HL Deb 01 December 1993 vol 550 cc636-56

9 p.m.

Lord Aldington rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what powers they have to protect passengers on British Rail's Network SouthEast trains who are no longer permitted to smoke in smoking compartments on outer suburban and long distance services; and whether British Rail's action in removing this choice from their customers is contrary to the Citizen's Charter.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I make no apologies for asking the Question; indeed, for asking the House to come back to earth or to the rail track, The Question relates to the removal by British Rail management of all smoking compartments from all trains in Kent and other parts of the south-east; that is, well outside the suburban area. I shall first summarise the background against which I seek to know what powers of intervention the Government have.

The ban on smoking by a public service raises some important issues that go to the rights of minorities to exercise their own choice of social behaviours of all legitimate kinds. That is one of the liberties of the individual. The Question also highlights a case of a public service monopoly manager riding roughshod over a sizeable minority of his customers, knowing that he is so doing, and then seeking to persuade Ministers, as he has wrongly persuaded himself, that a market survey justifies what he has done; or so it seems to me.

Tonight's Question was tabled some months ago, but I was anxious not to press my noble friend Lord Caithness further about smoking compartments while he was, in his charming and not unsuccessful way, piloting the Railways Bill through the House. He knows well—and, indeed, so do his colleagues in the Government—after three Question Times on the matter that several noble Lords, as well as myself, were not at all convinced by his painstaking short replies to our short questions. But, having carefully timed the debate so that my noble friend Lord Caithness could reply to it, we now know that that has become quite impossible. Nevertheless, I welcome in his place the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, who I am sure will give me as good as I deserve.

Some people like smoking and some do not. Some people think that smoking, even in moderation., is dangerous and some do not; indeed, some people think that it is beneficial. For many decades there have been smoking compartments in trains so as to enable those who want to smoke to do so without upsetting people who dislike smoking. Of British Rail's Network SouthEast passengers about 29 per cent, are smokers. Since yesterday, that 29 per cent. can pride themselves on contributing more than the non-smokers to the public funds that go to help British Rail.

Outside the inner-suburban area, that minority has been allowed to smoke in trains until early this year—that is, 1993—when a so-called "commercial" reason was adduced for ending the sensible arrangement of marking about one-quarter of the compartments for smoking. Then, for the first time, a ban was dictated on smoking in trains in Kent and throughout most of the south-east, even on journeys of more than one hour and even on journeys as long as those to Cardiff or Birmingham where, under other more sensible management, there is no such ban. If that is not gross discrimination against a part of the United Kingdom, I do not know what is; indeed, it is a lot else too.

The allegedly commercial arguments boil down to just two. The first is about the cost of cleaning and the second is about passengers' attitudes; that is, the market argument. It is said that smokers cause much more mess than non-smokers so that cleaning costs a lot more. But non-smokers also leave litter. They discard tins, sweet and chocolate papers and apple and banana skins. The question is: where do they put them? The same question goes for smokers' ash and stubs. Suitable trays and containers are not difficult or costly to supply or to keep clean. The clean-up argument is as unsound as it is specious. If it were true, it would apply equally to train services everywhere and it would lead to a general ban on smoking throughout the British Rail network.

The second argument rests on an independent market survey conducted in September 1992. First, it is alleged by British Rail that the survey proves that there is "overwhelming support" among existing customers for the extension of the ban. Secondly, the survey is alleged to prove that even 55 per cent. of smoker passengers were in favour of that ban. I shall return in a moment to the former misstatement, but the latter is so monstrously a falsification that I shall deal with it at once.

The market survey showed that 55 per cent. of the smokers on services where smoking was already banned accepted the ban. I regard it as a good bit mischievous for anybody to use that figure in connection with the ban's extension to other services. However, I have to add here that even if there was significant majority support for the extension of the ban, which I do not believe there was, I would still ask Her Majesty's Government whether they really wish to see public services management abandon all concern for the minority in legitimate social habits.

But in truth the market survey most certainly did not prove that there was an overwhelming majority for the ban to extend to long distance services in Kent. The most directly relevant set of figures in the survey—the survey is dated 4th September 1992 and is the latest I know of—is quite clear in its meaning. Those questioned at stations served by trains which at that time had smoking compartments were asked their views on a change, up or down, in smoking accommodation from its then level—at that time that was about one-quarter of the train. One of the questions concerned the case for a possible increase. That does not surprise me for my experience as a moderate user of trains in Kent, and a very moderate pipe smoker, was that at peak travel times the smoking compartments were more crowded than the others.

The answers to the question showed that only 38 per cent. of all passengers—that is, smokers and non-smokers—declared in favour of any decrease in the number of smoking compartments. The rest were in favour either of retaining the then present level or were in favour of an increase. Some 4 per cent. of non-smokers were in favour of an increase. I should have thought that those answers would have persuaded even the most fanatical manager that he would be wrong to impose a ban on smoking. However, that is not the case in Network SouthEast where for some reason, high-minded or not, a ban was wanted so badly that the network found a way of reinterpreting the answers. The attitude to the smoking public of the master of Network SouthEast can be seen in the brief which he sent to my noble friend Lord Caithness. I have, in a quite proper way, been enabled to see that brief. I say "quite proper" because it was sent by one of the colleagues of my noble friend Lord Caithness in the Department of Transport to a noble Lord in this House. The day before the Minister answered questions in this House on this subject in May he received a letter which stated: The extension (of the ban) was always bound to generate some strong feelings but was taken for commercial and not social reasons. Extensive market research amongst existing customers showed overwhelming support for a ban". My goodness gracious! How can anyone interpret that survey that way? When I challenged my noble friend on this point, he argued in a letter to me (no doubt he did so on advice he had received) that the apparent contradiction between such a statement and the figures I have mentioned—those were the figures that showed a majority of all passengers were against any decrease in the then existing level of smoking compartments—is easily explained. He said the contradiction,

"results from passengers in favour of a ban, on whose services smoking had been banned, assuming that the level of accommodation was already nil".

