Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Bruce: That is the problem. The definition is not even as simple as the one that I gave of a website existing in a single place, because in general they do not. When we see a page on a screen, we are often seeing information that is sent from a number of different sources and, indeed, things called cookies, which live on our computers, are all part and parcel of the image that one sees on the screen. The telecommunications companies would say that when someone asks for a web page and it has started to download, it is not necessarily transmitted in a direct line in only one direction from the web site to the computer. That is why it is called the world wide web. It sends a packet of information, perhaps from the top left-hand corner, via one route and the next packet of information says, ``Oh, it is a bit crowded around here, but there is another route over there''—and off it shoots.

The concept of something being delivered via a web site is, legalistically, difficult to tie down. If I were advising the Minister, and were paid the sort of money earned by parliamentary draftsmen and civil servants, I would say—

3.15 pm

Mr. Luff: It is not enough.

Mr. Bruce: My hon. Friend intends to be a Minister in a few months' time: I know that I will not be, but I may be being too flippant.

If the Minister wants to stop people reading advertisements in a non-tobacco-selling environment, I must advise her that the new clause will not achieve that objective. I shall receive no fees for that advice, but when the draftsmen come to frame the regulations, they might well tackle the problem. The Bill provides certain powers, but the Minister has not defined them to my satisfaction.

Website is not in my dictionary—only a modern one would define it—but the term ``internet service provider'' has been used, and we have heard about the internet service providers who will, a week on Wednesday, see the Minister and her officials to ask, ``Will you please view us not as a publisher, but the conveyor of web information?''

Mr. Luff: A week on Wednesday?

Mr. Bruce: My hon. Friend is surprised that that advice will reach the Government after the House of Commons has finished dealing with these issues.

Will the Minister explain how this part of the Bill will operate? At this late stage in our proceedings, has she produced draft regulations to pass to members of the Committee so we can all feel happier about what she is trying to do?

Yvette Cooper: Hon. Members have raised various points about new clause 3, some of which were discussed earlier in our parallel debate about point-of-sale advertising. The hon. Member for Meriden asked when the regulations on such advertising would be published. We intend to produce draft regulations for consultation as soon as possible—hopefully during the Bill's passage, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said on Second Reading.

As to regulations under clause 17, I explained earlier that we do not envisage drawing up draft regulations at this stage, and we may not use them. The hon. Lady was right to refer to the regulations as a reserve or back-up power. The implication for the calculation of individual repayments is that, until such regulations are introduced, a display that is not an advertisement is not an offence.

The issue of the word ``place'' has been raised. New clause 3 allows it to be defined in regulations, in the same way as point-of-sale advertising. We have already debated the meaning of ``website'' in that context. The Government intend that the point of sale should refer to the point at which the cigarettes or tobacco products are bought. A tangentially linked website at which the links were in place would not count as a point of sale in that respect, so the point-of-sale advertising or exemption for advertising in those circumstances would not apply as a defence.

This matter will be dealt with further in regulations and set out for consultation when the regulations on advertising, as opposed to regulations on display, are drafted.

Mr. Ian Bruce: An interesting thing has happened in America. California, and most states, have decided that goods and services ordered over the internet should not have sales tax attached to them in order to give a boost to the internet. If a person wants to book into an hotel in those states, other than via the internet, he or she can go into the hotel lobby to use a terminal through which guests can communicate with the front desk and book a room. The hotel confirms the reservation, and the guest has avoided the sales tax. The point is that we will see 80 ft by 60 ft screens advertising tobacco, and a man at the bottom of them who will sell tobacco. People will be able to press a button on screen to order cigarettes, which will be immediately available.

The Government are effectively saying to the tobacco industry, ``It is all right, we are not actually going to have any regulations; it will take us quite a long time''. We can see the sort of thing that might happen.

