Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill [Lords]

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Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): Generally, my rule and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett) is not to support amendments to the Bill for reasons that I gave at the outset and on Second Reading—that although it is based on a Government Bill, the legislation was forged by my Liberal Democrat colleague Lord Clement-Jones in the House of Lords. However, the hon. Member for Spelthorne is to be congratulated on the amendments and the way he spoke about them. It

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is tempting to add full support to the moral argument that he so eloquently made.

How my hon. Friend and I vote on such matters is based on the merits of each case, with the presumption that we would prefer the Bill to remain unamended. However, the hon. Gentleman made some powerful points. He might have gone on to ask whether, if the sponsored body gave the money back, that should be some form of defence for engaging in this form of sponsorship, which we rightly seek to ban. I do not think that it should be. However, some have argued that if one is found out and gives the money back, that somehow absolves one of the implications of the original sponsorship deal. That is a wholly redundant argument and I am sure that one of the hon. Gentleman's Conservative colleagues was about to make that point.

I know that we cannot go too far down this road, Mr. Amess, but if we want to be clear, it is about time that we ended sponsorship of political parties. There is an overlap between the issue of tobacco sponsorship and sponsorship of political parties. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will give serious consideration to the idea that because of the difficulty of separating out payments that appear to be for political favours, for example those related to gaining exemption from bans on tobacco advertising, there is a strong argument that we should not allow companies to make such donations at all and that sponsorship of political parties should be restricted to small individual donations and state support.

He might also have made the point—perhaps one of his hon. Friends was about to—that it should not be a defence for a sponsoring party of tobacco advertising to say that something is okay if made public. Such sponsorship deals need to be banned, regardless of whether they are made public or done in secret. For a sport simply to say that it will publish sponsorship deals and sums of money for the first time does not seem right to the public, who are the victims of the advertising. It does not seem adequate for someone to say that they are at least letting the public know that they are the victims.

I am spiritually with the thrust of the amendment. Depending on what the Minister says, I think that it would be difficult for us to vote in favour of it, because it would dilute the effect of the Bill. However, I repeat my congratulations to the hon. Member for Spelthorne on the effective way in which the amendment was introduced. It makes an important point about tobacco sponsorship of political parties.

Mr. Ruffley: I support the amendment. It is worth reminding the Committee that the Opposition have brought clear minds to the consideration of the drafting of the Bill. The more I have considered the drafting at various points, the more I have realised that some of it is not as clear as it should be. I have in mind our earlier exchanges about the failure of the draftsmen and draftswomen to spell out clearly in sufficient detail what a tobacco advertisement means. Subsection (2) provides yet another example of drafting that would benefit from improvements.

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Luckily, we have means whereby it can be improved, as the amendment would insert the words

    ''support for a political party''.

We have heard about the lack of clarity that underlies the drafting. The words ''sponsorship agreement'' do not make it immediately clear who the parties might be, nor is it clear what the ''something'' referred to in line 33 of page 5 is. Let me venture a simple example that might be covered by the clause as drafted. A tobacco company or an associate might seek to promote its product against the thrust and purport of the Bill by sponsoring a political party.

Far be it from me to point fingers at the Labour party, but I believe that it has a bit of previous on receiving sponsorship at party conferences from businesses. The clause refers to businesses, using the words,

    ''in the course of a business''.

I could be wrong, but I think that the late, lamented retail chain Somerfield sponsored the passes that hung round the necks of various delegates at a Labour party conference some time ago. That is clear precedent of sponsorship. I could go on to list many examples of private enterprises and companies that sought to sponsor events held by the Labour party, before it went into—[Interruption.] Due to the chuntering from a sedentary position on the Labour Benches, I would suggest that the comments from those on our side of the Committee are very much to the point. We are on to something.

Mr. Wilshire: I am interested in the example given by my hon. Friend. Does he think it significant that the company concerned sells tobacco?

Mr. Ruffley: I had not thought of that, but my hon. Friend has a point.

