Previous SectionIndexHome Page

8.38 pm

John Robertson: I served on the Standing Committee, and I should like to have an input to the debate. As one who is new to this game, so to speak, I found the Standing Committee very educational. For example, Opposition Members wanted clarification about the word "advertising". They must have asked for that about 10 times and, even though my hon. Friend the Minister told them on several occasions that the definition was in clause 1, they proceeded to ask on several further occasions why it was not also included in other parts of the Bill, thus wasting time.

Earlier this evening, the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) mentioned an article in The Daily Telegraph, which gives us an idea of the kind of advertising to which the tobacco industry is now stooping. It explains how a woman approached six undergraduates and asked them whether they would like to earn £50. To do so, they would have to go into pubs smoking and--among other criteria that they would have to fulfil--circulate among the other people there. They would have to dress in a glamorous fashion, hand round cigarettes--giving them away--and leave packets of cigarettes on unattended tables.

The aim was to attract people aged barely 18. As under-age drinking was taking place in some of the clubs involved, it was not possible to rule on the age of those smoking the cigarettes. The brand involved was Gauloises. It is not a cigarette with which I am familiar, but I have smelt it on occasion, and it is certainly recognisable by those who know someone who smokes it.

What I have described is a particularly disgraceful type of advertising, which I hope the Bill will cover.

Dr. Fox: We deprecate operations of that kind, but, as I am sure the Minister will confirm, the Bill will not cover such advertising.

John Robertson: I think it will, but no doubt the Minister will clarify the position. I certainly hope that it will be covered, but that, if it is not, an appropriate amendment will be tabled in the other place.

I do not wish to speak for long, mainly because I know that Opposition Members want to contribute--far be it from me to stop them--but I remind the House that the Bill has been introduced because 120,000 people die of tobacco-related illnesses each year. In 1996, 350,000 children aged between 11 and 15 were smoking regularly. I was sympathetic towards the amendment on product placement tabled by the hon. Member for Meriden, and I was sorry that the Government did not see fit to accept it. I fear that product placement is the tobacco industry's next step down the road of attacking--as I would put it--young people, and trying to persuade them to smoke earlier. It is important for us to tackle such advertising.

I congratulate The Daily Telegraph on its responsible article, although it is not a newspaper that supports my party very often. It has brought an issue to light, as I am sure the Minister will agree. I hope that if there is a loophole in the Bill, the Minister will take that on board, and it will be taken care of in the other place.

13 Feb 2001 : Column 236

8.42 pm

Mr. Nick Harvey (North Devon): Let me again record our support for the Bill, which has worthy aims. If we have a regret, it is that the Government did not present the legislation sooner. We consider it to be a competent Bill--especially in its amended form, following Committee stage--and one whose scope is sensibly limited: it relies on existing legislation and regulatory frameworks to control a number of the media involved, but nevertheless is likely to add a substantial weapon to the campaign against smoking.

No one, surely, can doubt the role played by smoking in deteriorating public health in the United Kingdom and abroad. Smoking is connected with a range of diseases and other conditions; anything that can be done to reduce its prevalence, thereby improving public health, must be worth trying. It was argued on Second Reading, although the argument has featured less since then, that cigarette advertising did not increase consumption. The suggestion was fairly well demolished on Second Reading, and it cannot count for nothing that so much cigarette advertising takes place, but it is worth repeating that advertising generally does not enjoy complete commercial freedom. There are restraints on it, and responsibilities are placed on advertisers.

I do not think that the curtailing of commercial advertising would represent any terrible, swingeing loss of freedom of speech or individual liberty for producers. I do not believe that that is a high price to pay. However, as the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) said, we do not really know how effective the provision will be. That is a fair point. Nevertheless, on the balance of the arguments that we have heard and considered, I believe that it is worth trying the provision to see whether it might do some good.

Some goods points were made in Committee. The hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) made one or two goods points about the internet and electronic advertising. It is fair to say, however, that he made those points at extraordinary length. I am entirely unclear whether that was a tactic to sustain the argument that not enough time was being provided to consider the Bill, or whether he simply could not help it. I shall give him the benefit of the doubt. However, the argument that we have not given adequate time to the Bill is absolute nonsense. Although we did progress unusually quickly from Second Reading to Committee, and from Committee to Report, the total time given to the Bill has been more than adequate for a small, 20-clause measure.

Conservative Members have spent more time debating whether there is enough time, and dragging out our proceedings to try to demonstrate that there is not, than they have spent debating the principles at stake.

Mrs. Spelman: Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that in Committee the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) was given an undertaking that on Report there would be a debate on new clause 5, but we have not had time for that debate?

Mr. Harvey: The hon. Lady's point is reasonable, in that I should have liked new clause 5 to be debated. However, it has not been selected for debate. It therefore seems to be less a lack of time and more that, for whatever reason, the new clause did not find favour in the Speaker's

13 Feb 2001 : Column 237

Office and was not selected for debate today. When the Bill goes to the other place, perhaps a similar provision will have a chance for debate.

Sir Peter Emery: May I point out to the hon. Gentleman, as nicely as I can, that, as the selection list shows, there was not time to debate four whole groups of amendments comprising about 30 amendments? At the end of the debate, the occupant of the Chair had to put the Government amendments in those groups en masse without any debate whatsoever. I therefore think that the hon. Gentleman might want to be a little more careful in his assumptions.

Mr. Harvey: I was trying to be kind. It has to be said, however, that the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) moved an amendment and spoke to that group for more than 30 minutes, but, at the end of that debate, did not press any of the amendments to a vote. We have seen exactly the same throughout the Bill's passage. The official Opposition are perfectly entitled to do that if they want. I am simply saying that, after all that, I do not believe that there is a sustainable argument that not enough time has been given to the Bill, which has only 20 clauses. The time provided, both in Committee and in the two full-scale debates in the House, has been proportionate to the scale of the Bill and its objectives. We have given more than adequate time to it.

Although I agree, as I said, that we have progressed more hurriedly than usual from one stage to another--which may or may not have something to do with certain events that we all believe to be pending--the total time that we have given to a short, 20-clause Bill has been more than adequate. If Conservative Members had been a little more concise in making some of their points, they would have had plenty of time, both today and in Committee, to debate all the groups of amendments.

Dr. Fox: I am a little puzzled. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the time given to the Bill was adequate, why did Liberal Democrat Members vote against the programme motion?

Mr. Harvey: We voted against that motion for the same reason that we have voted against other programme motions. We believe that the motions themselves are being drafted and moved before the Government have had a proper opportunity to assess the arguments that were made on Second Reading and to test the waters before deciding how much time should be provided. The details of the programme motion were perfectly reasonable, but my party opposed it--and other programme motions--because of the haste with which it was implemented. My party is in favour of programme motions--

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Before the debate goes too wide, I remind the House that debate on Third Reading is restricted to the contents of a Bill. The question is whether this Bill should have a Third reading.

Mr. Harvey: I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sure that you observed that I was simply responding to interventions, but you are, of course, quite right.

13 Feb 2001 : Column 238

This is a good Bill, with worthwhile aims. As a result of the amendments that have been made, it is competently drafted. My party is pleased to support it this evening.

Next Section

IndexHome Page