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Westminster Hall

Tuesday 3 September 2013

[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Tobacco Products (Plain Packaging)

Motion made, and Question proposed, Thatthe sitting be now adjourned.—(Mr Swayne.)

9.30 am

Mr Philip Hollobone (in the Chair): There are a lot of Members here, and I am keen that all those who have indicated that they wish to speak should be able to do so. However, because of the numbers, I am afraid that we will have to limit Back-Bench contributions to three minutes. Front-Bench speakers will have no more than 10 minutes.

I encourage Mr Blackman not to take interventions from those who have sought permission to speak. It is my intention that Members should be able to speak, but it will greatly help their chances if they do not intervene on another speaker. Likewise, it will help everyone’s chances of speaking if Members do not take interventions during their three-minute contributions. I cannot force Members to do so, but I greatly encourage them to. If anybody has not let the Speaker know that they would like to catch my eye, they should let the Clerk know so we can add them to the list.

9.31 am

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. This august debating Chamber has probably never been so full at 9.30 on a Tuesday morning; the number of hon. Members wishing to speak shows how much interest there is in this topic. I will try to keep my remarks brief, as per your direction, because I know how many people want to contribute.

I wish to cover a particular set of issues, as I am sure others do. The key issue is standardisation of tobacco products and cigarettes, rather than just plain packaging, and I will emphasise that throughout my speech. I am delighted that there are so many Members here from across parties, all of whom I trust are here to participate in this debate. The issue transcends party lines. It should not be a party political matter.

I was delighted in April 2012 when the Government decided to consult on standardising cigarette packaging. However, I was disappointed when they then decided, in July this year, that they would not implement plain packaging and standardisation until the emerging impact of the decision in Australia can be measured.

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): As my hon. Friend rightly said, the Government consulted extensively. Some 665,000 people responded to that consultation, of whom 64% opposed what he is advocating.

Bob Blackman: It was not a referendum or a vote; it was a consultation. It is the power of the arguments that matters in a consultation, rather than necessarily the volume, particularly when the arguments are organised by a lobby such as Philip Morris.

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I declare my interest as secretary of the all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health. In common with my colleagues, I think that there is no good reason for delaying the implementation of standardised packaging, for child protection and health reasons.

Dame Angela Watkinson (Hornchurch and Upminster) (Con): I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government are already investing heavily in anti-smoking strategies through advertising in the print and broadcast media, hoardings in the street and smoking cessation classes? A packet of cigarettes says in bold letters, “Smoking can kill”. Any individual who makes a conscious decision to disregard all those warnings surely will not be influenced further by the removal of brand names from packets of cigarettes.

Bob Blackman: The key issue, to which I will come, is not discouraging current smokers but preventing children from smoking in the first place.

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Bob Blackman: I will give way a bit later, as I have been directed by the Chairman not to take too many interventions.

My view was reinforced by a recent Observer article revealing that Philip Morris, one of the big tobacco companies, set out in 2012 to persuade the Government to

“wait and see what happens in Australia”

two or three years down the line. That is undesirable. Most smokers begin when they are children. Two thirds of existing adult smokers report that they started before age 18, and almost two in five started before age 16. I have no objection if people choose to put a cigarette in their mouth, light it and help kill themselves—if that is what they choose to do, they have that right. However, I object to innocent children starting the habit and then not being able to give it up.

Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way; I call him my hon. Friend on this occasion because we are on the same team. I gave up smoking when I was nine years old, believe it or not. I had two older sisters. They did not encourage me to smoke, but I used to get cigarettes off them. I do not think that I was encouraged by the packaging at that age, but packaging is now clearly aimed at a younger market. Due to the annual number of deaths among smokers and the number of people who give up, the smoking industry needs new recruits, and it uses any means at its disposal to get them.

Bob Blackman: I thank my hon. Friend; I return the compliment on this occasion. As I said, it is key to prevent children from starting smoking in the first place. According to the analysis produced by statisticians at Cancer Research, which I do not think is disputed, 207,000 children under the age of 16 start smoking every year. If the Government wait for three years from December 2012, when standardised packages were introduced in Australia, about 600,000 children will begin to smoke before the Government take any action.

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That is very useful for Philip Morris and big tobacco, but what a tragedy for the children, their families and their communities in later life.

Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Does he not agree, though, that if we adopt plain packaging, the danger is that we will simply add to the mystique surrounding tobacco products, inadvertently encouraging more young people to smoke?

Bob Blackman: As I shall describe later, the evidence indicates the reverse; I will come to that in a few minutes.

I am pleased that the borough of Harrow, which I have the honour to represent, has a lower than average smoking rate. The latest data still estimate that 500 11 to 15-year-olds in Harrow currently smoke, which is 500 too many. I am sure that other hon. Members here have much higher smoking rates in their constituencies. Clearly, the Government’s duty to local authorities to promote public health means that they will have to take action against smoking.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that some research suggests that when young people and children start smoking ordinary cigarettes, they can then move on to harder drugs, destroying not only their health but their families and their future career and health prospects?

Bob Blackman: Clearly, the younger someone starts smoking, the more likely they are to increase their smoking in later life, and the greater harm they will do their health. Evidence indicates that the earlier someone starts, the more heavily they are likely to smoke later in life, increasing their dependency and lowering their chances of quitting. They therefore have a higher chance of premature death from smoking-related disease. The appalling truth is that half of all lifetime smokers will die from illness caused by their addiction.

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): Is my hon. Friend aware of the concerns of cigarette packaging manufacturers that standardised packaging will be much easier for counterfeiters to copy? There is thus a grave danger that the very people about whom he is concerned are more likely to be smoking more dangerous illicit cigarettes.

Bob Blackman: I will come to packaging later in my speech. The key issue is the risk of counterfeiting under the current arrangements, and it has yet to be proven what action can be taken about that. With standardised packaging, measures are possible to make it harder for the illicit trade to continue.

The illnesses are awful—lung cancer, other cancers, emphysema, peripheral vascular disease. Doctors and medical professionals do not support tobacco control measures, including standardisation of packaging, out of some perverse desire to control people and tell them what to do; they support tobacco control because they have seen hundreds of patients dying from terrible and preventable diseases. They want that dreadful waste of life to end, and we should listen to them. I declare a personal interest: both my parents died of cancer when I was young, because of tobacco and no other reason.

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Children in poorer communities in particular—high-risk groups, specifically—are more likely to smoke. For example, 45% of smokers in routine and manual occupations report that they began to smoke before the age of 16; 57% of teenage mothers smoked during pregnancy; and in 2002, the Office for National Statistics reported that a truly shocking 69% of children in residential care were smokers. Starting to smoke is associated with a range of key risk factors, including smoking by parents, siblings and friends, and exposure to tobacco marketing. In my judgment, most people start smoking at stressful times in their lives.

Packaging is used by the tobacco industry as a residual form of advertising, since all other forms are now unlawful. Smokers display the branding every time they take their pack out to smoke. The industry understands that well. Helpfully, Philip Morris International’s submission to the Government consultation on the future of tobacco control stated:

“Packaging is…a means of communicating to consumers about what brands are on sale and in particular the goodwill”—

to use the term literally—

“associated with our trademarks, indicating brand value and quality.”

Nowhere else would someone get away with a product that kills people being advertised in such a way.

Peer-reviewed studies, summarised in the systematic review of evidence cited in the Department of Health’s consultation document, have found that standard packaging, compared with branded cigarettes, is less attractive to young people, improves the effectiveness of health warnings, reduces mistaken beliefs that some brands are safer than others and is, therefore, likely to reduce smoking uptake among children and young people. That evidence is from the Department of Health, which is not yet acting on it. More recent evidence from Australia is that smokers using standard packs are more likely to rate quitting as a higher priority in their lives than smokers using brand packs. That is only the early evidence.

Dr Wollaston: So-called plain packaging is actually “stark staring truth” packaging, and has nothing to do with mystique. It will not increase mystique; such packaging will simply help vulnerable children stop being the new recruits for an industry that is killing its customers.

Bob Blackman: Indeed. In Australia, we have seen immediately that standard packs, which are often described as plain, are anything but. Colleagues in the House and members of the public have been confused into thinking that standard packs would be grey or white, with no markings at all. That impression has been deliberately fostered by the tobacco industry—for example, by Japan Tobacco in its grossly misleading newspaper adverts, which were rightly condemned by the Advertising Standards Authority. In fact, as in Australia, standard packs would be highly designed, with images of the likely health effects of smoking. No wonder the industry is determined to stop such packaging.

The evidence we already have amounts to a strong enough reason for action now. Are there any arguments against that? There are certainly a number of myths, endlessly repeated by the tobacco industry and its front groups. High on that list is the argument that standardised packs will increase the level of the illicit trade, as has

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been mentioned. That is fiction. In fact, data from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs show clearly that the illicit trade in cigarettes fell from around one in five consumed in the UK in 2000 to fewer than one in 10 by 2010-11. That represents a great success for HMRC and the Government as a whole, partly as a result of the sensible decision by the Government to protect the funding for that area of HMRC’s work in the previous spending round.

People may ask whether standardised packaging would reverse that welcome trend, but there is no good reason to believe so. I invite any hon. Member who does to consider this fact: the three key security features on a pack of cigarettes are the numerical coding system printed at the bottom of the pack, which will continue; a covert anti-counterfeit mark in the middle of the pack, which can be read by a hand-held scanner and would also remain; and some features of cigarette design, in particular the distinctive marks on filter papers, which would continue. All those features would continue with standard packs.

Andy Leggett, the deputy director for tobacco and alcohol strategy at HMRC, said that

“there is no evidence that that risk”—

of an increase in the illicit trade—

“would materialise to any significant degree.”

His opinion was shared by serving police officers, senior trading standards officers and a representative of the EU anti-fraud office, OLAF, when they gave evidence to the inquiry on the illicit trade conducted by the all-party group on smoking and health, of which I am secretary.

Standardised packaging is not a party political issue. It is strongly supported by politicians of all parties, many of whom are present for this debate. It is also popular with the public. Contrary to what my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) said, a February 2013 poll on the issue found that, overall, 64% of adults in Great Britain were in favour of standardised packaging—great public support.

A further poll by YouGov, conducted in March, showed support for the policy from 62% of Conservative supporters, 63% of Labour supporters and 60% of Liberal Democrats. There was majority support from all ages, genders, classes and political parties. Were there a free vote in the House of Commons, I believe that a significant majority of MPs would support legislation on standardised packs. I also firmly believe that Parliament should debate and decide the matter.

I remember, before I was elected, the 2006 debate on smoke-free public places, support for which was passed by a majority of more than 200. That piece of legislation has proven to be highly successful and popular, enabling people to enjoy restaurants, pubs and other facilities without having to endure smoke. That legislation was achieved in part because it was seen to be beyond conventional party politics. I strongly urge the Government and my hon. Friend the Minister to introduce a debate in the main Chamber so that we can discuss it and take a decision, with a vote, on standardised packs.

To sum up, fundamentally the issue is simple: smoking tobacco is a lethal addiction. Cigarettes are the only legal product sold in the UK that kills consumers when used exactly as the manufacturer intends. Why should any company be allowed to promote such a product

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through advertising and marketing? The tobacco industry has made a great fuss about its intellectual property rights, but why should we allow any such claimed rights to trump the requirements of child protection and public health? The nub of the debate is that children, and the most vulnerable groups of children in particular, need protection from the tobacco industry and its never ending search for new consumers.

