HC Deb 19 April 1991 vol 189 cc676-93

'(1) It shall be the duty of a regional or islands council—

  1. (a) to consider, at least once in every period of twelve months, the extent to which it is appropriate for them to carry out in their area a programme of enforcement action relating to section 18 of the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937 and sections 3 and 5 above, and
  2. (b) accordingly to carry out in their area any programme which is for the time being considered by them to be appropriate under paragraph (a) above.

(2) In subsection (1)(a) above the reference to a programme of enforcement action relating to the provisions there mentioned is a reference to a programme involving all or any of the following, namely—

  1. (a) the investigation of complaints in respect of alleged offences under those provisions;
  2. (b) the taking of other measures intended to reduce the incidence of offences under those provisions;
  3. (c) in relation to section 18(2) of the Act of 1937, the monitoring of such use of automatic machines for the sale of tobacco as is mentioned in that provision.'.—[Mr. Peter Lloyd.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

With this it will be convenient to consider the following amendments: No. 2, in page 2, line 31, leave out clause 4.

Government amendments Nos. 5 to 12 and Nos. 16 to 17.

Mr. Lloyd

In Committee, I agreed to bring forward a provision for Scotland which paralleled as far as possible clause 4 of the Bill. In giving that commitment, I said that such an amendment would need to reflect the different prosecution arrangements in Scotland, and new clause 2 does that. In response to representations from the Bill's sponsors, new clause 2 extends the local authority enforcement role to cover not only offences under section 18 of the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937 but new offences that will be created in clauses 3 and 5 of the Bill. Those are offences in relation to the sale of unpackaged cigarettes and the display of warning statements in retail premises and on vending machines. Later in the debate, I shall move amendments to clause 4 which parallel that extension of the local authority enforcement role. I hope that the new clause has the approval of the Bill's sponsor, the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds), and I commend it to the House.

Amendment No. 2, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Knowles), seeks to delete clause 4. As some members of the Committee will remember, there was much discussion on that clause. We wanted to get it right and I am sure that, with the addition of the amendments that I have tabled, we have done so. I hope that there will be general agreement on that. As always, I shall listen with care to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East. I shall explain why I think that clause 4 is necessary and how it is intended to work. Local authorities have powers elsewhere to follow up offences such as those in the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. The Bill strengthens those powers, and clauses 3 and 5 introduce new ones.

The concern expressed by the hon. Member for Warley, East, other members of the Committee and the Parents Against Tobacco campaign was that those powers were not necessarily being used. The Government are concerned that some local authorities appear not to be taking seriously enough their responsibilities in that area. This can be for various reasons, but it seems that local authorities are often doubtful about their powers to act in this field and may even believe that they have none. This, I believe, was also the response that Parents Against Tobacco came up against.

It seemed clear, therefore, that something was needed to prompt local authorities into considering exactly what they might and should be doing to prevent the sale of tobacco to children. The other clauses of the Bill strengthened the force of the offences, but, alongside that, it needed to stimulate local authorities into action.

Clause 4 requires local authorities to consider at least once every 12 months to what extent it is appropriate for them to carry out an enforcement programme relating to offences under the 1933 Act, and now, with my other amendments, to which I shall be turning shortly, the other clauses of the Bill. In practice, this will mean that, at least once a year, this subject will be on the agenda of every county council, metropolitan district council and London borough council. The councils will have to address themselves to the problem in their area and decide what form of action is appropriate to their particular local circumstances.

As the House will have noted, district councils in the shire counties were not on the list of those to whom clause 4 applies. However, this does not mean that they will not wish to take action or that they will be unable to do so. District councils have powers under section 222 of the Local Government Act 1972 to prosecute for such offences. Also, of course, they, too, may take a decision to mount a campaign in the interests of their area aimed at the prevention of the sale of cigarettes to children.

The Government's determination to see that clause 4 produces results is reflected in our commitment to back it up with a circular to local authorities, prepared jointly by those Departments with an interest in these matters. The circular will explain exactly what local authorities' powers are to take action on these offences. It will remind them of their responsibilities and the importance which is attached to taking action against offenders.

We have been told that local authorities are not sure how best to approach such a campaign. Again, it is hoped that, with the assistance of those already engaged in these activities or the monitoring of them, the circular will provide examples of best practice. These will serve to explain to local authorities the various ways in which this problem can be tackled.

We would not, however, propose to leave it at that. As has been said, public pressure for action can be an important driving force for local authorities to take action. One way in which local electors can judge what is happening is to have access to information about what their local authority has been doing. We have therefore given an undertaking to issue a revised code of practice to local authorities on the publication of annual reports and financial statements by local authorities, which will require local authorities to include information on just that.

The annual reports of local authorities must be made widely available to members of the public, at town and county halls; members of the local press, supplemented by a press release; interested groups wishing to receive copies; and employees of the authority. This should give plenty of opportunity for the general public to evaluate what their local authority is doing and, if necessary, to lobby for more or different types of action.

9.45 am

Clause 4 is the linchpin of all this activity. Local authorities already have powers, but we want to ensure—I know that this is the purpose of the hon. Member for Warley, East—that they are regularly considering whether and how they should use them.