Yvette Cooper: If he remembers rightly, the hon. Member for South Dorset will recall that I mentioned the example of a massive computer screen that people were driving past. As I pointed out to him then, the people who owned the computer screen and were distributing the advert would be caught by the Bill. That would be an advertisement, and would therefore be covered. It is exactly in order to prevent advertising at the point of sale from becoming an abuse and a way to get around the intentions of the Bill that we have included a power to regulate the kinds of advertising that are acceptable, at point of sale, through regulations. If we had not done so, we would not need to make regulations. If we thought that there were no problems in that area, we would simply set out an exemption. What we have set out instead is a power to regulate the exemption.

Mrs. Spelman: This is an important practical discussion. I want to be perfectly clear about it. There is a very real risk because of the difference in excise duty. One might go to a specialist tobacconist or a newsagent that was a retailer of tobacco products. If it had installed a computer terminal that was connected to the internet and was able to access, via its website, a business that was not carried on in the UK and that displayed half-price cigarettes, and if its customers used that terminal, the tobacconist or newsagent might be liable for prosecution.

Someone sitting at home who called up on his or her personal computer the same website for a business not carried out in this country but which supplied half-price cigarettes—

The Chair: Order. That is rather a long intervention.

Mrs. Spelman: I am trying to get a straight answer. Is it the case that one of the actions that I have described would be illegal and the other would not?

Yvette Cooper: The questions for the courts would be, first, whether the advertisement was not at the point of sale, along the lines that we discussed earlier on the huge computer screen broadcasting an advert for people driving past in their cars, and, secondly, whether the advertising complied with the point-of-sale regulations. We are not saying that all advertising at all points of sale is permitted and acceptable. We are saying that advertising at point of sale must be subject to regulations, which will be put out to consultation.

As I said previously, we have a relaxed attitude to the kind of displays currently at point of sale. We have introduced an exemption to the overall comprehensive ban on tobacco, because it is acceptable for companies selling a legal product to be able to advertise the prices and range of wares in that context. However, if that becomes an abuse and a way of getting around the tobacco advertising ban—whether by using massive computer screens or other means to play the part of a tobacco advertisement—we would use regulations to make sure that it did not become a loophole. That is why we have set out the need for such a power in regulations.

I want to touch on the point made by the hon. Member for South Dorset about walking around with a plastic bag with a Silk Cut logo on it. An individual walking around with a plastic bag, umbrella or whatever it happens to be would not be caught by the Bill, as long as he or she was not operating in the course of a business. However, if the plastic bag was clearly an ad for Silk Cut or other cigarettes, it would be caught. The production of that ad would be caught by the Bill, and the distribution of that ad in the course of a business is also covered by the Bill. If, rather than its being an ad for Silk Cut, the producers claim that it is simply a Silk Cut branded bag, they would be covered by the brandsharing provisions. Production and distribution would be covered by the Bill, but an individual walking around with a product that he purchased several years before would not.

Mr. Ian Bruce: I think that I am right to say that an advertisement that is intended to go between the wholesaler or manufacturer and the retailer is not caught by the Bill. Therefore, somebody who sends lots of packets of cigarettes with a carrier bag to the retail outlet would not be caught by the Bill. As there are no regulations prohibiting carrier bags in retail outlets—unless the regulations should be so amended—giving away a carrier bag, especially if a customer asks for it, would not be an offence. As the Minister said, an individual walking out with a carrier bag and wandering around town with it would not be committing an offence. I would be grateful for clarification.

Yvette Cooper: As soon as the retailer sells or gives away the bag, it is distributing a product. If the product was exempted because it was clearly needed in the tobacco trade, there would be a defence under the Bill while the product remains within the trade. However, if it is a product to be sold rather than a communication between members of the tobacco trade, it would be covered by the Bill. Why would a wholesaler send a retailer lots of branded plastic bags in the course of communications within the tobacco trade? The role of the wholesaler is arguable anyway, but as soon as the retailer sells the bag and distributes it, it becomes a tobacco advertisement or a branded good, and will be caught by the brandsharing provisions.

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 8 February 2001