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9 Mar 2009 : Column GC381

Grand Committee

Monday, 9 March 2009.

Health Bill [HL]

Bill Information Page
Copy of Bill as debated
Today's Amendments
Explanatory Notes
Delegated Powers 3rd Report

Committee (5th Day)

3.30 pm

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Colwyn): If there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, the Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division bells ring and resume after 10 minutes. The Chief Whip is going to say a few words before we start.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I thought the Committee might welcome this. I am conscious that there has been some prolonged debate on one issue, and it might be helpful if I say a few words about timings before the Committee gets into the concentrated debate that it wishes to continue.

As it is, today is the last scheduled day for the Committee stage of the Bill, and proceedings in Grand Committee, as Members will recall, are limited fairly strictly to four hours. If Committee stage is not completed today, consideration will have to be concluded on Wednesday 11 March—in effect, that would be an additional day. My appeal to all noble Lords is restraint, as well as respect in debate.

Clause 19 : Prohibition of tobacco displays etc

Debate on Clause 19 stand part resumed.

Earl Howe: Before other Members of the Committee rise to speak, I wonder whether we might deal with a particular matter arising from our adjourned debate last Thursday. During that debate the noble Lord, Lord Laird, stated on more than one occasion that small shop keepers in Northern Ireland were supportive of the proposal to ban point-of-sale displays of tobacco. He used that as an argument to suggest that small shop keepers in England who opposed the ban were isolated in their view—I hope I am not misrepresenting him.

Since last Thursday I have been contacted by two organisations representing smaller shop keepers in Northern Ireland: the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association and the National Federation of Retail Newsagents (Northern Ireland District). Both organisations emphatically repudiate the noble Lord’s assertion that Northern Ireland retailers have accepted the proposal to ban tobacco displays. In fact the NFRN says:

“Nothing could be further from the truth”.

In the light of that, would the noble Lord like to correct or possibly withdraw the statement that he made last Thursday?

Lord Laird: I appreciate the noble Earl’s words. In the debate in the Northern Ireland Assembly that took place last Tuesday on this issue, a spokesman for the

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Northern Ireland Health Committee indicated that the Northern Ireland small retailers association, the one to which I referred, was supporting the effort to do away with the displays. Of the organisations that the noble Earl has talked about now, at least one has been in contact with me to indicate that it was opposed to the change because it would not make any difference. That is a rather odd argument—if it does not make any difference, why not let it go through?

It was well known that these issues were going to be debated in Stormont. If the organisations knew about that, why did they not come along and put their views to the health committee? If you read the debate, you will see that the Northern Ireland Assembly, without a vote and without any dissent, passed the Motion seeking to introduce at the first available opportunity the legislation to do away with displays.

These retailers in Northern Ireland seem to be extremely well informed about the debate that took place last Thursday. I am very pleased that there are small retailers in Northern Ireland who spend a lot of time reading these debates and are then able to send extremely interesting and detailed e-mails listing exactly what happened and who said what to which and for whom, although I do not know if that is very good for their trade. It is interesting that this Committee is having a heavy impact among the retailers of Northern Ireland, who are watching it with great concern.

I am quite prepared to accept that there are retailers in Northern Ireland who are opposed to this measure. However, my basic point sticks. I come back to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. Last Thursday, he mentioned that the retailers in Northern Ireland do things differently and that they are different. I do not understand that point. When I go into retailers in Northern Ireland I see that they have the same size of shop; they have customers, things on display and cash machines. The retailers in Northern Ireland look exactly the same as the retailers I find in the part of London where I live during the week. The only possible difference—and I accept there is a difference—between retailers in Northern Ireland and those in the rest of the United Kingdom is that Northern Ireland was the first place in the UK to impose a total ban. We also have a land border with the Irish Republic, so we understand the effect of a ban in a place that is not very far from us. This is where I acknowledge the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart. The retailers of Northern Ireland understand about removing the displays and the attack on smoking, especially for young people, which the Assembly has led in Northern Ireland and the Irish Government have led in the Republic, because they have had experience of it. That is the only difference that I can see, and I accept that it is a difference.

In a debate in the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Minister of Health said:

“The stark facts are that in 2007, almost 9% of children aged between 11 and 16 in Northern Ireland were regular smokers. These children are 3 times more likely to die of cancer due to smoking than someone who starts in their mid-twenties. In fact, the vast majority (77%) of adult smokers in Northern Ireland started in their teens. These are shocking statistics and it is clear we must address this issue urgently”.

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I wonder what the noble Earl would like to do, if he and his party wish to remove this clause about displays. In what other ways will we stop people taking up smoking? How will we stop children taking up smoking? As I indicated on Thursday, the purpose of these displays is to catch young people.

Over the weekend I did an experiment in a supermarket in London. I stood beside the tobacco counter to see whether anyone who came to the counter asked the assistant if he was selling cigarettes, what type he was selling, whether he could recommend a brand, how many cigarettes were in a packet, what colour they were, and so on. I stood there until a security man took an interest in me, and I left immediately. However, not one customer did anything other than go straight to the counter and ask, “Can I have a packet of x, y or z?”. Could not those cigarettes be dispensed from another part of the counter? Could they not be dispensed from underneath the counter?

Baroness O'Cathain: I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I think that the point he is raising is one to which we will come in a later debate. We really ought to be mindful of what the Chief Whip said. We will have an extra day on this Bill. For goodness’ sake, let us try to make the arguments short, sharp and to the point. I hope the noble Lord does not mind the intervention.

Lord Laird: No, I very much appreciate and acknowledge those remarks. However, this is an extremely important debate. I listened carefully to what the Chief Whip said, but it strikes me that if we need an extra day, we need an extra day. If we need an extra week, we will take an extra week. This is important. I had a heart attack two years ago and my consultant said to me: “Go nowhere where you are likely to be confronted with smoke—not passive smoke, not in the street—because you cannot take it. It is a threat to your existence”. I make no apology for being totally opposed to smoking and speaking passionately against smoking. I will use every opportunity to do so, at this and every other stage.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: As the noble Lord, Lord Laird, mentioned me during his prolonged remarks, I should state exactly what happened. The noble Lord said:

“Why is it that the retailers of Northern Ireland support this ban? What is the difference?”—[Official Report, 5/3/09; col. GC 370]—

that is, the difference between Northern Ireland and England. I sought to reply to that and said:

“My father used to live in Northern Ireland; it is a great place with great people. I welcome the fact that they are of independent mind and that they will do things in their way rather than in our way”.—[Official Report, 5/3/09; col. GC 375.]

In reports from other sources it would appear that retailers in Northern Ireland want to do it England’s way. So the strictures of the noble Lord, Lord Laird, against me are misplaced.

Lord Laird: While not wishing to elongate this debate, I want to put the record right. At col. GC 375 the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, said that, “Northern Ireland is different”. The issue is simple: do we or do

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we not wish the display clause to go through? Do we or do we not wish to take what happened in Northern Ireland as an example? It is not a case of talking about Canada or Iceland. Northern Ireland is mentioned in the Bill as an example of how to handle smoking; let us use it.

The Earl of Listowel: The noble Earl, Lord Howe, raised some important facts about the statistics and evidence in this matter. Perhaps I may give the background to the statistics that I gave. I said that about 70 per cent of pregnant women under the age of 20 were smokers. That is from the Infant Feeding Survey 2005. In fact, 68 per cent of those women smoked before or during pregnancy and 45 per cent smoked throughout pregnancy. I thought that it might be helpful to the Committee to have the details of those figures.

I am grateful to the noble Earl for the research that he has undertaken. It is important that we bear the concerns of newsagents in mind, and he has identified a substantive problem with the evidence. Bans on tobacco displays are relatively new in origin and it is still difficult to be sure of their impact on both shopkeepers and children. A small survey of children in Saskatoon indicated reductions in smoking rates while the ban was in effect. When the ban was temporarily lifted the decline in smoking stopped, to recommence when the ban was reintroduced. The statistics produced by the noble Earl related to adults and adult smoking rates. I have not yet sent him these details but I will. I thought that he would like to be aware of them.

Lord Rea: In my contribution last Thursday I referred to a speech in December 2006 by Geoff Good, the global brand director of Imperial Tobacco. It has been pointed out to me that I misinterpreted his speech when I reported him as saying that,

His actual words were as follows:

“The reason I’ve chosen L & B is that the UK is now a Dark Market. In 2003 we saw the introduction of the Tobacco Advertising & Promotions Bill, which effectively banned us from promoting all tobacco products and means there is no main media advertising, no point-of-sale advertising (apart from one A5-size notice)”—

I would question that—

I agree that he did not mention “young people” or “children”, and I apologise for implying that he did. Of course, he would not have been so unwise. However, I suggest that the word “creative” could, in these circumstances, include the sort of prominent display at point of sale that we have been discussing.

