HC Deb 04 June 1951 vol 488 cc763-80

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Bowden.]

7.30 p.m.

Miss Burton (Coventry, South)

Before I came into the Chamber somebody said to me, "You won't half be unpopular, stopping smoking in cinemas." I should like to remove that illusion at once. In the first place, I have not power to stop smoking in cinemas; secondly, if I had I should not wish to use it. I want tonight to raise this matter for discussion in the House and in the country. That is one of the purposes for which we are here. Obviously I should not be in order in raising any matter requiring legislation, but I raise it in this form so that responsibility may be attached to one of the responsible Ministers.

Tonight I want to raise the question of the fire risk and discomfort caused by smoking in theatres and cinemas. I do so with a certain amount of personal trepidation because I have only just lived down the memory of a subject I raised on the same point about a year ago. This year is Festival year, and as an introduction to this subject I should like to commend the Government for having made possible for the people of this country the Festival of Britain, which has brought a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction, not only to us but to our friends overseas.

Those of our friends from overseas who come to this city of ours and visit our cinemas and theatres will, to their great surprise, find themselves liable not only to be set on fire but to be asphyxiated first. I have said "to their great surprise," because this is the only civilised country in the world, apart from Italy, where smoking is the rule in cinemas and theatres. This risk of fire from smoking—

Mr. Speaker

I am bound to ask whether there is any Government responsibility for smoking in cinemas.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas)

Perhaps I might help you, Mr. Speaker, on this point. Because of fire risk there is Government responsibility attaching to the Home Office.

Mr. Speaker

I cannot see that there is any Government responsibility for whether or not it is objectionable and uncomfortable. The fire risk may be another matter.

Miss Burton

I am sorry if I did not make that clear. I was endeavouring to make it clear that I was raising this as a matter of fire risk. The other question is entirely secondary, although perhaps if I do not digress unduly I might be permitted to use it as a means of illustration. I wish to direct my remarks throughout to the fire risk, for which I understand there is at law a certain amount of responsibility in the Home Office.

The fire risk from this cause is run in all London cinemas and in 29 out of 44 West End theatres. During a visit to the United States of America in 1948, I found that risk to be non-existent in their theatres and existent in only certain parts of their cinemas. In most cases it was the upstairs part of the cinema where the risk was run. Looking at the Continent of Europe by way of further illustration we find that there is no risk of fire from this cause in Sweden, Germany or France. In Denmark the rule, and therefore the risk, varies from one cinema to another, but is incurred only in certain theatres which offer light entertainment.

Until 1915, in this country this risk of fire was not run at any theatres under the Lord Chamberlain's direction because smoking was barred in all of them. As a matter of historical interest, I might perhaps point out that in 1915 the Comedy Theatre in London asked for a change in this law, because they argued that troops home on leave liked to smoke at their shows and should be allowed to do so.

I think we all know that the very large proportion of fires in cinemas in this country can be traced to smoking. Indeed, I am informed by local authorities that smoking is the major cause of fires anywhere in the country. In cinemas any such fire would obviously be discovered by the nightwatchman when the patrons had gone home. Here I should like to pay tribute to our fire services, whose high efficiency prevents these fires from being more serious than they are. I have made some inquiries, and I am informed that the majority of these fires in cinemas are small, but we none of us know when a small fire may become a large one. I imagine, therefore, that the Home Office would welcome any discussion in the country which might tend to lessen the fire risk in places of amusement.

Local licensees of our theatres and cinemas could do a great deal to help in this respect, because the local licensee of a theatre or cinema really decides whether or not he will run this risk of fire by allowing his patrons to smoke in his theatre or cinema. Theoretically, of course, the local authority has that power, because it could attach such conditions to the granting of a licence. In reality this is very rarely done, and we therefore come back to the licensee and the Home Office having responsibility for forbidding smoking in any recognised danger spots in cinemas, but not in theatres.

