HC Deb 19 April 1991 vol 189 cc717-23

Amendments made: No. 16, in line 4, leave out from `1937;' to first `to' in line 7.

No. 15, in line 7, leave out from 'cigarettes;' to `to' in line 9.

No. 17, in line 10, after `machines;', insert

`to make provision with respect to enforcement action by local authorities relating to offences connected with the sale of tobacco and to other matters;'.—[Mr. Peter Lloyd.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.—[Mr. Faulds.]

12.44 pm
Mr. Peter Lloyd

We have come a long way since Second Reading on 18 January. The Standing Committee met four times to consider the Bill in detail. During those lengthy sittings, it debated many amendments tabled by the Government and by the Bill's promoter, the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds).

The amendments sought to improve the effectiveness of the Bill. A number, however, did not meet with the Committee's approval and we had to start again. Initially, therefore, progress was slow, but the debates and disagreements were always lively, amicable and constructive. I particularly thank the hon. Member for Warley, East for that, and other members of the Committee.

There was regular, constructive dialogue outside the Committee between myself, officials, the Bill's sponsors and Parents Against Tobacco. I admired the patient, persistent and effective advocacy of Parents Against Tobacco. The Bill was much improved in Committee.

The Bill has not been easy to handle as it encroaches on the territory of the Departments of Health, of Trade and Industry and of the Environment, not to mention the Scottish Office and the Northern Ireland Office. I am grateful for the co-operation of my ministerial colleagues and officials in those Departments.

The hon. Member for Warley, East has good reason to be proud of the Bill. He stuck to his guns on some matters and was bold enough to have second thoughts on others, all with the noble intention of getting a good and effective Bill on the statute book. I believe that the Bill, if enacted, will long be a tribute to his efforts.

We are all concerned about the grave dangers of young children starting to smoke. Our health education programmes and initiatives address that serious matter. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet) will agree that education is essential. The Bill, however, will offer young children increased protection by toughening the law and by increasing the penalties on retailers who flout it by selling tobacco to children. It will, I believe, be welcomed by parents and by the public in general and, not least—I wish to emphasise this—by the vast majority of law-abiding retailers, who are as dismayed as everyone else at how easy it is for children under 16 to buy cigarettes in some shops. I am sure that the House will want to give the Bill a Third Reading and speed it on the statute book.

12.47 pm
Mr. Faulds

I feel it incumbent on me to make one or two comments at the end of the stony road that we have pursued over some months.

I express enormous gratitude to the Minister, because I thought at the beginning of the journey that he was not sympathetic to the purposes of the Bill. He shortly proved me wrong, because he made immense efforts to achieve a consensus and make the Bill effective. He has had the additional chore of continuous consultations with, I think, five or six Departments, all of which he pursued assiduously, to the point where enactment of the Bill will change the appallingly unsatisfactory non-observance of existing legislation. The Bill will safeguard the interests of children, who suffered under the previous unsatisfactory position. I am most grateful for the Minister's enormous co-operation.

We have had to yield on one or two points, but, overall, the Bill will enormously increase protection to children. I am most grateful for what the Minister has done and for the enormous help of Parents Against Tobacco with the campaign. I am enormously grateful to the dear Lord for drawing me No. 1 in the ballot.

12.49 pm
Mr. Summerson

I welcome the Bill in its present form, although I confess that I suffer from a difference of opinion within myself about smoking. As a libertarian, I believe that it must be left to people to make up their own minds what they do. On the other hand, I feel that smoking is such a disgusting habit that the House is perfectly at liberty to make inroads into the problem from time to time.

We must bear in mind the fact that if we make something illegal or hard to get hold of, we inevitably make it more attractive. Children's smoking is not a new phenomenon. I am sure that, when most of us were at school, it was not at all unusual for children to go behind the bicycle sheds to indulge in what was then probably one of their favourite habits. I heard of one school that did not have bicycle sheds, where the pupils got together to form a deputation and went to those in authority complaining bitterly that they had nowhere to keep their bicycles. Needless to say, that was not the real object of the exercise.