Sir Gerald Howarth: My hon. Friend has been most generous in giving way. He obviously feels passionately, as I feel passionately in the other direction. As a traditional Tory, I believe in a free society: people are warned of the dangers and should be allowed to make their own decisions. Given the passion with which my hon. Friend has argued his case and given his connection with the all-party group, is he really in favour of having tobacco banned altogether in this country? Surely that is the logic of his argument.

Bob Blackman: I do not agree with banning tobacco completely. If people want to put a cigarette in their mouth, light it and kill themselves, they make that choice as conscious adults. My concern is for young children who begin smoking before they realise the dangers; they then cannot quit, because they are addicted. The tobacco industry’s aim in its packaging is to encourage more people to start.

Tobacco packaging should be made as unattractive as possible. It should never again be used to try to recruit new addicts and new victims, particularly among the young. Standardised packaging is an inevitable and welcome step forward in tobacco control. I predict that it will come sooner or later, and on this side of the argument, the sooner the better. If not now, when? I look forward to hearing my hon. Friend the Minister making the Government’s position clear so that we know what it is. If they then refuse to introduce a debate in the House, we will.

Mr Philip Hollobone (in the Chair): Order. The speeches from the Front Benches will start no later than 10.40, so we have 50 minutes remaining. Hon. Members have the right to take interventions, but the fewer there are, the better the chances of all hon. Members being able to speak, which is my sole objective this morning. I call Nick Smith.

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone—

Mr Philip Hollobone(in the Chair): Order. I call Mr Nick Smith.

9.51 am

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) on securing this debate and on his principled support for plain packaging.

It bears repeating that the costs of smoking are huge. The cost to the NHS in Wales alone is estimated at around £400 million. A Welsh health survey in 2012 showed that 23% of the population smoke and, sadly, in

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my constituency that figure is 28%. The Welsh Government’s commitment to reduce it to 16% by 2020 is a massive challenge.

The smoking ban has made our pubs and cafés healthier and more pleasant places in which to relax, but young people are still being recruited to the habit and more than 200,000 under-16s start to smoke every year. We expected that by now the message that smoking is bad for you would have ended the recruitment of new young smokers. Yet in the summer of 2012, when ASH Wales had a campaign road show around Wales to talk to schoolchildren about the impact of tobacco marketing on them, when shown the marketing currently on the shelves, they described cigarettes as looking like perfume boxes, posh tissues and even Lego.

ASH Wales estimated that 40 teenagers every day try smoking cigarettes. Cigarette packs come in a wide range of shapes, sizes and designs that are fashionable, colourful and attractive to young smokers. I have been told that slimline feminine packets are perfect for small handbags, and such comments underline why plain packaging is supported by the chief medical officer for Wales and the Children’s Commissioner for Wales. It has majority public support of 63% and is widely supported by parents in my constituency.

I am pleased that the Welsh Minister for Health and Social Services is looking at our devolved powers to see what unilateral action might be taken to introduce plain packaging, but I have no doubt that concerted action throughout the UK is the best option. We must defeat the mantra that those who want to up the pace of reform are advocates of the nanny state and greater regulation. Instead, we must show that plain packaging will save lives and money, and is clearly right.

9.53 am

Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): When I was a child and until I was about 18, I spent every Christmas day on the wards of my father’s hospital. They were old Nightingale wards with beds on both sides. On one side of the male wards were the old soldiers whom my father and GPs had conspired to bring into hospital to give them a good Christmas. On the other side were men who were dying of lung cancer, which is a bloody awful way to die. In effect, sufferers drown because they cannot breathe. It is degrading, they fight for breath and they need oxygen tanks. It is a horrid way to go.

In the 1950s and 60s, many of the chaps who were dying had started smoking during the great war when the link between cancer and smoking was not clear. That is clear now, and although smoking rates have dropped significantly since the 1950s when my father was appointed a consultant, it is a striking and sad fact that one fifth of adults in the UK still smoke. More disconcerting is the fact that more than 200,000 children a year start smoking.

The point I want to make to the Minister—I understand her position of wanting an evidence-based approach—is that, having read the Library briefing and the briefing from various groups, which sensibly sent it to colleagues for the debate, it is not clear to me what research the Department of Health has done. We all know the desperate impact of smoking on people’s long-term

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health and the risks of dying prematurely, not only from lung cancer but from other illnesses. What research has been done to understand better why so many youngsters still take up smoking and what more can be done to discourage them from doing so?

Having a father whose study was full of cancerous lungs in jars was a pretty significant disincentive to taking up smoking, in addition to seeing people dying from cancer. There is a disconnect here. Human beings are supposedly rational and sentient, yet each year some 200,000 youngsters make a decision that will have serious long-term consequences on their health and that of others.

9.57 am

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): It is a pleasure, Mr Hollobone, to speak under your chairmanship. I assure you that I will have my hearing tested.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) on securing this debate. As he and colleagues throughout the House who are concerned about the Government’s decision not to implement standardised packaging for tobacco products said, this debate is not about scoring political points, but about holding the Government to account for what many of us consider to be a wrong move.

Clearly, the Government have recognised the negative consequences arising from ready access to non-standardised packaging, yet they drag their feet, are adamant that the evidence is not substantial enough and insist that non-legislative solutions are better suited to the task in hand. Pressure on smoking must be continuous and relentless because we are fighting a pervasive, lethal and powerful addiction. Plain packaging fits the bill. Not only is there a real need for it, but it is a solution that is both wanted and workable. Tobacco is the only consumer product that, if used as instructed, kills half of its long-term users. All tobacco products damage health, so it is right that they are treated differently from other consumer products.

I shall make it clear what that means. In my local authority area of Stockton, more than 250 people die prematurely every year from smoking-related diseases. We have a lung cancer rate of 67.1 per 100,000 people, which is a staggering 40% higher than the national average.

Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the way to protect children is to act now? Around 50 studies say that the measure would have an impact, so the Government need not wait for the results of the Australian change in the law.

Alex Cunningham: That is certainly the case. Children are the most vulnerable group and they need protection from exposure to lethal smoking in closed spaces such as cars and the tobacco industry’s never-ending search for new addicts. Marketing is known to pull children into smoking and the pack is just another marketing tool.

The tobacco industry is now prevented from conventional advertising in this country, so we must look abroad to discover its true intentions. I have been sent the wording on a US internet site advertising Vogue cigarettes, a

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brand that is owned by British American Tobacco and aimed at young women. They are on sale throughout the UK. One US site says:

“Vogue Cigarettes stand out among other cigarette brands for both their appearance and their unique recognisable taste...The all-white box design with a tiny coloured branch and different coloured leaves reflects the romantic essence that is Vogue Cigarettes”.

Another site says that

“the Vogue cigarette’s style was based on the 1950s couture…The length and the…appearance…is an attribute of the femininity”.

What crass nonsense! The tobacco industry calls these cigarettes “romantic” and “feminine”; I call them addictive and deadly. The real concern of the tobacco industry about standard packaging is, of course, that it would prevent them from marketing their products and recruiting new smokers, and there is a standard litany of excuses.

One is that standard packs would increase illicit trade. That myth has already been dealt with by the hon. Member for Harrow East. Another is that standard packs would put the packaging industry out of business, but let us not forget that we need to worry about the good health of the nation, and tough as it would be on employees and others involved in production and supplies, if that good health is to be achieved, we should not really be focusing on the downside. There are many other excuses too, from the damage that will be done to retailers and the loss of tax revenues, to the amazing claim from some in the industry that packaging does not really matter. So many excuses, so little evidence.

The case for standard packs is strong, and the need for action is urgent. On one side there is the rich and utterly cynical industry that is quite happy to market products that still kill more than 100,000 people across the UK every year—more than the next six most common causes of preventable death. On the other side is the medical and health community, politicians from all parties, and the general public. In the middle are the Government: they have lost the political will to act, so they must let Parliament decide.

10.1 am

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) has made clear, the Government, at the behest of the very well funded, vocal and influential health lobby, are examining whether to introduce plain packaging for the nation’s tobacco industry. I, for one, believe that that is an entirely unjustified step and that it would create an unsettling precedent—the state prohibiting the producers of a legal product to use its legally protected and valuable branding. It is a serious challenge to all those who believe in free markets, enterprise and the economic system of capitalism.

I would very much agree with what was said in the earlier exchanges: if it is such a terrible product, have the honesty, as many in the health industry do not, to say that the whole product should be banned. I would accept that if it is felt to be such an unhealthy product, it should be banned, but we would also then be going down a road that would probably, before long, affect the alcohol industry, fatty foods and so on. That is not a state of affairs that I would like.

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John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): Would my hon. Friend not wish to make a distinction between moderate consumption of alcohol and fatty foods, which is perfectly tolerable, and moderate consumption of cigarettes, which have an appalling effect, no matter how many are consumed? There is a real distinction.

Mark Field: No doubt the health lobby would quickly suggest that alcohol and fatty foods were equally intolerable, even at the lowest level.

Let me make it clear at the outset: I accept fully that tobacco is addictive, but it is a legal drug for adults. I am the father of two young children—a son of five and a daughter of two—and I would not want them to take up tobacco, not least because my late father also died of lung cancer. In passing, it is worth making the observation that our coalition partners and the Opposition would allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote, but not to purchase cigarettes. The age restriction for tobacco, of course, has risen from 16 in recent years.

I accept that tobacco smoking is subject to commensurate regulations and restrictions. No one should sensibly want to see children take up smoking or should encourage them to take up the habit. I believe that we should do all we can to discourage, to educate and ultimately to prevent those under the legal age from taking up smoking. However, I also believe passionately in the concept of freedom of choice. The decision of whether or not to smoke should remain that of an informed adult, without gratuitous interference from the state.

One should not forget that tobacco is already one of the most highly regulated products in the world. The introduction of plain packaging would almost certainly amount to a regulation too far, and the so-called “denormalisation” of tobacco is not a sufficiently valid policy decision to justify such action. Any decision by the coalition Government must be unequivocally evidence-based. To contemplate taking such a significant measure for a legal product, the evidence base must be rock solid and reliable, with a guarantee that it will have the outcome intended.

I must confess that I am very pleased that the Department did not place a bid in this year’s Queen’s Speech, and that the Government, with a very libertarian junior Minister as we know, have sensibly delayed making a decision until it is clear what impact plain packaging has in Australia, where a plain-packaging law has been introduced. In my view, it makes sense to see how that experiment works first, before following their lead.

Any decision must be categorically made on the basis not of who shouts loudest or which side of the debate is able to muster the largest number of automated e-mail responses. The enforced introduction of plain packaging would infringe fundamental legal rights that are routinely afforded to international business. It would erode some important British intellectual property and brand equity, and it would create a dangerous precedent for the future of commercial free speech in areas such as alcohol and, indeed, within the food industry.

There is so much more that I would like to say, Mr Hollobone. It has been an interesting debate. I accept that my contribution is on a different path from those of many other Members here, but it is a voice that perhaps needs to be heard in this debate, which we will no doubt have in the months and years to come.

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10.5 am

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): The Government face a choice: to make policy on the basis of emotion—indeed, of emotional blackmail—or to make it on the basis of evidence. I welcome the recent statement by the Government that they will look at and assess the evidence, then take a decision on that basis. That is an eminently sensible way to approach making policy.

