Clause 3 - Advertising: newspapers, periodicals etc

Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 9 May 2002.

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Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne 10:45, 9 May 2002

I beg to move amendment No. 16, in page 2, line 5, after ''editor'', insert ''or printer''.

In moving the amendment, I clarify my interest, or lack of one. I grew up in the printing industry and owned a printing business. I sold it some time ago and no longer have any financial or commercial interest in that industry. I say that for the avoidance of any doubt, because what I shall say draws heavily on my past incarnation.

Amendment No. 16 would add printers to the list of people who will be caught by the legislation. It is important to pursue that issue. Other issues surrounding it are for a stand part debate and I shall not stray into them—I am aware of the danger. I should welcome the chance to debate those in due course but, for the moment, I am discussing the addition of the two words ''or printer''.

Looking at a range of other legislation in this country—I speak, as I said, as a former printer—the legal minefield for the printer of other people's products is enormous. My experience is that to say that one did not know or did not realise something is no defence. Yet here we are exempting part of the process, which I do not think that we should.

The most obvious example is the libel law. To say that one, as a printer, published a book or newspaper article that libelled someone else is no defence in law against being responsible. If the Bill were enacted as it is, the printer would be given an exemption. We are in danger of creating a loophole that will be easy to exploit.

Photo of John Barrett John Barrett Liberal Democrat, Edinburgh West

What is the hon. Gentleman's understanding of clause 2(2)? It states

''A person who in the course of a business prints, devises or distributes . . . a tobacco advertisement . . . is guilty of an offence.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne 11:00, 9 May 2002

I was going to come to that once I had set out why it is important that the words ''or printer'' should be used. If a printer is included in one clause but left out of the next, which is inconsistent, lawyers would be provided with a long and expensive argument about which of those two clauses is the one to follow. Will clause 3 cover somebody who prints advertising in ''newspapers, periodicals'' and so forth? I worry every time I read ''etc.'' in legislation. All that I can see is the cash register going round for the

solicitors and barristers who will get locked into the meaning of ''etc.''.

Clause 3 does not refer to the printer. My supposition is that that would provide some sort of defence notwithstanding clause 2. If I am wrong—I am not a lawyer and there are lawyers in the Room—surely somebody will leap to their feet and say that I am worrying unnecessarily. I hope that that deals with the hon. Gentleman's point, which needs to be cleared up.

If the Government want clear and sensible law, I am surprised that they have not considered precedent. Libel law is crystal clear when a printer is involved. We all know electoral law, and despite changes to printing and publishing we still have to identify the printer. Both the printer and the candidate are caught by specific legislation if anything defamatory or untrue is put into an electoral leaflet, but there is no such specific wording in the Bill.

The obscene publications legislation is yet another example involving the printer. The law covering incitement to racial hatred would catch anybody printing such material. The Bill addresses something that, judging from some Government Members' conversations, the Government consider a social evil. However, the printer has been left out. If I were still involved in the printing industry, I would be very nervous about the confusion between clauses 2 and 3 and being the only person in the chain of publication, production and distribution who is not caught by the legislation. Pressures will be brought on the printing industry to be the loophole by which such advertisements are published. If advertisements are published abroad or the printer is not in business when they are published, the printing industry will provide a loophole that will not be covered as on offence. I shall be interested to hear why the Minister thinks that printers should be left out.

Photo of Mr Adrian Flook Mr Adrian Flook Conservative, Taunton

In keeping with trying to be helpful in promoting the underlying aims of the Bill, I shall refer to the explanatory notes, which mention ''anyone in the chain''. I accept the point made earlier by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West on clause 2(2). There should be some consistency, and clause 3(a) would be tidied up if ''or printer'' were added to it.

The hon. Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart) referred to an advertisement—it was on a scrappy piece of paper—for the ''Bacci Bus''. If one could not find out who the organisers of the aforementioned bus were, one could go to the printer that produced the scrappy piece of paper that he waved in front of us. All Members of Parliament are subject to electoral law, so we are very aware of the ''printed and published by'' note at the end of every piece of paper put out in our name. I therefore find it surprising that the word ''printer'' cannot appear. It makes eminent sense to put together ''any proprietor or editor'' and ''or printer''.