I wonder whether by discussion in this House we could not lessen the fire risk and, as a subsidiary point, remove much discomfort by having the matter discussed in public by the Home Office, local authorities, the licensees and the general public? I do not say all this from the standpoint of a spoil-sport. It is possible to be a smoker or a non-smoker, and therefore contribute or not contribute to this fire risk, without being called a crank—and I would not want to be labelled a crank on this or any other issue. I ask whether this is really demanding a great deal of people.

What would we have to do to lessen this fire risk in places of entertainment? It would mean doing without a smoke between the intervals in theatres. That is the maximum it would mean in the theatres. Quite apart from the fire risk, such consideration in a theatre or music-hall would be an act of courtesy to the performers. In London theatres, many of which are very old and small, apart from lessening the fire risk it would mean that it would be possible to see the stage from all parts of the house at all times of the evening. At present, as the evening goes on, it becomes impossible to see the stage through the thick blue haze in various parts of the house.

The other day I was given an interesting example of a cinema near London called the Davis Theatre in Croydon. At this cinema, during this Festival year, concerts are being given. Now, when films are being shown there smoking is permitted, but when a concert is being given no smoking is permitted. The point I would make is that this must obviously be by public consent because there is nothing on the tickets issued for concerts at this cinema to say that there must be no smoking. Therefore, it is not a legal condition of entry, and must be by public consent. It is very interesting that public opinion there feels that this risk should not be run during a concert, but that it is quite right to run the risk during the showing of films.

I want to take this example a step further, because in this country as everywhere else, there are a great many places where smokers can smoke to their heart's content and can run the risk of fire. But in this country, we always consider ourselves to be tolerant of minorities. I know that for some reason or other the non-smoking minority is regarded as a nuisance and as one not to be treated with a great deal of toleration, though normally, as I say, we regard minorities as groups of people to be tolerated.

Would it not be a real step forward if the people of this country would agree to lessen the risk of fire in places of entertainment by forgoing a smoke for, at the most, three hours? I know we all hope that the length of our cinema programmes will come down considerably from three hours, but I think that three hours is the maximum time today, and that is the most I am suggesting we might consider doing. Were we to forgo smoking on the occasions that we go to the theatre, it would, I believe, not only lessen the fire risk but would be an act of courtesy to the performers. It would be a real help to many people who are genuinely affected by tobacco smoke in the theatre and cinema and whose night out, as a result, is really spoilt.

7.42 p.m.

Mr. Beverley Baxter (Southgate)

I must apologise to the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton) for not being able to be present during the early part of her speech. She very courteously told me that she was going to raise this matter, but, as you know, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, there is an official dinner given by Mr. Speaker tonight, and, for what it is worth, we had to change our costume from the utility clothing of Parliamentary debate to more respectable clothing better suited for dining with Mr. Speaker.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton (Brixton)

It might still be utility.

Mr. Baxter

The hon. and gallant Gentleman suggests that it might still be utility. I accept the reprimand, but, in that case, I was severely overcharged.

I wish to support everything the hon. Lady has said, and, indeed, to go a little further. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will give this matter more than just passing consideration. This is in no sense an attempt just to fill up a debate. I feel very strongly about it, because, as a dramatic critic, I have to go to the theatre very often. As far as I know, there is no other country in the world, on whichever side of the Iron Curtain it is situated, which permits smoking in the theatre, and I want to confine my remarks purely to the theatre.

In America, they carry matters in this respect to the extreme. One cannot even smoke in the foyer of an American theatre. If on a winter's night one wants a puff or two at a cigarette, one has to go practically into the street and take the chance of getting pneumonia. Only a race of people singularly insensitive could put up with this nuisance. I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State sometimes goes to the theatre, and will therefore know that the draught is always from the right and left. That means that anyone smoking a cigar on the right of a person—probably a complete stranger—blows the smoke over the person sitting on his left. If the persons concerned are friends, then, of course, it is a different matter.

