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21 Oct 2002 : Column 44—continued

Pete Wishart (North Tayside): Who would the hon. Gentleman expect to serve on the committee?

Tim Loughton: We have left it described in the new clause as a Xreputable and . . . qualified body". We are not trying to constrict the Secretary of State. New clause 2 is an innocuous measure that would ensure that research is done. I do not mean the contradictory research that has been done so far, but proper research that specifically monitors the effects of the Act on an ongoing basis. If the Secretary of State would like to suggest a firm, a body or a group of people to carry out that study, we would be interested in that. It should also be up to Parliament to decide. The findings required by the new clause should be made available to Parliament. However, nothing in the Bill requires the Secretary of State to do any further research into whether it is effective.

New clause 2 contains innocuous and helpful suggestions and I find it odd that several other hon. Members find it contentious. We all surely agree with what we are trying to achieve. The issue is the means, not the end result. I commend new clause 2 as an improvement to the Bill.

Mr. Hopkins: The suggestion that advertising has no effect on the amount of smoking is extraordinary. Tobacco companies cannot believe that, otherwise they would not spend countless billions of pounds across the world on tobacco advertising and they would not be so keen to avoid the Bill. New clause 2 is unnecessary, bureaucratic and, indeed, somewhat cynical.

Tim Loughton: Does the hon. Gentleman think that if the Government had approached tobacco companies five years ago and asked for a voluntary ban on tobacco advertising, the companies would have acquiesced? There is evidence to suggest that that is the case.

Mr. Hopkins: I suspect that tobacco companies have been aware for a long time that there is a threat of a compulsory ban on advertising, and perhaps they were desperate to find a way—[Hon. Members: XThe middle way."] The middle way, indeed. They were desperate to find a way to avoid the Bill.

I regard the Bill as a starting point, and I would like to go rather further than the Government have gone. I hope that in time we shall go further.

Tim Loughton: The hon. Gentleman has not answered my question. I asked whether he thought that tobacco companies would have agreed to the proposal five years

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ago. I think that there is strong evidence that they would have done, regardless of what might have been coming. If they had, what the Bill proposes would already be in force, and instead of the Government's several attempts to reincarnate the Bill, we would have had no tobacco advertising for the last five years.

Mr. Hopkins: The hon. Gentleman may say that, but I am deeply suspicious of tobacco companies, and I suspect that a voluntary ban would have been a soft option for them. They would have found a way round it, and it would have been obvious that it was their way of preventing a ban from being built into the law.

To suggest that the Bill will have no effect is an attempt to undermine its credibility. It would be simple to count the number of cigarettes consumed and the number of smokers. Some civil service office could do it every year, and if the Bill were having no effect, there might be other factors.

The hon. Gentleman rightly referred to price-cutting; clearly price is an important consideration. I would like to ensure that there is no further price-cutting. If tobacco companies want to substitute a cut in price for their spending on advertising, so as to sell more of their products, let us put up the taxes on cigarettes to fill the gap, so that the Government have a bigger tax take to help with the appalling cost of cigarette smoking to the national health service.

Mr. Ruffley: I am listening to the hon. Gentleman's remarks with care. Does he think that there is any argument that tobacco companies may advertise, not necessarily to sell more cigarettes in total, but to drive down their competitors' market share? Has he not ignored that argument so far?

Mr. Hopkins: I am sorry, but I must say again that I am deeply suspicious of tobacco companies, and I suspect that they work in collaboration. We have heard the market share argument many times, and my belief, although I may be shot down for it, is that the whole idea of tobacco advertising is to create a culture in which tobacco usage is seen as a good thing, cosy and friendly—something that we can all do and enjoy, like many other harmless pursuits. Cigarette smoking is not harmless; it is very harmful, and we must take steps to stop it, initially by persuasion through Bills such as this.

We have talked about cigarette smoking as if it were an Xinformed choice". In my youth I was addicted to cigarette smoking, and I gave up 32 years ago. Smoking was not an informed choice, but an addiction. I had great difficulty in giving up, and so do most people. The whole idea of tobacco advertising is to create a world that makes smoking acceptable, colourful and part of one's identity, so that young people become addicted. Once they are hooked, they find great difficulty in giving up, as all of us who have known addicts, or who have been addicts ourselves, will know. That is the sole objective of advertising: to get people hooked. After that, the companies make their money.

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The new clause proposes a bureaucracy to put a smokescreen round the real problem, which is to find ways—through the Bill and other measures—to reduce and eventually end all cigarette smoking.

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley): Is the ultimate tendency of the hon. Gentleman's argument to ban tobacco smoking altogether? Is that what he would like to do? Only the other day, I heard him—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. That is inviting the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) to go well beyond the confines of the new clause.

Mr. Hopkins: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I have every confidence that in the end people's intelligence will prevail and they will choose not to become smokers, because they will realise that it is dangerous and addictive. That is what we are trying to get across to people, but they will make a free choice.

Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South): I am trying to keep within the confines of the debate. If such a group were established, it could look at the anomaly that may well arise from clause 10, which deals with the prohibition of sponsorship. Its definition of sponsorship agreements could fall foul of internal agreements within the trade, which I doubt the Bill intends. That is just the sort of issue that the group could look at, opine on, and report back on to the Minister. In the absence of such a group, how could such a flaw in the Bill be exposed?

5 pm

Mr. Hopkins: I am sure that some of the technicalities will be addressed by my hon. Friend the Minister, but my concern is the proposal to establish a bureaucracy to look at the effects on cigarette smoking. I am surprised at Opposition Members: they constantly go on about quangos, bureaucracies and unnecessary additional bodies, yet their proposed body is completely unnecessary. It would be the simplest thing in the world to measure the number of cigarettes smoked, the amount of smoking that goes on, and the effect of an advertising ban over a particular period. However, given that cigarettes are so addictive, such impact will take time. Changing the culture of smoking that exists among many young people—sadly, it is increasing among young women—will take time. However, we have to start changing it, and this Bill constitutes a very good start.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): It is a long time since we considered the Bill in Committee. It was first promised in the governing party's 1997 general election manifesto, and it seems to be taking a very long time for it to reach the statute book. None the less, it is my pleasure to welcome the Minister to her relatively new position. The Committee that considered this Bill was one of the few places in which we could get away from her hyperactivity in health matters, but she is certainly welcome to join us. I also take this opportunity to pay tribute to her predecessor, the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), who did a fantastic job on this Bill in particular and who is

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regarded as an excellent Minister. She did not deserve her fate of being moved sideways—allegedly—to the Lord Chancellor's Department.

The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) will be unsurprised to learn that we will not be supporting the new clause. However, because he has been very consistent in his approach to the Bill—he deserves credit for that—it is worth explaining to him why we will not support it. It is important to have an evidence-based policy, particularly given that, by curtailing the liberty to advertise, we are to some extent curtailing civil liberties. As the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) mentioned, we should recognise that we are curtailing not the liberty to be addicted—that is a liberty not worth protecting—but to advertise, so we need to ensure a good evidence base. However, in taking issue—by arguing that one should be innocent until proven guilty—with the contention of my noble Friend Lord Clement-Jones that the burden of proof is on the tobacco industry, the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham uses the wrong analogy. To me, the evidence is clear that the tobacco industry and the associated advertising have been proven guilty. The burden of proof is on those making the appeal; they need to provide new evidence if they want to reopen the case.

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