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9.7 pm

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Sometimes the historic significance of legislation is not always understood when the House passes it. For example, Harold Wilson's Government will be remembered for many things, but their most important and enduring legacy is their Open university legislation. This debate has not been widely attended. Nevertheless, the Bill will probably be one of this Labour Government's more important measures and will have an enduring and positive impact on the lives of many people in this country. I am therefore proud not only to vote for the Bill, but to have caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to speak in its support.

I approach the Bill as a socialist. [Hon. Members: "Ooh!"]. I shall tell the House why I do so. This is an example of how the interests, influence and clout of the big battalions--those industries with lots of money that can lobby effectively to maintain a pernicious, evil trade--are used to persuade decent people that it is somehow wrong to begin to curtail the industries' selfish interests. That underlines what is often wrong with our society, and we must start to tackle it.

I also speak as a socialist in response to all that has been said about the age groups to which the marketing of tobacco products is directed. Those who are most vulnerable are the poorest and most disadvantaged members of our society--groups whose indices of poor health are among the highest. I am thinking many of my constituents who would do all they could to break away from addiction to tobacco products; they know that they are addicted. They would welcome Parliament's intervention to begin the process of diminishing the likelihood of such products being purchased by them and future generations.

Mr. David Taylor: My hon. Friend says that the marketing of tobacco is often focused on certain age groups and social groups. Is there not a risk that, as tobacco consumption in western countries steadily decreases, as it has been doing, tobacco companies will try in all sorts of illicit ways to find a market for their noxious weed in developing countries?

Mr. Mackinlay: If my hon. Friend will be patient, I shall address that point, which is a side issue to the Bill.

Alas, the Bill does not go far enough. One of the things I was going to say in my peroration--I may repeat it still--is that I hope that the Bill is only the start of a comprehensive strategy both to drive down demand for tobacco here in the United Kingdom and to frustrate and prevent the efforts of those evil companies to market their products elsewhere in the world where people are extremely vulnerable. The Bill does not deal with that,

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but my hon. Friend, other hon. Members and I give the Government notice tonight that we intend to press them again and again on the subject, because it is a moral issue.

Mrs. Spelman: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mackinlay: Before I do so, let me tell the hon. Lady that although neither I nor any other hon. Member is indifferent to the impact of a ban on existing jobs, the Bill will not have an immediate effect. No sudden social or political armageddon will afflict those employed by the tobacco manufacturing industry tomorrow morning--the process will be a gradual one. No one can rely on arguments about the impact on jobs. Slave traders could have used such arguments--no doubt, they did--a century and more ago.

Mrs. Spelman: I rise to help the hon. Gentleman put pressure on the Minister to examine the sale of tobacco in developing countries by making him aware that my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter), who is my party's international development spokesman, has written to tobacco companies appealing to them to extend the voluntary code themselves to sales in developing countries.

Mr. Mackinlay: That is like banging on a door with a wet sponge--the companies are not going to do that. They have duties to their shareholders to maximise profits and minimise losses. If the hon. Lady is so naive as to expect them to do as they have been asked, we might as well give up. The fact is that law is required to protect and promote those who have a social conscience and who want to change the basis of their trading. I shall deal with the pathetic Opposition in a moment. First, I turn my attention to the Government, to award some plus marks, to tell them that they could do better, and, in one area, to offer the criticism that is my trait.

My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor) mentioned what was happening in other countries. My notes contain the phrase "West cigarettes". The gangsters of the tobacco companies have, of course, got in on the new and burgeoning market economies of central Europe, where they have the audacity to market a product called West cigarettes in a deliberate effort to convey to the young people of central Europe the notion that the product is sophisticated and all part of the great leap forward to freedom that started in 1989. That scandalous, spiteful, petty and corrupt marketing ploy is illustrative of the point my hon. Friend was making in his intervention.

