Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale): Utter rubbish.

Mr. Wilshire: The hon. Gentleman is correct. It is utter rubbish.

Mr. Hall: The clause provides ''causes''.

Mr. Wilshire: The clause is the cause of this rubbish.

The Chairman: Order. If hon. Members catch my eye, I will consider calling them, but sedentary interventions are not allowed.

Mr. Wilshire: I am grateful for your defence, Mr. Amess, because I occasionally need it.

Members are becoming excited by the absurdity of my argument. However, my argument would not be possible without the absurdity of the clause. After I have finished explaining who else will be caught and will become a criminal as a result of the clause, the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) will presumably leap to his feet to tell the Committee that he agrees with me, and that he thinks that the Bill, as drafted, is wrong. Many people will agree with the purpose of the Bill, but it is the means by which we achieve the purpose that matters. As I said during the first sitting, I make no apology for giving the Bill detailed scrutiny—that is why we are here.

Having made criminals of PC World, Dixons, Currys, the people who work in software houses, and those in the delivery and banking industries, I finally have my illegal goods. Although there may be an alternative method, all the computers that I have ever seen rely on telephone lines of some sort. I do not know which company owns what telephone lines or who provides the service. Before long, all those providing telephone lines will become criminals because they are

    ''providing the means of transmission''.

We are doing well. Currys, Dixons, PC World, lorry drivers, the Post Office, the banking and credit card industries and now the telephone industry are all caught by the Bill. Absurdity is piled upon absurdity. Whether we like it or not, all those people

    ''participate in . . . providing the means of transmission''

of illegal advertisements. That is what the Bill says, and if hon. Members look incredulous, they should have read the Bill before listening to the argument.

We could go beyond telephone companies. The manufacturing industry makes telephone lines and other equipment, including plugs and sockets. Before we have finished, the clause is likely to make criminals of the entire population of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Jim Murphy (Eastwood): I am listening, as usual, to the hon. Gentleman's points, although I do not agree with him. He mentioned hon. Members not having read the entire Bill. Did his casual perusal of it

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extend to clause 5(5)(a) on page 3, which directly refutes every word that he said? It states that the person

    ''was unaware that what he distributed or caused to be distributed was, or contained, a tobacco advertisement''.

I am certain that that should allay the hon. Gentleman's fears, and would reassure computer sales people at Dixons and PC World, and others, such as those who work for internet providers, that they would not be caught, whether intentionally or otherwise, in the way that the hon. Gentleman has mischievously suggested.

Mr. Wilshire: The hon. Gentleman disappoints me. I thought that he would say that if England had home rule, we could duck behind what Scottish home rule might say, and he could do what he wants in Scotland.

The hon. Gentleman anticipates a point that I shall make later. I have read the Bill and I am aware of what clause 5 provides.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): Will the hon. Gentleman concede—as gracefully as he can—that my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Murphy) has shot comprehensively his electronic fox? Will he move his argument on? If not, we shall make criminals, according to him, of those who power communication lines, dig coal and import oil? He is making an interesting and colourful argument, but will he move on?

Mr. Wilshire: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. I sailed close to the wind by mentioning home rule for England. I would be sailing even closer to the wind if I discussed fox hunting, although I would love to have that debate with him.

The hon. Gentleman made a serious mistake. I had overlooked the oil industry, the coal industry and the transmission industry. However, he is absolutely right. Any person in the middle east or Alaska—[Interruption.] This will teach the hon. Gentleman not to interrupt and give me more examples of the Bill's absurdity.

The Chairman: Order. I ask the hon. Gentleman to draw his remarks more closely to the amendment. His argument is becoming dangerously close to repetition.

Mr. Wilshire: I understand what you say, Mr. Amess, but the repetition is not my fault. The hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) stoked me up to go round the same course again. In deference to your ruling, I shall explore other issues. However, we might have to return to a discussion of those who work for Dixons, PC World, Homebase and any other company that we want to mention.

