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House of Lords

Tuesday, 12th January 1999.

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

Prayers--Read by The Lord Bishop of Wakefield.

Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers

The Right Honourable Sir Nicholas Addison Phillips, Knight, a Lord Justice of Appeal, having been appointed a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary and created Baron Phillips of Worth Matravers, of Belsize Park in the London Borough of Camden, for life--Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Alexander of Weedon and the Lord Mustill.

Official Secrets Act 1989

2.42 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they intend to replace or amend the Official Secrets Act.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, it is less than 10 years since Parliament considered how to deal with matters which should properly be kept secret. The result was the Official Secrets Act 1989. We believe that the Act provides a sound basis for protecting sensitive official information, and we currently have no plans to replace or amend it.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply which was certainly satisfactory to me. While there was general agreement in 1989 for deleting Section 2--the catch-all section--of the 1911 Act, are the Government now glad that the provisions in the present Act concerning former members of MI5 and MI6 are available to be invoked, although in Opposition the present Government Front Bench voted against them?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I was not on the Government Front Bench or the Opposition Front Bench in 1989; and of course circumstances change. After all, we are now in Government.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, it seems that I am to use a second barrel! Are those Members of the Liberal Democrats Party who are attending the Cabinet Committee, and who are not Privy Counsellors, expected to sign statements under the Official Secrets

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Act? It appears that they see more confidential information than Back-Benchers of the Labour Party in another place.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the Liberal Democrat Party is notoriously law abiding, and I am sure they know their duty.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley: My Lords, will the Minister consider the position of the expert scientific committees? I refer, for example, to the Committee on the Safety of Medicines where the operation of the Official Secrets Act inhibits outside scrutiny.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I think that that is a different matter. The Question is directed to the Official Secrets Act 1989. Essentially that deals with matters which have to be kept secret: that is, national security and intelligence matters. Different provisions of the Act relate, for instance, to matters of defence, special investigations, and interception of communications; but none of those matters bites on the problem to which the noble Earl referred.

House of Lords: Smoking Rules

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

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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.

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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?

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