Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill

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Mr. Ian Bruce: On first reading the Bill, we assumed that it would be similar to some previous Acts. We have also been in power—and will shortly be in power again—so we acknowledge that it is extremely difficult for Governments to introduce all-encompassing Bills without regulatory powers, as regulations are to introduce in the light of circumstances. However, it is extraordinary that the Minister now tells us that those powers are simply a fallback position for many cases. We have to tell that to our constituents, including retailers of tobacco.

I do not know whether any member of the Committee has a tobacco factory in his or her constituency, but am sure that everyone in the Room has an interest in the tobacco industry through the House of Commons pension scheme. In one way or another, I suspect that we are all shareholders in the tobacco industry. Damage to business confidence and to the value of shares is not necessarily the result of regulations, because one can usually calculate their effect. I expect that people will be calculating the effect of the Bill and that they will assume that the consumption of tobacco will decrease. That may be an incorrect calculation, but it is certainly what the Government intend.

3.45 pm

The Government are saying to business that they have additional regulatory powers, but that they do not intend to use them for the moment. However, under other legislation, they have made draft regulations available so that people could work out more or less what to expect; and, once the Bill was enacted, the regulations could be made. Industry will know, because it had seen the draft regulations, what it should be doing.

Let us assume that Mr. Bloggs, the retail tobacconist, is thinking about putting a new display in his shop. He is going to revamp it and spend many thousands of pounds on a shopfitting exercise. He rings up his Member of Parliament and says, ``I understand that new point-of-sale regulations are coming along for tobacco. Do I have to keep my cigarette stocks down so that only one packet is showing, or can I display them all?'' Mr. Bloggs has a number of display stands with advertisements. What should he do? He wants the shop's fitting to last for between five and 10 years, and he wants to comply with the regulations.

Mr. Blogg's Member of Parliament will not be able to help. He may say, ``It is true that the Government have the power to make regulations that might include hiding all the cigarettes. You may have to keep all the cigarettes in a separate room, and you will have to bring them out in a plain brown wrapper to sell them.'' That is not an extraordinary vision; it is the sort of request that any constituent might make about how the regulations might work. We shall have to tell people that we do not know whether such regulations will be made, and that will cause uncertainty.

We believe that there is likely to be an election in May. The convention between the parities, not often spoken about, is that if an election is imminent and the Government are about to make some regulations, they will not publish them without the agreement of the other main political parties. In other words, if they are likely to be politically contentious they will not be rammed through within 28 days—or whatever time lag is appropriate. The gentleman's agreement—or gentlelady's agreement—is that contentious regulations will not be rushed through without agreement. We may not have an election in May, but it is a possibility in May, June or whenever, yet the regulations are not even in draft form and no one knows what effect they might have.

It is wrong-headed of the Government, if they are convinced about how they want to regulate tobacco advertising, not to say so. They should be fair to the industry, perhaps even say that, as long as it sticks to a voluntary agreement, they will not make regulations. We are back to voluntary agreements. The Government have obviously listened to us and said, ``We shall do it by voluntary agreement. Unless you keep to it, we shall make regulations.'' That is only fair.

One never wants to embarrass the Labour party, but the reason why Bernie Ecclestone rushed to No. 10 Downing street about the threat to tobacco sponsorship and advertising on Formula 1 cars was not that he needed to ensure that tobacco advertising would continue, but that he needed to have certainty about when the ban would happen. When the Government came to power, Bernie Ecclestone was in the middle of trying to sell Formula 1. He could not sell it without knowing what regulations would affect him. Certainty within business about whether a regulation is going to come in is most important.

When Governments make statements about the possibility of regulation, stock market valuations can go way down until the regulations are confirmed. We have seen it with the new electricity trading arrangements. When are they going to come in? We have seen electricity shares going up and down.

The tobacco industry is supposedly a legal industry. It does not have to have a sword of Damocles hanging over it—a set of regulations that the Government could bring in at any time but are not even willing to divulge to the industry. That is why we need a very clear indication from the Minister about what these regulations will be, what the Government's plans are, which regulations they intend to introduce and when under clause 18 the requirements on sponsorship will be brought in. All that needs to be explained to the Houses of Parliament. The House of Lords, where Labour does not have the massive majority that it has in the House of Commons, will not accept being asked to sign a Bill without being told how much it will cost or what the regulations are. This sort of anonymous legislation, with no commitment from the Government as to when they are going to introduce regulations, if at all, is not satisfactory in a parliamentary democracy.

Mr. Luff: I rise to ask a one-word question. Why? What is the rationale for different bits of regulation being subject to different procedure? It is not explained in the very helpful explanatory notes, and of course it is not explained in the Bill itself. I hope that the Minister will explain when she winds up. This clause is a bit of a bad-news, good-news, bad-news story. As my hon. Friends have said, there is too much uncertainty in this Bill. Too much is left to the future. Too much is left to regulation. Indeed, some of the most difficult and complex issues are left to regulation. I am very unhappy about passing a Bill that leaves the complex issue of brand sharing to future regulation. At least the brand sharing order will be a positive order. That is good. There will be a chance to scrutinise it in detail and for the whole House to vote on it. We will not be able to amend it, but there will be a chance for proper scrutiny of a kind.

It is bad that there is this uncertainty. It is bad that there is so much left to regulation. It is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden said, an empty-box Bill with huge areas left to the future. I am tempted to think that this is because the Department found some issues too difficult—too difficult to introduce at all or to introduce in the time; I am not sure which. That is a matter for great regret. I am one of the cynics here. I think that the Government wanted to get this Bill on to the statute book before they had thought it out. They have provided a framework so that they can claim to the electorate that the Bill is on the statute book, whereas in practice they will have done very little to control advertising by the time of the election. The advertising of tobacco products will remain largely uncontrolled and unregulated for a considerable period. Yet so much hangs on these regulations. That is bad.

It is good, however, that at least we are positive. I am glad about that. It is good to see three affirmative resolutions—three orders that require the affirmative procedure. I welcome that. Very often the Opposition have to argue, to change things from negative to affirmative. I remember the proceedings on the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill. Many of our ``victories'' in Committee were squeezing out of the Government changes from negative to affirmative procedure. I am glad, therefore, that there are four affirmative procedures in place. That is good. Four out of seven are affirmative.

That, however, drives me back to this question of why? Why are three negative and four affirmative? I assume that it is because the Government attach greater importance to the latter than to the former—they believe that the latter deal with issues of more complexity or greater importance, or are more fundamental to the Bill, while the former deal with lesser issues.

On that rationale, why are advertising at the point of sale under the negative procedure and distributions at nominal amounts, which are covered in clause 8(6), subject to the affirmative procedure? I may be wrong—if so, I will be happy for the Minister to tell me so in her charming way—but I would have thought that advertising at the point of sale was a hugely important issue that should be subject to the affirmative procedure, while distributions at nominal amounts could have been left to the negative procedure without the Opposition making too much fuss. Why are they that way round?

I remain a cynic about the Bill, and I have a feeling that the Government needed a few negative procedures to provide a cloak of respectability to allow clause 18—the Bernie Ecclestone memorial clause—to be placed under the negative procedure. That is one of the greatest scandals in the Bill. The Government do not want to give Parliament the opportunity to discuss the matter any more than it has to.

Mr. Ian Bruce: Are we being too cynical in believing that, as we approach a general election, the Government want a bare-bones Bill that has not been give the chance to reveal that it does not work? They can say to the electorate, ``We've solved that problem,'' but in a few months' time we will know that they have not.

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Prepared 8 February 2001