Home Page

Column 1093

House of Commons

Friday 18 January 1991

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock

PRAYERS

[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Orders of the Day

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, have you had any intimation that a statement may be made today at 11 o'clock on developments in the Gulf? Is that information available at the moment?

Mr. Speaker : I think that I can help. I understand that a statement is likely to be made at 11 o'clock by the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. An eminently sensible suggestion was made yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon)--that the House should sit for two hours on Saturday and two hours on Sunday because of the crisis. Given recent developments, it is obvious that that would be of benefit. I hope that that will be taken account of in the statement at 11 o'clock, so that the House may continue to monitor the position.

Mr. Speaker : That is not a matter for me, but I notice that the deputy Chief Whip is on the Front Bench. I am sure that he will have heard what has been said.

Children and Young Persons (Protection from Tobacco) Bill 9.35 am

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East) : I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a second time.

As we all know--those of us who have followed these matters--the 1933 Act, usefully amended by the 1986 Protection of Children (Tobacco) Act introduced by my admirable hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), has failed in its attempt to restrain sales of tobacco to children. The reason is very simple--the legislation has not been enforced. The most crucial feature of my Bill is that it confronts and seeks to deal with the problem of inadequate enforcement of the law.

Let me begin with the background to this measure. There can be no doubt that tobacco represents a major threat to the health and well-being of our nation. In his latest report on the state of the nation's health, the chief medical officer said that cigarette smoking continued to be

"by far the most significant single cause of ill health and premature death, and hence of expenditure on health services." It follows that any steps that we can take to reduce cigarette smoking will contribute both to better health throughout the nation and--a very important factor--to reduced public expenditure. The World Health Organisation stated in 1986 that it had recorded


Column 1094

"some 50,000 studies of all kinds carried out throughout the world that have irrefutably established the link between tobacco and disease."

There have been four reports on smoking and health, published by the Royal College of Physicians, since 1962. Taken together, they represent a definitive indictment of smoking as a cause of death and disease. The last of those reports, in 1983, stated

"the Royal College of Physicians would be failing in its duty if it did not urge the government to tackle this hidden holocaust with the urgency once given to cholera, diphtheria, poliomyelitis and tuberculosis."

At least 110,000 people die prematurely each year in the United Kingdom from smoking-related diseases. At the heart of the problem of control has been the issue of personal freedom. It has been said that it is the duty of the state to educate people about the dangers of smoking, rather than strictly to forbid it. Well, whether or not one accepts that emphasis on personal freedom rather than on preventive health care, it surely cannot apply to children. That is why as early as 1933 in England--and a little later, 1937, in Scotland, my country--it was made illegal to sell cigarettes to children under 16. Children who smoke are adversely affected in three ways. First, their life expectancy is reduced. One in four cigarette users will die prematurely as a result of smoking, and they will do so up to 18 years earlier than non-smokers. Thirdly, they develop an addiction that can afflict them, both in terms of health and, perhaps less important, financially.

Recently, there has been disturbing evidence from the Health Education Authority that there is a powerful interaction between smoking and experimentation with drugs. The study of 10,000 children between nine and 15- years-old showed that 57 per cent. of regular smokers report that they have been offered drugs compared with only 6 per cent. of non-smokers. If we are to stop this lengthy catalogue of statistics of death and disease, we simply have to be more determined to help to prevent children from starting to smoke. Seventy-five per cent. of adult smokers pick up the habit before they are 18 years old. They become addicted at a time when they should have been protected. By the age of 15, 17 per cent. of boys and 23 per cent. of girls are smoking regularly--more than one in five of the nation's 15-year-olds. In England alone, 300,000 children between 11 and 15 are regular smokers, and a further 180,000 are occasional smokers. The hopes of all concerned with children and health, especially parents, that the 1986 legislation would protect children have been proved sadly mistaken. Why is this? Well, I have to be utterly blunt about this. It is because a cynical and ruthless industry--the manufacturers of this product, the people who continue to make and market it, despite the overwhelming evidence of the death and disease that it causes--continue to promote it in such a way that it attracts children and younger people. They do this in defiance of agreements and despite claims to the contrary. Of course, they would be the first to say that they wish that retailers did not sell cigarettes to children. Then they claim to spend £1 million a year to publicise the law. This is, of course, utter nonsense. Children spend £90 million a year on smoking. The £1 million that the industry spends on its so-called campaign to promote the law forbidding the sale of cigarettes to children under 16 is only 1 per cent. of the £100 million a year that it spends on the promotion of tobacco products, and most of this is seen by children. The industry happily pockets the