Other Members do themselves a disservice if they take a particular position on the sale, manufacture and distribution of tobacco, saying that those activities are somehow aligned with those of child killers, cancer pushers and drug dealers. That is the import of what is being said today about people who wish to defend an industry that employs 66,000 people in this country. If we put it out of business, it will not reduce the consumption or sale of cigarettes by one; they will simply be manufactured in other countries and imported here, and they will continue to be smoked here.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): Does my hon. Friend agree that despite the statistics that have been given here today, and despite all the health warnings and pictures on cigarettes, 200,000 people are still recruited into the cigarette industry every year? It is evident that the packaging—the shape and colour, and what is on it—does not deter people from smoking.

Ian Paisley: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I shall deal with the evidence on three issues. First, the Republic of Ireland has the tightest, harshest laws on public smoking. When it introduced those laws 10 years ago—it set the trend on this—smoking stood at 30% of the public. After 10 years of enforcement, enforcement, enforcement, today the number of people who smoke in the Republic of Ireland is 30%. There has not been one single change to consumption, yet we are told that this drive is all about reducing consumption. It does not actually work.

How do we address consumption? We do what the hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) says: educate young people. In Germany, they have done that and consumption has fallen to 16%. Why? Because they educated the very young and persuaded people that smoking was not the course of action they should take. They educated them away from cigarettes. They also do another thing: they enforce. In other words, an adult cannot go into a shop, buy fags and give them to a 16-year-old. They enforce against adults who do that. Unfortunately, many people in this country go into shops and purchase cigarettes, or purchase illicit trade cigarettes out of the back of someone’s car, and then give them to young people. We should enforce against that.

I also want to deal with the myth about illicit trade. The hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) should know much better. To suggest that HMRC is on top of the illicit trade in this country is to put one’s head in the sand. Last year, HMRC gave evidence to the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs about illicit trade, and tobacco was dealt with. HMRC is fighting a tsunami of counterfeit trade in this country.

In my country, 25% of all cigarettes smoked are illegal. In Scotland, the figure is about 27%. If we are pretending today that the authorities are on top of the

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issue, we are absolutely, totally and completely wrong. We have to recognise that counterfeiters are rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of their job being made easier. They will be able to get a simpler package cover that is standardised across the whole UK and push it out across the UK, getting people to smoke brands that are counterfeit and illicitly brought into the country. Remember that the people doing that are not Sunday school teachers; they are serious organised criminals who are involved in serious criminal endeavours.

10.9 am

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) on securing this important debate and on his excellent speech. I hope that we do have a debate and a vote in the House on this issue. I also pay tribute to the work that has been done over many years by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Stephen Williams). He recently got a World Health Organisation medal for his work to try to control tobacco. That is very well deserved.

The tobacco industry clearly has a desperate fight on its hands to keep its profits. Over many years—many decades—it has resorted to a range of techniques. One story that used to be told was that if someone smokes, they are less likely to get Alzheimer’s disease. That is absolutely true, as has been said—but the main reason is that they are quite likely to die before they get Alzheimer’s disease. I am not sure that that is quite what was intended.

The question that we must ask when thinking about proposals to introduce plain packaging, which I completely and utterly support, is this: will it work? Study after study shows that with plain packaging, the packs will be less attractive to adults and to children and that that will reduce the number of people taking up smoking. Some 200,000 children take up smoking each year. We could make a real change. Smoking is presented as cool, but that is not the type of cool that we want to see. We can make a difference.

In Australia, there is already research on what the effects of plain packaging have been. It is very clear that plain packaging increases smokers’ urgency to quit and lowers the appeal of smoking. It is going the right way; it is having the right results. That is why I was so disappointed to see the Government’s decision to wait until we have a clearer view of the impact in Australia.

From a scientific perspective, it always makes sense to wait for better evidence. We could wait another year, five years, 10 years or 100 years and we will get more and more evidence, but in the meantime people will be taking up smoking and dying as a result. We simply do not have the luxury of waiting for ever to get the most perfect possible results. Australia has understood that and taken action, and many countries around the world, from Ireland to India, are following that lead. As the Australian Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, highlighted, the laws are “anti-cancer, not anti-trade”. That is where we should want to be.

Sammy Wilson: The hon. Gentleman talks about how plain packaging makes smoking less attractive, but the evidence from Australia is actually that plain packaging

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makes those cigarettes less attractive than those that have a brand name on them, not that it makes smoking less attractive. It simply makes one packet less attractive than the other. There is no evidence that it reduces the number of people coming forward to smoke.

Dr Huppert: I think that we have seen different data sets from Australia. My understanding is very clear that there is a substantial reduction there.

We will continue to see the resistance; we will continue to hear the arguments that if tobacco is legal, it must be possible to sell it freely. We have already heard the summary from “The Oxford Medical Companion” that tobacco is the only legally available consumer product that kills people when used entirely as intended. That is something that we should rightly be concerned about. Although the tobacco giants will continue to fight their case, we have a duty and a responsibility to fight on behalf of the people who will continue their lives—who will continue their healthy lives.

The fact that MPs from across the political spectrum—this is shown by the vast majority of speeches here today—have come together to ask for a U-turn on the original U-turn is proof of the political will that exists to take on tobacco. We know that that is supported by the public outside the House. I hope that we will keep raising the issue and that we will have a chance to make the difference.

10.13 am

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): Ignatius Loyola, who founded the Jesuits, said:

“Give me the boy at seven and I will give you the man.”

I think that the strapline for the tobacco advertising industry is, “Give me the child smoker at 12 and I will give you the early grave.”

The advertising industry is finely honed. It uses psychology, science, art, craft and design to get a message across. It is not just happenstance or chance; the packages that cigarettes come in are dedicated to capturing hearts and minds. I am holding one—this is what we are talking about here today. This is a “super-slim” cigarette. What 12-year-old girl would not like to be super slim? It is a fine, elegant-looking bullet—or cancer stick. See this other one I am holding up. Guess who it is aimed at—14-year-olds. These packages will be responsible for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of deaths of UK citizens over the next few decades. It is the most pernicious form of advertising in the country.

Ian Paisley: I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but I remind him that in 2008 the then Health Secretary, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), said in a statement to the House that:

“there is no evidence base that”

plain packaging

“actually reduces the number of young children smoking.”—[Official Report, 16 December 2008; Vol. 485, c. 945.]

He had sought to introduce the policy himself, but then dismissed it.

Chris Ruane: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. He is right. Labour did many good things. We curtailed advertising. We introduced the ban on

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smoking in public places. But we did not do enough and we need to do more. When I spoke about this package at an anti-smoking do in Parliament, JTI—Japan Tobacco International—had a spy in the room and wrote to me afterwards, saying, “Mr Ruane, you’ve got it all wrong. These are called 14s because there are 14 cigarettes inside the packet.” It was a Miss Laura Oates who castigated me and she went on to criticise the Labour Government for not doing enough on proxy purchasing.

I agree: I think that we should take up Miss Laura Oates’s cry for more pressure on the tobacco industry and concentrate on that. This is just one step in the campaign to cut and then eliminate smoking in the UK. Thanks go to Laura Oates for suggesting other campaigns as well. I think that we should have a whole string of them over the next 10 years. It should be a long-term policy to—

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Chris Ruane: No, I will not; I have given way once.

It should be a long-term policy to eradicate smoking in our country. The tobacco industry is very successful at capturing young hearts, minds and lungs, to such an extent that 567 children a day start smoking. A majority of those smokers will continue smoking until the day they die—early.

The industry has been forced to get new recruits because people are dropping off on the other end. Mature people, adults, older people are stopping smoking. They are also dying—150,000 people a year are dying, so the industry needs to get new recruits as early as possible; the earlier it gets them, the more profitable it is. If it can get 50 or 60 years of smoking out of a 12-year-old, that is much more profitable than getting an adult at the age of 18. It is an extra six years of profitability, built on the back of that child’s life—or death.

I know that we should not be party political, but the Government have back-pedalled on this issue and that of the unit pricing of alcohol. There is time for a rethink. There is a lot of co-operation and support in the Chamber and outside. We ought to work together to force this issue and force it quickly.

10.17 am

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I have managed to constrain the urge to intervene, in accordance with your exhortation to us this morning, so I will be reluctant to accept any interventions myself, on the basis, as you said, that we want to have as many speakers as we can.

I am, as most people in the room know, I suspect, on the side of my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) and the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) in this matter. I take the view that plenty of measures are already in place to protect children from smoking. Let us face it: it is already illegal to sell cigarettes to children.

The principal point that I want to make to start with is that we ought to be taking more measures to enforce the laws that we have already. There is already a ban on advertising, a ban on the display of cigarettes in large

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supermarkets, which is shortly to be extended to all shops, and a ban on smoking in public places. We already have extensive education measures.

What really starts children smoking is peer pressure. We have seen that, as a result of all the measures in place already, the numbers of people smoking are falling. Government figures from the general lifestyle survey show a national fall in the number of smokers, from 39% in 1980 to 21% in 2011—19% in England and 24% in Scotland and Wales. I have never met anyone who, when I asked why they smoked, said, “I took up smoking because I was attracted by the colour or style of the packet and I wanted to have one in my pocket.”

Chris Ruane: Get rid of it, then.

Mr Nuttall: It is all very well saying that, but the Minister said in a previous debate that the new packs were not going to be plain packaged at all, but were going to have lots of glamorous, glitzy holograms on them in different colours. [Interruption.] The Minister did not say “glamorous”, but she did mention different colours and holograms. The point is that I never met anyone who said that it was the packet that made them want to take up smoking.

Mr Philip Hollobone (in the Chair): Order. I call Jim Shannon.

10.20 am

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) for bringing this important matter to Westminster Hall for consideration.

I put a question to the Minister in June in which I referenced the fact that, when a patient is ill and visits their GP, they do as the doctor orders. One hundred thousand people will die of lung cancer this year and doctors support the campaign for plain packaging, so the question I put to the Government today is, when will they do as the doctor orders and bring in plain packaging for tobacco?

Numerous individuals, as well as groups such as Action Cancer and Cancer Research UK have contacted me. Schoolteachers have asked me to support the introduction of plain packaging in the hope that some of the cool factor will be lost and children will not take up the habit. Government research shows some 567 children start smoking every day. Half of those go on to become regular smokers, who will die as a result of their habit, despite anti-smoking advertising campaigns, attempts to educate children at school about the dangers and the fact that it is now illegal to sell cigarettes to anyone under 18 in Northern Ireland.

After much research, Cancer Research backs standardised plain packs due to the evidence that such packaging will help to save lives as part of a comprehensive tobacco strategy. No one here is claiming that it is the answer and will stop people smoking, but it can be and must be part of a campaign to save lives. Eight in 10 smokers start smoking by the age of 19 and 207,000 11 to 15-year-olds become smokers each year.

Ian Mearns: I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that marketing and advertising aimed at reaching young people on their birthday when they can buy and smoke

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legally for the first time will also have an effect on those who are only 13 or 14. From a marketing perspective, they are in the same age bracket.

Jim Shannon: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. It is clear that cigarette companies target young people and we need to address that. Cancer Research points to substantial evidence that shows advertising and promotion drawing young people into smoking and that packaging is an important part of tobacco promotion.

Standard packs would build on the success of the advertising ban. Eighty five per cent. of people back Government action to reduce the number of young people who start smoking and 63% of people support standard packs, with only 16% opposed. One hundred and ninety health organisations support standard packs, including the royal medical colleges and health charities, as well as the World Health Organisation.