That is about as screwy an interpretation as I can get out of those figures. I call that rather an insult to the intelligence of Network SouthEast passengers. Perhaps my noble friend wishes to see my further deliberations on the figures in the survey. I have ascertained that even as regards long distance services the majority of passengers against any decrease in the supply of smoking compartments is even greater. I was absolutely stupefied that my noble friend could believe his comments. But then my stupefaction became just a bit less when I noticed the date on which I had received the letter. My noble friend's department does not believe in dating letters. I have received a number of letters from that department none of which are dated. However I believe I received that letter on Monday, 5th April and I am quite clear that my noble friend signed it on April Fool's Day. That would explain it.

I checked what the market surveyors themselves said about those figures, taking into account the whole range of questions, from "increase", "decrease", "the same", and so on. This is their summary:

"Although smokers predominate among those desiring an increase in smoking seats, yet there is a strong body of opinion, including a majority of smokers, who would agree with keeping the present level the same".

What could be clearer? How do my noble friends on the Front Bench justify the managing director trying to get round that and arguing that his market wants something different?

What powers do the Government have in such railway matters? I assume that they share with me a concern that minorities should not unreasonably be deprived of rights to behave socially as they wish, provided they are acting within the general law. That principle extends far beyond smoking; for example to sporting activities and other such matters.

The Transport Act 1962 seems to provide powers of intervention by the Secretary of State. I have done my best to try to find out what the law is by reading the books in the Library. There is a specific power in Section 56(6) for my right honourable friend to give directions to the board on any recommendation from the Central Transport Consultative Committee. I do not believe that he has given any such direction.

I have in front of me a press notice dated 18th May from that committee headed:

"Smokers are fuming at Network SouthEast's smoking ban".

It states that Network SouthEast,

"takes the view that the average journey time of users should be the governing factor in determining whether smoking accommodation should be provided. The CTCC takes a different view, believing that rolling stock which normally operates on routes with journey times of substantially more than one hour should carry some smoking accommodation".

Is that not quite clear, my Lords? Is it not clear to my noble friend?

At the end the press release states:

"We think that NSE should find ways of satisfying the demands of its smoking passengers rather than taking action which alienates them".

It said earlier:

"Some NSE managers seem prepared to treat their customers in a rather heavy-handed manner".

I can assure noble Lords that that is correct, because I have received all kinds of threats when I have asked whether I could smoke in a carriage where it was not stated that I could not. That was a clear expression of the committee's considered opinion. What has the Secretary of State done about it?

The British Railways Board's powers to make by-laws on smoking and other matters, set out in Section 67 of the Transport Act, are made subject to confirmation by the Secretary of State, or so it seems to me. We shall hear whether that is so. I am therefore rather surprised that the Government should have approved a by-law of the British Railways Board that enabled its management to ban smoking on services which had never previously had such a ban and then claim that the ban was purely a matter for the commercial judgment of British Rail. I find that inconsistent with what the Act says. When was the relevant by-law confirmed by the Minister responsible?

Lastly—I have spoken for much too long but I regard this as a very serious matter—in my Question I mentioned the Citizen's Charter. I have in mind the emphasis placed there on the importance of choice and the aim of the Government to widen choice in public services. That is set out in the conclusion. I have also in mind the passage on page 17 relating to the railways which states:

"British Rail will seek to make its services to the public friendlier and more personal".

Fewer than 30 per cent. of its passengers are smokers. The guards on our trains show those qualities in enforcing what to many of them seems to be a mistaken rule, but a rule that binds them. But above them is someone, or more, who flouts the spirit of that excellent charter in this matter of smoking bans and accommodation, and then goes on to stretch the limits of all credulity in justifying that outrageous ban. What powers do the Government have to enforce their clearly expressed will?

I hope that my noble friend and the House will feel that something must be done to put right this quite outrageous misuse of monopoly power.

9.19 p.m.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, in everything that he has said. I do so as a non-smoker—one who has smoked but has not done so for a very long time—and one who believes in the right of individuals to smoke and for people to have facilities, on an equal basis, to smoke if they wish to do so.

As the noble Lord said, people have been allowed to smoke on Network SouthEast and elsewhere on the railways for over 100 years. It has been possible, without trouble, to provide separate smoking accommodation for people who wish to smoke. However, suddenly a group of people—it does not comprise the passengers; as the noble Lord pointed out, the majority of passengers, both smoking and non-smoking, are happy for the facilities for smokers on trains to continue—the railway management, come along arid say, "We think that it is no longer a commercial proposition to allow people to smoke". Yet their customers state that it is all right for people to smoke provided they are allowed segregated accommodation on the trains.

I, too, was worried about the answers given during Question Time. Like the noble Lord, I too wrote to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, to ask what rights smokers had under the Citizen's Charter. It seems to me that smokers in this country now have no rights. They also appear to have no rights to be treated within the health service as other people are treated. I shall come to that later.

I told the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, that I was worried that smokers were not being considered in relation to their rights under the Citizen's Charter. I received a similar reply to that given to the noble Lord, Lord Aldington: that it is a commercial matter. did not seem to occur to the Minister that the Government have a duty to protect the individual liberties and rights of all citizens. Where one has a public monopoly, the Government have a double duty to those people because they have nowhere else to go.

