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Mr. Chope: The hon. Gentleman anticipates my argument. On the Government's information, we expect that, this year--as the tax has been increased by one third and consumption has stayed the same--the yield from tobacco tax will only be £7.4 billion. There is a shortfall of £3.5 billion per annum in tax revenue for the Government. In the same way as the last Conservative Government recognised the law of diminishing returns in relation to high levels of income tax, I hope that, in preparing our manifesto in opposition, we shall be robust and face up to the fact that it is better to repatriate control over tobacco to the lawful elements of this country than to have one third of it controlled by unlawful elements. We could then get the revenue from that tobacco. If we reduced tobacco tax by about £1.20 a packet, it would result in increased income for the Government and increased control over tobacco in this country.
Mr. Taylor: In the 1960s, my two sisters and I lost a father to chronic bronchitis and emphysema from heavy smoking. I predict that many thousands of families in future generations will neither forget nor forgive a Government who encourage tobacco smoking, as the hon. Gentleman predicts for an incoming Conservative Government--which, hopefully, will be many decades away if that is typical of the policies that they espouse.
Mr. Chope: In giving way to the hon. Gentleman, I had not realised that he was going to completely misrepresent my argument. My argument is that one third of the cigarettes consumed in this country are available to young people at a quarter or a third of the price in newsagents. That is generating the increase in smoking among young people. It is offensive and I hope that the next Conservative Government will change it.
Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge): My hon. Friend is making a powerful point. Does he agree that the evidence suggests that smuggled tobacco products sold in this country are sold disproportionately to the most vulnerable groups in society?
Mr. Chope: Absolutely. The Government's White Paper gives the example of a couple on income support who are smokers. In 1994, they were spending some 15 per cent. of their income on tobacco. Now, following the sharp increases in tax, that has increased to 20 per cent. or more. Is it any surprise that they seek opportunities to buy tobacco at reduced prices? That is happening in the marketplace. I know that Labour Members do not understand the marketplace but, for those of us who do, it is gratifying to realise that, as a result of the Government's ludicrous policy of increasing tax, the market is intervening and showing the policy to be totally counterproductive.
I have never smoked, but I am full of admiration for those who do. If they did not, the public programmes for which they pay through their taxes would have to be funded to a greater extent by me. However, as a lawyer, I am concerned about the application of the law of
On 2 October last year, the Daily Echo--my local newspaper--carried on its front page the headline "Smugglers Smoked Out." Incidentally, the newspaper had a splendid photograph of packs of 200 Superkings and Lambert and Butler cigarettes; I do not know whether that will still be allowed if the Bill becomes law. The story described the discovery of 19 passengers on a late-night flight from Tenerife to Bournemouth international airport with 32 suitcases filled with 650,000 cigarettes. Nine people were questioned while another 10 vanished without bothering to collect their luggage.
Customs and Excise estimated the value of the cigarettes to be £130,000, which should have carried a duty fee of £104,000. It was claimed as the biggest seizure of cigarettes from a single plane in the UK. The nine passengers arrested--five men and four women--were not from my constituency, but from the Worksop and Chester area. They may have missed their jackpot on that occasion but, on the latest evidence from Customs, more than £3 billion in tobacco duty is being avoided this year. That is the equivalent of the contents of 30,000 flights like the one that Customs was lucky enough to find at Bournemouth last year. What use are 1,000 extra enforcement officers in bucking the market in contraband which the Government have done so much to bolster with their high tax policy?
Mr. Chope: The DTI is looking into the matter, but the Treasury Committee reported before Christmas that there was no basis whatever for the wholly unfounded allegations made against the British manufacturer in question. In accordance with my belief that a person, company or corporation is innocent until proven guilty, I shall wait to see the evidence without jumping to any conclusion, which I fear the hon. Lady is intent on doing. Those of us who believe in the market are seeing that it is working, and I hope that the Government will now face up to reality.
I wish to refer also to the EU tobacco fund. I do not know whether Members are familiar with it, but it is something to which we all contribute as taxpayers in this country. One of the roles of the EU fund is to identify, and spend money on, research into a less harmful form of tobacco. Let us assume that, unlike most European programmes, this one is successful in identifying a less harmful form of tobacco. How will that product obtain market entry without advertising? I give that as an example of the absurdity of restricting advertising of consumer products and consumer access to information about them.
Mr. Barron: The hon. Gentleman knows that people become addicted not to tobacco but to the nicotine content of cigarettes. Tobacco is one of the dirtiest and most unhealthy ways of taking nicotine into the system.
Mr. Chope: I am not scoffing at the idea. I hope that we shall be able to find a less dangerous form of tobacco. If we succeed in so doing and the product is marketed by a tobacco company, how will the company be able to inform the market at which it is aiming of the virtues of its new, healthier cigarette if it cannot advertise them? The hon. Gentleman has not answered that question.
Mr. David Taylor: The hon. Gentleman is obviously convinced that the market is working well in terms of tobacco advertising and consumption. To what extent does he believe that the following should be factored into marketing calculations: the cost of national health service treatment; the premature cessation of employment of people who retire for reasons of ill health, as my father did at the age of 50; and the loss of a father from a family 20 or 30 years before the end of the natural lifespan that he might otherwise have enjoyed? How are those issues to be factored into the market that the hon. Gentleman so admires?
Mr. Chope: The hon. Gentleman's Government have already factored the issues in by saying that the cost to the health service is between £1 billion and £1.5 billion a year. The yield from tobacco duties to the Exchequer was, under the Conservative Government, more than £8 billion; it has now dropped to £7.4 billion. The difference between those two figures is £700 million or so; one could spend quite a lot of that on nicotine patches and counselling for smokers. However, the Government are losing that revenue at present, because it is going into the black--and very dirty--economy.
Mr. Bercow: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point about the attempt to find and promote a less harmful tobacco substitute. Does he agree that probably the least effective way to secure take-up of such a new product would be to arrange for the European Union to promote it? If it were to do so, minimal take-up would be the most likely consequence.
Mr. Chope: I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. I am very sceptical about whether the money being invested in the tobacco fund will help it to achieve its avowed objective. I note with dismay the fact that we, as taxpayers, are still subsidising to a large extent tobacco growers in the rest of Europe who produce tobacco of such low quality that it is, apparently, fit to be exported only to the third world.
There are all kinds of pragmatic arguments against the Bill. However, its most offensive aspect is that it proposes a total ban on the advertising of a legal, much-used product and denies consumers information that would enable them to make an informed choice. Last week, the House was reminded that Hitler's Government were the only previous European Government to achieve a ban on foxhunting. Over the weekend, we heard that the Government intend to take DNA samples from people who have been arrested as suspects but then acquitted.
One is bound to recall the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller, a Protestant minister who spoke out against the Nazis so courageously during the second world war. [Interruption.] Labour Members may not want to be reminded of the first couplet, which states: