Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill

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Mr. Ian Bruce: My hon. Friend touches on cost, but the Bill puts a duty on every local authority—every district council—to be an enforcement authority. There is no requirement for the Minister take the costs off the local authorities, which must bear the costs, unless the Minister decides to take over.

Mrs. Spelman: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. At the moment, local councils are of the opinion that more and more is being foisted on them, without the necessary resources. I am not making any sort of spending commitment by saying that resources are needed for enforcement. Health has had a large increase in funding, which we have said that we will match. Within that increase in funding, it should, logically, be possible to allocate the resources appropriate to making a Bill work.

I should be interested to hear from the Minister how the provision will work in practice. We need to understand aspects of enforcement application before we can judge whether we think that the Bill will be effective.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley): I welcome you to the Chair, Mrs. Adams, on this last day of our proceedings. On enforcement, may I first say to the hon. Member for Meridian that it is not exactly true that the Bill represents a big shift in what trading standards officers have to do, or that it creates is a completely new situation. The so-called voluntary codes have to be policed somehow, and policing fell on many occasions to local authorities trading standards departments.

In 1994, it was decided to take tobacco advertising off shop-fronts, where it was soon replaced by Coca Cola adverts as far as I can remember. It was also decided to remove tobacco advertising from billposters in close proximity to schools. There is evidence, therefore, that some local authorities have acted as a type of police to ensure that the voluntary codes were adhered to.

As regards enforcement, the contents of the clause are not dissimilar to those in the Food Standards Act 1999. I chaired the pre-legislative Select Committee that considered that Act before its Second Reading. We took a great deal of evidence from different parts of the country from trading standards officers—or weights and measures, as the hon. Lady calls them. Different parts of the country have different forms of enforcement in relation to foods standards. It was quite clear that what was needed in that Act—I suspect that this is also the reason for provision in the Bill before us—was a power for someone to be able to take over if it were found that the trading standards authority, or other relevant local organisation, was not capable of doing a job that would give meaning to the Act in their particular area.

Mrs. Spelman: May I put it on record that my constituency is not ``Meridian'' but Meriden, lest I should be confused with the television company? That is quite important in view of the matters that we have just discussed.

I, too, served on the Committee that dealt with the Foods Standards Bill, and I clearly remember that, it spelled out the circumstances in which the enforcement authority could be supplanted by another authority. If a local authority was failing to perform its role of enforcement, it could be superseded. The difference is that the circumstances in which that could happen were spelled out in that Act, but are not in this Bill.

Mr. Barron: I apologise for getting the hon. Lady's constituency name wrong. I think that I was talking about clause 11 at the time, which is about television. It is not unusual for members of the Committee to talk about one clause when they are supposed to be discussing another one entirely.

I agree, to some extent, with the hon. Lady. The Foods Standards Act was about policing. The other side of the coin is that the clause before us does contain powers. I have a question for my hon. Friend the Minister about subsection (5). Members may have noted recently, in the national media, the prosecution of people who were selling unfit poultry meat. Some of them went to prison, and rightly so. That prosecution effectively started in my own Rotherham borough. The trading standards authorities went to the south coast at some stage to take evidence and interview people in, I think, Brighton.

That was clearly a national scandal, and the cost of the investigation has been horrendous. Meetings have taken place between the authorities and central Government, but the costs of that investigation all fell on Rotherham metropolitan borough council. The investigation cost hundreds of thousands of pounds and was clearly national in nature. If it happened again, unless the rules were changed and money found to pay for such an investigation, authorities might be dissuaded from becoming involved in gathering evidence and prosecuting people who are breaking the law.

I would like to ask my hon. Friend whether subsection (5) will help with that? Investigations and proceedings in cases of breaches can be massively expensive. Would that be taken into account? That would clearly be an improvement on the provisions of the Foods Standards Act 1999, which were simply about making sure that local authorities, or whoever was responsible, were policing the food chain correctly.

Mr. Ian Bruce: It seems that we may all be voting against the clause. I am only too pleased once again to support the hon. Gentleman, even though he did not support his own argument last time we had a vote. The hon. Gentleman briefly mentioned the fact that trading standards is now the correct name for what old-fashioned people like me call the weights and measures authorities. The Committee will be pleased at his expertise, but is the Bill faulty? Is there no such thing as a weights and measures authority any more?

Mr. Barron: The hon. Gentleman will have to ask the parliamentary draughtsman about that. I use the phrase ``trading standards'' because that is what we have in our borough. Different parts of the country may have something else, and I am no expert on local government in Wales or Northern Ireland. I cannot really answer the hon. Gentleman's question.

