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Prime Minister (Meetings)

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 18th November 2004.

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Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative 12:00 pm, 18th November 2004

To ask the First Minister when he will next meet the Prime Minister and what issues will be discussed. (S2F-1201)

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

When the First Minister does so, he might like to explain to the Prime Minister why he has grossly exaggerated the level of public support in Scotland for a total ban on smoking in public places, given that the Executive's own—eventually published—market research demonstrates that only one in six Scots supports Mr McConnell's fundamentalist and wholly unreasonable position.

Instead of flaunting the issue like some kind of political virility symbol, will the First Minister listen to the widespread concerns that his proposals will lead to more people smoking at home and exposing their children to that and will cost thousands of jobs in the hospitality industry in Scotland? Will he consider adopting a more balanced and reasonable approach?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I can think of few things that it would be more balanced and reasonable for the Parliament to do than to reduce smoking and the number of deaths from smoking in Scotland.

All the international evidence is that, where a comprehensive ban on smoking in public places is in place, lives are saved, the number of smokers is reduced, the amount that people smoke is reduced and, ultimately, people can enjoy their leisure time without smoke. More and more people enjoy their leisure time without smoke and I believe that the challenge for our hospitality industries in Scotland is to sell the whole idea of smoke-free leisure and smoke-free public places as a positive incentive for the vast majority of Scots who do not go out to the pub or to many other public places partly because of the atmosphere that exists in those places. A ban on smoking in public places represents both an economic opportunity and a great health opportunity for Scotland. The Parliament should support it for those two reasons.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

Perhaps the First Minister would like to talk about—[ Interruption. ]

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

Perhaps the First Minister would like to talk about the economic opportunities that are available to the 2,000 Scots who, according to the analysis by BDO Stoy Hayward that was published this morning, will lose their jobs as a result of his measures. Since his initial statement to Parliament, we have had the opportunity to consider the proposals that have been put forward by his Westminster colleague Dr John Reid, the Secretary of State for Health. Is the First Minister not aware of the fact that the measures that have been proposed down south are a good deal more reasonable and balanced than those that have been proposed up here? Why should there be such a significant difference in treatment?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Part of the reason for devolution was to ensure that Scotland could be ahead of the game, not behind it. We want to be ahead of the game in Scotland. We have a different licensing system and a different legal system and we certainly have more challenging health problems. We all know that and we all talk about it, but it is time that we did something about it, too. I believe that, although a smoking ban on its own will not totally transform Scotland's national health, it can be a really good start and will send a signal, not just here at home but abroad, that this country needs to be a different kind of country in future. Yes, we will need to convince those throughout the country who are not yet convinced that having a comprehensive smoking ban is the right thing to do, but it can be good for not only the health but the economy of Scotland.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

Will the First Minister advise us how what he calls a "comprehensive smoking ban" will be achieved in workplaces in Scotland, given that that clearly involves reserved issues? If he seeks to pursue that aspect of the proposals that he outlined, does he acknowledge that he will have to secure the co-operation of the Government at Westminster and the self-same Mr Reid?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

No. When the bill is introduced Mr McLetchie will see that we are talking about a public health measure. Public health legislation is devolved to this Parliament.

We have the full competence and ability to achieve the measure through our own legislation and we intend to do so. On the survey that Mr McLetchie mentioned, which was published this morning, I make the point again that businesses throughout Scotland need to see the ban as an opportunity. They need to seize the opportunity to set up an implementation group, help us to implement the ban and make the most of it for Scotland—not campaign against it, not run scare stories, not exaggerate the impact, but seize that opportunity. That is what modern Scotland should be all about and I hope that they will be part of it.

Photo of George Reid George Reid None

We have one extra question, from John Swinburne.

Photo of John Swinburne John Swinburne SSCUP

In the light of the totally unacceptable figure announced this week that 2,900 elderly people died needlessly of winter cold-related illnesses in 2003—an increase of 400 on the previous year—and the Met Office warning of falling temperatures and widespread frosts as December approaches, what emergency action is the Scottish Executive taking to halt such annual increases and present Scotland with the enviable record of zero deaths from cold-related illnesses in 2004?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Mr Swinburne asks an important question. For precisely the reason that he outlined we will continue with the measures that have been pioneered here in Scotland. Those measures are to ensure that all pensioners have a decent central heating system; that fuel poverty is alleviated; and that the Minister for Communities tackles the fuel companies and asks them to provide specific assistance for pensioners. We will also work with the Westminster Government to ensure that more and more pensioners every year are lifted out of poverty and can afford decent heating and a decent home and we will ensure that we work closely with Age Concern Scotland and other pensioner charities. Those measures will make—and are making—a difference year after year and it is vital that we continue to pursue them.