Mention has been made of the disparity in the treatment of darts and Formula 1. I think it is disgraceful that the Labour party ever tainted its hands with that Formula 1 money. We beat our breast and recognise that. I always welcome the sinner who repents, and we will never do it again--we had better not, anyway. I am convinced that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and others know that it was wrong, and that it must not happen again. Will we get a comparable undertaking from the official Opposition?

The hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) spoke fairly well and I listened to everything that he said, but he went off at a tangent. No one is suggesting that there should be legislation to reduce sponsorship by the alcohol industry.

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As so often happens, the Opposition are trying to play it both ways. On a moral level, many Opposition Members share our concern that this wretched product is killing people, but they are under instructions from their leadership, and to some extent they have been bought by the industry. They convey a message of social concern, but acquiesce in an absurd and wicked trade.

The Opposition claim that the promoters of the Bill do not understand the market incentive industry. I do. We have been told repeatedly that the objective is to maintain market share and to prevent others trespassing into that market. That is true, but another objective is to promote the product and to lock people into addiction. There are sometimes different strategies for each objective, but the strategies are complementary. Of course, tobacco promotion is designed to lock people into addiction--

Mr. David Taylor rose--

Mr. Mackinlay: No, I cannot give way. The Whip has, rightly, been making signals to me. I hope that my hon. Friend will understand.

The Opposition amendment criticises the Government for not doing more to combat smuggling and bootlegging. That is what I find most repugnant about the Opposition--if they had tabled an amendment calling on the Government to do more, that would have been legitimate; but they are using their charge as an excuse for not doing any of the things outlined in the measure. The Bill and other measures are required on the statute book, but there should be increased prosecution of bootlegging.

It is interesting to discover from a parliamentary answer that I received tonight that, prior to 1996, there are no figures for the loss to the Exchequer from tobacco smuggling. That lot--the Opposition--acquiesced in the corrupt smuggling when it began, and now it has got out of hand. The Government should do more.

When I watched a fly-on-the-wall television documentary about four weeks ago, I was disappointed by the way in which Customs and Excise were pursuing the matter. Someone who had a carload of bootleg products was allowed to go through, despite the fact that he had been warned previously and that was on record.

The Government should put some effort into stopping the sale of tobacco products out of bags in markets, invariably to people who are already disadvantaged, but in my view the Government are not doing enough to hit the big battalions. Much more could and should have been done both by the Conservative Government and by the present Labour Government. I welcome the introduction of new technology to combat smuggling in the port of Tilbury in my constituency, for example, but we needed more, and sooner, in all the principal ports of the United Kingdom.

I received a parliamentary answer tonight to my question about the extent of smuggling of bootleg products from countries in the European Union and outside. It is obvious from the reply that the Government do not know. It is an important issue, but I imagine that the Foreign Office is sensitive about it. There is clearly a great deal of smuggling via Mediterranean countries outside the EU. The Government's not knowing the extent of the problem underscores the fact that, to coin a phrase,

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there is insufficient joined-up government in tackling it. I hope that once various Departments have read tonight's debate, which is fronted by health spokespersons but with innocent parties also involved, there will be joined-up government resulting in a greater strategy being brought to bear on combating smuggling, especially that from outside the European Union.

I shall wind up, as I have described the way things are. Basically, as with a lot of things in the House, the Government and the Opposition are both to blame and, in some respects, are both the same--or both their arguments have legitimacy. The Government need to do more to combat bootlegging. Other hon. Members will have experience of legitimate retailers, desperate not to buy bootleg products but no longer able to compete and so falling into a difficult situation. We owe it to them to combat bootlegging.

As I said, criticisms must be made now, but it was the Conservative Government who allowed the matter to get out of hand. We could and should have done more, but we are addressing the matter now. Equally, however, the Opposition, in coming along and voting against this moral measure, are simply revolting. Decades from now, people will look back in amazement at the fact that the Conservative party whipped its Members into supporting an industry that was killing large numbers of people every day. Conservative Members will stand condemned by history for having done so. At least the Government have begun the process of fighting back against a pernicious trade.

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