HC Deb 18 January 1991 vol 183 cc1123-61

Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second Time.

11.34 am
Sir Trevor Skeet

Before the statement, I was about to give some figures in answer to the allegation that smoking among children under the age of 16 was increasing—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Will hon. Members who are not remaining in the Chamber please leave quietly?

Sir Trevor Skeet

The figures that I was about to give are from the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys in July 1989. The figures for boys who smoke at least one cigarette per week was 11 per cent. in 1982; 13 per cent. in 1984—after which the figures fall away fast—7 per cent. in 1986; and 7 per cent. in 1988. That analysis shows that in fact fewer young people are smoking. As there are fewer young people in the country, it means that between 1984 and 1988 the reduction in the number of young people smoking was close to 50 per cent.

Mr. Faulds

I did not intend to intervene again, because I had my whack this morning, but I think that the latest figures prove that although smoking has declined among boys under the age of 16, among girls under the age of 16 it has risen remarkably.

Sir Trevor Skeet

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman, who was right to intervene. I shall give the figures for girls. In 1982, 1984, 1986, and 1988, they were 11, 13, 12 and then down to 9 per cent. respectively. The trend tends to be downwards.

There are so many disincentives to the selling of tobacco that it is not surprising that the numbers are falling both for adults and for younger people. The Government are funding the anti-smoking campaign; there are social embargoes in many parts of the country —such as on the tubes, where one cannot smoke—there are health warnings on packets; there is a ban on TV advertising and, of course, there is increased taxation on cigarettes. All those, together with the right of parents to try to persuade their children not to smoke, mean that the penny is beginning to drop in the United Kingdom that the abandonment of heavy smoking is a good idea.

I began with the general argument that it would be useful to have good legislation, but not necessarily a Bill as lengthy as this one. Clause 1(1) (a) deals with the straight sale of tobacco to children under 16. That is already covered by section 1 of the 1933 Act. New section 7(1B) to (1D) covers vending machines. That is already covered by section 7(2) of the 1933 Act. Although it is right that penalties should be increased over time, it is enforcement, not penalties, that matters. The Criminal Justice Bill is now before the House, and I understand that if fines are inadequate, they can be increased on appeal. However, I accept that there may be a simple argument about penalties.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

I do not wish to comment on what one might call the English element of the Bill. I have been approached by a number of voluntary organisations of one sort or another in Scotland, urging me to support the Bill because of the inadequacies and deficiencies in the 1937 Scottish Act dealing with this sort of offence.

Sir Trevor Skeet

I believe that we need a modification of the 1933 and 1963 Acts, but not an entirely new Bill of nine clauses. We can be as sure as we can when dealing with human nature that, our having put certain safeguards into legislation, outside agencies such as the education system, and also the parents, can be left to do the rest.

Proposed new sections (1G) and (1H) apply to local authorities—the original legislation was set out in the Children and Young Persons Act 1933—and are comparable to previous provisions. The new sections are spelt out at some length in the Bill. One of the difficulties is that I can see enormous departments being created in all local authorities throughout the United Kingdom. This consequence has not been costed. Whether we have a rating system or a community charge, there will be an extremely heavy lift.

Clause 2 deals with the Scottish system. It is largely a repetition of what has gone before and of what I have said.

Clause 4 deals with warning statements. There is a voluntary arrangement involving the industry and the Government, and apparently it is working remarkably well. I understand that the arrangement can be renegotiated from time to time. I should have thought that that was sufficient.

There is a voluntary arrangement with the Government that bears on advertisements. If my hon. Friend the Minister tells us of his thoughts about that, I should like to know whether he is dissatisfied with the arrangements that now exist. Am I not right in assuming that in the EEC the Commission is negotiating for a new approach to the matter? If it comes to a diktat that will have to be complied with in the United Kingdom, we shall have to introduce legislation here, making it unnecessary, apparently, for further things to be done.

When we examine the Bill carefully we find that most of its provisions are to be found elsewhere. As I have emphasised, it is most important that it should be recognised that modifications to the existing law would provide a much better solution.

Surely the tobacco industry is not altogether bad. It collects about £5 billion per annum in taxation for the United Kingdom, and that money is spent on education and the health service, for example. It employs, in areas of high unemployment, about 16,500 workers. I should hate to think that these people are to be dispersed. One has the opportunity to smoke or the opportunity to renounce smoking. I agree with the argument that has been deployed by the hon. Member for Warley, East that children under 16 should not smoke, and there is a law to prevent that. I should have thought that while accepting the principle it is not necessary to accept the Bill. I do not, however, intend to vote against its provisions.

11.43 am
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I understand part of the argument that has been presented by the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet). The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) said that those who have constituency interests should speak honestly about them. Like the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), I have part of the tobacco industry in my constituency. There are also many tobacco retailers, and they are concerned about the Bill. The hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North referred to the contribution that is made by the tobacco industry through taxation. It seems a somewhat false approach that we should increase taxes on the British tobacco industry and allow cheap imports to enter the United Kingdom from overseas to destroy jobs here. Perhaps the Government should try to diversify jobs instead of continuing to penalise the home industry by permitting cheap imports from overseas. That, however, does not reflect on the purpose of the Bill.

The aim or purpose of the Bill is to clarify current legislation on under-age smoking. The red herring has been trailed that retailers cannot identify individuals' ages. That reinforces an argument that I have advanced on more than one occasion. The sooner we have an identity system so that publicans and others who presently hide behind their responsibilities will be left with no excuse, the better it will be. With the introduction of an identity system, they would be able to say, "Where is your ID?" I understand that there are so-called libertarians who do not like that idea. The harsh reality is that many of us carry IDs of various descriptions.

Mrs. Gorman

The hon. Gentleman has raised a fundamental principle. Do people belong to the state or does the state belong to the people? Why should people be identified by a card? If someone makes a mistake in judging a person's age, why should he be punished? Why should a penalty be imposed upon him for, of all things, wrongly identifying the age of a purchaser of any product?

Rev. Martin Smyth

I understand the hon. Lady's fight for so-called liberties. I believe, however, that the state has certain rights to restrict liberties. The hon. Lady might like to drive on the wrong side of the road because that is more acceptable to her, but we must recognise that the state has a right to legislate for the social well-being of its citizens.

We are dealing with one of the greatest problems that affect our society, which is one of addiction.

Mr. Stern

I wish to pursue the argument which the hon. Gentleman has advanced, which I find horrifying. Even the proponents of identity cards, with whom I do not agree, have not suggested so far the enforced carrying of a pass for adults. The hon. Gentleman appears to be suggesting that children should be the subject of such enforcement. Should we send children of 11 years to correction houses for failing to carry an identity card? The proposal is monstrous.

Rev. Martin Smyth

The opponents of the Bill have a tremendous habit of trailing red herrings. Anyone who heard what the hon. Gentleman claims that I said will have a wonderful job searching the pages of Hansard to find such words. There is no point in putting up Aunt Sallies to defend a hopeless case. We do not propose that children of 11 years should be given identity cards. I was talking about adults. If an adult has an identity card, he or she can show it. There is no question of compulsory carrying of such cards. We do not have compulsorily to carry with us our driving licences, but we are required from time to time to produce them to show that we have them.

All of us have probably been tempted to smoke. Some of us, in our youth, discovered that smoking cinnamon sticks was a way of avoiding smoking Wills or other products. The hon. Member for Billericay and others say that the law is there to be enforced and that if it is not, it is possible to bring a civil action. The harsh reality and the tragedy is that authorities throughout the country are trying to place on individuals the responsibility of upholding and maintaining the law. The authorities should be setting standards and upholding and maintaining the law.

I support the principles that lie behind the Bill. I trust that it will receive a Second Reading and will have a fair run in Committee. I hope that it will become law. I ask a question, however, because I know something about the ways of mankind and womankind. There is legislation in Northern Ireland—I am not sure whether there is similar legislation in Great Britain—for the supply of intoxicating liquor to minors. It is not the sale, but the supply, of liquor. Is the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) satisfied that possible loopholes have been covered?

The hon. Gentleman has done a wonderful job presenting the Bill and I accept the underlying principles. I support the provisions that relate to vending machines. It is possible, however, for someone older than 16 years to purchase and supply to a minor. In that way the adult is encouraging the minor to go along the path of smoking. The heart of the Bill is sound, but I wonder whether there are loopholes that many will find their way through.

11.49 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peter Lloyd)

It might be helpful to the House if 1 intervened at this stage to explain the Government's view on the Bill.

First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) most warmly on his success in the ballot and on his usual eloquence, but, on this occasion, the controlled passion with which he introduced his Bill. He was right to choose this topic, as I am sure that his wife will soon bite back her own disappointment to acknowledge.

I should also declare a personal interest. By that I simply mean that, in common with most hon. Members on both sides of the House, I am extremely concerned about the grave dangers of children starting to smoke and the apparent ease with which they can buy cigarettes. I join the hon. Member for Warley, East and other hon. Members in condemning unreservedly those irresponsible retailers who sell cigarettes to young children. It is difficult to credit that anyone in their right mind should do so. Besides being a flagrant disregard for the law, it undoubtedly helps to encourage youngsters to take up the smoking habit. Every responsible adult would agree that we need to do all we reasonably can to avoid the creation of new generations of smokers.

The issue is thus rightly of great public interest and importance. I am sure that the overwhelming majority of people, particularly parents, want to see an effective and well-targeted Bill on the statute book and so do the Government. I shall therefore ask the House to give a Second Reading to the Bill, but, I must add, on the understanding that we shall be seeking substantial amendments to it in Committee. I hope that the hon. Member for Warley, East and his sponsors and supporters will take real encouragement from that. When we discuss the changes in Committee, I hope that they will come to accept that they will improve and not undermine the Bill.

Before I say what changes we shall look for, it might be helpful if I described the current law and set out what measures the Government are taking to encourage children not to take up smoking. I shall then place on record our reservations about some of the Bill's provisions.

The sale of cigarettes to children under 16 has been illegal since 1904. The current legislation is the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 and, in Scotland, the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937, both as amended by the Protection of Children (Tobacco) Act 1986. The 1986 Act extended the ban on sales of cigarettes to all products containing tobacco, including those intended for oral or nasal use. That was necessary because of the introduction of new forms of tobacco, particularly sachets containing oral snuff that could be attractive to children.

Mr. Michael Brown

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Government were unsuccessful in the High Court before Christmas in a case concerning Skoal Bandits? The sale of that product was banned by the Government under regulation, but their decision was not upheld in the High Court. Can my hon. Friend say whether the Government are to appeal?

Mr. Lloyd

I am not familiar with the details of that judgment, so I shall have to inform my hon. Friend of the Government's detailed intentions in another way.

Research has shown that most smokers take up regular smoking before the age of 18. That point was well made by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton), who I know has always taken an active interest in this problem. In 1988 in England, for example, 17 per cent. of 15-year-old-boys and 22 per cent. of 15-year-old-girls were smoking regularly. However, the same survey showed that regular smoking among boys aged 11 to 15 had dropped from 13 per cent. in 1984 to 7 per cent. in 1988 and, among girls, from 13 per cent. in 1984 to 9 per cent. in 1988. The most recent evidence we have suggests that teenage smoking remains at around the 1988 level. Similar patterns are found in the rest of the United Kingdom.

The Government are anxious to reduce those figures further. In 1989, for example, the Department of Health and the Health Education Authority announced the launch of a campaign to bring down the level of teenage smoking. The campaign's main objective is to cut by one third the number of teenagers who smoke regularly. It is hoped to achieve that target by publicity campaigns to influence children and to gain public support. The active backing of schools, local education authorities, health authorities and other national and local organisations is of course a vital ingredient—a point well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet) in his sensible speech.

