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21 Oct 2002 : Column 41—continued

Tim Loughton: I am not in the business of trying to undermine two very popular sports—darts and snooker. The international darts competitions ban smoking—the players certainly do not idle up to the oche with a fag in their hands. Those two sports have merits, which may not be health-related but give people an interest that keeps them out of trouble in many respects. I do not want to single out those two sports, but there are many other sports that currently have tobacco sponsorship that will lose that money. Those sports may have many beneficial effects in making sport available to young children who would not otherwise have such opportunities.

To return to new clause 2, the proposed rolling study would in no way undermine the ban in the Bill. It does not oppose the ban in the Bill; it purely raises the question of the circumstances in which that ban should remain on the statute book if research in a few years' time shows that that ban is not having the desired effect. That is right and sensible, and I would hope that Members on both sides of the House could agree with that. The noble Lord Clement-Jones, who resurrected the Bill in another place, said:

I disagree. Surely the onus of proof is on the Govt's shoulders if they want to ban something: somebody or something is innocent until proven guilty.

I repeat that we are not arguing about the public health benefits of giving up smoking—we are all agreed on that—but about whether advertising is linked to the prevalence of smoking. The new clause does not even go the whole hog towards inserting a strict sunset measure into the Bill, which, if it came into effect, would negate the whole legislation in certain circumstances. We are not going the whole way. Instead, the new clause is a paving clause, so that the Secretary of State can be improperly informed about the effectiveness of the Act, make that research transparent and available to Parliament, and, if the research shows that there is a problem, the Secretary of State will no doubt wish to reverse the legislation of his own accord, without any prompting. That is all we are asking—we are not forcing him to terminate the legislation but making sure that that research is available to all, as, so far, we have not had definitive research that proves the link conclusively.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells): I notice that my hon. Friend's new clause would only produce such a

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study after three years. Is he aware that Mr. Martin Taylor carried out a report for the Treasury in the last Parliament showing the effect of the accelerated duty increases after 1997, particularly on smuggling? That report remains secret in the Treasury, although its conclusions were widely leaked. Would he consider calling for a study to be produced more quickly—perhaps immediately—before further damage is done by the growing gap between the price of tobacco in this country and on the continent?

4.45 pm

Tim Loughton: My right hon. Friend makes a valid point. There is not only one influence on smoking, namely tobacco product advertising, if that is an influence. There are many other influences, of which smuggling probably is one of the biggest. Anyone who has visited schools in their constituency will be only too aware of people selling cheap cigarettes outside playgrounds, or people at car boot sales selling cheap cigarettes that have been illicitly brought into this country from the continent. That is having an enormous effect on the prevalence of smoking, which is why smoking has gone up again since 1997. If the Government published that report and did rather more to act upon what I judge to be its findings, that might contribute more to reducing smoking in this country than concentrating on this one unproven measure.

Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds): Would my hon. Friend care to speculate on the reasons why Her Majesty's Government have declined to publish in full the Taylor report?

Tim Loughton: I would but I fear that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would rule me to be wayward in terms of the new clause. My hon. Friend will have ample opportunity to challenge the Chancellor on that subject when he produces his pre-Budget report in a few weeks. I urge him to do so.

I am slightly disappointed that the Government have not introduced a full sunset provision into the Bill in the first place. Certainly there are several precedents for doing so. The Government have justified their Bill not on the facts, but on two principal beliefs. The first is that the Bill will reduce tobacco consumption and the prevalence of smoking within the population by 2.5 per cent. in the long term. The second is that only a comprehensive advertising ban will be sufficient to bring about that result.

We know that the United Kingdom tobacco companies strongly contest those claims. In their view, the Bill will have perverse effects and tobacco consumption and the prevalence of smoking will be at levels higher than would otherwise be the case. However, one does not have to accept what the industry says to justify serious questioning of the Government's speculative approach to the Bill.

The Opposition are prepared to accept neither the industry's nor the Government's arguments, neither of which offers any certainty. That is why we would have preferred the Bill to be the subject of a sunset provision. Such provisions are not unheard of from the Government; indeed, they took great pains to point out that the Electronic Communications Act 2000 started

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with such a provision. How much better it would be if that had been the case with this Bill also and the Government had provided the opportunity for voluntary and agreed self-regulation to achieve their policy objectives.

The Government's resistance to a sunset clause in the Bill is most puzzling, given that it was a manifesto pledge of the Government to review all major legislation after three years. As paragraph 3.26 of the Cabinet Office's recently published guidance for policy makers on the use of the regulatory impact assessment states:

—hence the three-year rolling research requirement in the new clause.

Earlier paragraph 2.17 of the same Cabinet Office guidance recommended the consideration of sunsetting

That is certainly the case with the Bill, as those uncertainties and more information may well become evident from its outcomes. Paragraph 2.18 of the guidance states that where sunsetting—a horrible word—

Our thoughts on this matter are not that far removed from those of the Cabinet Office. The only point at issue is the appropriateness of the review and of sunsetting to the Bill. We believe that it is appropriate. The Opposition's position is clear. Serious health risks have been associated with smoking. Those risks are well known and understood by smokers and the public generally. Children should not smoke and should not be allowed access to tobacco products. Adults, on the other hand, should be free to make an informed choice about whether to smoke. It is an objective of public health policy to reduce total tobacco consumption and the prevalence of smoking in the population—we all agree with that. While it is not against the law to manufacture, sell, buy or smoke tobacco products, it is appropriate that the advertising and promotion of tobacco products should be regulated.

The key questions therefore include, first, whether the Bill will reduce total tobacco consumption and the prevalence of smoking, especially among children and young people. The Government believe that such a ban could reduce tobacco consumption in the longer term by 2.5 per cent. The second question is whether the comprehensive bans are necessary and proportionate as between the public interest ends that might be served by the prohibitions imposed and the means used to achieve them. The burden of proof lies with the Government and we do not believe that they have provided definitive proof.

Numerous studies have considered whether tobacco advertising affects consumption and have considered the tobacco market after the imposition of controls or an advertising ban. Reviews of such studies in the aggregate have endeavoured to form conclusions,

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but none of the studies has been conclusive or produced conclusions that have not been contradicted by another similar study. Importantly, a significant empirical literature finds little or no effect of tobacco advertising on smoking. None of the studies is of a nature that makes them predictive of the consequences in the UK of the kind of prohibitions that the Bill contains.

New clause 2 would provide an opportunity to fill the gap that I have just described with rolling research by a reputable and qualified body, selected by the Secretary of State. If research finds that the Act is deficient, measures could be taken.

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