Previous SectionIndexHome Page

21 Oct 2002 : Column 69—continued

6.29 pm

Tim Loughton: I do not demur from the Minister's final comments and her grisly catalogue of horrible diseases, conditions and implications that are caused by cancers linked to smoking. I repeat that smoking is a killer and we want less of it, but that was not the point of contention between us in the Bill.

The Minister said that she was surprised to reach Third Reading a little more quickly than she had anticipated. I do not think that she should be surprised, given that new clause 2 made it clear that we were not trying to undermine the Bill or the ban that it introduces by the amendments that we have tried to make to it. We think that the Bill is flawed and that it is bad law in some cases, but we do not disagree with the wish to do anything to deter people from smoking. We are not convinced, however, that the Bill is directly linked to that end.

The Bill has been around for quite a long time. The Minister comes to it rather late in the day—some of us have been with it longer, in the previous Parliament. The Bill was lost before the last election; it was almost scuppered by the Germans over the summer but survived to come before us this evening. In fact, the Bill is before us because a private Member of the upper House reincarnated it earlier in the year, so for all the Minister's proud words, the Government are not responsible for it.

I repeat my earlier point that there is evidence to suggest that if, soon after the Government came to power in 1997, they had gone to the tobacco industry for a tougher voluntary agreement, which had been successful in reducing the prevalence of smoking until then, the Bill might not have been necessary, because tobacco advertising would have disappeared, by voluntary agreement, five years ago. The Minister cannot say otherwise and neither can other hon. Members who question that. It is a shame that we have had to go through all these processes and false dawns five years on to achieve what the Government said that they wanted to achieve in their 1997 election manifesto.

21 Oct 2002 : Column 70

It is also slightly odd that only now, five and a half years on, are we in the midst of the consultation exercise on the draft regulations accompanying the Bill that I pulled off the internet. With great respect to the hon. Lady, I think that members of the Committee would have expected to be sent a copy of them when they came out in the middle of August because they were relevant to the work of the Committee and are relevant to Report and Third Reading. It is a shame that that did not happen.

We are united, on both sides of the House, in trying to achieve the same ends—to deter people from smoking and especially to deter young people from taking up a foul pursuit. We all want to improve public health; the cost of unhealthy life styles to the national health service and to us all is enormous, and that includes people who choose, against all the advice, to continue smoking.

It is rather arrogant of Labour Members to suggest that in wishing to scrutinise the Bill, Conservative Members are somehow pro-smoking. I have always approached the Bill with an open mind. I am a committed non-smoker: I have hassled my father about smoking over many decades, without success, and frown when people smoke in my presence. The Government have not had the courage of their convictions to go the whole way and ban smoking outright; indeed, I do not think that anybody would agree with that action. However, the implication of many of tonight's contributions is that smoking itself should be banned, not only the advertising of its products.

Our approach to the Bill over the weeks, months and years of our involvement has been to ask whether it will have the desired effect or be counter-productive. I repeat my comments about the measures on price competition being far more dangerous than price-cutting in inducing young people in particular to smoke. As for the loss of #130 million worth of advertising revenue, I said on Second Reading that I would be in favour of measures that obliged cigarette advertisers to cover virtually the whole billboard with grisly warnings about smoking killing and leading to long, lingering deaths, thereby leaving only a small space to advertise the product, in whatever obscure form. That would be an effective way of getting #130 million of free advertising for a health promotion campaign. There are other ways of doing it, but we need to tackle the legislation, as we have done all the way through, on the basis that, whether we like it or not, it remains legitimate and legal to smoke, produce and sell tobacco and that, however much we may hate it, many of our fellow citizens, for their own good reasons, continue to do so.

The Bill, along with other public health promotions that the Government quite rightly carry out, will not induce the tobacco manufacturers to shut up shop and go home. The Government must justify a ban by saying whether it will work in practice, whether it is watertight and whether it is fair and proportionate. For all the reports that the Minister rightly trots out, other reports contradict those findings, and they are non-conclusive. Other countries have tried tobacco advertising bans or other forms of obligatory legislation, yet smoking prevalence in the United Kingdom fell faster than in virtually every other country in the west, for a whole raft of reasons, when a voluntary agreement with the

21 Oct 2002 : Column 71

industry was in place. The Government did not seek to renegotiate a voluntary agreement with the industry. Had they done so, the result might have been different.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston): If the hon. Gentleman's argument were followed to its logical conclusion, no company would spend any of its revenue on advertising. He has outlined a set of circumstances in which the Department of Health could make gains out of tobacco advertising. Surely he must agree that advertising works, and that in these circumstances it should be banned.

