Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke): I add my words of welcome to you, Mr. Winterton, to those that have already been expressed. I shall not detain the Committee because my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne has rehearsed in some detail the arguments in favour of the amendments. I regard them as serious and I hope that the Minister does, too. It is clear from my hon. Friend's argument that the words ''sale price'' are insufficient because they lack clarity and definition.

I support what my hon. Friend said about the possible interruption of tobacco supplies. As a smoker, I have experienced it. In the past two or three years, it has not always been possible to obtain certain types of Zimbabwean tobacco. That illustrates the broad theme of my hon. Friend's argument. It is a matter of regret that the Government have pursued the sales threshold with which amendment No. 32 deals. An alternative route was suggested in an amendment tabled in the other place, which was to change the threshold from ''sale price'' to the number of brands of tobacco products stocked in a particular shop.

Interestingly, that is the measurement used in comparable Dutch legislation. The argument for it is that it is far simpler to operate a system based on the number of brands than on sales, which are variable. Will the Minister kindly explain why the Government did not follow the example set by Dutch legislation?

Yvette Cooper: I do not think that the amendment adds anything to the Bill; it is therefore unnecessary and the Government oppose it. It is straightforward that ''sale price'' means the price at which the goods were sold—the amount that the customer pays the tobacconist, the coins that cross the counter, the number on the switch card stub.

Under amendment No. 33, a complicated assessment would have to be made of interruption to supply. That would introduce all sorts of difficulties and complications about how such an interruption would be measured. The Bill allows a 12-month period—not three, one or six months—in which sales are to be measured. That is a considerable time and I think that the provision is fair. It would not be right for the Bill to try to anticipate every problem that might arise in the life of a specialist tobacconist, whether it be a change in local demand, an interruption in supply or any other hiccup. Those problems are in the nature of business, and tobacconists must respond to them.

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If specialist sales fall below 50 per cent. in the 12 months in which sales are assessed, retailers will not, under the terms of the Bill, be counted as specialist tobacconists. Therefore, they will not get the allowances to which the clause refers. The hon. Gentleman asked why the Government chose to focus on sales rather than numbers of brands. It is easier to get round the number of brands, and so if the Bill concentrated on that, it would be easier for the provision to become a loophole. The Netherlands's legislation has not yet been implemented or enforced, so we do not have any experience of that system to draw upon. It is right to focus on sales rather than the number of brands on offer.

Mr. Hunter: The Minister referred to the 50 per cent. threshold, which I had intended to deal with in the stand part debate. I should like to ask her a question about it. We should challenge why that 50 per cent. threshold has been chosen. No health factor is involved in the choice of that figure. It does not make any difference to the purchaser—the smoker—what percentage of the tobacconist's stocks sold is from the allowed products. By insisting on a 50 per cent. threshold, we are not decreasing the health risk for the purchaser.

I am conscious of the burden of bureaucracy that the provision will put on the small retailer and I should like the Minister to deal with that matter. The other day, I asked the specialist tobacconist from whom I buy my cigars how a 50 per cent. threshold would work in practice. He said that it would be a considerable demand. He also sells non-tobacco products. He tells me that the percentage of his takings that comes from tobacco products for which tobacco advertisements would be allowed varies from month to month. Some months, it would be more than 50 per cent., but in others it would be less than that. He regards it as an unnecessary burden that, under the Bill, he would have to put up and take down advertisements almost on a monthly basis and would see that as an unreasonable requirement from the Government.

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For the life of me, I cannot see any logical reason for a 50 per cent. threshold because, whether it is 50 per cent., 30 per cent., or 10 per cent., it will not affect the health of the smoker. He will buy the tobacco products that he wants, regardless of the proportion of retail sales that his purchase constitutes. Will the Minister explain the purpose of the 50 per cent. threshold?

Mr. Wilshire: In view of the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter), I want to query the status of the stand part debate. We have moved away from the two amendments and there are other issues to be discussed that would be better dealt with in a stand part debate. I seek an assurance about your views, Mr. Winterton, so that we may decide whether to debate further issues on the amendments or leave them until the stand part debate.