Column 1095

£90million a year that it achieves from these illegal sales. There is no evidence of it offering to return the profits on those sales, perhaps as a contribution to the Health Education Authority. The poster that it distributes to retail outlets is pathetically small compared with the point-of-sales promotion of tobacco products. To walk into a corner shop these days is often the equivalent of walking into a packet of cigarettes. Such is the advertising all around and over the shop. The minority of retailers who display the warning sign show a tiny poster that simply is ineffective in comparison with competing promotional material. This poster and this expenditure by the industry are gestures to public concern. They are not intended to be effective.

Let us get the point clear. This industry has a vested interest in children and smoking, a vested interest in encouraging a new generation of smokers. Sadly, it is aided by the retailers. As hon. Members, I think, will be aware, my Bill was initially drafted and has been promoted by the widely praised Parents Against Tobacco compaign--an admirable campaign. Parents Against Tobacco, supported by a wide range of highly respected organisations and whose funding in the first year came, in addition to parents themselves--a very important component--from the Health Education Authority, the EEC's Europe Against Cancer fund and also the Healthcare Foundation, undertook extensive research and co-ordinated research undertaken by local authorities and others into retailers' behaviour.

Now what did it establish? First, surveys of 418 shops showed that more than one in two--224 in all--sold to children under 16. Subsequent surveys by local authorities all over the country reinforce these findings. Some tests showed a very high level of law breaking. Last week, for instance, a headmaster in Camberley, Surrey, found that 11 out of 14 shops sold to pupils aged 14. Approximately half the shops that sell cigarettes in Britian will sell to children under 16 in defiance of the law.

Mr. David Martin (Portsmouth, South) : Has the hon. Gentleman any comparative figures that show whether the position is getting worse among children over the years? It is probably within the knowledge of most of us that adults are less inclined to smoke these days than hitherto. Perhaps this is something that the hon. Gentleman will address.

Mr. Faulds : Yes. I cannot at the moment give the figures. Undoubtedly it is a fact that adults, sensibly, are smoking less. But the evidence would appear to be that children are smoking more, and that implies appalling damage to an increasing number of our population.

The answer, partly, why this has happened--the retailers' position--is the cynicism of those who sell to children and whose behaviour really must be condemned. But if the law falls into disrepute, it is just as likely to be because of the way it is enforced, and that is the case in this respect. A unique survey by Parents Against Tobacco of local authorities all over the country showed that virtually none was surveying the behaviour of retailers or undertaking prosecutions. Of the 110 local authorities which responded to the survey, 104 had prosecuted no one in the three years since the 1986 Act was passed. Many claimed that it was not their responsibility and that the


Column 1096

police should enforce the law, but a separate survey of chief constables revealed that some of them believed that it was the local authorities that should act, and none of them felt that they could undertake enforcement of this law given their other responsibilities. Very simply, the law is not being enforced.

Sir Trevor Skeet (Bedfordshire, North) : I agree that the current law is not being enforced. Does the hon. Gentleman imagine that his modifications will lead to a satisfactory implementation of the law? Proposed section (1G) provides that the local authority that is satisfied

"that any person has failed to comply with provisions" shall "bring proceedings", but goes on to state that it may recommend the taking of other steps. Therefore, we may have a containment of the abuse even if the Bill is enacted.

Mr. Faulds : I think that these are fine points that we shall get around to discussing in Committee. I take the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. As the House knows, I am the most accommodating and reasonable man. In Committee, I am sure that we shall come to a happy resolution of most of these points and queries.