Printing can be considered as a natural extension of ''proprietor or editor''. Indeed, the printer produces something that is tangible, unlike the editor or publisher. As we are not always sure who is the perpetrator of a tobacco advertisement, it is important

to have the opportunity to go to the printer, which produced a physical product that can be waved in the air, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Tayside showed. We should be able to say that we want to go after the people who printed the advertisement. It is strange that the Government have not already included the words of the amendment in the clause.

As someone who has employed printers for electoral communications—and between such communications, as elections are obviously not won purely during an election—I should declare the interest that I have given out printing business with intent to do so. If we did not insert the word ''printer'' we would not be able to go after the printer, who is likely to know who has asked him to print the advertisement—every printer I have ever hired has come after me for a bill. The printer is an important route to finding the perpetrators of an advertisement.

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

I am tempted to accept the amendment. I like the idea of Conservatives amending—or, as they think, tightening—a Bill that they have fundamentally opposed and voted against, which I assume they will continue to do on Third Reading.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

The Minister is being entirely disingenuous. She knows that we have reason to moan and that when we were talking about the programme resolution, I said that it was absolutely essential that if the Bill is to be passed—as it most likely will be—it must be watertight and fair. Simply acquiescing to shoddy legislation is not what the Opposition are here to do. We are here to ensure that legislation that must be passed works. We have not opposed the Bill outright, as she knows full well.

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

A reasoned amendment that states that the Opposition would decline the Bill a Second Reading sounds like strong opposition to me. However, I look forward to the hon. Gentleman voting in favour of the Bill on Third Reading.

As much as I tempted to accept the amendment, it is completely unnecessary as printers are clearly covered in clause 2. Clause 3 clarifies exactly who is covered when it comes to newspapers, periodicals and other publications, so that there is no doubt that the editor, proprietor, or any person who directly or indirectly procures the inclusion of the advertisement is covered by the Bill. No one could be in doubt that the Bill covers printers when clause 2(2) refers to:

''A person who in the course of a business prints, devises or distributes in the United Kingdom a tobacco advertisement.''

I am sympathetic to Opposition Members' intentions, for which I thank them, but the amendment is unnecessary.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

What an attempt to muddy the waters, and what an indication of a lack of understanding of democracy that was. It is the duty of Her Majesty's Opposition to oppose bad legislation and to be democratic. If we lose the argument in principle, as democrats, we do not go away and sulk; we participate in the democratic process by trying to make bad legislation slightly better. I do not think that

that is in any way contrary to the principles of opposition or contrary to my reasons for voting against the legislation previously. It is our job and I do not see why there is even a small point to be scored at our expense by criticising us for doing what we were elected to do.

We have come to the Committee to try and make a bad Bill marginally better. On that basis, I am disappointed that the amendment is not acceptable to the Government. I do not think that it contradicts anything that we stand for and it is a genuine attempt to clear up confusion. I sincerely hope that the Minister will not have to eat her words in due course when the courts get stuck into the legislation, noting that on one occasion it says ''printer'', and on another it does not.

In any event, even if the Minister still thinks that there is a point to be had at our expense, surely she has been here long enough to understand that an awful lot of amendments are tabled to probe the Government's thinking and to clarify their intention, not necessarily to add wisdom to the legislation. When I was on the Government side of the Committee Room, the number of spurious, doubtful, unacceptable and unhelpful amendments tabled by the then Labour Opposition were legion. It is silly to say that what we are doing this morning is wicked, when for 18 years it was done the other way around. In any event, I hear what the Minister says. I believe that she is wrong. Having goaded me into saying that I should not be trying to be helpful, on this occasion I shall refrain from being helpful. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I beg to move amendment No. 18, in page 2, line 5, after 'publication', add

'knowing it to contain a tobacco advertisement'.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 17, in page 2, line 9, after 'public', add

'knowing it to contain an illegal advertisement'.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

In the spirit of not wanting to be churlish and having been duly patronised by the Minister in her response to the last amendment, I will not pursue the amendments if the hon. Lady can give us a simple assurance, which I am sure that she can.

The amendments relate to the ''knowingly'' amendment that we spoke to earlier. We did not pursue it after the hon. Lady gave us an assurance that our concerns were covered adequately by clause 5(5)(a), and the advertising defences clause. If she can give me those assurances and she is happy that they are watertight in this case, I shall be happy not to pursue the argument. I am sure that she can do that quickly so that we can move swiftly on to the next clause. We are now making very good progress on the Bill.