A considerable health education effort directed towards teenage smoking is also undertaken in Scotland. In Wales, the campaign against smoking is carried out on many fronts, including the Health Promotion Authority for Wales and voluntary organisations such as ASH—Action on Smoking and Health.

The measures in the Bill concentrate on the supply side. They seek to prevent access by children to cigarettes. That is important, but I am sure the hon. Member for Warley, East would agree that that cannot be the whole answer. History suggests that supply side control strategies such as prohibition are never enough in themselves. We must look at the demand side as well, and that is why the Government are supporting health education programmes.

The responsibility for discouraging young people from smoking cannot lie exclusively with the Government. A recent report commissioned by the Department of Health concluded that two of the most important factors in young people starting to smoke were smoking by parents and smoking by older brothers and sisters. As long as adults continue to smoke, some children will want to experiment with the habit.

I am sure that the demand side initiatives will have the full support of everyone in the House and of Parents Against Tobacco, which launched its own programme last year with the backing of many right hon. and hon. Members. I applaud its campaign. I have met representatives of Parents Against Tobacco on two occasions in the past six months and we had useful and wide-ranging discussions on tackling the problem of the sale of cigarettes to young children.

As I said earlier, there have been some encouraging signs in the drop in the number of young children who are regular smokers. However, the illegal sale of tobacco to children under 16 remains a serious problem. Research has shown that most children who smoke obtain their cigarettes from shops and that those who try to obtain their cigarettes in that way are too frequently successful. It is therefore clear that the law is being flouted by a significant number of retailers. The evidence suggests that the problem is more acute in smaller outlets rather than in supermarkets or off-licences.

Last year, I announced that it was the Government's intention to strengthen the law banning the sale of tobacco to children under 16. The change in the law that I have particularly in mind is designed to clarify and strengthen the responsibilities of retailers in complying with the law in this area. I therefore intend to seek in Committee an amendment to section 7 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 by removing the rather imprecise "apparently" and substituting a statutory defence where the defendant retailer can show that he did not know, and had no reasonable cause to believe, that the person in question was under 16.

A change of that kind would clarify and strengthen the enforcement of section 7 by removing from the offence the criterion of whether the customer is apparently under 16, and making it clear that the offence is committed where the person is actually under 16, but allowing a defence where the retailer has acted in genuine good faith. That is far from a modest change; indeed, it is one which I am confident will make this law far more effective in practice. It has an excellent precedent in the reformed liquor licensing legislation, where the numbers of prosecutions of licensees who sold alcohol to people under 18 increased significantly when the law was tightened in a similar way a few years ago. I hope that the hon. Member for Warley, East will be glad to include such a change in his Bill, and I am sure that he will. Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill contain effectively identical amendments to the existing legislation in England, Wales and Scotland. There are no specifically different Scottish issues here and my comments apply equally to the proposals in both clauses.

Sir Trevor Skeet

When dealing with vending machines, which are included in new section 7(1B) to (1D), could not my hon. Friend amend section 7(2) of the 1933 Act as he has said that he wants to amend section 7(1)?

Mr. Lloyd

I shall come to vending machines later. I understand my hon. Friend's question. Indeed, if he is making the point that I think he is making, it is a very good suggestion.

Dr. Godman

Will the Minister confirm the definition in the Bill, on the second line of page 4, that "premises" include, among other things, moveable structures? Would a passenger ferry be included in the definition of a moveable structure?

Mr. Lloyd

Subject to further cogitation, I believe that a ferry would come under the law, assuming that that ferry was in a place to which English or Scottish law extended.

Clause 2 fails to take account of the prosecution system in Scotland, which should be of interest to the hon. Member for Warley, East. Prosecutions there are brought by the procurator fiscal and not by the local authority.

In regard to the remarks made by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), the Bill applies to Northern Ireland, and I am glad that it does. As he suggested, perhaps we should mention local authorities in Northern Ireland as well.

I am afraid that I cannot support the Bill's proposals on penalties as they stand. The Bill proposes to increase the maximum penalty for selling tobacco to children from £400 to £2,000. Level 3 fines have been £400 and I believe that that is the right maximum level of offences such as this, which threaten health and safety but where the threat is not immediately dangerous. The fact that the highest fine imposed in 1989 was £250 tends to show that the courts find the current maximum more than sufficient. However, as a result of the general uprating in the standard scale of fines in the Criminal Justice Bill, the maximum fine for a level 3 offence will increase to £1,000. That Bill is before the House at the moment.

I hope that the Bill's sponsors will not be disappointed by that. When I met Parents Against Tobacco we spoke about the maximum penalty for selling tobacco to the under-aged and we were at one that it should increase. A figure of £2,000 was discussed, but, in my recollection, it was not agreed. I wrote to PAT last November and explained that it was difficult to justify increasing the maximum level of fine when the present maximum was so rarely used. More particularly, we needed to ensure, wherever possible, that new or amended penalties are not incompatible with existing offences of a similar gravity.

Offences that fall into the same category as selling tobacco to children include supplying an air weapon to a person under 14. Another example is selling alcohol to a person under 18. Those are all broadly similar offences and it would be wrong to single out the illegal sale of tobacco as warranting a higher maximum penalty and to impose a fine equivalent to that of a level 5 offence such as selling a firearm to an under-age child. I hope that we can agree on the uprating to £1,000 which will automatically be achieved under the Criminal Justice Bill.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

While I accept those parallels, is not there a case for possible compromise here? The lower figure that the Minister suggests could be relevant in a first offence and the higher figure suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) could be relevant in repeat offences, so that we get at the retailer who does not take proper care.

Mr. Lloyd

There is a similar difficulty with the level of offence in the proposals for enhanced and daily penalties. Most enhanced penalties for some re-offences have been abolished. Both enhanced and daily penalties place an emphasis on repetition, which tends to be at odds with the approach in the Criminal Justice Bill for the penalty to reflect the gravity of the offence and not the offender's record.

The Bill provides for magistrates or sheriffs to impose fines of up to £20,000. The normal maximum fine usually available to magistrates and sheriffs in summary cases is £2,000. Extensions of these normal sentencing powers are exceptional and I do not think that they are justified for this offence. The penalty of £1,000 is quite sufficient for repetitious offences, too. Judging by the experience of the courts with the present level of penalty, a first offence would not result in the maximum penalty being imposed. However, I have no doubt that the courts would take it into account if the law had been flouted frequently.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North mentioned vending machines and I also have some difficulty with the provisions of the Bill affecting sales from such machines. Their effect would be to restrict the availability of legitimate purchases from vending machines for adult smokers and to remove the convenience and security of that means of sale, despite the fact that there is no evidence of widespread purchases from machines by the under-aged.

I know that supporters of the Bill argue—indeed, the hon. Member for Warley, East said this—that if over-the-counter sales were restricted further by the other provisions of the Bill, there would be a danger of vending machines becoming a soft target for the under-16s. That is their reason for including this provision and I have some sympathy for the logic of their arguments. As far as it is possible to ascertain, there have been no court orders under the existing law to remove machines because of under-age use. That is certainly not proof of the ineffectiveness of the present legislation, but it is consistent with its being observed. That also points to the effectiveness of the guidelines adopted by cigarette vending machine operators, which require them to site machines so that they can be monitored by a responsible person.

However, I want to consider further the wording used for the present offence of selling from vending machines to decide whether it needs tightening and I think that that was also the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North.

Mr. Stern

I wish to draw to my hon. Friend's attention the possibility that the offence of a minor purchasing cigarettes from a vending machine could extend to areas where it has not previously applied, which is not in the Bill. For example, given the welcome trend of family rooms on licensed premises and the fact that many vending machines on licensed premises are placed where they cannot be supervised by the barman at all times, is not there a danger that any additional offence introduced will need to be extended further than suggested in the Bill?

Mr. Lloyd

My hon. Friend is right; the implications of this clause need to be thought through. I hope that the House, and especially the hon. Member for Warley, East, will understand that I cannot simply ignore the clause's impact upon the industry. The practical effect of new subsections (1B) to (1D) would be that machines sited in unlicensed premises such as cinema foyers, cafes and amusement arcades would have to be removed. According to the vending machine industry, that represents about 20 per cent. of sites—probably about 30,000 machines. That is a much more significant proportion of outlets than the 5 per cent. suggested by the supporters of the Bill.

I do not know which figure is more correct, but I believe that the number is considerably higher than 5 per cent. —whether it is 20 per cent. is a matter we can argue in Committee—and represents a substantial proportion of that section of the vending business. Even with licensed premises, machines would have to be removed from other areas to the bars, placing a considerable burden on the operators and site owners. I feel that we must consider this part of the Bill very carefully so that we know what we are doing.

Let me now look at what I believe—and I think that the hon. Member for Warley, East also believes—is the crux of the Bill: the means whereby it is proposed to endorse these measures. As we have already seen, clause 1 sets out various offences relating to the sale of cigarettes to young persons; it also makes it a duty for every local authority to ensure that those provisions are complied with. The clause sets out a number of actions that a local authority should take for that purpose. It also requires an authority to prosecute, or take other steps, in every case in which it is satisfied that a person has not complied with the law. Moreover, each local authority will be required to produce an annual report of its activities. Clause 6 also requires every local authority to bring proceedings or take steps to deal with the offences set out in clauses 3, 4 and 5, which I shall come to later.

This is just the broad outline of what each local authority will be required to do if the Bill, in its present format, becomes law. Let us look at what that means in a little more detail. First, there is the question of placing a duty on local authorities. Extra duties imply the need for extra resources and I am not convinced that local authorities should lose their discretion to decide their own priorities. They know the local circumstances, and how the situation at grassroots level suggests that their finite resources should best be used; even if they have extra resources, those resources are still finite.

I think that we would all readily admit that local authorities often have to make difficult expenditure choices, and that would not be made any easier by a piece of legislation that dictates to them that they must keep a constant vigil on the activities of tobacconists in their area. That is not to denigrate the importance of preventing children from taking the first steps towards what may become a lifetime's habit—far from it. However, we need to consider the matter rationally in the light of other calls on local authorities' time and money, which are equally important.

Can we, at one remove, say that this duty should have priority over, for example, the new responsibilities under the Children Act 1989 or the overseeing of safety standards in public places? I do not believe that we can, but that is what the Bill would do and for that reason I argue against placing a rigid duty on local authorities. I was encouraged by the assertion by the hon. Member for Warley, East that he did not intend to place onerous burdens on authorities.

The clause allows local authorities little or no discretion on how they approach the problem. They must carry out periodic surveys of the premises in their area where tobacco is sold; they must investigate every complaint made to them about a suspected offence, serious, frivolous or vindictive; and they must prosecute or take other steps if they are satisfied that an offence has taken place. That leaves no room for manoeuvre.

Moreover, the process must be constant. That does not tie up with what I know of how local authorities handle such matters. It is common practice in several areas of what might be called consumer responsibilities—each in its way extremely important to the health and well-being of the public—for a local authority, again bearing in mind its finite resources, to decide to make an onslaught on a particular area of non-compliance.

It may, for example, resolve to impose a blitz on dangerous heavy goods vehicles. To that end, money will be spend on publicity, spot checks and, where necessary, prosecutions. Such a campaign might last three months or so, the follow-up work perhaps even longer. Another campaign may address the problems of the sale of unroadworthy cars or dangerous toys, or a lack of access for the disabled. The way in which the clause is worded would not allow local authorities to adopt such a cycle of enforcement activities, returning to each from time to time.

Mrs. Gorman

Are not there many other activities in which it is illegal for young people to take part—for instance, drinking, driving and even sexual activities? Are we to ask local authorities to bring in massive numbers of extra staff to enforce the law against such activities? Which of their duties are the most important?