Parents Against Tobacco launched the campaign to persuade councils to act voluntarily. To their credit, more than 320 passed resolutions supporting the campaign of Parents Against Tobacco, and indeed some instructed their officials to act. As a result of that we should find that the number of prosecutions taken in 1990 increases slightly, as it should. That is because in 1988 there were only 29 prosecutions and 26 convictions, despite evidence that many thousands of shops were breaking the law on a daily basis.

I have to really be blunt about this. In our discussions prior to today's debate, the Minister has not been able to commit himself to support laying a duty on local authorities to undertake surveys of retailer practice and to enforce the law.

Ms. Harriet Harman (Peckham) : Shame.

Mr. Faulds : Shame indeed.

Unless we take such action to achieve enforcement of the law, no other step that we take to protect children from smoking can possibly be effective. If children find, as they have done, that they can walk into their local shop, garage or supermarket and just simply buy cigarettes, why should they believe that the authorities, the industry supposedly, the public or even their own parents really want to protect them from smoking?

If the Minister specifically opposes that aspect of my Bill, he will effectively be telling local authorities that it is his view that enforcement of this law is not a high priority. How can he do that when the chief medical officer of health says that smoking is by far the most important single cause of ill health and premature death?

I have made it clear in discussions with the Minister's colleagues that I do not seek to impose onerous burdens on local authorities. It is not my intention to require every authority to survey every tobacco-retailing premises every year, nor that they should respond to every complaint in such a way that a prosecution would always result. But the public have made clear their support for firm action. A MORI opinion poll posed the question :

"It is now against the law for shops to sell cigarettes to children under 16. Do you believe this law should or should not be strictly enforced?"


Column 1097

No less than 95 per cent.--an overwhelming figure--replied that it should be strictly enforced. The Retail Consortium representing more than 90 per cent. of the United Kingdom's total retail trade, including supermarkets, off-licences, and the Multiple Newsagents Association, have welcomed my proposals to tighten statutory controls.

All the evidence shows that while there are, of course, some variations, the law is being broken across the country as a whole. Despite the positive action taken by some local authorities far too many others have failed to respond. This is a national problem requiring a firm national lead. While the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) was Prime Minister--she usually gave a pretty firm lead, but not always the right lead of course-- she wrote to Parents Against Tobacco to say :

"I welcome this campaign and I fully support its fundamental aims" Perhaps the Minister should have those words up on his office wall.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : He does not need to any longer.

Mr. Faulds : I still think there is some residual fear of the iron lady about the place.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peter Lloyd) : The hon. Gentleman will have noted from the wordthat he read out that my right hon. Friend, the former Prime Minister, supported the "fundamental aims" ; she did not commit herself to every clause of the Bill as it presently stands.

Mr. Faulds : I did emphasise the word fundamental in my skilled way because I thought that the Minister should take that point. It is fundamental that we should save the lives of children by preventing them from getting cigarettes before the age of 16.

The Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor)--he is not here now--added his voice in support, as did other Cabinet Ministers. In February the Parliamentary

Under-Secretary, who will today speak for the Government, stated--perhaps he should hang this on his wall as well

"Selling cigarettes to those who are under age shows a deeply irresponsible disregard for the law, for the best interests of the retail trade and for the health of young people."

That was a very good quote and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take some notice of his own past words. He also stated that although it was the Government's intention at some future date to introduce further legislation, if, in the meantime, a private Member came up with a Bill, the Government

"would not be a dog in the manger and give it other than their support"-- [ Official Report, 14 February 1990, Vol. 167, c. 371-74.] The repeated assurances that the Government care deeply about the number of children who smoke will be without meaning if they do not wholeheartedly support a measure intended to ensure that the law is enforced. Equally, claims to be committed to the rule of law will sound hollow if the Government are ready to stand by and see the law flouted to the extent that it has been on this issue.

Enforcement is the most critical step, but once prosecutions are undertaken it is of equal importance that those who cynically sell to children are properly punished.


Column 1098

My Bill would increase the penalties for the sale of tobacco to persons under the age of 16 so that the maximum fine for an offence would become £2,000. That is in line with the maximum for other trading offences.

