Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill

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Mr. Luff: Let us suppose that a particular ISP was acquiring a reputation for carrying tobacco advertisements outside our jurisdiction and that that provider had to be accessed through BT lines. Theoretically, it would be possible for BT to say, ``We know that that provider is a problem.'' Should we not insert the word ``reasonably'' into paragraph (b) of amendment No.19, to read,

    ``he was not reasonably able to prevent its further distribution''.

In absolute terms, BT could prevent further distribution. Do we need to provide additional defence by inserting ``reasonably'' to ensure that BT is safe?

Yvette Cooper: We have discussed the matter in detail, because it is a new area. Certainly, the legal advice that we have had is that we do not need to do it.

The nature of the defences and the technology that we put in place means that there will be a clear defence for BT in that situation. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, however, that were it to become easy, via a future means of electronic distribution, for someone involved in the chain to be aware of, and easily prevent access to, an advertisement, they should be covered under the Bill. That technology does not exist at the moment and I cannot envisage it.

Mr. Ian Bruce: Internet service providers want to know who will inform them about advertisements. One can imagine that the ISP receives an e-mail from Joe Smith, who says, ``When I surfed the web for such-and-such, this advert seemed to be thrown at me. Do something about it.'' That could be happening 100 times a day, and there are problems in tracking down how that advertisement, or whatever it may be, actually came to be on a web page. What is ``knowing about an advertisement''? Someone could go to the enforcement agency and say, ``I told them the advert was there. Why haven't they removed it?''

Yvette Cooper: I am aware of that concern and I have sympathy with it. Clearly, ISPs should not have to be concerned about malicious remarks, phone calls or e-mails made to them in an unco-ordinated way. That clearly would be difficult for them. However, in practice there are mechanisms for dealing with the problem. There is an existing criminal offence, for example, of publishing and distributing child pornography. There is no privileged defence for ISPs against that offence in the way that there is a privileged defence in the Bill. They have no special status in law, which means that they are not aware of the child pornography unless a particular organisation tells them. At the moment, they do not have a specific defence in the case of child pornography that they can act only if they are told by the trading standards association or by a particular organisation. However, there is an effective voluntary system, which seems to work, to co-ordinate concerns, criticisms or people identifying incidents of child pornography. In practice, it clearly makes sense for the ISPs to have a single body to assess what is child pornography and inform them accordingly rather than to have to respond to individual complaints.

The ISPs have set up the Internet Watch Foundation, through which complaints about child pornography on the internet are channelled. The foundation advises whether ISPs need to act in a particular case. We certainly have a lot of interest in that system and think that it could be the type that may help in the Bill.

Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): Opposition Members are rightly examining in some detail one of the issues that may pose problems. Although we are not yet discussing clause 7, it is relevant to the debate, as it gives sufficient flexibility to tackle any problems that may emerge of the type that Opposition Members suggest are probable.

Yvette Cooper: The purpose of clause 7 is to provide the flexibility to cope with changing technology and deal with different situations that may arise. Even for tobacco advertising, a voluntary system that works within the legal framework is something that we would clearly like. We would be keen to work with the ISPs on setting up a system similar to the one that operates for child pornography.

Mr. Luff: Is there not a problem here? Everyone is against child pornography—except child pornographers. There is a huge international consensus against it. Not everyone is against tobacco smoking or tobacco advertising, so it will be much more difficult to establish a voluntary system when there is a financial incentive for tobacco companies to get round the ban and to advertise heavily on the internet.

Yvette Cooper: The circumstances may be more complicated and research will be needed to see how it would work. That is why we are seeking to collaborate with ISPs, and perhaps with the Internet Watch Foundation, on what form such a system would take. The overall principle of a legal framework with an effective voluntary system to ensure that it works is clearly operating successfully against child pornography; we should like to see it working successfully against tobacco advertising.

Mr. Ian Bruce: To cut to the chase on this, I wonder whether in the Lords the Government may wish to table an amendment to set up a voluntary code—Conservative Members are very much in favour voluntary codes—for co-operation on who can advise the Internet Watch Foundation or whomever. I am a great fan of the Internet Watch Foundation. The ISPs, which set it up using their own money, are to be congratulated on it. The Internet Service Providers Association—a United Kingdom association—deals with only 80 or 90 per cent. of ISPs. The Internet Watch Foundation is under-funded and if it is given another task, I suspect that it will need additional help. We should be worried that an ISP will be set up specifically to deal with tobacco and will not bother to join any such association.

Yvette Cooper: We considered whether such a system needed to be included in the Bill. We reached the conclusion that it did not and that it would be less burdensome to develop a voluntary system that was not included in the Bill. We are happy to discuss with the Internet Watch Foundation or with ISPs the form that the system should take and how it should function. We have discussed the matter in detail with the Department for Trade and Industry, which takes the lead on e-commerce, to ensure that we find the least burdensome way to implement it. That can be done if people work together.

The group contains a series of amendments that cover a range of issues. We recognise that issues relating to the internet are complex, given the pace of developing technology. In the Bill, we have tried to provide defences that are sufficiently broad to cope with the technology, so that ISPs and others involved in electronic means of distribution will be treated fairly and at the same time we can stop tobacco advertising and promotion in the United Kingdom.

        Debate adjourned.—[Mrs. McGuire.]

        Adjourned accordingly at two minutes to Ten o'clock till this day at half-past Two o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Malins, Mr. Humfrey (Chairman)
Barron, Mr.
Bruce, Mr. Ian
Cooper, Yvette
Gidley, Sandra
Luff, Mr.
McFall, Mr.
McGuire, Mrs.
Robertson, John
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Ross, Mr. Ernie
Ruddock, Joan
Spelman, Mrs.
Taylor, Mr. David

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