Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill

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Mr. Ian Bruce: Is it not extraordinary that, where sponsorship has a real impact on tobacco consumption, the Government are granting further time before a ban, yet where it does not much affect people's consumption, the ban is to be instant? That is so illogical.

Mrs. Spelman: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I simply cannot understand such illogicality, and it leads me strongly to oppose the Bill. To treat particular sport sponsors preferentially and single out one sponsorship agreement to be dealt with transitionally in a different way is to conform ourselves to what might have been in Europe. Perhaps we should start conforming to what is happening in the marketplace now.

Some of the big players in Formula 1 no longer want tobacco sponsorship. The Williams Formula 1 team refused the Rothmans sponsorship and turned to Compaq. Ford also said no to Formula 1 sponsorship. The beginning of an important trend is happening in the real world, which is different from a notional European directive reappearing in a different guise at some indeterminate point in future. It is difficult to accept preferential treatment for one particular sport.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) made a perceptive point. The main purpose of the Bill, with which we entirely agree, is to reduce the prevalence of smoking, but how effective will it be? As my hon. Friend said, it is difficult to understand how the increased prevalence of smoking among young women will be affected by the sponsorship of darts, for example. There is a disconnect, which makes one wonder why darts should be treated more severely than more glamorous sports with a wider appeal across the sexes such as Formula 1. The argument is tenuous and creating a level playing field for all sponsorship agreements would improve the Bill. It would be easier to understand and would more effectively address the Government's declared objective of removing from advertising those elements shown by market research to have a significant impact on smoking prevalence.

At a meeting of the all-party group, the market research was spelt out clearly—there is image transfer from glamorous sports to tobacco products. As a result of advertising in Formula 1, tobacco is seen as glamorous, exciting, making one ``youthful'', ``adventurous'' and ``sophisticated''—words used by consumers affected by that advertising. That is a factual description of the impact of sponsorship agreements and it makes it difficult to understand why Formula 1 should be accorded preferential treatment.

I hope that I have made a strong case and that Labour Back Benchers, who are susceptible to calls for a level playing field, might consider supporting us over this matter. Maybe together we could persuade the Minister to revisit this on Report.

I find it difficult to see the justification for treating one sport—or if snooker is caught into it, two—in a preferential way, given the impact that those sports have, as established by market research, on advertising of tobacco products.

Mr. Barron: The hon. Member for Meriden said that we have to recognise what is happening in the marketplace. She also quite rightly said that the all-party group saw in graphic detail that Formula 1 is shedding tobacco sponsorship and that telecommunications and computers were the highest growth areas. That is not happening because they want to do it; it is happening because there has been an international debate for many years about the effect of tobacco sponsorship on Formula 1, the growth of sponsorship and the amount of time that it is on our television screens. Nobody sits down for a few minutes of a Formula 1 event. Although people rarely watch it all, we are not talking about the 90 minutes of a football match. The viewer is there for a long time. There are a lot of images flying around on the trackside and on the cars; there is a massive exposure of images.

Many years ago, when we were in opposition, I was involved in some of the negotiations about how to overcome the problem, not of sports sponsorship here at home but of sports sponsorship of international events. There is one example, possibly two, of what could be called international events. The obvious one, because of the amount of money that the tobacco companies put into it, is Formula 1 racing. I do not think anything would have changed in the marketplace with Formula 1 racing if it were not for the intention, initially of the EU, and after we were elected in 1997, of the Government, to remove the block on the EU directive that the governing Conservative party had had on for many years.

Mrs. Spelman indicated dissent.

Mr. Barron: It is well documented—I have the lead Cabinet minutes in front of me if we want to debate that issue—and it was clear that the Conservatives were not going to lift that block. In turn, during the 1992 general election campaign, the Conservative party made a successful deal to rent bill poster sites—again, I have the evidence, which was well documented in debates—because they had the block on the European directive aimed at tackling this issue from the public health angle.

I have to say to the hon. Lady that the marketplace has been shaped over many years by discussion and debate. It was thoroughly shaped on 1 May 1997 when we came into office with such a large majority. Eventually it moved and the only way around that was to scurry off into the European courts, as tobacco companies did, looking for another way to try to stop this move. That is the true marketplace. It is true that Formula 1 is an international sport and hon. Lady said earlier—[Interruption.]

Mr. Ian Bruce: It is Bernie paging.

6.15 pm

Mr. Barron: He would not be on my pager. The hon. Lady said earlier that we were going to take this action independently. I must tell her that some, but not all, countries limit tobacco promotions when there is Formula 1 racing in their countries. With the aim of getting international agreement, it was suggested that names would be taken off, and just the logos and colours used. On that basis, it was always going to be treated differently to our own indigenous sponsorship agreements. No matter what people think about when this is going to end, it is going to end and that ending is in sight. When I was promoting a Bill under the private Bill procedure in the 1993-94 Session, that seemed decades away, especially given the amount of opposition that we had.