Of course a problem does arise. If we are effective in reducing the illegal sale of cigarettes to children in shops, children will instead go and purchase them from vending machines. Although I accept that the problems of sales from vending machines is not a major problem today, I believe that it would become a loophole and thus a more serious problem later. To leave it untackled at this stage would be a serious irresponsibility. For this reason my Bill would also restrict such vending machines to those places where under-16s are not allowed to enter.

Eighty-nine per cent. of people told the MORI poll that they wanted a ban on vending machine sales to children, yet at present those machines can be found in amusement arcades, cinema foyers and other places of entertainment where children often go unaccompanied by adults. As the Bill is framed, vending machines could still be kept in licensed premises, offices and factories.

I come next to a problem that fills me with particular revulsion--it is those utterly unscrupulous shopkeepers, and there are far too many of them, whose cynicism is such that they will seek to make an even higher profit from children by breaking open packs of cigarettes and selling them singly to children who cannot afford the price of a whole packet. How cynical can retailers become?

It is argued that, because the law already forbids the sale of cigarettes to children under 16, it already forbids the sale of single cigarettes to children under 16 and that, therefore, there is no need for an additional clause in the Bill. But we must force retailers to stop and think before they break open packs of cigarettes. The most effective and simple way to do that is to make it a double offence--not only should it be illegal to sell cigarettes, but illegal to sell cigarettes individually.

The above measures will not stop children trying to buy cigarettes. They will not stop the most lawless, irresponsible and ruthless of retailers from breaking the law. But the proposed measures together would make a huge difference. Widespread publicity of prosecutions and the imposition of heavy fines will have a salutary effect. There is evidence that when local authorities have prosecuted and newspapers have reported their action, the sale of cigarettes to children under 16 has fallen in that area.

Let me deal briefly with the other features of my Bill. First, it is difficult to persuade children that they should not be allowed to buy cigarettes when they enter local shops that so flagrantly and prominently advertise them. Thus, my Bill will prohibit the advertising of tobacco or tobacco-sponsored events from retail premises. That will thus end in-store and shop window promotions of brand tobacco products. For the first time there will be a requirement for a warning to be published on packets of cigarettes stating :

"It is illegal to sell tobacco to anyone under the age of 16." The Bill would make it a legal requirement for retailers to display prominently details of the law restricting the sales to under-16s. Those last two points are of some importance because the many retailers who do wish to make a stand and reject the sale of cigarettes to children will be strengthened by being able to point out both the official notice and the reference on the packet itself.


Column 1099

Parents and children alike need to be reminded that the sale of cigarettes to children under 16 is illegal. Far too many retailers blithely disregard that. I have outlined the terms of the Bill and perhaps it is worth looking at the list of supporters of this measure. It is supported not only by a considerable number of Back Benchers from all parties, but by a lengthy list of well-known personalities from the arts, literature, sport, politics and the media. The list of supporting organisations includes the Royal Colleges of Physicians, General Practitioners, Psychiatrists and of Nursing, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, the British Medical Association, the British Heart Foundation, the Imperial Cancer Research Fund and Cancer Research Campaign, sports organisations, the Mothers Union, the National Federation of Women's Institutes, the Townswomen's Guild and so on. What an enormously impressive array of organisations that is. Everyone concerned with the well-being of children wishes the measures to be enacted and they will bitterly resent any attempt to obstruct them.

I must, before I finish, express my gratitude to the Minister and to his colleagues for the opportunity to discuss the Bill in advance of today's debate, which they willingly obliged me with. But the great problem for both the Government and the Opposition over the years has been fundamental hypocrisy about smoking. On the one hand, economic policy is partly based on the income that the state counts on from the sale of cigarettes. On the other hand, the state is so convinced that smoking is a menace to health, that it actually insists that a warning notice appears on the packet saying : "Smoking can cause fatal diseases."

