Magazine article The Spectator


Magazine article The Spectator


Article excerpt

Red smoke

From Mr Jonathan Manthorpe

Sir: Ross Clark's quip (Banned wagon, 29 January) that perhaps the only hope for white Anglo-Saxon smokers is the discovery that ethnic minorities have higher tobacco addiction rates sent my entrepreneurial Spirit racing.

Here in Canada, tobacco is used in religious ceremonies by many of North American Indian origin. When the British crown signed treaties with these peoples in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries the spiritual aspects of tobacco were explicitly recognised. In addition, these treaties entrench the right of the native peoples to grow, trade and use tobacco without hindrance or taxes.

I was fortunate to be in the High Court in London in 1981 when the Master of the Rolls, Lord Denning, delivered a memorable judgment on the status of these treaties. He ruled that while administration of them had devolved to the Queen in her right of Canada, the documents are an eternal commitment. With evident relish he quoted from one of the treaties that it should be valid 'as long as the sun rises, the rivers flow and grass grows'.

In the two decades since that ruling, North American Indian people here have shown an admirable determination to fully use that reaffirmation of their treaty and political rights in many significant and positive ways. One or two other results have been delightfully mischievous. A few years ago several Mohawk communities forced former prime minister Brian Mulroney to abandon a monumental increase in tobacco tax aimed at putting cigarette smoking beyond the pockets of Canadians. Corner-- stores across Canada went into liaison with the Mohawks who cleverly employed their right to buy and sell tobacco tax-free.

It should not be beyond the wit of legal minds to devise for smokers associate membership of such tribes. Indian nations could then sell indulgences to be waved in the faces of anti-tobacco authorities.

The only problem that I can see with this scheme for British smokers is that the brunt of Lord Denning's ruling was that responsibility to adhere to the treaties has devolved to the government of the Queen in her right of Canada rather than remaining with her government in London. The validity of such smokers' indulgences would therefore probably be confined to Canada.

Jonathan Manthorpe.

Free the newt

From Lady Mortimer

Sir: Red Ken's heroic plan to ban fox-hunting from Brent is surely to be applauded by all right-thinking people. But he does not go far enough. It is time for a campaign to ban the keeping of newts in cities.

Most people know very little indeed about the keeping of newts. This is no reason for not wishing to ban the practice. One just has to think about these poor little reptiles, imprisoned in a gloomy tank with a few old rocks scattered about, to know how miserable they must feel. Who would actually choose a life like that? We must set them free.

My recently convened focus group tells me that the rural population of Britain (and, indeed, the majority of the urban and semiurban) finds the keeping of newts to be a barbaric, abhorrent and out-dated pastime.

It will almost certainly be unanimously decided that newts should be taken out of the cities in specially equipped vans and released into the wild. Some politically incorrect individuals will protest that newts who have spent all their lives in captivity will not know how to survive in the countryside, and will either die of starvation or be run over by tractors. But if it's good enough for foxes found wandering the streets of St John's Wood, it's good enough for newts.

Of course, the real objection to fox-hunting is the fact that so many followers wear red or black coats. But the cruel newt-keepers, I'm informed, wear horrible brown jackets. To see such a person leaning over your tank and staring at you must be a truly terrifying sight. People who support this campaign should shout out, 'Scum! …

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