I was not aware that we waited for countries, such as Australia, to implement initiatives before we would do so in the UK. It was my impression that we sought to lead the field in safety. Even if we are waiting on smoke signals, or hopefully a lack of smoke signals—forgive the pun—from Australia, research from Cancer Research that is making its way back from Australia shows early indications not only that the policy is making cigarettes appear less appealing, but that there is no evidence of problems for retailers.

I spoke to my colleague, Northern Ireland Health Minister, Edwin Poots, about the issue and he said that he fully supports the concept of plain packaging. He further told me that it was essential that there is a UK-wide scheme to tackle smoking.

Roger Williams: Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Jim Shannon: I cannot. I urge the Government not to put off the measure by waiting to get the all clear from Australia, when too many people are not getting the all clear from lung cancer and other diseases. Take the steps necessary. They might prevent some of the 567 children who may start smoking today, every day and every week, from doing so.

10.24 am

Stephen Williams (Bristol West) (LD): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) on securing the debate. He is my honourable friend in a different context, as an officer in the all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health, which I have chaired for the past three years.

We have two debates in Parliament that will attract public attention today—this one and the debate on lobbyists this afternoon. I think that we could move seamlessly from one to the other, because the fact that the Government have stalled on this important public health measure is proof positive of the effectiveness of the lobbying industry. The industry must see it as a triumph that it has caused the Government to stop and think again.

Over the past 18 months or so there has been frantic and frenetic lobbying by the tobacco companies to stop the Government introducing legislation to standardise

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the packaging of cigarettes. That is because it is the last remaining marketing ploy that the tobacco companies have. They have used the same arguments they made about the ban on smoking in public places and the display ban: that it will destroy small shops, and lead to a huge increase in smuggling and criminal activity. Those arguments were wrong then and they are wrong now.

Mark Field: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Stephen Williams: The hon. Gentleman has spoken, so I will follow the Chair’s mandate and not give way.

Other people are lobbying against the policy, such as Unite the Union. I took part in a debate during the recess on BBC Radio Bristol with a shop steward from the tobacco packaging factory in east Bristol. He said that if legislation went ahead that factory would lose hundreds of jobs. I say to the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) that I see no problem at all with being a constituency MP—Imperial Tobacco, one of the largest tobacco companies in the world, is based in Bristol—and arguing against the tobacco trade, because tobacco kills people in my city and kills people from poorer communities. It is a public health tragedy that smoking now disproportionately affects poorer people in society. The middle classes have largely followed all the health warnings and given up smoking.

Ian Paisley rose

Stephen Williams: As I mentioned the hon. Gentleman, I will give way.

Ian Paisley: I have no problem with that, but I must ask the hon. Gentleman whether he takes the same approach to the alcohol trade. I accept that cigarettes kill, but that is not the argument. The argument is about illicit trade and the impact on jobs and employment. That is where the argument is and where we need to look. We need to get the evidence that shows that plain packaging will do what it says on the tin: stop people from smoking; it will not.

Stephen Williams: There is a big difference between alcohol and tobacco: alcohol consumed in moderation will not kill someone; smoking tobacco, whatever the strength, over a long period, will shorten your life. That is a fundamental difference.

As hon. Members have said, tobacco is already one of the most regulated trades. So why regulate further? Because regulation has been proven to work. Over the past 50 years, with restrictions on tobacco advertising, sponsorship and points of display, health warnings and NHS cessation programmes, we have seen the rate of smoking drop from more than half of adult males in the late 1960s, when I was born, to about one-fifth now. We know that state intervention works, but tobacco companies need a new generation of susceptible young minds to take up the addiction.

I am deeply disappointed with my Government for stalling. I know that the Minister’s heart is in the right place and I feel for her on this occasion. The Government have not acted, so there is an opportunity for Parliament. I remember Patricia Hewitt in the previous Parliament defending, almost until the last minute, the partial ban

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on smoking in public places. That Parliament imposed a comprehensive ban on smoking in public places. I hope that this House or the House of Lords will act in the same way in this Parliament.

10.28 am

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): It is a pleasure to speak in the debate under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. As an MP for Salford, I want to speak because smoking, smoking-related deaths and lung cancer rates are all too high there. One in four of the population in Salford smoke, which is a much higher rate than the average of one in five people in England as a whole. Consequently, we have much higher rates of smoking-related death and a higher incidence of lung cancer, with 175 new cases of lung cancer diagnosed each year. The worst statistic is perhaps the Cancer Research UK estimate that around 1,000 children in Salford start smoking each year; that addiction will kill one in two of them, if they become long-term smokers.

Early evidence from Australia on the introduction of plain packaging suggests that branded cigarette boxes can influence the perception of smoking among young people and that plain packaging might help the fight against starting smoking, which is what is important to me. In a study there, 70% of those interviewed who smoked from plain packets said that they thought that the cigarettes were “less satisfying”, and they rated quitting as a higher priority than those who continued to smoke from a branded pack. In an important separate online study, 87% of the children interviewed rated plain packets as “uncool” and said they would not want to be seen with them.

There is, therefore, weight behind the argument that cigarette packaging is the last legal form of tobacco advertising and that it has an influence on young people’s perception of smoking. That is why it is really important that we take action to introduce plain packs.

In the previous Parliament, we introduced a ban on smoking in public places and it made a difference. I visited Copenhagen earlier this year, and found myself in public places where people were lighting up. It is easy to forget how unpleasant it is to be in a public place where people are smoking and to come home with clothes and hair stinking of smoke, but worse is the effect of second-hand smoke on health. Since 2002, tobacco advertising has been banned from TV, billboards and sports such as Formula 1; the next step is to tackle the advertising on the packaging.

In 1950, 80% of men and 40% of women smoked. Cigarette advertising at that time used images of doctors and celebrities to promote the different brands. One brand even used images of Santa Claus smoking.

Chris Ruane: I mentioned two packs earlier. One I was not able to get hold of for today, despite my trying. It is a lovely 1950s retro pack, which opens up to show nice pink cigarettes inside—very appealing to a 12-year-old. What does my hon. Friend think about that kind of retro advertising by the tobacco industry?

Barbara Keeley: It just shows that all these methods are being used to attract smokers—particularly, and sadly, young smokers. To think that we once used Santa

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Claus to claim that a brand was easy on the throat. We have heard of the damaging impacts and the dreadful way in which people die.

I congratulate the stop smoking services in Salford, particularly for their programme that focuses on reducing smoking in families with children under 16. Research has shown that, if children do not see their parents smoking, they are less likely to start smoking themselves. Many of our programmes in Salford are targeted at families. I think it is true that most smokers do not want their children to start smoking.

All the advertising is pernicious. It focuses on young people, and on young women who want to remain slim and, for heaven’s sake, in the past, it used Santa Claus and doctors. It is time we moved on to take the next important step to close down cigarette advertising by introducing plain packs. It is time to prevent children and young people from starting smoking—I do not want to continue to see 1,000 children a year in Salford starting to smoke—and to reduce the large numbers of people affected by smoking-related illness and early death, in my authority and across the country.

10.32 am

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) not only on an excellent speech—which I fully support—but on his work on the all-party group on smoking and health, of which I am a member.

My motivation in supporting the debate today comes entirely from wanting to ensure that we protect children and save lives. I echo everyone who has said, “Let’s do as much as we can to prevent young people from starting to smoke,” because the later they start the less likely they will become addicted and the fewer lives we will see debilitated. It is not just about saving lives; it is about the quality of life that many will suffer. How many people who have taken up smoking desperately want to stop? The best way to stop smoking is not to start in the first place.

John Glen: Does my hon. Friend share the grave concern that a disproportionate number of people from the poorest communities are taking up smoking in ever increasing numbers?

Fiona Bruce: I absolutely do, and I also share the view that young people are attracted to designer brands. They are attracted not just to the product but to the packaging. I have two young sons—one is 17 and one is 20—and I was amazed to discover that not only do young people want to buy designer clothing but there is a trade on eBay for the tags and packaging. People collect the labels.

We have known for a long time that young people are attracted to labels. In 1995 a survey of youth in America told us that young people associated the following words with designer packaging: popular, cool and good-looking. With cigarettes in plain packaging, they associated the words boring, geeky and cheap. In 2012, another survey found that young people felt that if they smoked stylish packs they would be “better and more popular”. The evidence is there. We do not need to delay.

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It is a tragedy that each year 200,000 people start to smoke when we could take action. I do not believe that the fact there have already been successful measures is an argument for not taking further action—quite the opposite. According to one statistic I have seen, the display ban on large shops has contributed towards 100,000 fewer young people taking up smoking each year. If that is correct, let us build on the success. Let us do more, and see more and more young people discouraged from taking up smoking.

If I saw a young child drowning in a canal or about to run in front of a car, I would do all that I could to stop them and to save that life. Is that not what we are in a position to do in this House? The public do not want to see young people’s lives and futures damaged by smoking. More than 190 health organisations support standardised packaging. People in this House support it. Let us have a debate and a vote, and take action to protect the health and lives of future generations.

10.36 am

Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) on securing the debate at this early stage, so that we can put the case for Parliament making the decision and getting the solution, getting on with it in a way that the Government have been reluctant to do.

I want to pick up on the phraseology: standardised packaging versus plain packaging. Standardised packaging is what we are talking about. It is clear, and enables public health messages to be delivered powerfully. The way in which the packages are designed has a clear psychological impact in reducing the likelihood of people taking up smoking and increasing the likelihood of their quitting. It is important that we talk about standardised packaging, because it really makes a difference.

Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (LD): The case has been well made that clever packaging seduces children into smoking, but how will standardised packaging impact on the rational adult person’s choice to smoke?

Paul Burstow: I would use the phrase “insidious packaging”. That is what we are talking about. We have seen today examples of the sort of packaging that has been used, and in the evidence submitted as part of the preparations for the debate we have seen how those who lead tobacco companies talk about the value they place on packaging as a tool to solicit more custom and get more people to take up smoking in the first place. Big tobacco needs to recruit more smokers because it has to replace those who quit and, more chillingly, those who die as a consequence of taking up smoking. That is why we must have a bias towards action to protect the health of children and young people from the harm that smoking does.

In its systematic review of evidence, published as part of its consultation, the Department of Health gathered absolutely clear and strong evidence of the impact of standardised packaging on reducing smoking. The evidence is there; what is lacking is the political will. The Minister has that will, but the Government as yet do not. Parliament should take a leaf out of the book of the previous Parliament, when it came to smoking in enclosed public places. It was not the then Government who led on that;

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they hid behind many of the same arguments that are being used now. Yet again, it took the leadership of the Health Committee—having an inquiry, producing a report and publishing the evidence—to make the case for the ban, and the Government being prepared to allow a free vote.

We should have a debate and a free vote in this House to give effect to the policy change, because it will save lives. It is no longer satisfactory or acceptable to be kicking this can down the road. We should not have been doing that with the ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces and we should not be doing it now with standardised packaging.

I hope that people will be moved by this debate and that the Minister can move her colleagues. I know that both she and the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), are committed to this change, which is an essential public health goal. As one speaker said, controlling tobacco and saving lives requires us over time systematically to improve and strengthen regulation. This is another step on the journey of changing public attitudes and saving lives.