Controls, as we all know, are imposed in other areas where people's well- being is in danger--for instance, heavy fines and enforcement of the law on the wearing of seat belts. But, despite all the right noises made about smoking, and in particular children smoking, we fall far short of the real action that is necessary. The Minister has a choice. He can acknowledge that, and give this Bill wholehearted backing and, in particular, support proper enforcement of this law. This would incidentally restore people's faith in the genuineness of the Government's commitment on this issue. Or he can seek to do just enough not to appear to be completely demolishing the Bill, whilst at the same time ensuring that after it becomes the law of the land it is still not properly enforced and thus only minimally more effective than it was before. Any hon. Member who wins first place in the ballot is extraordinarily lucky, although this particular Member has had to wait 25 years for that break. When I got that break and examined some of the possibilities of potential legislation that I could take up, this, I must say, was the one that most appealed to me. My wife has disagreed. She cares very much more about animals than she appears to do about cigarettes. But on this occasion, as very rarely happens, I overruled her and I adopted this Bill. I can think of no better thing that we could do for our children than to pass this law. I believe that this Bill deals very effectively with the existing problems in illegal sales to children. I know--we all know--it has wide public support, and I trust that the House will prove beyond doubt that it has the strongest parliamentary support as well.


Column 1100

10.1 am

Mrs. Maureen Hicks (Wolverhampton, North-East) : Simply, but regrettably, this Bill is all about a simple subject--one in every two shopkeepers in this country turning a blind eye to the long-term damage to a child's health in the interests of short-term financial gain, and the potential of a customer for life, or should I say shortened life. However, it is easy to attack shopkeepers and I wonder whether we all play a large part in society's complacency. Have we been aware of the existing law and of the degree to which it has been ignored?

Shopkeepers are victims of their own human weakness, and if no one appears to keep a watchful eye upon them, or to enforce the law--whether the local authority or the police--and they realise that they are likely to be prosecuted or convicted only on the rare occasion, can one blame them? In 1988 only 29 shopkeepers were prosecuted and 26 convicted. Shopkeepers realise that if that unlikely event ever happened to them, they risk a measly fine of, on average, £100, which they could earn in their shop the following day by selling more cigarettes. Is it any wonder that they totally ignore the law?

I suspect that we all have a large part to play in this matter. Shopkeepers break the law daily. Many years on, our complacency has resulted in a problem on a grand scale, which has to be tackled. Frankly, we have failed our children by not acting to protect their interests at an early age. As a result, 300,000 children are now hooked on nicotine by the age of 15. That is a public disgrace. How can we justify ignoring those statistics? Half a million children under the age of 16 will try smoking this year. The first cigarette may be a bit of fun or accepted to look grown up. We have all been there. I remember visiting Denmark when I was 18 and thinking that young girls wandering around with little white clay pipes looked very chic. I thought it might be trendy to experiment with that and wondered whether I would look chic.

As a teacher many years ago when I was on playground duty on wet miserable lunch hours I saw the kids hiding behind the bicycle sheds, tempted to have a little drag and to influence their friends. It was all very macho. It also seemed rather harmless. As a secondary school teacher I took the attitude that children are devils and we cannot really turn a blind eye-- although God help them if I found them behind the bicycle sheds, because of course we must discipline them. I am not sure whether that degree of responsibility continues to exist in our schools.

The trouble is that that harmless weakness, the desire for a bit of fun, leads to possible addiction. We are told that a child who smokes four cigarettes a day has a 90 per cent. chance of becoming a regular dependent smoker as an adult. Do those young people in their teens, or pre-teens--11 and 12-year-olds--have any real idea of the severity of dependence that will be induced by their actions at such an early age? As responsible adults, are we ensuring that they realise the dilemma in which they are placing themselves? I suspect not. Smoking does not merely cost young people their health, but costs them £90 million a year. What a horrendous figure.

I want to pay especial tribute, as my colleague did, to the Parents Against Tobacco campaign. The campaign is barely a year old but it has been successful in achieving a number one slot for private Members' Bills, thanks to the support of one of my colleagues in the west midlands, the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds). I


Column 1101

congratulate him on his speech this morning. I am glad to say that his efforts and those of PAT have been backed by about 240 Members of Parliament from both sides of the House. What the PAT campaign has achieved which the country has not, is a far greater awareness of the problem facing us. The campaign has heightened public awareness and made us realise that we need to ensure that local authorities enforce the existing law ; that the Government consider carefully how best to police the situation ; and that we implement a reasonable fine which would act as a deterrent to shopkeepers breaking the law. By prosecuting more shopkeepers and publicising prosecutions and convictions, I have no doubt that the news would spread, and as a result of the embarrassment to the shopkeeper in the local community the law would begin to police itself. Shopkeepers would see that we mean business and existing offenders--thousands of shopkeepers--would be deterred from taking the risk. That must be our aim. We want them to understand the risk that they take.