Mr. Lloyd

I believe that all those responsibilities are important, but the level of importance will vary from time to time and from place to place. It is up to local authorities to judge. The Bill, however, demands a constant maximum level of activity to deal with this one problem, at the expense of periodic campaigns against others. That strikes the Government as wrong. Smoking is an important problem, but it is unlikely to require unremitting enforcement activity. As with other matters, periodic blitzes would be just as effective and would leave resources free for authorities to deal with other problems—as my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) suggests.

At the same time as attempting to put a straitjacket on local authorities, the clause leaves the precise nature of what they are expected to do surprisingly unclear. New subsection (1G)(a), for instance, requires a local authority to carry out periodic surveys of the premises in its area at which tobacco is sold". I had supposed that that meant an inspector visiting each of the premises to see what precautions had been taken to inform the public of the law and to prevent sales to children; I find, however, that what is really intended is for children to be deployed to enter shops asking to buy cigarettes to test shopkeepers' honesty. I am sure that the hon. Member for Warley, East, will correct me if I have been misinformed, but that is not what the Bill says; nor do I believe that local authorities would construe it in that way.

Mr. Faulds

In the preparation of Bills of this kind, we all leave certain lacunae that need examining and correcting. I am sure that this is one of them and that we can come to very happy terms when we discuss it in Committee.

Mr. Lloyd

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's constructive intervention. If that is what the clause is designed to cover, I believe that it needs further discussion. We have not debated the point yet, but I do not believe that the majority of hon. Members would want to insist on children being used in that way, however useful it might be in catching lawbreakers.

Mr. Alan Williams

If the clause does not mean what the Minister fears it means, has he any objection to its remaining in the Bill?

Mr. Lloyd

I do not think that it is sensible to incorporate in legislation requirements from which local authorities cannot resile, especially when it is not clear what they are expected to do.

Let me now deal to the requirement in new subsection (1H) for local authorities to produce an annual report of their activities under the previous subsection. I am afraid that my heart sank at the phrase It shall be the duty of every local authority to produce an annual report". Is this to be another unwanted report that is read by only the very few with a special interest in its contents? If it is to be no more than an annual publication held in the local authority's office for those who wish to see it, it will have little impact.

There will, however, be a heavy cost in bureaucracy. That, coupled with the cost of the other requirements, may be disproportionately high in comparison with the number of offenders punished and the number of children deterred from taking up smoking. I cannot accept that the requirement to produce an annual report will spur local authorities into taking action, although I think that we should give some thought to what information on prosecutions and warnings in this regard should be available to councillors and interested local people and parents.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Hicks) made a convincing point when she said that guilty retailers would take notice of local publicity. I must nevertheless also applaud the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), who pointed out that we should not forget that there are many honest and responsible retailers.

Local authorities have the power to prosecute those who sell tobacco to children, yet some local authorities have expressed their doubts about that. I recognise that that may be a factor in their reluctance to enforce the law. In order to dispel their doubt and to raise the profile of the case for nipping the smoking habit in the bud, the Government ought to remind local authorities of their powers.

There is scope for guidance on best practice in this importance enforcement task. That could be produced, in consultation with all the relevant bodies. Although I may be averse to annual reports, I see the value of making a proper, thorough and independent assessment of how local authorities, both individually and collectively, have acted on the advice.

In this way, I believe that local authorities would be assured of their powers and, if given the necessary help and advice to encourage them, would take steps to stamp out the abuses in the area. That seems to me to be more effective than the rigid, elaborate but, as I said, surprisingly unfocused machinery that the Bill would provide. I am glad that the hon. Member for Warley, East is happy to look again at the matter.

Finally, I must draw the House's attention to a defect in the Bill. It would impose exactly the same duty on both county and district councils, and in Scotland on regional and district councils. If one set of bureacracy is misguided, two superimposed sets of overlapping requirements are more than twice as bad.

The hon. Member for Warley, East rightly mentioned the mean and shabby practice, referred to by several hon. Members, of selling single cigarettes to children. I am more than happy to join him in condemning a practice that is deeply irresponsible and, of course, illegal—as my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay rightly pointed out. Fortunately, the evidence available suggests that the practice is rare, but we need to eliminate it completely. I am not convinced that clause 3 helps.

As the sale of all tobacco products to children is already illegal, the effect of the clause is merely to make it illegal to sell single cigarettes to adults. The sale of single cigarettes to adults must represent a very small proportion of total sales. The practice occurs mainly in hotels, clubs and restaurants, where customers are offered a cigarette at the end of their meal.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's contention that the passage of this part of the Bill would underline the House's repugnance at the sale of single cigarettes to children, but I am not sure that to introduce an unnecessary new legal requirement would be either sensible or effective. If it were worth while to do so, why confine it to retail sales? The practice of older children buying a packet of cigarettes legally and selling the contents singly to their under-age friends is just as reprehensible. It is also just as illegal.

The Government are currently implementing the European Community tobacco products labelling directive, which requires health warnings and other information to appear on cigarette packets. The directive states that the labelling requirement that it sets out cannot be altered by member states. If enacted, therefore, the Bill would be struck down by the European courts. We should be in breach of the directive's requirements by requiring manufacturers in other EC member states to put an additional warning on cigarette packets destined for the United Kingdom market. It would therefore be impossible effectively to enact this part of the Bill.

I have doubts also about the usefulness of the proposed warning. It might detract from the health warnings, which, in the Government's view—certainly in my view—are crucial. I suspect that some young people would be only too glad to show their friends a product that they had acquired which carried a label implying that it had been sold to them illegally.

As part of its campaign to inform retailers about the law, the tobacco industry has provided them with warning notices to display in each tobacco outlet. They are widely displayed. The industry deserves credit for what it has already achieved. However, clause 4(4)(5) and (6) ought to ensure 100 per cent. coverage. With that desirable end in view, the Government are happy to accept the requirement.

Clause 5 represents something of a departure from the rest of the Bill as it is not directly concerned with preventing illegal sales of tobacco to children. I am not convinced that heavy action on tobacco advertising at the point of sale is justified. It may therefore help if I sketch in part of the background.

For many years, successive Governments have controlled tobacco advertising by means of voluntary agreements with the industry. The most recent, signed in 1986, significantly enhanced the previous controls. It introduced new health warnings, a ban on cinema advertising and a range of measures designed to protect young people. The right way forward is to continue with that approach.

Voluntary controls provide flexibility. The current system, for example, includes a range of controls administered by the Advertising Standards Authority on what can and cannot be said in an advertisement. This is a difficult area to regulate by legislation, when even total bans can be evaded, as other European Community member states have found.

To single out shop front advertising for such a total ban would be inconsistent with the controls in other areas. Measures in this area may threaten the voluntary system as a whole. At this stage, therefore, my reaction is that the proposal is unjustified.

Mr. Alan Williams

By the time the Bill is considered in Committee, will the Department try to obtain information about the number of retailers who combine the selling of sweets and chocolates with the sale of tobacco? That information will influence our view on whether the point of sale is highly relevant or marginal.

Mr. Lloyd

I am not sure whether we shall be able to ascertain the precise numbers, but I shall try to do so. The right hon. Gentleman's experience will tell him, as mine tells me, that a large number of outlets sell both tobacco and sweets. It is a point to which I shall return. However, it leads to a different conclusion from that which the right hon. Gentleman implied in his question.

Mr. Ashton

Is it not known that tobacco companies offer to redecorate the front of a newsagent's shop and to put his name above it, and even an awning, provided that, say, the words "Benson and Hedges" also appear by the side of the newsagent's name? By providing a free shop front for the newsagent the tobacco companies are also getting a free advertisement. Ought not the Bill to contain a provision to prevent that happening without contravening Common Market rules?

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I shall deal with it later; if I do not do so, perhaps he will remind me.

International evidence suggests that the United Kingdom's approach to tobacco control and health education is proving successful. We have the second best record in the EC on reducing smoking. Only the Netherlands, which has adopted a similar strategy, has done better. Italy and Portugal, the two member states which introduced total bans on tobacco advertising, have not made significant progress in reducing smoking prevalance. It is anomalous to ban shop front advertising while allowing it to continue in newspapers, magazines and posters.

There are further anomalies in the clause. Apart from the fact that, once inside a shop, a child could be exposed to unrestricted advertisements, provided they are not visible from outside, there is another anomaly. A specialist tobacconist would commit a criminal offence if he advertised his wares on the outside of his shop. I wonder whether the definition of "advertisement" in the Bill means that a tobacconist would risk prosecution if he displayed a cigarette packet in his shop window.

A final anomaly—I expect that we shall carefully consider others in Committee—is that the licensee of a public house would be liable to a fine of £2,000 if he displayed an advertisement for tobacco or for a tobacco-sponsored event that could be seen from outside his pub.

We must consider the effect of the clause on shopkeepers. There are many small shopkeepers, notably newsagents—this is the point that the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) made—whose shop fascias incorporate tobacco advertisements. Often, tobacco companies helped to finance the capital cost of their shops. The Bill would make those advertisements illegal and shopkeepers would, at their own expense, have to remove or replace them or to cover them up in some way. I am concerned about the possible implications of that for some small shopkeepers, whose viability is already in balance, especially as I believe that the extra cost is unlikely to help to safeguard children in any real sense.

Many of these shops, whether they be in rural areas or inner cities, are extremely important to the local communities they serve. I do not want to labour the point too much, but I emphasise that, as drafted, the clause would cause considerable dislocation and expense without helping to safeguard children. It would ignore the point-of-sale material in the bulk of shops where children, very properly, buy sweets and magazines. We must carefully consider the clause.

Mrs. Gorman

Is my hon. Friend aware of work that shows that the presence of small shops dotted around a neighbourhood is an extremely important safety factor? It means that there are eyes and ears at street level, particularly where children and old people are moving about, which adds to the safety of the streets. Closing small shops, or making them close, adds to the dangers on our streets.

Mr. Lloyd

I have not seen that formal research, but my hon. Friend makes a sensible point. If the research suggests that, it coincides with common sense.

I have spoken at length because I want to make clear what parts of the Bill I shall concentrate the Committee's attention on if the House decides that the Bill should be given a Second Reading, as I hope it will. I hope that the House will forgive me if that has taken a considerable time, but I thought it only fair to the hon. Member for Warley, East and his friends to give a clear insight into the Government's concerns.

I am well aware of the hon. Gentleman's commitment to the Bill and his determination to get it on to statute book, and he has demonstrated both today. I hope that he will accept that I want the Bill to pass into law, but that I believe that it will better serve the purposes that we want to see—the protection of children under 16—if it is amended. Amendments will be necessary if the Bill is to avoid unnecessary and unproductive difficulties for local authorities, innocent retailers and others.

I shall be glad to discuss these matters further with the hon. Gentleman before the Committee stage, in the hope that we may understand each other's concerns and find some agreement. Indeed, as he explained to the excellent intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North, he is an accommodating and reasonable man, so I am optimistic.

I must again stress that legislation will never be the complete answer. We also need to raise public awareness and to ensure that retailers have a lively understanding of their responsibilities. I should like the campaign groups such as Parents Against Tobacco to work alongside local authorities, the police, retailers and the tobacco industry, in partnership and as a conscience and a stimulus. That point lay at the kernel of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North. We must continue our determined efforts to warn young people about the long-term but appallingly real dangers of smoking. That triple track is the best way forward. Indeed, it is the only way to protect young children from the seduction of tobacco.

12.35 pm
Miss Joan Lestor (Eccles)

I join in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) on his Bill. Most of us and many parents outside the House see the importance of the issue. We are aware that present legislation, however well intentioned, is not working. The Bill's purpose is to close the loopholes and make us all more vigilant.

I thank the Minister for his helpful comments. I am a sponsor of the Bill and I believe that his speech revealed his thinking and where some difficulties exist. The Bill has implications for four Departments: the Home Office—I am here as a member of the shadow Home Office team—and the Departments of Trade and Industry, the Environment and Health. I imagine that discussions will have to be held with them as we move into Committee.

