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6.6 pm

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley): Like the right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery), I ought to declare an interest. I am chairman of the all-party group on smoking and health, whose secretariat is the charity Action on Smoking and Health, with which I worked for many years.

It is undeniable that cigarette smoking is the single largest avoidable cause of premature death and disability in Britain today. Reducing smoking would result in massive health gains, particularly for the most disadvantaged sectors of society. The prevalence of smoking in Britain has fallen substantially since the health risks of cigarette smoking were made known to the public, but appears to be stabilising at about one adult in four. To achieve further significant reductions in smoking, we must address the reasons why people begin smoking and continue to smoke knowing that it could kill them.

The Government are taking action in several areas to help to reduce the number of people addicted to smoking. The Bill will greatly add to that reduction and result in an improvement in the nation's health. Conservative Members have decided to table an amendment. I want to comment on that, first by reminding the House of what the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) said in the Queen's Speech debate. I am sorry that he is not in his place. He said:

However, he has put his name to an amendment saying that the House

to the Bill. In my view, that is hardly an example of open-mindedness. At the Dispatch Box, the hon. Gentleman produced the red herring of increased tobacco consumption. As the hon. Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley) rightly pointed out, the figures are not up to date. As the hon. Gentleman said, smoking statistics ought to be available in the way that other statistics are available, because each day, 300 of our fellow citizens die prematurely of smoking-related diseases. That being so, we ought to have better statistics. Having said that, it is clear that the hon. Member for Woodspring misled the House when he said that consumption is greater than ever before.

The amendment also says that

That is not true. Several hon. Members have mentioned the report by Dr. Clive Smee, the chief economic adviser to the Department of Health. No one who has read it could argue that there is insufficient evidence on the subject. The report, which was published in 1992, studied countries that had introduced partial bans on tobacco advertising, and discovered only a marginal fall in cigarette consumption. As we all know--or should know--when faced with limited restrictions, the tobacco industry does not reduce the money that it is prepared to spend on pushing its product; it merely switches to other forms of promotion. That is why there was only a slight fall in consumption.

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As soon as those countries introduced comprehensive bans, the picture began to change. Let us consider the statistics that marked that change. They were clearly stated in the Smee report and cannot be denied. In Norway, consumption dropped by 9 per cent; in Finland, by 6.7 per cent; in Canada, by 4 per cent; and in New Zealand, by 5.5 per cent. The average fall in cigarette consumption was 7 per cent. when advertising was banned.

It beggars belief that the hon. Member for Woodspring should again stand at the Dispatch Box, as he did last month, saying that he wants to see the evidence: the proof exists and has done so for many years. People need to have the will to seize on the evidence and decide what action to take.

The Smee report said that the fall in smoking was on a scale that

That means that it was directly related to an advertising ban. The report concluded:

Of course it does: millions of pounds are spent each day on advertising products in the media so that we will consume them. It is ludicrous to suggest that tobacco advertising stands on its own in relation to other campaigns because its purpose is not to encourage consumption.

Mrs. Spelman: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, in the first instance, it is the job of the Department to produce up-to-date information? Indeed, the Opposition's role is often hampered by a lack of access to departmental information, especially if it is not centrally held. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) made the point that any ban cannot be as effective as the Government might hope while the floodgates are open to smuggling.

Mr. Barron: It is hard to accept that criticism from the Conservatives. The Government have put millions of pounds into providing scanners at ports to check lorries and other vehicles for smuggled cigarettes. The hon. Lady should not shake her head. The previous Government never so much as thought about spending that money, let alone having the will to spend it. This Government have had to tackle smuggling--not just of tobacco and alcohol, but of other products--and are acting on it. Once again, the Conservatives are introducing a red herring. The hon. Lady refers to the need for information. The evidence on tobacco advertising, promotion and consumption has been available for a long time--although in 1993, the then Opposition were denied access to details on the Government's decisions in relation to the evidence in the report.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South): First let me say that I have an interest, to which I shall refer later. Does my hon. Friend agree that the only reason why there is a market for smuggled tobacco is that there is a market for tobacco? Remove the market for tobacco and we remove the need to smuggle.