At the moment the law is an ass. There is no risk, as the law has no teeth. Why bother having a law at all if we are not going to use it? Hence, the campaign.

Sir Trevor Skeet : We have a good deal of Sunday trading legislation in the form of the Shops Act 1950. Local authorities are notorious for not implementing that legislation. Does my hon. Friend believe that local authorities throughout the United Kingdom will implement this Bill?

Mrs. Hicks : I think that my hon. Friend must be psychic : I was just coming to that point.

When we had those terrible snowstorms before Christmas, traders lost business and, to recoup that business, decided to open on Sundays. My constituents--and, perhaps, those of other hon. Members--became very hot under the collar. Where were the local authority enforcement officers? Why were they not prosecuting these dreadful people? Why were we not taking action?

I do not support Sunday trading ; I believe that we should try to keep Sunday special. It is possible that in the future I may have to bow to public pressure, but at present I know where my loyalty lies, and I think that those shops were wrong to open on Sundays. Having said that, however, I find myself wondering about our sense of priorities. When did any of us last see a constituent jumping up and down with anger because shopkeepers were illegally selling cigarettes to children under 16? That is the irony : such shopkeepers are contributing to the likelihood of premature deaths, while those who open on Sundays are doing nothing worse then blatantly ignoring the law.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Gedling) : I strongly support both the Bill and what my hon. Friend has been saying. She has stressed the importance of deterring shopkeepers from selling cigarettes. Does she agree that one of the most important aspects of the problem mentioned in the Bill is the fact that shopkeepers are selling cigarettes singly? If the Bill is passed, that will become an offence. I feel that the most effective way of implementing the wishes of Parents Against Tobacco is to introduce measures combining deterrence of shopkeepers with the removal of temptation from children, and that the Bill would achieve that.

Mrs. Hicks : I entirely agree. The Bill has brought to our attention the extent to which single cigarettes are still being


Column 1102

sold ; I do not think that people realise how often it happens, especially in areas where incomes tend to be low. When children cannot obtain the money that they want, of course they are tempted to go into shops and ask for single cigarettes. I think that it is terrible that a shopkeeper who may well be a parent himself should be content to open a packet of cigarettes and sell them individually to children.

Retailers who sell cigarettes illegally are actually responsible for driving the first nail into the coffin of a would-be adult who may become one of the 110,000 unfortunate people who die prematurely each year from smoking-related diseases. That is equivalent to the number of deaths that would result if a jumbo jet crashed every day of the week, killing everyone on board. I am not trying to over-dramatise the consequences of shopkeepers' lack of responsibility ; I am merely stating the known fact that most people acquire the smoking habit in childhood. We must make them aware of the dangers.

The problem of adult smokers has already been mentioned. Another irony is the fact that, although adults--many of them parents--are being made increasingly aware of how unsociable smoking is, with the public demanding non-smoking areas in aeroplanes, cinemas and restaurants, children do not seem to recognise that the habit is becoming almost non-U. I am not condemning smokers ; I should prefer people not to smoke, but I believe that they should be allowed to exercise the freedom to do so. I also believe, however, that they should try to prevent others from following suit.

When I first came to the House, I took part in a survey, as other hon. Members may also have done. We were asked how lobby groups could influence Members of Parliament and persuade them to adopt causes. I thought about that for a long time : what could such groups do to persuade me? All hon. Members receive huge amounts of bumf in their mailbags from people who are trying to influence them. I decided that I would be influenced most if the issue was relevant to my constituency.