Mrs. Spelman: I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman has given way because I want to return to the blocking minority on the directive. As I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware, the mechanics of European voting mean that one member state cannot unilaterally pull off a blocking minority vote. There has to have been an alliance and, for the record, the German Government at that time was also part of that blocking minority. I should like to know whether the hon. Gentleman would be prepared to press his Government to seek an alliance in Europe for a level playing field on these sponsorship agreement, quite possibly bringing forward the date, as I believe that he is in favour of that. Alliances have to be struck to bring about change.

Mr. Barron: The only thing wrong with that is that one of the reasons why the European directive failed in the European Court was that it was said that some tobacco advertising issues were distinctly to do with the member state and not with a wider European issue. Public health is a wider European issue. I did not see the full judgement but I have seen it in different parts and one of the points was that, in most instances, tobacco advertising is peculiar to member states and therefore the directive could not be introduced. We have to recognise that.

Mr. Ian Bruce: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman giving the example of the Conservative party unilaterally stopping tobacco advertising on all those hoardings during the election campaign by putting up Conservative posters. That was a good idea.

The hon. Gentleman is an honest man, and I am sure that he will give us an honest answer to this question. What did he think of the decisions by the Government—the Chancellor, the Prime Minister and all those people who were in with Bernie Ecclestone—announcing that they would give Formula 1 many years of continuing sponsorship?

Mr. Barron: I shall not go into detail, but I was a shadow public health spokesman when we were in opposition and I spoke in Strasbourg in 1996. I was effectively looking after tobacco policy for the Labour party at that time and that question was asked of me then. It was an inter-group forum in Strasbourg. My immediate reaction, which was minuted, was that it would have to be dealt with differently because of the nature of Formula 1 racing.

At one level, the issue before us is whether Formula 1 should be allowed to go to the year 2006 while other sports are not. In part, the answer to the Conservative Members is that it might be up to them. They have tabled an amendment that seeks to take everything up to 2006. They may be sad to hear it, but I tell them I cannot support an amendment that would take everything up to 2006. The hon. Member for Meriden heard the debate in the all-party group when it discussed that matter, and has not tabled an amendment that might have tempted me. I only say ``might have tempted me'' because I do not look at any one thing in isolation. When I look at legislation, I look at the full picture.

Without question, Formula 1 gets a lot of money from the tobacco companies and is getting that replaced quite quickly. Then we dive down in terms of annual figures. Although I do not have them in front of me, the hon. Lady read them out. I think the next one was snooker at £9 million, then a lot of others at a lot less. I am tempted to ask my hon. Friend the Minister whether she agrees with this. Perhaps she will not, but I will try when she has finished talking to the Whip.

The banning of sponsorship is not unknown in other countries. Indeed it was banned it, I think, Western Australia. However, at the same time, the state government came up with something that I thought very innovative. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will comment on this. They decided to convert the tobacco taxes in that state and give them to an arm's-length agency that could sponsor, or re-sponsor, sports and other events. Instead of young children being involved in sports sponsored by tobacco companies, they were involved is sports sponsored by public health lobbying organisations, such as ``Healthy Eating''.

There are many other smaller sponsorship deals, when we go below the line of snooker. For a tiny fraction of the amount that tobacco taxes bring into the Exchequer, the Government could consider replacing some of these smaller sponsorships to support, for example, fishing or dancing, with pro-health sponsorship —as opposed to anti-health sponsorship, in terms of tobacco. I realise that my hon. Friend the Minister cannot commit herself, or the Government, to such a thing, but it is an issue that we need to look at. It is not necessarily the case that sports, or other activities that are being sponsored by tobacco companies, would lose out.

I know my last point may be going a bit wide, Mr. Malins, but I will not participate in the clause stand part debate. I cannot tell the Committee what my wife calls me, so I shall just call myself local football supporter. I have been going mainly to my own club—Millmoor, Rotherham United football ground—for 40 years now. I have also been to most other grounds, including quite a few Premier league grounds, and the one thing that has struck me about sport sponsorship in the past decade is the massive change that there has been in football—our national sport—in terms of bringing in the Premier league, of salaries, and of everything else. Yet in no area of football can advertising by cigarette companies be seen.

Football is on our televisions on Saturday nights, Sunday mornings, it is on Sky most days of the week—which my wife hates. Here is a prime example of how tobacco companies could have had sports coverage—possibly even better than Formula 1—but the Football Association decided that tobacco products were not the right image that they wanted. Unannounced, without making a big deal of it, the Football Association decided not to get involved in that side of sponsorship.

Many other organisations, especially ones that take care of amateur sports, have nothing to do with tobacco advertising, because the industry is anti what most sports and activities are about. That is the truth of the matter, because no matter how they are defined, they are ill-health products. Under those circumstances, the Government ought to be considering other alternatives. When the legislation is in force, and sports organisations are under pressure because they cannot get the odd £1,000 or £500,000 in sponsorship, we—as parliamentarians—should be arguing that some of the billions of pounds of tobacco taxes earned by the Exchequer annually should be used to promote pro-health sponsorship among organisations for young children and others.

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Prepared 6 January 2001