I should like to take up one general point which has been made by some people who are sceptical or who have doubts about trying to control the sale of cigarettes and tobacco to young people because of the difficulty of identifying their age. The hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) made that point. Of course, it is difficult to tell a person's age. One may approve or disapprove of the way in which some evidence has been collected—using young children or waiting until they come out of a shop and identifying them. Shopkeepers can tell the difference between a girl of seven, eight or nine and one of 15 or 16 and between a boy of 11 and one of 15.

Pubs have always had difficulty in deciding how old girls or boys of 16 or 17 are, but there is no excuse for a shopkeeper selling to a child who is obviously under age. It is no excuse to say, "It is difficult to decide how old a person is. Let everyone carry an identity card." My hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East was right when he said that only a minority of shopkeepers deliberately flout the law. Most of them are aware of their responsibilities. When the law is deliberately flouted, we must act.

The hon. Member for Billericay said that children do all sorts of things when they are under age. I think that she said we all did. I was a model child and I did not do anything before I should have. Under-age children drink. People under 16 have sex, but shopkeepers do not sell them sex—that is the difference. In this case, the law is being broken by a shopkeeper who sells the offending material. Whatever one does in other respects, there is never an excuse.

I never understand people who say, "If you do this, that happens, so you cannot catch that person." Let us see what we can do in the interests of children. This is not an anti-smoking Bill; it is an anti-children-smoking Bill to safeguard children and prevent them from becoming addicted to a habit which many parents wish they had not started. The hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet) asked where the parents and the schools were. Schools can do a great deal, but many parents who smoke recognise that they are bad examples to their children. Because they became addicted, possibly before they were 18, they find it difficult to break the habit. We all have responsibility in this matter and we cannot narrow it down to parents, schools or shopkeepers. The tobacco industry has a responsibility.

Mrs. Maureen Hicks

The hon. Lady has opened up an interesting point. I am sure that she is aware of the difficulty of identifying the age of children. That was shown clearly in a recent survey in the west midlands. It was shown that children as young as 11 or 12 were able to obtain videos that were aimed at the over-18s and that it was difficult to identify under-age drinkers. The survey also considered the Portman group's work in introducing identification cards for young people. Does the hon. Lady consider that that reinforces the case that, if we have increasing problems in identifying age, we should examine more closely the introduction of identification cards?

Miss Lestor

I do not want to pursue that point as it is not part of my responsibilities. I do not agree with the hon. Lady. I know that on several occasions in my area, young people have been refused service in public houses unless they can produce evidence of their age. That is not an argument for identity cards, but for saying that shopkeepers and others can protect themselves by saying, "I'm not sure about your age. Go home and produce some evidence of it." I know that some responsible shopkeepers do that.

The essential issue of responsibility lies at the heart of the debate. There is the responsibility of parents to teach children how to avoid harm. There is the responsibility of cigarette and tobacco manufacturers to promote their products in such a way as to avoid the brainwashing of young, vulnerable minds. There is also the responsibility of retailers to obey the law and the responsibility of the Government and of all in the House to ensure that the laws that we pass are effective, that they can be carried out, that they can be backed up and that they are based on sound principles.

It is no good to quote previous legislation that has failed to do what we intended. The Protection of Children (Tobacco) Act 1986 was an example of a reasonable law that was disarmed and sabotaged partly by lack of funding and partly by lack of back-up. We often pass laws—and the Children Act 1989 may be an example—in which we tell local authorities that they have added responsibilities and a greater need to act to protect children, but that we do not have any more money for them to do that. The local authorities that want to carry out their responsibilities are in danger of being poll tax-capped. Perhaps the new changes will deal with some of those problems. We do not have the right to pass legislation without backing it up effectively, because it will cost us a great deal of money. Ultimately, children who are addicted to smoking will cost us a great deal more than the money spent now in trying to prevent them smoking—and the addiction will cost those children a great deal more money.

No responsible or caring parent would willingly place a cigarette between the lips of a child. No responsible or caring Government should stand by while someone else does so metaphorically by selling cigarettes to under-age children. To sell cigarettes to such children is to entice them along the path of nicotine addiction.

I find it difficult to believe that shopkeepers do not understand their responsibilities and the legal position. After today, they should be in no doubt and I should have thought that they were well aware of their position after our previous debate. If ignorance has been the shopkeepers' excuse, we can launch a campaign to ensure that they know their legal responsibilities. After the few prosecutions, some shopkeepers have said that they did not know the legal position or that they were not quite sure about it.

We require that notices be displayed and they should be displayed prominently rather than being hidden behind advertisements for cigarettes, as often happens. All of us can do our own survey. Hon. Members will find it far easier to detect an advertisement for cigarettes in shops than to detect the notice that says that it is illegal to sell cigarettes to anyone under 16. That is wrong.

Although I have been discouraged by the small number of prosecutions, I realise that local publicity is bad for the local retailer. Retailers do not want the bad publicity of people knowing that they sold cigarettes to young children. A prosecution was brought in the area of Wandsworth in which I lived. We all walked past the shop that has been identified and I am sure that the shop lost trade as a result. Although such shopkeepers are in a minority, we should not be soft on those whom we identify as having behaved in such a way.

It is an easy way out simply to blame the shopkeeper. If we say in the House, as we have said in previous legislation, that selling cigarettes to young people is wrong, we cannot at the same time wash our hands of any responsibility to implement that legislation. The survey of chief constables carried out by Parents Against Tobacco shows that over the years there has been confusion about whether prosecutions are the responsibility of the police or of local authorities. Some local authorities said that they thought it was the responsibility of the police because the authorities did not have the resources or, as the Minister said, were carrying out a blitz on something else at the time. Other authorities genuinely thought that it was a matter for the police. The Bill makes it clear where responsibility lies and if it is enacted we would expect to see either a cutting down in the sale of cigarettes to young people or more prosecutions by local authorities, which would be clear about what they were doing.

This should not be a matter of local priorities. It is understandable that local authorities say, "This week we shall look at a particular aspect of the law and next week we shall look at something else" —resource and employment implications are involved. But an issue as important as the health and welfare of children cannot simply be left to be decided according to the priorities of a local authority.

Mr. Stern

I am not necessarily disagreeing with the hon. Lady, but could she clarify one point? If the Bill imposes additional duties on local authorities that will cost money, how does she think that they should get round the problems that she has outlined? Is she suggesting that local authorities should be given a specific grant to be spent solely on the measures contained in the Bill? If not, how does she suggest we avoid the problem of priorities?

Miss Lestor

I am too old a hand to start making policy while on my feet at the Dispatch Box. I am not empowered to say what we should or should not do; it is the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East, not mine, but it is important to look at the funding of local authorities. That was the point I was making about the Children Act 1989—if we pass legislation, we should ensure that it is effective. Authorities will put forward the excuse, sometimes genuine, that they do not have the resources to carry out the legislation. The Bill contains resource implications and I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East has ignored that. There are always different priorities, but, in my book, protecting young children from tobacco is a high priority. We cannot allow legislation and the implementation of previous legislation on smoking and young people to hinge on where they happen to live or the priorities of their local authority—the legislation should be applied nationwide so that people know exactly where they are. We need to be steered from central Government to ensure that children are deterred and prevented from smoking under age.

The hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet) mentioned the responsibility of schools. He was right; our schools do not do enough about health education. When teachers and others are involved in health education they like to feel that they are backed by the community outside and what is happening where the children live, and that their efforts are not sabotaged. Young people are susceptible and affected by advertisements. It is put forward as glamorous and chic to smoke. If we are to have a programme of health education and smoking—I wish that we did more in our schools—we must ensure that it is not sabotaged when youngsters leave school and go into the wider community, where there is not such a keen desire to prevent them from smoking.

Many people have given figures today. We know that three out of four smokers are addicted before their 18th birthday. Young people spend a tremendous amount of money on smoking and little of that is ploughed back by the industry into health education aimed at children. We need to de-glamorise smoking, particularly among women and young girls. The effect of smoking on young girls who bear children is particularly lethal. It affects the baby's size and health and can have other repercussions. Although the effects of smoking on boys and young men are just as important for other reasons, it is very important that we should consider what is happening to young girls.

Smoking has increased among young girls recently. A new booklet published by Action on Smoking and Health, which will receive more publicity later, examines the way in which women's magazines highlight smoking. Although we may be talking about women, we must remember that young girls read their mother's magazines. The way in which young women are being targeted for smoking in many ways which I believe flout the law—though that is another matter—is something we must consider. Smoking affects other people as well as the smoker.

Mr. Ashton

Is it not the case that many young girls are frightened of putting on weight if they stop smoking? That idea has become a shibboleth among young women. They believe that they will put on weight if they stop smoking. Many of them would like to stop smoking, but that fear prevents them from doing so. We need to educate those young women.

Miss Lestor

My hon. Friend is right and I know how those young women feel. I understand the over-emphasis on what is glamorous in our society and what is acceptable. That is another link between what young people do and how they want to look.

We cannot present the anti-smoking campaign for children in isolation, because it is always linked to something else. It is linked to being glamorous, smart, a man-about-town or to being slim and so able to wear certain kinds of clothes. People who promote that attitude have a responsibility.

The figures have already been referred to and I know that other hon. Members wish to speak, so I will not quote the figures in great detail. Reference has also been made to easy access to vending machines. The Bill deals with ways in which that access can be restricted. I believe that those machines should be restricted no matter what difficulties that may place on the industry. We always hear a great deal about how the fall in cigarette sales affects the industry. However, the promotion of the sale of cigarettes and of smoking has a profound effect on the resources needed to counter the effects of smoking and to deal with the illnesses, death and waste in our society resulting from smoking.

The Minister referred to work in other countries and we must consider what they are doing in relation to vending machines and advertisements to see how successful they have been. Belgium, Finland, Iceland, Ireland and Spain have been more effective than we have in dealing with advertisements and vending machines. Some American states which have been encouraged by success in other states are increasing and enlarging their activities in that respect. Similar action is being taken in New Zealand and in Canada. We can consider many examples and weigh up the way in which we should proceed in relation to vending machines and the banning of certain kinds of advertisements.

Another point that I am not sure has been made yet is that the Health Education Authority has pointed out that there is a strong interaction between smoking among young people and experimenting with drugs later on. There can be no doubt from the evidence that there is a connection there. Therefore, we have a responsibility to try to curb that before it develops into something that is difficult to control.

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Hicks) quoted me and it was a good quote so I shall refer to it as well. She said that children who begin smoking have no idea of the degree of addiction that they will face. They take up smoking because they think that it is glamorous and they are encouraged by examples, particularly in sport. That is wrong, because it links smoking to being fit and we all know that the opposite is the case.

Young people have no idea of the degree of addiction to which they will be subjected if they start smoking, perhaps behind the bicycle sheds as my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) said he did. Young people believe that they can stop smoking and that they will be different from everyone else.

In 1988 the United States surgeon general stated that children between the ages of 12 and 17 who smoke cigarettes daily are 100 times more likely to use cocaine than children of that age who have not smoked cigarettes. There are enormous health risks and implications if we do not try to grasp the nettle and curb the availability of cigarettes to children and young people. The responsibility is not just to one group in society; it is to all groups. It is wrong that, over the years, we have passed legislation to try to deal with the problem and it has proved to be ineffective, and we have sat back and done very little about it.

Obviously, there are some loopholes in the Bill. Some points will need to be examined. However, in the past there have been so few prosecutions and the fines have been so low that people have been prepared to flout the law and operate a very lethal traffic. It is time the House took the Bill on and tried to close the present loopholes and so safeguard our children from nicotine addiction.

