Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill

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Mr. Ian Bruce: My hon. Friend was a bit hard on the hon. Member for North Devon who clearly intervened only to demonstrate that he was actually in the Committee, which he was not on a previous occasion. Perhaps he meant to pretend that the hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley) was here, when she is not. That is the sort of attention to detail we are used to from the Liberal Democrats.

The Chairman: Order. Mr. Bruce, you are really trying my patience.

Mrs. Spelman: Mrs. Adams, we have no wish to try your patience. We are trying to look carefully at the effectiveness of enforcement. The same matter arises in clause 13(4), under which a justice of the peace must assess the grounds given for reasonable entry, except in a private dwelling house. I have a similar concern that we may be closing down an effective method of constraining the ever-increasing flow of illegally imported tobacco products into the UK.

My second point was to raise, with the Minister, the wording and implication of clause 13(2). It states:

    ``A duly authorised officer of an enforcement authority may make such purchases and secure the provision of such services as he considers necessary for the purpose of the proper exercise of his functions.''

In my na—ve way, I was concerned to read that, given our responsibility to use taxpayers' money being wisely, effectively and efficiently. The provision sounds suspiciously like a blank cheque. No definition or constraint is being placed on the purchases—no restriction to reasonable purchases— that the enforcement authority could make. That is a little more sinister than it appears to be. We must be wise about the whole question of illegally imported products.

Let us suppose that an enforcement officer breaks into a garage at an address—the Minister is going to say that he can do so—that he saw on a postcard in a supermarket, which suggested that there might be illegally imported cigarettes there. The officer may have regarded the postcard as an advertisement of the cut-price cigarettes. We are talking about the underworld, and criminal activity. Let us suppose that the officer was then caught up in the purchase of some contraband. We know that that happens in relation to other illegal substances, and I should not like to create a loophole here. An enforcement officer should have to give a better account of why such expenditure would be necessary.

John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland): If the hon. Lady and her party are so concerned about such matters why has she not tabled amendments on these clauses? Why are we having this discussion?

Mr. Ian Bruce: Because of the time constraints.

The Chairman: Order.

Mrs. Spelman: I repeat the outcry on my side of the Committee. We have only two sittings left and points can be dealt with in the stand part debate without having separate debates on recent amendments. That will give the Government the opportunity to amend the Bill in the way that I have suggested, adding ``reasonable'' to the clause on Report. That is what I seek.

I am concerned about the inter-relationship between subsections (1)(d) and (3). In subsection (1)(d), the enforcement officer requires a

    ``person to give him such information, or afford him such facilities and assistance, as he considers necessary for

the purpose for which he has entered the premises. Clause 13(3) makes it clear that a

    ``person is not answer any questions or produce any document''.

A police officer makes it clear to people who are apprehended on suspicion of a crime that any evidence that he or she gives may be—I think it goes like this—``taken down, and used in evidence against you''. I cannot remember the exact wording as no one has ever said those words to me, but we have seen enough television programmes on crime to know the phrase.

Will it be clear to the person initially required to give information in this case that he or she is not obliged to answer? It could be frightening when a person's premises are entered. In a state of fear, people may not be clear that they are not obliged to give information unless that fact is clearly stated to them. Will the Minister clarify whether it will be?

On clause 13(5), it is unfortunate that the hon. Member for Rother Valley has left the Committee, because he and I shared the experience of the proceedings on the Food Standards Bill, which contains clauses parallel to this one. We debated at length who might accompany an enforcement officer. I warn the Minister that the Bill states that, when entering premises, the enforcement officer may take with him

    ``such other persons and such equipment as he considers necessary.''

When we debated the scope for an enforcement officer to do that under the Food Standards Bill we insisted that such other persons should be authorised.

The media take a great interest in scare stories and issues such as these. It is not impossible for an investigative journalist pursuing a story involving a possible conviction to find his way in unless it is specified that the person accompanying an enforcement officer must be authorised. That would not be unreasonable protection for the person into whose premises the enforcement officer has broken for the legitimate purpose of investigating whether the ban on tobacco advertising has been contravened.

Those are all practical points that relate to the considerable powers that have been provided to enforce the Bill. I will be interested to hear the Minister's response.

Mr. Ian Bruce: Clause 13 is long. Clearly, in the time available for the entire Committee stage we cannot go into detail, but on my first reading of the clause, I suspected that those who drafted it had been careful to consider the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and the Human Rights Act 1998 to try to make sure that all the appropriate authorisations were given.

The issue is a minefield, though not of the Minister's making. Problems can arise simply from a clever lawyer saying, ``Yes, you've got all the evidence, you've done everything, other than meet this clause of this particular Act''. All the evidence that any common-sense person would consider perfectly good could then be thrown out. Unfortunately, that is happening more and more in courts. I do not in any way accuse the Minister of not trying her best to prevent that, but will she say a few words about how investigations operate under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, which prevents all sorts of things, and whether that will take precedence over powers given in the Bill under discussion?

My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden made a point about other people being authorised to be present at an investigation with an officer. It seems sensible that a police officer authorised to investigate can take along someone else such as a technical expert. However, under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, we might discover that someone on the premises has not been properly authorised.

I am worried about the interaction between the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. In the past a police officer, with his warrant card, was considered to have all sorts of authority. Under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, the police officer often has to get additional authority to enter someone's premises. Certainly, the police officer has to have the entry authorised in advance by a senior officer and a magistrate in order to enter the premises unannounced.

I am concerned that the Bill gives only trading standards officers authorisation to enter premises. If a police officer and trading standards officer want to be authorised to investigate premises together, the magistrate may not be able to authorise the police officer because he is not listed in the Bill. Perhaps that is a semantic point. However, the issue of authorisation is problematic. Police officers should have a clear ability to investigate any crime without getting caught by interrelating Acts and Bills.

A further issue arises over how authorisation affects the internet. I have read the clause several times, and it does not specifically deal with the internet. I note that in excluding a private dwelling house, it says:

    ``used only as a private dwelling house''.

There might be difficulty with a police officer seeking to obtain authorisation from a magistrate for entry to a residential house that is not registered by the local authority as a business premises, but is suspected of operating as a business via the internet. It might be difficult for an officer to check whether a particular computer has been used to put out advertisements within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom courts, even if the information is being sent via an overseas outfit. If it is actually being sent from a computer in the United Kingdom, it is caught by our advertising regulations, even if it appears on someone else's computer as though it has come from overseas. I would be grateful if the Minister would discuss internet access and how it is affected by clause 13.

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): I served on the Committee that considered the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill 2000. I emphasise that the point made by my hon. Friend is serious.

I seek the Minister's reassurance that she feels that electronic communications can be adequately monitored using the powers in the Bill, because they are not specified in the Bill. Maybe the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 gives the Government the power that they need for that. Is the Minister satisfied that the interaction between that Act and this Bill has been properly considered? We spent a long time in Committee discussing only the enforcement issues, yet we are expected to put these proposals through in a just few minutes because of the timetable. That is a very serious issue. I hope that the Minister will consider it carefully and reassure the Committee that the issues have been properly considered by the Government because they are certainly not so considered in the Bill.

10.45 am

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Prepared 8 February 2001