Tobacco Products (Description of Products) Order 2002

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Mr. O'Brien: The blunt answer is that I do not know. I am sure that the Economic Secretary will give us a full explanation in his response.

As to my hon. Friend's other descriptions of what we are dealing with this morning, I was not sure that I was at one with him, but in the descriptions in paragraph 3 and 4 of the schedule there appears to be a presumption about certain definitions that are not clear in the order. It might have been helpful if that had been clarified in the explanatory note. The bullet points at the end of the explanatory note possibly show that there is an expectation as to what conditions have to be met in order for something to qualify as a cigar, but those bullet points in the note—we must be mindful of the fact that the note is not part of the order—do not make reference to the matter in any particular detail, other than the third bullet point, which may assist my hon. Friend. To meet certain conditions, the cigar must

    ''either have a binder and a spirally fitted outer wrapper, or meet a minimum size requirement.''

It seems that there must be an underlying technical definition of what constitutes a cigar.

Mr. Bercow: Possibly, or possibly not. I observe in passing that my hon. Friend, for whom I have unstinting admiration, is being very generous to the Economic Secretary—perhaps too generous. I say in all candour that he should check that tendency before it gets out of hand.

My hon. Friend rightly referred to the constitutional violence being done to this country through other legislation on which we cannot focus without incurring your wrath, Miss Begg. It is important that orders or other legislation put to the House or to one of its Committees should be self-

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contained and thereby intelligible to those who are not part of the loop—the ministerial cognoscenti, the chattering classes. It is frankly objectionable that the Government should come forward with this proposal without doing the Committee and lay people such as me, not to mention outside observers, the courtesy of a proper and full explanation of the terms in the order.

Mr. O'Brien: My hon. Friend is, of course, right that Ministers, Government Members, Her Majesty's official Opposition and Members of other parties have an absolute duty to scrutinise legislation before this House properly because everybody must live with that legislation. He is right to say that all legislation, and particularly secondary legislation, should not be onerous and debilitating; on the contrary, it should be clear, apparent and self-contained. Extensive definitional additions to create self-contained legislation should not lose the benefits of brevity and clarity. The schedule looks like it has been hastily cobbled together. The use of language in the phrases in parenthesis and in the titles to paragraphs 3 and 4 is lax. My hon. Friend has rightly identified that the titles used in both paragraphs 3 and 4 appear to have come out of nowhere rather than their having a genesis in and connection with the world of cigar smoking. The schedule is defective, and the Minister has some explaining to do because it cannot be argued that the title is not part of the measure.

I want to touch on a few other points. The Economic Secretary said that the Tobacco Manufacturers Association and others had commented ''usefully'', which is one of the least useful words that I have heard for a long time because it did not help me to understand how they had commented.

I have examined the welcome regulatory impact assessment in the explanatory memorandum. The Economic Secretary knows from our deliberations over recent weeks on the Finance Bill that I am a stickler for regulatory impact assessments. I was very disappointed to find that a raft of measures have been introduced under the Finance Bill without regulatory impact assessments, which are not required for tax measures, despite their having some of the highest costs in terms of both the process and other people's hard-earned cash. On this occasion, there has been a regulatory impact assessment, which is welcome.

Neither brown cigarettes nor products consisting of a pre-formed roll of tobacco inserted into a cigarette paper tube or rolled in a cigarette paper are sold in the UK. However, we must pass legislation in order to conform with European Union definitions of something that is not material or relevant to the people of this country.

It is another example of how frustrating it is that the autonomy of this Parliament is usurped by our having to import definitions in order to cater for the products and habits of other nations. We are having to pass legislation that is irrelevant to the British people, albeit that it conforms to EU-wide harmonisation. It is, as the Economic Secretary well knows, however much he and his colleagues in Government defend

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their position, part of a worrying slippery slope. To use the phrase ''tidying-up'', in the immortal words of the now part-time Leader of the House—he occasionally visits Wales to do his other part-time job—is to seek to pretend that the draft European constitution is not a significant measure for the people of this country.

