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21 Oct 2002 : Column 73continued
Sandra Gidley (Romsey): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that as the Bill was introduced by Lord Clement-Jones and we felt that he had got it about right, there was no need for us to table a vast number of amendments, especially as the Bill had already had a Committee stage in this House, albeit in another Parliament?
Tim Loughton: The hon. Lady says that she did not feel the need to table a vast number of amendments; in fact she did not table a single amendment in the entire Committee stage, and on her rare appearances she seemed content blindly to accept the Government line. I had not realised that Lord Clement-Jones had achieved such godlike status.
Of course there are things in the Bill that need to be questioned. That is why we spent a long time in Committee raising questions, many of which were not properly answered. That is what a Committee stage is all about. I fear that there are still many unanswered questions, as the questions that my hon. Friends and I asked were all greeted with a look of glazed indifference by the former Minister responsible, the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), who is now the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, but who is still here today. She seemed to think that it was a cheek for anybody to be going through the proper parliamentary processes of scrutinising the Bill and daring to find fault with itbut find fault with it we did, and she gave only a few assurances in response.
The catch-all response, which made us most sceptical, was that it was up to the courts to decide on the definitions and interpretations in the Bill. Apparently, it was not for us to define what the law was about; we were to leave it to the courts, for lots of lawyers to argue about among themselves. That is surely unsatisfactory. The House should legislate to provide a high degree of certainty, so that people know precisely where they stand and do not have to rely on courts, long drawn-out legal processes and highly paid lawyers. With this Bill, that has not been the case.
I shall concentrate on the terms of the Bill rather than the horrors of what smoking does; we all agree about that, and we can bank it. However, in the context of clause 1, we did not resolve in Committee the definition of what constitutes an advertisement. I appreciate the spirit of that part of the Bill, but at the end of our deliberations it was still not clear whether an advertisement included the tobacco product itself, its packaging, invoices and letterheads relating to the selling of the product, business signs used inside premises, or the effects of brand sharing, Dunhill shops and so on.
The Minister went to some lengths to avoid such questions, saying that she did not want to open loopholes. However, she was unable to define what some of those loopholes were, despite the fact that previous legislation, such as the Consumer Credit Act 1974, the Medicines Act 1968 and the Gaming Act 1968, contains proper enforceable definitions of what constitutes an advertisement.
Will the Bill cover smoking avoidance products? It would be nonsense if it did, but no clear assurance was given that the various nicotine substitute products that help to wean people off tobacco would not fall foul of it.
There were many unanswered questions about the impact on internet communications about tobacco products, which are beyond the reach of UK legislation. Questions about unwitting printers and publishers of magazines and newspapers in which tobacco advertisements appear were also unanswered. There was a fine line with regard to trade publications, whether they were available to the public through subscription or off the shelf, and whether they fell foul of the provisions. Under the Bill, will shareholders in tobacco companies still be able to get information about the advertising campaigns for products promoted by the companies in which they have invested?
Also questioned was the role of specialist tobacco businesseslegitimate businesses with clearly targeted ranges of specialist adult clients that play no role in encouraging children to take up smoking, but which could be seriously curtailed. There are also serious implications for in-flight magazines and airlines that earn revenue from legitimate duty-free salesa point understandably made by my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), whose constituency includes Heathrow airport.
We welcomed clause 17, which reversed earlier changes to the burden of proof defence, a principle that was debated in the upper House. We did not get satisfactory answers, however, to clause 7the Henry VIII clauseunder which the Secretary of State can change virtually anything in the legislation under the guise of technological advances. We then came, of course, to the thorny issue of sponsorship and the very special treatment meted out to tobacco company sponsorship of Formula 1 racinga leading player that bunged the Labour party #1 million. Coincidentally, it found itself the beneficiary of special treatment.
Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North): That is ancient history.
Tim Loughton: It may well be ancient, but it is highly relevant to legislation that still has not gone through, until we approve itor notthis evening. Extraordinarily, the Minister declined to support the helpful amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne, which would have avoided all hint of accusations of double standards by not extending special exemptions to groups that have made political donations in the previous 10 years. Not surprisingly, that was another case of the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris)he is no longer herepraising the amendment and the spirit of it, and then voting against it. Again, the amendment was a legitimate attempt to reduce the Bill's vulnerability to further allegations of sleaze by the Government or any other party.
We were dealing with clause 20 and the effect on world professional darts and other global sports, when we were cut off in mid-flow. Unlike Formula 1, such sports are not flush with cash. They may not seem the healthiest of pursuits, but they are worthwhile as they
We also had a problem with the guillotine in Committeewe should have properly scrutinised the clauses, but we were unable to do so because we were limited to just five sittings. As a result, many clauses were not debated. However, we did not pursue that point this evening. In the interests of pushing the Bill on, we were happy not to table further amendments. In the spirit of seeing this Bill through, we were prepared not to revisit those clauses and to concentrate instead on a paving provision for a sunset consideration. That would have required the Government to keep up to date with research on the legislation's impact, and to change it accordingly if it had no effect, or a detrimental effect. It is a shame that the Government were not prepared to accept that new clause.