I have read clause 5, and I have argued in other Committees that such a way of writing legislation is crass. Clause 2 is titled ''Prohibition of tobacco advertising'', and it sets out what is prohibited, what is an offence and those who would be guilty of committing an offence. I shall not repeat my point about those who work for PC World, Dixons and Currys, or you will get very upset, Mr. Amess. However, if one turns over to the wonderful clause 5, which was anticipated by the hon. Member for

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Eastwood, it contradicts the statements in clause 2. That is an idiot's way of writing legislation. [Interruption.] I said at the beginning of our first sitting that it would not be difficult to improve the quality of some of my contributions. If the Bill is idiotic, it follows that anyone who speaks to it will sound idiotic. It is the Bill that is the cause of that problem.

It is simple that when I pick up the Bill, after it is enacted, and it says that I am a criminal if I am involved in the means of distributing advertisements, it should say that I would be a criminal ''unless'' certain things happen. The Minister should deal with that matter. It should not be left until pages later, under a separate clause, because we are debating clause 2. I accept the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Eastwood, because it makes my point and I am sure that when I finally sit down, he will leap to his feet and agree with me. It would be simpler to say that a person is a criminal, unless there are other factors. That would be better than saying, ''You are a criminal'' and then qualifying that statement in a clause that we cannot discuss now because it has not yet been called for debate. Perhaps some staff at PC World, Dixons, Currys and other companies should or should not be caught, but we cannot debate that now.

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Member has anticipated what I was about to say. For the final time, he must direct his remarks carefully at the amendments and not participate in a clause stand part debate.

Mr. Wilshire: I do not think that I was participating in a clause stand part debate.

The Chairman: Order. The Chairman will decide that.

Mr. Wilshire: I respect that decision. I want to put on the record, however, that when we debate clause 5, I hope that issues connected with clause 2 will not be ruled out of order. You have properly said, Mr. Amess, that when debating clause 2, I may not debate clause 5. When we reach clause 5, I hope that nobody will say that I cannot return to clause 2. It is an absurdity of the way in which the legislation is drafted that a person who participates in the means of transmission is guilty of an offence. That is all that we may discuss now. Later, in a separate debate, we shall say that that is not true.

I do not understand how legal draftsmen can create such a situation, or why Standing Orders say that, because two clauses are linked, they cannot be discussed together. It makes for sloppy consideration of sloppy draftsmanship, and that results in a sloppy Act of Parliament.

Clause 2(4) raises an issue that is not covered by amendment No. 19. I hope that there will be an opportunity, at least under the stand part debate, for that narrow point to be discussed. The amendment offers the Minister the solution to the absurdity of not including the word ''knowingly'' in the clause. In respect of the staff of PC World, Dixons, Currys, the

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Post Office and the oil industry—there are others that I will not mention because it may be repetitious—if the word ''knowingly'' is inserted—[Interruption].

Labour Members are becoming restive, because a valid point that they wish to conceal has been raised. The solution to their problem—the way in which they can lower their blood pressure and make progress—is to look at amendment No. 19 and acknowledge that people are guilty of an offence only if they know what they are doing. Surely that is the practical, common-sense solution to the absurdities that I have mentioned.

If a person working for PC World—or for a different company, because I have nothing against PC World—sold a product that was used subsequently for a criminal activity, it would be up to the courts to satisfy a judge and jury that the member of staff knew that the product would be used for that purpose.

David Taylor: Surely, the parallel to what the hon. Gentleman has said is that a person could be accused of being terminally boring, unless what they were saying was relevant, interesting and concise?

Mr. Wilshire: If the hon. Gentleman could demonstrate that I was knowingly terminally boring, that might be a different matter. I am raising points that have to be considered in a forum in which Labour Members do not want to bother to scrutinise or listen; they want to go back downstairs and do something else, such as open their post. Therefore, they are at fault, and the public will draw the conclusion that this is not intended to be a forum where proper scrutiny takes place.

9.30 am

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