Standing Committee A
Tuesday 7 May 2002
[Mr. David Amess in the Chair]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Yvette Cooper): I beg to move,
(1) during proceedings on the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill [Lords] the Standing Committee, in addition to its first sitting on Tuesday 7th May at half-past Four o'clock, do meet on Thursday 9th May at Nine o'clock and at half-past Two o'clock, and on Tuesday 14th May at half-past Ten o'clock and at half-past Four o'clock;
(2) the proceedings shall be taken in the following order, namely Clauses 1 to 5, Clause 17, Clauses 6 to 10, Clause 20, Clauses 11 to 16, Clauses 18 and 19, Clauses 21 and 22, New Clauses and New Schedules;
(3) the proceedings on the Bill (so far as not previously concluded) shall be brought to a conclusion at Seven o'clock on Tuesday 14th May 2002.
I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Amess. We look forward to your stewardship and that of Mr. Nicholas Winterton, who chaired the Programming Sub-Committee.
I shall not take up the Committee's time, as the matter was discussed in the Programming Sub-Committee. We propose five Committee sittings. The Bill has been through the Commons before and has been scrutinised in great detail. There are some changes and things have moved on, so it is right that the Bill should be scrutinised in detail again. We believe that five sittings will be sufficient. No knives are in place, because we believe it right that the Opposition should have maximum flexibility in deciding on which clauses they want to focus in most detail.
Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham): First, I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Amess, and I also welcome Mr. Winterton, who chaired last week's Programming Sub-Committeefor rather longer than we are used, as such Committees usually last about two minutes.
A few points are worth making about the sittings motion. We were unhappy that the Committee had been curtailed from what we were originally led to believe would be eight sittings, which became seven, six, and finally five, and that we would have to report to the House shortly, leaving little time to produce meaningful amendments for discussion.
We also argued the toss in the Programming Sub-Committee over the time that we should start on Thursday morning. Labour Members seem happy to start halfway through the day, at 9.30 am, whereas we wanted to start at 8.55 am, as is the normal procedure for a Committee on a Thursday morning. Ultimately, we had to concede that extra and probably crucial five
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minutes and we shall start at 9 o'clock on Thursday morning. Such is the sloth of Government these days that we shall have to go along with that.
We oppose programming in principle. As Opposition Members did not vote against the Bill but tabled a reasoned amendment, an agreement could have been reached to make the Committee rather more open-ended. We have a lot to debate.
The Minister will say, as she did on Second Reading and in the Programming Sub-Committee, that it is not a new Bill. As I said, it has been round the houses. It appeared in the last Parliament, but did not go beyond the Commons because of the election, and it has been scrutinised in the Lords, too. As a result of how our parliamentary processes work, however, what happened in the last Parliament is irrelevant and we must start again. It is especially important to do so because we need to test the Government's resolve in promoting the Bill, which was not in the Queen's Speech following the general election and was dragged back to the Floor of the House of Lords by a private Member speaking for the Liberal Democrats. The Government have now adopted it and belatedly given it their support.
Secondly, we have a bicameral Parliament and, although the Bill has been scrutinised in the upper House, it is absolutely right that it should be scrutinised fully and exhaustively in this place.
Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): The hon. Gentleman said that the scrutiny that the measure received in the previous Parliament was irrelevant. Does he believe that anything of relevance can be gleaned from deliberations on what are in many cases the same words in the same order in the same clauses? I understand his constitutional point about the need to go through all the stages again, but is he suggesting that nothing of relevance can be learned from discussions on the same words just over a year ago?
Tim Loughton: No, that is not what I am saying. My remarks were directed purely at the constitutional position. I am sure that, like me, the hon. Gentleman will have read the report of the proceedings in Standing Committee in the previous Parliament to glean the essence of those debates and the amendments that were tabled, some of which were adopted and some of which may be echoed during our discussions. It was irrelevant not that a useful debate took place, but that it had no parliamentary power when the general election was called and the Bill fell. I am sure that the spokesman for the Liberal Democrat party is well aware of that.
Apart from the facts that such a Bill was discussed in the previous Parliament, the Government did not bring it back of their own accord, we have a bicameral Parliament and it is right that the Bill should be scrutinised here, none of my hon. Friends who are here today were members of the previous Committee. We are new to the Bill. We come to it with a completely fresh approach and a clean sheet of paper and that may prove interesting and add something to it.
