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Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark): I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Worsley (Mr. Lewis), who introduced his Bill this morning in a most courteous way. I disagree with his conclusions, but he gave way most generously to many interventions and that was appreciated by Conservative Members.
Three thousand jobs in Nottinghamshire are involved directly in the manufacture of tobacco. They make a significant contribution to the city and to my county. Thirteen thousand other jobs around the country are also involved directly in the manufacture of tobacco. Quite understandably, the hon. Member for Worsley has taken a break from the Chamber. However, on the Opposition Benches, there is the hon. Member for Dulwich (Ms Jowell), who is waiting to make her speech, and the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron). Where are the Labour Members from Nottinghamshire who should be supporting jobs that are at risk because of the Bill? Where are the Labour Members from Liverpool? They have gone. They take no interest in the matter. The Bill will do severe harm to jobs in their area.
Mr. Alexander: We know that many jobs have been lost. However, I said in my intervention in the speech made by the hon. Member for Worsley that two wrongs do not make a right. The fact that thousands of jobs have been lost in the coalfields must mean that Opposition Members should be far more assiduous in ensuring that jobs are not lost unnecessarily as a result of minor and perhaps silly pieces of legislation.
Parliament is today once again having its annual swipe against the tobacco industry. The proposals become dottier and more unrealistic year by year. As everyone knows inside and outside the House, smoking is a perfectly lawful habit. Done in moderation, it does no harm to anyone. It is dangerous only if indulged in too
Column 1293heavily, like many other pastimes and aspects of people's consumption. People do that freely and lawfully during their lives.
Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster): In the light of the hon. Gentleman's comment about smoking being such an innocent pastime, why did the Minister say, "We must stop people taking up smoking"? If it is so innocent, why would the Minister make such a statement?
Mr. Alexander: I am glad to answer that, although I cannot answer for my hon. Friend the Minister. I do not seek to encourage people to take up smoking. That is not my object and it may or may not be the object of the tobacco manufacturers. However, we certainly do not want people who have taken up smoking to do so to excess because tobacco consumption taken to excess can kill.
People of all ages are aware of that fact. We have had tobacco advertisements on packets and on our roadsides for so long that anyone who is not aware of that fact, almost as a fundamental, must be incredibly stupid.
Mr. Alexander: That may well be so, but I shall refer to things taken in moderation in a moment. We are certainly aware that people who smoke moderately do not suffer from tobacco-related diseases. The real problem with tobacco-related diseases relates to heavy consumers. That is why I continue my point that tobacco is a lawful product.
I do not smoke cigarettes, like my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Sir G. Gardiner). It is probably 40 years since a cigarette passed my lips--I think that the last time was when I was at college; I did not care for smoking--but I occasionally take the odd small cigar. What I am fed up with --many Conservative Members are fed up with it, too--is the continuous exaggeration of the case against moderate smoking.
All hon. Members have had a briefing from the very eminent Lord Harris of High Cross, who had the-- [Hon. Members:-- "Hear, hear."] It was a significant contribution to the debate, and it would be remiss if it was not heard in the Chamber. He made the point that many other activities that are indulged in by members of the public, such as eating, drinking, horse- riding, skiing and mountaineering, involve a severe risk of injury or death if done to excess or if consumed foolishly. He makes the further point that it is daft for Parliament in particular to resolve everything by trying to give us a risk-free existence. Good for Lord Harris of High Cross. That is a point about which I personally feel strongly.
We hear much about smoking-related illnesses--indeed, rightly so; it is part of what we are debating--but it needs to be borne in mind that the cost of treating those
Column 1294illnesses is more than outweighed by the tax take from tobacco consumers, the majority of whom smoke in moderation.
Mr. John Carlisle: Perhaps the figures should be stated, particularly for my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), who says that my hon. Friend is speaking nonsense. About £9 billion a year comes from taxation on tobacco. My hon. Friend will probably know that the latest figure on smoking-related disease and the cost to the national health is less than £1 billion a year. Perhaps my hon. Friend will offer my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury the chance to intervene, because he obviously believes that £9 billion is not needed by the Exchequer.
The arrangements for health warnings, as we know, are a consequence of the implementation of the EC directive on the labelling of tobacco products.
