Previous SectionIndexHome Page


7.15 pm

Mr. David Taylor: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that although adults may be exercising their own free will--as he describes it--they may also be unable to overcome the addictive effects of nicotine that have been so carefully implanted in them through a succession of earlier appeals to smoke? Many teenagers take up smoking. Fewer than 50 per cent. of those who start to smoke by the age of 15 have given up smoking by the age of 60.

Mr. Forth: That question introduces an element that I suspect you would not want me to pursue too far, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman makes a contentious assertion; he obviously believes it, but it might not be borne out. In any case, the argument would also apply to alcohol, to which many people, sadly, are addicted.

In connection with amendment No. 1, I want to make the point that we must not endanger any capability or willingness on the part of the manufacturers and promoters of the products to provide appropriate warnings. That, rightly, is the aim of the amendment. It is important to ensure that we do not jeopardise that.

Several of the amendments deal with the provisions under clause 4, with which we seem to be getting into the most awful difficulty. Although one can understand the motivation behind the clause, I doubt whether its provisions can be effectively implemented. Subsection (1)(c) refers to the "principal market" and the United Kingdom. As we have already seen--and as the Members who had the privilege, pleasure and honour of serving on the Standing Committee must have discovered over and over again--the Bill is shot through with vague concepts that are either ill defined or undefined, yet are crucial to the thrust and meaning of the measure. Subsection (1) illustrates that. The term "principal market" will be of no help or guidance whatever to those who will be given the responsibility of implementing the Bill should it ever become an Act.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) pointed out, the matter is complicated by the fact that, when one is dealing with the world of modern publication, it is not viable, satisfactory or deliverable to talk about one market as opposed to another, given the extent to which people, products, publications and information flow freely across international boundaries. That is one of the ironic effects of our membership both of the European Union and of the European Economic Area. It is thus even more difficult to define properly and adequately where one market begins and another ends. I submit that the term "principal market" with reference to the United Kingdom is extremely difficult to define. The fact that direct reference is made to that concept makes the provision of dubious value.

Subsection (d) refers to "a United Kingdom airline". Even that concept is difficult to define. Is Cathay Pacific a United Kingdom airline? Some years ago, a trick question asked, "What is the second biggest British airline?" Few people correctly answered that it was Cathay Pacific. The airline was, in essence, British-owned, even though it mainly operated in the far east. I mention that example only to illustrate the difficulty of giving an adequate definition of a phrase as apparently simple as "a United

13 Feb 2001 : Column 216

Kingdom airline", as used in the measure. That aspect of the Bill is far from adequate, and the amendments do not help at all.

A similar problem, which arose when my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) moved the amendment, will arise later when we discuss nominal sums and substantial discounts. There is a genuine effort to improve the Bill and make it more accurate, but it falls far short of what is desirable.

I suspect that the Minister will say, "Don't worry about that, folks--it will all be made clear in regulations." That is the classic answer that Ministers give when presenting such a Bill, but I am not sure whether it is good enough in this case. Much of the Bill's thrust and its likely effectiveness depend on the viability and practicability of the regulations, rather than on the Bill itself, but even at this relatively late stage, we are no more able to judge whether it is likely to be effective. We are completely in the dark about how the Government will tackle the underpinning regulations, on which so much will depend. I find it very unsatisfactory that I am still unable to make that judgment.

I hope that the Minister will explain amendment No. 47--the final amendment in the group--because, coming new to the Bill, as I did not have the privilege of serving on the Standing Committee, I am intrigued as to how such a change can be suggested. The suggestion is that we should change the wording in clause 12(2) from


to


At this stage, to move from the phrase "a tobacco advertisement" to the word "anything" involves a rather large leap of either faith or imagination.

I hope that the Minister can tell us how, now that the Bill has managed to reach this stage in its proceedings, she still has to ask us to approve an amendment that produces such a difference in meaning and direction. That is even more important because we are talking about an exemption, using the words,


I can understand that that might be relevant to a tobacco advertisement, but it is remarkable to state:


We need to hear a very comprehensive explanation from the Minister as to how she and the Government have got themselves into the position of having to make such a change at this stage.

All in all, the position is very unsatisfactory indeed. Notwithstanding the Standing Committee's mighty labours, and the huge accumulated brainpower and concentrated effort of its members during many sittings, the Bill is still pathetically inadequate, so I leave the House, including the hon. Members who did not serve on the Committee, to judge the quality of its work. The fact that the Government have tabled so many poor quality amendments is a sad indictment of them.

Mr. Taylor: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the logical, honest and consistent approach, bearing in mind his comments so far, would be to vote against Third Reading?

Mr. Forth: Yes, and I intend to do so. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me that little trailer for

13 Feb 2001 : Column 217

what I fully intend to do--although the Minister has an opportunity to use her eloquence and powers of persuasion to make me change my mind. However, at the moment, not only do I disagree with the Bill's thrust and principle--which, of course, we are not now debating--but I have, I hope, shown that I believe the Bill to be so flawed that even if I agreed with its main purpose, I would feel unable to support it. The Minister now has an opportunity to persuade us all--and good luck to her.

Yvette Cooper: I shall try to deal with each amendment in this group and respond, in turn, to the points that hon. Members have made. On amendment No. 2, moved by the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman), we are sympathetic to her intention on product placement, although I was interested in the fact that many Conservative Back Benchers are perhaps not quite so sympathetic to it. The amendment is not necessary and, as worded, would not be helpful. I shall clarify the Government's view on product placement and how it will be covered by the Bill.

If product placement occurs in this country in the form of an agreement to promote a tobacco product, perhaps through a film or television programme, it will constitute a sponsorship agreement. If that were done through television, it would be covered by the Broadcasting Acts. If it were done through film, it would constitute a sponsorship agreement and be covered by the provisions on such agreements. Of course, if such product placement occurs abroad, we cannot prosecute the parties to the sponsorship agreement; we do not have extra-territorial jurisdiction in this respect.

What will happen if a film that includes an overt placement of a tobacco product, which is clearly promoted by a tobacco company, is distributed in this country? I make it clear that our intention is not to prevent films from showing smoking. We do not intend the Bill to cover films, or other kinds of theatrical expression, that show smoking as part of their artistic freedom of expression. We may not like the fact that a film or theatrical production glamorises or appears to promote smoking, but if smoking is part of the artistic freedom of expression, we have to be careful what we rule out, even though we disagree with it.

Under the Bill, we want to rule out advertisements that promote tobacco products in the course of a business; we do not want to restrict freedom of expression. In fact, I would defend the right of artists to smoke on television or in films. The Government should not censor such matters. However, if something is a tobacco advertisement and if it promotes a tobacco product in the course of a business--for example, if a Marlboro advert is strung out for three quarters of hour--it will be covered by the Bill, even if it is produced in another country, so distributors will need to consider their liability. They will, of course, have to have a defence if they did not know, or could not have foreseen, that that would be the effect, but distribution will be covered by the Bill.

Amendment No. 1 would exempt from the definition of an advertisement those advertisements that depict tobacco products where the purpose is to reduce the prevalence of smoking. If the purpose of an advertisement is to reduce the prevalence of smoking, it will not come under the definition of an advertisement the effect of which is to

13 Feb 2001 : Column 218

promote a tobacco product. Such an advertisement will not be covered by the Bill, unless it is so useless and bad that its effect is to promote a tobacco product and smoking. If an advertisement is that bad, it should be withdrawn; it should be not put up on our billboards. There is no intention to prevent health education or health information advertisements, and they will not be covered by the Bill, so amendment No. 1 is unnecessary.


Next Section

IndexHome Page