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9.18 pm

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt). She, like me, has spent a great part of her professional life treating the end stages of tobacco usage.

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The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) said that Sir Richard Doll's longevity was due to being a lifelong non-smoker. The House of Commons Library tells us otherwise. Sir Richard was, in fact, a 20-a-day man until his research pointed him in the right direction and he gave it up. He said earlier this month that it is never too late to give up. He said:

Amen to that.

I spent the best part of two decades treating customers of the tobacco industry. Like the majority of my medical colleagues, I have invested heavily of my time and of taxpayers' money in advising people to stop smoking. Many right hon. and hon. Members were palpably delighted by recent spending commitments in the Budget, but our enthusiasm should be tempered by the limited evidence for a link between the number of doctors and nurses and life expectancy, as much as it pains me to say so. In contrast, a direct link between mortality and tobacco consumption is undisputed.

Logically, we might reasonably expect an Administration who are serious about improving the health of the nation to focus on the latter. Yet the Government's record on addressing tobacco consumption has not been particularly edifying. Bernie Ecclestone's donation to the Labour party was linked to its compliant handling of tobacco sponsorship of Formula 1, and the Bill failed in the last Parliament because the Government did not give it sufficient priority. The initiative this time has come from the other place.

European Union directives on tobacco have been drafted and annulled, and we have seen the EU attempt to extend its remit to public health via a circuitous route on the ground of regulating commerce. The whole thing has been tawdry and cynical. My hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) was right to underline the scandal of EU tobacco subsidies, and withdrawing those would have a far greater impact on tobacco consumption worldwide than the Bill.

Opposition to the Bill would sit uneasily with previous highly effective public health measures, such as the compulsory wearing of seat belts, many of which restrict freedom more immediately and directly. No one could be more opposed to the Gout's stealthy introduction of the nanny state than me, and there is little doubt that this measure will assist in that remorseless process. However, the British Medical Association and the Cancer Research Campaign tell us that the voluntary code has not worked but merely spawned a cunning new arsenal of sophisticated marketing techniques. If someone has supported a voluntary code and finds subsequently that advantage has been taken of one's good nature, that person is entitled to consider more assertive action.

One in two long-term smokers will die prematurely as a result of smoking and half of them will die in middle age. In terms of public health, smoking is truly the captain of the men of death. The sheer scale of the devastation caused by smoking means that I am prepared to lower the threshold of proof that I would ordinarily expect in assessing the likely impact of an intervention, whether medical or legislative.

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This sector is full of interest groups with amusing and imaginative acronyms. Both ASH and FOREST have used human rights legislation to support their position, which just goes to show how fertile the arena of human rights is for lawyers. FOREST, in its March edition of the imaginatively styled "Burning Issues", considers that the European convention on human rights justifies tobacco advertisements because it protects the freedom

The defence of advertisements on the ground that they provide information is, frankly, a little thin. Very few would see tobacco adverts as an important vehicle in the exchange of ideas. Furthermore, the literal interpretation offered by FOREST would logically lead us to permit the unrestricted advertisement of a whole raft of potentially harmful products, from pharmaceuticals to firearms.

Meanwhile, ASH takes a more considered approach, arguing that the fact that tobacco is legal does not confer unlimited freedom on its purveyors. It cites the Human Rights Act 1998, which states:

Given the extent of the damage done by tobacco, we are entitled to ask that the burden of proof be allowed to rest with the industry. It must show that bans are not effective and that their adverts are aimed purely at building brand loyalty. The contrary argument that there is no evidence that banning adverts will be effective is frankly counter-intuitive and gives evidence-based decision making a bad name.

The brand loyalty argument would be more convincing if each manufacturer produced a single brand. I imagine that many people still think that that is the case. The truth was brought home to me in the early 1980s during a medical school tour of the Wills tobacco factory, then in Bristol. Several brands were produced side by side, and the only difference between them was the proportion of leaf sucked up from one hopper or another which went to make this brand or that. What was really important was the label and marketing subsequently attached to each brand. Given the relatively small number of firms peddling the myriad brands that exist, it seems unlikely that they would play one brand off against another.

