Clause 6 - Specialist tobacconists

Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 6 February 2001.

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Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Conservative, Woking 10:45, 6 February 2001

As we have had a fairly wide-ranging debate on specialist tobacconists, I may not allow a clause stand part debate. It will depend on how this debate goes.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I beg to move amendment No. 9, in page 3, leave out lines 18 to 20.

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Conservative, Woking

With this, we may discuss the following amendments: No. 32, in page 3, line 21, leave out `shop' and insert `business'.

No. 31, in page 3, line 22, leave out `half' and insert `one third'.

No. 33, in page 3, line 22, leave out

`on the premises in question'.

No. 34, in page 3, line 28, after `available', insert

`(or, if the most recent period for which accounts are available is different from twelve months, that period recalculated to an equivalent twelve month period on a pro rata basis)'.

No. 46, in page 3, line 34, at end add—

`(5) No offence is committed under section 2 and 3 in relation to an advertisement which is limited to the provision of particulars about a specialist tobacconist and the fact that it sells tobacco products.'.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I hope, Mr. Malins, that you will be sympathetic to our taking a little time over the way in which specialist tobacconists are to be regulated. We are talking about a lot of small businesses, many of them family businesses built up over a long period. What they have been doing will change, all of a sudden, from being legal to being illegal—potentially, if they get it wrong. Therefore, it is important that we help them by drawing from the Government as much detail as possible about how they will be affected by the Bill. Although the amendments have been grouped together, they are different. I cannot promise to deal with them as swiftly as we dealt with the previous group.

There are at least 350 cigar suppliers in this country. Many of those businesses are small and their owners will be listening attentively to the debate on this clause. Government and Opposition have a responsibility to speak up for the smaller players, as it is not easy for them to change rapidly how they do things—they do not always have the flexibility of large corporate players.

Amendment No. 9 would remove subsection (1)(c). It is a probing amendment, relating to our worry that small businesses may have to go to court for a ruling about what qualifies as a tobacco advertisement on their specialist premises. Hitherto, owners of such businesses have had to advertise to pursue their livelihood, so what they are permitted must be crystal clear. My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset referred to the failure to define ``advertisement'', which is the fundamental flaw in the Bill. That will hamper specialist tobacconists in knowing what they may do on their premises and in their business.

It would not be easy for a small business to go to court for clarification on this matter; it would cost a lot of money, and many would be deterred by the hurdle of going to court. Some business owners accused of the offence might feel that they would rather give up than go through the rigmarole, cost and indignity of having to go to court.

The amendment is designed to impress upon the Government that hiving off clarification into regulations by an ``appropriate Minister'' is not satisfactory for the specialist tobacconists, as they remain unclear about what qualifies as an advertisement. The Minister may help us over the guidance. She said that she would consult before it was issued, and I urge her to do so with those small specialists. They should not simply be lumped in one camp, as some have shops and some do not, so we need to ensure that the Government catch in their consultations all those likely to be affected. At the preliminary stage of debate on the Bill, the Government may not have realised that some of those 350 cigar manufacturers do not have a shop per se, and that that is why they depend so heavily on mailings. Those businesses need clarification about what is allowed.

Amendment No. 32 is not a probing amendment. I hope that it offers a constructive and sensible suggestion. Not all specialist tobacconists have shops—I hope that that message has got across loud and clear. If the Government want the Bill to work well, they should pay attention to the word ``shop'', which is too constraining and will not catch all the businesses that they hope to catch with the tobacco advertising ban. The amendment is self-explanatory and I hope that the Minister will agree to the change. If she leaves the word ``shop'', there will be consequences, because some specialist tobacconist shops are part of a chain. What would happen if shops within such a chain were treated differently? It is not impossible that that might happen. The word ``shop'' may trip the Government up in their intentions.

A chain may also have one shop that means that it qualifies, in the aggregate as a specialist tobacconist, although the other shops in the chain do not qualify separately. That does not sit well with the clause. The chain may be both a specialist and non-specialist supplier and we must decide how such a business would be affected by the Bill. Using the word ``business'' would clarify the matter. The clause as it stands will simply not work in practice, so I hope that the Government will reconsider the wording. Left as it is, it will weaken the Bill.

