Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Alasdair Morgan: The hon. Gentleman said that he was interesting in protecting personal freedom, but surely there is a world of difference--to use his phrase--between personal freedoms and corporate freedoms, especially as we are talking about large multinational corporations.

Mr. Atkinson: That shows the nonsense of the Government's view. There is no difference. The hon. Gentleman is seeking to demonise international corporations as though they were sinister bodies.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): They are.

Mr. Atkinson: There we have it. That was never more obvious than when the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), accused the tobacco companies and said, in a rather brutal speech, that the previous attempt to stop tobacco advertising was blocked by the tobacco industry and its German allies. I am surprised that he did not talk about Krauts, because he was clearly playing the world- war-two card.

In fact, the tobacco industry and its German allies went to the European Court of Justice and said that the directive, passed by the European Commission, was unlawful and the European Court of Justice agreed. The directive had to be scrapped because the court found that it was a public health measure which had been wrongly introduced as a single-market measure.

The current Secretary of State for Health also had a go at the tobacco industry when it went to the High Court. Any citizen is entitled to go to the High Court to seek redress when someone--including the Government--behaves wrongly. The industry won; the High Court ruled in its favour and the Secretary of State said:

That is a disgraceful remark, given that someone had gone before one of the highest courts in the land and won the case.

The reason why we are here tonight is, of course, cynicism. We all know that the Secretary of State has failed to improve the national health service and cut waiting lists--one of his key manifesto pledges. We also know that he does not want another manifesto pledge--to abolish tobacco advertising--to be added to his blacklist. That is why he is trying to push the Bill through, even though I suspect that, in his heart of hearts, he knows that his statement that the Bill complies with the European convention on human rights will be challenged and may not be sustainable.

The hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) said that he was glad that the Scottish Parliament had decided not to proceed with a similar Bill

22 Jan 2001 : Column 708

but to support United Kingdom legislation. Under the Scotland Act 1998, all Scottish law has to comply with the European convention on human rights, and the Scottish judges will strike it down if it does not. The Scottish Parliament did not grab the opportunity to make a few headlines, because it knew perfectly well from its clear legal advice that the Bill does not comply with the European convention and is likely to fall. I do not understand why the Secretary of State and the Minister will not wait to find out what happens to the European directive. That would have been the obvious solution.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): The hon. Gentleman fails to understand why many hon. Members on both sides of the House feel such passion about the Bill. Surely he misses the fact that the tobacco companies have a track record of cynically aiming their product at young people and targeting the developing world. My particular concern has always been the fact that young people are not protected from advertising, product placement and all the other wiles of a tobacco industry which, on the record in the United States and the United Kingdom, is not like other companies, does not have the same standards and has to be watched carefully at every step in terms of management, competence and strategy. That is the difference.

Mr. Atkinson: I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. If he had been in his place earlier, he would have heard my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley) make an excellent speech, explaining precisely why--he certainly convinced me--he believes young people start smoking. They start smoking not because of advertising but because of peer pressure and their friends' behaviour. There are many reasons why they start smoking, as my hon. Friend said in an intervention. Sadly, many young people take recreational drugs. Those drugs are outlawed and not advertised, yet they still take them in increasing numbers. It is by no means clear, to say the least, that advertising has any effect on that. If the hon. Gentleman cannot prove beyond all reasonable doubt that advertising affects young people and will cause a fall in the consumption of cigarettes, we should not take away the freedom of expression to which the tobacco industry and its clients are entitled.

Mr. Sheerman: Is the hon. Gentleman not concerned about the large amount of data showing the relationship between exposure to advertising and people taking up a particular product? If that relationship does not exist, why on earth do people advertise in the first place? There is a relationship between brands, selling, marketing, advertising and consumption: that has been clear since commerce began. Furthermore, the tobacco companies' track record causes some of us to remain concerned that, even if the Bill is passed, they will get round it. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that free cigarettes are given to many pop icons so that they will smoke on television--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The hon. Gentleman's intervention is becoming more of a speech.

Mr. Atkinson: I am not aware of such a practice and I should be surprised if such a thing were done and television companies allowed it. To my regret, I have now forgotten the first point made by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman).

22 Jan 2001 : Column 709

If one is going to take away people's freedom to express their views, to promote their legally available product and to tell their customers what is and is not available, the evidence has to be 100 per cent. copper-bottomed, but it is manifestly not so in this case. Tonight, several hon. Members have bandied around the Smee report. When it was originally published, claims were made that the report stated that banning tobacco advertising would cut consumption by 16 per cent. However, a week later, the newspaper concerned was forced to publish an apology, saying that Mr. Smee had

We see how figures can be manipulated.

I have remembered the point made by the hon. Member for Huddersfield. The reason why companies advertise--so market research people tell me--is to encourage brand loyalty. I am neither a market research expert nor an advertising person, but I suspect that the claims of such people are as valid as those made by the militant anti-smoking lobby. I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), who looks as though he wants to intervene.

Mr. Bercow: I resist.

Mr. Atkinson: I beg my hon. Friend's pardon.

Several speakers have rightly identified as one of the problems causing the recent increase in tobacco consumption the amount of smuggled cigarettes and rolling tobacco coming into this country. I represent a constituency in the north-east of England, and there can be no doubt that the north-east is the capital of the bootleg cigarette. One of the tobacco companies recently conducted a project whereby it paid cleaners at certain football stadiums--I am not allowed to say which ones--to pick up empty cigarette packets after matches; the company has now revealed that one in every three packs is imported. We know that vast quantities of cheap cigarettes are coming into the north-east. I am told that in parts of Durham and similar places, one can pop into a club, leave an order and get a carton of 200 cigarettes a few days later.

Such activities are no longer regarded as an offence. By forcing up tax on tobacco to an unsustainable level, the Government have turned loads of people into acquiescent criminals. Buying bootleg cigarettes is no longer perceived as wrong.

Mr. Bercow rose--

Mr. Atkinson: Ah, I see that my hon. Friend has risen to the occasion. I give way.

Mr. Bercow: I found intervening irresistible in the face of my hon. Friend's eloquence. On the question of motivation, one can speak only for oneself. I briefly smoked cigarettes at secondary school, not because of any advertisement, but because two of my schoolmates did so. However, does my hon. Friend accept that, on discovering that one of them was a member of the Socialist Workers party, I thought it inappropriate to be seen in his company, whether smoking or otherwise?

22 Jan 2001 : Column 710

Mr. Atkinson: It is clear that my hon. Friend was a man of principle from an early age.

Mr. Evans: Does my hon. Friend accept that tobacco smuggling on a large scale has a double-whammy effect? First, people are able to get tobacco products very cheaply; secondly, the tax lost to the Exchequer is money that does not go into the national health service, education, law and order and other essential services, which is a real problem for the Government.

Next Section

IndexHome Page