced by other countries that have established restrictions and bans, and we examined how they proceeded. I will consider what the hon. Gentleman said and return to that matter as we debate further clauses.

I was trying to deal with services provided at a property that includes domestic premises. The second example given by the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire is rather different, and relates to people coming to one's home to provide a service, and how the regulations might fit that situation. My inclination is to support what the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire said. In the situation described, the onus is on the person paying for the service to say whether they are happy for the plumber, or whoever, to smoke in their home. I think that the hon. Member for Northavon referred to plumbers in bathrooms throughout the land. Again, we must consider what is proportionate.  

The hon. Member for Westbury referred to how long people might be exposed. When we come to clause 5, which relates to vehicles, hon. Members will see that we take a different tack in that regard. For example, the vehicles of plumbers and other tradespeople are almost like a movable office. We believe that there should be protection in that respect for the plumber's employees—the plumber's mate and so on.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Shadow Minister (Health) 4:15 pm, 6th December 2005

The Minister has been extremely generous in giving way. The case that I had in mind was a smoker who works on his own, probably from home, but who has throughout the day constant deliveries or people popping in and out in the course of running his business. Individually, each of those people has what I would regard as a trivial exposure to that person's smoke. Is the Minister saying that that chap has to stub out his cigarette every time someone knocks on his door? That seems to me to be a pedantic way for him to behave and I am sure that the exposure to the smoke would have no effect on the health of the person visiting him, unless they had a particular sort of medical condition. In the round, it would have no effect on their chances, for example, of succumbing to lung cancer.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

That is an interesting example. In respect of a home office where only one person works, my feeling is that it is up to that person whether it should be smoke-free. I will reflect further, though, on the issue of visitors. The scenario that I envisage is someone working from home. There may be the occasional call to the house, but there is not open access to members of the public. If there was such access, I would be more concerned about whether the place was smoke-free, but my inclination at this stage is that if only one person really uses the office and it is someone working from home, it is up to them whether it should be smoke-free. As I said, however, I will reflect further to ensure that the scenario described is covered, because of course someone who works from home could have clients and so on call on him. I will reflect on what the hon. Gentleman said, but I have outlined my inclination at this stage.

The clause takes us substantially further forward. It provides for enclosed and substantially enclosed premises to which the public have access to be smoke-free, unless specifically exempted by regulations. That will cover places such as shops, cinemas, leisure centres, museums and cafés in a way that they are not covered at present. The appropriate national authority will specify in regulations what ''enclosed'' and ''substantially enclosed'' mean. I have today given the Committee an indication of our thinking on those definitions. I am minded to follow the Scottish example, but we will consult on the definitions in due course to ensure that we get them right.

We intend that the regulations will cover all premises that are completely enclosed by walls and a roof, and premises that are mostly enclosed so that smoke cannot easily escape, such as an open-fronted café. The definition will include temporary structures such as marquees, provided that they fall under the   definition of an enclosed or substantially enclosed public place or work space. That is important, too.

If more than one person uses the premises as a place of work, even if the people are not there at the same time, the premises will need to be smoke-free at all times. If members of the public have access to premises to receive goods or a service, those premises should be smoke-free as well. As I said, however, I will reflect on some of the comments made in Committee this afternoon. The provisions will also ensure that places such as those used by people working shifts—for example, a small, one-person cabin staffed by security guards—are smoke-free. It is important to recognise that.

There will be cases in which services that the public use are housed in someone's private residence. We had a good discussion about that this afternoon in which relevant issues and scenarios were presented. I hope, therefore that we can make progress on this clause. I am grateful to have had the chance to discuss and explore the relevant and sometimes difficult issues with which we will have to deal in regulations.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.