12.55 pm
Mr. Alan Amos (Hexham)

I have raised the issue of smoking and the dangers of tobacco for the smoker and the non-smoker three times in the House over the past 12 months. I am therefore delighted to be a sponsor of the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) to provide greater protection for our children. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on coming first in the ballot, taking up the cause and speaking so well. There is no doubt that the overriding benefit of the measure will be the health of future generations.

I am constantly amazed that some members of the public continue to deny and refute the overwhelming force of medical and scientific evidence that smoking damages health. That is even more worrying when we realise that 23 per cent. of girls and 17 per cent. of boys are regular cigarette smokers at the age of 15. We know that children become aware of cigarettes at an early age and that three out of four children are aware of cigarettes before they reach the age of five, whether or not their parents smoke, which is probably something to do with all the tobacco sponsorship that is seen on television.

At 10 years, as many as 40 per cent. of boys and 28 per cent. of girls have tried smoking, and about one third of regular smokers will have started before the age of nine. An Office of Population Censuses and Surveys report in 1986 found that the proportion of regular smokers increases sharply with age, from 2 per cent. of 12-year-olds to 23 per cent. of pupils aged 15 to 16—nearly a quarter of all children at school.

We know only too well about the dangers to health caused by cigarettes and we know that, each year, at least 110,000 people die prematurely and unnecessarily from diseases caused by smoking, either directly or indirectly, including people who do not smoke but are passive smokers. That means 300 every day, 12 every hour, and one person every five minutes. That is the tragedy of it. Smoking causes 90 per cent. of the deaths from long cancer, 90 per cent. of the deaths from chronic bronchitis and emphysema, 20 to 25 per cent. of deaths from heart disease, and one third of all cancer deaths. Of 1,000 young smokers who smoke 20 cigarettes or more a day, one will be murdered, and six will die in road accidents, but 250 will die prematurely because of their smoking. For each person who dies from the use of illegal drugs, more than 400 will die from the use of tobacco.

What is more worrying is the opportunity for further addiction and exposure to hard drugs which cigarette smoking provides. A recent survey by the Health Education Authority shows that more than half the children who smoke regularly have been offered drugs and half have tried them. That includes drugs such as cocaine, crack and heroin. By contrast, only 2 per cent. of children who never smoke have tried drugs. The same survey shows that among regular smokers 38 per cent. have tried cannabis, 11 per cent. have tried LSD, 10 per cent. have tried glue sniffing and amphetamines, 6 per cent. have tried ecstasy, 4 per cent. have tried cocaine and crack, 3 per cent. have tried tranquillisers and 2 per cent. have tried heroin. But 19 per cent.—nearly one in five—of children who smoke regularly have been offered LSD and 13 per cent. have been offered amphetamines and heroin.

Incidentally, the survey found that children who smoke not only drink more than children who do not smoke but are more likely to drink excessively and illegally if they themselves buy the alcohol. There is a direct connection. The ramifications of what we are talking about go far beyond just the smoking of a cigarette. That is unacceptable, yet, although many people agree about the dangers of hard drugs, they simply ignore the dangers both of the use of tobacco products and of the opportunities created for exposure to hard drugs. Smoking, by its link with more dangerous drugs, becomes even more unacceptable in our children and it is time to do something about it before more lives are lost.

I strongly support part I of the Bill, which is designed to increase the penalties for the sale of tobacco to persons under the age of 16. I am sure that there will be a lively debate in Committee about what the penalties should be, but I do not doubt that they should be deterrent penalties that people will not want to face. I also strongly support part III, which prohibits the sale of unpackaged cigarettes, about which much has been said this morning.

A survey conducted by the British Journal of Addiction shows that, despite the 1986 Act, which made illegal the sale of cigarettes to persons under 16, the law is widely flouted. The survey found that young people have no difficulty buying cigarettes. Indeed, 85 to 95 per cent. of regular smokers under 16 admit that they buy their cigarettes from shops. More than 50 per cent. bought single cigarettes. Even more worrying is the fact that in 1988 only 27 per cent. of children who tried to buy cigarettes during that year said that they had been refused them at least once. The sales of cigarettes to children are estimated to be worth more than £90 million a year—a scandalous fact. The law is not being enforced if such a blatant disregard for children's health is so widespread.

An article in The Independent on 18 October 1990, entitled Shops 'help children to smoke' stated: More than half of children who smoke daily are buying single cigarettes from shopkeepers who make huge profits from the illegal trade, a report claims. By splitting packs they can make up to £2.40 on 20 cigarettes priced at £1.50 … In a Bristol school 80 per cent. of the children told researchers they bought single cigarettes. Authors of the survey, among 3,513 children of 14 and 15 in nine Bristol schools, say there is 'cynical flouting of the law by many shopkeepers who are acting straightforwardly as drug pushers'. Martin Jarvis, of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund Health Behaviour Unit, co-author of the study published in the British Journal of Addiction, said yesterday that sales of single cigarettes proved shopkeepers knew they were selling cigarettes illegally. Dr. Ann McNeill, his co-author and smoking programme officer at the Health Education Council, said: 'The tobacco industry needs to recruit 300 new smokers a day to replace those who die. Children spend £70 million a year on tobacco. They learn to inhale very quickly and experience just the same withdrawal symptoms as adults.' Single cigarette sales represent easy sales for many shops and are largely undetectable. We have had a long debate this morning about detectability and about the enforcement of legislation. Many shopkeepers appear to have little or no consideration for the health of the children they serve—children who probably live in their communities. The problem is wider than that. Many local authorities simply do not enforce the 1986 Act and some claim that it is the responsibility of the police. I have raised that issue in my constituency with the police and the local authorities. The assistant chief constable of Northumbria police said in a letter to me: I accept that this is an important and emotive subject but in view of the competing demands upon the Police Service at this point in time, I regret that the legislation in question is of necessity given a low priority. The Service is reactive in relation to this offence in that we would respond to any complaint received, but because of the priorities mentioned above, we do not usually take positive measures to enforce the legislation in other circumstances. There have been no prosecutions under the Act at the Hexham sub-division. As Superintendent Bowyer told me I share your concern about the whole question of youngsters smoking, but operationally it would be very expensive in terms of manpower to divert resources from other serious problems to detect and prosecute tobacco retailers. However, you can rest assured that my officers are aware of the problem and will act accordingly as and when the situation warrants. The police understandably feel that it would be difficult to endorse the law, so they do not take positive measures or even attempt to do so.

The duty of enforcement should properly lie with local authorities, which have trading standards departments. Northumberland county council wrote to me last year stating: Northumbria County Council has not to date pursued a policy of positive enforcement of these Acts. The Committee declined to undertake responsibility for the enforcement of the 1986 Act or to approve a Council policy prosecuting offenders under the Act. However, the county council stated: A very real obstacle perceived by the Committee in enforcing the legislation is the difficulty of gathering evidence and proving the offence(s). The Committee was opposed to the prospect of bringing children before the courts as witnesses. All that from a county council which, I am pleased to say, supports the aims and objectives of Parents Against Tobacco.

The current law is no good. I believe that the Bill will deal directly and precisely with the problem and go some way to resolving it. I am prepared to admit that it will not lead to a 100 per cent. solution, but the existing legislation is being flouted or ignored. If we have legislation that is only 50 per cent. effective, it will represent tremendous progress. Let us think positive. Let us not emphasise all the problems and disadvantages and decide to do nothing. Let us do something in the hope that we shall achieve at least half of a total solution.

I am sure that you are aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that, by general agreement, my constituency is one of the most beautiful in the country. It is composed of many small rural communities and, therefore, has a higher proportion of village or corner shops than do constituencies in most other areas. That means that the incidence and effect of single cigarette sales, for example, may be disproportionately higher than elsewhere.

Under the terms of the 1986 Act, district councils were excluded as an enforcing authority for the purposes of the Act. I am delighted that part I addresses that problem and includes district councils in the list of enforcing authorities. I hope that the Bill's provisions for enforcement will make it simpler for the police to prosecute lawbreakers.

It is clear that the public overwhelmingly support an increase in prosecutions and vigilance by the police and local councils. In a recent MORI poll, 95 per cent. agreed that the law should be strictly enforced. We talk about priorities and whether we should have high or low penalties for other offences, but the public regard the selling of cigarettes to young people as a serious matter. There should be some exemplary prosecutions and sentences to deter others from committing the offence. If we set the offence and the attendant penalties too low at the outset, there will be no deterrent effect. The more bodies that are responsible for upholding the law, the more chance there is for the law to be upheld.

Part V deals with advertisements. It is designed to restrict the use of external advertisements on the outside of retail premises. Every hon. Member will have seen the advertisements that appear on the outside of almost all shop premises that sell tobacco or tobacco products. The advertisements usually promote an individual brand of cigarette.

Although it is difficult to prove directly and conclusively—very often nothing is conclusive in science that advertising cigarettes encourages children to start smoking, an article in the Health Education Journal in 1985 suggested that children tend to smoke the brands of cigarette that are promoted most heavily and that advertising reinforces the smoking habit. As the hon. Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) said, advertising also creates the impression that smoking is a socially acceptable norm. Impressionable children are led to a large extent by advertisements The fact that more girls than boys now smoke is a direct consequence of the pernicious and extremely heavy advertising that is targeted specifically on teenage girls' and women's magazines. It is outrageous. The advertisers know what they are doing and they get away with it. The advertisements are designed especially to attract young smokers.

The shady organisation called Freedom Association for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco, which was set up by and run as a smokescreen for the tobacco industry, claims that advertising does not entice children to smoke. That is an extraordinary claim for the tobacco industry's front organisation to make when the industry spends over £125 million a year on advertising. It must be as stupid as it is harmful. About £125 million is spent each year to try to persuade people, including young people and the adult population generally to smoke more heavily. There is general advertising and the advertising of specific brands. The industry advertises because it knows that it works. Advertising on the outside of premises is no exception. Cigarette manufacturers would not go to the expense of creating advertising signs and maintaining them if they were ineffective.

I recently received a letter from a consultant physician at a Newcastle general hospital—a man who obviously knows what he is talking about—who sent me a collection of photographs of just such advertising on shop fronts in my constituency. He wrote that the photographs show the exteriors of typical village shops in Northumberland—the majority seem to carry cigarette advertising. They were taken on a single car journey from Wylam-Ovingham-Prudhoe. I hope they help your efforts in trying to protect our children from the attempts of cigarette companies to increase their sales at the expense of an enormous amount of subsequent human misery. The Bill should be supported because it proposes to do something about that. It will enable children to enter shops without being bombarded by cigarette adverts on the outside of them.

The illegal market in cigarette sales has been estimated at £90 million a year. Shopkeepers claim that it is difficult to tell the age of children purchasing cigarettes and that, on other occasions, they believed that they were being purchased for adults. The hon. Member for Eccles was right to suggest, however, that if one had any doubts one should simply ask for identification or ask for a letter from the parents to confirm the age of their child. I recognise that shopkeepers have a difficult problem, but it is not insuperable.

How does that problem justify the sale of single cigarettes from broken packets? Obviously it does not. The advertising used by the tobacco companies is little more than a cynical attempt to ensnare children for life to their product. As The Independent said, the provision of single cigarettes reduces shopkeepers to little more than playing the role of drug pushers. Every attempt must be made to ensure that the maximum protection is afforded to our young people.

We must recognise that more than £500 million is spent by the NHS to care for patients suffering from largely self-inflicted illnesses caused by the effects of smoking. From lung cancer and cancers associated with the mouth, throat and larynx to other respiratory diseases, smoking causes untold misery, suffering and worry for thousands of people, who suffer needlessly. Smoking also causes circulation problems that can lead to amputation of limbs, as well as an increased risk of strokes and heart disease—currently the largest killer in the United Kingdom.

