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21 Oct 2002 : Column 50continued
John Robertson : I will keep my remarks fairly short because hon. Members have touched on just about everything that I wanted to say. While I was considering the new clause, I had to ask myself why a rolling study of the legislation's effects is needed, but I could not find out anything. Perhaps the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) could answer that question, but he obviously cannot be bothered to listen to me.
I asked myself, XIf tobacco advertising does not cause any deaths or harm, why should it be there; it is obviously a waste of money?" I decided to read previous speeches that other hon. Members had made, and a came across a statement that Mr. Philip Morris had made back in 1981.
Tim Loughton: I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not trying to pin that one on me. Like other Conservative Members, I have made it absolutely clear that we hate and abhor smoking and would like to do everything that we can to reduce the prevalence of smoking in this country. To be inquisitive about the measures in the Bill is not to be pro-smoking. Will the hon. Gentleman get that into his mindset before he makes any further comments?
We must stop children becoming addicted to smoking, and the Bill's provisions are a small price to pay if they stop people making money out of smoking. The sooner we stop tobacco advertising and stop children smoking, the better.
Mr. Ruffley: I support new clause 2 and the trenchant comments of my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton). The clause is not about support for increased tobacco consumption. It is entirely consistent with Her Majesty's Opposition's view that we should reduce the number of deaths from tobacco smoking. It is consistent with our public health policy to make sure that tobacco consumption should not increase and with our policy that children should not smoke and should not have further access to tobacco products. It is consistent with our policy that adults should not be forced to smoke, but make an informed choice. It is consistent with our view that manufacturing cigarettes is not illegal, but that tobacco consumption and its advertising should be regulated.
The debate is about means and about creating good law. I genuinely do not believe that there is much difference between Labour and Conservative Members on the issue. The Conservative partyI make no apology for thisis a modernising and forward-looking party and, above all, a party that is interested in good law and in making bad clauses better not worse. That is the thrust behind the new clause.
Dr. Murrison: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is one thing making good law, but that the setting up of a body that has little prospect of showing the effects that it is intended to show is not consistent with that process?
Mr. Ruffley: My hon. Friend is not giving due credit to the thought behind the new clause, which is that an independent body could better judge the statistics than Ministers. They seem to be rather prejudiced on this subject. I say to my hon. Friend with the utmost humility that all we are trying to do is to improve the process. The independent body envisaged by the new clause would add to the debate and the quality of regulation rather than detract from it.
New clause 2 would ensure that the regime is reviewed if consumption increases, and the Government may have to introduce new legislation to extend the ban. We do not want a flawed policy: we do not want the Bill as it stands to get on the statute book, consumption to increase and the regime to continue for ever. We want to have the ability to review what is going on. That is only common sense. It is rational, reasonable and fair. We are saying, XLet's take stock in three years." That is a no-risk policy for the Government, whom I hope want good law, not bad law.
Bob Spink (Castle Point): I am listening carefully. I support the Bill, which is a good piece of legislation. The problem is that it is long overdue. I am trying to grasp my hon. Friend's argument and hope that he will explain how the new clause would help us to reduce the number of young people who take up smoking at 16, 17 and 18. I cannot understand how it would deliver that result and, if it does not, I am sceptical about it.
Mr. Ruffley: If my hon. Friend reads the new clause carefully, he will realise that we intend to review what happens after three years. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham said, the evidence is ambiguous. There are no obvious rights and wrongs. We are merely suggesting that we review the evidence after a period of time.
Bob Spink: My hon. Friend says that the evidence is ambiguous. Will he accept an invitation to join me at Southend hospital? I was there last Friday and there was no ambiguity in the evidence I saw when I spoke to someone with lung cancer who had been given four months to live.