But, if I may say so with respect to the hon. Lady, women are the worst offenders. This is what happens—and please do not think I am being frivolous about this, because it is irritation carried to its highest degree.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)

I understand Mr. Speaker said that this aspect of the matter could not be discussed, the only subject under discussion being the danger of fire.

Mr. de Freitas

I hope I did not mislead Mr. Speaker. The fire risk, of course, is the most direct responsibility of the Government, but under the Theatre Act, 1843, there are certain conditions which the licensing authorities may impose. It is open to question whether or not they could consider discomfort as one of the factors. The licensing authorities might think it open to question.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Is it the licensing authority or the local authority?

Mr. de Freitas

The local authority and the Lord Chamberlain.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

We have no responsibility for the local authority.

Mr. Baxter

It seems to me that on the Adjournment, when we are not debating a Clause or Second Reading but are discussing smoking in theatres, the issue is whether or not this House shall adjourn. It seems to me that I am framing my remarks very closely to the subject. With great respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I do not think it possible to keep the debate as narrow as you have indicated.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

We have certain Rules even on the Adjournment, and one of them is, of course, that there must be some Government responsibility for the subject discussed. If the Government have no responsibility for the comfort or discomfort of people in the theatre, which apparently is the responsibility of the local authority, then it seems to me that Mr. Speaker's Ruling was in accordance with the facts.

Mr. Baxter

I realise that, but in these days, when local authorities and the Government are becoming closer all the time, it is possible that the Under-Secretary of State might find some means of conveying the wisdom of my remarks to the local authorities. After all, this is a national issue. People come from abroad to our theatres and observe the strange habits of this island race. If you will allow me to proceed, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in case it is possible for the information to be passed on to the proper authorities, I shall be obliged.

I was going to say that women are the worst offenders in this regard, and I want to give a description of a woman smoking in the theatre. It is of general interest, and I hope that from a national point of view I may be allowed to give it.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

It is very difficult because Mr. Speaker gave a definite Ruling that he could not allow this aspect to be discussed. Therefore, I do not think it fair to ask me to allow it.

Mr. Baxter

I feel like somebody in the ring who has been ordered to his corner. As the hon. Lady has made this case, I was hoping that I should be allowed to develop it. After all, we cannot raise this matter very well on the Budget, even though the smoking of cigarettes is a matter of revenue, and therefore of interest to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is also a matter of education, and even has to do with the Festival. It seems to me that it touches so many Ministries that I really might be allowed to make my case, provided I make it very briefly.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

It would still be out of order, because it would require legislation.

Mr. Hopkin Morris (Carmarthen)

Could not the hon. Gentleman link his description of ladies smoking with the danger of fire?

Mr. Baxter

I was about to raise that very point. Therefore, I withdraw completely the more philosophic part of my argument. I want to point out why the possibility of fire is rendered more likely by a woman smoking in the theatre. As hon. Members know, a woman carries what is known as a bag. In this bag are many things which no man will ever understand. In the bag there is an article which becomes inflammable if lit, and therefore it becomes a threat to the safety of the theatre.

Mr. Shurmer (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)


Mr. Baxter

Not matches, but a lighter. So, at some moment when Hamlet is deciding whether to be or not to be and we concentrate upon that very important question—which affects the Government as they are in the same quandary—she decides to risk the life of her fellow people in the theatre by smoking. She feels for her bag, lifts it up and eventually extracts a cigarette. Next she takes the cigarette and puts it in her mouth, she then takes the lighter. I do not know whether you are musical or not Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but in "Carmen" there is a piece of music called the "Habanera." She then starts to play it on the lighter—I should be out of order if I sang it, but it has a certain rhythm of the castanets—because no lighter lights on first acquaintance. She goes on playing it until she lights the cigarette, and then she starts putting the things back into her bag.