Sir Trevor Skeet (Bedfordshire, North)

My hon. Friend said that the local authorities have powers already to take the various forms of action that he has described. Are not we guilty of repetition by giving the authorities the additional power of enabling them to consider every year the appropriateness of the action that they have taken, and to take whatever action happens to be appropriate to their respective areas? Is not the additional power repetitious and an example of what we seek to avoid putting on the statute book?

Mr. Lloyd

The proposed legislation requires local authorities to do only one more thing apart from providing them with additional powers, which is done in other parts of the Bill. It is to consider carefully at least once a year what the problems are in their areas and how they should best use their powers. I think that my hon. Friend will agree that these are important matters. I know that he has concern, because he expressed it in Committee. I believe that he would like to see local authorities considering the problem and using their powers as they think best and using their resources in the manner that they hope will be most productive. I believe that my hon. Friend and I agree on that. The clause does no more than ensure that local authorities regularly consider how that may best be done in their areas.

We want local authorities themselves to be aware of what can and should be done, and we want their electors to be in a position to make their opinion felt. Without the requirement in clause 4 for each local authority to take a measured view of what needs doing at least once every 12 months, this may not happen. The force of the Bill as a whole would be emasculated by the removal of clause 4.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East is concerned not to place additional unnecessary work on local authorities, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet). They are right. We all know that it is far too easy to require local authorities to devote resources and time to inessential and ineffectual tasks, to the exclusion of their more serious responsibilities. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East will accept that clause 4 represents one of the more serious responsibilities of local authorities—to consider how the law on the sale of cigarettes to children might be enforced—and that it could therefore be right to retain it.

It would probably be useful if I spoke to amendments Nos. 5 to 11, which are largely technical. Much time and care was devoted in Committee to achieving a form of words for the key enforcement clause, clause 4. The Government were concerned to arrive at a clause which was practicable and effective. I know that that was the intention also of the hon. Member for Warley, East. Although we may have started out from somewhat different positions, when it came to what we considered to be practicable and effective, I am glad to say that it seems that we have achieved common ground. I do not believe that that would have been achieved without perseverance and resourcefulness and the good sense of the hon. Member for Warley, East and his supporters and friends in Parents Against Tobacco.

The intention that lies behind the clause is that, at least once every 12 months, every county, metropolitan district or London borough should consider the extent to which it is appropriate for it to carry out an enforcement programme that is designed to stamp out the practice of selling cigarettes to under 16-year-olds. The programme of action was to be related to the offences that are set out in the Children and. Young Persons Act 1933. However, the new offences that are introduced by clauses 3 and 5 go wider than that.

Thus, a local authority may wish to design a programme to deter retailers from selling packets of cigarettes to children. Where the main problem is the sale of single cigarettes, it may wish to take action on that offence. A local authority might wish to monitor the use of certain vending machines as a preliminary to malting complaints about their use to a court. Some or all of these activities might be appropriate to a programme of enforcement action, but local authorities need to consider them all before deciding how best to proceed in the interests of their areas.

Clause 4, as drafted, refers only to the offences under section 7 of the 1933 Act. This group of amendments would insert reference to clauses 3 and 5 of the Bill and to the making of complaints about and monitoring of the use of vending machines. Thus they ensure that each local authority will take a comprehensive look at all those areas where children might be at risk through the illegal sale of cigarettes before deciding what action to take. That cart be seen only as an improvement to clause 4.

Amendment No. 16 is simply a tidying-up amendment to ensure that the clause follows those clauses in the Bill, notably clauses 1, 3 and 5, to which it relates.

Amendment No. 17 tidies up the long title to the Bill. It reflects the changes made in the Bill in relation to enforcement action by local authorities and to the order of the clauses that have been agreed. I commend the amendments to the House.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

The Bill returns to the House after four Committee days, which we all much enjoyed, and a lengthy process of negotiation. I do not pretend that the Bill is as uncompromising as I would like, but both the Minister and I made it clear on Second Reading that we were ready to do all that we could to establish a consensus behind legislation that would effectively reduce the sale of tobacco products to children. I am in no doubt that the Bill will do that.

I thank the Minister for the generous amount of time that he has given to our discussions. He has bent over backwards—if that is not an unparliamentary term—to help the Bill to proceed on its way. I thank him for his extraordinarily constructive attitude —not a quality that one always finds in Ministers. I also thank the Committee for its work.

I shall not take too long to review the background to the Bill in general, and this new clause in particular, but I must remind the House of two salient points. First, nobody outside the tobacco industry argues with the proposition that tobacco products represent a major threat to the health and well- being of the nation. On Second Reading, I quoted the chief medical officer of health, who said that cigarette smoking in the United Kingdom continued to be by far the most significant single cause of ill health and premature death, and hence of expenditure on health services".—[Official Report, 18 January 1991; Vol. 183, c. 1093.] The House heard from myself, from the Minister and from other hon. Members about the overwhelming evidence of death and disease caused by smoking. Those problems are especially acute in Scotland. There, and throughout the United Kingdom, our hospitals and cemeteries are filled with the victims of tobacco.

