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Saturday, July 16, 2005

Lots of smoke, no fire

It is now four months and seven days since National No-Smoking day and despite the fact that the Assembly has voted overwhelmingly in favour of a ban on smoking in public places, its own building still maintains a smoking room.

I reported on this issue on 10 March when I wrote: 'The smoking room in the Assembly building is situated next to the Fees Office and not only can the smoke be smelt in the corridor and by the lift, but it can also be smelt in the Fees Office itself. The effects of second hand tobacco smoke and the fact that ventilation is ineffective in removing the most damaging particles is well-documented. We are therefore failing in our duty to protect the health of our staff, visitors and Assembly Members from the pollution generated by this room.'

Despite the fact that I have argued for some time that this must change many obstacles have been put in the way of removing this hazard by some members of the House Committee. The latest is a staff survey which, we are told, is needed so that we can consult before any change is made. The results of that survey were reported to the House Committee on Thursday. It showed substantial support for closing the existing smoking room and installing shelters outside for smokers instead. That is common practice now in many workplaces.

Because the report came late the Deputy Presiding Officer insisted that any discussion on it be deferred until the next meeting in October. More delay, and yet there is a consensus on the Committee for this change, which was first mooted last year, so there is no reason why officials should be unprepared for it nor that they should not go away and work up a paper to enable it to be implemented almost immediately the Committee give them the green light. That option was not taken up.

In contrast, the Welsh Assembly Government have already taken action on this. All of their offices are now entirely smoke-free, in keeping with their support for a public ban in workplaces.

Because the House Committee meets in private it is possible to block a reform such as this more easily. I suggested in March that questions should be asked as to the motives of those who were putting obstacles in the way of this change. I would suggest now that the First Minister should make it clear to the Presiding Officer, his Deputy and officials what an embarrassment the House Committee's reluctance to act is to the rest of the Assembly.
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