I welcome the removal of clause 6, with which I would have had serious difficulties as it would have caused great hardship to many shops and shopkeepers. Many tobacconists also run news rounds and sell confectionery; in the trade, they are known collectively as "news-conf-tob". The "tob" element forms an important part of such retailers' trade, and they would have found it a great handicap if they had had to remove from their premises every reference to tobacco.

On the subject of smoking generally, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) said, it is difficult for the smoker who is thinking of giving up to admit to himself that he is addicted—that he is using a drug and that it has him by the throat. It must be because of the addiction that so many smokers are so inconsiderate in indulging their habit. As I said, I am a libertarian, but I feel that smokers have only themselves to blame if the House introduces legislation to curb their habit.

I am talking in particular about people who light up in restaurants. What could be more disgusting, when one is trying to enjoy a meal, than finding that someone at the next table is smoking? The smoke has a way of wafting across one's table, and very nasty it is, too. Just the other day it was my second wedding anniversary which, fortunately, I remembered in the nick of time. Having remembered it in the nick of time, I decided that I must do something extra special, not least because, on the occasion of my first wedding anniversary, I had arranged to take my wife to a local government conference in my constituency. Having survived that, I decided that in the second year I should do something a little better, so I took my wife to lunch at the Savoy. I am happy to say that my mother-in-law joined us.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend in full flight, but I am deeply gratified to learn that the title that he once held—"the most romantic man in the House"—still holds true.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. I am sorry to hear about the discomfort experienced by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson), but I must say that I am finding it a little difficult to relate his experiences to what is in the Bill, and that is what we must discuss on Third Reading.

Mr. Summerson

Yes, of course, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was going on to say that if smoking has such a bad effect on adults who do not smoke, it has an even worse effect on children. That is particularly true of cigar smoke that happens to drift across my table, if I may finish the story, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Smoking is certainly a disgusting habit and if you will permit me to say so, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am afraid that even some of our colleagues in the House when having supper in the Tea Room—[Interruption.]—but perhaps I have said enough.

Despite what I said earlier about libertarian principles, it is a fact to which I am sure the whole House subscribes that young people need to be protected. It is entirely justified that the House should interest itself in young people, and particularly in a habit like this which can be so damaging to them. I welcome the Bill.

2.55 pm
Rev. Martin Smyth

I welcome the Bill and congratulate the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) on his tenacity in seeing it through. As a son of the manse, he has been taught from his earliest days to tread a lonely road and to stick to his point. I thank the Minister for making it abundantly plain that the new agreement applies also to Northern Ireland, just as the Bill is intended to apply to Northern Ireland.

Mr. Peter Lloyd

I am afraid that it does not apply directly to Northern Ireland. That will be done in the usual way by an Order in Council, and we intend to implement one.

Rev. Martin Smyth

I am glad that that is the intention and that the agreement applies to Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Knowles) talked about bear-baiting and quoted Macaulay in that context. Today we welcome this Bill for the pleasure that it will bring to genuine tobacconists, to parents and to young people, and for the relief from pain that it will bring to others who will not become addicts.

Many children are worried about adults. I recently received a letter from a primary school in my constituency which has joined Smokebusters. The libertarians and the tobacco lobby may not be too happy with that word, but those young people argue for better control of advertising and are worried about the spread of the poison that is damaging their parents. My father suffered from the addiction, regularly justifying it on the grounds that, as he said, it cleared his lungs in the morning when he started smoking. I had to tell him that that was because it irritated his chest.

I hope that the Bill will be another light along the pathway that will lead us to tobacco-free air and the ability to breathe freely.

12.58 pm
Miss Lestor

I, too, welcome the Bill and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) on introducing it and on the spirit of co-operation that he and the Government have shown in reaching a consensus on various matters. At the outset, we were all anxious to put a measure on the statute book that would protect children and make it more difficult for them to gain access to tobacco and cigarettes. That we have achieved.

It is a pity that we cannot continue the air of romance introduced to our proceedings a little earlier, although it is nice to know that we have some romance in the House of Commons. I know that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will pull me up if I continue on those lines, however.

On a serious note, much has been said about the responsibility of parents. We must also bear it in mind that many parents who are addicted will be grateful to the House for legislation that may help to protect their children from becoming addicted as they did, possibly when children themselves. It is not easy for a parent to tell a child not to do something to which he or she is addicted. So parents may be grateful for a measure that will help to prevent their children from making their mistakes.

12.59 pm
Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

I welcome the Bill and congratulate its promoter. I am glad that he stuck to his guns and that by doing so he extracted a concession on the—albeit voluntary—agreement. I am also glad that Northern Ireland will benefit from it. I do not generally welcome Orders in Council for Northern Ireland, but I welcome this one. I trust that the Minister will speed up the legislation so that Northern Ireland will not be left behind. Parents have the first and primary responsibility to ensure that their children are protected from tobacco, but they must be aided and abetted by the state, and the temptation of advertising should not be placed in the way of children. I am glad that the Bill will become law.

1 pm

Mr. Maclennan

I add my congratulations as well as those of my hon. Friends, particularly those who represent Scottish constituencies, to the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds), who has promoted the Bill with great skill. In parliamentary life there are few opportunities to legislate in this manner. In my first Parliament I had the good fortune to be responsible for two successful private Members' Bills, but since then I have not been successful.

The hon. Member for Warley, East can take great satisfaction from the way in which he has piloted the Bill. The progress of the legislation will be followed with great interest in Scotland to see how it works in practice, because in Scotland prosecutions for breaches of the law are almost unheard of. The legislation will enable us to monitor through the local authorities the steps that are being taken. The legislation will be live and will not just lie on the statute book because it imposes on local authorities obligations to which they will periodically have to return. That will keep in the minds of the authorities and the public the great importance of protecting young people from a habit that is deeply damaging to their health and well-being.

1.2 pm

Mr. Michael Brown

When the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) won the ballot and chose this subject for his Bill I was very worried, because the subject arouses great passions in the House and a great deal of potential opposition. He faced the massed ranks of my hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham, East (Mr. Knowles) and for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet) and it says much for the hon. Gentleman's tenacity and skill that the Bill has reached its present stage.

I have never had the good fortune to win the ballot for a private Member's Bill, but I had to pilot a controversial private Bill and know exactly the hazards that one encounters. If those of us who opposed the hon. Gentleman had taken an irresponsible route by using the resources at our disposal and occupying the time of the House we could have ensured that the Bill did not go through. We did not do that, because such a course would have been wholly irresponsible.

In Committee the hon. Member for Warley, East went to a great deal of trouble to explain to us the intentions of the Bill and he certainly satisfied me about its genuine motives. He may even have on his side the Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco. I should like to quote from that organisation's document called "The right to smoke: a Conservative view" which was written by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), and which sets out the Conservative view about the right to smoke. The document states: Children, on the other hand, are different. The capacity for making an informed choice exists in them only potentially. It becomes actual with time and the gaining of experience. Until then, there is no virtue in treating them as free. Insofar as smoking cigarettes involves very probable dangers to health, they should be kept out of the hands of children. The only room for argument here is over means rather than ends. Control should be enforced ideally by the parents. But if they refuse or are too weak to do this, I see a perfectly legitimate role for the State. The Protection of Children (Tobacco) Act 1986 is only the most recent declaration that this role has been assumed. I am sure that my hon. Friend would add the Bill to that list. I hope that the hon. Member for Warley, East will not get cold feet when I tell him that I suspect that he might even have the support of FOREST on the objective which he has set himself.

Mr. James Arbuthnot (Wanstead and Woodford)

It seems from what has been said so far on Third Reading that there are two special areas of concern. First, there is addiction and, secondly, there is the danger to health that is caused by smoking cigarettes. When either factor is put in conjunction with children, there is even greater concern. It seems, however, that we shall have to think extremely carefully about other activities that are addictive and damaging to health, including, possibly, alcohol and newer developments that have come on to the market such as computer games. That may seem a rather odd conjunction, but we shall have to consider carefully how far the principles that have been raised during consideration of the Bill should be applied to other habits and developments.

