Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill

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Mr. David Taylor: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Spelman: No, I am not prepared to way to the hon. Gentleman, who rudely described my party as interested in favouring carcinogens. That has not disposed me towards taking interventions that I might otherwise have considered. The hon. Gentleman's comment was outrageous, and he will just have to wait until I feel better about it. It is wrong and quite unnecessary to lower the tone of the Committee in that way.

In the interests of protecting those who are trying to give up, if there is any question that non-tobacco products make it more difficult to give up, I am prepared to be sympathetic to that argument. That is an important point, but common sense tells me that that is not the way in which smoking appeals to younger children. It is unlikely that a child will get sufficiently organised to fill out the sort of Marlboro coupon that the Minister described, find the stamp and send it off. I know too well from my own children that filling in forms and posting them off usually falls to me.

So I do not think that young smokers are drawn in by such activities. However, we are concerned for those who have been smoking for a long time and want to give up. In deference to them, if there is any doubt that such promotions could make it more difficult to give up—although I think that the fundamental addictive quality of the product is the reason why they find it so hard to give up—I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mrs. Spelman: I beg to move amendment No. 37, in page 4, line 16, at end insert—

    `(5A) For the avoidance of doubt a ``coupon'' within the meaning of this section does not include a voucher issued to a customer who has previously bought tobacco products which have been found to be defective or unsatisfactory in some way, where the coupon is issued to the customer by way of compensation to allow him to obtain further products of the same nature.'.

The Chairman: With this, we may take amendment No. 38, in page 4, line 18, leave out `for a nominal sum' and insert

    `for a sum less than their market value or, in the case of coupons, the market value of the products for which the coupons can be exchanged'.

Mrs. Spelman: The amendments raise two separate issues in relation to coupons for use against the purchase of other tobacco products. There are two dimensions to the amendments. They are probing amendments, designed to make the Government think about some of the consequences of the way in which the clause is drafted. Amendment No. 37 would make it clear that the consumer has a degree of protection for a faulty product. The prohibition of coupons could place at risk the practice of sending out vouchers that are exchangeable for goods after a customer has returned a faulty product. It is not beyond the realms of imagination for a packet of cigarettes to be incomplete, wrongly wrapped, unusable or unpalatable; the consumer might find that they are wet or faulty and wish to return them. As phrased, the clause could deprive a consumer of a perfectly legitimate request. If the Government do not accept the amendment, they must confirm that our interpretation is not correct. At present, the practice takes place and we need to be sure that consumers have a fair degree of protection.

Amendment No. 38 is designed to probe the Government on the wording ``for a nominal sum''. It is designed to be helpful. Clause 8(6) is vague; the amendment would make it clearer by inserting:

    ``for a sum less than their market value or, in the case of coupons, the market value of the products for which the coupons can be exchanged''.

``Nominal'' suggests ``very small'', whereas the relevant criterion is whether the coupons allow purchase at less than market price. The amendment attempts to pre-empt the possibility of avoidance, by precluding coupons that allow the purchase of a packet of cigarettes for 1p. It is logical, however, to increase the coupon value to allow the purchase of a pack of 200 cigarettes for, say, £10. The Minister will agree that £10 is not a nominal sum. At present, we are concerned that there is a loophole in the vague phrase ``a nominal sum''.

Yvette Cooper: I am sympathetic to the intention behind amendment No. 37, but I feel that it is unnecessary. If the coupon represents full compensation for the faulty goods, it will not be caught by the Bill. Clause 8 deals only with coupons that promote tobacco products and although I am sympathetic to the aim of amendment No. 37, it is unnecessary. Clearly, there is no intention in the Bill—nor any powers—to affect consumers' statutory rights.

Amendment No. 38 is important and raises concern about the Bill as it is drafted. The problem with the phrase that Conservative Members have used to meet the concept of market value is that the phrase ``less than their market value'' raises difficult questions about how market value is defined. The Bill should not prevent legitimate competition by reducing prices. That would be an unfair restriction. ``Market value'' is probably drawn too tightly and would not allow the ordinary competitive practices within a market. I accept, however, the hon. Lady's concern about the definition of ``nominal sum'' and how to interpret it to include the example that she cited of a product that is dramatically discounted.

We are keen to reconsider the issue raised in amendment No. 38 to find a more appropriate wording than ``nominal sum'', although I caution the Committee that there is not necessarily an easy answer that would allow us to encompass all the abuses that cause us concern.

Mrs. Spelman: I am encouraged by what the Minister has said. It is on the record that coupons that have the effect of making a product complimentary are not caught by the Bill.

Yvette Cooper: Compensatory.

Mrs. Spelman: Yes, compensatory. That helps to clarify the matter, and we do not need to press the amendment to a vote.

I am delighted to hear that the Minister will reconsider amendment No. 38. Examples in the guidance may help to clarify it. The Minister understands the spirit in which it was tabled and we share the same objective. With that assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

It being One o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Four o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Malins, Mr. Humfrey (Chairman)
Barron, Mr.
Bruce, Mr. Ian
Cooper, Yvette
Eagle, Maria
Gidley, Sandra
Harvey, Mr.
McFall, Mr.
McGuire, Mrs.
Robertson, John
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Ross, Mr. Ernie
Ruddock, Joan
Spelman, Mrs.
Taylor, Mr. David

 
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Prepared 6 February 2001