I have tried to understand why we need to be worried about brown cigarettes. The order is important, and I hope that this explanation will put it in the context of the extensive and important debates that we have had on the Finance Bill, in which the Government seeks to raise a number of duties on tobacco and smoking products.

We discussed the matter fully when the Finance Bill was considered in a Committee of the whole House. At that time, the argument was advanced that because—putting aside issues of health—there is concern that one of the greatest dangers is not the volume of smoking products that come into the country, but the loss to the Revenue due to such products being either smuggled or being bought across the border, the categorisation of those products was totally material to the discussion. That argument was resisted by the Government, much to my consternation, because it had been carefully worked through and was supported by many right hon. and hon. Members.

We sought fuller disclosure by the Government of all the studies that they have done to show the effect that the elasticity of duty rates has on the behaviour of both smugglers and cross-border shoppers, and the level at which they believe that it is not worth while smuggling or going to the trouble and cost of buying abroad in order to save the duty imposed on UK-retailed and purchased products. Because there is such a high rate of duty on such products, there is a massive incentive to avoid it, and that causes concern.

The Economic Secretary and those who have gone before him have sought manfully to resist disclosing the Taylor report, which was commissioned by the Government to establish the options for addressing smuggling, and which had a relevance to cross-border shopping. That disclosure has been called for by the official Opposition and by other parties. I put it on record yet again that such disclosure would be incumbent on a Government who were serious about debating elasticity, rather than looking at smoking products merely as a revenue raiser. It is important, not least from the health angle, to understand how to curb smuggling and cross-border shopping. While the incentive exists, the amount of smoking appears to be going up rather than down. It had dropped considerably until about 1997—

The Chairman: Order. We have a very narrow order in front of us. The hon. Gentleman is drifting off the point in addressing smuggling, important as it might be.

Mr. O'Brien: I am grateful, Miss Begg. It is difficult to put these matters in context sufficiently briefly to maintain your patience. In examining the order, we should be mindful that the definitions have a direct impact on how cigarettes and other smoking products are categorised for the purposes of the Revenue

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levying duty. The background information will help us to understand that behavioural effect because the categories will dictate where duties can be levied, which will have a genuine effect on smuggling and cross-border shopping.

I repeat my request that we should examine the Taylor report and other background studies in order to ensure that we have a genuine, honest and open debate rather than our current debate. The Government are anxious not to disclose the Taylor report for who knows what reason other than that they have something to hide. That covers the technical approach, and we have heard a sensible exposé of the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham.

In the context of the Government's overall strategy on tobacco, cigarettes and smoking products, definitions are important, given our consideration of the Finance Bill, which will reach the Report stage on 1 July on the Floor of the House. It is possible that the order will relate to that debate.

Even in the most narrow of our duties today, I am concerned that we are being asked to pass a schedule that is, on the face of it, not only sloppily drafted with typographical omissions but which has definitions in two separate clauses in which meanings are expressed in two different ways. The order should be withdrawn and started again rather than its being brought forward. I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply, but this is not the greatest day of glory for him and his team because they have brought forward an ill-drafted proposal.

10.21 am

Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay): I do not intend to detain the Committee for as long as the hon. Member for Eddisbury, who nevertheless raised some important points. I must declare that I am a smoker of cigars, and to my mind, a cigar is a cigar. The definition of a cigar based on its circumference has rightly been highlighted in Committee, but a cigar's circumference changes as it is smoked. Is a cigar no longer a cigar as one gets down to the narrow point at the bottom? There is a danger in over-prescription.

I should like the Minister to address three small points. Brown cigarettes are apparently not for sale in the United Kingdom, but I wonder how true that is given that internet mail order enables people to purchase such products. Indeed, specialist tobacco suppliers exist, and I cannot believe that there is nowhere in the United Kingdom where one can obtain those products. I wonder how sure the Minister is that that is the case.

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