Mr. Brown

My hon. Friend has advanced a valid argument. The hon. Member for Warley, East was sensible enough to recognise that there are those of us who take a certain view on the principle of the right to do something as an adult, but who believe that a line can be legitimately drawn if we are challenged on the freedom of the individual. I do not think that as a result of the passage of the Bill and the discussions that have taken place there has been any disagreement that the line should be drawn at the point where we come to discuss the health and welfare of children. When these matters were discussed in great detail in Committee, we were concerned, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood wrote in his article, with the means rather than the end. There has been some genuine give and take which has been an example of the House and the Committee system operating at their best.

I warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Warley, East on the way in which he has gone about taking the Bill through the House. It is an extremely difficult business to get a Bill through this place, even when there is complete agreement. To have triumphed and secured the passage of a Bill that has aroused fierce passions and controversy, and in part the opposition of my hon. Friends the Members for Bedfordshire, North and for Nottingham, East, as well as my opposition, is a sign of the hon. Gentleman's skill and tenacity. I congratulate him.

1.7 pm

Dr. Godman

I offer my compliments and congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds). I think that by way of the Bill he will be seen over the years to have performed a valuable public service on behalf of children throughout the United Kingdom. I was not a member of the Committee that considered the Bill, but I spoke on Second Reading, when I wished my hon. Friend well.

I speak as someone who first acquired the habit of cigarette smoking at the age of 12 years while on board a trawler fishing off Spitzbergen. I thought that it was manly to smoke. All the other fishermen on the vessel were smokers. By 16, I was on 20 to 30 cigarettes a day. I know how powerful the addiction is. It is not one that I have now, for I gave it up many years ago. I believe that my hon. Friend has performed a valuable service.

The need for the Bill was brought home to me when I recently spent a few days in Glasgow royal infirmary. I had to undergo abdominal surgery. On the ward there were men who were seriously ill—in three instances, terminally ill—with lung cancer and severe emphysema. When I spoke to the men they all admitted that they had been near-lifelong addicts. They bitterly regretted that they had ever taken up cigarette smoking, especially given the heavy addiction from which they suffered.

I am disappointed that clause 6 was removed from the Bill, but pleased with the insertion of new clause 2, to which the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) referred. It is a useful addition to the Bill, and especially so for my constituency, where far too many people smoke cigarettes. During recent days, head teachers have spoken to me about the Bill, and I am sure that they and others concerned with the health of youngsters welcome it. They will be especially pleased about the addition of new clause 2.

I shall subject the regional and islands councils to tough-minded scrutiny in the application of the new measure. It is essential that we dissuade our young people from taking up such a noxious habit.

1.10 pm
Mr. Peter Bottomley

No newsagent-tobacconist in my constituency has complained about the Bill. That is a tribute to the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds), who has not tried to tackle the whole problem of smoking in one go, but has dealt with the new generations of people who need to be saved from a bad habit. The general environment matters and that is why concentrating on obtaining the help of tobacconists has been so important.

I hope that on public occasions people do not speak as though smoking tobacco is fine. I attended the inaugural lunch in the House of Commons when Action on Smoking and Health was launched. When the loyal toast was given, the royal patron said that it was one occasion when people would not be told that they could smoke. We should move away from the habit at public functions of people being told when they can smoke. They should be told when they cannot. That would apply some social pressure. In the same way, public functions should ensure that alcohol-free drink is available; people should not have to ask for it.

On the libertarian aspect, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) on reaching his second wedding anniversary. Having heard of the way in which he celebrated his first, I am surprised that anyone wanted to spend a second with him. Perhaps the only reason why he remembered it in the nick of time was that his wife did not want to remind him. Perhaps she feared that she would again be taken to a local government conference.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.