Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill

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Mr. Barron: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Spelman: I should like to continue my argument about the registered authority. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree, the Minister spoke glowingly about a voluntary organisation. It is slightly ironic that the Government oppose a voluntary code to govern the tobacco industry, but favour a voluntary organisation to police and monitor what goes on the internet. That seems to show a lack of consistency. Her point was good—we recognise that such a registered authority for internet service provision would be useful, and not merely for tobacco advertising. My concern about Government amendment No. 19 is that it might remove one of the incentives for such a voluntary organisation or authority to exist. If, as the amendment states, the stronger defence that will be permitted to a service provider will enable him to say, ``Oh, I was unaware,'' or, ``I was not able to prevent it'', it is not beyond the wit of man to realise that that may remove the incentive for him to try to make himself aware. It is a relatively easy way of defending oneself.

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That makes it all the more necessary to consider again what internet service providers are calling for—the establishment of a designated authority as a priority. I do not think that the Committee has got this right. It is important to flag up to those who will scrutinise the Bill in another place—I hope that they will have a little more time to consider the issue—that we are not content on this point. For that reason, I want to press one of my amendments to a vote. I wish to flag up to those who will be affected by the clause and the Government amendments to it that we are uncomfortable with assurances that it will all work out perfectly. I have been referred to clause 7, but I am not satisfied with that, as it deals, by definition, with new developments in technology. The truth is that we do not have an adequate solution for current technology.

The Minister, of course, has the opportunity to come back with an improved amendment on Report, which, after reflection, she might want to do. However, to flag up our unease and the feeling that we have not adequately addressed the concerns of internet service providers and those affected, I should like to press amendment No. 3 to a vote.

The Minister for Public Health (Yvette Cooper): Government amendment No. 19 extends the defences for others—beyond ISPs—who distribute by electronic means. I hope that hon. Members who are concerned about electronic distributors will welcome that provision, as it also allows such people the defence that they were unaware. I hope that I have given assurances that we are keen to work with ISPs to develop a framework that removes the burden of enforcement from them and allows enforcement to be carried out sensibly. I mentioned the Internet Watch Foundation earlier, which may not be the appropriate body; there may be another mechanism. Experience has shown that it is not necessary to set up a mechanism in the Bill. I shall reflect on the matter further, but in all our discussions so far we have concluded that it should be possible to deal with the problem without making provision in the Bill. Such a provision might be more burdensome than flexible arrangements that we can discuss directly with ISPs.

The hon. Member for South Dorset made two criticisms. First, he criticised the Bill because it did not have extra-territorial jurisdiction, but that is a fact of all the legislation that we pass. The Government are keen to work with our European partners and other countries across the world on tobacco control, but we must be realistic about what we can achieve. We can certainly make immense progress, through this Bill, on restricting tobacco advertising, in particular, advertising that reaches children.

Secondly, the hon. Member for South Dorset said that tobacco companies would do everything that they could to get round it. Tell me about it! Tobacco companies have consistently got around previous voluntary agreements, and no one should be surprised if they try to find ways round the provisions in the Bill. By making the Bill as comprehensive as possible, and providing specific defences, we aim to restrict this lucrative and effective advertising that promotes a deadly product.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 4, Noes 9.

Division No. 1]

Bruce, Mr. Ian
Luff, Mr. Peter
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Spelman, Mrs Caroline

Barron, Mr. Kevin
Cooper, Yvette
Gidley, Sandra
Harvey, Mr. Nick
McFall, Mr. John
McGuire, Mrs Anne
Robertson, Mr. John
Ross, Mr. Ernie
Ruddock, Joan

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment made: No. 16, in page 2, line 1, leave out subsection (6).—[Yvette Cooper.]

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Mrs. Spelman: We have had a long discussion about clause 2, but only about one important aspect of it—internet service provision. To keep within the limits of your patience, Mr. Malins, we should concentrate on some of the other aspects of the clause in the stand part debate.