Mr. Barron: That is absolutely right. If there was no demand for the product, that would certainly be the case.

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I honestly believe that it is stupid to argue that there is insufficient evidence to prove that a ban would reduce consumption. It is not upheld by the facts. The Government are cautious--perhaps even prudent--in estimating that the Bill will reduce consumption by about 2.5 per cent. In light of the evidence of the Smee report, I would expect the figure to be much higher. Even on the Government's estimate, though, 3,000 premature deaths a year--roughly eight a day--will be avoided. Although that is a small fraction of the total number of premature deaths that result from smoking, it equates to the death toll on our roads. It is ridiculous--and inconceivable--for any serious politician to oppose legislation that might prevent deaths on that scale, yet the amendment attempts to defeat the Bill on Second Reading.

The hon. Member for Worthing, West mentioned drink-driving. That issue was tackled not just by getting to know what young men thought about it, but by using advertising to highlight the ills of drink-driving. Advertising works--ask the tobacco companies. We must recognise what has happened before, and the way in which successive Governments have denied the truth about the link between tobacco advertising and consumption.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): I also have an interest to declare, which I, too, shall refer to later.

I accept the health statistics and--absurdly for a retailer--I should like tobacco sales to be reduced, but we have got to be effective. On smuggling, hon. Members only have to ask retailers in their constituencies about their sales to discover that a disproportionately large amount of hand-rolling cigarette paper is sold when compared with the amount of tobacco. We need to control smuggling more effectively because that will help to stop cut-price tobacco and cigarettes coming into the country. It is the price that is important to many people.

Mr. Barron: It is indeed, and when the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) was Chancellor of the Exchequer, he used his Budgets to introduce a real increase in tobacco taxes, which reduced consumption. The price mechanism works and I am pleased that the present Chancellor is continuing with the policy. A price increase does reduce consumption.

I agree that tobacco smuggling is serious. There is no doubt that it is much easier for young children to get their hands on smuggled tobacco than it is for them to buy tobacco from retail outlets. Smuggling does undermine retail outlets, but the answer is not to make concessions to the tobacco industry. The industry lobbies us every year for concessions but the fact is that tobacco taxation does reduce consumption. We need to be better at catching criminals who are flaunting and breaking the law and who have outlets for massive amounts of smuggled goods such as tobacco. We should all concentrate our minds on that, as, indeed, the Government are doing.

The amendment contains the word "quantifiable", which seems to be very important to Opposition Members. However, it seems that their argument has been equally important to the tobacco industry, which has consistently prevaricated in the same way. I remind the House of the Health Committee's decision on the European directive. At the time the Committee was chaired not by my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield

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(Mr. Hinchliffe) but by the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe). In its report of October 1993, the all-party Committee recommended:

I know that some Conservative Members are in favour of legislation, but such procrastination, which has been around for decades, is reflected in the amendment that is before us. If Labour Front Benchers had tabled such an amendment, I would have refused to go through the Lobby to support it. It is about time that we had an open and honest debate on the issue. The Opposition's reference to a "quantifiable reduction" is nothing more than a smokescreen, which confirms what many of us already know and firmly believe: the Conservative party as a whole--if not all its members--is addicted to the tobacco industry.

Reference has been made to the correspondence that took place in 1993. I shall quote an attachment to a letter dated 5 November 1993--sent by the then Secretary of State for Health, the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley) to the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) and copied to members of his Cabinet--outlining the Department of Health's conclusions on the Smee report. Paragraph 7, headed "The review of the effect of tobacco advertising", said:

For years and years, we have heard people inside and outside the House--the Tobacco Manufacturers Association and many others in the tobacco industry--harping on that the issue is about brand share and not consumption. We have even heard that argument today, but it is not true.

The attachment added:

That does not mean that a ban would not reduce consumption in this country, because the first and second conclusions clearly suggest that it would.