This threat to our safety goes on. The cigarette ash gets longer and longer, and one sits back wondering at what moment it will fall; but she flicks it with a motion of her hand and puts it in the ash tray. It is a threat to the safety of the audience, and it is a greater threat to decency and consideration for other people. We are anxious that people should work longer and not retire too soon. Actors find that this smoke is very hard on their throats. Many actors have had to retire earlier from the profession because of it, and therefore it is going against the Chancellor's policy.

Our kinsmen and cousins are coming from abroad to our country, and the theatre is a great show place to them. We show them this danger and this abominable lack of consideration and of taste. If it is possible for the Secretary of State, who is a man of great wisdom, and his Under-Secretary to arrange that this nuisance shall stop at once, thus restoring the dignity of the theatre and doing away with this menace to safety, the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South, will have done us proud and rendered a most useful service in raising this matter tonight.

7.53 p.m.

Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

I am not sure that we have not had evidence tonight of a smoke-screen behind which has developed an attack on the Treasury. We have not had any figures, though we might surmise them, as to what would happen to the Treasury if this fire risk were not entertained, because that would mean no smoking for millions of people in the places where they do smoke.

Mr. Baxter

In this House the present Minister of Local Government and Planning brought in a tax to stop people smoking. He said the revenue did not interest him. Therefore, it is a form of Government policy.

Dr. Stross

I am grateful for the intervention. I must remind the hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Baxter) that I heard the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Stafford Cripps, whom we all hope will soon be better than he is now, say that to stop people smoking or to make cigarettes cheaper would be grossly inflationary in time. I make no point of that against my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton), to whom we are grateful for bringing up this subject which is controversial and to which it is well worth while giving thought. She said she did not want to be considered a spoil-sport on this or any other matter, and I am sure that nobody will think her so for raising these divergences of taste and custom between ourselves and other countries.

Yet we should not blame ourselves too much in this matter. Historically, the risk of fire was taken even in churches. The Protestant Dutch used their churchwardens in their churches 300 years ago. They gave up the habit, which today we would think objectionable. In the art gallery in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, we have a priceless plaque made by Toft, I think in 1660, showing a gentleman in his peruke and gown smoking a churchwarden. The caption is "Smoke your nose."

I think the hon. Lady wants us to stop smoking our noses in places where there is a fire risk. There is a great deal to be said for that, not so much in this country as in other parts of the world where the risk is greater. In Venice no one would be allowed to smoke in a theatre or cinema because they have very old buildings which cannot be replaced and which are not built on solid ground but on piles driven into old lagoons. I can understand objections there more easily than objections here, but if one comes to the question of aestheticism, we have no case at all.

You would rule me out of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, if I spoke about this subject on health grounds or on grounds of discipline. It would be so good for us to stop smoking once in a while. I think I should find it very objectionable to discipline myself, but I should welcome the rigour of applied discipline for the sake of my own health. So far as performance in the live theatre is concerned, there can be no possible excuse. The fact that we used to have the term "smoking concert" meant that we had much more sense then than we have now. The smoking concert was for men only. They had to care nothing for the performance or the performers because they were singing altogether ribald or jolly songs.

I should like to support the hon. Lady on the question of smoking in theatres. She is on a very good thing indeed here. Whether from the point of view of small fires, large fires, or no fires at all, it is well worth while the Home Office giving some thought to this matter and, having done so, if they make up their minds that in the theatre, at least, there should be no smoking at all, I think most of us would agree heartily with them.

7.57 p.m.

Viscountess Davidson (Hemel Hempstead)

I should like to support every word the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton), has said. I am not a smoker and because of that I should like to be tolerant of those who do like smoking. I must emphasise, first, the danger and the risk that exists from smoking in theatres. I do not think that has been exaggerated by the hon. Lady and those who support her. There is no doubt that it shows a great lack of courtesy, understanding and appreciation of the theatre. For all those reasons and many others, I am very glad to have the opportunity of supporting the hon. Lady.