Amendment No. 33 relates to where the trading of tobacco products is carried out and would catch the specialist tobacco businesses that deal mainly, if not wholly, through mail order and web sites. Such businesses may not have a retail outlet on a high street, but trade their specialist products, which are often of high value, in a different way. As the clause pertains to specialist tobacconists, it should deal with the diverse way in which they retail. We need guidance from the Minister as to how those sales will be regarded for sales threshold qualification purposes, if they take place away from the principal shop premises. That brings us back to the previous amendment. The clause is constrained and weakened by the use of the word ``shop''.

Amendment No. 34 is different again. It is designed to provide a reasonable degree of protection for small businesses starting out. Specialist tobacco businesses come and go in different locations; because of business rates and fluctuations in trade, it is not easy to hold one's place on the high street. The clause may place an excessive burden on a new business. All hon. Members would accept that a fledgling business in its first 12 months of trading—regardless of the product in which it deals—cannot operate to full strength, and will find it difficult properly to assess how things are going. Inevitably, such businesses have to face high capital costs up front when they start up.

The amendment would change the clause, so the period could be

``recalculated to an equivalent twelve month period on a pro rata basis''.

It is a probing amendment that would protect start-up businesses.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health 11:00, 6 February 2001

I struggled to understand amendment No. 34. Could the hon. Lady say a little more to clarify what difference the wording of amendment No. 34 would make in practice? What is the difference between the words

``or, if the most recent period for which accounts are available is different from twelve months, that period recalculated to an equivalent twelve month period on a pro rata basis'' and the wording in the Bill?

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

It is an attempt to achieve a pro rata effect. If a business has been operating for only a short time, in assessing the proper sales level, the Government should take full account of the pro rata pattern of sale. It is as simple as that. Its purpose is the same as that of the Government: to be reasonable in calculating the volume of sales.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

In the early stages of operation, it is difficult for a small business to calculate accurately what its volume of sales will be. It may be fortunate, when it starts up, to sell a great number of products and will continue on a high for a long time. Typically, however, that is not the case and sales take some time to get off the ground because customers have to find the location—or relocation—of the business. It takes time to arrive at an accurate reflection of the quantity of product that is sold.

Amendment No. 46 is a probing amendment to clarify that generic advertising by specialist tobacconists will not be illegal. Specialist tobacconists do not usually sell anything other than tobacco products and accessories. They need guidance from the Minister about what they can and cannot do. Under clause 6, as drafted, they would not enjoy the protection that the defences have given to other suppliers of tobacco products. Specialist tobacconists are a group for whom we need to work hard to make it clear what they may or may not do. A simple statement from a specialist tobacconist about the existence and location of the business and the wording, ``Suppliers of fine cigars'', for example, may be considered an advertisement under the Bill.

The failure to define ``an advertisement'' at the beginning of the Bill does not make it easier for specialist tobacconists. We appreciated the concession that they could continue to put their name, address and telephone number in Yellow Pages, but we did not get to the bottom of what other generic advertising may be illegal in future.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce Conservative, South Dorset

I was grateful to the Minister for saying that that was what the Bill meant, but that is not what a judge might say is the position on Yellow Pages. We ought to make it clear that Conservative Members do not guarantee that someone who advertises their name in Yellow Pages as a seller of fine tobaccos will not be prosecuted under the Bill.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

Once again, we are back to the trouble with this Bill. As it stands, a small business may have to go to court for a ruling. Members of the Committee will probably recall that my hon. Friend brought with him an example from Yellow Pages, which helped to illustrate what my amendment is driving at. My hon. Friend may have it with him, but as I recall, under ``Tobacconists'' the page listed a series of telephone numbers and addresses of specialists.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I have to state for the purposes of Hansard that the central section lists tobacco retailers. We understand from the Minister that it would be legal to continue in that way. A series of other businesses that advertise on the same page have larger slots. If I understand it correctly, we are going to make it illegal for tobacco retailers to do the same, but they will not have been used to that. Some who saw other purveyors of retail articles advertise in Yellow Pages products such as recording and cleaning machines and a range of other items might advertise because it was common practice. They will get the message that there is a ban on tobacco advertising, but they might wonder what they can do beyond putting their names and addresses in Yellow Pages. The guidance becomes all important at that stage.

Under the amendment, retailers of specialist tobacco products could be certain that they could include details about their existence, location and activities in directories, references and books and on websites, but they need clearer guidance on what other forms of generic advertising that pertain to their businesses, such as signs saying ``Suppliers of Fine Cigars'', may be outlawed.

