Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill

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Mrs. Spelman: As a television viewer, how easily will I remember to which authority I must refer my complaint? Section 2(1)(b) of the 1990 Act refers to ``additional services which are provided from places in the United Kingdom''.

To whom should I refer a complaint about product placement in an imported programme shown on a particular channel?

Yvette Cooper: The two focuses should be the BBC or the ITC's code of practice. I will happily give the hon. Lady the full details in that regard. Clearly, such product placement should be prevented and properly regulated under the existing framework.

Mr. Ian Bruce: I am sure that the hon. Lady, as a health Minister, thinks that there are just two regulators. A report from the European Informatics Market group, the all-party group on the matter, found 13 different regulators that deal with such broadcasting issues in the United Kingdom alone.

Yvette Cooper: Such issues are covered by the Broadcasting Acts, and a regulatory framework is in place. We considered whether we should try to regulate all those issues under the same framework and the same Bill. We decided that, because a regulatory framework was already in place for television, the right approach would be to make sure that this Bill covered all television services or additional services that were not already covered by the Broadcasting Acts. That is exactly what the clause does. It does not try to replicate or overlay an existing regulatory framework with a new one that might complicate it. It tries to cover all additional services to ensure a full and complete ban on tobacco advertising in this country.

Mrs. Spelman: I genuinely do not know the answer to my question, as it relates to an issue that would be dealt with by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. Would it require eight complaints to be received to trigger an investigation? Currently, eight complaints must be received to trigger an investigation into bias.

Yvette Cooper: I cannot answer that in relation to the nature of the way in which the investigations take place. I shall be happy to find that out before this afternoon's sitting.

The Bill's intention is clear: we want to make sure there is a proper system to regulate tobacco advertising. The Bill should plug the gaps that might not already be covered by an advertising ban.

The hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) asked whether the Bill should be progressed by the DCMS or the DTI. Life and legislation do not fit neatly into particular boxes. He obviously thinks it a shame that the Bill has implications for several Departments, but that, inevitably, is how a lot of legislation works. We are introducing the Bill because of our concern for public health and the 120,000 deaths that result each year from smoking and tobacco. The question of which Departments will be involved is something of a red herring. The important point is that we should get the Bill right, and there are clear health reasons to do so.

Mrs. Spelman: I had hoped to catch the Minister before she sat down because this will be our last chance to talk about broadcasting. Can she clarify the situation as regards my point about imported programmes and the responsibility that television service providers have for their content? In the case of programmes imported from America, such as films that have blatant product placement in them, would the BBC be able to use the same defence as an individual and say that it had had no reason to suspect that the film contained product placement? Would the Minister regard that defence as reasonable in a case in which there was blatant product placement in an American programme?

Yvette Cooper: Certainly, those involved in the means of transmission may use the defences of not knowing, not being aware, or not having any reason to suspect. In the case of sponsorship agreements, the companies involved in transmitting or distributing films would only be affected, under the sponsorship clauses, if the purpose of what was done as a result of the agreement was to promote a tobacco product. However, if they were based in this country and involved in broadcasting an advertisement for tobacco, they would be covered, even if the advertisement had originated abroad.

Mr. Bruce: The Minister keeps using the word ``advertisement''. According to the dictionary, ``advertisement'' means ``simply referring to'' tobacco. Will she deal with that point?

Yvette Cooper: We had that discussion many times in the debates on clauses 1 and 2 and several more clauses since. I have made it clear every time that the word ``advertisement'' in this sense carries its natural meaning. Clause 1 states that a

    ```tobacco advertisement' means an advertisement—

    (a) whose purpose is to promote a tobacco product''.

The main offence in the Bill, as set out in clause 2, relates to

    ``A person who in the course of a business publishes a tobacco advertisement, or causes one to be published''

or distributed. Our intentions have been made clear.