When the PAT campaigners began lobbying Members, over a year ago, I stopped to ask myself why they had inspired my support, and realised that it was because I, as a parent, had a vested interest. Nothing is more likely to concentrate the mind on the dangers facing children than becoming a parent. I am privileged to be both a parent and a politician, with the ability to influence legislation and make it more enforceable. I suspect that we may hear today from one or two hon. Members who are not parents, and who may not share my sentiments. I may sound rather old-fashioned--I was rather a late starter as a parent--but it seems to me that young people today are being subjected to more and more temptations, wherever they turn. I believe that it is the duty of the House and of all adults, whatever responsibilities they carry--whether they are teachers or shopkeepers, for instance--to do their best to protect children, especially the little kids under 15 who often know no better. People must not be content to turn a blind eye. We hear plenty about neighbourhood watch and business watch schemes to prevent the "nasties" ; let us set up a community watch to protect our young people.

There have, of course, been incidents of drug-taking in my constituency-- perhaps more than elsewhere, because it is an inner-city area. I am especially disturbed about glue-sniffing : it may sound pretty harmless, but what is the next stage? The Health Education Authority has uncovered alarming evidence of a powerful interaction between smoking and experimentation with drugs.


Column 1103

As a sponsor of the Bill, I sincerely hope that it will go into Committee with the backing of the House. It is important for hon. Members to examine the finer details, many of which have been mentioned by the hon. Member for Warley, East, and decide how best to achieve its objectives. The complacency of local authorities must be recognised and dealt with : it is a disgrace that, of the 110 local authorities that responded to the PAT campaign, 104 had prosecuted no one since the Protection of Children (Tobacco) Act 1986 was introduced by the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson). I am pleased to report that as a result of the campaign, 320 councils--including my own, Wolverhampton--have passed resolutions in support of the campaign and the need for action. However, actions speak louder than words. We want action. We have had the words. It is easy to pass resolutions, but now we need a commitment so that we can count on councils to take action. However, Parliament must give them the tools with which to enforce the law.

Great progress has been made. There is widespread support for the campaign among sportsmen, show-biz personalities and ordinary people. A MORI poll shows that 95 per cent. of people want Parliament to do something. The British Medical Association, the Retail Consortium and the Royal College of Psychiatrists want Parliament to do something. Moreover, there is cross- party support for the campaign. We must build on that support and make progress.

To do so, we must study the practical implications of the Bill. Some of its proposals will be difficult to enforce. They will, therefore, have to be considered carefully.

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes) : That is the crux of the matter. Although all of us may accept the aims of the Bill, would my hon. Friend care to speculate on those provisions that will be difficult to enforce and the clauses on which hon. Members should concentrate when the Bill is considered in Committee?

Mrs. Hicks : I recognise that there are many difficulties to be overcome. We have already had many meetings with the Minister and I thank him for the support and the time that he has given to the campaign so far. I believe that the debate will be opened up in Committee. We shall have to consider how enforcement can best be policed and how best to ensure that local authority surveys are fully comprehensive. That will not be easy. If, however, we can demonstrate our will and commitment, we shall be at the beginning of an interesting process. The problem is that so far we have not elucidated who is responsible for enforcement. Responsibility has been passed from one to another. Local authorities say that it is for the police to take action ; the police say that it is for the local authorities to take action. In Committee we must provide clear guidelines for the public. I hope that they will wish to help us to enforce them.

It has been suggested that vending machines should not be sited in areas where children can go without supervision--for example, cinema foyers and amusement arcades--but I wonder whether such a provision could be enforced. We shall need to consider in depth local authority


Column 1104

enforcement and the level of fines. We must ensure that it will be impossible for shopkeepers to open up packets of cigarettes and sell cigarettes individually to children.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay) : Is my hon. Friend aware that already it is illegal to open cigarette packets and sell cigarettes to young children?

Mrs. Hicks : My hon. Friend makes the point that I have tried to make throughout my speech. We know that that is illegal. The problem is how to devise ways of drawing to people's attention the fact that they must not break the law.

Mrs. Gorman : They must be made aware that it is illegal.

Mrs. Hicks : Precisely. Illegal acts take place every day of the week but everyone turns a blind eye to them. We have to ensure that the law is enforced.

Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West) : I agree with my hon. Friend that the law is not being enforced, but does she agree that there are two ways in which to make the law more enforceable? The Bill provides-- I believe slightly impracticably, and if I am fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall elaborate upon the point--that the penalty be increased, and that if that does not work the penalty be increased again, and then again. I do not favour such an approach. If the law is not being enforced, the alternative is to consider whether that law is enforceable and whether there should be a law covering the subject in the first place.

