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Mr. Chope: Is the right hon. Gentleman attacking his own supporters and many others who live in Southampton and work for British American Tobacco? It is a proud company, which exports almost all its products and employs thousands of people in this country. Is he attacking the workers of that company for being involved in the industry?
Let us not pretend that the tobacco industry's bosses have ever been concerned about the work force who manufacture cigarettes. Sales have not gone down very much, but the number of people working in the industry has plummeted, because it has mechanised so much. That was the best way of keeping cigarettes cheap. We should not suggest that the management of the tobacco industry are in any way concerned about the people who work in it.
The Government's proposal is a big step forward. I regret that the European directive was delayed and then stopped, but that is all the more reason for getting on with this Bill. I remind the House that we are debating a product that kills half the people who take up using it. It is a serious matter and we need a serious measure to tackle it. This is a serious Bill, and I commend my right hon. Friend and his colleagues for introducing it.
Mr. Nick Harvey (North Devon): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). I echo the words with which he concluded his remarks. This is a serious subject, since the effect of smoking on a number of health conditions should not be underestimated. The most obvious of those conditions is cancer, but there can be no doubt that smoking also has a profound impact on cardiac health, diabetes and a variety of other conditions.
Liberal Democrats wholeheartedly welcome the Bill's introduction. Our one regret is that the Government are giving effect to their 1997 election pledge to ban tobacco advertising only in the fourth Session of the Parliament. I accept that the first strategy failed when the European directive ran into a successful legal challenge. Although the Ecclestone affair will not have impacted on the Department's enthusiasm to deal with this matter, it may have caused the Government some embarrassment and subdued their business managers' appetite for putting the issue into the public eye again. In view of that, I appreciate all the more the fact that we are now dealing with a Bill that will make a significant contribution to reducing smoking levels.
How confident are the Government that the Bill can withstand any subsequent legal challenge? The proposition that it might infringe the principles of free speech and violate article 10 of the European convention is as unattractive as it is unconvincing, not least because there are provisions in the convention giving an exemption when issues of health promotion come into play. Advertisers of other products do not enjoy unfettered freedom of expression, and it is entirely right for Parliament to impose such limits as it sees fit. It will be an interesting spectacle to see free marketeers in the tobacco companies, and their friends in certain quarters on the Conservative Benches, using European measures to curb the right of the United Kingdom Parliament to do as it sees fit.
Mr. Swayne: The hon. Gentleman must be aware that making cigarettes is a relatively cheap process, with little economy of scale. It is very easy for new entrants to get into the market. That is prevented by creating a marketing economy of scale, with huge expenditure on brand advertising.
Mr. Harvey: That may very well be true, but it is not a matter of much importance. The fact is that too many cigarettes are being consumed, and it is clear that the companies' advertising efforts are aimed at expanding the market.
and that bans had a "useful effect". Indeed, the right hon. Members for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) and for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer)--both in the Cabinet at the time--even went as far as to send a memorandum arguing that a ban was "the credible way forward". Regrettably, as has been said, that approach did not win the day in the Conservative party at the time. However, at least these arguments were being advanced, and being advanced by people in a prominent position in the Cabinet.
Of course tobacco advertising increases overall consumption. What other industry has as urgent a need to recruit new customers as one that kills 120,000 of its existing customers each year--about 330 every day--through the use of its product?
An advertising ban means that manufacturers cannot compete for customers on the basis of promotion. The argument goes that that will leave them only one option--to compete more vigorously on price. Needless to say, price is one of the most significant factors in consumption levels. The Bill's success depends largely on the elasticity of demand in the medium to long term, and the willingness of the manufacturers to trim their prices.
Will manufacturers respond to the ban by lowering prices, as they have done in some other countries? If the same happens here, it is to be hoped that the Government of the day in Britain, of whatever colour, will not hesitate to step in with higher levels of tax and duty and redouble their efforts on smuggling.
Mr. Peter Bottomley: I do not want the hon. Gentleman to lose his place, but I am sure that he will find it again easily. If the proportion of teenagers who occasionally, if not regularly, use illegal drugs--when their prices are higher and there is no advertising--is roughly the same as those taking up cigarettes as their main tobacco product, are the lessons to be learned to do with fashion rather than with advertising and possibly even price? Price and advertising must play some part, but the greatest effect on teenagers must surely be peer pressure.