I sincerely believe that the Government must do everything they can to prevent such suffering by helping those most at risk—children under 16. The Bill will be an enormous help in the continual battle for the health of future generations. As well as investing large sums to promote good health and preventive practices, the Government must support the Bill as a means of protecting our children.

I accept that the Bill is not perfect and that it will be flouted. However, let us go as far as we can to catch some of those responsible. We shall never catch all of them, as no law is perfect, but we should not seek to find excuses, problems and other reasons for doing nothing. That is a recipe for disaster and if we did that we should be abdicating our responsibility.

1.12 pm
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

I shall be brief, because I know that other hon. Members want to participate, and I do not want the Bill to disappear under a weight of words. I want it to go into Committee, so that any detailed improvements can be made to ensure that it gets on to the statute book.

I am sure that the Minister recognises that the Bill has limited aims. It is a minor, but important, piece of legislation. It does not extend, however, to banning tobacco sponsorship from, for example, sporting occasions. It does not address the cheating way in which the tobacco companies invade television and get round the ban on tobacco advertising by ensuring that sporting events are provided with a plentiful supply of banners advertising tobacco products.

The Bill will, I hope, apply only to a minority of retailers. I hope and believe that the majority of retailers are not so unscrupulous as to break up packets of cigarettes to sell them to young children under the age of 16 who perhaps get a thrill by doing something that they see as slightly illegal. We know that such sales are totally illegal.

Unfortunately, we have to recognise that a number of retailers put profit before the health of the children who come into their shops. That is quite unscrupulous and completely disgraceful. It is not surprising that, as has been described today, there is a link between illegal under-age drinking and illegal use of drugs. Once children become involved in an air of illegality, it follows that further illegality will be that much easier once the first hurdle has been overcome.

New section 7(1G) of the 1933 Act of the Bill has resource implications. Although clause 8 makes provision for increased expenditure arising out of the legislation, it is important that the Government recognise their duty to ensure that local authorities have the means, if necessary, to employ additional environmental health officers—who already visit a number of retail premises, many of which sell cigarettes—land to ensure that they have enough personnel to carry out the provisions of this modest legislation. The money has to be there, because local authorities are short of money at the moment.

Yesterday, the Secretary of State for the Environment came to the Dispatch Box to talk about the poll tax support grant orders and he said that there was evidence of profligate spending. I have yet to hear of it. I do not suppose that any hon. Member, from either side of the House, would suggest for a moment that it is profligate to increase expenditure on the work of environmental health officers to ensure that such legislation is applied.

There is another aspect to this issue, which arose because of two tragedies which occurred in the Bradford area, when two teenagers inhaled solvents, and were asphyxiated and killed. As a result, I wrote to my local authority in Bradford and it agreed that the environmental health officers would draw the dangers to the attention of retailers, in case there was any confusion in their minds—I suspect, alas, that there was not—about the sale of solvents to teenagers.

The police have also provided a useful service, as the Bradford South police division has distributed information to retailers. The local authority pointed out that it was willing to try to do this but that resources, in the form of the time of environmental health officers, are limited. That is clearly the case in most local authorities. Therefore, if we pass this legislation and if we wish it to be applied, the resources have to be available so that the environmental health officers—or whomever the local authority chooses—can visit retail premises and ensure that the legislation is carried out.

I see that the Minister is busy in conversation at the moment, but I remind him that the bugbear of much legislation, beginning with the Factories Act 1802, is application. That first piece of factory legislation was applied by magistrates, who did not have the least interest in ensuring factory standards. Since then, sufficient inspectors have had to be employed to ensure that factory legislation is applied. It is no different in this case and we must ensure that the Government provide the resources if they have any intention that such legislation should be applied.

This is a classic private Member's Bill, as was the legislation to prevent the sale of solvents to teenagers which is now an Act—although one could question how it is being applied. Let us not miss out on this useful piece of legislation which will remedy an important area of abuse and degradation for our young children. I will not go into all the ramifications, such as ill-health and even the curtailment of life, because many other hon. Members have already spelt them out. Let me say, however, that I believe that we should give councils—I am especially concerned about the district councils in my area—the powers contained in the Bill. I wish it well and thank the promoters for presenting it so well.

Let me follow the promoter's example: he was succinct and pointed, and, if other hon. Members emulate him, we can ensure that the Bill is passed today.

1.20 pm
Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)

Like the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) I shall try to be succinct.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) on introducing the Bill, to which I give my full support. There is no doubt, given what we have heard from the hon. Gentleman, the Minister and others, that the existing legislation is not being enforced and needs to be bolstered. Sadly, a considerable number of retailers are flouting the law by selling cigarettes to children under the age of 16.

Let me emphasise that, at least in Northern Ireland—and, I am sure, elsewhere in the United Kingdom—there are responsible tobacconists who refuse to sell children cigarettes. When we condemn those who do, we should remember that others uphold the law: we must not smear all retailers because some offend. But unless the offending retailers are made fully aware that enforcement agencies are monitoring the sale of tobacco and are undertaking prosecutions, some tobacconists will continue to disregard the law.

I pay tribute to Parents Against Tobacco, which organised the campaign that prompted an increase in the number of prosecutions throughout the country under the existing law. Another aim of the campaign was to inform Parliament of the need for the law to be tightened.

During the campaign, a petition was mounted, and— certainly in Northern Ireland—many young people obtained signatures. That petition was addressed to Northern Ireland Members of Parliament, asking them to take part in the ballot for private Members' Bills and to support the proposed legislation. I am happy to say that all those young people and the adults involved in the campaign came from both sides of the political divide and from all religious sectors. There is some hope for the future when we can all work together to improve the life of our community.

I met some of the schoolchildren who collected signatures for the petition and was deeply impressed by their zeal and their awareness of the dangers of tobacco to people of all ages, but especially to their own age group. Children are so easily tempted to smoke cigarettes. A plethora of advertisements entice them to take it up: everywhere they go, they see advertisements that make smoking seem attractive.

As we have heard, it has been estimated that 23 per cent. of girls and 17 per cent. of boys aged 15 are smokers. Some try it for a dare when they are that age or younger; others try it in imitation of their seniors—parents, relatives and teachers. Some children smoke because they see their pop or cinema idols doing so on either stage or screen. They take it as a signal to do the same.

The consequences of smoking regularly are grave. I shall not set them out at length, since the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Amos) did so. Smoking is addictive and it takes its toll on the health of a young person. There is a suspicion that cigarette manufacturers want young people to become addicted in order to ensure steady tobacco sales. Many hon. Members have referred to the fact that most regular smokers acquire the habit in their teens. One in four cigarette smokers will die prematurely from cancer and other smoking-related diseases. In 1983, the Royal College of Physicians said: One of the most effective strategies in reducing the cost of smoking would be to stamp out the epidemic at its source—in children. We must make it known to others that tobacco is the primary cause of death in the United Kingdom. Cigarette smoking has even wider ramifications. It is a significant cause of ill health in the community and it places an intolerable burden on the national health service. The health warning on cigarette packets is inadequate. The fact that cigarette smoking, is a potential killer should be made absolutely clear on all cigarette packets. It should be impossible in this day and age for people to make a profit out of the misfortune of others.

The hon. Member for Bradford, South referred to the way in which the tobacco industry uses sponsorship of, say, sports events on television to promote cigarette smoking. Cigarette advertisements at sports events encourage young people to take up smoking. There should, therefore, be an absolute prohibition of sponsorship of sports events by cigarette companies.

All people must be warned of the dangers of cigarette smoking, but, above all, we must protect children under the age of 16. Every year, 100,000 people die prematurely from smoking-related diseases. That stark statistic should alarm us all. We must act now. The Bill would help us to protect young people.

The Minister said that legislation is not the complete answer, and I agree. However, if it resulted in the saving of a few lives, we should have done a worthwhile job. I agree with him, too, that greater public awareness of the dangers of tobacco smoking is required. The Government, local authorities, schools, parents—all of us—must fight to protect young people from the ills that flow from smoking tobacco.

1.28 pm
Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

As I listened to the sentiments expressed on the subject of tobacco smoking I began to wonder what it would have been like to sit here 100 years ago on a Friday morning. We should probably have been holding a debate about the evils of drink and the activities of the temperance movement. Efforts were being made then to stamp out the wicked propensity of human beings to drink themselves silly. They highlighted the fact that children were able to go into gin palaces and that they went round to the pub with their porter jug to obtain drink for their parents. They said that that had to be stopped. The temperance movement and alcohol was the big, bad wolf at that time. Today, it is tobacco. A well-organised body of pressure groups see their role in life as mending human nature by making us cut out the bad habit of smoking tobacco.

I do not smoke and gave up when I was about 14. I used to buy my three Wills Whiffs at the off-licence in the evening and smoke them in the coal shed, not behind the bicycle shed. I did not like it and gave it up. Human beings are perfectly capable of deciding whether they want to indulge in that vice.

It is not true, as the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) said, that tobacco kills more people than anything else. The biggest killer among adults is heart attacks and stroke, which is due mainly to cholesterol and bad eating habits. Will we start banning cream buns? It is nonsense to suggest that tobacco is the worst habit and that developing it young will cause the nation enormous problems.

Ms. Harman

Does the hon. Lady challenge the medical and scientific evidence on the strong link between smoking and heart disease? Perhaps she will make it clear to the House whether she is the one hon. Member present today who does not accept all the medical and scientific evidence, not only from this country but from abroad? Does she accept that evidence, or does she take a different view?

Mr. Gorman

Does the hon. Lady accept the scientific evidence that butter and dairy products cause most of the problems of heart disease and that other products are responsible for forms of cancer? I am not advocating tobacco. I am saying not that it is good for people but that there is something odd about this place which attracts puritans who are pushovers for pressure lobbies that want to promote their views on how to mend humanity's ways.

We already have legislation making the sale of tobacco to under-16s illegal. The purpose of the Bill is not to prevent sales to under-16s but to push the idea that tobacco should be made illegal for adults. We are trying to increase penalties so as to terrify tobacconists into not selling it, because the fewer the outlets, the less chance there will of people, adults as well as children, buying the stuff.

Many other products are bad for us, but it is fashionable to pick on tobacco. I do not smoke and I am not on the payroll of any tobacco company, but it is true that the tobacco companies take their responsibility about illegal sales to under-16s seriously. In the past few years, they have run a campaign costing £3.5 million to inform shopkeepers of their responsibility. Many shops—I quite often go into sweet shops and tobacconists to get my newspaper; they are useful local business men—display a notice saying that it is illegal to sell tobacco products to under-16s. It has been said several times this morning that there is a margin at which a 14 or 15-year-old may look older. Are we really saying that people who make that mistake should be liable to a fine of £2,000 and if they have slipped up once or twice, it increases to £20,000? We do not punish serious criminals as hard as that, but because tobacco is involved we make an example of offenders.

The motives of Parents Against Tobacco should be considered. If they are good parents, presumably they encourage their children to follow sensible habits, but Parents Against Tobacco are parents against those weak or bad parents who do not bring up their children properly. They are puritanical people who want to inflict their view of how to raise children on other people. That is one nasty aspect. They get most of their money from Action on Smoking and Health, another of the Des Wilson category of pressure groups. ASH is given money by the state, as are the Health Education Authority and many other bodies, to put across to the public the idea that smoking is silly because it is bad for people. We have heard about the cynicism of people who sell tobacco, but what about the cynicism of PAT, whose members are using children to get at adult smokers and those who sell tobacco? They are concerned not so much about children as about stopping us doing something of which they disapprove.

The Bill is likely to cause problems for respectable, worthy and useful people in society—the shopkeepers, mini-market proprietors, tobacconists, sweet sellers and newsagents who do a useful job. Selling tobacco is not a crime yet, although PAT and ASH would like to make it one. The temperance people outlawed booze, but people went on drinking it, just as people will go on smoking if they want to do so. The Bill will not stop young people getting cigarettes, because they will get them from their older brothers and sisters, because they will pinch them from their parents' cigarette packets or because they will smoke dog-ends from ashtrays. If people want to be naughty, they will find the necessary means. Legislation does not change human nature. Persuasion may.