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The Chairman: Heavy weather is being made of the debate this morning. If there are matters that Opposition Members wish to discuss that are not dealt with on the amendments, I will, of course, allow a clause stand part debate.

Mr. Wilshire: Thank you, Mr. Winterton. I will avoid roaming over territory that is not covered by this morning's debate. With regard to amendment No. 32, it is interesting that the hon. Member for Luton, North did not leap to his feet and shout, ''Loophole'', because it would be easy for specialist tobacconists—not for the tobacco companies this time—to slip through the legislation. When the Minister spoke about the price at which the goods would be sold, I immediately saw a loophole—a very big loophole—looming.

Let us suppose that I am on the borderline of qualifying as a specialist tobacconist and I know that sales are measured by the price at which the goods are sold. I have good and regular customers, on whom I can rely to keep me in business, and they rely on me to supply them with the specialist products that they want. I might be tempted to say, ''Unless my turnover is 'adjusted', I cannot supply you with the specialist products that you want, so for the next few weeks I shall double the price of my hon. Friend's cigars and halve the price of other products.'' The figures on the counterfoil of the Visa card—the money that is passed over the counter—have been cooked. They have been made to fit. I had expected a response from the Minister to show that the Government mean the money that changes hands, providing that the price charged is not artificial.

There is a loophole and the Minister has just opened it up. I wonder if she might like to close it down again by agreeing that, if she is to rely upon the sale price being the amount of money that changes hands, an amendment needs to be introduced. An amendment is needed that would show that the price charged, or the price that changes hands, is not greater than the recommended retail price of the product. I am sure that a lawyer could find a way of wording it. I am not wedded to the word ''actual'' in amendment No. 32, and I will seek the leave of the Committee to withdraw it, so that we can move on to amendment No. 33, which I wish to move formally.

From the way in which the Minister responded to my questions, I suspect that she has never run a retail business. Otherwise, she would not have offered the view that 12 months is a nice long time in which it is perfectly possible to sort things out. That is not true. Two things occur to me about the tobacco business. Tobacco is an annual crop, and if someone misses this season, they must wait a full 12 months before the next one. It is not something that can be sorted out three months later because there has been a crop failure. If ever there were an industry that needed to work on at least annual cycles, it is one that depends for its raw materials on an annual cycle about which nothing can be done.

The other thing that was clear from the Minister's reply that 12 months is a long time was that she has never examined the sales figures of retail businesses. In my retail business, like many, more than half the

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turnover was obtained in November or December, because of Christmas. I assume that the same is true of tobacco products, as many people seem to give and receive them at Christmas. A strike, for example, or interruption in supply, in late November or early December, could seriously hit the part of the trade that matters most in arriving at that calculation.

I therefore do not believe that the Government have taken the matter seriously. They merely say that 12 months is a long time and believe that tobacconists should simply sort themselves out. They would if they could, because their livelihood is at stake, but in some circumstances, specialist tobacconists cannot sort themselves out. I cannot believe that even this Government want to penalise people for matters that are entirely beyond their control. On that basis—unless the Minister wants to respond—I shall withdraw the amendment.

Yvette Cooper: I am happy to respond briefly to the points that have been made. The hon. Member for Basingstoke asked about the purpose of the threshold. Cigars, snuff and pipe tobacco are addictive and harm health. The clause allows specialist tobacconists some specialist treatment, because we recognise the concerns of small businesses that appeal to a narrow adult market. However, we must place clear restrictions on that treatment.

Removing the threshold as the hon. Member for Basingstoke suggests would create a massive loophole. He seems to be arguing that anyone who sells cigars, snuff or pipe tobacco should be able to advertise them. We do not believe that that is right, and to do so would constitute an abuse under the Bill. Businesses fiddling figures would involve issues relating to falsifying figures and legal restrictions.

Subsection (1)(c) refers to compliance

    ''with any requirements specified by the appropriate Minister in regulations in relation to tobacco advertisements on the premises of specialist tobacconists.''

A reference to regulations is included in case a loophole is created in future that is exploited in a particular way by aspects of the tobacco industry. It is therefore right to reject both amendments.

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