HL Deb 23 October 2000 vol 618 cc5-8

2.44 p.m.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester asked the Chairman of Committees:

How it is envisaged that the House authorities will comply with the approved code of practice on passive smoking at work recently proposed by the Health and Safety Commission.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham)

My Lords, the Health and Safety Commission has recently announced that it favours the introduction of an approved code of practice on passive smoking at work, but no such code has yet been issued. It will be for the Offices Committee and its sub-committees to consider the implications of any code, if and when it is issued, for smoking policy affecting Members.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, I thank the Lord Chairman for his reply and welcome it if I am correct in assuming that referring the code of practice to the committees means that we shall adopt it in due course. Does he agree that our duty as employers is to adopt best practice at all times? Should we not protect our staff from the harmful effects of passive smoking and implement the statement on page 34 of the House of Lords staff handbook, which says: staff are entitled to work in a smoke-free atmosphere"? In their interests, why do we not eliminate all smoking in areas where we expect our staff to work, particularly in the refreshment areas, the bars and the Library?

Lord Boston of Faversham

My Lords, on the noble Lord's first point, it is the case that once any code is issued we shall be ready to start considering it in the committees of your Lordships' House. It will be for those committees to consider it in the first place and then for the matter to come, as usual, before your Lordships.

It is indeed the policy of the House, as an employer, that staff of the House should be entitled to work in a smoke-free atmosphere if they want to do so. That policy has been agreed by the Whitley Committee of the House of Lords and is, as the noble Lord says, set out in the staff handbook.

As the noble Lord implied, there is a certain amount of exposure to smoking among the staff. There is a limited amount in the Refreshment Department, the details of which are no doubt known to your Lordships, and similarly a limited amount in the Library, in particular in the Derby Room and the room next to it.

Further than that, as far as staff working in offices are concerned, it is the policy of your Lordships' House that within a particular office smoking will not take place unless with the agreement of all those who occupy that office.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the people whom I really admire are those who do not smoke, but support those who pursue a legal activity? Given the very high ceilings and drafts in the Palace of Westminster, does the noble Lord agree that one would have to be a bat to suffer from passive smoking here?

Lord Boston of Faversham

My Lords, I hear, sotto voce, from a recumbent position, the word "batty" mentioned. I would hesitate to draw any conclusions about bats from the noble Baroness's supplementary. By way of preliminary, first of all I should like to add my best wishes to the noble Baroness on this day.

I find that I have two problems when seeking to answer points from the noble Baroness. The first is that I find absolutely everything about her completely irresistible. My second problem is that I fear she probably does not feel the same way about me.

However, there is, of course, a serious point arising out of the noble Baroness's question. In those places where your Lordships have allowed smoking to take place, such as those that I have mentioned already to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, steps are being and have been taken to provide additional ventilation. It is also the case that space is a significant factor. The noble Baroness's point is not as unserious as some of your Lordships might have been tempted to suggest.

Lord Borrie

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, while it would be most undesirable if some of the distinguished and most agreeable Members of this House were forced into inclement weather outside these buildings in order to take a puff when they wish, none the less within the buildings at present there is a great imbalance between the interests of the non-smokers, who, I believe, are in the majority, and the interests of the smokers? Does my noble friend agree that his remarks about the Library seriously underestimate that for many of us two major rooms are quite unliveable in for large parts of the day because of the activities of our smoking colleagues?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I certainly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, that an imbalance exists here. As your Lordships will recall, a detailed review was conducted between March 1998 and last year by a group chaired by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. The group investigated the matter thoroughly and, partly as a result of the review, your Lordships settled upon a compromise. It was decided that smoking would no longer be allowed in certain places, such as telephone booths, lavatories and one or two other places, but, as part of the compromise, it would be allowed in, for example, corridors.

I believe that your Lordships' House will again need to get to grips with this matter and try to strike a less imbalanced position. For some time one suggestion for the solution of the problem of the Library has been the creation of a "club room"—I do not care for that term myself—or smoking room. The Library and Computers Sub-Committee is in favour of that proposal. The sub-committee's policy is to look to freeing the whole of the Library of smoking when a successful search has been concluded for a room of that kind.

Earl Russell

My Lords, does the Chairman of Committees agree that smoking is an issue that causes considerable hardship on both sides and that it should be the object of policy to mitigate the hardship suffered on one side in a way that is compatible with the interests of the other? Does he understand that, when I hear a Question such as this, I wonder whether my chance to attend this House is now under as much risk as a smoker as it has been as a hereditary? Does he agree that it is not a good idea to have a partisan line-up with smoking guns on one side and flaming swords on the other, and that we should continue the search for compromise at which this House has so much skill?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I agree with the concluding remarks of the noble Earl. I hesitate to become involved in the more philosophical comments which prefaced them.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe

My Lords, perhaps I may return to the subject of the staff interests in the House. Can my noble friend the Chairman of Committees tell us whether the views of staff have been sought in earlier surveys in order to ascertain what they feel about smoking in the House? If not, will he give an assurance that when we start, to use his phrase, "to get to grips" with this topic again, a survey of their views, as well as those of my noble friends in the Lords, will be carried out and taken into account?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, although I sympathise with the first part of the noble Lord's question, I do not know whether the views of the staff were surveyed on earlier occasions. However, certainly—and I am sure that this is the noble Lord's fundamental point—the views of staff have been taken carefully into account in, for example, discussions which have taken place in the Whitley Committee of your Lordships' House. When your Lordships get to grips with this matter again after the draft code of practice has been put forward and approved by Ministers, I entirely agree with the noble Lord that the views of the staff will indeed again need to be taken into account.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

My Lords, the Chairman of Committees referred to improving the ventilation. When the committee gets round to that, will he seek to ensure that the ventilation is not improved so much that we suffer from hypothermia, particularly on this Bench—hypothermia also being detrimental to health?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord's views will not have gone unheard.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, my noble friend the Chairman of Committees referred to the draft approved code of practice. A copy of it is now in the Printed Paper Office and I note that comments must be submitted to the Health and Safety Commission by 29th October. Therefore, can he confirm that it would be appropriate for the various committees to start examining the matter now? That would probably speed up the process because, when the final version is available, it will probably be found that it will not have changed very much.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, the draft code of practice to which the noble Lord refers is the initial draft, a copy of which I have here. It is quite a substantial document. It was put out for consultation last year and, therefore, I must reveal to the noble Lord that comments had to be submitted by 29th October 1999. However, the happy point is that, the draft having been issued and extensive consultations having been carried out by the Health and Safety Commission, a revised draft is now in preparation. I understand that there will be a further short consultation period later in the year—that is, later this year—and the revised draft will then be finalised, submitted to Ministers and then be open to consideration by the committees of your Lordships' House and the House itself in the way that I have already indicated.

Viscount Simon

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, notwithstanding the supplementary question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, I have a serious health problem regarding tobacco smoke, which means that, under certain circumstances, I cannot go to any of the refreshment rooms or to the Library? I believe that that matter should be addressed, not only from my point of view but also from that of the staff and the people in the Library.

The Chairman of Committees

Yes, my Lords, I am aware of the particular problem from which the noble Viscount suffers. That matter does indeed need to be taken into account.

Lord Haskel

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that smoking not only damages people's health but also damages the decorations, the furnishings and the books in your Lordships' House? We have a responsibility to look after those items. Will the noble Lord tell us whether that has also been taken into account?

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I can certainly say that those considerations also need to be accounted for.