Shopkeepers will bear the brunt of the measures. They are not to put up tobacco advertisements inside or outside their shops. Tobacco advertising is allowed elsewhere, so the shopkeepers will be penalised. A shopkeeper who owns a vending machine which a young person uses will be fined. The purpose of a vending machine it to sell something when no proprietor is standing by to make a sale. By definition, the proprietor cannot supervise that machine all the time, yet if a young person buys a packet of cigarettes from one, the proprietor is liable to a fine of from £2,000 to £20,000. The principle is completely wrong.

Even the sale of cigarette papers to people under 16 is to become a crime. We are creating new categories of dangerous products as though they were dangerous goods such as Semtex or poison. The Bill contains much more than is required and is unnecessary because legislation already exists to deal with the problem.

Much has been said about who benefits. The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) said in an interesting intervention that more inspectors, enforcement officers, jobs for the local authority boys and much more money to enforce the legislation will be needed. It is already difficult to find money. The community charge for many people is over the top because some local authorities, especially Labour ones, like to have enforcement officers running around managing the nanny state.

The Bill is actually about more enforcement in our society and it is about reducing the rights of individuals to do what they like with their lives. Laws already exist for the protection of children. The important point, which has been raised, is that although there is legislation—and by and large, it is enforced—the fact there are few prosecutions is not because there are no people to catch those who sell tobacco to children, but because most people who sell tobacco obey the law in this respect. We shall not improve that position by adding penalties, which might be incurred through the intervention of agents provocateurs. Parents Against Tobacco sends people into shops to try to catch shopkeepers doing something wrong.

If the law is to be respected, it must be respectable. If we go over the top with legislation, we simply bring our activities into disrepute. The reason why the Bill will probably go into Committee—and so waste more of our time—is that we have to be seen to be on the side of those who want to try to stop us harming ourselves.

It is the job of parents to see that their children know what is right and wrong. It is the job of the law to see that the penalties are applied. We do not need more legislation to try to bring that about. That is not the object of the PAT people. They are trying to make tobacco in general illegal in the long term. Although I hate the stuff myself and I do not like people puffing smoke into my face, I should fight for the rights of individuals to be able to smoke tobacco if they want to.

Mrs. Maureen Hicks

I have listened carefully to my hon. Friend. Does not she consider that her appraisal of the good work done so far by PAT is unjust? She spoke about the House going "over the top". Is not she in danger of going over the top?

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

That is all she can do.

Mrs. Maureen Hicks

My hon. Friend is totally at odds with public opinion. Has she taken the opportunity to speak to members of PAT to assess their reasons for campaigning?

Mrs. Gorman

The PAT people have made their views perfectly clear. PAT stands for Parents Against Tobacco, so I do not need to ask them why they are campaigning. My hon. Friend suggested that public opinion is fully behind them. How do I know that? I know only what people with vested interests tell me. In the same way, the tobacco industry tells me that it is spending money to ensure that shopkeepers obey the law. I believe that the PAT people can make their own point.

My point is that people have a duty as parents, and parents do not need PAT to prompt them to tell their children what is good and bad for them. We already have legislation against young children being sold tobacco. We should not spend our time increasing penalties for shopkeepers who could sell tobacco innocently to a child who is technically under age. If that happens, reasonable fines are available to punish them. That is enough to stop such shopkeepers breaking the law again. To increase the fines and to introduce the penalties that some people have suggested leads me to question their motivation. The motivation of ASH is ultimately to outlaw tobacco and it is using children to try to advance its case.

1.43 pm
Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

I have listened to some of the speeches made from both sides of the House today and if the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) had not spoken I do not think that I would have taken part in the debate. There have been some superb speeches and there is obviously general agreement and support for the Bill. I suppose that all hon. Members have a right to express their views—that is what democracy is about. But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) said while the hon. Member for Billericay was speaking, she only knows how to go over the top. Like any hon. Member talking on any Bill, she has a right to say why she objects, but she dismissed many aspects of the case against smoking that we know to have been proven.

The hon. Member for Billericay said that we should not bother with what those who are against children smoking say about its effect on health. She said that eating cream buns could be far more damaging than smoking 20 cigarettes a day—and I see she is nodding. A major London hospital, St. George's hospital, Tooting is in my constituency. The hon. Lady must have a hospital in the radius of her constituency. From my many visits to St. George's hospital, I have found that senior consultants repeatedly say that one of their great worries based on their wide medical experience, is the danger to health created by smoking. Of course, we agree that if someone eats certain foods it can be damaging, but nothing has been more clearly proved than the dangers of smoking, which is surely part of what the Bill is trying to prevent.

Mrs. Gorman

Alcohol is much, much more dangerous, not only to the individual but through the number of accidents and crimes that are directly related to alcohol abuse. Tobacco simply does not come into that class.

Mr. Cox

That is a matter of opinion. I do not dispute for one minute that, sadly, as we have seen over the Christmas holiday, if people drink to excess, they are a danger not only to themselves, but to many innocent people. I did not attend the statements by transport Ministers announcing the anti-drink campaign for Christmas, but it would have been interesting to see whether the hon. Member for Billericay took the view that if someone wants to drink, why should we stop him or her from doing it, to hell if anyone gets in the way and is knocked down, injured or killed. Would she say that people should not be in the way of motorists exercising their freedom to have a good drink and drive a car? That is the logic of what the hon. Lady is saying.

Some hon. Members have been in the Chamber longer than I today and they have a right to be called. The hon. Lady made comments against Parents Against Tobacco and was challenged by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Hicks) about what kind of meetings and involvement she had had with that campaign. I understood the hon. Member for Billericay to ask why she should bother with representatives from that campaign because she knew what they were going to tell her. If that is the hon. Lady's idea of seeking consultation with interested parties, whatever the issue may be, it is not a good recommendation for her as a Member of this place. Surely, the real criterion for being a Member of Parliament, irrespective of what party, is to listen to the people we seek to represent.

We all know that there has been widespread opportunity for hon. Members, either within their own constituencies or through the campaigns by PAT that have taken place in and around Westminster, to meet and listen to what people are seeking to convey. I know, as I am sure the hon. Member for Billericay and every hon. Member knows, that we judge public opinion by the sort of postbag we receive. We always know when we receive a postbag telling us that people are not in favour of something. I have received about 70 letters on the Bill, which is not a bad number of letters for one issue. We receive even more letters on matters such as abortion when the postbag swells because there are two distinct opinions on abortion—in favour or against.

Not one of the letters that I received demanded that I should not support the Bill. All the letters warmly welcomed it. As hon. Members have said today, some issues should be discussed in more detail and those discussions should take place in Standing Committee.

The hon. Member for Billericay referred to the persecution of shopkeepers. As other hon. Members have said, many shopkeepers fully obey the law. However, others sadly do not. There is widespread public support for this Bill and we have a duty to support it. What about drugs? If we know that illegal drugs are being sold, should we ignore that because that is what freedom of choice is all about?

Mrs. Gorman

Drugs are illegal.

Mr. Cox

Yes, we know that. However, whether or not they are illegal, we know that they are still being sold. Is the hon. Lady claiming that we should do nothing about drugs simply because they are illegal and therefore should not be sold or traded?

There is clear evidence of wide support for the Bill. As other hon. Members have said, some aspects of the Bill may require discussion. The Minister made the Government's thinking on the Bill very clear. We should give the Bill an unopposed Second Reading and allow it to enter Standing Committee where it can be discussed in detail. That is how democracy in the country and in this House should be pursued.

I was a Government Whip for five years. At times I had to object to Bills of which I did not approve while at other times I had to object to Bills of which I did approve. However, until we have a system under which Bills like this, which have enormous support among the general public, at least enter Committee and receive a fair hearing, we do a grave disservice to the people we try to represent.

I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) on presenting the Bill and I welcome the wide support for it. I hope that no attempt will be made to prevent it going where it should go—into Committee for further dicussion.

1.52 pm
Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)

I should declare a personal, but not a financial, interest in this matter. I am pursuing a fellowship with the Industry and Parliament Trust and I am doing that with a tobacco manufacturing company. The object of the IPT is to give hon. Members a greater insight into the problems of an industry. Therefore, I may speak with a little more authority about the industry than I might otherwise have done and that may be a good thing for Parliament generally. I have the advantage of knowing how the industry operates and the constraints that it faces. Most hon. Members have had the benefit of the helpful briefing from the Tobacco Advisory Council in relation to this Bill.

There can be little objection to the Bill. Its express motive is correct. No sensible person can properly object to decent safeguards to protect children from what is basically an adult habit. The Retail Consortium has made it clear that it strongly condemns the minority who break the law.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Hicks) referred to all the retailers who break the law. We need a sense of proportion here. A small minority of retailers break the law, but we should recognise that the vast majority are conscientious and the last thing they want to do is to sell cigarettes to under 16-year-olds.

My regret is that the Bill has been drafted by people in the anti-smoking movement. It therefore has the hidden agenda of trying to stop smoking altogether, not necessarily to protect children, which I and the tobacco industry accept must be done, but to use children for the main anti-smoking purpose of the Bill. Having listened to hon. Members, it is quite clear that that is the purpose of the Bill.

Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)


Mr. Alexander

My hon. Friend says no. I am not trying to suggest that all hon. Members have that purpose, but many people do, including some of the promoters of the Bill.

I was sorry to learn that, before the drafting of the Bill, Parents Against Tobacco made no approach to discuss with the tobacco industry how proper safeguards such as those in the Bill could be more usefully improved. Instead, all we have had in its briefings is emotive and often inappropriate language against the tobacco industry. The hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds), to whose speech I listened with great care and interest, said that the tobacco industry gets £90 million a year from the sale of tobacco to children. It might have been more helpful and honest if PAT, which presumably briefed the hon. Gentleman with that statistic, pointed out that that £90 million is out of a total of £7,500 million a year. It might have been more helpful and honourable if it had also pointed out that 73 per cent. of that £90 million goes to the Exchequer.

From my study of the tobacco industry, I believe that it has done the most to prevent the sale of tobacco to children. Since 1986, the industry has conducted a campaign reminding retailers of their duties under the law. That campaign has cost £3.5 million. We have heard reference to the poster campaign—"Cigarettes cannot be sold to under-16s. Don't send your kids to buy your cigarettes." What more can the industry do to point out to retailers the necessity to obey the law in that regard?

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health will confirm that the industry has been most helpful in doing what it can to make sure that retailers obey the law and that, as far as possible, young people under 16 are not able to buy cigarettes. That campaign must demonstrate that the industry is aware of the problem, that it is not against more effective law enforcement, but that it is against the introduction of anti-smoking legislation under a different guise.

Much of what is contained in the Bill is already an offence under existing legislation. For example, clause 2 states that it shall be an offence to sell cigarettes from a vending machine to someone under the age of 16. That is already an offence. Most such machines are on licensed premises or are under the direct control of the vendor. Presumably the sponsors feel that there is a danger of easy access to such machines by young children. That may be the case from time to time. By and large, cigarette machines are so valuable and so full of cigarettes and cash that it is made absolutely sure that they are under the direct eye of the vendor. Retailers' biggest problem with cigarette machines is theft. They will not be uncaring about whether people under the age of 16 have unlawful access to them. If there are any that are not properly supervised, the law already states that the local authority can bring the vendor to court and order the removal of the machines. Again, it is a matter of enforcement rather than a question whether the law is adequate.