Printers and distributors of physical material have raised some real concerns and it is important to articulate them. I fully accept that some of those concerns may be dealt with in subsequent clauses. It is difficult to proceed in this way because to be understood correctly, clause 2 should be read with the following four clauses. I place on record a concern that was raised with me by the Newspaper Society, whose members will be directly affected—[Interruption.]

The Chairman: Order.

Mrs. Spelman: I think that the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) may have received the same letter as I did—we could compare notes. However, members of the Newspaper Society raised an important issue on behalf of publishers of the local and regional press, examining how the Bill might affect them. They are at pains to point out that they do not earn significant revenue from the advertising of tobacco products. Even if they are not directly affected, they could find themselves culpable of offences described in the Bill. They are concerned that because of the failure to define what an advertisement is, which we failed to persuade the Government to do when we debated clause 1, they are at risk when writing about tobacco. Can we make the position absolutely clear when we debate the clause?

Such people certainly espouse the fundamental principle of freedom of speech. That is what journalists would say was the primary motivation for all their writing. They feel that they should be free to discuss the merits of tobacco products, but they are concerned that in writing about products they will be guilty of an offence of advertising tobacco. It would be extremely helpful to all those who might find themselves in that position if the Minister made that explicit. It is not simply that journalists might write about tobacco in an esoteric sense; they might make judgments about the quality of different brands of tobacco. That is the kind of thing that happens in newspapers at present, but people wonder now whether in future such judgments will get them into hot water.

The Minister will probably accept that it is not as simple as it looks. If one reviews a range of Havana cigars of different ranges and types, for example, one may end up rating the different products, as journalists very often do, and that comes very close to stating a preference and to a form of promotion.

Mr. Ian Bruce: May I give an example of a possible news story? We know that the European Union spends about £1 billion a year subsidising tobacco, most of which goes up in one big puff because it is destroyed rather than smoked by individuals. The purpose of that story might well be to suggest that the low quality of the tobacco is the reason why it is constantly being destroyed, which gives the impression that people should buy their tobacco from America. Journalists may find themselves inadvertently promoting that tobacco rather than—[Interruption.]

The Chairman: Order. We are becoming a little rowdy and sedentary interventions are becoming too frequent.

Mr. Bruce: I have completed my point, Mr. Malins.

Mrs. Spelman: That was a helpful illustration of my point. On the face of it, what I am trying to point out may look quite simple, but when one stops to think about it, it is more difficult and complex than we might realise. In debating this aspect of the clause, we have a duty to make the position perfectly clear for the sake of those who otherwise might make a mistake. I know all the defences about ``could not possibly have known'' or ``prove that they did not know'', but in the case of editorial comment, it becomes quite difficult to judge from the outside.

My main point was to focus on the difficulties that the clause may present to the producers of physical printed matter and the dilemma that we have left for them by our inability to persuade the Government to define an advertisement. I hope that the Minister may be able to give some clarity in her response.

Yvette Cooper: The clause sets out the offences in a comprehensive way. Anyone involved in the publication, printing, devising or distribution of a tobacco advertisement could be guilty of an offence. Later clauses set out the defences against that comprehensive ban. It is important to point out that clause 2 covers only activity undertaken in the course of a business. It does not cover individuals in a private capacity.

The hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) referred to journalists. I am happy to clarify the matter. It was referred to on Second Reading and I believe that I referred to it earlier in the Committee, but I am happy to clarify it again. We do not intend journalists writing about tobacco products in news stories and comment pieces to be covered by the Bill. If they write a news story, that is not an advertisement. If they write an opinion piece, that is not an advertisement. However, if a journalist or a newspaper is paid by a tobacco company to promote a tobacco product, the sponsorship provisions later in the Bill will come into play. That is right. I am sure that people consider that journalists who are paid to promote tobacco products should be covered by the Bill. However, the Bill is not intended to cover issues that involve freedom of speech, news stories, journalistic discussion or artistic representations such as people smoking on stage or in films, unless they amount to sponsorship, which along with product placement, is covered by the Bill.

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Prepared 1 February 2001