The matter of cleanliness seems to rank high on the agenda. Therefore I wrote back to the noble Earl saying: You mention improved cleanliness as one of the benefits of the smoking ban but there is to be no action against those who munch, crunch and slurp their way through train journeys producing, as a result, a mountain of paper, cardboard, polystyrene, cans etc. which must be far in excess in both volume and weight of litter produced by smokers". I should have thought that that was a reasonable thing to say. But the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, had also forgotten about the drinkers. I therefore continued: Nor, apparently, is there any suggestion that the drinking of alcoholic liquor should be banned on trains although it is well known that alcohol not only harms the health of those who abuse it but also often results in violence against innocent people—sometimes railway staff. Furthermore, I feel sure that there are many, like myself, who feel disgusted and nauseated at the behaviour—short of violence—of people who have over-imbibed intoxicating liquor". Noble Lords will have seen such people on the trains. I am virtually teetotal and it offends me. I am a non-smoker, a non-drinker and a non-womaniser; I can really speak from on high! I have no vices that I can think of other than attending the House of Lords every day. But it seems that the only person who is to be banned from doing what he wants is the smoker. It is disgraceful that one section of the community should be treated in that way.

Not only BR but other organisations like British Airways—which is banning smoking on long-haul flights as well as short-haul flights—are doing it as well. Employers are banning smoking. Why? They are responding to a government-inspired witch-hunt against smokers. Their individual rights seem to be suspended by a government who pretend to believe in individual freedom and rights. They are always talking about that. I do not wish to offend the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, but only an hour ago he will have heard them talking about individual rights.

Lord Aldington

I did.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

Except apparently for smokers.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, perhaps I may intervene. Is not the noble Lord weakening his case to some extent? The possibility of smoking on trains in segregated carriages is surely far removed from a case where there is no real segregation? There can be none on an aircraft, where a curtain is not enough, nor in theatres and cinemas. Is there not a difference of degree that affects the issue? Would it not be better for my noble friend to confine himself to the case where there is a possibility of clear segregation?

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I shall not argue about segregation on aircraft. Modern techniques make it possible to ensure that there is clean air as well as smoky air in aircraft. There is no difficulty about that. I should have thought that in employment it was perfectly possible for employers to set aside rest rooms for smokers and non-smokers. What I want is for smokers to be given the same rights as everyone else, particularly under the Citizen's Charter. Apparently everyone else is entitled to rights under the charter except smokers.

It seems to me that there is a campaign by a narrow elite who wish to impose their standards on their fellows. There is and has been over a long time a campaign to outlaw smoking as a social habit. All kinds of lies are told and statistics cooked; we have heard about them this evening. People are frightened as a consequence of the campaign to outlaw smoking as a social habit.

British Rail in particular has carried on that campaign over a long period. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, that it did not start on Network SouthEast. It started with British Rail banning the sale of tobacco in the kiosks on stations. BR is trying to impose its own standards on all its passengers or "customers", as I believe they are now called.

However, the problem goes even further than that. People may be able to manage without a cigarette or a pipe on a train journey of an hour or an hour-and-a-half. But I do not see why they should. I do not see why people should suddenly stop something which has been enjoyed for over 100 years. The problem is becoming much worse than that, however, because we now find that smokers are being denied treatment within the health service, which is much more serious. The problem goes on from the banning of smoking in railway carriages. It extends to patients being banned from treatment within the National Health Service.

The latest example is the case of Mr. Gibson, who went to Southampton General Hospital to have an operation, for which he was getting prepared when the consultant surgeon came along and said: "Have you given up smoking?" Mr. Gibson said that he had not given up smoking. He was sent home. He was told to stop smoking, and when he had stopped smoking he could go back on the list. Mr. Gibson died 11 days later. Mr. Gibson had also been told previously that if he paid £12,000 he could have an operation privately. So had Mr. Gibson had £12,000 to have an operation privately, he might very well have been alive today. Because he was forced into the National Health Service—for which he has paid, let us make no mistake about it; smokers pay their taxes just the same as everybody else; indeed, they pay more taxes than anybody else—he was denied treatment under the National Health Service which might have saved his life.

Lord McColl of Dulwich

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. Is he seriously suggesting that the surgeon who was going to do the operation in the National Health Service was the same surgeon who said that he would operate if he was paid £12,000 in the private sector? That would be a very serious allegation. I cannot believe that that can be so.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

No, my Lords, I was not suggesting that for one moment. I did not say that. I said that Mr. Gibson had been told that an operation was available privately for £12,000. He did not have £12,000, so he had to go to the National Health Service, and he was sent home. I am told of course that it was a matter of clinical judgment, and I have to accept that. But one wonders whether the clinical judgment of the consultant surgeon was right. Would Mr. Gibson still be alive today if the operation had been carried out, rather than being dead today because he was sent home without having the operation? That is a matter which should concern all of us.

This is AIDS week. Let us suppose, for example, that a person suffering from AIDS had been sent home and refused treatment within the National Health Service. There would be a national outcry, and rightly so. But there should be a national outcry every time a smoker is sent home when he needs treatment within the National Health Service. Therefore, as well as considering the serious matter which has been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, about Network SouthEast, the Government have to look a lot wider. Denying smokers rights in railway carriages leads to denying smokers rights within the National Health Service, which may very well lead to serious illness or even death. That is why I support very strongly indeed the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, in demanding explanations and results from Her Majesty's Government on this matter this evening.

9.34 p.m.

Lord Harris of High Cross

My Lords, after the devastating indictment of the Government by my old friend, the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, on the Tory Benches, there really is no necessity for further contributions to this debate on the Question. But since when has necessity been a pretext for speeches in this House? I do not want to make heavy weather of this matter, but I have a number of interests to declare. I am a pipe smoker of long standing, though less so than the 60 years of the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, by a decade or so. I am a train traveller—if it cannot be absolutely avoided. I am chairman of FOREST, which is the Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco. It does not promote smoking; it defends the right for citizens to enjoy a pipe or cigarettes.