I also have a reply, dated 16 November 1993, to that letter which sent to the then Prime Minister by the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), who was then not only President of the Board of Trade but Deputy Prime Minister. It states:

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The right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) referred to that point in his speech.

The then Deputy Prime Minister's letter adds:

The Deputy Prime Minister in the previous Government wrote that letter to the then Prime Minister just a few years ago. However, although the Conservative party is now in opposition--thank goodness--it has tabled an amendment against Second Reading.

The view of the right hon. Member for Henley was shared by the then Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), who, in a letter to the then Prime Minister, said:

All the arguments made in those letters--some of them have also been made by Conservative Members tonight--show we could have and should have had a more comprehensive policy against tobacco.

In the bundle that I received there was also a letter dated 9 November from another Cabinet member, passing comment on freedom of expression--a phrase that appears in the Opposition's amendment today. Those words are not new; they have been around for a long time in the politics of tobacco. This letter was from the then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, William Waldegrave, who wrote:

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We all know very well that the principle that is still thrown around in the debates was breached in 1964 by--and I am pleased to say this--the then Labour Government, who achieved a voluntary agreement to ban the advertising of cigarettes on national television. Initially, the agreement was to ban cigarette advertising before the 9 pm watershed but, in 1965, the agreement was extended to cover the hours after 9 pm. The tobacco industry was no longer allowed to advertise in that powerful national medium, and it is no wonder that the statistics show a decrease in tobacco consumption since that time. Advertising worked. That is why the industry spent money on television advertising. It is interesting that, when that advertising was stopped, tobacco companies switched their money into sponsorship so that they were able to keep their logos appearing on the television screen by sponsoring Formula 1 cars or cricket matches from Lords. They deliberately increased their sponsorship so that they could get their brand names on to television even though the 1964 Labour Government had reached an agreement with them that they should not do that. When we stop them spending money in one area, the companies move into another, if the door is left open. That will be crucial as the Bill progresses through Parliament.

William Waldegrave's letter continued:

The Health Secretary's letter to the Prime Minister said that the Government would make it clear when they renegotiated with the tobacco industry that they would not support the European directive. That was a major mistake in public health terms, and not only in the United Kingdom. The Bill, which was promised in our manifesto, is being introduced in what could be the last Session of this Parliament, instead of having been introduced in the first. We wanted to remove the blot left by the Conservative party for all those years, improving the health not only of this nation but of many other member states.

Tobacco products have enjoyed unparalleled freedom from the safety regulations that apply to virtually all other food or drug products available in this country. My hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield spoke about nicotine replacement treatment. NRT, because it is a medicine, is highly regulated--one has to ask a pharmacist whether one can buy and use the products--while cigarettes are freely available almost everywhere. That is extraordinary given the damage that smoking does. Nowhere else in our society is there such a lack of controls.

Think of all the money that we have spent on BSE, not only by introducing special beef regimes on farms but by taking other necessary measures such as setting up the Food Standards Agency to give us more independence in food checks. Tobacco, on the other hand, is freely available, yet 300 of our fellow citizens die prematurely from it each day.

The evidence is clear, if people are prepared to sit and read it. Opposition Front Benchers were sent four independent reports just before Christmas, showing

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clearly that tobacco advertising influences consumption. It is clear from the evidence--if people are prepared to read it--that voluntary agreements between tobacco manufacturers and Government have failed to deliver the potential gains in public health. The evidence is in the Smee report, and in many other independent reports.

Voluntary agreements do not work, and it is time for legislation. I hope that the Government will strengthen the Bill as it goes through Parliament and consider introducing a tobacco regulation authority, as the all-party Health Committee unanimously recommended. We need to regulate tobacco as strictly as we regulate food and drug products that carry far lesser risks.

It is about time we had a comprehensive system for trying to prevent people from starting smoking and getting them to give it up. We need to do more than has been done in years gone by. I am pleased that the Bill has been introduced, alongside all the Government's other strategies, but I think that there is further to go. It dismays me to see Members of Parliament, who ought to know better, trying to block the improvement of the individual health of thousands of our citizens by means of their reasoned amendment.

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