Retailers will find it difficult to accept such constraints on their normal commercial practice. The guidance about what specialist tobacco suppliers may do is not crystal clear. As I have said on numerous occasions, it is unreasonable to expect specialist tobacco retailers to test the opinion of the courts as to what constitutes a generic advertisement for a specialist tobacco product. It should be clearly stated that generic advertising that does not specify a brand will be permitted. A sign that reads ``Suppliers of Fine Cigars'' gives no indication of brand. If we want to cut smoking prevalence and we know that branded products are the driving force behind that prevalence, we must re-examine what generic advertising a specialist tobacconist may be allowed.

The group contains a number of different and unrelated amendments that are designed to make the clause clearer for specialist tobacconists, who will read with great attention the Minister's response. I hope that she will accept the spirit in which the amendments were tabled. The aim was to make the clause more workable for small businesses that do not have the resources to clarify in court what we, as legislators, should be able to clarify for them.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce Conservative, South Dorset 11:15, 6 February 2001

On amendment No. 32, will the Minister clarify what is the difference between retail and wholesale? In clause 4, it is clear that a wholesaler selling to a retailer can send any communication as long as it goes there directly, but there are problems with banning advertising or allowing advertising only in certain areas. Line 21 refers to a

shop selling tobacco products by retail.

A number of businesses, such as wholesalers that sell to retail tobacconists and the retail alcohol trade—off-licences and publicans—may be selling to two completely separate audiences. Wholesalers that have a legitimate advertising and promotional strategy may have people entering their premises who may be not tobacco retailers, but retailers of other products. That will create a minefield—individuals who purchase products other than tobacco from the wholesaler will be faced with advertisements and promotional items. That will, in effect, encourage them to become smokers or to buy a particular brand for their own consumption.

To specify that exemptions apply only to retailers, not wholesalers, is an example of poor drafting that may lead us into yet another minefield. Legitimate wholesalers that are carrying out promotion work to retailers might be excluded from doing so, because they may be in contact with retailers who buy other products from them.

What about a wholesaler such as Makro? Only retail businesses can have Makro cards, yet I suspect that 90 per cent. of its customers are buying goods for their own consumption. Does the Minister have any thoughts about whether a wholesaler that, in effect, sells cigarettes to people for their own consumption will be excluded from so doing under the Bill when it advertises or takes part in promotional activity within the store, by the use of the word ``retail'' in line 21 of the clause?

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I hope that the Committee will bear with me. I am missing my Whip this morning. He would have kept me in order. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) sends his apologies to the Committee— following a trip to France, he has food poisoning. No doubt, he would have pointed out to me that I had not explained amendment No. 31. I wish to deal with all the amendments together, albeit that they deal with different items.

Amendment No. 31 would reduce the amount of products that would be calculated for total sales from one half to a third. I shall explain the reasoning behind it. The required 50 per cent. threshold of total sales of

``cigars, snuff, pipe tobacco and smoking accessories'' is high, when we take into account that a high percentage of the sales price of cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco comprises excise duty. The duty on pipe tobacco and cigars is lower and, in general, it is not applied to other smoking accessories. It is therefore easier for sales of cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco to be high and for those sales not to be of as great significance to the profit margin of the specialist tobacconist as sales of cigars, pipe tobacco and smoking accessories.

That there is differential excise on different tobacco products is an important point. The threshold for qualification as a specialist tobacconist should be reduced from one half to one third. Without the amendment, there is a great risk that certain specialist tobacconists that are not necessarily represented by a big lobby or have any particular clout in respect of certain legislation will be discriminated against. Differential excise duty will affect the calculation of sales on which the clause is based. I am grateful that the Committee has allowed me to explain the amendment, which otherwise might not have been clear.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

I shall speak to each of the amendments in turn, as they would have different effects. Amendment No. 9 would remove the regulation-making power relating to specialist tobacconists. We do not anticipate using the powers. The status quo on advertising in the average specialist tobacconist shop is fine by us. The power to introduce regulations is provided to cover future developments and in case the defence for specialist tobacconists is abused and used to promote tobacco advertising in a way that goes against the broad intentions behind the Bill. I refer not to the promotions or advertising that take place in the average specialist tobacconists at the moment, but to new forms of advertising and developments that we have not anticipated that may arise under the defence provided in clause 6. Let us suppose that cigars become the big fashion among teenagers and the big tobacco product that all teenagers want to smoke, or that a specialist tobacconist product becomes the fashionable product for children and results in anxiety about children on public health grounds. It is not the intention behind the Bill that a loophole should be allowed to develop.