Secondly, in giving the Bill a Second Reading, the House accepted that while there are difficult questions of personal freedom when it comes to restrictions on adult smoking, those do not apply to children. For their own protection, children cannot be given the same freedom of choice as more mature adults. That is recognised in existing legislation—in Scotland, it is the 1937 Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act—which makes sales of cigarettes to children illegal. Regrettably, despite a worthy amendment to the law introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) in 1986, the legislation still fails to restrain the sales of tobacco to children.

There are a number of reasons why the law as it stands does not work, but the chief of those is that it has not been properly enforced. Local authorities in Scotland currently take no effective part in preventing illegal sales of cigarettes; they have no powers to bring a case to court—that is the procurator fiscal's role—and they have not generally investigated complaints. Mostly, where investigations have been done at all, the police have been responsible, and they have admitted that they simply do not have the time to do the job properly, if at all.

I am delighted—indeed, pleasantly surprised—that Scottish Office Ministers now see the sense of charging local authorities with responsibility in that area—even though, of course, the decision to prosecute remains the province of the procurator fiscal. I salute that change of heart and implore the Scottish Office to complete its good work by preparing guidance to local authorities on the use of this new power, based on best practice in curbing illegal cigarette sales. I hope, too, that a means will be found of ensuring that regional and islands councils will refer in their annual reports to action taken to monitor the situation and to investigate complaints.

Clause 4 introduces a framework for effective enforcement action in England and Wales. As I said, the failure of the legislation to date is largely due to the fact that it has been so inadequately enforced. On Second Reading, I cited a number of surveys demonstrating that up to half the shops that sell cigarettes in Britain were selling to children under 16 in open defiance of the law. Such surveys have continued and while, in a few areas, retailers are responding to public concern and acting responsibly, in too many instances the same familiar pattern of law-breaking is evident. The reason for that is that traders have been able to take it for granted that they would not be prosecuted. A survey at the end of 1989 of 110 local authorities showed that 104 had prosecuted no one in the three years since the 1986 Act was passed.

There was, perhaps, confusion about who was responsible. There were local authorities that literally did not appear to know that the law existed. Many local authorities thought the responsibility was that of the police, and the police took the view that the responsibility lay with the local authorities. This Bill acknowledges that the primary responsibility for enforcing the law should lie with local authorities.

If the amendments to clause 4 are accepted by the House, as I hope, a duty would be placed on one tier of local government to consider, at least once a year, the extent to which it is appropriate for them to carry out in their areas a programme of enforcement action designed to control all aspects of cigarette sales to children. The nature of that programme is defined.

I will not pretend to the House that I would not have liked this part of the Bill to be even more specific, but I believe that these provisions, taken together with the supplementary guidance that the Department of the Environment is to issue, will create the conditions for a real blitz on illegal cigarette sales, whenever and wherever necessary.

It will, in future, be abundantly clear that local authorities do have the responsibility to act, that some specific local authorities must fully consider the matter on an annual basis, and that they have the power to investigate and to prosecute, and to take any other steps they consider appropriate. When the Bill becomes law, it will never again be possible for one of the relevant local authorities either to claim that it has no power to act or that it is not responsible for acting in this area. It is therefore a major advance.

The effect of the measure as a whole will be to make absolutely plain the responsibility of retailers not to sell to children under 16, to deter them from selling single cigarettes to children and to make it easy to deal with any loophole provided by the availability of vending machines.

Other provisions in the Bill simplify most usefully the nature of offences and raise substantially the level of fines that can be imposed by the courts. The retail industry is on notice. When this legislation completes its course through Parliament, as I hope will happen this summer, it will not pay to sell cigarettes to children.

Sir Trevor Skeet

I am trying to pursue the hon. Gentleman's argument. He suggests that the problem with enforcement is that one has to have the necessary evidence to take a case to court. How does he suggest that that evidence should be produced? Will he use children as agents provocateurs? How will he get the essential truth? I agree that we should protect our children by education and parental control, but I do not think that there will be a large number of additional prosecutions as a result of this clause.

10 am

Mr. Faulds

I wondered how long it would be before I received an intervention from that quarter. The hon. Gentleman was one of the most interventionist of hon. Members in Committee—not always with the most useful contributions. He asks a simple question—he usually does ask simple questions—and I can only respond as best I can.

The hon. Gentleman uses the phrase "agents provocateurs" as if we were trying to do something improper by the use of children in acquiring evidence about the illegal sales of cigarettes. We argued this question in Committee, and he knows in his heart of hearts that we are not going to get prosecutions unless we have the help of children under the age of 16 who are sold cigarettes. That has to be part of the process and I think that in his kinder moments he would probably accept the necessity for that sort of action.

I was winding up my comments on this passage of the Bill, saying that local authorities should be under notice that parents throughout the United Kingdom expect action on this matter. Central Government will have an active part to play in monitoring the situation and calling to account either the industry or the enforcing agencies if the law is neglected in any area.

I am immensely cheered by the fact that in consultations and discussions with the Government, and after the very healthy presages of the Committee, we have managed to achieve this enormous improvement on what is now an appalling status quo.

