HL Deb 04 May 1993 vol 545 cc591-3

Lord Aldington asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in the light of the recent MIL/MAI market survey on smoking in trains, a copy of which has been placed in the Library, they continue to support the action of British Rail in discontinuing smoking compartments on outer suburban and long-distance trains in Kent.

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

My Lords, it is for the British Railways Board to decide what level of smoking accommodation should be provided on its trains.

Lord Aldington

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that reply, which is not perhaps surprising in view of his correspondence with me. Can he say whether his statement, at col. 965 of the Official Report on 21st January, that it was in British Rail's "commercial interests" to discontinue smoking compartments was based on a market survey which, when read, shows precisely the opposite; namely, that 61 per cent. of smokers and non-smokers, asked whether they were in favour of decreasing the number of smoking compartments, said "No"? As he told the House on the same day that the majority of smokers were in favour of the discontinuance of smoking compartments, has my noble friend revised his opinion after reading the market survey, which showed that only 21 per cent. of smokers were in favour of the discontinuance of smoking compartments?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I know that my noble friend has taken up the matter directly with British Rail, as indeed he should. He will have noticed too that the survey showed that 55 per cent. of passengers were in favour of a ban.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, should not the Minister condemn the dictatorial attitude of British Rail? Is he not aware that 30 per cent. of train travellers in the South East are being denied the legal right to smoke? So long as smoking is legal, why should there not also be a legal requirement to provide facilities for smokers, especially on trains where they are segregated in compartments away from the non-smokers?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, it is not always possible to do so. I know that the noble Lord will wish to consult British Rail directly.

Lord Harris of High Cross

My Lords, will the noble Earl look again at the survey referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, which, on the only question that concerned the ban, revealed that 55 per cent. of those asked were in favour of a ban and 45 per cent. were not? He had been told by Mr. John Nelson, chairman of Network SouthEast, that there was "overwhelming support" for the ban. I wish therefore to ask the Minister a question which goes much wider than the issue of smoking. Do we understand that democracy means that 55 per cent. of opinion must be enforced upon 45 per cent. when separate provision can be made for the two sections of the population?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the House will be interested to know that I have also been in correspondence with the noble Lord on the matter. I know that he, too, has taken it up with British Rail. That is the right way to tackle the matter. The department was not the sponsoring body for the survey; it was conducted by British Rail at its request. It is up to British Rail to decide what action to take.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, considering the number of smokers who want to smoke on long journeys, does not the Minister think it monstrous that they should be denied the freedom to do so? Does he further agree that the idea of 45 per cent.—or whatever the figure is—agreeing or disagreeing is irrelevant when all all that is provided is one smoking compartment?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, if the noble Viscount goes on a long journey, I think that he will find that he will still be able to smoke; but he may not be able to do so if he travels in an aeroplane.

Lord Clark of Kempston

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one of the essential requisites is that British Rail should increase its cash flow? Surely, it is folly to introduce a restriction such as that we are discussing which can only mean a diminution in the number of people travelling by train. Is it not time that we had some realism instead of being dictatorial and telling people that they cannot smoke on a long journey?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, British Rail has been monitoring the results of its actions. I have to tell my noble friend that the reports I have received show that there has not been a diminution in the number of passengers as a result of the action taken.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is this not a bureaucratic nonsense and a case of smokers being denied their rights under the terms of the Citizen's Charter? As such, it is certainly a matter for the Minister, to which I hope he will respond. Is it not also true that passengers are much more concerned about trains being on time, about not having to travel on antiquated rolling stock and about having lower fares than they are with the matter of making smoking compartments available to smokers? Those compartments have been available for the past 150-odd years.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I hope that I am allowed to wish the noble Lord a happy birthday. I am glad that his spirit in this matter is not at all dimmed. The noble Lord is right to say that passengers are keen that trains should run on time. They are also keen to have clean trains and are concerned too about the environment in which they travel. That is one of the reasons why British Rail has taken the action it has.

Lord Marsh

My Lords, if, as the Minister quite properly says, he is unable to answer this Question because he has no responsibility for the matter, is there much point in allowing this Question to be tabled in the first place?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, one can only do one's best and answer the questions that are put.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn

My Lords, is it not curious that the word "health" has not so far been mentioned?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, it is curious that it has not been mentioned. I am grateful to my noble friend for mentioning it.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I hope that I may sound a note of dissension. I had the privilege to be a member of the Wolfenden Committee. I repeat the words of the report of that committee in asking whether smoking should not be limited to consenting adults in private.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the House will know that the Government are concerned about smoking in public places. The ban is consistent with the aim of the Government's Health of the Nation White Paper.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I smoke, although there are many occasions when I wish that I did not. Does the Minister not agree that choice is the most important factor, particularly as regards long-distance journeys? Does he not agree that if British Rail really wanted to reduce the number of people smoking on its trains, it should cut down its advertising of tobacco and cigarettes where smoking is portrayed as a glamorous activity? I am sure that the whole House agrees with the point that has been made about health. Would not a reduction in tobacco advertising be a better way to tackle this matter rather than imposing punitive measures on smokers?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Lord will find that on long journeys he is permitted to smoke, at least at the moment. However, if he were to travel by air from London to Hong Kong, for example, he would not be allowed to smoke on some flights.

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