The hon. Gentleman invites me to vote against the clause, and I am not surprised that he wants to do so. If a Bill is not enforced, it becomes a non-Bill, and, given that the Tories tabled an amendment declining to give the Bill a Second Reading, I am not at all surprised to hear that they want to try again to kill the Bill. At each sitting, Opposition Members have said that there are loopholes in the Bill and that it will never be possible to enforce it. If that were the case, why would they want to vote against any part of it? The Opposition should be completely in favour of it.

Mrs. Spelman: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Barron: I am going to sit down. I am not against debate, but I would like to move on because I have other things to say later.

Mr. Ian Bruce: Strangely, we have had a really useful contribution from the hon. Gentleman, who pointed out yet another loophole in the Bill, but when we suggest that he helps us to force the Government to return with a clause that would deal with his concerns, he immediately replies, ``No, no, no. Let the Government carry on, let them be condemned by their own folly.''

I am concerned about the clause, which contains many loopholes and reasons why the Bill will not work. The hon. Gentleman again misunderstands me. He was a co-signatory of my early-day motion when I tried to ban tobacco. I no longer feel that that is the right way forward—voluntary action would be better. We have to ask how the Bill's provisions will be enforced. The nub of the Bill is the enforcement of a set of rules and regulations that the Government have decided to introduce. It was extraordinary to discover from the expert who last discussed trading standards that weights and measures authorities apparently no longer exist. Does that mean that I shall be out of order if I discuss weights and measures authorities? I believe that my three district councils are responsible for that.

Most of the advertising that concerns us appears in the national press, the enforcement authority for which is provided by the Broadcasting Acts. It may be, however, that tobacco companies could decide to put a big advert on the side of their lorries. Those lorries are driven from one end of the country to the other on a regular basis, passing though every district council area in the country. That would mean that all those district councils had a duty to prosecute that company. If The Daily Telegraph is delivered in every district authority area in the country, and someone has placed something that looks like a tobacco advertisement in the newspaper, all local authorities would have a duty to prosecute.

That is a ridiculous situation. If a local tobacconist sets up an advertisement that it has paid for, one could say that there would be some purpose in asking the local trading standards office to warn that individual. That is usually the sensible solution: the authority tells the person that he is breaking the law, and normally the individual would remove the advertisement. It may be, however, that the individual says, ``No, I have read the Bill carefully, and I have been advised by the tobacco company that what I am doing is legal, and you are going to have to prosecute me individually.'' In that case, no special funding route has been set out to enable each local authority to prosecute such cases.

10 am

We should compare the situation with the weights and measures case that we have just had in the north-east. A man who wants to weigh bananas in pounds and ounces because his customers ask him to do so is being prosecuted—despite the Minister saying, ``Oh no, no, we wouldn't prosecute somebody just for responding to a consumer''. I understand that it has cost at least £200,000 to date to prosecute that individual for selling a few bananas to someone who asked for them in pounds rather than kilograms. That seems bonkers, but it is the mechanism that we are being asked to approve. I am being asked to say to all three weights and measures authorities, which is what they are called now, in my constituency—[Interruption.] I will give way to hon. Members who clearly want to make a speech. Or perhaps they do not.

Those three authorities in my constituency, and all the 100 or more local authorities throughout the country, must get on and start prosecuting. If the enforcement authority says, ``Look, we're strapped for cash at the moment, as all local authorities are,'' and councillors say to their enforcement officers, ``You may have a duty to prosecute, but if you expect us to keep piling money into your budget, you've got another think coming,'' how will the Government force them to police every individual advertisement or suggestion of an advertisement and challenge it in the local courts? It is nonsensical to set that down as a duty. The clause does not say that the enforcement authority may take action; it states that the authority has an absolute duty to take action. The relevant Government Department, whichever Department it is—I will come to that in a moment—does not have a duty to prosecute. It may decide to come in and take over or, if it wishes, prosecute a certain class of advertisement centrally. We are being asked to allow the clause to go through without being told what the Government intend to do. Regulations may already exist in draft form, setting out that any case covering more than one local authority will be picked up and paid for by a central prosecuting authority.

If an authority is to take action, someone has to decide who will pay for that. I cannot see my tiny authorities of Weymouth and Portland, Purbeck and West Dorset, which have tiny amounts of money, agreeing to pay. The recent case in the north-east cost £200,000, which to my authorities is a significant amount. The Government have taken over the banana-measuring case. I am sure that my councillors, of all political persuasions, wish to reduce tobacco consumption, but they would not incur the risk of spending hundreds of thousands of pounds in court costs for a test case on behalf of the Government. The Minister needs to tell us how the clause will operate.

Subsection (3) refers to an ``appropriate Minister''. Who is an appropriate Minister? It is not defined in the clause. I would be grateful for a signal on that.

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