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21 Oct 2002 : Column 58—continued

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): Would my hon. Friend care to extend the social groups on which tobacco advertising has an impact from the young to those in manual occupations? The evidence shows that the highest levels of tobacco advertising are in areas of low income and high unemployment. The fact that 34 per cent. of men and 29 per cent. of women in manual occupations, compared with 23 per cent. of men and 22 per cent. women in non-manual occupations, continue to smoke shows that the tobacco companies recognise that their advertising reinforces the commitment to smoking.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Before the Minister replies, I hope that she will not be too tempted by the remarks of the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor). I remind her that she is replying to a debate on new clause 2, and I hope that she does not anticipate the speech that she may like to make if she catches my eye on Third Reading.

Ms Blears: Certainly not, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend made an important point, and I am sure that we shall return to it.

Quantification of the effects of a ban is not an exact science, but I think that we are about right in estimating that the provisions of the Bill could lead to a 2.5 per cent. reduction in smoking prevalence. We will keep the legislation under review in case circumstances change, just as we do for all legislation, but it is not necessary to prescribe that in the Bill.

I want to deal briefly with the issue raised by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton). He referred to the sunset clause in the Electronic Communications Act 2000. The circumstances of this Bill are entirely different from those in that Act. The sunset clause in part I of the 2000 Act relates to the registering of providers of cryptography and confidentiality services. It provides that, while there is a voluntary agreement that is working well and fulfilling the Government's objectives, there is no need for the legislative provisions in part I. The key point is whether the voluntary code is fulfilling the Government's objectives. I draw to his attention the comments of Joy de Bayer, the tobacco control co-ordinator at the World Bank, who said:

Tim Loughton: In that case, can the Minister explain how the United Kingdom produced one of the largest falls in the prevalence of smoking up till 1997 in the context of only a voluntary ban?

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5.45 pm

Ms Blears: Again, a combination of factors is involved: price increases, fiscal measures and health promotion measures. All were no doubt instrumental in achieving the dramatic reduction in smoking, which I hope that we all welcome. The hon. Gentleman is as aware as I am of the fact that that reduction flattened out in the 1990s and that, therefore, there is a need—

Tim Loughton: It has gone back up.

Ms Blears: Exactly. The hon. Gentleman makes my point for me. There is a need to take firmer and more stringent measures, because voluntary codes simply do not work. That is why this situation is different from that involving the 2000 Act.

We shall, of course, continue to commission research on smoking prevalence. That is one of the Government's top priorities in improving public health. I therefore ask the House to reject the new clause.

Tim Loughton: First, I welcome the Minister, luckily for her late in the day, to consideration of the legislation, which has been round the houses many, many times. Many of us have spent much time examining it in Committee.

I was optimistic when the Minister began by saying that she had some sympathy with our motives, but she subsequently lost that sympathy and, predictably, her comments were rather one-sided. Of course she referred to certain reports, but she did not mention the KPMG report and a host of others that counter much of the so-called evidence that she produced. Of course the fall in the prevalence of smoking—such a success up to 1997—is down to a combination of factors, but the situation has worsened since then.

That worsening is largely down to smuggling, as my hon. Friends have said, but that does not counter the argument as to why the Government did not go back to the industry to try to negotiate a much tougher voluntary agreement. That was never tried, so the Minister should not say that it would not have worked—the Government did not even bother. If a voluntary agreement had worked, we would not need the Bill now, because an advertising ban would have been introduced voluntarily five years ago. That is an important point.

The Minister made an interesting comment in response to the accurate observation of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) that a lot of the Bill is woolly. Clause 10, if it is not woolly, is certainly slightly shaggy, as it is open to all sorts of interpretation, which, I am afraid, she and her hon. Friends seem content to leave up to the courts. I am disappointed that the debate has again been sidetracked by the red herrings involving the horrors of breast and lung cancer. We all agree that smoking kills and that it does terrible things to our bodies, which we do not want to happen, but those are not the points at issue.

