Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill

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Yvette Cooper: The enforcement authorities know exactly who they are. They are properly defined in the Bill. I am trying not to waste the Committee's time by listing them every single time that I refer to trading standards officers. Clause 12(1) expressly states that ``enforcement authority'' means:

    ``(a) in England and Wales, a weights and measures authority;

    (b) in Scotland, a local weights and measures authoritiy; and

    (c) in Northern Ireland, a district council.''

If I have to refer to that every time that I mention trading standards officers, the Committee's debate on the clause will take even longer than it has already. I am trying to move the Committee on to substantive issues.

Legitimate questions were asked about resources. The Department of Health will fund the training of local authority enforcement officers. Resources for enforcement will be allocated in the usual way—through the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

Hon. Members asked whether the Bill would result in a huge number of investigations and prosecutions. I remind the Committee that the approach of trading standards officers is first to draw attention to offences and then to educate to prevent or end offences in the simplest, swiftest way. Prosecution is not trading standards officers' first action; court proceedings are the last resort. The Local Authorities Co-ordinating body on Food and Trading Standards has discussed the issue with the Department and much of what is proposed will fit well into its existing work to prevent under-age sales, especially in the light of the new enforcement protocol that has been drawn up to tackle that problem.

The clause will allow Ministers to take on a prosecution to enforce the measure, but we would not normally expect that to happen, as we have great confidence in the local trading standards authorities' ability to monitor and to prosecute under the terms of the Bill. However, it is appropriate for the Secretary of State or the Minister to have the power to prosecute in an especially costly and complicated case which requires lots of evidence. It is hard to envisage such a case, but it might be one that involves brand sharing or a related matter. However, it is important for that power to be in the Bill to ensure that it is properly enforced when, for example, there is a complicated and costly prosecution that might be difficult for a local trading standards organisation to pursue.

Mr. Ian Bruce: From what the Minister is saying, it appears that she did not include in the list of matters that the Secretary of State would normally take over, something that covers the whole country, which I assumed would have been included in the regulations. If we are talking about advertisements in national newspapers it would be extremely difficult for a local authority to say, ``We're going to spend our money on The Daily Telegraph advertising'' for example, when that clearly covers the whole country. I would have assumed that the Government had a mechanism to pick that up.

Yvette Cooper: Individual cases would need to be considered on their merits, but we do not expect the Bill to result in huge numbers of prosecutions. The tobacco industry has told us that it intends to comply with the law, and we hope that it will do so. Trading standards officers attempt to resolve an issue, to educate and to draw attention to offences before there is a need to prosecute. The Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to prosecute when it is necessary and the case is complicated or costly. However, we are confident that local trading standards authorities will be perfectly competent and able to implement and enforce the Bill. That is their job and that is what that they will do.

Mrs. Spelman: Clause 12 is important and I ask the Minister to reconsider it on Report, because it is not just Government Departments and legislators who will have to work with it. If the clause were expressed in the vernacular, everyone who read it might understand it, but ordinary mortals might read it and wonder whether a new weights and measures authority is to come into existence.

Mr. Ernie Ross: This is time-wasting.

Mrs. Spelman: It is not time-wasting; I am making an important point and it is unnecessary to get frustrated about it.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 13

Powers of entry, etc.

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

Mrs. Spelman: I hope that hon. Gentlemen will not become irritated and frustrated as we debate this clause. They must accept that the practical working of the powers of entry is an important aspect of the Bill that has not been debated before. We spent two full Committee sittings debating the powers of entry during proceedings on the Food Standards Bill in 1999, but now we are being asked to hurry up. It is important to devote the appropriate time to discussion of how the clause will work in practice. I warn Labour Members that I have several questions for the Minister.

Mr. Ian Bruce: Am I to believe, from the expressions of concern about the timetabling, that it was Conservative Members who decided to complete the Committee stage of the Bill in four days? Or was the timetable imposed on us by a motion tabled by the Government?

Mrs. Spelman: The first time that I saw the date of 8 February was on the printed programme motion. Other Bills came out of Committee on the same day, for some mysterious reason, which is probably not unconnected with the imminent general election. We are all trying to read the tea leaves on that.

Clause 13 deals with powers of entry. That important matter will affect people. The stakes are high when an enforcement officer is required to use powers of entry. It quite often becomes public knowledge that an investigation has taken place, and stigma attaches to the individual who has been investigated. We must help the Government to find the right balance for powers of entry. We accept that enforcement has to be effective.

My first question to the Minister relates to clause 13(1)(a), which states that an exception is made for a private dwelling house. I wish to place it on record that I desire legitimately to protect people's domestic property when it is used only for its proper purpose. I have, however, a major concern about enforcement of the ban on tobacco advertising, which is linked to our fundamental concern about the effect of the Bill on illegally smuggled tobacco. At present, there is good reason to suspect that there are non-commercial premises where contraband is stored prior to sale. Although this is anecdotal—I have not physically witnessed it—I fear that more often than not the contraband is stored in a garage attached to the home of someone who has access to one of the famous white vans that are responsible for distributing up to 48 per cent. of the contraband cigarettes that are smoked in the north-east.

I am keen to close the floodgates on illegally imported tobacco. That was the key point of our amendment on Second Reading. Every time that the hon. Member for Rother Valley refers to the strategy of Conservative Members on Second Reading, he studiously omits to point out that we moved a reasoned amendment to the Bill. I am keen to impress on the Committee that the amendment was not a flat rejection of the ban on tobacco advertising; the rationale behind it was to deal with the volume of illegally imported tobacco.

Will the exemption for a private dwelling house include the garage? I want to see an innocent person's home protected, but can the Minister assure me that, in granting this legitimate exemption, she is satisfied that it will not prevent enforcement officers from examining whether tobacco advertising, especially of illegally imported products, is taking place if they are not able to gain entry to garages?

Mr. Nick Harvey (North Devon): I am mystified by what the hon. Lady's remarks have to do with advertising or promoting tobacco. What she says is logical if the objective of the Bill is to tackle the smuggling problem, but it seems highly unlikely that the premises where the smuggled goods are to be found will be advertised.

Mrs. Spelman: I do not know whether I am grateful for the hon. Member's intervention. He clearly does not do his household shopping. Those of us who go regularly to the supermarket look from time to time at the ``For Sale'' board, where people can advertise kittens or their car without the hassle of advertising it in the newspaper. For the hon. Member's information, on those boards one sees cut-price cigarettes advertised with a domestic address and telephone number. The look of bewilderment on the face of the hon. Member indicates, and I have no reason to doubt, his complete innocence in all these matters—and mine, too, in terms of ever contemplating securing illegally imported tobacco. It would not even cross my mind to do that, but the fact is that, for quite a proportion of the population, it does. It is one of the main reasons for fuelling the prevalence of smoking.

10.30 am

We have not had ``advertisement'' tightly defined, and those notices appear in supermarkets all over the UK. Does the Minister think that they are advertising? An enforcement officer doing his or her weekly shopping in the supermarket might well see a little postcard on the notice board of a supermarket and think that it may open up an interesting line of inquiry because he thinks that it constitutes an advertisement. He may pursue it to the address and find that it is a private dwelling house. Under the Bill—[Interruption.] I am finding it quite hard to concentrate, Mrs. Adams. Under the Bill, he or she is currently prevented from access, and I should not wish us to tie the hands of the enforcement officers and prevent them from being able to shut something down. I think that that is a loophole.

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Prepared 8 February 2001