Of course, what distinguishes one brand from another is the spin put on them during marketing. One packet suggests that the consumer can be a Marlboro cowboy, and another makes him into Lawrence of Arabia. The industry casts its net wide, and in so doing it increases the size of the market, not just the way in which it is apportioned. All the while, the folk who are drawn in are the young, the impressionable and the impoverished—the very groups on whom the lion's share of our public health effort should surely be focused.

The Smee report of 1992, among others, provided compelling evidence that tobacco advertising increases smoking overall. This is not the place to enter into a detailed appraisal of the criticisms, notably by the Henley Marketing Group and the Institute of Economic Affairs, which were subsequently levelled at Smee. Suffice it to say that many of them were semantic. Any study of this sort will have its detractors, and it would be extraordinary, given the highly charged nature of the field, if the Smee report were not controversial.

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The Opposition, while supporting the aim of reducing deaths from tobacco, have proposed a reasoned amendment, and their position is fair and honourable. Indeed, we must admit that a ban on advertising might actually increase the level of tobacco consumption as consumers are deprived of the attendant health warnings. This was suggested by Stewart in his investigation of OECD countries, but sadly his study failed to attain statistical significance.

Nevertheless, given the element of doubt, a sunset clause may be a prudent compromise. Indeed, with other hon. Members I recently argued for such a thing in Committee and in the House in respect of the Football (Disorder) (Amendment) Bill. We did so because we felt that although action was needed, the evidence base was insufficiently robust to legislate without qualification given the swingeing restriction of individual liberty that the Bill would introduce. In this case the restriction on individual liberty does not apply in the same way and the evidence base is much more compelling.

A sunset clause that anticipates proof or otherwise of the effectiveness of intended legislation at some future date supposes such a dramatic effect that it could be teased out from the veritable soup of variables that impact on tobacco consumption. The Government have estimated a 2.5 per cent. reduction and the saving of 3,000 lives a year, and the World Bank more than doubles those figures. If that were to happen, no doubt we could say with a high degree of confidence that the measure we are debating today was the cause of the improvement and we would all be delighted. But it could be that a smaller, if important, number of lives are saved, and that would make a sunset clause appraisal much more difficult.

The Secretary of State said that the Bill forms the core of his strategy for addressing smoking. I hope that that is not the case because I feel that it will not have a big impact on tobacco consumption in this country, but I hope that it will help a little. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) for giving me some top cover, and I am happy to follow his lead tonight.

9.28 pm

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham): This has been a very good debate, often heated but very informative. It has been characterised by an enormous number of confessions from ex-smokers, nearly all on the Back Benches.

Perhaps none was more shocking than the virgin confession from the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Murphy), who had not admitted to his parents that he had smoked at an early age. It was nearly as shocking as his confession that he was also a new romantic in his youth. He established a link between smoking and alcoholism by saying that the tokens that he kept from the cigarette packets that he bought went towards cheap whisky glasses. We had confessions too from my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Flook), whom we always suspected of having been a teenage smoker. In his case, he said, he was cocking a snook at authority.

The debate has been characterised by a sense of deja vu because the Bill has been round the block several times, both in this House and in another place, where it was fully debated. The only difference now is that, after the general election, the Government appeared to lack the courage of their convictions and had to be forced into this measure by Lord Clement-Jones.

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I remind the right hon. Members for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) and for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), who accused the Opposition of wrecking the measure, that the general election was called a year early. With a majority of more than 170, it was entirely in the Government's power to get the Bill passed if they had been fully committed to it. I may differ from my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) about the emphasis of the argument, but he put it succinctly when he said that it is a strange set of priorities to include in the Queen's Speech the Hunting Bill, but not something that Government Members keep telling us is an important measure. It is rich for the Secretary of State to begin his speech by claiming that the Government are now delivering on their election promise—five years late, I must add.

The measure was thoroughly debated in the House of Lords. Debate covered whether the minutiae of sniffing should be included in clause 1 and the relative safety of passive snuff sniffing. Members also queried whether they would be able to wear a tee-shirt with the logo, "I love to kiss men who smoke cigarettes" without falling foul of a prosecution for promoting smoking.

