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Session 2000-01
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Standing Committee Debates
Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill

Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill

Standing Committee A

Tuesday 30 January 2001

[Mr. Humfrey Malins in the Chair]

Tobacco Advertising

10.30 am

The Minister for Public Health (Yvette Cooper): I beg to move,

    That—

    (1) during proceedings on the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill the Standing Committee do meet on Tuesdays at half-past Ten o'clock and between half-past Four o'clock and Ten o'clock and on Thursdays at Nine o'clock and between half-past Two o'clock and Five o'clock.

    (2) the order in which proceedings on the Bill are to be taken shall be Clauses 1 to 9, Clause 18, Clauses 10 to 17, Clauses 19 to 20, new Clauses and new Schedules.

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Malins, and look forward to your chairmanship of the Committee. If it runs as smoothly as the Programming Sub-Committee yesterday, it will be an easy process.

We are keen to co-operate and to ensure that there is proper time for full scrutiny of this Bill. With that in mind, I will keep my remarks as short as possible and commend the motion.

Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden): This is the first time that I have served under your chairmanship, Mr. Malins, and I look forward to doing so. I was encouraged by the expedite way in which you dealt with the Programming Sub-Committee yesterday. I am also grateful that the knives have not been stuck in the board for this Bill. On Second Reading, I used my experience as a Whip to point out that sometimes it is not altogether helpful to set mileposts for a Bill, as it can lead to inadequate scrutiny of some parts of the measure. It is helpful that the Government have not placed those in the programme of what is a relatively short Bill. That will facilitate better scrutiny.

I place on record that it is always good that exchanges on the way in which a Bill is to be conducted should be as transparent as possible. If we had a record of yesterday's programming motion it would be so short, possibly only one or two lines, that it would be apparent to all colleagues in the House that the matter can be dealt with simply and transparently. I am still of the opinion that such things should be recorded so that this change in the way that we work is transparent and can be thought through by others affected by changes in the workings of the House. Its very brevity makes the point.

However, I wonder whether this procedure is a marked improvement on the way in which we did things in the past, which was not materially different. A target date was agreed and, in my experience, it was always met. The Government have decided to proceed in this way. It would be good if the procedure were recorded, but I am glad that you dealt with it so swiftly, Mr. Malins.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): It might be convenient at this point to make a declaration of interest. I have checked with my financial advisers, who tell me that my wife and I are the beneficial owners of 500 Imperial Tobacco shares. I have never bought tobacco shares, but because of de-mergers, mergers and such like, they are part of my portfolio. I am a non-smoker, and I also advise the Communications Management Association which is for users of telecommunications and the internet. The Whips thought that my experience in that regard would be helpful to this Committee. However, the CMA has not briefed me in any way and I speak from a personal point of view.

I was surprised how cosy the arrangement for the timing of this Bill appears to be. I found out on Thursday, when I got back from Kosovo, that I was to serve on the Committee. I immediately went through my diary and crossed every Tuesday and Thursday off for the next two months, as this is an important Bill and I thought that it would take some time to consider, not least because of the normal processes after Second Reading—programme motions are new to us all. I thought that we would have to discuss a sittings motion today, after which we would adjourn until Thursday, by which time we would all have had a chance to table amendments.

I have not had a chance to table amendments that might have solved some problems for the Government. For example, clause 2, which deals with the internet, is flawed. It does not do what the Government intend it to.

I am also surprised that the Bill is being supervised by the Department of Health. A number of people working within the European Informatics Market Group, EURIM, of which I am the chairman, are studying the modernisation of government. They pointed out, in a meeting chaired by a Labour Member, that the Government, despite their ``joined-upness'', are still working in silos. People get hold of a Bill, decide that it is a health measure and that they are trying to save lives. All Committee members accept that smoking is damaging to health. Anything that any Government can do to reduce smoking is a good thing from the health point of view. However, the Bill deals not with the health issues, but with advertising and promotion. The Ministers who deal with advertising and promotion are in the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

The Minister, whom I know to be able, has been in the Department of Health all her ministerial career. She specialises in many different areas, about which we could have great exchanges and benefit from her knowledge. She is not an expert in advertising, DTI matters, and all the agreements that we have with our European counterparts on what we are allowed to do.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley): I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's argument, especially in view of the fact that the Bill will introduce measures that the European court prevented the European directive from introducing last year. I understand that the court came to that decision because it was a public health matter but the Competition Commission was dealing with it, which the court said was wrong. That decision sits well with this legislation. It is a public health matter. The European court said so last year, and we should get on with our consideration of the Bill.

