HL Deb 21 January 1993 vol 541 cc964-6

3.27 p.m.

Lord Aldington asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in the light of the undertaking of Viscount Astor to bring the concerns expressed in the House about smoking on trains to the attention of the Chairman of the British Railways Board (H.L. Debs., 19th May 1992, cols. 541–44), they have discussed with the board its decision to discontinue smoking compartments in all trains in Kent, regardless of the length of, or period of time involved in, the journey.

The Minister of State, Department of Transport (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, yes.

Lord Aldington

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply, which is satisfactory so far. Will he allow me to declare a small interest; namely, in that I have smoked a pipe in smoking compartments of railway trains for over 60 years? Do the Government not have a role to play in this matter: first, in relation to the human rights aspect which was raised earlier; secondly, in that it is in their interest and in the interests of the country that British Rail does not discourage smoking passengers at a time when it is complaining that it is short of passengers and has to increase fares; thirdly, so that smoking passengers are not discouraged and switch to the roads; and, fourthly, so that visitors from the Continent are treated properly?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, having talked to the chairman of British Rail on this matter, I am able to say that it is precisely because British Rail wishes to increase the number of passengers that it has taken this action. Market research shows that it is in British Rail's commercial interests so to do.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, is it not clear from my noble friend's supplementary question that he is in need of a catalytic converter?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend will pay heed to my noble and learned friend's remark.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, should not British Rail be concentrating on providing first class, reliable and cheap railway services rather than indulging in the so-called middle-class national sport of abusing smokers, particularly since smoking is a legal activity which has taken place in this country for 400 years and has been catered for by the railways since the 1830s?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, British Rail is trying to increase the number of passengers and to provide a cleaner and better environment. The market research that it has done shows that the majority of smokers applaud its action.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the image of British Rail is bad enough without it denying 20 per cent. of its travelling customers the right to smoke? Secondly, are not those bully boys of British Rail curbing the freedom and liberty of individuals? That should be of concern to Her Majesty's Government. What will they do about it?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, it is entirely a matter for the board of British Rail which quite rightly has conducted market research and has found that it is beneficial for it to provide a cleaner and better environment.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, British Rail must do everything to attract people back onto the trains. By its high-handed attitude, cutting off possibly 20 per cent. of its customers from their smoking habits, it has at one shot persuaded people to go back to cars and not to use British Rail. That cannot be in the long-term interests of that organisation.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I have to say to my noble friend that the evidence points to the contrary. The evidence points to the fact that people are coming back because it is a cleaner and better environment. The market research carried out by British Rail indicates that even the smokers prefer it.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, will the noble Earl note that on this occasion, rare though it may be, I agree with the Minister 100 per cent? Perhaps there is a case for Warren Spring Laboratory to he brought in to experiment on some of our local Lordships.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, it is a rare occasion but nonetheless enjoyable.

Lord Aldington

My Lords, does not my noble friend's reply indicate that throughout British Rail there are to be no smoking compartments? Is that what he is saying?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, no.