We all want the same end. We all hate smoking and we all want to deter it wherever possible.
Bob Spink: My hon. Friend is treating the House to an extraordinarily eloquent summary of the issues surrounding the Bill, and I am very grateful to him. However, I wonder if I could tempt him to explore an issue on which he has yet to pontificate: the negative publicity that one company might dish against another. Will the Bill deal with that satisfactorily, or will we need to reconsider it at some stage? Will that issue provide the lawyers with a great deal of work and money in future?
Tim Loughton: The hon. Gentleman suggests that I am a lawyer but I never have been and I never will be. My hon. Friend has picked up the lingo sharpish. He uses a technical termto Xdiss"that was used by the Minister, the meaning of which had to be explained. The use of that phrase was as offensive as my use of sunsetise, so we are both guilty in that regard. His question is one for the Minister to answer, not me, and she will doubtless deal with it at the end of the debate.
As I said, we all want the same end. I hope that the Government will keep closely under review the implications and effects of this legislationif it is enactedand not just treat it as a box to tick, saying, XWe've banned tobacco advertising, we've done the stuff against smokingthat's it." There is much more to it, as the Minister said. We have serious reservations, as we made clear throughout Committee stage. Parts of the Bill are bad law, but it has been much more closely scrutinised than a lot of other legislation, and we are prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt. As such, we will not oppose Third Reading.
Mr. Hopkins : I wish that the Bill had been enacted years earlier, but it is welcome even at this stage. It is a necessary measure to reduce smoking and the prevalence of the terrible diseases that smoking causes, but it is not sufficient in itself. We have to go much further in reducing smoking and avoiding the terrible health damage that it causes. In particular, we must try
I believe that tobacco advertising that is associated with pleasurable events such as sporting fixtures, and which makes use of nice settings, does not help people to give up smoking. It gives them a degree of comfort, and a warm feeling about this dreadful habit. We have done the right thing in moving toward banning such advertising. The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) argues that we should somehow establish a voluntary ban. That is fine if it works, but why oppose a compulsory ban if we do not have a voluntary one? If a compulsory ban would not have any effect, why would a voluntary one be necessary? Any economist would say that advertising is a clear attempt to induce people to purchase and use a product. If one takes away that inducement, less of it will be purchased and consumed. That is what the Bill is aboutreducing the attractions of smoking, and changing its image.
We must address the culture of smoking. We live in a society that, historically, has smoked for a long timesince Sir Walter Raleigh brought tobacco back from America. In doing so, he did not do us any favours, but I suppose that its discovery was inevitable at some point. It is still a fact that, among young people, smoking is seen as adult and attractive. It provides an image, and it is that image that we must dent somehow. The Bill will help take us further along that route. Certainly, in the circles in which I mix, smoking is not fashionable these days; indeed, it is very unfashionable. A small number of people do smokesome members of my family do sobut they know that it is not fashionable. However, they are addicted, and they have to leave the building and stand outside the back dooreven if it is someone's homein order to smoke. That is very embarrassing, but it is right for us to try to change the culture so that we make people feel that smoking is bad not only for them but for everyone and that they should try their best to give it up.
One of the attractions of giving up smoking is financial, although I accept that that point has nothing to do with the Bill. Since I gave up, I have not spent on smoking about #75,000a substantial sum. Unfortunately, I do not have it to hand. From time to time, I advocate the benefits of giving up smoking and I find that health arguments are not as persuasive with young people. They think that lung cancer might not affect them in early life and that later on they would die anyway, but the financial arguments are often persuasive, especially to those who are not well-off: #75,000 sounds like a great deal of money to a young
The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham referred to price-cutting. I hope to persuade my hon. Friend the Minister to consider that point because price-cutting is a real risk. If tobacco manufacturers are banned from advertising, they will spend less on their products so they will have extra income and could, conceivably, reduce their prices while making the same amount of profit. They might even increase their profits because they might induce more people to smoke; clearly, there is a demand curve. In addition, existing smokers might smoke even more. Will my hon. Friend have a word with our right hon. Friend the Chancellor and point out that one way of overcoming that problem would be for him to raise the tax by the same amount as the reduction in the costs of cigarette advertising? For example, if that reduction amounted to 10 per cent. of the price, the tax should be raised by 10 per cent. The price to the consumer would not change, but the take for the Chancellor would increase. That would be a sensible approach and I can see no arguments against it, although smokers and tobacco manufacturers would probably not be terribly keen on it. However, such a measure would certainly help to finance the health service and to deal with some of the problems caused by smoking.
The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham also mentioned smuggling. I strongly agree that it is a serious issue. It is distressing that, recently, there has been pressure on Customs and Excise to be less fierce with people who smuggle alcohol and cigarettes into the country. I should like a stronger regime, with lower limits on the number of cigarettes one can legitimately bring in; much fiercer regulation of sales of imported tobacco products; higher penalties and much more rigorous investigation. For example, I understand that ice-cream salespeople, driving around with their bells and their jingles, frequently sell rolling tobacco and cigarettes under the counter.