Mr. John Marshall: My hon. Friend refers to the EC. I think that he means the EU directive. We must be up to date; it is the European Union directive. Does he accept that there is something strange about the European Union, in that it spends hundreds of millions of pounds encouraging the production of tobacco by farmers in Greece and other parts of the EU and it then spends a small amount on trying to discourage tobacco consumption? Is not it strange that an organisation that encourages the production of a commodity should discourage the consumption of it? Is not that Alice-in-Wonderland economics? Does not it underline the need for British
Commissioners--perhaps Commissioner Kinnock in his tireless campaign--to stop the EU encouraging the production of tobacco?
Mr. Alexander: Quite so. My other hon. Friend makes a valid contribution to this important debate. I apologise for calling it the EC. Perhaps I am old-fashioned enough to call it that for a little while yet, but there we are.
Tobacco manufacturers have always accepted, although reluctantly and fighting their corner, the need to fulfil their obligations in regard to health warnings and the directive. There is a danger that those voluntary arrangements, if pushed too far by the health freaks in this country and the House, could well break down. We must recognise that tobacco manufacturers advertise their product in order to persuade people to use their brand, not another one. Their advertisements are not invitations to take up smoking. If they were, they would be illegal and would be banned. No tobacco advertising tempts me to take up smoking.
Those who ask us to support the Bill say that it would reduce tobacco consumption. I do not see how, of itself, the Bill could do that. Since 1971, there have been health warnings, and young and old in this country are aware of the risk of smoking to excess. There is the Health Education Authority's teenage smoking programme on television, and other advertising messages constantly reinforce that information.
We discussed the issues in last year's debate on the proposal of the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) to ban tobacco advertising. I do not wish to repeat them all, but I shall deal with the subject of children--a
Column 1295matter that has already been stressed in the House. There is a lack of understanding of children's motivation. Earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) said that young people do things for devilment--for a dare. Placing a bigger warning on a cigarette packet will not cause young people to think again before experimenting with tobacco. Advertising is not directed at children. There are many pressures on children other than advertising to take up cigarette smoking and tobacco. The Advertising Standards Authority would soon stamp on any advertisement that promoted a macho or sexual image.
My main argument against the Bill is that tobacco manufacturers are acting legally. What consumers do with the product is lawful. If the Bill's supporters and the hon. Member for Rother Valley were honest in their objectives, they would introduce a Bill to ban the manufacture and consumption of tobacco. We could have a proper debate on that, instead of debating the nit-picking little Bills that we seem to get every year, particularly from the Opposition.
Most of the cigarette packet now consists of a brand message. If, as a result of the Bill, that brand message is dulled, the information to the consumer about what he or she may choose to buy is also dulled, making it easier for importers to make their brand message known in shops. We return to the issue of brand choice and trade mark protection.
A trade mark is a valuable commercial commodity, which the Bill will damage. Canada has been mentioned in the debate. I intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley), but he did not seem to take the point. If one uses Canada as an example, one must be aware of the fact that Canada's advertising warnings have to be carried on imported tobacco as well as on locally produced tobacco. That, perhaps, would be fair. The Bill, however, would not be fair, and that should be stressed.
We would be putting things seriously at risk if we followed the route suggested by the hon. Member for Worsley. As I have said, the tobacco companies have willingly accepted their obligations. They have accepted advertising standards restrictions and they have fulfilled their duties to educate those in the retail sector about their obligations, especially their legislative duties. They are entitled, however, to resist, and to ask hon. Members to resist, further inroads into and restrictions of their legitimate market freedoms. It is foolish to put a fine industry at risk only to pass the trade over to foreign manufacturer competitors. Our manufacturers are not in the business of selling Government health warnings. Instead, they are in the business of making a lawful product.
Column 1296industry would leave these shores for ever and jobs within it, similarly, would never return to these shores? Is not that the point?
Mr. Alexander: My hon. Friend makes an additional and valuable point, which even at this late hour in the debate has not been sufficiently covered. I was talking to a senior member of Imperial Tobacco only the other day. He told me that there was a serious possibility that if the Bill were enacted, his company would consider moving its manufacturing operations abroad.