The Committee has discussed issues surrounding display, and will discuss them again when we reach the new clauses. We have also discussed how the Bill does not include freedom of speech or news reporting. The Bill is competent and adequate, and we have had quite enough debate to make clear the intention of the House on advertising.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 11, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 12


Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mrs. Spelman: We are keen to discuss the clause because it relates to a completely different subject. Having arrived in the Committee at this stage, Mrs. Adams, you could not know that we have had no discussion on enforcement and have saved all our points on it for this debate.

Enforcement is an important area. We share the Government's aim of trying to reduce smoking. We have our doubts about the Bill's effectiveness given that there is no effective control over the volume of smuggled tobacco coming into the UK. None the less, the enforcement authorities will be required to put the Bill into effect, and even its limited effectiveness will depend greatly on those authorities. It seems perfectly reasonable, therefore, to ask the Minister what the Government intend in terms of allocating resources to the weights and measures authorities in England, Wales and Scotland and to district councils in Northern Ireland so that they are able to enforce the Act. We have not raised that question before and now is the right time to do so.

When the Act comes into effect, it will be bound to create many cases, at least initially, that need investigation by the relevant enforcement authority. The Bill represents a big shift in practice as regards the currently quite legitimate advertising of tobacco products. Those who engage in the trade of buying and selling tobacco products and their accessories will have to adapt to a new situation in which it is no longer legal to advertise those tobacco products. During the earlier stages of the Commiteee, we sought on a number of occasions to clarify precisely what is an advertisement and what is a display, and we are going to receive some clarification on the latter point when we debate new clause 3.

There will undeniably be a transitional period during which those involved in the trade will try to adjust to the new law and work out precisely what it means for them. A lot of specific guidance has still to be given in regulations; effectively, we have an empty box into which the regulations have still to be placed. I have been very concerned that a number of small commercial entities that trade tobacco products, such as specialist tobacconists and corner shops in which 50 per cent. of the product is tobacco, may find themselves in the difficult position of having to go to court to clarify whether they are trading legitimately once the Act bans tobacco advertising.

The up-front cost to the weights and measures authorities concerns me. It would be extremely helpful to those who trade in tobacco products to have the assistance of the authorities in clarifying, in the early stages, precisely what the regulations mean. We cannot give any guidance because we have not seen the regulations, which will not be set out in the Bill. The rule of the enforcement authorities will be very important, and I am aware, from other Bills that have gone through this House and passed into law over the past four years, that we are expecting a lot of extra work from weights and measures authorities in England, Wales and Scotland and from our district councils.

The resourcing of the authorities is pertinent. We share an interest with the Government in that we want to ensure that those who will be affected by the Bill should have proper guidance, part of which will undoubtedly be provided by the weights and measures officers.

Why will Ministers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland be able to take over enforcement functions in some cases? Is that because no extra resources are being allocated to the weights and measures authorities in England and Wales? Is that the intention of the Minister's Department, given that a lot of up-front effort will be needed to get across the change in commercial practice that the Bill requires? What is the rationale behind that provision? Does the Department take the pessimistic view that the authorities are likely to fail in their task, and that the Department will need to be able to take over those powers if weights and measures authorities protest either that they do not have the required resources, or are not capable in some way.

9.45 am

The Local Government Act 1999 provides, in a similar way, for the Government to step in where local authorities fail to perform particular tasks, as properly measured. Does the Minister agree that it is important for the weights and measures authorities to know the circumstances in which her Department might muscle in and take over. That could be demoralising to someone who has been carrying out a new task in trying to bring about a change in commercial practice by stemming tobacco advertising and who suddenly finds that it has been taken out of his or her responsibilities. That could lead a local authority to think that it had not done well in the task, and was being criticised. It is important to spell out for everyone's sake, the circumstances in which the Department would take over responsibility.

Does the provision have anything to do with taking a case through to prosecution? Is some sort of two-tier role in operation, under which weights and measures authorities may check on where there may be a breach of the law, but the Department take over because of the cost of going to court and prosecuting. I am interested to know the rationale behind the provision.

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Prepared 8 February 2001