I have been a strong and lifelong supporter of individual freedom. For me the hallmark of a free society is that it permits adult citizens the widest conceivable choice attainable without significantly subtracting from the like freedom of others. The key is that we do not simply uphold popular freedoms. Indeed the acid test of a democratic temper is to defend other people's choices of which we actively disapprove; that is to say, tolerance. That is not particularly virtuous because the unwritten contract of a free society is a tolerance of other people's strange preferences for such things as male cosmetics, foxhunting, jogging, eating fish and chips or black pudding, in exchange for their tolerance of our eccentricities.

Democracy does not mean permitting freedoms practised by 51 per cent. of the population. A civilised society is marked by respect—if possible, courteous and good natured—for minority tastes and activities of which we may actively disapprove. Whatever its demerits, the great merit of the competitive market is that it caters sensitively for individuals and consumer idiosyncrasies. Even small minorities favouring fancy waistcoats, pink socks or other familiar Front Bench government styles can have their particular tastes served in a free market. Majority agreement is not required. There is a tendency for small minorities to have their way. Because in nationalised industries that kind of preference is not possible, all the nationalising Acts made provision for consumer representatives to have their voice heard on consultative committees.

The chairman of the British Railways Board, defending the ban, wrote a letter to say that BR liaise carefully with statutorily constituted representatives of transport users, and so forth. There has been much talk of getting approval in that way. This morning I ventured to 'phone the Transport Users Consultative Committee for Southern England and spoke to the acting Secretary, Mr. Edwards. He told me that on 8th December last year the committee received an announcement from British Rail to the effect that all smoking carriages were being withdrawn from Kent and East Sussex. Shortly thereafter the committee was told that smoking facilities had been withdrawn elsewhere on the SouthEast network.

There was no question of consultation. There was absolutely no effort to ascertain the views of the consultative committee, much less to take notice of the views of the consumers themselves. As the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, said, the survey that British Rail conducted last year, in the autumn of 1992, showed that 61 per cent. of passengers on non-banned stations thought that the provision for smoking should either be kept the same or increased.

I turn to British Rail's own charter, which is a rather less pretentious document than the Government's to which I shall come in a moment. British Rail say that it undertakes to: ask your views and publish the results". They asked views through the survey but they did not publish the results. There had to be a Question in this House from the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, before British Rail agreed to put a copy of the findings in the Library. Of course the charter does not say, "We will take notice of your views". It says, "We will ask your views and publish the results if compelled to do so; but we will not necessarily feel obliged to proceed any further".

That is all small beer. We come to this great document that I hold in my trembling hand the—Citizen's Charter—and see what the Government have to say to give comfort to smokers and others. It says, The Citizen's Charter applies to all public services. These include government departments and agencies, nationalised industries, and so forth. The key principles will include, Evidence that the views of those who use the services have been taken into account in setting standards". It goes on to say, The task is an ambitious one. We are determined to make it happen as quickly as possible… We will be taking immediate steps to encourage all public services to adopt Charter principles and to apply them to their own operations". We move on to transport where it has a section acknowledging that, British Rail's performance too often falls short of what the public has a right to expect". It says we expect, simple and effective complaints procedures; a straightforward system of redress in cases where the level of service is unacceptable … BR will seek to make its service to the public friendlier and more personal". We have heard that before. We move on to the penultimate section and I shall not bother your Lordships beyond that. The heading is "Prisons". It states, All citizens are entitled to consideration, including those who offend against the law. The Mission Statement of the Prison Service undertakes to look after all prisoners with humanity". The deduction I draw from this document is that it is not so much that smokers are second-class citizens. So far as the charter is concerned, smokers on trains are non-citizens.

9.42 p.m.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton

My Lords, I rise briefly to support my noble friend Lord Aldington. As other noble Lords have said, British Rail has a right and duty to ban smoking in a reasonable proportion of its carriages. It has done so throughout my life, both during the war and before it, just as smoking has always been banned in this Chamber. No one objects to that.

It is arguable that smoking may be banned for short journeys, as is the case on London Underground where the journeys are nearly all short, but it is not the case on Network SouthEast that all journeys are short, as most of us know to our cost. It may be that they are meant to be short, but that is another matter. It once took me three-and-a-half hours to travel from Dover to London in an unheated train. To shut people up for that length of time and give them no area on the train where they can relieve their feelings by smoking is inhuman. If it does not breach the Citizen's Charter, it ought to.

My sympathy goes out to my noble friend Lord Aldington and others who are forced to travel in what are sometimes horrible trains, watching people munching fish and chips and other forms of food while they are forbidden to have an innocent smoke in any part of the foul-smelling premises. I can see no reason for British Rail's intolerance. And why are they telling us all this? I have smoked since joining the army at the age of 17, when we all smoked. We were 100 per cent. fitter then than the average youth one sees on the streets today. I was subjected to passive smoking from the cradle—both of my parents and most of my family smoked like chimneys. I am 66 now and even if I die at 96 I suppose that my death will be entered in the statistics as being smoking-related.

In my view most statistics and market surveys are as suspect as the opinion polls were in the last general election. I believe that the Government have a duty to protect the wishes of my noble friend and others who ask only for a place where they can smoke on what is often an unpleasant journey.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Howell

My Lords, with the tolerance and courtesy of the House, I should like to speak for a few moments in the gap. I apologise for not putting down my name but it was not until the Unstarred Question appeared on the annunciator that I became aware that it was being debated. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, for raising the matter.

