HL Deb 12 January 1999 vol 596 cc76-8

2.46 p.m.

Lord Avebury asked the Chairman of Committees:

What progress has been made with the review of the rules on smoking in the public rooms of the House of Lords.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham)

My Lords, the Administration and Works Sub-Committee set up an informal group on smoking last Session. The group, which is charged to, undertake a review of smoking in the House", has met twice and has gathered information on smoking in the workplace from the Health and Safety Executive and the Health Education Authority. The group is now in the process of constructing a questionnaire which it intends to circulate to Members of your Lordships' House in order to find out what changes, if any, your Lordships would favour. It aims to report to the Administration and Works Sub-Committee by Easter this year.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, can the Minister tell me whether he, the Committee and the working group have read the White Paper Smoking Kills in which the Prime Minister said that 120,000 people will die in 1999 from illnesses directly related to smoking? Has the Minister also noted that hundreds of people die from passive exposure to tobacco fumes? Does not he agree with the Government that totally smoke-free workplaces are the ideal and should not your Lordships' House show an example by making every public room and corridor in this end of the Palace of Westminster smoke free?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, from the murmurs from all parts of your Lordships' House, there is clearly a great deal of interest in the latter part of the noble Lord's Question. However, I shall not say more than that at this stage because I would not wish to pre-empt the work of and any recommendations that might be made by the working group.

In relation to the preamble to the noble Lord's Question, I should say that I am not a member of that group. It was set up by your Lordships' Administration and Works Sub-Committee. I have not read the White Paper to which the noble Lord referred but I read the reports about it at the time. I cannot say this afternoon whether it has been read by the members of your Lordships' working group. I shall make inquiries and ensure that if they have not yet had an opportunity to read it, it will be drawn to their attention.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, does the Minister agree that at his age, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, does not look bad considering he has had to endure smokers all his life? Furthermore, does the Minister agree that at my ripe old age, having started smoking in the pigsties aged 11, I do not look too bad? Secondly, does the Minister agree that until a substance has been declared illegal, there should be freedom for those who wish to indulge?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, when I saw the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, rise just as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, was about to ask his supplementary question, I was about to suggest that the noble Baroness was rather "quick on the draw". I shall say no more about her interest in smoking.

The substantive point made by the noble Baroness is a consideration which will be taken into account by the working group in the course of discussion in relation to any recommendations which it might make. I agree with the noble Baroness that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, looks extremely good. However, if I may say so, the noble Baroness looks absolutely splendid! She brings great joy to this Member of your Lordships' House.

Lord Janner of Braunstone

My Lords, the noble Baroness put the case for smokers with her usual charming understatement. However, does not my noble friend agree that, just as those adults such as the noble Baroness who wish to smoke should be totally free to do so, those who do not like to eat and drink where there is smoke also have a right to their decent eating habits? As a start and even before the informal committee reports, would not my noble friend consider making at least some of the eating places in this House free from smoke?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, some of the eating places in your Lordships' House are already smoke-free areas. I shall not specify them now because it would take up too much of your Lordships' time, but I shall see that a note is made available indicating which areas are subject to those restrictions.

It is the case that, though smokers and non-smokers do not exactly have rights—one hesitates to use that word in certain contexts—they certainly have interests in these matters. The considerations that the noble Lord put forward this afternoon are those which are already in the mind of the working group in its consideration of these matters.

Lord Walton of Detchant

My Lords, having heard the noble Baroness, does the noble Lord agree that it is acceptable to recognise that there are exceptions to every rule? There is incontrovertible evidence that smoking is a major cause of cancer and cardiovascular disease. Is the noble Lord aware that in the state of California there has been a ban recently on smoking in all public bars? There is now statistical evidence to show that that has greatly improved the health of the bartenders. Are not we in a situation in this House where we should be considering not only the health of your Lordships in general, but also the health of our staff?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I was not aware of the specific American experience of which the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, spoke. However, I shall see that that is drawn to the attention of the working group if it does not already know about it. Indeed, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Walton, with all his expert medical experience, that there is significant evidence in relation to the effects of passive smoking. In fact—perhaps I should have said this in answer to the supplementary question of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury—it was some of the evidence on passive smoking that led to the setting up of the working group in the first place.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, if your Lordships agree that there should be some restriction on smoking, I am sure it will also be agreed that it is necessary to provide some sort of club room where noble Lords who wish to smoke may do so. Will the Chairman of Committees therefore assist us to get back the Pugin Room?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, we are now on much more dangerous ground. Strictly speaking, the point in relation to the Pugin Room does not arise out of this Question. However, I can tell the noble Lord that your Lordships' committees have been keeping a close watch on that room. He will know, as I am sure many of your Lordships know, that, again strictly speaking, the room still belongs to your Lordships' House but for many decades has been on loan to another place. Those of us who are privileged to be Members of your Lordships' House and had the benefit of being Members of another place are entitled to use the Pugin Room. I would be happy at any time, until it is restored to your Lordships, to take the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, to the Pugin Room as my guest. I am grateful to him for giving me notice beforehand that he intended to put that question.