HL Deb 22 May 1906 vol 157 cc1100-3

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is a very modest measure designed to carry out the former part of the unanimous recommendations of the Physical Deterioration (1904) Committee The Committee recommended that a Bill should be brought before Parliament at an early date, having for its object (1) to prohibit the sale of tobacco and cigarettes to children below a certain age; (2) to prohibit the sale of tobacco and cigarettes, in sweet and other shops frequented by children.

There is among medical men and teachers a general conviction that the evil of juvenile smoking has gained alarming dimensions, especially among small boys from ten to fourteen, years of age, and it seems to have considerably increased of late. Sir William Broadbent states that— The worst mischief worked by smoking is done before the age of twenty-one. Tobacco affects the heart, nerves, and digestion most seriously in the young, and early smoking tends to establish habits of self indulgence which, with the enervating influence of the tobacco, are fatal to efficiency and strength of character. Sir William Broadbent would like— To make smoking before the age of twenty-one a punishable offence. I could multiply the evidence of medical men, teachers, and employers of labour, but I will not weary your Lordships by a number of quotations. I do not think there can be any doubt about the reality of the evil. Smoking affects the eyesight and the teeth, and the prematurely aged and weary appearance of the children in one of our largest cities has been attributed to cigarette smoking.

There is already legislation on this subject in several of our Colonies. In, Newfoundland it is forbidden to sell tobacco to children under, the age of fifteen, in New Zealand under fifteen, in New South Wales under sixteen, in Tasmania under thirteen, in Bermuda under sixteen, and in South Australia, under sixteen. As regards Canada, Ontario, and New Brunswick the age limit is eighteen, in Quebec, in Nova Scotia, in Prince Edward Island, in British Columbia, and in the North West Territories it is sixteen. In Cape Colony it is unlawful for a dealer to sell, supply, or give tobacco, cigars, or cigarettes to a child under the age of sixteen, except on the production of a written order signed by the parent, guardian, or employer of the young person. In Japan there is a law prohibiting persons under twenty from smoking. Parents and guardians who allow their charges to smoke are punished with a fine not exceeding 2s., and tobacco dealers who sell smoking instruments or tobacco are liable to a fine not exceeding £1.

In the United States a large majority of the State Legislatures have passed laws against juvenile smoking. In one State the age limit is fourteen, in three it is fifteen, in a score it is sixteen, in three it is seventeen, in eight it is eighteen, and in ten it is as high as twenty-one. In thirty-five States the evil results of smoking are taught in the common schools. In the State of Pennsylvania there is a law prohibiting the sale of cigarettes to minors. There is a precedent for this legislation in regard to the consumption of spirits on the premises. The sale of spirits to a child under sixteen for consumption on the premises is prohibited by 35 and 36 Victoria, Cap. 94. This Bill is on parallel lines with the Act passed with regard to liquor. There can be no doubt that cigarette smoking is an impediment to the formation of character which, as J. S. Mill said, is "a completely fashioned will." Habit is a second nature, or as the Duke of Wellington said, "ten times of nature." This Bill will contribute to preserve the moral, mental, and physical fibre of boys. I trust that your Lordships will see your way to giving this measure a Second Reading. There is a considerable demand for this Bill, which the Home Office, after it has been read a second time, wish to be referred to a Select Committee, to which I have no objection.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(Lord Reay.)


My Lords, if the noble Lord is going to insist on the Bill in its present form I shall certainly feel compelled to move its rejection. It is provided in this Bill that— No person shall sell, give, or supply tobacco in any form to or for the use of any person under the age of sixteen years. In the corresponding Act dealing with the sale of spirituous liquors to children it is very properly provided that no person shall "knowingly" sell, which, of course, makes all the difference. It would be a monstrous provision without this qualification. I notice that further on in Clause 2 it is provided that— The onus of proof of age shall lie on the person charged with a breach of the provisions of this Act. If these words are insisted upon it seems to me that it would be a monstrous and improper Bill. Otherwise, I have no objection to it.


My Lords, I was chairman of the Standing Committee on Law in another place when the Bill dealing with the sale of intoxicating liquors to children was considered, and I can inform the noble and learned Earl that the word "knowingly" was inserted after long discussion. I quite appreciate my noble friend not having inserted the word in the Bill himself, but, remembering as I do that ultimately it had to be inserted in the Liquor Bill, I can understand the question being raised here. But what I would submit to the noble and learned Earl is that these are really points which might be left to the Committee stage.


My Lords, I hope what I have to say will quite satisfy the noble and learned Lord opposite. The Secretary of State intimated in another place that he would be glad if this matter could be referred to a Select Committee, and I have no doubt that they would there deal with the question which was raised by the noble and learned Lord. I understand that one of the reasons why this was suggested by the Secretary of State is that the form of the Bill does not altogether commend itself to the Home Office, and he was anxious that there should be further consideration. The speech of the noble Lord in moving the Second Reading contained a great deal of very interesting matter, which I hope will be placed before the Select. Committee. The Committee might also have information as to the effect of a similar prohibition in force in the Isle of Man. I think it would be advisable that the Select Committee should be appointed without delay, so that it could meet before the Whitsuntide adjournment and proceed after that regularly with its meetings.


My Lords, I am glad that this Bill has been introduced, but I cannot help seeing great difficulty in carrying it out owing to the wide use of what are called penny-in-the-slot machines. I do not know whether the noble Lord has considered that point. I have observed small boys obtaining cigarettes from these machines, and unless that means of supply could be stopped the consumption would not be checked.


I hope those in charge of the Bill will also remember the extreme difficulty of obtaining proof of age. We experienced that difficulty in regard to our recruits. Noble Lords will remember that it was sometimes quite impossible to prove whether a youth was eighteen or not. We were frequently told that we took a great many youths who were not eighteen, and we ended by some ingenious arrangement which enabled Army doctors to consider each individual youth and determine whether he had what was called the physical equivalents of eighteen. I cannot conceive any ingenuity that would restrict the use of such a machine as the right rev. Prelate has mentioned to a certain age.

On Question, Bill read 2, and referred to a Select Committee.