If present circumstances continue, we do not anticipate using the powers. However, we believe it right, given the broad intentions behind the Bill, to take the powers in reserve. It is clear in the Bill that specialist tobacconists may advertise cigars, snuff and other specialist tobacconist products anywhere on their premises.

Amendments Nos. 32 and 33 are related. They are designed to end the focus on the shop and focus instead on the business. It would be wrong to broaden the defence for specialist tobacconists to include all forms of business as opposed merely to shops and for good reason. The rationale behind the limited exemption for specialist tobacconists, which relates to the European directive, was that people who go into such shops have already decided that they are interested in purchasing tobacco products.

A purist argument would be that we should prevent all tobacco advertising in specialist tobacconists except at point of sale, regardless of who they are, because they promote and sell tobacco products. We have not taken that approach. We accept that they should have a specialist exemption because people have already chosen to purchase a product or have already decided that they are interested in purchasing a tobacco product when they walk in the door.

However, that principle does not apply to mail order, for example. It does not apply to business conducted beyond the walls of that shop. Why should specialist tobacconists be allowed to bombard households with direct mail about tobacco products, even if those products may be less harmful, depending on how they are smoked? Why should they be able to advertise over the internet or anywhere else tobacco products to people who have not walked into the premises and chosen to go into a tobacco shop to buy a product?

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

One answer is that, if the United Kingdom contains only 350 cigar manufacturers, having a shop in a particular village or town would mean that much of the customer base of those manufacturers would be simply too far away for practical purposes for the sale of such products. There are simply not enough of them when divided among 57 million people.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

Like everyone else, manufacturers are allowed direct point-of-sale advertising, including on the internet, subject to the regulations. Like everyone else, they can respond to requests for information about their products, just as we have said that other forms of tobacco product vendors or producers should be able to do. However, this is a public health Bill and we judge these exemptions on whether or not people are promoting tobacco products.

There is a distinction between those who walk into a tobacco shop and decide that they want to purchase and those who have not decided whether they want to purchase cigars or anything else receiving mailshots, coupons or any other form of unsolicited advertising through the post. Such people may be trying to give up smoking. Why should we allow that type of exemption? We can accept an exemption if people have already made the choice, but there is no clear justification for an exemption for specialist tobacconists. They will have the same ability as everybody else to do direct point-of-sale advertising on the internet, or to communicate with their customers, subject to the rest of the Bill. However, it would be wrong on public health grounds, given the overall aim of the Bill, to allow a particular sort of direct marketing and advertising to continue.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce Conservative, South Dorset 11:30, 6 February 2001

I am still struggling to work out where the Bill allows people to advertise their product at point of sale and where it states what is an advertisement. Simply having a cigarette packet in view clearly is an advertisement, but where does the Bill allow the physical activity of retailing to go on, where somebody goes to purchase a packet of cigarettes, or whatever, outside a specialist tobacco shop? Where is the defence in the Bill?

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

I was rapidly flicking through the Bill as the hon. Gentleman was speaking. Clause 4(2) states:

``The display or advertisement in a place or on a website where tobacco products are offered for sale, in accordance with any requirements specified by the appropriate Minister in regulations, of the products offered for sale there and of their prices is not an offence under this Act.''

We had a detailed discussion of that under clause 4; we have in fact already amended it. I am reading from the original draft of the Bill; we have already passed Government amendments that make it clear that there is a distinction between advertising and display.

We will return to the issue. I have already signalled the Government's intention to table further amendments to make clearer the issues around display, because we need to separate out some specifics on both display and advertising. We have made it clear that advertising at point of sale is to be permitted, but subject to regulations on which we will of course consult. That applies to specialist tobacconists selling outside their shop in the same way as it does to everyone else.

Amendment No. 31 refers to the proportion of sales of tobacco products required for a business to be counted as a specialist tobacconist. In the end, we draw the line where we choose, but it is sensible to say that someone can be counted as a specialist tobacconist if the majority of the products sold are specialist tobacco products. To make it the majority—50 per cent.—seems to me perfectly reasonable and to draw the line any lower would make it hard to see whether people were specialist tobacconists rather than some other sort of vendor who also sold some specialist tobacco products. Most people would regard 50 per cent. as reasonable, because that allows us to say that the majority of products sold by a shop are specialist tobacco products.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

Does the Minister accept the practical point, which is that the differential excise duty may drive the split in the sort of products that a business vends? That is getting perilously close to Government dictating what a specialist supplier should or should not sell. That will be the effect of regulation.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

In the end, they can sell what they like. We are saying that they can have a defence under the Bill if they sell more than 50 per cent. specialist tobacco products. If they do not, that is fine; they have the right to sell whatever products they want, but if they do not sell more than 50 per cent. specialist tobacco products, we will not count them as a specialist tobacconist for the purposes of the Bill and we will not give them a defence. That is reasonable.