Mr. Michael Knowles (Nottingham, East)

I listened carefully to what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said from the Front Bench on this subject, and I shall come to my reaction later, as I have tabled an amendment to delete this clause. I want to comment on what the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) has said.

Obviously, there are worries when we impose fresh duties on local government—something that we do all too lightly in the House. On occasion, it seems that every Bill will have to be enforced by local councils at one level or another, without regard to manpower considerations or cost. However, with the other hand, we apply pressure on local councils to contain their costs, although their duties are increased, and that is unreasonable. Local government continuously objects to it, and rightly so.

I served in local government for a long time and I know precisely what pressures are brought to bear from time to time by Government Departments. If a pressure group gets on to a Department about a certain issue, the whole of a council's resources should then be devoted to that cause, whatever it is. The next year, there will be another pressure group campaigning about something else.

It is difficult to bring prosecutions for this offence. Last year, the figure was 27. It is difficult to obtain the information on which one can push for a prosecution, but there are problems with the use of agents provocateurs. The hon. Member for Warley, East lightly swept that argument aside, but there are serious moral and legal questions over such a use of children.

Is it right that children should be used to incite another person to break the law? That is a serious question. Is there not a danger that those children will lose respect for the law and consider that it is correct to do something if they are told to do so by a person in authority?

It is illegal to incite the committing of a crime and those who use that method to bring prosecutions might well find that it is deemed illegal when a case reaches a sufficiently advanced stage in court. One never knows—that is always a danger.

I do not dismiss the use of children as agents provocateurs lightly, but it seems to raise a host of problems to which we should give careful consideration.

Miss Joan Lestor (Eccles)

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern, but does he agree that when children are seen coming out of a tobacconist with cigarettes, it is legitimate evidence, because that is where much of the evidence was collected?

Mr. Knowles

I agree absolutely with the hon. Lady, but it is difficult to do that.

Another matter that I am not certain about, although it is dealt with in another clause, is whether tobacconists are deliberately selling cigarettes to children on a large scale. I do not accept that, as I do not think that people in this country go around deliberately breaking the law. It can be difficult to distinguish between a 15-year-old and a 16-year-old child. In Committee, I mentioned memories of my youth, when children over the age limit used to buy cigarettes, break open the packet and sell them individually. However, I never came across cases of tobacconists breaking open packets, although that does not mean that it does not happen, and I think that it is more usually older children who do that.

Mr. Richard Page (Hertfordshire, South-West)

My hon. Friend mentions a serious problem. Is he in dispute with Parents Against Tobacco, which says that £90 million a year is spent by children on tobacco? Does he think that that figure is wrong?

Mr. Knowles

I do not think that under-age children are going to tobacconists and spending that money themselves. I suspect that the money is spent indirectly, with children over the age buying the cigarettes and selling them on. That has been my experience.

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)

We have just been given one of the figures. It does not make the problem any easier, but it is important for my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Page) to remember that that figure of £90 million, which is probably accurate, in part consists of sales by children over the age of 16 or by adults, who have bought cigarettes legally, for their friends standing outside the retailer's shop. However, that does not absolve society.

Mr. Knowles

The hon. Member for Warley, East said that no one outside the tobacco industry has any doubts about the health arguments. I tend to agree with him there. That is also true of the drink and butter industries. We are told that innumerable things are threats to our health, but it is difficult to argue that that should give us the right as legislators to interfere with people's choice. In Committee and on Second Reading, there was a straight clash of principle on that subject. I start from a libertarian position, but there is a broad divide in the House which does not necessarily run between the parties so much as across them.

Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

Does my hon. Friend agree that a number of products are harmful when taken in excess, and it is right that people should be free to have them, provided that they realise their effects? Tobacco products are unique in that they are harmful per se. Therefore, there is a clear distinction to be drawn.

Mr. Knowles

That is where the clash comes: in the principle of the libertarian argument about people's right to prescribe what others do, and that of individual choice. It applies to a whole range of matters.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

The hon. Gentleman is in danger of setting up a spurious argument. We are talking about children. If the hon. Gentleman believes that it is wrong to preclude children from exercising choice in regard to tobacco, he must apply the same argument to restrictions on alcohol and fireworks. For centuries, we have taken for granted our responsibility to protect the young from themselves. We are not talking about robbing adults of choice.

Mr. Knowles

If I could get out more than two sentences at a time, I might be able to answer some of the points that are being made.

The hon. Member for Warley, East said that the Bill was not as strong as he had originally wanted it to be, and that he had been forced to compromise. Approaching the matter from the opposite direction, I find myself in much the same position. I suspected that, although the word "children"—which is always good emotive stuff—was incorporated in the Bill's title, the driving force behind it was a generalised attack on the tobacco industry, for which children were being used as an excuse. Whether people like it or not, the tobacco industry is still legal and will, I believe, continue to be so.

As for the generalised libertarian question, I always view such measures with suspicion, because I would rather fight in the first ditch than fight in the last. If the argument is lost in regard to tobacco, similar restrictions will then be applied to drink and fatty substances, and newspaper censorship will follow. When the people who know best want to tell others how they should lead their lives, there are no limits to the argument. I am entirely against that argument, which runs, "It is all for your own good. All you have to do is surrender your freedom to me."