10.40 am

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): I thank the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) for making possible this important debate at this stage in the Parliament. I also thank you, Mr Hollobone, for your exemplary chairing, which has allowed everyone who wanted to speak to do so.

In my brief remarks, I want to deal with the bogus point that doing anything about cigarette packaging necessarily affects how we treat alcohol and fatty foods, and to talk about the importance of protecting children and local leadership. I first want to congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith),for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) and for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) on their excellent speeches, as well as my colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane), for his helpful visual aids, which enabled us all to focus on what the debate is about in practice. I found the contribution from the hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) quite moving. For me, the image of a child on his father’s ward with all those men dying from lung cancer, a type of cancer in which people drown, was particularly vivid and moving.

First and foremost, I will deal with the bogus idea that we can compare the packaging of cigarettes with that of sweet or fatty foods, alcohol and so on. If people consume alcohol and packaged sugary or fatty goods in the quantities indicated on the packaging—all packaged goods now have information about calories and what proportion of people’s diets should be made up of particular food groups, and all alcohol packaging tells people the advisable level of consumption—the effect on health is marginal. If they consume tobacco in the way manufacturers indicate, half of lifelong smokers will die—no ifs, no buts. Tobacco is the only legal substance for which, if consumed as indicated, half of consumers will die. In relation to packaging, that makes tobacco a wholly different case from alcohol and sugary and fatty foods. In my view, it is a dishonest argument to try to make that comparison.

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Mark Field: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Abbott: I am afraid that I cannot.

We know that half of lifetime smokers will die from smoking, that it remains the largest preventable cause of cancer, that it causes one in four deaths from cancer and eight in 10 deaths from lung cancer, and that smoking is the biggest cause of health inequality. That is what makes tobacco packaging different and makes the measures so important.

On children, the key to the debate is not whether a change in packaging would make established smokers alter their habits, but the attraction that packaging holds for children. The question is one of child protection: although adults can make their decision about smoking, society has a responsibility, which some speakers have ignored, to protect children. Even Members who do not accept that must agree that we have a responsibility to bear down on the millions of pounds a year that it costs the NHS to deal with the consequences of smoking.

We have seen important local leadership on smoking. A lot can be done locally, which is why it is so important to move public health to local authorities. I want to name the leader of Newcastle city council, Nick Forbes, and Fresh North East for their innovatory work.

This is one of those issues on which what is done upstream—Government measures—has the most impact. In the lifetimes of everyone in the Chamber, levels of smoking have gone down, and attitudes to smoking have changed. When I was a child, people smoked on the television, in films, in meetings and in offices, none of which is now acceptable. That shows what we can do in public health with a mix of moral suasion and legislation, but there is more to be done, and I believe that the packaging measure is the last brick in the wall.

It is important to make the point that we are discussing UK packaging. As part of my role as shadow public health Minister, I have been to Europe—to Brussels and so on—to talk about the issue. In Brussels, people are clear that one reason why the tobacco industry is so exercised about packaging is not profits in the UK, but the example that UK legislation would set to the rest of the world, including the huge markets in China and Africa. What is at stake is not a marginal decrease in profit here; it is the big problem of profits forgone in the huge markets elsewhere. That is why it is so important for us in Parliament to set the right example—not just for the health of British people or because of the costs to the health service, but for the rest of the world.

In closing, I congratulate such organisations as Cancer Research UK and Action on Smoking and Health that have been ceaseless in bringing the facts before the public and MPs. We know that the issues are difficult and that the Government face the money and power of big tobacco. To be candid, that is why my Government in the end allowed a free vote. If this debate can get one important thing rolling, it should be pressure on the Government at the highest level to allow Parliament to discuss the question: let us debate and decide. The health of Britain’s children and the general population depends on it and the spiralling cost of the NHS depends on it, as does the health of people all over the world, to whom we can set an example with exemplary legislation on cigarette packaging.

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10.47 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Anna Soubry): It is a pleasure, as ever, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I echo the remarks of many speakers by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman)—a long-standing friend, if I may say so—on securing the debate and on his excellent speech. As he knows, I have been called many things, but I have never been called “very libertarian”, and I am still in a state of shock at that description.

I make it clear that I am no great fan or supporter of the nanny state. I do not have a particular problem with standardised packaging, because that does not relate to the nanny state. As we have heard in the many excellent speeches from Members of all parties, the issue is the protection of children, not preventing anybody from smoking or going out to buy cigarettes. It is about protecting young people from the attraction of taking up smoking.

It is important that I declare my interest. My father, a lifelong smoker, died at the age of 56 from lung cancer. I do not think that there was any doubt that that cancer was caused by his lifelong addition to tobacco—to smoking. I say with considerable shame, if I may put it that way, that until just over five years ago, I, too, was a smoker; both my brothers continue to smoke. I am not for one moment saying that if people are not or have not been smokers, they cannot engage in the debate, because that would obviously be complete nonsense, but they have to have been a smoker to understand the perverse psychology of smoking.

We know that 8 million people in this country continue to smoke and that the overwhelming majority of them want to stop. It is an admission of some weakness within us, which I think is the power of nicotine. It is often said that nicotine is more addictive even than heroin. Although I have never directly experienced heroin, when I was a criminal barrister I had enough clients to know how powerful heroin and cocaine are. Goodness me, even they would say that nicotine is a dreadful substance in its addiction. That accounts for why so many smokers, like me, found it so difficult to give up.

I want to make it clear that like so many smokers, I took up smoking before the age of 18. I accept that I sound very weak when I say—this is one of those moments where one almost wants to confess—that the power of the packet had an effect on this 17-year-old from Worksop who was working in a toy shop, which, bizarrely, sold cigarettes in those days. Younger people listening to this debate will be amazed to hear that a toy shop could sell cigarettes, but those were the days.

I have never forgotten the first time that I bought a packet of cigarettes. I deliberately chose a packet of St Moritz because they were green, gorgeous and a symbol of glamour. Do hon. Members remember the madness of those advertisements that talked of the cool fresh mountain air of menthol cigarettes? Those were the days that some of us remember because of our age. I distinctly remember the power of that package. It was the opening of the cellophane and the gold and the silver that was so powerfully important to many people who, as youngsters, took up smoking. I say that to my

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hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) who says that he has never met anyone so drawn; well, he has now, because I am that person, and I am not alone by any means.

Mark Field: There is little doubt that if alcohol were synthesised for the first time today, or if we discovered sugar for the first time, it would be banned. The Minister has made the case about nicotine. Ideally, does she want the product banned? She talked about protecting young people. What age is she talking about? In America, for example, alcohol is banned for anyone under the age of 21. Is that the age she is considering, especially as we could outlaw both tobacco and alcohol at university when people are at an impressionable age?

Anna Soubry: My hon. Friend is most naughty. He asks me in a short period of time, when I have other matters to address, to answer about three or four questions all at once, most of which are completely irrelevant. We cannot say that there is a correlation between alcohol and tobacco; of course there is not. One can enjoy a glass of wine on an occasional basis. Indeed there is evidence that it can help certain people with their health. I am talking about the gentle consumption of alcohol or sugar. Indeed there is nothing wrong with eating sweets for goodness sake or even chips and other fatty substances. It is all a question of how much one eats; it should be part of a sensible and well-balanced diet. There is nothing in support of cigarettes or tobacco. It is about as barmy as saying, “If you want to help yourself after a stressful day, have a fag.” Cigarettes—tobacco—kill people and harm people’s health. Get it!

Alex Cunningham: The Minister is making a tremendous case—a better one than most of us—for standard packaging. Will she therefore persuade the Health Secretary that he does not have to wait for Back Benchers or others to take the matter to the Backbench Business Committee to get a vote on the Floor of the House of Commons? He can actually crack on now with tremendous support from across the House.

Anna Soubry: I suppose that I am sort of grateful for that intervention. It was not the most helpful, but it was a fair one and it is a good point that needs addressing. I have no difficulty in waiting for the evidence to emerge from Australia. It is on that point that I agree with the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley). However, it is the only point on which we agree on this matter. It is important that we consider the evidence. Of course we know that the Irish Government have also said that they want to introduce this measure. Again, we will wait and see. It is no simple matter to introduce standardised packaging. There will be many challenges that the Irish will face in their attempts. It is right and fair that we wait to see all of that as it develops.

Barbara Keeley rose

Anna Soubry: May I make some progress, because it is really important that I make the matter clear? The coalition Government have made no final decision. As I have said, we wait to see the evidence as it emerges from both Ireland and Australia. It is important to say that

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standardised packaging is no silver bullet. There is no simple solution to the problem of persuading both the remaining 20% of the population to give up smoking and our youngsters not to smoke.

I want to deal if I may with some of the excellent points that have been made. I, like many other Members, have talked about the power of the package. The hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) helpfully brought in some packets. He mentioned the cigarettes that are deliberately targeted at young women. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir Tony Baldry) asks why children, in the face of the overwhelming evidence and the health messages, take up smoking. He is right to say that we need to do more research. We know many things.

We know, for instance, the power of parents. If a child is brought up by parents who smoke, they are likely to smoke because they will see it as the norm. One of the great benefits of the legislation that was introduced by the previous Administration—I pay full credit to them for introducing that ban on smoking in open places—was that it made smoking less socially acceptable. Effectively, it turned many of us into modern-day lepers. If we wanted to smoke, we were reduced to standing outside, ostracised from our workmates, and that was a powerful reason why so many of us gave up smoking. Many of us remember with shame, as I do, sitting in restaurants thinking that we had some God-given right to smoke next to people who rightly found it deeply offensive, and who were trying to enjoy their meals. It is astonishing to look back at films and television programmes of only a few years ago to see how acceptable smoking was and how the previous Parliament changed that.

I absolutely agree with all those who are trying to nail the falsehood in two important parts of this argument about standardised packaging. The first is whether it is plain. I concede that one of the great failings of this debate is to explain what we mean by “standardised”. That goes back to the point that was inaccurately made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North. I never said that packaging would be glamorous or glitzy, but that, as I think my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East also tried to say, under the regulation and legislation

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holograms can be put on standardised packaging—not to be attractive but as part of the argument against the claim that anybody will be able to counterfeit it.

Far from being a counterfeiter’s charter and dream, standardised packaging is a counterfeiter’s nightmare. I wish that I had with me some of the packets that have been produced by Australia. If we had them, Members would see that they are far from plain. On the contrary, they have colour in them, but they have the standardisation, which takes away this incredibly powerful marketing tool and the attraction for young people.

Barbara Keeley: On the point about waiting for the evidence, it is not 20% of people who smoke in Salford but 25%, and much more in some areas, and it is 1,000 children. As we wait, 1,000 children every year will start smoking in Salford. Why are we waiting?

Anna Soubry: I think I have explained why we have waited. My understanding of the statistics is that it is 20%, but it differs in different parts of the country. I also want to make the point that the Government have not stepped away from taking action against the harmful effects of tobacco. We have a tobacco control plan for England that sets out our national ambitions and our comprehensive evidence-based strategy of national and local actions to achieve them, including high-profile marketing campaigns. Our Stoptober campaign, which was hugely successful last year and which we will be running again this year, provided help and assistance to smokers, the majority of whom want to quit.

I also want to pay tribute to local authorities, which now have responsibility for public health. I have met members and representatives from councils in the north-east who are doing some terrific work persuading people to stop smoking or not to take it up, and that shows good local action.