7.59 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton (Brixton)

I am beginning to be afraid of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton), when she comes along and asks the Government to accept innocent-sounding propositions which I think will involve very large numbers of people in very considerable inconvenience. She spoke about the minority who had to be tolerated and it occurred to me there is a very good reason why her request should not be acceded to. I can imagine no more useful citizen than the man or woman who goes to a cinema and smokes, because in doing so he or she makes a very useful double contribution to the Revenue, which would be considerably affected if the hon. Lady's plea were accepted.

People would either smoke less or not go to the cinema. One of the reasons I do not go to the theatre as often as I should like to is that I am deprived of the opportunity of smoking while listening to what would be a good play but what becomes a bad play to me by reason of the fact that I cannot smoke at the same time.

For those reasons, and because we have quite enough regulations as it is, I am reluctant to lend my support to any further restriction of the libery of the subject. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will be able to assure the House that the danger of fire in cinemas, which is the only pretext upon which this matter could be discussed, is so remote as to warrant its exclusion from our consideration.

Mr. Baxter

The hon. and gallant Gentleman has referred to the question of revenue, and I appreciate that he has raised it sincerely; but is it not a fact that this Government is constantly trying to cut down our dollar expenditure? Tobacco represents an enormous dollar expenditure. Therefore, anybody who does not smoke is saving dollars.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

Yes, but there are many other ways which I could suggest in which we might save dollars. One way of saving dollars would be by excluding American films from this country altogether. That would represent quite a useful saving in dollars. If it is a question of saving dollars, I could put forward many other suggestions, but that would be out of order at the moment.

I think we might leave the situation as it is. I am sure the cinema exhibitors would be strongly opposed to any restriction of the kind which has been suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South. We are being inundated with literature from all kinds of bodies, including the cinematograph exhibitors, telling us of the difficult plight in which they find themselves and asking us to exert ourselves in their favour in the forthcoming discussions on the Finance Bill. I cannot believe that they would welcome the restriction that has been requested by my hon. Friend.

I hope the Under-Secretary will not allow his exceedingly good nature to be imposed upon tonight, that on this issue he will maintain a firm line which will reassure the vast majority of people in the country, the cinema exhibitors, the film producers and all those connected with ancillary activities, and will make them realise that the menace which has been advocated by my hon. Friend is not to be entertained and that the Home Office know exactly what to do about the whole matter.

8.4 p.m.

Brigadier Clarke (Portsmouth, West)

I was hoping to speak on the subject of smoking as well as the fire risk to cinemas and theatres because I thought that was the subject of this Motion. I feel that the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton), has been rather jockeyed on to the fire risk aspect of this subject as opposed to the nuisance of smoking which I felt she had at the back of her mind far more strongly than the question of fire risk.

If a cinema is reasonably filled and has, say, 550 people out of the 600 it could house, I feel there is no great fire risk. If someone starts a fire there is a bit of a smell, and if there is something burning someone stamps on it. That puts out that little local fire. Presumably, owners of cinemas have attendants and people who patrol the cinemas after the performance. There are also fire doors and similar precautions which are all governed by the Home Office. When I go to the cinema, I never feel that I am running a grave risk of being burned to death. As for the cinema building, I feel this is more the worry of Mr. Rank and the other cinema owners than my worry.

On the other hand, I like going to the cinema and shutting my eyes and smoking. I feel that the liberty of the subject should allow one to go and do this if one wants to, and I am surprised to hear Conservative Members suggest one more curtailment of our liberties. I speak for freedom, and I feel that if the cinema managers really thought that there was some advantage in prohibiting smoking in cinemas because of the fire risk, they would have one Odeon where smoking was not allowed and another where it was allowed. The cinema manager is the best judge of which of those two cinemas would draw the bigger crowd, given the same theatrical performances in both. I should have thought that this matter was one of choice for the general public.

