HL Deb 08 December 1971 vol 326 cc789-92

2.50 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps have been taken, since it was decided officially to warn the public that cigarette smoking is dangerous to health, to discontinue supplying cigarettes at functions sponsored by Government departments, including the Government Hospitality Fund.]


My Lords, as our actions have already shown, the Government arc deeply concerned about the danger to health constituted by cigarette smoking. But the Government also have their responsibilities as host, and we do not consider that it would be appropriate, particularly at functions organised in honour of foreign guests, to restrict hospitality as suggested.


My Lords, would not the noble Earl agree that it would be a great encouragement to those who are trying to persuade the public that cigarette smoking is not worth the risk involved if the Government were to set the kind of responsible example that many of us try to set in our own homes; namely, that if one's guests wish to smoke they are entirely at liberty to do so, but I would never offer a cigarette to a guest? One hopes that the Government will give further thought to this matter. May I ask whether the noble Earl will consider it further in the light of declared Government policy?


My Lords, this is a difficult matter. I gave up smoking a good many years ago and, being of A rather mean disposition, I do not offer my guests cigarettes. Nevertheless, and particularly where foreign guests are involved—who may feel, perhaps wrongly, not as we do in this matter—in my view the Government are in a different position from somebody offering private hospitality.


My Lords, have not the Government set a most remarkable precedent by the Prime Minister forbidding smoking at Cabinet meetings, unlike the preceding Government?


My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that, as a cigarette smoker, I do not support the Question which has been tabled by my noble friend? Is it not the case that if this rule applied in connection with hospitality to visitors from overseas, for which Ministers are responsible, the Government would have to take action to see that we did not even sell cigarettes on these premises, as we do at the moment?


My Lords, I must confess that I have a certain sympathy with that supplementary question.


My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that if the Government are as generous in the distribution of cigarettes at their bun-fights and hospitality as they are with the allowances which are forthcoming to those who travel overseas on behalf of the Government, there is no likelihood of anyone dying of cancer; in fact the chances are infinitesimal?


My Lords, in corroboration of the noble Lord's supplementary question, I should like to point out that the total number of cigarettes consumed by guests enjoying Government hospitality at functions is equivalent, I believe, only to what 12 people smoking 10 cigarettes a day would consume.


My Lords, the noble Earl having said that, may I ask whether the Government can justify using the taxpayers' hard-earned money for the purchase of carcinogenics? Furthermore, can he really describe the distribution of carcinogenics as "hospitality"?


Well, my Lords, there are other things consumed at the expense of the public in connection with Government hospitality which might also have some impairment on the health of some people.


My Lords, is it not a fact that Lord Reigate's highly Party political statement about smoking in Cabinet fails to reveal that this is one of the mast important decisions which Cabinet takes at the beginning of Office and that it is top secret and ought not to he revealed?


My Lords, in connection with the original Question, is my noble friend aware that the Government warning printed on cigarette packets is: "Smoking can damage your health"? Is he also aware that if the supply of cigarettes were discontinued at these functions, and provided that he wanted a reasonable attendance, he would have to supply something else and that would be cigars, which would not be looked upon with favour by his right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer?


Yes, my Lords.


My Lords, while not wishing to pursue this matter unduly, may I seriously ask the noble Earl to look at this matter once more? Surely there is an inconsistency between the Government's professed policy on this matter and their social attitude, and until we can change the social attitude and the social climate the whole policy of the Government will fail in its endeavour.


My Lords, the noble Baroness has put the point very moderately, and I wish to respond. Of course this matter will be kept under review, but I cannot hold out any great hope to her that if she puts down another Question in the near future I shall be answering it in a different sense from my answer to-day. I do not feel that there is inconsistency in the Government's attitude here, but I would admit that the Government are walking, with gymnastic ability, a certain tightrope.


My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that I hope he will not take too much notice of this nonsense? Is he aware that I have been smoking for 57 years and that I feel quite all right?


And, my Lords, if I may say so, the noble Lord looks quite all right. We hope that he will continue to do so for many years to come.


My Lords, in relation to that last supplementary question, may I ask whether Her Majesty's Government realise that that kind of statement, although sometimes very amusing, simply shows a complete lack of understanding of the statistical evidence?