I think that we are getting somewhere, however, I hope to speak on some of the amendments later; but I am more than happy to accept the assurances of my hon. Friend the Minister, and, in the light of what he has said, I shall not oppose new clause 2.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

I welcome new clause 2, which attempts to bring Scottish law into line with the Bill's proposals for England, allowing for the differences between the prosecution systems of the two countries.

It is generally recognised—certainly by Parents Against Tobacco—that the problem of children under 16 acquiring cigarettes illegally is greater in Scotland than in England. Had the matter not been tackled, the Bill would have contained a serious lacuna. The Minister has shown an enlightened awareness of the problem from the outset, but the same tribute cannot be paid to his Scottish colleagues.

For years, the Scottish Office has been reluctant to fund research into under-age smoking, with the result that, while the latest figures available in England were produced in 1988, the latest Scottish figures were produced in 1986.

Mr. Peter Lloyd

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's kind references to me. When I voiced my concern, and that of the Committee, about the absence of enforcement measures in Scotland, my Scottish ministerial colleagues immediately saw the point, shared my concern and worked hard to consult local authorities speedily, so that the new clause could be tabled on Report.

10.15 am
Mr. Maclennan

The Minister has indeed exercised considerable persuasive skills to bring round his Scottish colleagues to a somewhat more enlightened view than they had previously demonstrated, and I welcome the changes that are being made.

Under clause 4(2)(a), English local authorities' "programme of enforcement action" includes the bringing of prosecutions in respect of offences under the principal section". Perhaps inevitably, there is no comparable provision for Scotland, because of the responsibility of the procurators fiscal for bringing prosecutions there. I hope that the difference in criminal procedure will not make local authorities any less assiduous in seeking to assist the prosecuting authorities in the collation and production of evidence, and in encouraging the bringing of prosecutions for the evil that under-age smoking causes. It is difficult to measure the scale of that evil, which causes permanent damage to the health of hundreds of thousands of children. The figures produced by Parents Against Tobacco have not been seriously challenged in any quarter.

This is a valuable measure, which supplements a Bill introduced by the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) in 1986. I congratulate the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) on his sterling work.

Mr. Page

I wish not to discuss the principles and purposes behind the Bill—the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) has done that very adequately in Committee and today—but to say a little about how I expect the Bill to operate in practice. I welcome new clause 2 and clause 4; I agree with my hon. Friend the Minister that they are the linchpin of the Bill and will determine whether it succeeds of fails.

I am a great believer in the deterrence theory. I hope that the Bill will set up what is known in boxing parlance as the old one-two. We are looking for the straight left in the form of local authority enforcement, and the right hook represented by adequate fines from magistrates. The £100 average is ludicrous; I believe that the maximum fine should be imposed and I should like the press to play the role of referee.

The press must give such cases must more publicity when they come to court, so that people are made aware that they are patronising a shopkeeper who, for a few measly pence, is prepared to put children's health at risk. They should consider whether it is worth their while to patronise a shopkeeper who is so careless of our children's health. If someone were caught putting poison into baby food, the subsequent court case would be publicised throughout the country.

People who sell children tobacco are poisoning them as surely as they would be if they put poison in their food. The time scale is longer, but in setting up an addictive habit they are condemning those children to eventual illness and disease. Because more young girls are smoking nowadays, shopkeepers are condemning not only the present generation but the next generation. More deformed children are likely to be born, along with children who will have less chance at school because of the proven effect on the intelligence of children of women who smoke.

Local authorities, magistrates and every Member of Parliament must ensure that when the Bill is enacted it is enforced. I want every hon. Member to say to the local authority in his or her area, "What do you intend to do to enforce the provisions of the Bill?" In accordance with clause 4 and new clause 2, I want them every year thereafter to say to their local authorities "Can I have a copy of your monitoring for the year?"

Sir Trevor Skeet

I have listened keenly to my hon. Friend's observations. He suggests that the onus should be placed on local authorities and he wants maximum fines to be imposed by magistrates. What about the responsibility of parents and teachers? Huge penalties are all very well, but the training of parents has been ignored. My hon. Friend puts the responsibility entirely on Parliament, but that is not Parliament's responsibility.

Mr. Page

One of the virtues of an intervention before one has finished one's speech is that one can disregard what one intended to say later. In conclusion, I was running through the responsibilities of Members of Parliament and others, that lie beyond the provisions of the Bill, but my hon. Friend has done the job for me. He rightly points out that parents have a role to play in preventing their children from smoking. He also rightly says that more emphasis should be placed on the role of schools in educating children about the dangers of smoking. My hon. Friend has done it so eloquently that there is no need for me to say more.

Mr. Alan Williams


Mr. Page

I ought to return now to the role of Parliament, but I see that the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) wishes to intervene.

Mr. Williams

I endorse the hon. Gentleman's point entirely, but are we not now in the fatuous situation, as a result of the protestations of the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet), where the campaign to stop children from smoking has become the moral responsibility of everyone except the tobacco industry? The one sector which appears to have no moral obligation is that which, due to its odious dishonesty about the dangers of its product, has tried to deceive both the public and youngsters about the hazards that they face if they smoke tobacco.

