Tobacco Manufacturing

Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Industry – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th November 2000.

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Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch 12:00 am, 30th November 2000

When he last met the Tobacco Workers Association to discuss job prospects in British tobacco manufacturing. [139534]

Photo of Patricia Hewitt Patricia Hewitt Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry

My hon. Friend the Minister for Public Health and I met representatives of the Tobacco Workers Alliance on 26 October. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe) and the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) were also present.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

That has not done much to satisfy the workers who will be affected by the Government's deliberate and wilful campaign to destroy 1,600 tobacco manufacturing jobs in Southampton. We know that the Labour party received £1 million from Bernie Ecclestone to save a few jobs in Formula 1, but what price is the Minister demanding to save 1,600 jobs in export manufacturing in Southampton?

Photo of Patricia Hewitt Patricia Hewitt Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry

I do not recall the hon. Gentleman expressing any concern about the fate of the hundreds of thousands of miners whose jobs were destroyed by the previous Administration. Crocodile tears from the hon. Gentleman will not impress anyone. I stress that the EU directive on labelling and tar levels, to which the hon. Gentleman refers, will not take effect before January 2004 at the earliest. There is a great deal of time for the tobacco industry and other sectors in the supply chain to adjust to those changes. I have every sympathy for the workers, who of course are anxious about their job prospects, but I have stressed to the Tobacco Workers Alliance not only that the companies have time to adjust to the prospect, but that direct help will be available to any workers who lose their jobs. We do not accept the estimates that have been made, but if any workers face the threat of redundancy, we shall ensure that we give them every help to find other jobs.

Photo of Liz Blackman Liz Blackman Labour, Erewash

I, too, have constituents who work in the tobacco industry who are equally concerned about job losses. Has my hon. Friend made any rough estimates of the job losses if the directive is implemented, and will she agree to meet representatives of the tobacco industry in my constituency to hear their concerns?

Photo of Patricia Hewitt Patricia Hewitt Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry

Of course I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and any colleagues whom she wishes to bring to discuss the matter with me. I stress that neither the European Commission nor my Department accept the estimates that have been offered by the Tobacco Workers Alliance and the industry of potential job losses. British American Tobacco has said that much of the overseas market for its cigarettes depends upon the premium "made in Britain" brand. There is every reason to think that the industry can continue to export successfully even if the tar levels are reduced. It is also worth saying that, when the earlier directive on tar levels was introduced, the industry predicted that there would be hundreds of thousands of direct and indirect job losses, but they did not materialise.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross UUP, East Londonderry

Do the Government recall that, in past years, tobacco workers sounded a clear warning about the consequences of increasing taxation on tobacco? That was ignored, and we have seen a constant rise in smuggling and the consequent loss of jobs in the United Kingdom industry. Why do the Government continue to ignore the warnings that are being sounded by tobacco workers on the EU ban?

Photo of Patricia Hewitt Patricia Hewitt Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry

It is worth remembering that tobacco kills and that high-tar cigarettes kill more people more quickly. Our estimate is that the new directive will strengthen the internal market and protect health. In particular, we estimate that between 400 and 750 lives a year could be saved by the implementation of the directive in the UK. We must take account—the president of the Tobacco Workers Alliance herself made this point to me—of the health impact of smoking. That is why we strongly support the directive.