HL Deb 10 May 1999 vol 600 cc960-2

2.54 p.m.

Lord Janner of Braunstone asked the Chairman of Committees:

What steps he proposes to take following the publication of the survey into smoking in the House of Lords.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham :)

My Lords, at its meeting last week the Administration and Works Sub-Committee approved the recommendations set out in the report of the Informal Group on Smoking. The report will now go to the Offices Committee, and the recommendations will come before the House in the report of that committee. Meanwhile, Black Rod has undertaken to investigate the possibility of identifying a room for smokers. Once a room has been identified, smoking could be reduced elsewhere.

Lord Janner of Braunstone

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply and for the action he is taking. When he refers the matter of smoking in eating places in this House to the Refreshment Sub-Committee, will he draw to their attention the excellent, sensible and compromise arrangement in the Churchill Dining Room in the other place? I refer to the fact that smoking is permitted in the bar but not in the eating area. Surely the time has come to prohibit smoking in eating areas in this House.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I shall certainly ensure that the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Janner, is drawn to the attention of the appropriate quarters. However, as the noble Lord will have seen from the report of the informal group, I should point out that no changes are made to the smoking arrangements at present in force in your Lordships' Refreshment Department.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, does the Minister appreciate that some of us resent being told how to lead our lives? Does he agree that the Palace of Westminster is large enough for people such as the noble Lords, Lord Janner and Lord Avebury, to avoid being polluted by people like me? After all, they can always buzz off to the Commons.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, are, to an extent, correct. Those who are entitled, as she put it, to "buzz off to the Commons", in particular quarters of the premises of another place, may do so having been Members of another place. Because of the job I do, I hesitate to take sides so far as smoking is concerned, but I always find everything said by the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, absolutely irresistible!

Lord Peston

My Lords, as former chairman of the Refreshment Committee, I am grievously disappointed that the Chairman of Committees does not feel that he should take sides. This is a disgraceful state of affairs. I believe that almost the only occasion I was roundly defeated each time was when I tried to deal with the matter of smoking in areas where ordinary people try to eat and drink in a decent atmosphere and are terrorised—I use that word advisedly—by a small minority. Is it not time that your Lordships' House showed leadership on this matter? We must be one of the most reactionary institutions. I know that is a badge of pride with some, but on this subject it is a disgraceful state of affairs. Before the end of this year, when we move to our reformed House, is it not about time that we dealt with the problem which, in my view, is more important than that of the hereditary Peers?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I shall not be tempted or drawn into commenting on the last point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Peston. I am sorry to have disappointed him so greatly. As some of your Lordships will be aware, this is the wont of a politician. However, there is one point which should not escape the attention of your Lordships' House; that is, the outcome of the inquiries made into the views of your Lordships as a result of the questionnaire. Perhaps I may say that I am extremely grateful, as I am sure your Lordships will be, to the informal group for its work, and in particular to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, the Deputy Chief Whip. Among his other demanding occupations, he very kindly undertook to draw up the questionnaire which, because of his extensive professional experience as a former market researcher, was of particular benefit to those of us in your Lordships' committees.

The point which we cannot ignore is simply this. As a result of the responses to the questionnaire, which were extensive—over 400 Members of your Lordships' House responded—the House was formed of two pretty-well equal groups. In fact, those in favour of the status quo or more smoking amounted to 53 per cent and those in favour of less smoking amounted to 52 per cent. To introduce a more radical tightening of restrictions would be to ignore that fact.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, as a member of the committee on smoking, in which context I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, on the way in which he chaired that committee, can the Chairman of Committees confirm that the fact that his figures amount to more than 100 per cent makes sense in the context of what the questions were? Is it not the case also that there was scarcely anywhere where there was anything like a majority for a reduction in smoking?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, is correct in relation to the figures adding up to more than 100 per cent. It was open to respondents to the questionnaire to opt for more than one of the questions being asked and to refer to more than one of the options. That is not uncommon in answering questionnaires, but I should add that I am always full of admiration at the ingenuity of your Lordships.

Baroness David

My Lords, can the Chairman of Committees confirm that the Commons is a good deal more strict than we are? The idea that people like the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, can escape there means that they are not going to escape to a very happy atmosphere.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, without going into detail on the Commons restrictions, so as not to take up too much of your Lordships' time, I will make them available to those noble Lords who are interested in what another place does. To some extent, though not to a very great extent, there are more restrictions in another place.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords—

Noble Lords

Next Question!

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington)

My Lords, we have allowed extra time on this Question, as there was obvious interest in it throughout the Chamber and we felt perhaps more time should be spent on it. However, we have now reached within five minutes of the time allotted for Questions and we should move on.