I pointed out that the tobacco industry pays for these so-called gantries to be installed, and it is very unlikely that it would do so if market research did not show them to be effective in promoting sales. In fact, after the word “creative”, this piece goes on to say:

“We therefore decided to look at the pack design. Although Lambert and Butler was clearly the No 1 brand in the UK with a perfectly good design, given the limitations, in 2004 we decided to research a new version which would celebrate the fact that the brand has been on the market for 25 years. The research surprised us”.

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I am nearly coming to an end. It continues:

I realise that we are to have an amendment later on this very topic but, unfortunately, I shall not be present. So my occupying the Committee’s time now will save time later.

3.45 pm

Lord Naseby: I think that we forget too easily some of the basic facts of this market. The situation now is that we are down to 21 per cent of people smoking; we are down to the lowest level of young people smoking, at 6 per cent; those in the 21 per cent do not all die from lung cancer; and certainly the rest of us do not die from passive smoking. There are 5,000-plus direct employees in the tobacco industry; 80,000 jobs are dependent on that industry; government revenue amounts to £9.9 billion; the huge amount of illegal imports costs the UK Government somewhere between £3 billion and £4 billion; and 25,000 small shops will be directly affected by this clause. Therefore, in my judgment, anything that we do in this Bill has to be proportional, evidence-based and rational.

I should like to pick up a few of the issues that, from my reading of Hansard, I do not think have been discussed already, and I have been here for the vast majority of this Committee. First, the powers to make regulations governing displays were provided in 2002 in the last Bill, in which many of us took part. There were consultations with trading standards following the regulations tabled by the Government, and in 2006 trading standards found that there was good compliance. There were also discussions about some amendments. However, what I do not understand, and perhaps the Minister will tell me, is why the Department of Health refused to take part in any of those discussions.

Secondly, the consultation on product display was flawed. Three options were in the original consultation paper put out by the Department of Health, but the only two that were considered were numbers 1 and 3—that is, maintaining the status quo or total prohibition. I do not understand why option 2 put forward by the department—the making of regulations to restrict displays—was totally ignored. That seems to me entirely wrong, and it is not just me who feels aggrieved by it. The code of conduct on consultations put forward by the present Government says—and it should be adhered to by all government departments—that all options should be considered.

The consultation was at further serious fault in not taking account of the large number of people likely to be substantially affected by the proposals on tobacco, particularly small-scale retailers, who, frankly, we all know are unfamiliar with the complexity and form of language in a consultation paper and did not find it accessible. Where accessibility is so limited, engagement beyond the printed word is considered by the new department of BERR to be a consideration to which departments should have regard.

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These serious shortcomings of the consultation paper and process were brought to the attention of the Equality and Human Rights Commission by the Tobacco Retailers Alliance. It agreed that this was wrong but, as yet, we have had no further response from it. In short, there were most serious omissions and shortcomings in the consultation process and the paper. Frankly, there is no satisfactory remedy to that situation other than to reject Clause 19.

Thirdly, the results of the consultation, flawed as it was, seriously misrepresented the situation. I discovered that of the 90,000 responses, 49,000 came from Smoke Free North West and comprised written postcards or e-mails. Is anybody suggesting that that is real consultation? Perhaps we ought to look at who provides the money for these organisations. I further discovered that 79,000 out of 90,000 representations came from government-funded bodies. Therefore, it is not surprising that they responded as the Government wished them to. The Government provided the money for them to respond; they responded as the Government wished, and then they say there has been consultation. I do not believe that is genuine consultation. I do not believe that any Minister of any Government could stand up and say that that was genuine consultation.

So far I have seen no relevant and convincing evidence to demonstrate that the banning of product displays would lead to fewer young people smoking. Certainly, a display ban would have a serious impact on retailers, particularly small community shops and stores. The situation is very different in Canada. Any of us who have lived in Canada will know that you get modular stores in Canada, whereas there are very few small modular stores in the United Kingdom. It may cost only £300—as converted from the dollar rate when the consultation was carried out in Canada—to convert a gantry in Canada. However, if I wanted to change my daughter’s shop—thankfully, it does not sell tobacco or sweets; it is a cookware shop—I would get a UK shopfitter to give an estimate for changing a gantry or anything else. I certainly would not use—

Baroness Young of Old Scone: I am a regular shopper in the noble Lord’s daughter’s shop, which is a very upmarket, glitzy cookware shop in Bedford. With respect, it is absolutely not relevant to the situation of a small-scale newsagent.

