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House of Lords

Tuesday, 1st July 2003.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Blackburn.

Palace of Westminster: Smoking Policy

Baroness Gale asked the Chairman of Committees:

    What action is being taken to help asthma sufferers by making the Palace of Westminster smoke free.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, I can of course answer only for the House of Lords' half of the Palace. With regard to staff, since 1992 the administration has observed the principle that staff are entitled to work in a smoke-free atmosphere. With regard to Members, the rules on smoking are a matter for the House as a whole. The current rules were agreed in March 2001, following a survey of Members. There are no current plans to review those rules.

Baroness Gale: My Lords, I thank the Chairman of Committees for his Answer, although I am sure he will understand that I am not completely happy with his response. Does he agree that research shows that passive smoking is one of the main triggers for asthma attacks? Does he further agree that there should be a duty of care towards members of staff, and, indeed, Peers, and that, in the light of all the evidence that shows that passive smoking causes ill health and in the long term can cause death, we should now be moving towards a smoke-free environment for all the staff and Peers in your Lordships' House?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I cannot comment on the research on passive smoking, some of which I have seen goes both ways. As I said in my original Answer, the rules were last changed just over two years ago. There were considerable improvements from the point of view of restrictions on where smoking was permitted. As far as I am aware, no member of staff has complained about being made to work in a smoky atmosphere. All those who work in the Bishops' Bar do so as volunteers.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that since I gave up smoking I have developed a very sensitive nose? Is he further aware that, at the age of 80, there are very few pleasures left to me, but one of them is passive smoking? Does the noble Lord agree that it is not possible to smell smoke or tobacco in the Palace of Westminster except in the smoking areas, so there is really no need to generate hot air?

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The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on having given up smoking. I have given up as well, except for the occasional small cigar, I must admit. I, too, perhaps enjoy the occasional smell of someone else's smoke.

Lord Geddes: My Lords, as always, I declare an interest as a member of the Lords and Commons Pipe and Cigar Smokers' Club. I also declare an interest as a member of the Refreshment Committee of the House, although of course I do not speak for it. Is the noble Lord aware that there have been some 260 replies to the recent survey on the catering outlets of the House which was sent to every Member of the House, of which more than 230 were from regular attenders, and that of those replies only a handful—the Clerk was unfortunately unable to give me the precise number but said that it was definitely fewer than 10—even mentioned smoking?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I was aware of the survey of Members of the House about the refreshment facilities. I was aware that only a small number had commented on smoking, but I am glad that the noble Lord pointed that out to the House. Of course, as I said in my original Answer, in 2001 various changes were made to the various outlets of the Refreshment Department. Smoking is now not allowed in some of the places where it was allowed before.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, is there an attempt to cull this House by allowing smoking to continue here among Peers and therefore bring their deaths forward?

The Chairman of Committees: Not by me, my Lords.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, is the Chairman of Committees satisfied with the quality of ventilation in the areas of the House where smoking is permitted, particularly in the Barry Room, where there is a hard core of smokers at the Long Table? The effect of that smoking is for the smoke to drift throughout the whole of the room. Indeed, I can see one or two Peers opposite are nodding after their experience in the Barry Room last night. Is not the answer for us to make the building non-smoking, but to provide designated closed smoking areas for those who wish to continue?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, the ventilation in the Barry Room has been looked at. I hope that there has been some improvement there. I am aware that the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, took part in the debate when these measures were

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introduced in March 2001. At that time he congratulated the Offices Committee on proposing what is for many of us an acceptable compromise.

Lord Brookman: My Lords, would it be possible for the Chairman of Committees to think about issuing white masks? It would have the added advantage that one would not know to whom one was speaking.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I shall take away that suggestion.

Viscount Simon: My Lords, is the Chairman of Committees aware that a motion proposing a ban on smoking in all public places was overwhelmingly agreed to by doctors attending the annual conference of the BMA in Torquay today? If we institute a ban in the Palace of Westminster, would we not be setting a good example to others?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I was aware of that because I saw it on the news this morning. If the Government wish to introduce a ban on smoking in public places, they no doubt will do so and we will, of course, have to follow.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, do the Government accept that it should be a principle of liberal democracy that government should interfere with people's lives as little as possible, and that further bans should be very carefully justified before the detail of government regulations extend into every aspect of our private lives?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I do not answer at the Dispatch Box for the Government, but it is nice to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, of proper liberal principles.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, does my noble friend believe that the Government should interfere as much as possible to prevent people's unnecessary deaths?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I really cannot be drawn on questions for the Government.

Smoke-flavoured Food Additives

2.43 p.m.

Earl Ferrers asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether European Union regulations are being drawn up which will prevent the use of smoke-flavoured additives in food.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner): My Lords, a European Union regulation bringing controls on the use of smoke flavourings in food into line with existing

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controls for other food additives has been proposed. The proposal would prevent only the use of smoke flavourings that present risks to the consumer.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, but does he agree that the introduction of such constraints will affect the smoky bacon crisp industry, the smoked salmon industry and all the others? Does he further agree that, in the end, those are only flavourings, and that one would have to eat a monumental amount of such food—as a result of which one would die of obesity and a heart attack—before one would ever die of cancer?

Lord Warner: My Lords, let me reassure the noble Earl that his ability to consume smoky bacon crisps will remain unaltered by the regulation. Smoke flavourings are produced from condensed wood smoke, which contains substances known to be harmful to human health, especially those called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons—of which I am sure every member of the House will be well aware—which are known to cause cancer in humans.

Traditionally smoked foods, such as kippers and smoked salmon, to which the noble Earl referred, would be unaffected by the proposed regulation. The regulation is likely to require the assessment of no more than 20 primary products from which all smoke flavourings are produced, none of which is produced in the UK.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, is this not just the thin end of the wedge? Are not exactly the same chemicals contained in smoked foods such as kippers or smoked cheese?

Lord Warner: My Lords, I am reliably advised that traditionally smoked foods, such as kippers and smoked salmon will not be affected by the proposed regulation. Smoke contains certain chemicals that are of health concern, but it is the primary products that are the cause of concern.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, is this not another example of the European Union going over the top? What peer review has been undertaken by doctors on the carcinogenic effects of polcyclic aromatic polycarbons?

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