I am still struggling to understand the purpose of amendment No. 34. The Bill states that businesses will be assessed for as long as they have been established, if they have not been established for 12 months. It is a question not of the overall volume of sales, as I accept that that may grow during the year, but of what proportion of the sales comprises specialist tobacconist products—be it for three months, six months, or whatever period. We could not legitimately make the assessment on the basis of any information other than sales. I am not clear what the difference is between making the assessment on the basis of the three months or of a pro rata projection from that three months. In the end, the proportion of sales that are specialist tobacco products within that three-month period is what counts—whether or not it is multiplied in a pro rata calculation for 12 months. I do not understand what the amendment would achieve and I reject it for that reason.

Amendment No. 46 is an attempt to clarify the sort of advertising and information provision that specialist tobacconists will be allowed. We have had the discussion before so I will reiterate what I said and give an example as further clarification.

We intend to prevent specialist tobacco companies not from advertising their business but from advertising their tobacco products outside their premises. For example, they will be allowed to place an advertisement in the Yellow Pages that says something like, ``J.R. Hartley, Specialist Tobacconist, sells cigars, pipes and snuff''. However, a half-page advertisment that said, ``J.R. Hartley, cheapest Davidoffs in town, half-price snuff, finest range of sophisticated cigars—smoking a Cuban cigar makes you sophisticated'', would clearly be promoting tobacco products. We do not want to permit such promotion and that is the entire point of the Bill. It is clear from our wording that specialist tobacconists will be allowed to provide information and listings in the Yellow Pages, but not to use it to promote and advertise tobacco products.

The hon. Member for South Dorset asked a question about retail, but I was not entirely sure what his concern was. A defence under clause 4(1)(a) states that

``a communication made for the purposes of the tobacco trade'' is not covered by the Bill, as long as it is

``directed solely at persons engaged in any capacity in that trade''.

If the communication is directed more broadly, beyond that trade, it is not covered by the defence and will be caught by the Bill.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce Conservative, South Dorset

People who go to a specialist tobacco wholesaler to buy other products may see the advertising and promotion. I wonder how the Government will protect the wholesaler specialising in tobacco sales, who is not covered by the retailer defence—[Interruption.] It is difficult for me to concentrate on such a difficult matter with constant heckling from a sedentary position. I cannot hear a word that the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) is saying. If he wants to intervene, I shall be pleased to take the intervention.

Photo of Mr Ernie Ross Mr Ernie Ross Labour, Dundee West

It is a contradiction in terms—

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Conservative, Woking

Order. The hon. Member for South Dorset was intervening, and we cannot have an intervention on an intervention.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

The significance of the word ``retail'' is still not clear to me. I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West.

Photo of Mr Ernie Ross Mr Ernie Ross Labour, Dundee West

If the person is a wholesale specialist tobacconist, all he will be wholesaling is specialist tobacco products.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

My hon. Friend is right. We want to prevent people who are intending to buy other products that are not related to tobacco from being bombarded by tobacco advertising. That is why a specialist tobacconist is defined as a shop in which more than 50 per cent. of sales derive from tobacco products. That is to minimise the possibility of someone intending to buy goods that are not related to tobacco. If people intend to buy such items, why enter a specialist tobacconist? The whole point of the clause is to ensure that specialist tobacconists are those that deal with tobacco products, thus people who enter such premises will have already decided that they are interested in tobacco products. Under those circumstances, tobacco advertising within such premises is acceptable.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce Conservative, South Dorset

The hon. Lady and her hon. Friend have obviously missed my point that a specialist wholesaler may sell two different products. For example, it may sell fine wines and expensive alcohol and specialist tobacco products at the same premises. A customer may enter premises to purchase only alcohol products, but be affected by tobacco advertisements. It is strange that only retailers have the defence whereby they can advertise such products rather than wholesalers in the same position.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

That is because wholesalers have a different defence under clause 4(1)(a), which comes into effect if they have a

``communication made for the purposes of the tobacco trade and directed solely at persons engaged in any capacity in that trade''.