As ever, the clock is against me, but I hope that I have made the Government’s position absolutely clear. I congratulate again everybody who has spoken in this debate. My own views are clear, but it is right to wait to see the evidence. I assure Members that the wise words from so many different parties today will be taken back to the Government and will be listened to. It is to be hoped that in due time, standardised packaging will be introduced.

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Social Enterprise: Wider UK Economy

11 am

Chris White (Warwick and Leamington) (Con): I am delighted to be able to speak about a topic that I believe is one of the most important facing our country today: how do we create a fairer and more sustainable economy that can provide jobs and growth for the future? Given the topic and my role as the chairman of the all-party group—[Interruption.]

Mr Philip Hollobone (in the Chair): Order. Out of courtesy to Mr White, who is making his important speech, would all those who are not staying for this debate please leave Westminster Hall quickly and quietly?

Chris White: I am grateful to you for that, Mr Hollobone.

I titled this debate, “Social Enterprise and the Wider UK Economy”, because I wanted to focus on the economic dimension of social enterprise. Social enterprise is often considered by politicians solely in the context of charitable and voluntary organisations, under the umbrella title of voluntary community and social enterprises. That is understandable, of course. Social enterprises are community-focused organisations designed to fulfil a certain social purpose, and, because of that social purpose, they are often confused with charities or voluntary organisations.

Personally, I see social enterprises as being much wider and much more than that. I see the social enterprise model as a way of reforming our economy so that we combine competitiveness and profitability with social justice and fairness; a way of spreading growth across the country, so that all communities can benefit; and a way of engaging with parts of our society that have found it difficult to get involved in our economy, and allowing their talents to shine. In short, I see social enterprise in the mainstream of the British economy, powering a socially and economically sustainable future.

That potential for economic and social renewal was highlighted by the recent state of the sector survey compiled by Social Enterprise UK. The survey, which was excellently titled, “The People’s Business”, showed that social enterprises are not only growing faster than traditional small and medium-sized enterprises, but are more resilient, focused on our most deprived communities and create a more diversified business leadership.

According to the survey, 38% of social enterprises saw an increase in turnover compared with 29% of SMEs, and only 22% of social enterprises experienced a decrease in turnover compared with 31% of SMEs. Also, the number of social enterprises that expect to take on more employees in the next 12 months is double the number that traditional SMEs have indicated in similar surveys. In addition, 38% of social enterprises worked in the most deprived 20% of our communities in the UK, compared with just 12% of SMEs; 38% of social enterprises had a female leader, compared with 19% of SMEs; 91% of social enterprises had at least one woman on their leadership team, compared with less than half of SMEs; and, finally, 15% of social enterprise leaders are from the black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.

Those are not merely isolated statistics. There is evidence from other sources that social enterprises are growing rapidly. The Royal Bank of Scotland Social

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Enterprise 100 Index, which follows the growth of the social enterprise sector, shows the top 100 social enterprises growing by 60% in the past year. Although down from 90% growth in the previous year, a growth rate of 60% is still very commendable. Also, the Cabinet Office’s research into the sector indicates that social enterprises are likely to be larger than traditional SMEs. Therefore, increasing the number of social enterprises is likely to lead to greater job growth. Given the focus that is being placed on growth and job creation across Government, the evidence suggests that, if we want to achieve those objectives, we have to place social enterprise at the very heart of our economic agenda.

However, this issue is not just about micro-economics. I know that the Treasury and other Departments are often in the grip of the macro-economic debate. Since the mid-1970s, wages as a percentage of GDP have fallen considerably, from more than 64% of GDP to around 55%, creating a gap of £7,000 between the potential for earnings if they had stayed at the same percentage of GDP as in the mid-1970s and the current percentage. That has been mirrored by a fall in investment during the same period, but there has been a rise in profits, particularly in financial services. The increasing financialisation of our economy has reduced growth, with profits being creamed from the real economy, which in turn has led to reduced investment in new products and lower wages.

We need a new model of business that is unlikely to succumb to that process, and to ensure that growth does not merely lead to higher profits but is reinvested in our communities and comes back into the pockets of our people. I believe that social enterprise is that model. The principles of social enterprise see profits reinvested in communities, and the focus placed on engaging with staff and improving their lives, not only because of the productivity benefits but—most importantly—because it is the right thing to do. So, whether it is micro or macro, the case for social enterprise is very strong.

We should not be afraid of new business models. In the 19th century, many of our major businesses and employers were family-run firms or partnerships. Then we saw the emergence of large publicly traded companies, where the discipline of the market would lead to growth. As that model appears to be flagging, we should look to the next structure that can achieve our aspirations, both for social progress and economic growth. Social enterprise is that next step.

I hope that I have justified why social enterprise needs to be at the heart of our strategy in the years ahead. Now I believe that we need to focus on the practical steps we can take to achieve that. We should focus on a number of areas. First, the Government need to take several steps to improve the way that they engage with social enterprise. As I mentioned at the start, social enterprises are often just lumped together with charities and voluntary organisations. Although the social enterprise sector has strong links to civil society as a whole, ultimately we need to consider social enterprise in the same way as we consider other forms of business.

In the same way that policies targeted at SMEs are developed in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, we need to do more to have social enterprise considered in BIS policy making and to ensure that this type of business is considered alongside SMEs and

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other key areas. That would be useful for a number of reasons. Primarily, it would ensure that, when policies directed at supporting businesses are created, social enterprise is considered as part of that.

The enterprise investment scheme and the venture capital trusts scheme were both welcome policies to attract additional investment to growing parts of our economy. However, the structure of those policies was such that social enterprises were often unable to take part in them. I cannot help but think that, if social enterprise was being equally considered in BIS as well as in the Cabinet Office, social enterprises would have been fully integrated into those important policies at a time when those enterprises needed them most. It would also send out a strong message to social enterprises and to the wider economy about the role that the Government see social enterprise as possibly playing.

As I said, I believe that social enterprise could be in the mainstream of our economic strategy. However, placing social enterprises just under the “civil society” banner suggests that social enterprise is not being considered in the same light as traditional business. That is not the right message, and if we want to support the sector more widely, having BIS lead equally on social enterprise would be helpful.

Moreover, when budgetary and spending decisions are made, social enterprise should be considered for not merely its social but its wider economic impact. I believe that having social enterprise at the heart of BIS would help ensure that that was the case. I understand that the Minister covers part of the Government’s social enterprise brief, but correspondence with the Department suggests that that relates only to community interest companies rather than to the sector as a whole. One might argue that, given the Cabinet Office’s role in social investment, social enterprise should remain in its portfolio, but I do not believe that to be necessary.

Although social enterprise is at the centre of discussions about social investment, many of the problems that face social enterprise relate to traditional forms of finance, tax and regulation. Social investment is a special kind of investment, which also covers charities and voluntary organisations, and although it is appropriate for social investment to remain in the Cabinet Office and remain closely linked with social enterprise, social enterprise is much broader than social investment.

The Government can assist the sector by better data collection. Social Enterprise UK currently undertakes the largest dedicated survey of the social enterprise sector, which is useful for policy makers, but to assist the social enterprise sector further we need more detailed data over a long period to track its progress effectively. Good policy making can take place only when decision makers have adequate data on which to base decisions.

Although a variety of good research exists, there are still many things that we do not know about the social enterprise sector. The Government should use their strong statistical organisation to fill those gaps and create a comprehensive picture of the sector, working with organisations such as Social Enterprise UK and regional bodies like Social Enterprise West Midlands to capture as much knowledge as possible. Doing so would enable the UK to remain a world leader in social enterprise and encourage countries to partner with UK social enterprises to learn more about such business and its rich potential.

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The Government can also assist by creating strong social investment tax relief. I appreciate that a consultation is under way to examine how such tax relief might be created, and I look forward to contributing to that in due course. I urge the Minister to ensure that the Treasury considers a tax regime that is as broad and extensive as possible. Across the country and across the world, members of the public, banks, pension funds and businesses want to generate returns on their investments. At a time of low interest rates when good returns are hard to find, we have a chance to encourage investors to consider social as well as financial returns.

A bold social investment tax relief regime that made it easy for investors to invest and took into account the particular challenges facing social enterprises—around equity finance, profits and governance—could help boost the sector and institutionally ingrain an understanding of social investment. I hope, therefore, that the Government will listen to organisations that have contributed to the discussion, including Social Enterprise UK, the social investment forum and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, and establish a tax regime that lasts for the next decade and helps meet the real need for finance that holds back many fantastic social enterprises.

Alongside tax relief, the Government would be wise to consider a new form of ISA for social investment. There is growing public appetite for ethical and responsible investment. According to a YouGov poll for national ethical investment week last year, 55% of adults in Britain who have investments want their bank or financial adviser to tell them more about how they can generate both social and financial returns. Other polling indicates that the vast majority of the public want their banks and pension funds to think about environmental, social and governance issues when deciding in whom to invest. The creation of a social investment or social impact ISA would open up billions of pounds for social enterprises and feed the appetite of the public for socially responsible investment. The structure of the ISA would have to compensate investors for the likelihood that the risks would be higher and the returns lower, but we must tap into the much wider pool of personal savings and make people feel part of the social enterprise movement.

I could touch on other areas that affect social enterprise, such as public sector contracts and access to finance, but I have raised such issues previously and the ground has been well trodden. I hope that, during this short speech, I have been able to outline the potential that social enterprise has for our economy and the need for it to be considered as part of the mainstream of the economic debate. If we are going to grow in the years ahead, the UK needs to develop a resilient economic model that uses all our communities’ talents. To do so, we require a different type of business and a more socially responsible model, and BIS must work with the Cabinet Office to achieve that.

Social enterprise is challenging, because it stands as a bridge between civil society and the traditional private sector. The fact that it crosses those boundaries is its greatest strength, but it can be a weakness in public policy making. We need a joined-up approach that recognises that social enterprises are not only catalysts of social action, but businesses that can help create jobs, spread growth more fairly across our communities and bring about a sustainable economic recovery.

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I am confident that the Minister appreciates that and works with her colleagues in the Cabinet Office, such as the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Nick Hurd), who has responsibility for civil society. However, I urge her to do more to ensure that social enterprise is at the heart of consideration in BIS about how to support economic growth.

The present economic and political situation represents a unique window of opportunity. The social enterprise sector is keen to take the lead in driving growth in our economy and improving our society. New movements such as the social economy alliance indicate the interest and support that exists across the country for a new way of doing business and structuring our economy. The Government have an interest in seeing that happen, and I hope that we can focus on removing barriers to social enterprise and establishing practical policies to support its growth. I look forward to the Minister’s comments on the matter, and I hope that she and her colleagues in BIS and across Government will continue actively to engage with the social enterprise sector to ensure that we achieve our shared social and economic objectives.

11.17 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Jo Swinson): I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White) for securing this debate on the important issue of social enterprise. I start by paying tribute to the work that my hon. Friend has done and will continue to do on the matter, in his role as social value ambassador and as chair of the all-party group on social enterprise. He raised several important issues in his speech, which I look forward to debating. As a Minister with a keen interest in social enterprise, I look forward to working with him in future, because we must drive progress and help social enterprises not only to become successful in themselves but to develop into an attractive model for other organisations to adopt.