Mr. Page

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I do not intend to get involved this morning in the libertarian argument about whether the provisions of the Bill should apply to the entire population or should be applied only for the protection of children. In a previous intervention the right hon. Gentleman made the point that the Bill provides for the protection of children until they reach the age when they can make the decision for themselves, and I intend to stick to that argument. The right hon. Gentleman, who sits beside me on the Public Accounts Committee, and I have seen many a report highlighting the cost to this nation of the effects of smoking tobacco on people's health, including coronary heart disease and many other associated illnesses. However, if I were to go down that route we should be here for a long time and it would not serve the purposes of the debate.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet) for supporting my view that parents, schools and everyone else should take part in the moral crusade to prevent children from smoking. Local authorities must, however, provide the sharp cutting edge of enforcement and magistrates must back up the enforcement. Then, I hope, fewer children will smoke and the result will be a healthier nation.

Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate)

I welcome the amendments that we are debating—in particular, new clause 2 and the amendments to tidy up clause 4. In Committee I made the plea that we should make the language of the Bill understandable and I congratulate the Minister on achieving that aim. On many occasions I have emphasised that the legislation that we pass should be couched in language which makes quite clear what its purpose is.

The hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) said that he had sought consensus. Both he and the Minister have achieved it. One has only to consider the provisions of the Bill before it went into Committee to realise that now they have been honed to a workable form.

I remind my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Knowles) that legislation prohibiting the sale of tobacco to children has been in place since 1933, so local authorities already have that responsibility. All that the Bill does is to emphasise their role in bringing prosecutions and ensuring that there is adequate publicity about preventing the sale of tobacco products to children.

Much has been said in the debate about the libertarian aspect. My view is this; smoking is habit forming, and if we permit children to smoke there is the danger that the habit may carry through into later life and seriously damage their health. Nevertheless, we must remember that children will be children. When they mature, they can make logical decisions about what substances to consume—be it tobacco, alcohol or anything else—but during the growing-up process they will inevitably try things that are not necessarily good for them. Therefore, Members of Parliament—including those of us who are parents—have a role to play. Local authorities also have a role to play in ensuring that the legislation is enforced. I sympathise with local authorities when the legislation that we pass leads to additional expenditure, due to the extra personnel that they have to employ, but in this instance we are emphasising a role that they already have under the 1933 Act and asking them to get on with that important job.

Mr. Michael Brown

I do not intend to oppose new clause 2, which will bring the law in Scotland into line with the provisions that we agreed in Standing Committee. I do not intend, either, to oppose the other amendments in this grouping. Before we agree them, however, I should like to refer to some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Page). I thought that he had gone off his head this morning; normally, he is so sensible about the role of governmental organisations and local authorities. Therefore, I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet) intervened. He made exactly the same point as had occurred to me.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks) said, it has been against the law to sell tobacco to children since 1933. However the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) believes, and there is evidence to support his view, that, notwithstanding the fact that it is against the law for tobacco to be sold to children, they are nevertheless getting hold of it. Therefore the hon. Gentleman and the Minister have proposed amendments to ensure that the law is enforced. Even though an Act has been on the statute books since 1933, more and more children appear to be buying cigarettes.

The sponsor of the Bill and his hon. Friends support the Bill enthusiastically. I support the Bill's reaching the statute book, but not with a great deal of enthusiasm, because I believe that, in two, three or four years' time when local authorities have produced their annual reports, they will say that the problem is as bad as ever. It might even have got worse.

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However much we seek to enforce the law—I agree that it should be enforced, and if there is evidence that the law has been broken it is essential that prosecutions take place, maximum fines are imposed and the penalties are severe enough to be a deterrent —I am concerned that it will not change what goes on in the real world. As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Knowles) said, it is quite possible for people to beat the law.

Most evenings at 10 o'clock, 11 o'clock or midnight a group of teenagers who have nothing better to do hang around the war memorial in the village where I live. Some of them are over 16 and some are under 16. I know jolly well that, notwithstanding the intentions behind the Bill, those over 16 will go into the village shop and legally buy cigarettes and those under 16 will smoke them. No law will have been broken because the cigarettes will have been purchased by those over 16. They will probably have done exactly what was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East in Committee and sold them singly for lop a throw. Ultimately, it is the duty of the House to do all that it can to prevent illegal sales of cigarettes to those under 16—and it has been illegal since 1933—of course and to ensure that any changes in the law are enforced by the agencies outside. The Bill clarifies that it is the duty of local authorities to enforce the law and clears up the doubt over whether is is the duty of the police or of local authorities.

The rumours in the papers regarding the announcement to be made by the Secretary of State for the Environment leaves my constituency in some doubt. The Minister will clarify today whether it will be the district council or the county council, through its trading standards office, that enforces the provisions of the Bill. I should point out that I represent a constituency in the county of Humberside. According to "Newsnight" last night, apparently the county of Humberside is not much longer for this world. In the event that the county is abolished—I hope that it is —how will the Bill's provisions apply to my constituency? Will the legislation relating to the reorganisation of local government which is likely to be introduced later this year have to be amended, or will the Bill have to be amended to deal with the fact that later this year I will represent a constituency within a county that does not exist? Will the Minister tell me what is likely to happen?