The retail defence is set out for specialist tobacconists that are engaged in the retail trade. We should distinguish between wholesalers and tobacco advertising within specialist tobacconist retailers.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce Conservative, South Dorset

What will happen when a customer who goes into a wholesaler that is not a specialist tobacconist to buy fine cognac is offended because he is bombarded with promotions and advertisements for tobacco products and wants the wholesaler to be prosecuted? The wholesaler will have no defence.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

The wholesaler has the defence if communications are directed solely at people engaged in any capacity in the tobacco trade. It is reasonable that wholesalers have a defence in respect of those involved in tobacco trading and not other matters. I do not see a problem. However, I shall scratch my head and reflect further on the matter to see if I can come up with a problem because the hon. Gentleman is being so persistent.

I think that I have covered all the amendments in the group. The Government cannot accept any of them.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

You have given us advance warning that you will not allow a stand part debate, Mr. Malins, so my remarks will comprise general observations on clause 6. Our proceedings have been disappointing, given that we have discussed matters in a good-natured way. We have tried to be constructive. To sum up what the Minister said—basically, she has told specialist tobacconists that they must lump it. She showed little sympathy.

Mr. Ernie Ross indicated assent.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 11:45, 6 February 2001

The hon. Gentleman nods. It is my nature to be consensual and I do not usually make such remarks, but the Government's attitude showed arrogance. Commercial activities that people have carried on legitimately for many years will suddenly become illegal. That is a big change for practitioners to assimilate and small businesses will be worst affected. The Government said that they had listened to small business. What I heard was a remarkably hard-hearted and hard-nosed attitude. There was little appreciation of the practical arguments that I was trying to put forward.

The total rejection of all my amendments could have interesting and unforeseen consequences. To achieve a better defence under the Bill, suppliers of specialist tobacco products could be forced to set up a shop; they could then at least cover themselves by saying, ``At least we have a shop''. That might produce a rash of tobacconists on the high street—who knows? That may be the effect of going about the legislation in a heavy-handed way without taking account of the practicalities.

There may be another effect. The differential excise duty means that retail sales have been bumped up by sales of cigarettes with the higher excise duty on them. One has to sell a lot more cigars and other specialist tobacco products now to qualify to be a specialist tobacconist. It is not the tobacconists' fault that there is differential excise duty on tobacco products: they have no control over that. It is within the gift of the Government to vary the excise on different tobacco products. Their stance is remarkably rigid.

My amendments on specialist tobacconists have been rejected, but I still find it difficult to imagine a time when the youth of today will have the disposable income—and the desire—to buy cigars. The Minister must have had a privileged education: at her school, youngsters had enough money to buy cigars to smoke behind the bike shed. Where I came from, they jolly well did not—there was no way we could get that sort of money. Anyone who smokes—and I do not—knows that one cannot chain-smoke cigars without feeling queasy by the second or third.

The Minister's argument lacks common sense and a user-friendly attitude towards the small players who will be hit hard by the legislation. She could have come a little way towards meeting me. I do not feel so strongly that I am prepared to press the amendments to a vote. The Government have a socking great majority—[Interruption.]

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Conservative, Woking

Order. There are too many sedentary interventions.

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

No. The Government have a socking great majority and can get their way. My general observation of their attitude towards the debate on the amendments and the clauses is that it is incredibly harsh-minded towards small businesses. They fail to recognise that many specialist tobacconists are now outside—

Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

No. Many special tobacconists will now fall outside the definition of a specialist. If the Government had stood back and thought with more common sense about specialist tobacconists and accepted one or two of the amendments, they would have made a difference without opening the floodgates or creating a massive loophole. In practical terms, that would have given specialist tobacconists a reasonable defence that will now be denied to some of them.

Photo of Kevin Barron Kevin Barron Labour, Rother Valley

Briefly, the hon. Member for Meriden takes the matter out of context. Many people argued that clause 6 should not be in the Bill because it protects the interests of specialist tobacco shops. The hon. Lady wants to amend it into a nonsense, while saying that she doubts whether it should be there, but she is here, supposedly, to represent the interests of those small businesses. The Government have done that and, in doing so, have not taken all parts of the public health lobby along with them on the clause. That ought to be a matter of record in this Committee.

Amendment negatived.

The Chairman, being of the opinion that the principle of the clause and any matters arising thereon had been adequately discussed in the course of debate on the amendments proposed thereto, forthwith put the Question, pursuant to Standing Orders Nos. 68 and 89, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Question agreed to.

Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.