There is much more at risk than would appear on reading the Bill. If the Bill results in using tobacco manufacturers to sell Government health warnings, it will harm our industry. It will offer no perceptible advantage to the nation's health. It will not change children's habits. I hope that the House will reject it.
Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East): I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Worsley (Mr. Lewis) on the choice of his Bill and on the simplicity of it. I have no doubt that he considered many more detailed proposals to discourage people, especially young people, from smoking. Similarly, I have no doubt that most of them would have encouraged strong argument and opposition, not least from the tobacco industry. I would have sympathised with some of the arguments.
I would not have believed until this debate that anyone could have grounds for opposing the Bill, which is designed simply to draw greater attention to the lethality of the product as close as possible to the product itself. I applaud the hon. Member for Worsley on being so single-minded in the aim of his Bill.
Like most of us, I had a constituency interest today. I had accepted an invitation to attend the annual founder's day of the Bournemouth school for girls, which is located in my constituency. It is one of the most successful girls' grammar schools in the country. It has become even more so since it became grant maintained. I explained to the headteacher that I felt that it was in the interests of her pupils and those who followed them that I should be present to support the Bill. I do not have any evidence that any pupil at the school would dream of going behind the bicycle shed for a quick one-- [Laughter.] --with or without the encouragement of boys from Bournemouth school for boys, which is located nearby. Perhaps I should ask my son, who goes there. On second thoughts, perhaps I should not.
The fact is that teenagers are still smoking in the same numbers as they were 10 years ago, as we have heard in the many references from impeccable sources today, including my hon. Friend the Minister, despite increased health education, as well as ever higher taxation of tobacco products. What is even more important, from the point of view of girls at the Bournemouth school for girls, teenage girls are more likely to be smokers than boys of the same age.
According to the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys' research on smoking among secondary school pupils in England, 11 per cent. of 11 to 15- year-old girls are regular smokers compared with 8 per cent. of boys of the same age. If only those girls knew or thought about the fact that lung cancer is overtaking breast cancer as the leading cancer killer for women, that women who smoke and use the contraceptive pill have 10 times the risk of
Column 1297heart disease and stroke, and that babies born to mothers who smoke have a lower birth weight, by about half a pound, and a higher risk of death and disease in early childhood.
Many of us in this Chamber will have relatives and friends and certainly some colleagues in this place who died agonising and premature deaths because of lung cancer and other smoking-induced diseases.
Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham): I am in sympathy with my hon. Friend in that I support the Bill, at least in principle, although I envisage some practical difficulties. Does he agree that there are probably more effective ways to stop teenage smokers, especially the young girls he mentioned, starting to smoke than health warnings on cigarette packets, which might include the rigorous control of the supply and availability of cigarettes for that age group?
Mr. Atkinson: I agree and thank my hon. Friend for that positive contribution. No doubt there are more effective ways, which the House could pursue, to discourage young people in particular from taking up smoking. We have one such opportunity today, upon which we will be obliged to make a judgment shortly, and it deserves the fullest possible support from the House.
I was saying that we all have many friends, relatives and colleagues who unfortunately died because of smoking. My children will never forget the agony of a grandmother who died in that way. As the hon. Member for Worsley pointed out, she was of a generation that was denied the warnings on tobacco products that the Bill would only enhance. The first suspicions about tobacco's role in the cause of various diseases were not confirmed until the 1950s, with all the doubts dispelled in a report to the Royal College of Physicians in 1962 and another to the US Surgeon General in 1964.
Today, there can be no excuse for not appreciating that smoking kills and that it is a very painful way to die. The Bill will get that message across more clearly than ever before. That must be of interest to the tobacco companies that my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) represents and I see that he wants to intervene on their behalf. I will let him.
Mr. John Carlisle: My hon. Friend must say what evidence, if any, he has to suggest that a larger label--to give the warnings that he rightly outlined--will prevent more deaths. Is he questioning the intelligence of the British people and their decision whether to smoke? Is he telling the House that there would be fewer deaths if a larger warning appeared on the packet? If he is saying so, please will he give us the evidence?