Lord Naseby: I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for her patronage. She will know that there are hundreds of tiny little items on a gantry in the shop, most of which cost less than £10. If that is upmarket, so be it.

It is to be hoped that the Minister will give the Committee guidance on precisely how the relevant regulations governing the selling of a retailer’s legitimate tobacco products will be framed. I wish to spend a few moments discussing the illicit market, which I do not think anybody has addressed with the exception of my noble friend on the Front Bench, who did so relatively shortly. As I said in my opening remarks, we should be clear that Her Majesty’s Revenue is losing something like £3 billion to £4 billion a year through counterfeit tobacco products and illegal smuggling.

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Seventeen per cent of all cigarettes, and 59 per cent of hand-rolling tobacco, are estimated to be brought into this country illegally. Since 2000, something like £26 billion worth of such goods have come into this country. The appeal of the illicit products is obvious—the price. There is a 50 to 100 per cent price differential between the UK and the Continent. I am sorry to say that these illicit products are particularly attractive to young people. Why? If you are a student or a young person who has just started work, your income is restricted. Obviously, if you want to smoke, you buy from the cheapest source; and if the cheapest source is the local boot fair or the local environmental fair, that is where you will go.

In the last survey undertaken by Trading Standards North West, a large survey involving 11,000 14 to 17 year-olds, some 36 per cent claimed that they had bought cigarettes from an illicit trader, while 56 per cent had bought packets with a foreign language health warning—in other words, not duty paid, and they probably could not understand the health message either. So this is a very serious point, and it is no good the Department of Health suggesting that out of sight is out of mind because that presumption is totally incorrect. It needs to get its act together in this area because I am a great believer in public health. It is one of the reasons I came into politics at all, and certainly when I was leader of the London Borough of Islington, it was clear that public health is absolutely vital. This trade is totally undermining our public health policy, it will grow and grow with a display ban, and the Government need to be very conscious of that.

I conclude by saying that the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, gave an extremely good précis of the situation in relation to the effects on competition, and I do not need to repeat a word of his other than totally to agree with him. With that, I end my remarks and hope that I have followed what the Chief Whip requested, and I look forward to listening to and hopefully getting some real, positive and clear answers from the Minister.

The Earl of Listowel: I should like to put a brief question to the noble Lord. I believe that I am correct in saying that he has some expertise in and experience of the world of marketing. Given that, does he think it possible that the prominent positioning of tobacco products in newsagents close to where children regularly buy their chocolates and sweets, so that they can clearly see the cigarette packets, is unlikely to influence whether children choose to smoke?

Lord Naseby: The noble Earl is correct that I have considerable marketing experience. He, along with all other noble Lords, will know that there is a damn great sign alongside the gantry stating that it is illegal to sell tobacco to people aged under 18. The first words to hit anyone looking at a cigarette packet on the gantry are “Smoking kills”, and there is nothing wrong with that. It is the primary communication made by the gantry, and if it is the right communication, I think that we can be well satisfied with aspects of the 2002 legislation. However, I do not believe that young people are influenced by it. They might find the new pictures a bit more fascinating than the old ones,

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because the graphics are extremely interesting, but the fact is that half of them will not understand what they are about. I would even question whether Members of the Committee would be able to diagnose what they were about if we had not put the explanations underneath. The primary message, usually to be found just behind the cash till, is that it is illegal to sell cigarettes to under 18 year-olds, while the two words “Smoking kills” are what is communicated to anyone who looks at the gantry.

Lord Monson: There are three further reasons why Clause 19 should be rejected, over and above those advanced so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Naseby. The first is that during the passage through Parliament of the 2002 Bill, Ministers in both Houses said repeatedly that they were content with the way tobacco products were displayed at the point of sale, and how they are displayed has not altered noticeably since then. The second is that even the zealots, by which I mean above all ASH, have conceded that the evidence is shaky. Indeed the ASH Daily News wrote that,

The split infinitive does not detract from the validity of that admission.

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