Tim Loughton: I was simply giving an example of how such advertising could be used; we have not agreed on what effect advertising has. We covered all the schools of thought about brand switching and so on before the hon. Gentleman appeared in the Chamber. My idea was that advertising would be turned against the person paying the advertising bill in the interests of public health promotion. It might be a fanciful idea, but it was worth investigating. However, the Government chose not to follow a voluntary route and I think that they may have missed a trick.

Mr. Hopkins: I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that a billboard should be used to advertise the terrible effects of smoking. If that depressed cigarette smoking and cigarette sales, would the tobacco companies carry on with it?

Tim Loughton: Probably not, in which case this legislation would not be necessary. We would have the desired effect and everybody would be happy. We are all trying to achieve the same thing.

Passing the Bill without definitive evidence requires a leap of faith. The regulatory impact assessment gives a fairly wide spread of 0 per cent. to 5 per cent. as the likely reduction in smoking that such a ban will bring about, and the Government have plumped for the mid-range figure of 2.5 per cent. As one of my hon. Friends said earlier, that is fairly woolly science. The Conservatives are far more concerned about the many other practical measures that the Government should pursue far more aggressively, and give greater priority than this one piece of legislation.

The prevalence of smuggling is probably the single largest factor that has led to the increase in smoking over the past five years. The Government need to tackle that more seriously. They should clamp down with more vigour on the illicit selling of bootleg cigarettes in the vicinity of school playgrounds. Flogging bootleg cigarettes from car boots should be better policed. I would conjecture that a combination of such measures could be more effective in decreasing smoking, especially among young people, than the Bill will be.

The Government could also tackle the influence of product placement. We have all seen the weekend report that the cast of XEastEnders" and XCoronation Street" are more widely recognised than most members of the Cabinet. Soaps, like the rest of television and the media, have an enormous influence on people's observations

21 Oct 2002 : Column 72

and habits, yet time and again we see brands of alcohol and cigarettes appearing in socially acceptable scenes. What are the Government doing about that?

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley): I am slightly puzzled. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the logic of his argument is that advertising does work? If showing a brand of alcohol or cigarettes on a soap affects people, that means that it is an effective form of advertising. Has he not proved that advertising works?

Tim Loughton: If that were the case, according to the hon. Lady's logic, the tobacco companies would not have to pay for any of their advertising. My point was that having famous actors smoke cigarettes in a socially acceptable context is harmful and has an effect on people who want to emulate those in virtual reality television shows.

Pete Wishart: I agree with the hon. Gentleman; we are all aware of the dangers of product placement—but would it not have been more helpful if he and his colleagues had tabled some amendments to combat product placement, rather than making innocuous suggestions?

Tim Loughton: I am talking about a far greater issue than simply amending the Bill. Of course, when cigarettes appear in soaps there are no health warnings, whereas adverts and close-ups of the products, have severe health warnings attached. That is another difference.

We all agree that those things are not helpful. The Government could be examining them more closely, yet they are considering, almost exclusively, the banning of tobacco advertising as the panacea to reduce smoking.

As many of us said earlier in the passage of the Bill, another aspect that the Government could be tackling is the European Union's continuing subsidising of tobacco production by some #600 million a year. When we, rightly, are taking all the public health promotion measures that we can to reduce smoking, it is nonsense that as taxpayers we are still subsidising the tobacco farmers in southern Europe who produce the vile weed, to the tune of #600 million a year. The Bill would have greater credibility if the Government were taking that problem more seriously and pursuing it more vigorously.

In passing the Bill we are taking a large leap of faith. We chose to scrutinise it in Committee as fully as we could in the time available, which was not nearly long enough. We were contemptuously questioned about why we had to go through the Xrigmarole" of scrutinising the Bill, although on our side of the Standing Committee there were completely new Members, who had not been involved with the legislation when it was scrutinised previously in the House of Lords and in this House.

We scrutinised the Bill in Committee without any help from the Liberal Democrats, who followed the Government hook, line and sinker, and tabled no amendments. On their rare appearances, they always voted with the Government.

21 Oct 2002 : Column 73

Ministers in this House have resisted any attempt to amend the Bill, despite the fact that it had wider implications than those for tobacco products.

Next Section

IndexHome Page