I do not want to stray out of order, Mr. Amess. My point is that political parties clearly receive sponsorship from businesses in this country. If the Bill is not to be defective, those who want it to be approved should give serious consideration to the means by which its defective drafting can be improved. It may be argued that that sort of thing does not really happen, that the chances of a tobacco company seeking to sponsor a political party are slim or negligible, and that BP's position is the norm among British companies. Lord Browne, chief executive of BP, has said,

    ''we won't fund any political activity or any political party.''

However, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that companies and organisations are already finding alternatives to clear political donations—cash for influence—and are being more crafty. As the Financial Times reported, those alternatives include influencing Government policy through

    ''sponsoring think-tanks, co-opting former government advisers or employees, and by placing company directors on to public bodies, particularly task forces.''

The reason why the issue needs to be aired in Committee is because The Times reported last week that best estimates suggest that the Labour party has a debt of almost £10 million at the same time as several

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trade unions are reconsidering their contributions from political funds to the Labour party, allegedly in protest at policies affecting their industries. Clearly, if there is a shortfall in the coffers of the Labour party—the governing party of the moment—it is not beyond the realm of probability that the Labour party might seek to make up that shortfall by getting donations or sponsorship money from private companies, including tobacco firms. That logic is powerfully supported by the list of unions that are reconsidering their position on donating money to the Labour party. It includes the Transport and General Workers Union, the General, Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union, the Communication Workers Union, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers and Unison. They have either decided to reduce their donations or are, allegedly, considering doing so after consultation with their members.

That was reported in The Guardian on 9 March 2002, in The Sunday Times on 31 March, in The Independent on 30 March, in The Times on 25 March, and in the Daily Express on 29 March. Those reports are not idle speculations, but go to the heart of the point that we want the Government to clear up by accepting amendment No. 45. The list continues of companies or individuals whom the Labour party decides to court assiduously in many ways. It knows almost no shame in the way that it sucks up and gets around those who might donate to its cause. We know of the £32 million contract to supply smallpox vaccine—

The Chairman: Order. I have been listening very carefully to what the hon. Gentleman has been saying, but I must ask him to return to the matter under consideration, which is tobacco sponsorship. Will he please leave aside those wider matters on which he seems to be concentrating?

Mr. Ruffley: I am most grateful, Mr. Amess, for that guidance. I shall confine my remarks to the possibility created by the drafting of subsection (2), to which amendment No. 45 relates, that a tobacco company could—rather like the companies to which I referred and which I mentioned merely as examples of precedent—decide that it was worth while sponsoring a political party.

My scenario was that a company might want to sponsor the Labour party because it is currently the governing party and might, therefore, be one of the parties to a sponsorship agreement with a tobacco company. It is also possible that the other party to the sponsorship agreement could be the Labour party. Without amendment No. 45, sponsorship of the sort that I have described could be made by a tobacco company to a political party, which would defeat the purpose of the clause and thus fatally subvert the purported aim of the Bill, which the Minister invites us to support.

6.15 pm

I draw my comments to a conclusion by saying that, in my judgment and that of my hon. Friends and of the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), the defective drafting would cause a loophole. We believe that it should be closed in the

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interests of good law-making and good legislation. If we are not here to ensure that, I venture to ask what are we here for. It is a sensible amendment, which would clean up and make clearer the drafting of subsection (2).

Yvette Cooper: The four amendments are not serious; they were tabled so that Opposition Members could indulge in the usual nonsense, which we have heard many times before. Sponsorship already includes contributions, either in money or in any other form. It does not matter who is involved, and it does not matter what form it takes; if it has the purpose or effect of promoting tobacco products, it is covered by the Bill. The Bill treats political parties in the same way as everyone else. It sets out transitional arrangements, which must be made on the merits of the case and not on the basis of donations or anything else.

The clause allows tobacco companies and everyone else to donate to charities and good causes, or to give money to the arts or the opera—they can make donations to anything as long as it does not promote a tobacco product. If it has the purpose or effect of promoting a tobacco product, it is covered by clause 10(2), subject to the defences set out in clause 10(3).

The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon expressed the concern that it would not be sufficient simply to publish sponsorship agreements, but that the sponsorship agreements themselves should be banned. I agree. That is the effect of clause 10. Transitional arrangements are set out in clause 20, but the conclusion is clear. Any sponsorship agreement that promotes tobacco products will be covered.

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