My hon. Friend described the numerous advantages that flow from social enterprise as a business model, including resilience in tough times, increased turnover and improved diversity in comparison with more traditional business models. He focused, importantly, on the fact that social enterprise is a new model of business, which offers an exciting opportunity. The financial crisis of 2008 was a huge shock to our economy. We all want our economy to grow, to recover and to get back on to a sure footing, but simply to return to business as usual in exactly the same way as we did before the downturn would be a mistake and a wasted opportunity. We have an obvious opportunity to consider new ways of doing business that might better serve not only our economy but our communities and our society. Business is inextricably linked with the communities and societies in which it operates, because its customers and staff are based in that society. Many more enlightened businesses recognise the need to hold on to that.

It was also right to highlight that growth should help to lead to higher profits, which can increase wealth and improve living standards. However, it is also important to ensure that, as businesses grow, they can, as my hon.

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Friend said, reinvest in the community in which they operate. Many MPs on both sides of the House are interested in supporting local businesses in their areas so that more of the money spent in the local economy can stay there and help local people to thrive. There is also the issue of the investment organisations make in their people.

Social enterprise is a good model from a business and a productivity point of view. As my hon. Friend said, however, it is also often one way of doing the right thing. He highlighted the fact that customers and investors are more and more interested in the way in which businesses operate. The issue is not just the return businesses provide or the price people pay at the till, but the way in which businesses operate in wider society. Through the Trading for Good website, my Department has been supporting initiatives to enable small businesses to showcase the great things they are doing, such as employing apprentices and dealing with youth employment in their area, as well as their environmental credentials and their support for fair trade and developing countries—there is a whole range of ways in which small businesses take their responsibilities seriously. There is, therefore, an increasing appetite for a different approach.

That very much dovetails with an issue I have championed in the House for many years. Before I was a Minister, I was a co-founder of the all-party group on wellbeing economics, which recognises my hon. Friend’s point about how we see the importance of growth. Is GDP the be-all and end-all? If we ask most people what they want from life, they will talk about the health and happiness of themselves and those close to them, but we have a system that has until now deified the pursuit of GDP growth above all else. That is why I was pleased to see the Government working with the Office for National Statistics on measuring national well-being so that we can assess policies and the impact of Government decisions against a much wider range of metrics than purely GDP. Although GDP remains an important tool, we should also be able to analyse social and environmental impacts, which might even lead to some more innovative policy proposals. That is an important approach in business, as well as in Government policy making.

While it is important to extol the benefits and virtues of social enterprise, it is worth noting in passing that businesses can use different models in taking their responsibilities seriously. Many businesses out there may not meet the definition of a social enterprise in terms of where their profits go and what their prime purpose is, but they none the less take great pride in conducting their affairs with a degree of responsibility we would want others to copy.

We want not only to promote social enterprise, but to encourage other business models to embrace corporate responsibility. Indeed, as part of a consultation, a call for views is currently ongoing on how to develop a corporate responsibility framework so that businesses representing a range of different models can showcase what they are doing on corporate responsibility. I encourage interested hon. Members to contribute to that call for views before it closes later this month. Indeed, for the benefit of those watching on BBC Parliament or reading the record of our proceedings in Hansard, I should say that that offer is open not only to MPs.

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It is vital to recognise the clear benefit of social enterprise to our economy. While it puts social and environmental concerns before profit, it also plays a significant role in our economy. In 2012, the BIS small business survey found that there were 70,000 SME social enterprise employers. The figure is as high as 283,000 if we include sole traders, and it is even higher if we include larger companies. Many of the 1,700 registered housing associations are social enterprises, and they spend £13 billion a year in the UK. Social enterprise creates employment for about 1 million people in the UK economy, and it makes an overall contribution of £18 billion, so it already plays an important role across the wider economy.

Through public sector contracts, we need to improve the way in which smaller social enterprises can win business, and there is an opportunity to enhance further the role social enterprise plays. However, we would not be doing social enterprise justice if we viewed it purely through the lens of the role it can play in public sector contracts, because it also plays a vibrant role in the private sector, and its main source of income is trade with the general public.

My hon. Friend was absolutely right when he made the key point that BIS has a key interest in this area. Like him, I do not want social enterprise just to be lumped in with charities and civil society, important though they are. This is a business issue, so BIS is rightly involved. Back in June, we reaffirmed our commitment to helping SMEs succeed, and we will launch a strategy on that in the autumn. One of the key stakeholders we will be working with in developing it is Social Enterprise UK, because social enterprises are an important part of the SME sector.

I would like to outline a few of the ways in which the Government are supporting social enterprise. Community interest companies were mentioned, and they are a new and exciting way of forming a company. As my hon. Friend said, they are covered by my Department. Such companies are the world’s first legal form for social enterprises, so we are pioneering on this matter, which is the right place for Britain to be. That model is very helpful.

We also have the regional growth fund, which will provide £60 million of funding over six years for lending to small and micro-businesses that create or safeguard jobs, with a significant impact in communities in parts of the country that most need that funding, some of which goes to social enterprises.

There is also the European regional development fund. We secured £3 million, which increases to £6 million

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with match funding, to support the work of social enterprises in Yorkshire and the Humber. We hope to continue the programmes under that fund.

It is important to talk about the social investment market, which has now passed the £200 million mark, so it is rapidly growing. That figure is up from £150 million just three years ago, and we want to grow the market further so that it is measured in billions, not millions. The proposal for tax relief on social investment, which my hon. Friend mentioned, is a key part of that. The Prime Minister launched it at the G8 social impact investment conference on 6 June. Again, I encourage people to send their views into the consultation on this issue.

My hon. Friend encouraged me to ensure the Treasury did the right thing, and I am flattered by his view that I have the power to require it to do anything. However, I know my Treasury colleagues are also committed to this issue, and the intention is that we will introduce tax relief in 2014. The consultation is open until Friday, and I hope my hon. Friend will contribute; the more voices there are encouraging the Treasury, the better. The proposal will be an important part of the Government’s support for social enterprises, and it will complement initiatives that are already in place, such as Big Society Capital—the world’s first social investment bank—and social impact bonds.

I could not finish without touching on the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012, which I am sure my hon. Friend is proud to have introduced in the House. Not every MP gets to take legislation through the House, and it is not easy to do, so I congratulate him on his success. The Act means public sector organisations must take account of economic, social and environmental well-being in connection with public services and contracts, which should be good news for social enterprise.

I hope I have outlined the Government’s support for social enterprise, as well as how significant social enterprise is to the UK economy more widely. Social enterprise adds vitality and challenge to the vibrant mix of business models in the UK economy. The goal is to look beyond simple measures of GDP, which do not capture everything that determines society’s well-being. As we still come to terms with the financial crisis of 2008, the contribution of social enterprises will no doubt be more important than ever. I hope today’s debate has encouraged us all to think more carefully about what more the Government can usefully do to support this important sector.

Mr Philip Hollobone (in the Chair): Perfect to the second.

11.30 am

Sitting suspended.

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Firearms Controls

[Jim Sheridan in the Chair]

2.30 pm

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sheridan. Thank you for allowing time for this important debate. In my remarks I will try not to be party political or partisan. I recognise that the first role of Government is the defence of the realm, but equally important is the duty to protect public safety. On firearms controls, it is important that lessons are learned from recent tragedies, to ensure public safety.

This debate has arisen following the tragic deaths of Susan McGoldrick, Alison Turnbull and Tanya Turnbull at the hands of Susan McGoldrick’s partner, Michael Atherton, on new year’s day 2012. At that time, rather than be steamrollered into making rash comments and judgments, I appealed for a calm and considered public debate.

The shootings claimed the lives of four people—including Michael Atherton, who took his own life—and they came as a shock to the tight-knit former mining community of Horden. Following such incidents, when emotions are running high, there is inevitably a demand for immediate action, which can lead to ill-considered changes to the law that, in the fullness of time, are considered to be counter-productive.

I stress that there has been no such kneejerk reaction in this particular case, and I am grateful to the Minister and to Labour Front Benchers for meeting Mr Turnbull and other family members to listen to their point of view. Indeed, the victims’ family have conducted themselves with the utmost dignity. Bobby Turnbull, who sadly lost his mother, sister and aunt in the shootings, has campaigned tirelessly to try to bring some positives out of a most tragic situation. I pay tribute to him because he has ensured that firearms controls remain on the political agenda, and his fight for tougher gun laws is a message that has been delivered to Ministers and shadow Ministers. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), the shadow Home Secretary, for meeting my constituent Bobby Turnbull.

Two inquiries into the Horden shootings—an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the report of the coroner, Andrew Tweddle—have now been completed. Both inquiries have reported, and they highlight a number of serious failings, both in the existing licensing process and with the decisions to accept Mr Atherton’s application and to return firearms to him following repeated incidents that should have raised questions about his suitability to possess such deadly weapons.

I welcome the Government’s proposal to revise the existing guidelines, which are both complex and convoluted, running to in excess of 200 pages. Considering all the available evidence, I believe that the only way to safeguard the public is through legislation mandating that chief police officers conduct a full review of background checks on applicants and that those checks involve GPs, the police and, equally importantly, previous and current domestic partners.

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There should be a presumption to refuse applications where there is a pattern or evidence of behaviour indicating violent conduct; I do not mean a single violent outburst, but a clear pattern or evidence of domestic violence or where there are concerns about mental illness or substance abuse. Such an approach is in stark contrast to the current legal requirement for the police to make just a single home visit prior to issuing a licence.

As I am sure the Minister is aware, one in three women killed by their domestic partner is shot with a legally owned weapon, which is an incredible number. According to the stats that I have seen, two women a week are killed—not necessarily with a firearm—by a husband, partner or ex-partner. I am surprised by the statistic that, in some areas of the country, police are reporting that as many as one in five calls received relate to incidents of domestic violence. That indicates the scale of the issue.

A history of domestic violence should be a clear marker that an individual applying for a licence is unsuitable for gun ownership. I stress that I am not making a case for outlawing gun ownership. I am not anti-guns; I simply want to ensure that the legislation that we have is fit for purpose and for protecting public safety.

I have previously raised concerns about the effectiveness of strengthening the guidance, particularly if those processing the applications are not aware of the existing guidance. I am pleased that the Minister is here, because I previously asked him how effective any new guidance would be given that there is evidence that not all officers involved in the licensing process are aware of the current guidance from the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers. He told me—I am sure it was not his intention to mislead me or the House—that he is sure that officers do understand the guidance, and he said that new guidance would be issued by the end of the year, which it has been.

I advise the Minister, however, that the 12 March 2013 report on the Horden shootings by the coroner, Andrew Tweddle—I understand that the Home Office was sent a copy—states that

“not all individuals involved in the licensing process were aware of the existence of the Home Office and ACPO guidance documents both published in 2002 let alone the detailed contents thereof.”

It is all very well to say that we have the toughest licensing regime in the world, but if the officers charged with implementing the guidance have not read the guidance, or are not familiar with it, there is a major failing in the system.

Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): It has come to my attention that, across the police authorities in the north-east of England, there has been a relatively significant increase in the number of firearms licences issued in the past couple of years. I am concerned about that, given everything that my hon. Friend has outlined. I am particularly concerned about the number of legitimately owned firearms used in domestic violence cases, often leading to the death of one of the partners.

Grahame M. Morris: I am grateful for that intervention, which makes an important point. In preparing for this debate, I looked at statistics on page 66 of the Office for National Statistics document on crime in England and Wales in 2000. In England and Wales, one in three

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women killed by their partner is shot with a legally owned weapon. Some 64% of those murders involve shotguns.