Column 1298my response. It is in the interests of tobacco companies--I understand that my hon. Friend has some interest in such companies--
Mr. Atkinson: He may have an opportunity to do so later in the debate. Tobacco companies will come under increasing pressure of being sued by their customers, with the help of legal aid, for failing to put clear warnings on their products that smoking kills. I should have liked to ask the hon. Member for Worsley what thought he has given not just to the size of the warning on cigarette packets but to the content of the message. Only recently have coroners been allowed to state that smoking was the cause of death. That must result in including new, more persuasive information in the clearer message that the hon. Gentleman seeks to promote.
I welcome the Bill and, despite what my hon. Friend the Minister said, I believe that it complements existing measures introduced by the Government, including ever higher taxation, to discourage smoking. I thought and hoped that it would avoid opening up arguments with the vested interests, but the reaction of several of my hon. Friends has dissuaded me from that. The Bill merely seeks to invoke the simple message that, like lead, asbestos and drugs, tobacco is lethal and that smoking is the largest preventable cause of death, especially among young people. I wish the Bill every success. 1.56 pm
Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham): I shall be brief, as an awful lot has already been said from both sides of the argument. I suspect that, in these days of transparency, one should always declare any interest that one has. Mine is that I recently enjoyed hospitality from the tobacco industry, during which time I was briefed. Between enjoying watching England thrash France on the rugger field, I received the main, all-important message, which is that the Bill is not about dissuading people from smoking.
There should be no doubt that we all wish to reduce smoking among children and young people--and among adults. I have not smoked for 17 years. I say that because it seems to be a roll of honour in this debate to declare whether one smokes. My wife had a serious brush with cancer in 1990 and freely admits that it was probably due to the fact that she smoked until that time. So I am no friend of the tobacco industry nor a lover of tobacco or smoking. Indeed, I find the habit foul and revolting. However, the Bill's serious impact on employment should be considered. I tried to make the point in an intervention in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) that, once jobs are lost, they will not return. I shall return to that point in a moment.
There has been much contention during this debate about whether smoking among young people has increased or decreased over certain periods.
Column 1299that it is illegal for tobacconists to sell cigarettes to young people and I sometimes wonder how young people manage to get tobacco. Do tobacconists sell to them illegally? It has always been illegal to sell cigarettes or tobacco to young people. Are not parents responsible for warning young people under the age of 16 that tobacco is harmful?
Mr. Couchman: I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. The number of parents who now smoke has dropped dramatically. In 1972, 52 per cent. of men smoked but in 1992, only 29 per cent. did so. In 1972, 41 per cent. of women smoked but by 1992, the figure was 28 per cent. Parents have clearly accepted the message. Young people are well aware of the dangers of smoking and it is for them to decide, in maturity, whether they wish to continue smoking. I have two children who have never smoked, to their eternal credit.
The House agrees that since 1984, smoking among young people declined but that from 1988 there appears to have been a slight upturn. In an intervention, I suggested that smoking among young people may have increased recently as a form of rebellion against the heavy anti-smoking campaigns of the past six or seven years. It is in the nature of young people that they will often try something that they have been told is bad for them.
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North): People of my generation were given free cigarettes while serving for His Majesty in certain parts of the world. It was inevitable that most of my compatriots smoked, but I never did.
Mr. Couchman: That was a splendid further intervention from my hon. Friend. My constituency contained the former Royal Naval base at Chatham, many of whose sailors would have enjoyed free cigarettes. They were those dreadful RN brand that one had to keep in the horizontal rather than the vertical, otherwise all the tobacco fell out.
Mr. Carlisle: If I may be allowed to expound, Mr. Deputy Speaker, perhaps then you can make a judgment. I am glad that the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) has arrived in the Chamber. It is said that she used to smoke--I know not whether she does now--because in her fine acting career, she was offered cigarettes as part of her job. I do not know whether she refused, but the serious point is that when smoking is part of a person's job or cigarettes are offered by Her
Column 1300Majesty's services, it is difficult to stop smoking. All credit to those people, probably including the hon. Lady, who give up smoking at the end of the day.
Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): I have by no means given up smoking, but my interest in the Bill stems from my awareness of the addictive nature of smoking. I would not want any young person to follow the trail that I am still on.