Some years ago, on behalf of the Central Council of Physical Recreation, I conducted a two-year inquiry into the sponsorship of sport in this country. My committee had to face up to the question not just of smoking but of drinking and gambling. We reached the conclusion that where a pursuit is lawful and the state gains many millions of pounds from an activity the state has no business trying to restrict the support of those activities. My first question therefore is: what are the Government or British Rail doing trying to put an inhibition on a lawful activity? I submit to the House that it is quite wrong. In the case of British Rail, if it were not for smokers and the excise duty they provide, the subsidies to meet British Rail's losses would not be available, which makes it an added offence in my view.

All these activities are for individual persons to decide for themselves. I agree that smoking is offensive to some people and that therefore some segregated accommodation should be provided. The only time I smoke my cigars, which I do once or twice a day on British Rail, is to prevent the neurosis brought on by people using mobile telephones, which pester us all the way from Birmingham to London. I am fed up of listening to other people's business activities being conducted on trains. I hope that British Rail will provide segregated places for them too where they can chatter away on their telephones. I might not need to smoke as many cigars as I do.

We have a small amount of accommodation on the trains between Birmingham to London. It is totally inadequate. It is one half of one carriage. The fact that tobacco is sold at New Street and other Birmingham stations makes the ban even more ludicrous and ridiculous. The same is true of aircraft. The sale of duty-free tobacco on aircraft must be a lucrative part of British Airways' income. The cabin staff come around with their trolleys. Therefore, it makes no sense for the Government to stand on one side, do nothing about it and thereby interfere with the personal prerogative of individual citizens who choose to exercise their taste in tobacco.

I suggest to the Minister and to the people involved that the logic of the campaign against smoking, which has not been faced up to by anyone yet, is to say that we ought to make smoking unlawful. Let the people who want to interfere with smoking, which is a lawful activity generating vast sums of income, come out into the open, as people in the United States did about alcohol with disastrous results years ago, and say, "We face the logic of our position. We intend to propose that the Government should ban smoking and make it unlawful." They will not do that—no government would support them if they did.

It is to the credit of the Government that in the area of sport they accepted the recommendations of the committee that I chaired and did not stop the sponsorship of sport by tobacco companies—for the very good reason that tobacco companies are carrying out a lawful activity for the benefit of the state as well as for their industry. That should be the criterion. I therefore strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, in his Unstarred Question.

9.49 p.m.

Lord McColl of Dulwich

My Lords, I should like to say a few words just to throw perhaps a few spanners into the works. The noble Lord, Lord Aldington, says that some people think that smoking is harmful. Not so, my Lords. Anyone who has an open mind knows that smoking is harmful. Sir Richard Doll, a Fellow of the Royal Society, did some careful scientific surveys and trials which showed clearly and without doubt that if one smokes for a long period of time, statistically one is much more likely to die of cancer of the lung. Before any noble Lord leaps to his feet and says that statistics are not to be believed, they are just a scientific way of looking at numbers and simply state what the chances are of the figures being significant or not.

Admittedly, Sir Richard published the work very recently—only a third of a century ago, which is a very short period of time, and some people are a little slow on the uptake. It is accepted in scientific circles that smoking can produce cancer of the lung. It can induce blockage in the arteries, strokes, heart attacks, duodenal ulcers and so forth. It is a long list of diseases. So let us not be in any doubt at all about that.

Lord Aldington

My Lords, as my noble friend quoted me perhaps he will explain why a leading physician in Harley Street said to my grandfather when he was 85 years old that his health was very good and that he would live for a long time so long as he smoked a cigar twice a day. He lived to the age of 95½. All I said was that I know that there is a difference of opinion. Will my noble friend explain why that was right for my old grandfather and had some very beneficial results and why he says that I am wrong?

Lord McColl of Dulwich

My Lords, I would not dream of saying that my noble friend Lord Aldington is wrong. All I am doing is stating the scientific facts. The fact that a Harley Street doctor said X years ago that somebody should smoke does not prove anything. I want to state clearly that there is no doubt whatever that smoking will increase the risk of dying of these conditions. That is the fact.

Much has been said about the freedom of the individual to do as he likes and to smoke. Of course, I would not deny that for one moment. But what about the freedom of individuals who do not smoke and who strongly object to being in the presence of those who do? What about the people who not only strongly object but who have an asthmatic attack induced by smoke? Noble Lords are shaking their heads. Tobacco smoke can induce an asthmatic attack: there is no doubt about that. It is a fact. Supposing it concerns a child? Are noble Lords seriously suggesting that people should have the freedom to induce an asthmatic attack in a child who is in the vicinity of someone who is smoking?

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, there is nothing between us. British Rail has hitherto set aside a carriage for smokers only and for anyone who wishes to join them. That is a segregated carriage away from everyone else. We fully accept that there are people who do not wish to be in the presence of cigarette smoke. What we object to is the fact that British Rail suddenly withdrew a facility which would have achieved just that—smokers in one carriage and non-smokers in the rest of the train. What is wrong with that?

Lord McColl of Dulwich

My Lords, there is nothing wrong with that at all. But what happens if there is no room elsewhere on the train and non-smokers have to get on? I know that there is a rather "gung ho" atmosphere in the House and that the majority of noble Lords are smokers. But I have to rise to defend those who do not smoke and who get into difficulty when in the presence of somebody who is smoking. The noble Lord mentioned the aeroplane. If you are on a plane you can be in a non-smoking area but smoke will get to you. That is the whole point. The air in the aircraft is the same. It is not segregated into first-class or second-class air. It is air and it circulates throughout the whole plane. There are some people—I have met them—who suffer from asthma and who did not board a plane only to suffer five hours of great distress. Do noble Lords support the idea that people should be so distressed? I am sure that they do not.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend. Is he aware that there are people, including my wife, who can have asthmatic attacks if they are in the presence of an animal? Is my noble friend suggesting that animals should not be carried on passenger trains on Network SouthEast?