Like their lordships' debate, ours has been characterised by detailed contributions on the perils of smoking and its implications for our health. We heard moving contributions from the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber), the hon. Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt), who spoke about her experiences as a nurse, and the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey), who discussed statistics relevant to his own constituency. However, he let the cat out of the bag when he ended by saying that the measure would not be hugely successful in attacking smoking.

As a confirmed non-smoker who has battled constantly but unsuccessfully with a father who has been addicted to the foul weed for the past 50 years or so, I share many of the concerns that have been expressed and agree that smoking is a foul pursuit, both for the person engaged in the activity and people in the vicinity forced to share the smoker's air space. Both sides of the House are agreed on that, but the Bill has nothing to do with banning smoking altogether or outlawing tobacco. Some say that if the Government, let alone the Liberal Democrats, are to be consistent, they should go the whole hog and ban tobacco products altogether, but that is an extremely regressive anti-libertarian step that I and, I am sure, most of my hon. Friends would not support.

In the Bill, we are dealing with whether it is helpful or legitimate to ban the advertising and promotion of tobacco products, and the extent and definition of such a ban. The most important aspects of the debate are whether the Bill will effectively lead to a reduction in tobacco consumption, especially among minors; whether a ban could have the reverse effect of giving rise to increased consumption because manufacturers would turn to other marketing measures such as price sensitivity to compensate for the absence of advertising; and whether the Bill will make no difference at all, in which case we may ask why we are spending valuable parliamentary time on it when other legislation is being squeezed out.

I therefore approach the Bill with a genuinely open mind, albeit with an in-built libertarian scepticism towards yet more legislation which threatens to swamp our citizens with yet more regiments of state-registered nannies peering into our cigarette packets, our newsagents, our magazines

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and our post, and censoring our advertising hoardings. Such a measure has been introduced by a Government keen to tell people what not to do, rather than liberate people from yet more regulations—a point well made by my hon. Friends the Members for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) and for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson). If we can prove beyond reasonable doubt that the Bill will lead to a net reduction in the number of smokers, especially teenagers, and a reduction in overall consumption, it will merit our support. However, no such incontrovertible evidence has been produced.

Evidence such as the Smee report in 1992 or "Curbing the Epidemic" in 1998 is inconclusive, gives rise to many questions and can be matched by other reports with contrary conclusions. It should not be forgotten that in the four countries that have banned tobacco advertising outright in the past 30 years—Finland, Sweden, Norway and Holland—the per capita consumption of cigarettes is higher in all cases than in the United Kingdom, which can boast a 37 per cent. fall in tobacco consumption and a 40 per cent. fall in smoking prevalence. The hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) gave the example of Finland, but consumption there since tobacco advertising was banned in 1978 has fallen to 59.1 per cent compared with the UK, where it is down to 57.2 per cent. In Norway, it has gone the other way since the ban in 1975. It has increased from 91.7 per capita to 114.5. The record in the UK is hardly bettered anywhere in the world. That is the result of voluntary agreements and regulation between Government and the tobacco industry, rather than of blanket banning of advertising and promotion.

Of course, we all want consumption further to decrease. That is why the Opposition support a reasoned amendment that challenges the absence of clear and sound evidence on which to base the Bill, which concentrates exclusively on using the untested club of an outright ban while other more pressing measures to reduce tobacco smuggling are completely ignored.

Last year, the Government cut the resources that they spend on campaigning against smoking. The advertising budget was cut from £8.97 million to £7.79 million, at a time when the Government's total advertising bill increased enormously, and on causes rather less beneficial to the public interest.

In the unlikely event that the House is unswayed by the forceful arguments of those on the Opposition Front Bench and my right hon. and hon. Friends, we shall seek in Committee to add a sunset clause to the Bill if the measures so trumpeted by Labour Members turn out to be more of an article of faith than a tangible improvement in outcomes. Unlike the right hon. Member for Rother Valley, I hope to see more sunset clauses in legislation, especially when we deal with the untried and the unscientifically proven.

Many questions are outstanding. We shall table detailed amendments in Committee so that we can scrutinise the supposed evidence on which the Government base their claims. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier)—

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