Mrs. Hicks : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I disagree with him about the effect of increasing the penalty. When the average fine is £100 there is no deterrent. I hope that in Committee the Minister will consider a proposal that the fine should be raised to at least £1,000, if not to £2,000, in line with those related to other trading laws.

We must establish how best to achieve our objective--to make it more difficult for children to obtain cigarettes. We must also consider carefully how to bring home to children the health dangers of smoking. They must be made aware of the fact that it is not a playful thing. We must also consider how best to publicise the fact that it is illegal to sell cigarettes to young children. It would also be worth while if signs were displayed in every shop reminding customers that it is illegal to sell cigarettes to young children. I am not sure how best we can monitor advertising so that the frightening statistics before us today can be reduced.

It would be a national disgrace if we abdicated our

responsibilities. At present, 23 per cent. of all girls aged 15 smoke cigarettes and 17 per cent. of all boys aged 15 smoke cigarettes. It would be a national disgrace, as I say, faced with those statistics, if we sat back and did nothing.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker) : Order. I see that a large number of hon. Members wish to take part in the debate. Unless speeches are briefer, some of them will be disappointed.

10.26 am

Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw) : I am delighted to support my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds). I introduced a Bill in the last Session of


Column 1105

Parliament, but it did not receive a Second Reading. I am also pleased that my local council, Bassetlaw, has pledged itself to taking the strongest action by means of its public health inspectors to enforce the Bill, if it becomes law.

I am particularly concerned about smoking because I represent a mining area. Many of the people who work in the pits suffer from lung problems such as pneumoconiosis. I attended a widows' tea at Shireoaks colliery ; I found that one pit alone had led to 259 women becoming widows. Working down a pit can have frightening consequences. At one time, miners were very heavy smokers. The Bill is important. It will help to prevent young people from acquiring the habit at an early age. Given all the information that is published by Parents Against Tobacco, it amazes me that it is not generally known that 110,000 people die every year from the effects of smoking. One in five of all 15-year-olds now smoke.

The tobacco industry is guilty of having set up a conveyor belt. At one end people drop off it ; they give up smoking at a comparatively early age due to heart disease, lung cancer or other smoking-related problems. At the other end of the conveyor belt the tobacco companies push hard to make sure that young people get on to it so that their sales are maintained. There is strong evidence that the tobacco companies are expanding their activities in third world countries. They offer free film shows in countries such as India and Pakistan simply to push tobacco advertising and thereby enhance their sales. When I was a kid my friends and I smoked. I remember coming home from school at the age of nine feeling very ill. My mother wanted to send for the doctor ; then it dawned on her that I had been smoking, along with other lads, at the back of the bike shed. That cured me for a few years until boredom set in when I was doing my national service at the age of 18. I started to smoke again then.

It may not be a hard fact, but it is certainly common knowledge that the later in life a person starts to smoke the easier it is for him to quit. I conducted a little survey when I was working on my Bill with the Parents Against Tobacco campaign. I asked every Member of Parliament who, at the age of 50 or 60, is still a heavy smoker when he or she started to smoke cigarettes. They all said that they started when they were about 14 or 15. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes), who, as everybody knows, is a heavy smoker but is alive and looking well on it, told me that he would have loved to have stopped many years ago but could not do so. He started at the age of 14 or 15. I asked the same question of other smokers in the Tea Room. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) told me that he was hooked at an early age.

When we were kids, all the film heroes such as Errol Flynn and, later, Yul Brynner smoked. It was amazing how many of them died from the consequences of heavy smoking and of always having a cigarette in their hands when they made a film.

The conveyor belt is pushed by tobacco companies at sporting events such as the Embassy snooker championship and Benson and Hedges cricket. They get free advertising on the BBC's coverage of racing and other sporting events. They put up cash to hook young people on the conveyor belt at an early stage.

It is amazing to contrast that advertising with the breathalyser campaigns at Christmas. Drunken driving is a serious problem, but it kills less than 1 per cent. of the


Next Section

  Home Page