HL Deb 01 March 1978 vol 389 cc471-3

2.47 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 whether, in view of the dangers to health in smoking, they will adopt a measure of self-denial and example by Ministers refraining in future from holding pipes or cigarettes while appearing in arranged television interviews.


My Lords, I would hope that all my Ministerial colleagues would support Her Majesty's Government's strategy on smoking and health (which is directed mainly against cigarette smoking) in all appropriate ways and on all appropriate occasions, but I recognise that the noble Lord's particular suggestion is essentially a matter for personal decision.


My Lords, in thanking the noble Lord for his reply, may I ask whether he is aware that I will defend to the last ditch the right of everyone to choose whether to smoke or not but that I feel they should know the risks involved? Is he also aware that Parliamentary replies in this House and in another place have stated that pipe smoking, as well as with cigarettes, has some danger? The Minister of Health and Secretaries of State for Scotland have for some time sponsored with public money health warnings on television: indeed, I started one of the first series. Does not the effectiveness of such programmes suffer when other Ministers arrange to be seen on programmes on the same evenings smoking, even if their pipes are empty or their cigarettes unlit?


My Lords, I think it is very appropriate that the noble Lord should raise this Question because, if my memory serves me correctly, he must have been one of the first Ministers to appear on television in regard to this matter. I would not disagree with what the noble Lord says. We are—and I believe this applies to all sides of your Lordships' House—very much against legislation and would prefer, shall I say? persuasion and education. Some of us would go so far as to say that certain people should set an example, and I do not think there is anything between us on this matter.

One of the comforting things is that a recent survey which was conducted on behalf of my Department indicated that 75 per cent. of the adult population agreed with and approved of the Government's encouragement to people to give up smoking. I was particularly heartened to learn that 68 per cent. of smokers who were interviewed also took that view. In another survey undertaken by my Department about smoking in public transport, 76 per cent. of the adult population approved of further restrictions and, when smokers themselves were asked about this, 67 per cent. of them also took the same view. I think we are making progress, but I would agree with the noble Lord that we need examples.


My Lords, has my noble friend noticed that there is an element of class discrimination in this Question, inasmuch as it criticises the smoking of pipes and cigarettes but not the smoking of cigars? Is that a matter of pandering to the late Sir Winston Churchill?


My Lords, some of us who do not smoke cigarettes or pipes but enjoy a cigar do so because we want to advertise how good life is under the present Government.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there is another element of discrimination in this Question? Ministers are asked to refrain from smoking when appearing on television, but there is nothing said about the leaders of the Opposition. Why are they excluded? Is this not class distinction of the worst kind? In any event, is my noble friend aware that, as one who occasionally appears on television, not being a Minister—unfortunately or fortunately—I will smoke whenever it suits me, and nobody is going to stop me?


My Lords, the pipe is well-known as a symbol of peace, and if the last Prime Minister, Sir Harold Wilson, were to appear without his pipe, might it not be taken as a declaration of class war?


My Lords, will the Minister agree that Ministers have other habits far more dangerous than smoking?


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord would like to enlighten us upon that?


My Lords, while congratulating the noble Lord on his ability at this time to smoke cigars, is he aware that I had no intention of discriminating where cigars were concerned? I meant to cover smoking as a whole, and if there is a danger in cigars they should certainly be included. Also, I did not mean to discriminate concerning the Opposition. It is simply that that is not a matter which I can correctly put to the Government.