Clause 5 states: No advertisement for tobacco or for any tobacco sponsored event shall be displayed…within any premises…in such a way as to allow the advertisement to be visible from the exterior of the premises; or…on the exterior… or within the boundaries, of any such premises". That is already strictly controlled, on a voluntary basis, by the industry. I had hoped that the sponsors of the Bill and those who briefed them would acknowledge that.

I part company with some hon. Members who have spoken about tobacco advertising. I do not believe that tobacco advertising has any significant effect on inducing children to smoke. They will not start smoking because tobacco advertising companies sponsor a pop concert or a sporting event. Tobacco advertising is not intended to encourage youngsters to smoke; it is intended to persuade adult smokers to use one brand rather than another.

A report by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys published only last year said that, while awareness of cigarette advertising is associated with a slightly increased likelihood of starting to smoke in the future, the effect is small in comparison with some of the other influences on children, such as the example set by parents and other children.

I have no quarrel with the basic objection to children under 16 smoking. It has always been an adult habit and I hope that it will always remain so. My knowledge of the tobacco industry leads me to believe that that is also its hope. It is the underlying hostility to smoking in general to which I take objection. I respect people's wishes and views, even though I disagree with them. I also object to the intemperate language about people who smoke and the lack of consultation with the industry on how the law should be best enforced. Those are some of my reservations about the Bill.

2.3 pm

Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

The House will not be surprised to see my name as a sponsor of the Bill. It will be well aware that for some years I have been chairman of the all-party ASH group. In fact, I relinquished that office only a few days ago, when I passed the torch to my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Amos). Those hon. Members who heard his speech will know that that torch is in good hands.

I was interested to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) about the tobacco industry's view of its campaign, which I acknowledge, to persuade retailers to obey the law. If it is anxious that the law should be upheld, I do not understand why it objects to the Bill, the whole purpose of which is to ensure that the law is properly and adequately enforced.

Until about an hour ago, I thought that the debate had been characterised by balanced and well-informed speeches, but I had to alter my view after I had heard the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman). For a start, she might read the Bill and see what is in it, rather than simply tell us what she thinks is in it. It is a great pity that she appeared to go out of her way to misrepresent the aims, objectives and background of and support enjoyed by Parents Against Tobacco. I also regret her comments about ASH. She misrepresented the views and backgrounds of the two organisations and it seems that she is literally ignorant of them. Indeed, it seems that she was prepared to admit that ignorance. She does not know what their backgrounds are, who supports them and the nature of their aims. Apparently she does not want to know. It is sad that any Member of this place should take that stance.

Mrs. Gorman

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Sims

No. I shall not give way to my hon. Friend because I intend to speak for only a few more minutes. I have been asked to be brief. I am sorry. My hon. Friend said her piece with some vigour and at some length.

I join others in congratulating the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) on introducing the Bill. He is a man of wide interests and is no stranger to controversy. Having won first place in the ballot, he could have adopted one of a number of issues. I am especially pleased that he decided to promote this Bill. I join others in congratulating PAT and its director, Jane Dunmore, on the responsible, moderate and effective campaign that they have waged. PAT has achieved its first object in securing first place in the ballot through the hon. Member for Warley, East. I hope that it will achieve its second object, which is to make the Bill an Act.

My position on tobacco is well known. I start with the fact—it is well established, whatever my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay may say—that it is literally a deadly product. Various figures have been quoted and I shall not repeat them. I merely invite the House to remember that during today about 300 people will probably die prematurely through smoking-related diseases.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Stephen Dorrell)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to remind the House of the advice of the Government's chief medical officer who has said that tobacco is the greatest cause of avoidable death. My hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) sought to draw a distinction between tobacco and heart disease as potential causes of death. The House may wish to know that the Government accept the advice of the Royal College of Physicians that smoking causes roughly 20 per cent. of all deaths that are ultimately recorded as being caused by heart disease.

Mr. Sims

My hon. Friend has made a brief but helpful contribution to the debate. The facts and figures to which he referred could not have come from a better source.

If tobacco had only just been discovered, it would never be allowed on the market. We must be realistic, however, and accept that it exists. I believe that it is the Government's duty to persuade smokers to give up the habit and to dissuade others from starting to smoke. There are a number of ways of doing that and some of them have been discussed today.

People such as my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay will argue that I and others are trying to impose restrictions on freedom. She argues that individuals should be free to make their own judgments. That is not an argument which I accept. I believe that my hon. Friend and others would find themselves on different ground if they pursued their argument and extended it to drugs and the ingredients of foodstuffs. If they are making a fair comment in respect of adults, that cannot be accepted when it comes to children. Surely it is the duty of us all to protect children's health. The Bill would be an effective means of doing that.

I hope that we shall have a worthwhile series of debates in Committee. I am pleased that there is good will on the part of my hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench and the hon. Member for Warley, East and a willingness to give and take. I am sure that at the end of the day we shall have an effective and workable Act. I hope that the House will give the Bill an unopposed Second Reading.

2.8 pm

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)

I shall not detain the House unduly. I wish to say in a short speech that I am opposed to the Bill in principle as well as in detail.

I acknowledge the views that have been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House to the effect that the Bill might proceed in Committee, when we can discuss a number of issues with which I am concerned.

I am against the Bill in principle because I believe it to be unnecessary. I agree that children under the age of 16 years should not and must not smoke. It is illegal for such children to smoke. Therefore, we should be concerned about the enforcement of existing legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) has already pointed out that if something is illegal by virtue of existing legislation passed by the House, but the law is still being broken, we should either consider the enforceability of that law or the need to increase penalties for breaking that law. Certainly the penalties for selling cigarettes to children under 16 would be increased in the Bill, but my hon. Friend the Minister has said that they were due to increase anyway as a result of the Criminal Justice Bill now before the House.

If I am fortunate enough to serve on the Committee on the Bill I shall outline many of the reasons behind my detailed opposition to it—they are similar to those outlined by my hon. Friend the Minister. I share his concern about local authorities acting as policemen because those authorities are already complaining enough about the burdens imposed upon them by the House. It is clear that local authorities would have to receive vastly increased resources to police the Bill. New section 7(1H) of the 1933 Act states that: It shall be the duty of every local authority to publish an annual report". New section 7 (1I) states: In this section—local authority' means … a county, district …' I have a county council and a district council. Does the Bill mean that both authorities would have a duty to police the hapless retailer? That is a good Committee point, which I shall not pursue further. I am also concerned, however, about vending machines and in Committee I would support any amendment that my hon. Friend the Minister might table.

My other major concern relates to clause 5 and tobacco advertisements. I find it incredible that an Act of Parliament would seek to ban the type of illuminated signs provided by tobacco companies that one often sees on the exterior of tobacconists or newsagents. It is a ridiculous idea. If my hon. Friend the Minister does not table an amendment to delete clause 5(1)(a) and (b) I shall certainly do so.

There are a number of detailed reasons why I should seek to amend the Bill in Committee, but, if I had my way, the Bill would not pass into law.

2.12 pm
Mr. Tim Janman (Thurrock)

I shall detain the House for five to 10 minutes only. I welcome the initiative behind the Bill to try to combat the serious problem of the illegal sale of cigarettes to people under 16.

We can all think back to our teenage years when our parents tried to ensure that we did not smoke—rightly so. They would have been extremely concerned about people selling cigarettes to us if we had been foolish enough to attempt to buy them, given that that is against the law. There is a great deal of support throughout the country for addressing that problem. In that sense, I support the objective behind the Bill.

Unlike my hon. Friend the Minister, I also support the idea of increasing the maximum fine for selling cigarettes to people under 16. If a newsagent does not sell such cigarettes illegally he will not incur a fine. I understand that the Bill will increase the fine from £400 to £2,000, but that represents an increase in the maximum fine. Presumably the courts would have the flexibility to apply the maximum fine to someone who was a repeat offender. However, to increase the fine incurred by a newsagent or anyone else who sold cigarettes to people under 16 does not necessarily require a new Bill. That could easily be catered for in the Criminal Justice Bill—I am a member of the Standing Committee considering that—and would not necessarily mean a new Bill.

The newsagents who knowingly break the law are probably in a minority. However, the Bill goes over the top. I certainly could not support it on Second Reading in its current form and I should want major amendments in Committee in order to support it on Third Reading.

The first aspect with which I shall deal is vending machines. We should remember that cigarettes are a legal product. They are legally available for adults in a free society. It is clear from the way in which the Bill is worded that the real intent is not merely to try to safeguard those under 16 years of age, but to have a go at the tobacco industry and to try to reduce the availability of tobacco products. The Bill is a covert attempt to turn legality into quasi-legality. The way in which the Bill attempts to place unworkable and impractical responsibilities on people who happen to have vending machines on some part of their property is intolerable.

At the risk of causing a few smirks around the Chamber, this is like a Bill being presented to the House to make a local authority liable to court action if an under-16 went into a lavatory for which the authority had responsibility and bought condoms from a machine, given that it is illegal to have sexual intercourse under the age of 16. My objection to the Bill is that it seeks to do this for cigarettes. It is simply not acceptable and it would be unfair, unrealistic and unworkable if the Bill in its present form became law, because of its intentions on the sale of cigarettes through vending machines. I am saying this as a non-smoker, as an hon. Member with no constituency interest in employment in the tobacco industry and as an impartial and objective observer on whether this part of the Bill is workable and desirable.

Another part of the Bill that is intolerable is the attempt to place more prohibitions on advertising of tobacco products. In a free society there should not merely be freedom of speech for the individual, but freedom of commercial speech for those who wish to advertise products that are legally available to adults who wish to purchase them. It would be deceitful for me and for the House to enact the Bill unamended because we would considerably reduce the freedom of commercial speech regarding a product that is legal. Parliament has not in any way suggested that adults should not be allowed to purchase it.

If a product is legal, and therefore available for purchase, clearly people who wish to increase their market share of the product should be able to advertise it. Advertising, whether of a brand of cigarette or of a motor vehicle, does not do much to alter total market size. Clearly, the total market for cigarettes is on the decrease and it will probably continue to decline due to a change in the public's attitude towards smoking for many reasons. Advertising enables producers to try to grab a bigger market share of the total market place. Because Vauxhall has an especially good advert for the Astra on television does not mean that more people will buy motor cars. It is more likely to mean that more people will buy Astras and fewer people will buy Escorts or Renaults.

To return to vending machines, one has to consider the practicalities of enforcing the provisions of the Bill, which provides that newsagents who sell products to people under I 6—magazines, newspapers and sweets among others—would have perpetually to ensure that those children, who have a perfect right to be in the shop, do not nip over to a vending machine while they are serving someone at the counter, and take out a product that they may not necessarily be intending to use but may be buying for their parents, or for a brother or sister. That is intolerable, as is the attack on the freedom of commercial speech and advertising, which is paranoid and spurious. I do not think that it would have much effect on the extent to which the under-16s smoke or the extent to which smoking materials are sold to them.

It is worth noting that the industry itself has spent £3.5 million over the past four years urging proprietors not to sell cigarettes to under-16s. The industry does not take the problem lightly and I do not feel that the Bill in its present form constitutes a just reward for its genuine attempts to solve that problem.

I do not intend to oppose the Bill on Second Reading; nor do I intend to speak for much longer. If, however, the Bill is not substantially altered in Committee and if its attitudes towards vending machines, the freedom of commercial advertising and the inflicting of unworkable and unrealistic duties on local authorities are not subjected to the same process I shall certainly not be able to support it on Third Reading.

The Bill addresses a problem, but it tends to blow up that problem out of all proportion. Its proposals are, as I said, neither realistic nor practicable and tread on the toes of what I consider important principles in a free society. We are all concerned about the issues with which it deals—I know that many of my constituents are—but it is badly thought out and shows no sense of proportion in regard to either the problem or the solutions that we must find if we are able to reduce it substantially over the coming decade.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).