HL Deb 27 October 1992 vol 539 cc1016-8

3.15 p.m.

Lord Orr-Ewing asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the proposed ban on all smoking on National Express coaches, which have 80 per cent. of the long-distance market, is in accordance with the individual rights of their 3½ million passengers who smoke.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, this is a matter for the commercial judgment of the operators concerned.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that British Rail continues to squeeze the 20 per cent. of its clients who are smokers into a smaller proportion of each train and that coaches are to follow the same policy? Is my noble friend further aware that a small group of people travelling from, say, Swindon to London next Monday will be banned from smoking on coaches? They may be unemployed and hard up and will obtain a competitive return fare which is £ 8 cheaper than British Rail's but they will be banned from smoking. What right has a large organisation to claim that it represents 90 per cent. of its customers and will not therefore allow smoking? I am not a smoker but I suggest that the Government have a responsibility to protect the rights of minorities. People who smoke feel strongly about the issue. Why should they not be allowed to smoke in moderation and have a special area on every conveyance reserved for their purposes?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am surprised that my noble friend wishes the Government to intervene in the commercial judgment of operators. I should have thought that he would have supported me on that issue.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, is it not apparent that the anti-smoking dictators are at it again? Will the Minister advise National Express that we still have the right and the freedom to enjoy smoking tobacco? Will he also advise the 3½ million smokers to change to the small operators and therefore have the pleasure of seeing the profits of National Express fall while they go up in smoke in its competitors' coaches?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am sure that the customer will look at every opportunity available.

Lord Monson

My Lords, is the Minister aware that National Express is not an ordinary commercial organisation? It has a quasi-monopoly on most routes. As such it has a duty to cater for all those who are obliged to use its services for want of anything better—not merely non-smokers. Why cannot the organisation reserve a few seats at the back of each coach, as is done on aircraft, and thereby make everyone happy?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, as regards smoking National Express has undertaken a considerable consumer survey of passengers who use its coaches and has come down firmly in this direction.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of a recent survey which shows that the dangers from passive smoking are greater than medical opinion had previously believed? Is he further aware that to old age pensioners such as myself who are without a motor car and who depend on public transport the elimination of smoking brings comfort in our dwindling lives?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, that only goes to show that it would be wrong for the Government to become involved. Let us leave the matter to the commercial operators.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, do Ministers agree with the evidence about passive smoking? Is there not overwhelming evidence to show that people who are forced to inhale other people's tobacco smoke at home, in offices or on coaches are suffering and becoming ill? Is it not right that the views of the majority as opposed to the views of the minority should carry, and is not the coach company to be congratulated on the initiative which it proposes to take?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the Government's position on the Froggatt Report, an independent scientific report on smoking and health published in 1988, brought to people's attention the considerable evidence of the dangers of passive smoking. I repeat that is a matter for the operators and not for the Government.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that when the industry was under public ownership, people had a lot more freedom? Is he further aware that there is absolutely no reason why people who do not smoke should be forced to inhale other people's smoke? It is perfectly possible these days to separate smokers and non-smokers, both on railways and in coaches. Would it not be far better if the national bus company did its best to please all its customers and did not give in to the opinions of one section?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, although the noble Lord contends that there was more freedom when National Express was publicly owned, I am sure that he will now agree that it produces a far better service in the private sector.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, does the Minister appreciate that many Members of the House will agree with his view that this is not a matter for government interference? Having said that, is it not right that we should compliment National Express coaches on their initiative, bearing in mind that this is not a question, is it, of convenience? It is a question of danger to the health of those people who wish to travel free from the risks of passive smoking.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, as regards the first part of the question, I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, is able to agree with the Government's position. As regards the second part of his question, it is a matter for the commercial operators. There is a difference of opinion, which has been clearly represented in the House today.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that in the United States of America there is no smoking on any railway but there is a club car attached to every train in which one can smoke, drink and talk to friends? Why can we not do the same?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, as we are talking about buses, that rather restricts me in the answer I can give the noble Earl.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, will my noble friend publish the proof which he has about passive smoking? A large body of opinion all over the world believes that it is not as injurious as people are now taking for granted? The case is not proven. Will he therefore publish proof which is accepted by a majority of medical experts?

The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, we have now gone completely off the subject of buses and are talking about reports on passive smoking. I shall however draw the matter to the attention of my noble friend who has, in fact, been listening to the exchanges.