We have heard some interesting contributions, but the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) was again unable to answer my point about the success of the voluntary ban. He wants more extreme measures, including banning price-cutting. The obvious implication of that, I am afraid, disappointing though it

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might be, is that he wants the Government to put up tax. The obvious implication of that would be yet more smuggling and yet more cheap fags being sold outside school playgrounds. We cannot have such a wish list and say, XIt is going to happen."

John Robertson: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Tim Loughton: I will continue, but I shall mention the hon. Gentleman in a moment.

The hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), in wholly typical form, spoke in support of the intentions behind the new clause and then, as he did at every instance on those few occasions when he turned up in Committee, said he would vote against. He then made the bizarre suggestion that we should rely on research from the tobacco industry, which will no doubt be producing research along with everybody else.

The hon. Gentleman also questioned whether we have achieved a full sunset clause, which is what I want, but I had trouble getting one on the selection list. Indeed, I had trouble getting new clause 2 on the selection list, which is why it has taken a somewhat diluted form and why it would give the Secretary of State far greater flexibility. That is what the Minister is asking for.

The point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) is right: we should not treat the banning of tobacco advertising as the panacea for the ills of smoking. It is but a component, perhaps, but that case has not been proven.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Anniesland (John Robertson) again fell into the trap of saying that it is a cheek for anyone to go through the due processes of this place in scrutinising a Bill to make it better and force the Government to justify why they are trying to ban something. That is all we are about. It is not impertinent to want to question the mechanics of the Bill. It would be absurd to say that just because he was not in favour of capital punishment, he was in some way pro-murder. It is entirely the same absurd contention, so please can we accept that we are all anti-smoking but there are many ways of doing it and we are not convinced of the evidence? The Minister started by saying that we should deal on an evidential basis.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) made some helpful points, not least that we do not see the downside of the new clause, which in no way undermines the ban that the Bill would bring about.

Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South): If, because this new clause were accepted, someone died of, say, lung cancer or became a smoker, would that be a price worth paying?

Tim Loughton: One would have to prove that there was a direct link and no one has been able to prove one. Equally, if it were proven that the Act increased the prevalence of smoking because companies resorted to price-cutting and therefore young children were more susceptible and better able to get hold of cigarettes, the hon. Gentleman would be guilty of supporting a measure that had resulted in the deaths, or lung cancer, of those children. It works both ways.

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The hon. Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart) asked what the logic of our approach was but, more reasonably, appreciated where we are coming from and that we are all trying to achieve the same ends. The logic that we are trying to promote is that we should all have available proper research to justify the ban on an ongoing basis. The make-up of the committee is something for the Secretary of State to propose to the House and for us to scrutinise at the time.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the successes in other countries that have instituted a ban but I repeat that the biggest fall in the prevalence of smoking in just about any European or major western country occurred in this country up to 1997, when there were voluntary agreements with the industry, rather than bans on advertising or any other particular aspect.

New clause 2 is an innocuous measure that improves the Bill and its acceptability to Conservative Members and, I hope, all reasonable people. If after three years the research shows incontrovertibly that the measures are a success and that the ban on tobacco advertising has seriously affected the prevalence of smoking and reduced it, particularly among younger people, I will be the first to hold up my hand and embrace it. We do not have to wait 10 years. As the Minister said, it might be onerous to have reviews after 10 years. In a few years, we might be able to show whether the Act and its implications had worked. That is all we are asking for, without even the compulsion of the trigger mechanism of a full sunset clause. We are not trying to undermine the ban. We are certainly not trying to promote smoking—anything but.

This is a reasonable new clause. We think that it improves the Bill, that it will be much more acceptable to everyone if the new clause were passed and that the Govt should be forced to have proper research at their fingertips, available to all of us. On that basis, I urge hon. Members to vote for it.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 120, Noes 329.

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