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I wish to make two things clear to the Minister. Slightly mischievously, in the heated late-night debate on Second Reading, she made some suggestions that I want to dispel. We are here for two reasons. Primarily, we are here to make the Government justify why they consider that the Bill will be the most effective legislation to reduce smokingwe agree with that aim. Secondly, if the Bill is the right legislation, will it work in practice? Is it watertight and fair, given that we are looking to ban something that, until now, has been a perfectly legitimate practice in which individuals and businesses can engage?
The Minister put forward two misconceptions: first, that to oppose the Bill is to be pro-smoking and that by doing so Opposition Members will be, in some way, serving the interests of fat-cat, multinational, nicotine-pumping tobacco manufacturers[Hon. Members: ''Yes!''] Obviously, that misconception is shared by her honourable colleagues. It is worth putting on the record that I and the rest of the health team of which I am a part are not pro-smoking. We are fully in favour of any measures that will legitimately, effectively and practically reduce the prevalence of smoking in this country, especially among younger people.
Secondly, I hold no torch for tobacco manufacturers. I have never smoked their products knowingly or soberlythere may have been a few isolated instances. I have been a vociferous complainant about the polluting effect of their products and I have been known to lecture friends and members of my family on the subject. I have no vested interest in tobacco manufacturers and I am sure that the same goes for my hon. Friends, whether or not they indulge in the foul weed.
Our debate on Second Reading was marked by everyone agreeing about the harmful effects of smoking, and the need to reduce consumption and the number of people who indulge in it, particularly the young. All Conservative Committee members would back this or a similar measure if it could be categorically proven that it would lead to the desired effect. It is a question of the means and the end as long as proper safeguards are taken. The Minister had to admit that the target of a reduction in smoking of 2.5 per cent., as outlined in the explanatory notes, is entirely arbitrary. We do not have scientific proof of it and the Government need to make such an argument watertight. We have yet to be convinced, but I hope that by the end of our proceedings we will be.
The Chairman: Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are discussing the programme resolution and that we are straying away from it. In fact, it seems that we are having the Second Reading debate again. He should comment more closely on the resolution.
Tim Loughton: I am grateful, Mr. Amess, and I will, of course, follow your guidance. As the Second Reading was such an awesome event, we are hoping to repeat some of its highlights at the beginning of the Committee stage.
With regard to programming, we have concerns about the amount of time that has been allotted to the Committee in which to deal with certain areas: the
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definition of what constitutes advertising and promotion, which was not properly resolved in another place and in earlier deliberations in this House; the effect on internet service providers and the implications for publishers of electronic information; the effect on specialist mail order retailersand I think that many Committee members will have received letters in recent days from constituents who are involved in such businesseswhich is new to the legislation; brand sharing, which is still a grey area, and which we would like to explore; and the notorious clause 7, with its blatant Henry VIII powers, that we wish the Government, and the Minister, to define more closely, because it gives enormous, sweeping, broad powers to the Secretary of State.
We also want to spend time examining the limitations on the rights of enforcement officers to enter premises and seize materials of commercial sensitivity and items of confidentiality. We need to look at a new clause that was added in the other place, which concerns the burden of proof and which will arise sooner rather than later in the order of batting. There is also the entire issue of the timing for sponsorship. Although there has been much talk about Formula 1 racing as a big beneficiary from tobacco advertising, I want to look in more detail at the effect on other sports, not least darts, which will suffer greatly from the implications of this Bill as things stand. Is enough being done to find alternative forms of sponsorship and is enough being given to help the sport?
I have read in detail earlier proceedings on the measure both in this House in the last Parliament and in the upper House in this Parliament and it is clear that the areas that I have listed remain unresolved. That is why my hon. Friends will be tabling amendments. Many of them are probing amendments that are intended to tease out of the Government definitions of exactly what they are about. In far too many of the previous deliberations the Minister seems to have been happy for a lot of what should be decided in a Standing Committee to be decided in the courts. That makes for bad legislation. It should be made as clear as possible what people involved in tobacco advertising and promotion in the tobacco industryor smokers, or retailers generallycan and cannot expect as a result of the legislation.
We want to improve the legislation by examining the areas that I have mentioned and by getting clarification from the Minister.