Lord McColl of Dulwich

My Lords, I shall not get into the business of animals, but one would certainly have some difficulty taking an animal on a plane.

Lord Belhaven and Stenton

We are talking about railways.

Lord McColl of Dulwich

I do not mind interventions. I would have as many as possible. It is no problem. I am delighted to be able to do this sort of remedial teaching because I do not often get the opportunity in university circles.

I wish to deal with a point about smokers who are denied operations which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. We should be clear about this. There is no general ban on smokers for particular operations. It is simply that if it is planned that somebody should have an operation and that person continues smoking and if, as a result of their continuing smoking, the operation will have only a poor result, clearly it would be unwise to proceed. That is the basis on which people are sent home—only if they have continued to smoke.

Finally, I have not met the head of Network SouthEast, but he seems to me to be an eminently sensible gentleman. I support what he is doing.

9.56 p.m.

Lord Kilbracken

My Lords, I have just estimated that I have smoked 440,000 cigarettes in the past 55 years. Having declared that interest, I wish to draw attention to just one point as I see it.

I travel by train from time to time although not on the network which has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, in his Unstarred Question. What happens on each occasion is that I walk along the entire length of the train looking for a smoking compartment. The train is practically empty, but having walked the entire length of the train, if I am lucky I find, right at the front, about half a carriage in which smoking is permitted. It is absolutely packed out. It is so full of people smoking that it is impossible to sit there, and I end up in a non-smoking compartment.

When I fly, which I do rather more often, I find that on a great many flights smoking is now not permitted at all. If it is permitted, it is allowed in perhaps 30 seats at the very back of the plane. Here I must disagree with the noble Lord, Lord McColl, that smoking is unpleasant for other passengers. The smoking seats are always at the rear of the plane and smoke in an aeroplane does not move for'ard; it goes aft. It does not affect other passengers. In any case, here again the 30 seats in which smoking is permitted at the back of the plane are absolutely full of people and the rest of the plane is probably half empty.

Lord Rea

My Lords, that is not true.

Lord Kilbracken

My Lords, my noble friend says that that is not true, but I assure him that I have travelled perhaps just as much as him and I have found that that is invariably the case. I therefore feel that all forms of public transport are unfair to smokers. That is an irrational failure to a great extent. We, too, have rights.

10 p.m.

The Earl of Harrowby

My Lords, I, too, hesitate to intervene at this late hour. I apologise. I shall keep my remarks brief. This is an important debate. The real issue is being obscured by the smoke. The real issue is intolerance of minorities' views. We owe a great debt to my noble friend Lord Aldington and to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, for putting forward such a robust defence. I hope that the Government will take due note of it. A real issue exists. My noble friend made some remarks about smoking. I am not sure that he is right. It is true that cigarettes are a known and proven danger. It is not true of tobacco in general; it is not true of cigars; it is not true of pipes. Nothing is as yet proven.

My worry arises from the emotional issue. We are entering into an era of intolerance of views of minorities. I have known North America and Canada for a long time. I have great admiration for them, but we are in great danger of imitating American emotional extremism. That worries me. It is not just on this issue, but it is predominant on this issue at the moment. It is high time that it stopped.

The noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said a great deal about aircraft. I agree with him. I make a further point. During the rush hour there are six aeroplanes an hour to Paris. Why cannot one of them be a smoking aeroplane? Why cannot the 747 on the Hong Kong route, which has an upper deck with a separate air conditioning system, allow smoking? It used to do so. Why can one have cigarettes but not pipes, when pipes are much better for one? It is only seven or eight years ago that cigar smoking was stopped on Concorde.

We have this issue out of balance. The issue is not smoking. Let us not be blinded by the smoke. The real issue is whether we are prepared to become one of the intolerant nations of this world and let extremism and emotionalism override our common sense and our sense of fairness. I am not. I thank my noble friend Lord Aldington and the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, for raising this subject.

10.3 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, initiated this interesting debate, which has given rise to a number of interesting revelations: for example, the outstanding modesty of my noble friend Lord Stoddart, who has no vices. I can think of one, but I shall not go into it now. A certain amount of anti-Americanism has also just crept into the debate. I regret one thing: the gap has been used extensively. In my view, that is not consistent with the best procedures of the House because there has been ample opportunity for names to be put down for the debate. That is how debates should be conducted, in my respectful submission. Some of the speeches in the gap, interesting though they were, went beyond what is normally acceptable, which is not more than two minutes.

The case for the majority must not be overlooked. Therefore the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McColl, is deserving of further consideration. The debate has been supported by a number of your Lordships who have taken the point about civil liberties. There is a civil liberty attaching to people who are forced, frequently, to enter areas which are uncongenial to them. If one needs to get somewhere on an aircraft and there is no space other than in the smoking section, that is pretty unpleasant if one does not like smoking and if one also finds passive smoking unacceptable. I do not accept that the division that exists is adequate to protect a person from that mischief.

A number of your Lordships recited anecdotes. I suppose that that is reasonable in this House because we are in or approaching our "anecdotage". I should like to tell noble Lords a story which affected me and which might have a moral in it for smokers or for those who support smoking as depicted in the debate. When I was a member of the Commission I flew to Dacca. I flew first-class because it is a long way and because the Commission does that kind of thing—but so do Ministers. The steward asked me whether I would mind if someone took the seat next to me and smoked. I said, "I am sorry. I have an objection to that, particularly during a period of some five-and-a-half hours". He went away saying that that was perfectly understandable. He later came back to me and asked whether I would mind if that gentleman changed seats with a young lady and she came to sit next to me. It so happened that the young lady was a French film actress called Natalie Baye. So it can be rewarding not to engage in smoking.

