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Dr. Harris: Not at all. My point is that the opposition expressed by the hon. Member for Woodspring to the means was wholly unconvincing, and that the Conservatives' argument against the means proposed in the Bill stinks. The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Mr. Loughton)from whom I am happy to take interventions, although his hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring was not happy to take them from mewill have to defend his party's policy to the parents and children of people who will die from smoking in years to come if his party has its way. There were 18 wasted years under the Conservatives; the Government can confess to only four.
The argument about individual liberty was advanced. Clearly there are restrictions on individual liberty, but as a liberal I believe that the state has the right to restrict it if that prevents harm. The hon. Member for Woodspring refused to debate that. When it comes to the protection of individual liberty, the Conservatives pick and choose, according to their prejudice and their interest groups. He demonstrated that by his wilful refusal even to engage in debate on the example I gave him.
Mr. Hunter: I am not picking and choosing. I ask the hon. Gentleman to include in his speech a reference to the Department of Health's own assessment of the Bill's impact, which it said could be from zero to 5 per cent. In other words, the Department acknowledges that the Bill may have no impact.
Dr. Harris: A basic understanding of statisticswhich I suspect the hon. Gentleman hasleads to the recognition that, even on the basis of that evidence, the Bill is likely to have an effect. He may think that the reduction of 2.5 per cent.saving 3,000 livesis not sufficient cause for this action; he may think that the saving of 1 per cent., or something over 1,200 lives, is not sufficient cause; he may think that the saving of only one life is not sufficient cause. That is where he and I disagree. I believe that when there is clear evidence of harm, it is reasonable to restrict the liberty of businesses to sell, or at least to advertise, a dangerous product.
The point made about the Smee report did not surprise me. We know that the Conservatives are prepared to ignore expert advice. When it comes to the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination, for instance, they call on the Government to disregard the advice of experts. It is
My party's position on cannabis is entirely rational. What is irrational is allowing the legal sale of a producttobaccothat kills hundreds of thousands of people every year while seeking to restrict the sale of cannabis, despite the harm done by thus driving cannabis users into the clutches of those who want to push more dangerous drugs. The irrationality lies in supporting the legal use of one and not the other. That is an important point. My party does not promote the smoking of cannabis. It certainly does not want the advertising of cannabis to be legalised. Nevertheless, the argument that cannabis is more dangerous than cigarettes is ridiculous.
Again, the Conservative opposition to the decriminalisation of cannabis, and the conservative opposition to it in the Government, is based on politics: they believe that a substantial number of the population do not wish it to be decriminalised. They do not have a rational drugs policy. We believe that drugs policy should include tobacco and alcohol. The committee advising the Government on these things should have a wider remit. The current situation is nonsense.
Conservative Members may not agree with us, but at least we have no qualms about saying it from the Front Bench. We do not rely on siren voices from the Back Benches such as the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley), who has called for even wider legalisation, including not just cannabis.
Dr. Harris: I will not. However, it is another example of the way the system of funding political parties, even if it is not corrupt, gives the appearance of corruption. It makes it very difficult for the Government to make policy on tobacco when such amounts of money flow backwards and forwards. It certainly makes it impossible for their tobacco policy to appear to be free from influence from donors.
It is no good the Government saying that they publish their donors. Saying to the British people, "We will tell you when you are being conned," is not an argument to which they will respond. It is not sufficient to say, "If we are found out, or if there is some question about propriety, we will give the money back," because the damage will have been done to the image of politics. That is yet another good example of why funding of parties should be restricted to small individual donations and to state funding, which should be proportionate to popular support.
On the European Union and its tobacco subsidies, I agree with the hon. Member for Woodspring. It is a scandal that a third of the product is burned and a third exported to developing countries. My party's approach to the EU is critical where we disagree. I believeindeed, I have been told this by independent observersthat criticism of the EU and particularly the policy on tobacco subsidies comes better from parties that do not
The Bill is at least fourand perhaps 20 or 30years behind schedule. It is a pleasure to support it on Second Reading. To all intents and purposes, the Bill, which was introduced by my colleague, Lord Clement-Jones, in the House of Lords, is the same as that which the Government previously attempted to introduce. It is rare that the Liberal Democrats can support our own Bill on Second Reading. In fact, it is perhaps a unique occasion. I look forward to the measure reaching the statute book as quickly as possible.
Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley): I think that it has already been said: here we are again with the legislation. I remind the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) that it has been around not for four years but for many more than that. I tried to introduce a private Member's Bill on the subject in 199394.
To say that this Bill is four years behind schedule is a bit of a harsh analysis of what has happened in the past four years. The first issue that the Labour Government faced on coming to office in 1997 was whether to take off the block of many years that had been placed by the Conservative Government on a Europe-wide Bill. The Labour Government decided that that was the right thing to do in relation to public health, not just here but in the EU. I wholeheartedly agreed with that tactic. The fact that it fell at the European Court of Justice years later meant that we had the delay.
I owe Lord Clement-Jones a great debt of gratitude, as do all who want the legislation to be introduced. He stewarded the Bill in the other place; we were told that it would be difficult for the Government to get it through there when the Bill went to the Lords before the last general election. I am pleased to support the Bill in the form that it is in today.
On the issue of smoking cessation and the criticism of Zyban and everything else, Zyban must have been one of the quickest drugs to come to this country from America. It was immediately put on the lists for people who want to go on smoking cessation programmes. I say that as someone who has been not just actively involved in the subject for many years, but as chair of the all-party group on the pharmaceutical industry, also for many years. I know from being lobbied that the Government moved with great swiftness. There was a good response.
The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon was right about one thing: we must ensure that people who are going to prescribe Zyban have some experience of smoking cessation. It is not just about writing a prescription. It takes a lot more than that eventually to get people off nicotine addiction. However, one or two of his comments were a bit hard.
I just cannot understand the opposition to this Bill from Conservative MembersI never have done in the many years I have been involved in the issue. Even if there were a 2.5 per cent. reduction, it would stop 3,000 premature deaths a year. That is roughly eight deaths a daymore than the total death toll on our roads at the moment. The Government have put millions into finding out exactly how to reduce casualtiesfor example, through putting seat belts in the back of cars. What do the conservatives have against a measure that will not ban tobacco but will give people an honest chance of getting off a drug that kills 120,000 people prematurely in this country every year? Their position is very difficult to accept.
Opposition Members use the word "quantify". Many years ago, the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) chaired the Health Committee, which published a report in 1993 on the European directive that the Conservative Government were blocking. The report concluded:
In 1993, the Smee report was discussed in Government. I got all the leaked evidence showing that the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Heseltine, was in favour of banning tobacco advertising. I have with me the leaked letters that were sent to the Prime Minister. I read them out ad nauseam in the debate in January last year. It is evident that many people have favoured a ban for many years, but not the Conservative party as a whole.