The Bill would require packets containing tobacco products to carry health warnings of much greater size than required by the EU directive, which was introduced, agreed and implemented by all member states as a single market measure. Its function was to harmonise and to remove impediments to the operation of the internal market. That is confirmed in the directive's preamble, which states that it is necessary to approximate the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of member states concerning tobacco product labelling; eliminate possible barriers to trade; and prevent impediments to the establishment and operation of the single internal market. I take a rather different view of the single internal market from that of my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Sir G. Gardiner), which he explained in his long and interesting speech. The common rules in the directive take due account of public health protection. The directive states that its beneficial effect would be increased if it were coupled with health education programmes in schools and with information and public awareness campaigns. Who could disagree with that?
The Minister said that we continue to make considerable efforts to dissuade young people from taking up the smoking habit. We shall continue to do so, and that is to be applauded. It is part of "The Health of the Nation" initiative and I am sure that we all applaud the efforts by the Department of Health in that matter.
The requirement is for packets to carry warnings of at least 4 per cent. of the surface area or 6 per cent. if there are two languages in the member state. Three languages require 8 per cent. of the surface area of the packet to be taken up by a health warning. Only in Belgium, which has three languages, is there a necessity for 8 per cent. All member states have chosen to comply only with the directive's minimum requirement, which is 4 per cent. of the back and the front in states with a single language such as ours. In Britain, the Government chose to exceed that requirement by 50 per cent., and 6 per cent. of the area is covered by the warning.
I looked at a packet of cigarettes this morning--the first time for many years that I have done that--and I noted that the warning is quite clear and is couched in stark terms. It states: "Smoking causes cancer". That could not be plainer. Anyone who has ever had a packet of cigarettes and proposes to smoke will have read that warning and will choose whether to ignore it.
The regulations that give effect to the 6 per cent. warning are made under the Consumer Protection Act 1987 and impose rigorous requirements. As a result, the clarity and impact of health warnings in the United Kingdom are greater than they are anywhere else in the EU. The European Commission is reviewing national compliance with the directive and I understand that it is
Column 1301unlikely to be satisfied on full compliance by a number of member states. However, let there be no doubt that the United Kingdom is implementing the terms of the directive in full.
While I am on the subject of the directive's terms, I should like to highlight the provisions of article 8, which are of great relevance and have been mentioned in the debate. The article states that member states cannot for labelling reasons prohibit or restrict the sale of tobacco products which comply with the terms of the directive. Member states may, as provided for by the treaty of Rome, set down requirements for the import, sale and consumption of tobacco products which the member state deems necessary to protect the public health, but such requirements must not imply any changes to the labelling regime established by the directive. That means that, provided imported tobacco products meet the requirements of the labelling directive, their import into, and sale in, a member state cannot be prohibited.
If the Bill became law, it would require cigarettes manufactured in the United Kingdom for sale here to carry health warnings covering 25 per cent. or more of the front and back of the packet. However, under the terms of the directive the United Kingdom would be unable to prohibit the import and sale of cigarettes carrying health warnings which complied with legislation enforced in the member state in which they originated. The Minister confirmed that.
The Bill rather grudgingly accepts that because clause 1(5) states that the regulations may provide for an exemption from the Bill's provisions for products imported into the UK from other member states. There is no choice whatever. Like it or not, the Bill must recognise that imported products would be able to carry much smaller warnings complying with legislative requirements elsewhere and would be beyond the terms of any UK legislation.
That cold fact alone makes a mockery of the claim that the Bill would help to reduce the problem of smuggled tobacco. It is almost certain that the Bill would in fact increase dramatically the amount of cigarettes that come into this country from other member states, which would tend to camouflage rather than highlight smuggled packets of cigarettes--those that are part of the enormous bootlegging trade. It is interesting that Customs and Excise, in its recent appropriation accounts which were revealed to the Public Accounts Committee the other day, makes it clear that there appears to be a shortfall of about £100 million--
Mr. Lewis rose in his place and claimed to move , That the Question be now put.
Question put , That the Question be now put:--
The House divided : Ayes 92, Noes 1.
Division No. 76] [2.9 pm
Column 1301Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)