The only point on which I should like the Home Office to intervene is to try and see that the ventilation of these places is better so that the smoke does not hang about and inconvenience those who do not like this rather dirty habit in which so many of us indulge. I think that perhaps the attendance in this House might be almost as good as that of a good cinema if we were allowed to smoke in here, but that would be sacrilege and we are not allowed to do it. I certainly think we would get more Members here if smoking was allowed. After all, 600 guardsmen have been in here to test the ventilation, and it was found to be satisfactory.

I think the theatre presents a different point. Most of the theatres in this country are old. There have not been many built in the last 15 or 20 years, and they have not got the same air-cleansing systems as cinemas have. Also there are live performers, and when there is a live performer on the stage trying to sing or speak, he is affected by the fumes coming up from the front. I do not sing very well and it does not affect me much, but I can understand that people on the stage might object to singing in a smoky atmosphere.

I can see no reason why we should not have whatever the public most require in the cinemas. I am sure the cinema managers would have cinemas in which smoking was prohibited if they thought they could fill them. This matter should be left to the free choice of the public and to the owners of the cinemas, and there should be no Government interference.

8.8 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas)

My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton) was good enough to inform me of the points she intended to raise tonight. I am particularly sorry that the hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Baxter) has had to go back to his dinner, because his support was of the most extreme kind. I think he spoke not only with great interest and knowledge of this subject but also with great grace. I think that his miming of a woman smoking in a theatre was something few of us could undertake at such short notice. On the other hand, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) and the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Colonel Clarke) want the Home Office to take a firm line and resist my hon. Friend's request.

I shall begin by dealing with these questions. First, what power is there to prohibit smoking, and how far is it exercised, and secondly, dealing with the merits, should smoking be prohibited? The position with regard to the power of prohibiting smoking is this. In the theatre it is governed by the Theatres Act, 1843. Under that Act theatres must be licensed for the public performance of stage plays, and their licensing is the responsibility of the county council or the county borough council. In the case of Central London and Windsor, the responsibility is that of the Lord Chamberlain.

The Home Secretary has no power at all to interfere with the discretion of those councils or of the Lord Chamberlain. Furthermore, in the case of theatres—and I am dealing with theatres entirely for the moment—the Home Secretary has no power, such as he has in respect of cinemas, to make regulations for securing safety. I am not saying that the Home Office washes its hands of this problem; it does not. The Home Office issues and keeps up-to-date a Manual of Safety Requirements in Places of Public Entertainment, and this guidance is widely followed by the licensing authorities.

Up to the time of the 1914–18 war, when smoking was considered socially incorrect in many places, the Lord Chamberlain used to attach to his licences a condition that there should be no smoking in the auditorium. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South, referred to a date during the war—I think she mentioned 1915—and it is a fact that at the request of the theatre licensees, starting from that time, there have been for many years applications to strike out this condition, which the Lord Chamberlain has always allowed, so that today there are only five out of 41 theatres where the managements prefer to have no smoking. It is possible under the present law for the licensing authorities to require as a condition of their licences that there should be no smoking in the auditorium. But there is always the point that the courts may, having regard to the present social views on smoking, hold that such a requirement was invalid as not being reasonable.

The position of the cinema is a little different. Under the Cinematograph Act, 1909, cinemas are licensed by the county or county borough councils, who may delegate that duty if they want, just as can the county or county borough councils in the case of theatres. As in the case of theatres, they have the right to impose licensing conditions, and the Home Secretary has no power to interfere with their discretion. But there is this very great difference: The Home Secretary has power under that Act to make regulations for securing safety, and there are regulations in force which must be observed in every cinema in the country, in addition to any conditions which the local licensing authorities may impose.

The Home Secretary's regulations, for instance, prohibit smoking in projection rooms and in places in a cinema where films are handled; but there is no prohibition of smoking in the auditorium, and, so far as I know, no licensing authority prohibits smoking in the auditorium under the terms of their licences. As in the case of the theatres, it might be held invalid if they did so.