Mr. Ruffley: I do not want to trade anecdotes with my hon. Friend, for whom I have much respect. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham explained, the hard statistical evidence is moderately ambiguous. All we are saying is that we should take stock by having a proper review after three years, which is reasonable and fair. It may well be that after that time has elapsed and after the statistics have been considered, the independent body reaches the same conclusion as my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink). I do not prejudge the issue; I merely support the new clause, which makes a reasonable argument for an independent body to take stock.
The Government talk, no doubt with good intentions, about reducing regulation and the burden of red tape on British industry, of which tobacco manufacturing is one part. That is a noble aim, but I fear that in too many regulations since 1997 the Government have demonstrated an unwillingness to embrace the culture of sunset clauses. My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham is right to jib at the coining of the verb Xto sunset" and the word Xsunsetting", but the concept is valid. Many Labour Members understand its virtues. They will have seen, as I have, how the burden of justifying the continuation of new regulation in many parts of the United States is passed to the Government. A sunset clause ensures that if a regulation is no longer necessary after a specified time, it is incumbent on the Government and officials to say that the regulation is still good and should remain in place. They then have to take the time and trouble to reintroduce it.
We are not claiming that there should be no regulation, but that it should be reviewed sensibly. The new clause provides that if the reason for the regulation disappears, it would fall, and it would be up to the Government of the day to take the time and trouble to pass it again. The onus would be on the Government to pass red tape. The American experience supports my instincts that such a provision would mean less unnecessary red tape.
The new clause is in the tradition that I described of reviewing a policy after a time. If the reasons for the regulation no longer pertain, and if it is an unnecessary encumbrance on commerce and civil society, it should fall. The new clause merely states that the jury is out and that the policy will be examined in future. It could contribute to the greater goal that we should all share: less red tape in British government and society. I therefore strongly support the excellent reasons that my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham adduced, and the thrust behind new clause 2.
Pete Wishart: I shall be brief. All hon. Members who served in Committee or participated on Second Reading will be familiar with the issues and arguments that have been bandied about in the past few months.
The Conservatives' position is curious. I tried to follow its logic at length in Committee and today. I have no doubt that Conservatives want to reduce smoking-related disease, ensure that young people do not begin smoking and want as many people as possible to come off cigarettes. However, they appear torn between wanting to do something positivethe Bill obviously offers an opportunity to do thatand a strange commitment to a curious form of free speech that extends only to tobacco manufacturers.
In Committee, the Conservative Members who served on it devoted their time to, in their words, Ximproving the legislation". They believed that the drafting was sloppy, and generously made it their mission to improve the Bill so that the Government would be spared time and expense in the courts. However, the new amendments may increase that time and expense.
The new clause is superfluous. We have seen the evidence from other countries and Conservative Members have considered it. In Norway, Finland, New Zealand and France, where a full tobacco advertising ban was introduced as a part of a comprehensive anti-smoking policy, adult consumption of cigarettes has fallen per capita between 15 per cent. and 34 per cent. The Government cautiously believe that we will reduce smoking by some 2.5 per cent. That is a modest estimate. However, if only one person gave up smoking through an advertising ban, it would be worth while. Many of us believe that there is something wrong with tobacco companies being able to advertise their poisonous product as if it were a benign household commodity.
At first, I was interested in the new clause because I thought that the Conservatives were being helpful and introducing a provision that would ensure that the Bill remained rigorous and that any attempts by tobacco companies to find loopholes in the measure were examined. Many studies about the tobacco industry show that it displays appalling cynicism and makes continued attempts to flout the rules. It does not care about the health and welfare of its clients and consumers, except to minimise health concerns.
Tobacco companies are getting desperate. Their marketing exercises have been cranked up in the past few months before the Bill becomes law. Direct mailing and free distributions where young people congregate have increased. I do not get out much of an evening, but when I was at the Edinburgh festival a few weeks ago, it was almost impossible to move in some pubs for representatives of tobacco companies giving out free products and exchanging them for half-empty packets to try to get young people hooked. They are shamelessly trying to get young people hooked before the Bill becomes law.