Sir Frederick Banbury asked the Speaker the other day whether it was in accordance with the customs of the House of Commons that in Standing Committees and other Committees when the public were admitted or when witnesses were examined members should smoke. The Speaker thus replied: “I believe that the rule which has hitherto obtained has been that when the public has been admitted to a convention the members do not smoke. When the Committee is sitting in private, of course, members may decide for themselves as to whether they shall smoke or not.”
At present in the House of Commons there are no fewer than three smoking rooms. In two rooms of the library, moreover, members are permitted to smoke and in the dining-rooms during fixed periods after luncheon or after dinner times it is allowable to smoke. The restrictions on smoking within the precincts of the House of Commons are accordingly of the mildest. Smoking in the Chamber of the House itself is not permitted, although the bringing of cigars by members surreptitiously from the smoking-rooms into the division lobbies with a view of keeping them alight till their return to the smoking-rooms has, I have reason to believe, been tolerated; although on one occasion Sir Henry David Erskine, the late popular and genial Sergeant-at-Arms, expressed grave disapproval of the conduct of a member whom he saw on his way to the division lobby with a lighted cigar in his hand.
Smoking was, strange to say, permitted in the Chamber of the House of Commons in the stern regime of the Puritans, subject only to the condition that the smokers should sit in one part of the Chamber only. Burton in his Cromwellian Diary incidentally alludes to the fact that the “tobacconists” – a term now confined to the sellers as distinct from the makers of tobacco – sat apart from the non-smoking members. Till the Revolution members seem occasionally (as at the present time in Committees) to have indulged themselves in the Chamber of the House of Commons itself with the fragrant weed. It was not till 1693 that the order was made “that no member do presume to take tobacco in the gallery of the House or upon Committee Table.”