HC Deb 02 May 1989 vol 152 cc22-4 3.33 pm
Mr. David Martin (Portsmouth, South)

I beg to move.

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to permit all passengers on certain aircraft to travel in an atmosphere free from tobacco smoke. I accept immediately that anyone proposing a measure of this kind must face frankly the question of principle whether the law ought to have a part to play in conferring freedom on some people at the expense of the removal of the freedom of others.

I do not intend to sermonise against smoking. That is a free choice for adults to make for themselves. I would not support a Bill which prevented people from smoking on grounds of harm to themselves, any more than I would support a Bill making illegal the eating of food considered hostile to good health. What I maintain, however, is that people should, in certain circumstances and in certain places, have the freedom to enjoy a smoke-free atmosphere and that that freedom, like the freedom to walk the streets without being assaulted, inevitably rests on lawful restraint being imposed on the freedom of others.

That principle is not novel. It has been conceded over and over again in the House, particularly in the past century and a half, to all Governments of every political complexion in the area of public health and safety. Examples are both commonplace and common sense. It is upon that ground that I base my Bill, including enforcement of its provisions.

My Bill is not about whether someone should smoke, but where. It is not concerned with the effects of smoking on the smoker, but with the effects of smoke on the non-smoker. It is specifically limited to aircraft flights of up to three hours' duration, which effectively means domestic and European destinations. Many other countries have acted already, and I shall refer to that in due course.

All but diehards now accept that there is a serious risk of smoking damaging the smoker's health. It is also generally accepted that, while the risk is small by comparison, there is a risk of damage being done to the health of non-smokers from breathing in tobacco smoke —known as passive smoking. Should any doubts remain on that score, the 1988 fourth report of the independent scientific committee on smoking and health, chaired by Sir Peter Froggatt, should dispel them.

Such reports were predated some 400 years by the famous one-man royal commission of that scourge of tobacco lovers, James VI of Scotland and I of England; a man of whom it has been said that he was never drunk, but he was never quite sober. His conclusion was that smoking was a custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs and in the black, stinking fumes thereof nearest resembling the horrible Stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless. With that language he would make rather a good modern press officer for the British Medical Association.

King James later clashed with Sir Walter Raleigh, widely credited with having introduced tobacco into Britain. I do not condone the somewhat extreme retribution exacted from Raleigh by King James who had him executed in 1618, ostensibly for treachery and to please the Spanish. But who knows—perhaps he was the first tobacco martyr.

On the subject of executions, it is interesting to note that the only example of a statutory right to smoke is to be found in the Executions of Sentences of Death (Army) Regulations 1956 and 1959 under which, besides the right to be visited by relatives and a priest, the prisoner under sentence of death shall be permitted to smoke". I presume that that official connivance can be justified on the ground that for a person in such a position considerations about the long-term injurious effects of smoking are somewhat superfluous.

In the confined spaces of modern aircraft, the impossibility of escape from fumes, despite attempts at segregation of smokers from non-smokers, increases the health risks, as well as causing irritation, coughing and so on.

My own recent experience of that involved my 10-year-old daughter being forced to sit next to a smoker on a British Airways scheduled flight to Portugal this Easter. I had paid in full nearly five months in advance for all six family seats together. I had rung the airport two days before to emphasise our non-smoking requirements. We arrived at the Gatwick check-in desk in good time only to be told that my wife and I could not sit together with our four young children aged three to 10 years except in the smoking area. My 10-year-old daughter was coughing for half the journey and plaintively asked me, on a fully booked flight, "Can't I sit somewhere else, Daddy?" The answer was no, she could not.

I took the matter up afterwards with British Airways only to be told—in the age of computers, remember—in a letter from its customer relations executive: It is impracticable to reserve seats for passengers at the time of booking". British Airways should try running a theatre and tell people that.

It is practicable to take customers' money months in advance, but apparently it is not practicable to guarantee anything in return, except the gamble of having a seat next to one's children with the added chance of sitting next to a chain smoker thrown in. That shows a dreadful lack of consideration for the customer, wholly at variance with the attitude of airline staff, who could not be more pleasant and helpful.

However, credit must be given for BA's advances with regard to smoking on flights. Generally, the smoking of cigars and pipes is not permitted, so the freedom question has been resolved there. Also, it does not permit the smoking of cigarettes on domestic flights, as is the policy of Air UK on its flights, including those to the Channel Islands. Research indicates that, even among smokers, such policies are welcome, They help them to control the habit and mean that one less activity or pastime is associated with smoking.

For safety reasons, no smoking is permitted in the toilet facilities of aircraft. I fail to see why it should be considered safe to permit it in confined cabin spaces, particularly on tiring night flights, when there is a risk of someone nodding off.

Other countries have already acted to protect not only paying passengers but cabin crews, at a time when it is increasingly recognised that protection for non-smoking employees in workplaces is both reasonable and necessary, particularly where air conditioning and heating arrangements restrict access to direct fresh air. In the United States, flights of up to two hours became no-smoking, by law, from April last year. In that country, an airline must guarantee that a person can book a non-smoking seat, which is a sensible provision and one that I hope we shall adopt.

Air Canada has a no-smoking law on flights that last up to two hours. Scandinavia also imposes such restrictions. The Australian Government banned smoking on all domestic flights from December 1987. Noel Coward said in his play "Private Lives" that China was a big country. The same applies to Australia.

In summary, my Bill is a modest attempt to carry matters a stage further in this country. The time is ripe now, as it was in the 1950s with the belching chimneys of London, to put the health and safety considerations of the non-smoker before the considerations of freedom of the smoker, and to call in aid the law in the limited respects that I have outlined. I commend my Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to. Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. David Martin, Mr. Timothy Kirkhope, Mr. Graham Bright, Mrs. Marion Roe, Miss Ann Widdecombe, Mr. David Evans and Mr. Matthew Carrington.