I believe that those noble Lords who have argued the case have made too much of it. Many of the services about which we have spoken are frequently crowded. We know that one of the problems of Network SouthEast—without going into the arguments about the railway system—is that it is frequently overcrowded. It is an imposition, in particular on short distances, that those who are running the railway should not have the right to say, "No, we are not going to allow smoking", or, "We shall provide a separate compartment". I accept segregation on the railways but I should not accept it elsewhere; for instance, in theatres, cinemas or on short flights. People who operate those services are right to make their commercial judgments about such issues and to invest the element of health into that judgment. But I suppose that when it comes to the railways there is a case for segregation.

One must look at the commercial viability of that. It is not for Members of your Lordships' House to dictate to British Rail or to anyone else the commercial viability of their operations in that regard. If it is practicable to have such a wholly segregated service and to provide one coach for smokers, it is equally right that there should be additional compensation for nonsmokers. As a result of their circumstances they may be required to seek such accommodation on the train as they can—

Lord Aldington

My Lords, I do not believe that the noble Lord has read my Motion. It does not refer to short journeys but specifically to, outer suburban and long distance services". The Motion deliberately refers to the abandonment of smoking compartments, which have existed for 100 years. It is not a question of striving to do anything new but of retaining what was.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, I am not the only Member to have strayed from the exact terms of the noble Lord's Motion. Like my noble friend Lord Stoddart, the noble Lord is most modest and virtuous about the matter. But other Members have trespassed in this way. The point that I made in relation to segregation, in particular on long distance journeys, is the one that I stand by.

It has been said that the Government have an overall duty to intervene in such a matter. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, placed a rather naive faith in the Citizen's Charter. Well, there are many of us who could have told him that such naivety is not to be practised, any more than smoking is, in certain places. I believe that the Government would be very unwise to intervene so far as concerns British Rail. If BR takes account of what noble Lords have said, then that will be a good thing and something to which I would not object, subject to the point. I made earlier.

As regards the future of British Rail as a whole, it seems to me that the question of smoking was never raised, although privatisation was mentioned by one speaker. I suppose that it is feasible for all smokers to get together to form an organisation that could tender for a franchise. They could then have all the smoking in the world that they wanted. I believe that the Government would welcome that development because they would at least receive one application for a franchise, whereas at present they stand a pretty good chance of receiving none. So perhaps it is a good idea.

I do not want to go into the matter in any great detail. However, my noble friend Lord Howell said that it was wrong to impose a restriction on what is a lawful activity. Well, it is a perfectly lawful activity to commit suicide these days, although that used not to be the case; indeed, it used to be a criminal offence. I suppose that that gets to the nub of the argument: they want to commit suicide.

10.12 p.m.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I have listened very carefully to the debate which seems to have attracted a flush of last-minute interest. It is clear that the Question arouses strong feeling. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Aldington has raised the matter on a number of occasions in the past. However, he will not be very surprised to know that the position of Her Majesty's Government has not changed. The provision of smoking accommodation on trains is for British Rail to decide. It would not be appropriate for Ministers to intervene in what is a commercial matter for BR.

It may be helpful to noble Lords if I explain the background to the smoking ban. British Rail decided to ban smoking on Network SouthEast inner-suburban services in 1990. The decision was made on three grounds. First, market research showed that a declining number of passengers wished to travel in smoking compartments. Secondly, the ban was intended to reduce overcrowding in non-smoking compartments, as research showed that non-smokers often chose to stand rather than take a seat in a smoking compartment. Thirdly, the ban was expected to reduce the cost of cleaning trains and improve the cleanliness of trains generally.

The response to the ban was positive. Before the ban was introduced in 1990, some 55 per cent. of passengers were in favour. A survey in August 1992 showed that not only had that figure increased significantly, with 76 per cent. of all passengers in favour, but that over half of those passengers who smoke supported the ban. That increase was believed to be because of the improved cleanliness of the trains in general. Relieved of the need to spend so much time scnibbing smoking compartments, cleaners were able to spend equal time on every carriage, resulting in a considerable improvement in the travelling environment for all passengers.

The survey also explored passengers' attitudes to the possible extension of restrictions on smoking: 55 per cent. of all passengers questioned were in favour of a complete ban on Network SouthEast, while a further significant proportion were not opposed to a complete ban. Given the encouraging results of the research and the very positive response to the existing ban, Network SouthEast decided to proceed with a no-smoking policy on most of its services, The ban was phased in during the first half of this year.

We are satisfied that the research does suggest significant support for the extension of the ban. I know that my noble friend Lord Aldington disputes, that fact, and I am aware that he has corresponded with my noble friend Lord Caithness on the matter. However, I do not believe that there is anything I can add tonight on the subject of those figures.

British Rail recognises that it would not be appropriate to ban smoking on very long distance journeys. That is why smoking is still allowed on the long distance services provided by the south western division of Network SouthEast. My noble friend Lord Aldington will also be pleased to note that British Rail has no plans to extend the smoking ban to InterCity services, although they too have reduced their provision of smoking accommodation in line with passenger demand.