We now come to the point whether smoking should be prohibited, first of all, because of the risk of fire. I should like to deal with the point made by the hon. Member for Coventry, South. There is no question that smoking is one of the main causes of fire in all kinds of premises, and is responsible for about three fires a week in places of public entertainment, but, as the hon. Lady pointed out, nearly all these fires are easily detected and easily put out and the damage is very small indeed. In this country as a whole, fire precautions in places of public entertainment are exceedingly good. It is the considered opinion of His Majesty's Inspectors of Fire Services that smoking brings very little added risk of fire when an audience is present and very little danger to the public.

Should smoking be prohibited because it causes discomfort? This is a much wider point which is a little beyond Government responsibility. It may assist the House a little to get some idea of this problem when I say that in the Home Office—and the experience of the London County Council is the same—we have received only the most occasional representations that smoking should be abolished in places of public entertainment. The fact that in London—and this was a point made by the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West, and others—it is left to the discretion of managements whether to permit smoking or not. That there is no prohibition on smoking in the majority of theatres, suggests that the managements feel that most of their patrons want to smoke during performances.

I do not think that smokers would readily give way in any struggle denying them the right to smoke. The privilege of smoking has been won only after a great struggle. In the 17th century people in Western Europe were flogged, excommunicated and even had their heads cut off for smoking. A former Member from Devonshire, Sir Walter Raleigh, who introduced smoking, when he was ultimately executed—he did not lose his head because of smoking—made one of his last wishes a desire for a pipe of tobacco.

Support for smoking has been very strong in Parliamentary assemblies, and it would take a great deal to turn the clock back in any way against modern customs in this matter. James I condemned smoking as a branch of the sin of drunkenness, which is the root of all sins. He said: But herein is not only a great vanity, but a great contempt of God's good giftes, that the sweetness of man's breath, being a good gifte of God, should be wilfully corrupted by this stinking smoke. Those are hard but regal words, and I, not being a monarch but an Under-Secretary of State, could not possibly go as far as James I. But I can say, as a non-smoker—and in these matters I must choose my words with great care—that people feel violently on this. It is said a woman is only a woman, but a cigar is a good smoke. There is the story of Vice-President Marshall who presided over a long debate in the United States Senate. He was constantly hearing one senator after another saying: "What this country really needs," and he made the classic remark, "What this country really needs is a good five cent cigar."

I say to the hon. Lady and to her supporters that I have paid the greatest attention to her argument. I have great sympathy with it, but choosing my words carefully as I have to do as an Under-Secretary, there would not appear to be any justification for the Home Secretary exercising whatever power he may have to prohibit smoking or to advise local authorities to do so.

8.18 p.m.

Mr. Reader Harris (Heston and Isleworth)

I should like to make one suggestion before the House rises. The statement made by the Under-Secretary will be received with relief by some sections of the populace. As secretary of the Fire Officers' Association, I am not altogether unassociated with fire prevention provisions, and the risk of fire in most places of public entertainment is practically nil. There are very few places of public entertainment in this country which do not need to be burned down every 100 years in order that they can be rebuilt with all the latest modern conveniences, though I do not suggest for one moment that there should be any loss of life in such burnings.

The hon. Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton), was very gallant in bringing this subject before the House, but there are plenty of other places where smoking ought to be prohibited on the ground of public safety, such as underground trains.

On the question of inconvenience caused by smoking, no doubt it must cause inconvenience to some people, although it enables people like the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.-Colonel Lipton) to sit through plays. When he said that in the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Southgate (Mr. Baxter) remarked to me: "What a judgment on the arts." I would add "What arts," when you need a cigarette sometimes to enable you to sit through them.

If smoking is an inconvenience to people in theatres and cinemas, would it not be possible for the managers of those places to set aside a part where smokers could sit, and to have another part where people could sit who did not want to smoke? That is done in dining cars on railways and in many other places. After all, one cigarette or one pipe in a cinema does not pollute the whole of the atmosphere. It only annoys two or three people sitting near the smoker. It might be possible to set aside some part of the building for smokers.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-one Minutes past Eight o'Clock.