In conclusion, let me summarise some of my misgivings about the Bill. Ultimately, for all the enforcement agencies and local authorities which may or may not exist, we come back to the parents. I am glad that the organisation is called Parents Against Tobacco as parents are the most important group of people who can do something about children smoking. What I should like to happen around the country and in Ulceby, the village where I live, is for parents and responsible people to say to the parents of children who smoke, "Your son is not 16 yet, is he? I could have sworn that I saw him smoking outside the Spar shop in the village the other day." That is what used to happen in the 1950s and 1960s when I was a schoolboy. I knew jolly well that if I were ever tempted to smoke the lady who lived across the road from my family would speak to my mother and say, "I could have sworn that I saw Michael smoking the other day. He is not 16 yet, is he?" That is the most effective way to deal with the problem.

Mr. Page

Did that actually happen to my hon. Friend and did it stop him smoking?

Mr. Brown

Yes, it did. I can honestly say that I never had one puff of a cigarette and I admit that I was a pretty dreadful child, as I am sure all hon. Members would expect. I was intimidated by my parents, the neighbours and, most of all, by my teachers who regarded the idea of anyone in their charge smoking—that also applied to those aged over 16 as I stayed at school until I went to university —as unacceptable. At my secondary modern school, the penalties for anyone between the ages of 16 and 18 caught smoking on the school premises were extremely severe. I only regret that it is not possible for the Bill to contain provisions for teachers to spend a little more time, effort and energy on enforcing the ideas behind it, as teachers are letting the side down. In the average comprehensive secondary school today, teachers do not recognise the crime of smoking under the age of 16 in the same way as we do. The rules should be toughened up through the education system.

Parents and teachers can have a far greater impact than any legislation. That is not to say that I do not accept and understand the need for legislation. I agree that if it reaches the statute book the Bill will improve matters. I hope that my hon. Friend's Department and the Department of Health will start keeping statistics as soon as the Bill reaches the statute book and that in a year or two years' time we can have an Adjournment debate on the issue to see whether there is any change for the better. I have a shrewd suspicion that although there may be some improvement, we need to get the message through to parents. Parents Against Tobacco needs to get the message through.

I have an interesting critique of the Parents Against Tobacco campaign written by Mr. Chris Cooper. He suggests that some of their statements should be reworded. He writes: Did Des Wilson perhaps in the early stages of drafting his denunciations of the buying of cigarettes by children ever blurt out anything indiscreet, such as, 'You negligent, improvident, irresponsible parents let your children run wild without thought for their health and now we, the right-thinking, energetic, caring parents arc going to have to do your job for you.' If he ever did, squads of PR people stepped in to soften the message without moderating the excitable prose. The parents of this country will not allow the heath of their children to be threatened and their lives to be potentially curtailed by the activities and products of a ruthlessly cynical industry. We must acknowledge that there is an element of buck-passing. We pass the buck to the House of Commons, to the courts, to the police and now to either the district councils or the county councils. We are now saying that all of them have a responsibility, but, ultimately, we shall not get a grip on the problem until there is a greater sense of parental and teacher discipline on children, which is lacking not only on the question of smoking but on a range of other issues. Smoking is only the symptom of a breakdown of teacher and parental discipline. Although we, as responsible citizens representing our constituents, are right to try to do what we can to put the Bill on the statute book, parents must exercise greater discipline.

When I see people in my village and tap them on the shoulder—which I do as a responsible Member of Parliament—to draw their attention to one or two things that their children are doing and suggest that their children should not run riot through the village a 11 pm, midnight, or I am, that they should perhaps not get drunk and should not smoke if they are under the age of 16 and that they get up to no good, the parents do not like it. Little Johnny can do no wrong. Until we break through that attitude, we shall make no progress, whatever legislation is on the statute book.

I welcome the new clause in so far as it relates to Scotland—it merely repeats what we wrote into the Bill in Committee—and although I also support the other amendments, I urge a note of caution. Until teachers and parents recognise their responsibilities, we are unlikely to change some of the statistics which were given by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East.

Miss Lestor

We know now that the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) was a model child and was never tempted down the path followed by so many other hon. Members. I was also a model child and never smoked.

I recently heard an hon. Member describe something that had happened and say, "I slept like a baby." I remember thinking that that man had never been involved with one. I now say to the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes—that paragon of virtue—that I am certain that he has never been a parent. If he had, he would know that although all parents have responsibility, we cannot hold them solely responsible for the actions of their children. Parents are often fighting against an ethos in society which encourages their children to go in the opposite direction to that which they would have wanted. It was not parents who, in the 1960s, encouraged their children to smoke cannabis. Parents have a responsibility, but so do we all. That does not mean that the House should not try to enact legislation that makes it easier for parents to carry out their responsibilities and not have them undermined by irresponsible shopkeepers and irresponsible advertising.

When talking about passing the buck, we can make a contribution by saying that the buck stops here. I was going to take up what my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) said —

Sir Trevor Skeet

Is the hon. Lady suggesting that parents should abdicate their responsibilities and that society should be run by the House or by legislators who, of course, always know best?