The figure regularly cited by the Home Office and Labour party in press releases is that the incidence of domestic violence murders is two a week. According to the most recent figures, for 2011-12, 88 women—about 1.7 a week—were killed by their partner or ex-partner. I am sure that hon. Members will agree that that is a large number.

Karl McCartney (Lincoln) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship as ever, Mr Sheridan. I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and commend him for following through with this issue. We have debated it previously, and I am sure that we will debate it in future.

I would like to examine some of the statistics that the hon. Gentleman is using. He cited the percentage of females killed by partners using shotguns, but then gave a statistic of 88 females killed; I am not sure that all those 88 were killed by shotguns or other firearms. As an aside, has he spoken with or even gone to shoot with any shooting organisation as part of his no doubt extensive consultation before coming to this debate? Also, is he aware that in one in three domestic violence cases, the victim is male?

Grahame M. Morris: The hon. Gentleman’s question is in three parts, which I will try to answer. The source for the figure of 88 women killed by their partner or ex-partner in 2011-12 is an ONS report. I qualified that by saying that in England and Wales, one in three women killed by their partners is shot with a legally owned weapon, and 64% of those murders, or almost two thirds, involved shotguns.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether I had been involved with the shooting fraternity. I have never shot a shotgun or rifle, but that does not prevent me from holding a legitimate opinion. I have never taken cocaine or heroin, but I have a view on what the legal framework should be in respect of the use of those substances.

Karl McCartney: I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman in the middle of his answer. I advise the former, but not the latter.

Grahame M. Morris: Point taken. I note the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. I am not suggesting that all cases of domestic violence result in deaths from firearms; I am suggesting that if it is possible for licensing officers to assess history and patterns of domestic violence as part of the process, that could substantially reduce the number of fatalities. That is the point that I am trying to make, in a rather laboured fashion.

Ian Mearns: Given the significant proliferation of legally held weapons in our society—in the north-east of England, where the population is about 2.6 million, there are about 90,000 legally held firearms licences—and the proliferation of domestic violence cases, when a domestic violence case is reported and there is a pattern of it in a family, the police authorities or chief constables should be asking officers to check automatically whether a firearms licence is held by the perpetrator of the domestic violence.

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Grahame M. Morris: That is an eminently sensible suggestion. I also have a couple of points to put to the Minister that I hope will elicit some consideration in a reply.

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): The hon. Gentleman makes a good suggestion. I am surprised that that is not being done at the moment. I once asked the police to attend at a particular place to prevent a breach of the peace. One of the people involved was later refused a shotgun licence, and blamed me for asking the police to attend. Such things are taken into account.

Grahame M. Morris: It is not automatic. One problem is inconsistency in how various police forces go about their task. I was about to ask the Minister about the training of licensing officers. While I welcome the Government’s and his commitment on new guidance, the basic problem is that it is still guidance, not a change in the law as such. When I have sought advice from people who are legally qualified—I have a deal of service in local government, and we often dealt with guidance on housing benefit and so on—the advice that I have got is that the legal status of the revised guidance is the same as that of the old guidance, which was clearly found wanting. We need a change in the law to mandate chief police officers to act in a particular way. We need to toughen up the laws in that area to deal with domestic violence.

One way to address the point made by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams) is formal training for police officers who deal with firearms licences. The issue was noted by the coroner in his report on the Horden shootings. No formal training was available to officers in 2006-07 in Horden, where the perpetrator, Michael Atherton, applied for shotgun and firearms licences. More concerningly, it is evident that even today, after the lessons from Horden and other incidents around the country, little formal training is offered to police officers. The expectation is effectively that police officers learn on the job, presumably from more experienced colleagues. That could be hugely problematic and lead to enormous variations around the country.

Despite recognising in the introduction to the revised guidance published in December 2012 that firearms legislation and the subject of firearms generally are complex and highly specialised, the Home Office and Ministers provide no assurances that officers will be provided with suitable training. The guidance states:

“It is not practicable to provide comprehensive training for every police officer on the administration of the Firearms Acts.”

It should be possible. I hope that the Minister will offer some insight or clarification on what training is being made available to officers processing firearms applications. I do not believe that Home Office guidance alone is a suitable replacement for comprehensive training for officers determining firearms applications.

I have raised concerns about training because, like many people to whom I have spoken, I find it difficult to understand how, even with the old guidance that applied before December 2012, Mr Atherton, the shooter in the Horden case, was able to obtain and then retain

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his firearms; they were revoked for a period in 2006. The Home Office guidance states that consideration should be given to any of the following factors:

“Evidence of alcohol or drug abuse that may indicate that a person is unfit/unsuitable to possess a firearm due to the possible impairment of judgement and loss of self-control…Evidence of aggressive or anti-social behaviour, which may include domestic disputes…Evidence of disturbing and unusual behaviour of a kind which gives rise to well-founded fears about the future misuse of firearms. A pattern of abuse should generally be regarded more seriously than a single incident, although isolated incidents should not be disregarded in the assessment of the person concerned and their fitness to possess a firearm.”

From looking at the case, from talking to the family and the people involved and from looking at the coroner’s and Independent Police Complaints Commission reports, there was clear evidence to suggest that Mr Atherton was unsuitable to possess a firearm. I can detail the reasons.

Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire) (Con): I agree that we should do all we can to prevent any sort of death by firearm, but, clearly, from what the hon. Gentleman has said, at some stage a judgment needed to be made, and the judgment was wrong. No amount of change in the law can alter a subjective judgment, which the police officer who gave back those weapons got wrong. Does the hon. Gentleman agree?

Grahame M. Morris: It is an interesting intellectual argument about risk assessment and judgment. We need to ensure that the processes in place are robust enough, that the responsible officers in Durham or the hon. Gentleman’s constituency are suitably trained and that the guidance is fit for purpose to protect public safety. My concern from the evidence, perhaps with the benefit of hindsight, is that the guidance is not fit for purpose and could, relatively straightforwardly, be tightened up. There is an opportunity to do that shortly, because of the legislation going through the House.

In the Michael Atherton case, there were concerns and there were opportunities to revoke his licence. However, the police were concerned about not having sufficient backing from the courts. The case file includes a note from the firearms licensing supervisor, the officer in charge of the two officers who actually did the licensing: “4 domestics”—four incidents of domestic violence—the most recent being on 24 April 2004, which was two years before the licence was issued. According to the note, Michael Atherton

“was cautioned for assault. Still resides with partner”,

whom he subsequently murdered. The supervisor continued:

“Would like to refuse—have we sufficient info—refuse re public safety”.

That concern seems to have been passed up the chain of command, but it was not acted on, because of legal advice to Durham constabulary indicating that there were no grounds to refuse.

At the inquest, Chief Superintendent Carole Thompson-Young cited a similar case, not in Durham but in a different force area, in which a gun owner won an appeal after having his licence revoked, because,

“the judge deemed that the person was entitled to have a gun because there had been no gun used in relation to domestic violence”.

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The police, therefore, are mindful of that when doing risk assessments; they are defensive about being counter-sued, and we must examine that issue.

Even when police forces have correctly followed the guidance, therefore, they have not always received the support that they should from the courts. I have received no indication that stronger guidance would resolve the matter, but a change in the law mandating comprehensive checks, with a presumption to refuse an application when there is evidence or a pattern of violent conduct, domestic violence, mental illness or substance abuse, would provide the required safeguards. My contention is that we need to change the law.

Mr Atherton had his firearms removed following an incident in September 2008 in which he threatened to self-harm, and that highlights a number of questions that were overlooked, ignored or not given the attention that they deserved at the time. The case involves multiple failures, which unfortunately led to the loss of life. I would like to be standing here today saying that it could never happen again—we have learned the lessons, the Minister has tightened up the guidance and everything is in place to prevent a similar tragedy—but I do not believe that to be the case. At the very least, I would like to say that we have done all we can to mitigate the risk and to make another such incident less likely.

On GPs, I hope that the Minister will support my efforts and those of the Turnbull family, who are calling for a check with GPs, domestic partners and the appropriate authorities as a matter of routine, with a presumption—if not a requirement—to refuse an application when there is a pattern or evidence of behaviour indicating violent conduct. The British Medical Association, according to the brief that was circulated this morning, clearly has some concerns about being involved in risk assessment, and some GPs feel that they do not have the necessary qualifications to express a professional opinion. Some GPs—and some MPs—are asked to countersign firearm certificates, but they say that they are certifying applicants as a fit person to hold a certificate on a personal rather than a professional basis.

Bill Wiggin: I think it is true that someone must have an assessment as well.

Grahame M. Morris: That is the case under the guidance on checking with GPs, including the revised guidance, but a complete package would include the police being mandated through a change in the law, with a presumption not to issue a certificate in such circumstances.

The costs are contentious, in particular for the shooting lobby, which has a large fraternity in my constituency. In the current economic climate and given the coalition’s policies, although I am not seeking to make a party political point—[Interruption.] No, I am not, I am trying to be helpful. The public deserve the proper levels of protection and want to have confidence that the system is robust, but additional checks would be more time-consuming and involve a cost, so that cost should not fall on the individual police authorities, as would be the case at the moment. The Government have made a particular allocation to the Home Office for the police service, so additional costs should not have to be balanced by cuts elsewhere. It is only fair and reasonable that the

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cost of the licence, including any more onerous regulatory regime, should be reflected at least in part, if not completely, in the fee. That would be right and proper.

Those seeking to possess a firearm should meet the true cost incurred by the police in processing the application. I do not want the police in my area or any other to say, “Well, we were hampered from carrying out the necessary checks, because we didn’t have the requisite resources.” I urge the Government to allow the police to increase the cost of firearm licences to somewhere near the true cost of processing. That would go some way towards meeting the stated aim of the Home Office guidance: that the protection of the public is paramount.

We cannot legislate to mitigate every risk. I am not suggesting that we can, but my proposals for sensible and considered changes to the Firearms Act would significantly enhance public safety in a way that revising the guidance does not. I like to think that these proposals are a calm and measured response and evidence based. I call on the Minister to act on them and to use the opportunity of the legislation currently going through Parliament, which completed its Committee stage just before the recess, to introduce the requisite amendments.

3 pm

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): I am grateful to have caught your eye, Mr Sheridan, during this important debate on firearms control. I congratulate the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) on securing it and for the moderate and reasonable way in which he portrayed his case, particularly the dreadful incident involving Mr Atherton and some of his constituents, for whom we all have great sympathy, particularly those who legally hold firearms certificates, and the shooting fraternity. Whenever such an incident takes place, it tarnishes the shooting community and those who legally hold firearms certificates. I welcome the Minister because he knows a great deal about the subject and always handles it sympathetically and pragmatically.

We all want a robust firearms-licensing system to prevent cases such as those the hon. Gentleman has talked about, but I emphasise that such incidents involve a mere 0.01% of firearms licence holders in this country. Such cases are dreadful and dramatic, but involve a very small number of those who legally hold firearms and shotgun certificates. In this debate and in Parliament we are discussing giving the police more time to deal with those cases and to ensure that such people never hold a firearms certificate. I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman on that, but I do not agree that the way of dealing with the matter is through further legislation. We must ensure that existing legislation works properly.

First, I will outline how the Home Office’s new guidelines will protect people suffering from domestic violence. So much of the debate today has been about that. Secondly, I will highlight the importance of the guidelines being implemented properly. Finally, I will specifically mention the Atherton case, which occurred in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.