My noble friend Lord Aldington and the noble Lords, Lord Stoddart of Swindon and Lord Harris of High Cross, all asked whether the Network SouthEast smoking ban is contrary to the Passenger's Charter. The Passenger's Charter commits British Rail to greater responsiveness to the demands of passengers. As the majority of passengers support the smoking ban, we do not see that this is inconsistent with the aims of the charter.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, the Minister cannot get away with that. The Passenger's Charter asks British Rail to respond to the needs of passengers. It does not state that BR should respond to the wishes of a majority of passengers: it states that BR should respond to the needs of passengers. That means that BR should respond to the needs of smokers as well as non-smokers. That is what the Citizen's Charter ought to be about. I sincerely hope that the noble Viscount is not saying that British Rail, and indeed every other service, must be governed at any particular time according to what the majority of people say at any given time about anything.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, the charter commits British Rail to greater responsiveness to passengers in general. That is the situation. As the majority of passengers support the smoking ban, as I mentioned, we do not see that this is inconsistent with the aims of the charter.

Lord Aldington

My Lords, I am sure my noble friend does not wish to mislead the House. I know it worries him to hear this bandying about of statistics. It worries me also. He has referred to the statistic concerning people's reactions to the existing proposed ban. He says that 55 per cent. were overwhelmingly in favour of completing it. If he will kindly look at the breakdown of the statistics, he will find that 41 per cent. were completely in favour and only 14 per cent. were slightly in favour. Will he stop bandying these figures about as if they showed that people were decisively in favour of the outrageous action of the managing director?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, the decision is of course a commercial one for British Rail. It is British Rail's interpretation of those statistics which is important. All respondents from banned stations were asked about their reaction to the ban and the results showed that 55 per cent. were in favour of it. The interpretation of the figures is for British Rail.

Noble Lords


Viscount Goschen

My Lords, it is.

Lord Aldington

My Lords, is my noble friend saying that I am misleading the House by reading out the statistics? I do not like being accused of falsifying statements to the House.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I in no way accused my noble friend of falsifying any statements to the House. I merely said that we are presented with a set of statistics and different people and different organisations have adopted different interpretations of those statistics. I might add that there are three instances where the figure of 55 per cent. appears and perhaps that accounts for some of the confusion.

Lord Aldington

My Lords, it does not.

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, it does. Perhaps I can take up my speech from where I left off. One of the key aims of the charter is to provide clean stations and clean trains. I am sure that my noble friend will agree that the smoking ban is an important factor in improving cleanliness on trains. A further aspect of the charter is consideration of customer complaints.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, the Minister is saying that to ban smoking makes trains, platforms or stations cleaner. But does he not realise that they would be cleaner still if one banned all eating and drinking on trains? Indeed there would be greater cleanliness and greater saving from doing that than from banning smoking. Is the logic now that British Rail will ban all eating and drinking on trains in the interests of cleanliness?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, it is an indisputable fact that smoking compartments impose an extra cleaning burden.

I am sure that if passengers had reacted badly to the ban British Rail would have had cause to reconsider its position, if only because it does not wish to lose business. We suspect that the ban remains because very few passengers have objected.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, mentioned that there is a right to smoke. We do not believe that there is an automatic right to smoke. As with many other activities, it is expected that people who visit properties which belong to others will respect the wishes of those who own or operate those premises. No one would suggest that there was a right to smoke on commercial premises where one was requested not to do so. One would respect the right of the businesses concerned to determine their policies on these matters. Although British Rail is currently a publicly-owned organisation, it is run on a commercial basis and it should behave accordingly.

For the future it will be for individual franchisees to decide whether to provide smoking accommodation on trains. Clearly the Government would not seek to dictate to such companies what their policies should be in this area. They will decide on a commercial basis, taking full account of the wishes of their customers.

British Rail's decision to ban smoking on most Network SouthEast services also reflects similar moves by other public transport operators, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. Smoking is banned completely on London Underground, although clearly there are special safety reasons why that should be the case. However, smoking is also banned on London buses, National Express coaches and many local bus services in response to commercial considerations. There is no smoking on British Airways domestic flights or flights to European destinations under 90 minutes. Smoking is banned completely on domestic flights in Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand, Sweden, most of the USA and a number of other countries. Bans are also becoming increasingly common on international flights. British Rail therefore cannot be accused of being out of step with other transport operators.

Although British Rail may have other reasons for banning smoking, I should take up the points raised by my noble friend Lord McColl in reminding the House of the impact that smoking has on health. Smoking kills over 110,000 people a year, one in six of all deaths.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for giving way. Do all those 110,000 people who die from smoking-related diseases smoke?

Viscount Goschen

My Lords, I seek merely to draw to the attention of the House the undisputed fact that smoking has very serious associated health problems. Those people who are expert in the matter believe that smoking kills more than 110,000 people a year. I am not a doctor, so I will not argue the point with the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. However, it has been estimated that the cost to the National Health Service is up to £325 million annually and the cost to industry and businesses is some 50 million working days lost each year.

The Government are therefore committed to reducing the prevalence of cigarette smoking. The Health of the Nation White Paper set a target of 80 per cent. of public places being covered by effective no-smoking policies by 1994. The Network SouthEast ban is fully consistent with that target and is evidence of the good progress which is being made by voluntary means. However, the White Paper states that the Government should consider legislation on smoking in public places if that progress does not continue.

The by-law which permits British Rail to ban smoking has been in existence for many years. No amendment to that by-law was necessary to apply a complete ban on smoking on some trains. As my noble friend may be aware, the Government have no powers to alter a by-law already made by British Rail. However, I have made it clear that even if we had that power we would not exercise it in order to rescind the ban on smoking on Network SouthEast.

We sympathise with the views of those Members of your Lordships' House who wish to protect the interests of smokers. However, we feel that British Rail is right to listen to the majority of their passengers and to act accordingly.

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes past ten o'clock.