Mr. Bruce: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I hope that he will make speeches in his own right, rather than trying to suggest that I am attempting to do anything other than ensure that we have a good, watertight Bill. He is right to point out that the European Commission produced directives that have been found to be defective. That means that our draft regulations are also defective. Therefore, we need a Bill. His argument is incorrect. [Interruption.] I will give way to the hon. Gentleman if he wants to stand and intervene.

I am simply pointing out that the Government are the Government. They provide laws. We do not make laws on the basis of Departments. We need people who are suitably qualified to deal with the issues under consideration. Perhaps it is out of order to talk about the Minister's advisers, but we all know that Ministers are advised and rightly so. When I intervene on the Minister and tell her that I understand what she is trying to do, but the clause does not do it or could fall foul of the various European regulations, I hope that she will send immediately for the experts within the DTI, the DCMS and possibly even the Home Office and the Foreign Office, who can advise her, because we have such a short period of time in which to deal with the Bill.

If the House of Commons does not deal properly with these matters, they will come up in the House of Lords. Their lordships will decide that the House of Commons asked the questions but got no answers and failed to deal with them properly.

I put on the record the fact that I asked the Library to check up on a motion that I co-sponsored when I first arrived in the House. It was the most draconian motion and it upset Conservatives Whips no end—it is a good job that none of them are here at present, as they might think me the wrong choice given that the earlier motion was to ban all tobacco advertising and, indeed, all smoking in public places.

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West): Was that before or after the hon. Gentleman bought his shares?

The Chairman: Order.

Mr. Ian Bruce: I think that I had the Hanson shares at the time.

I oppose the manner in which this Bill is intended to operate. It is wrong headed because it does not deal with the issues as they are. We constantly hear from the Labour party that the Conservatives did not ban advertising. The voluntary agreements that we had and the agreements that have been offered to this Government by the tobacco industry are a better way forward. When we start to look at the detail of this Bill, we will discover how difficult it is to intervene in a free market, in particular, on an international basis and given that the internet could blow a hole through this legislation.

It is not right to deal with the measure by Thursday, which is only two weeks after Second Reading. The Government will regret this rush. When the Bill reaches the Lords, a raft of amendments will be tabled. The Department of Health will find itself in a similar position to the DTI with its Utilities Bill—it had not thought the matter through properly.

Question put and agreed to.

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that there is a financial resolution in connection with this Bill, and that copies are available in the Room. I also remind hon. Members that adequate notice should be given of amendments. As a general rule, my co-Chairman and I do not intend to call starred amendments.

Clause 1

Meaning of ``tobacco advertisement'' and ``tobacco product''.

Mrs. Spelman: I beg to move, amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 7, after `product', insert

    `(other than a specialist tobacco product)'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 6, in page 2, line 25, at end insert `, or—

    (e) if it is placed by a specialist tobacco supplier in a telephone directory.'.

Mrs. Spelman: The amendment is designed to draw attention to a problem caused by the drafting of the Bill. I want the Government to think long and hard about this. They define the ultimate goal of the Bill as reducing the prevalence of smoking. Their declared aim is for a 2.5 per cent. reduction. On Second Reading, we spent much time pointing out to the Government that unless we do something about smuggling it will be difficult to achieve that target.

There is no doubt that the Government are concerned that cigarette smoking is on the increase and the whole point of the Bill is to do something to curtail it. There may have been a dispute on Second Reading about the statistics, but interestingly, on Saturday 28 January, the Daily Mail carried a front-page article by Sean Poulter on the increase in smoking. The point is that we have to be careful to be clear what we are talking about, whether it is prevalence, or the number of cigarettes smoked. According to the most recent information, the total consumption of cigarettes rose to 107.6 billion in 1999-2000 compared with 101 billion in 1997. During the same period, profits on tobacco smuggling exceeded even those of drug smuggling. Smuggling was estimated to account for 3 per cent. of the market in 1996-97, but that has risen to 18 per cent. of the market in 1999-2000. Those can only be estimates because we cannot be absolutely sure of the volumes of tobacco smuggled.

My major concern about the Bill, as I stated on Second Reading, is that it will not deal with the major problem. The problems start to arise in the first clause, which deals with the meaning of ``tobacco advertisement''. It is patently obvious that smuggled tobacco does not even have to be advertised, it sells itself. As any smokers in the Room will know to their cost, duty-paid cigarettes are £4 a packet now, compared with a black market price of £2.50 or under, which still enables the smugglers to make a handsome profit. There is no need to advertise and a Bill that bans advertising will probably not touch the promotion of smuggled tobacco. It is usually sold out of the back of a white van and word gets round on the street. There is nothing in the Bill to tackle that problem.

10.45 am

 
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Prepared 30 January 2001