Miss Lestor

I thought that I said the opposite, but I repeat that parents have responsibilities. Often what they try to do is undermined by other agencies and by the ethos of our society. That is what has happened with smoking.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East on the Bill and on the way in which he has accommodated many hon. Members, especially the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes. I would not have been so generous. My hon. Friend almost described the Committee as a love-in and I was going to take him up on that. However, having listened to the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes say that although he disagreed with the Bill he would go along with it, I believe that my hon. Friend was right: those of us who believe in the Bill influenced hon. Members who had doubts to say that they would support it.

It is important that we clarify who has responsibility. I, too, believe in deterrents. We can now publicise the fear of detection of those people who sell to under-age children and shopkeepers will now be aware of their responsibilities. We cannot stop youngsters over the age of 16 or adults giving cigarettes to children, but we can try to create an atmosphere in which they believe it to be undesirable. We do not have the power to go around our constituencies poking people and saying, "Look, we know what you are doing." We do not have such powers and some of us might get strange responses, but we can make it more difficult for children to smoke.

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One important issue that has not been raised is that, whatever freedoms may exist in society for adults, the medical profession is concerned about the effect of smoking on young girls who can become addicted at an early age. There is a danger not only to their health but to the health, well-being, survival rates and weights of the babies that they produce. Anyone who knows anything about children's health is worried about that. One of the first questions that hospitals and doctors ask a pregnant woman—especially a young woman —is whether she smokes and they advise her not to do so. Smoking during pregnancy has an effect on the weight of a child and on the way in which it thrives. A motion was tabled on that issue during the previous Session.

Women's magazines offer a temptation or invitation to smoke. Many young girls read such magazines arid we must do our bit to counter that by saying that there is another argument. We must create an ethos in which smoking is unfashionable and try to stop people selling cigarettes to children.

The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes introduced a red herring by asking who would be responsible if a local authority was abolished. I am sure that the Minister will deal with that issue. There are transfers of schedules and ways to deal with such issues. The hon. Gentleman introduced the red herring to raise doubts and to say that the Bill would not work. Until legislation is on the statute book, we do not know whether it will work. Sometimes we must return to legislation to refine it and to deal with further difficulties, but if we all agree that we do not want our children to smoke, we must ensure that whatever parents, teachers and others do, people are not allowed to tempt our children and get away with breaking the law.

Mr. Peter Lloyd

I wish to make a few comments in answer to points that have been made. As I said in my opening remarks, I understand the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Knowles), who does not want unnecessary and expensive duties to be placed on local authorities. However, clause 4 would require local authorities to decide how best to enforce powers and responsibilities that they already have. We ask them to think carefully about how best to use them and put them into effect. I hope that he and my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North (Sir T. Skeet) will agree that time spent on reconnaissance is never wasted; that is equally true of local authorities. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East said that he was not minded to press his amendment and I am glad that he came to that conclusion.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North was right to stress that cigarettes are harmful. Local authorities will have to take stock of how they use their powers and use them as effectively as possible so that children cannot buy cigarettes as easily as they have been able to do in many places.

I was glad that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) welcomed the Government's new clause 2. He was right that Scottish local authorities do not prosecute, but they are best placed to provide the evidence to the procurator fiscal on which prosecutions may be based. I hope that those local authorities use their opportunities effectively and fully. That is the view and hope of my ministerial colleagues in the Scottish Office.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) was in a sombre —indeed, almost pessimis-tic—vein for most of his speech. He spoke about the difficulties of enforcement. Because this is a difficult area to enforce, we spent much time in Committee considering how to do that. The Government will assist by issuing a full and helpful circular and by ensuring that local authorities include in their annual reports information on what they are doing so that local people know what is happening in their area and can take the action that my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes suggested that parents and teachers should take. I am glad that my hon. Friend accepted that we should do all that we reasonably can by legislation and I am grateful to him for that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes asked who will enforce the law in his local authority area if the position changes. I am not sure what the possibilities are for his area, but I imagine that the authority may become a single-tier body. In that case, it is simple—those responsibilities that belong to the local authorities which are abolished will pass to the single-tier authority and responsibility for enforcing the Bill's provisions will belong to the local authority that has all the responsibilities for local government duties in my hon. Friend's constituency.

I was impressed by the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes revealed that he was intimidated by his parents when he was a child. I am not sure that he has ever been intimidated by anyone in the Chamber, as he repeatedly proves in his speeches. My hon. Friend was right to emphasise the disciplinary role of parents, teachers and other adults. I hope that that message will not be obscured by our concentrating on what we can do in legislation. I am sure that that will not happen, because my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, North put that message before us constantly in Committee and again pithily this morning. His view found agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East and other hon. Members.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Eccles (Miss Lestor) for her support for the further changes that I have asked the House to make to the Bill. She rightly said that smoking is particularly bad for pregnant woment and can do much damage to their children. That should be widely known. The hon. Lady referred to advertising seen by young people. I draw her attention to the voluntary agreement that excluded advertising in a range of magazines that are particularly read by young women. Perhaps we shall return to that point later. It should be emphasised in concert with the hon. Lady's important point about young women.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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