Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Wilshire: I am happy to clarify the matter. I agree that proprietors and editors have some responsibility. The debate is about how much responsibility they have. I was trying to persuade the hon. Lady that, for some proprietors, it is physically

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impossible to do the checking necessary to fulfil the requirement. It seems to me that there is a need for further thought on the matter. If she would like to reflect on it, I suspect that she may agree that we have identified an issue that could well be considered on Report.

Yvette Cooper: Obviously, I am happy to reconsider the matter before Report stage, but I do not see that there is an issue to be addressed. The principle is clear. Defences are set out in clause 5, because it is right that people who are unaware of the purpose and effect of the advertisements should have a defence. Equally, it is right that we ensure in clause 3 that people take responsibility for their decisions.

Mr. Wilshire: I am grateful to the Minister for saying that she will reflect on the matter. However, I am disappointed that she then said that she did not see any need to take it further. Perhaps if I press her a little further, she may change her mind.

We do not disagree that proprietors have a responsibility in the matter—that is obvious. The Minister said that there was a defence if the purpose or effect of what was in the publication were not clear, but that there was no defence in saying ''I didn't know it was there.'' I am asking her to reflect on the level in the organisation that owns that publication at which responsibility should lie. As far as this provision is concerned, responsibility is vested purely in the proprietor, not in someone designated by the proprietor to have responsibility for checking what is in the publication.

That might sound like splitting hairs, but the measure is impractical in the global media industry. We have only to consider what has happened to local newspapers, probably in all our constituencies—they have been swallowed up in ever larger organisations so that one or two companies in this country now own literally thousands of daily, weekly, monthly and bi-monthly publications. It is nonsense to suggest that the proprietor is the person to be held responsible for checking the contents.

I ask the Minister to consider providing that it will be a defence for a proprietor to say that the person in their organisation responsible for that is X—that that is X's delegated job and that the responsibility for not doing that job therefore lies with X. Alternatively, we could provide that it is a defence if a proprietor has a procedure in place. Those were my suggestions. Neither of them was put in legal terms, but there is an issue there to which I hope we can return on Report when the Minister has had a chance to reflect on and clarify the clause.

Tim Loughton: In my brief introduction, I said that I was happy not to press the amendment, to move the Committee on. However, the Minister then gave a rather longer answer and the matter went further. My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne made some pertinent comments, which raised further questions that the Minister has offered to go away and examine. There is clearly more to the clause than we had thought, but if we can have a short debate on clause stand part, I shall not press the amendment. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Tim Loughton: We should like the Minister to clarify some brief points, which I am sure can be easily answered. Clause 3(b) refers to

    ''any person who (directly or indirectly) procured the inclusion of the advertisement''.

In my experience, ''procured'' is not a very parliamentary term. I have not seen it used in other Bills. Can the Minister elaborate on what procuring will mean in the context of this Bill? I would have thought that it throws up a whole host of possibilities.

Under clause 3(c),

    ''any person who sells the publication, or offers it for sale, or otherwise makes it available to the public, is guilty of an offence.''

I believe that concerns about that were raised in another place. Logically, we are talking there about paper boys or girls, who could be guilty of distributing something that contains a tobacco advertisement. They might see that, but have no knowledge that the law prohibits it. In reality, they are at the bottom of the responsibility chain. The culpability should lie with the newsagent selling the newspaper, periodical or

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magazine being distributed by the paper boy or girl, and, above that, with the publisher, printer and other people whom we have discussed. I should like some assurances about where the cut-off point is. Common sense dictates that such people, in the lower echelons of the dissemination process, should not be included but, strictly speaking, under the clause as worded, they would be.

Mr. Wilshire: I have a couple of arguments that, again, may sound like nit-picking requests for definitions, but I should like them to be on the record. What does the Minister mean by ''proprietor''? Most organisations that are likely to fall foul of the legislation will be limited companies of some kind, which will have a separate legal identity. Are we saying that the proceedings will be taken against the company? I think that we can reasonably leave the shareholders out of that for the moment, although that might need to be cleared up too. Or, will proceedings be against the directors of the company? The penalties, under clause 16—

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Amess, Mr. David (Chairman)
Bailey, Mr.
Barret, John
Cooper, Yvette
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flook, Mr.
Hall, Mr. Mike
Harris, Dr. Evan
Hopkins, Mr.
Khabra, Mr.
Loughton, Tim
Mallaber, Judy
Moffatt, Laura
Murphy, Mr. Jim
Robertson, John
Ruffley, Mr.
Taylor, David
Turner, Dr. Desmond
Ward, Ms
Wilshire, Mr.
Wishart, Pete

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Prepared 9 May 2002