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

Yes, I can give the hon. Gentleman those assurances. For amendment No. 18, which raises the issue of whether there was knowledge, there is a defence in clause 5(1) that says that a person does not commit an offence if

''he did not know, and had no reason to suspect, that the purpose of the advertisement was to promote a tobacco product.''

There is also a defence in clause 5(2) if

''he could not reasonably have foreseen that that would be the effect of an advertisement.''

Those provisions do not allow individuals to claim that they did not know that there was a tobacco advertisement in their newspaper. As editor or proprietor, they have to take responsibility for what is in their newspaper. If they did not know that the purpose or the effect was to promote a tobacco product, they have a defence. If they did not know that the advert was there in the first place, they have to accept responsibility.

Amendment No. 17 is completely redundant because there is a defence in clause 5(6):

''A person does not commit an offence under section 3(c) if he did not know, and had no reason to suspect, that the publication contained a tobacco advertisement.''

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne 11:15, 9 May 2002

I was not going to intervene, but the Minister said that a proprietor or an editor must take some responsibility for what is in a magazine or a newspaper. I can accept the argument more readily for the editor than for the proprietor. I am not speaking on behalf of proprietors or trying to exempt them, but because of the way in which the printed media has developed as huge conglomerates, it is conceivable that a proprietor may not know what is in his publications. It is reasonable for the Minister to say that they jolly well should, but there is no defence in such a case. I hope to return to the issue of proprietors on stand part, if I may.

I wonder whether the Minister would care to reflect on a more sensible approach to the matter. For example, the proprietor should know or should have in place procedures that would bring the problem to light. The chances of a proprietor who owns thousands of newspapers, hundreds of magazines and so on being able on every occasion to vet every publication before it is let loose on the market is a practical absurdity. It cannot happen like that, yet saying, ''Heck. I could not have known, given the fact that these are daily or weekly publications. There are just not enough hours in the day for me to check'' will not be a defence. The alternative would be to have some proviso whereby it would constitute a defence if a proprietor could demonstrate that procedures were in place for someone down the chain to check on his behalf. There is a problem, and the Minister may care to comment and/or reflect on it.

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

I am not entirely sure that I understand the hon. Gentleman. If he wants to clarify further, I will be happy to give way. It is right that proprietors and editors should have some responsibility for the content of the newspapers and magazines that they publish. Clearly, it is their responsibility to put in place the necessary procedures.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

I am happy to clarify the matter. I agree that proprietors and editors have some responsibility. The debate is about how much responsibility they have. I was trying to persuade the hon. Lady that, for some proprietors, it is physically

impossible to do the checking necessary to fulfil the requirement. It seems to me that there is a need for further thought on the matter. If she would like to reflect on it, I suspect that she may agree that we have identified an issue that could well be considered on Report.

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

Obviously, I am happy to reconsider the matter before Report stage, but I do not see that there is an issue to be addressed. The principle is clear. Defences are set out in clause 5, because it is right that people who are unaware of the purpose and effect of the advertisements should have a defence. Equally, it is right that we ensure in clause 3 that people take responsibility for their decisions.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

I am grateful to the Minister for saying that she will reflect on the matter. However, I am disappointed that she then said that she did not see any need to take it further. Perhaps if I press her a little further, she may change her mind.

We do not disagree that proprietors have a responsibility in the matter—that is obvious. The Minister said that there was a defence if the purpose or effect of what was in the publication were not clear, but that there was no defence in saying ''I didn't know it was there.'' I am asking her to reflect on the level in the organisation that owns that publication at which responsibility should lie. As far as this provision is concerned, responsibility is vested purely in the proprietor, not in someone designated by the proprietor to have responsibility for checking what is in the publication.

That might sound like splitting hairs, but the measure is impractical in the global media industry. We have only to consider what has happened to local newspapers, probably in all our constituencies—they have been swallowed up in ever larger organisations so that one or two companies in this country now own literally thousands of daily, weekly, monthly and bi-monthly publications. It is nonsense to suggest that the proprietor is the person to be held responsible for checking the contents.

I ask the Minister to consider providing that it will be a defence for a proprietor to say that the person in their organisation responsible for that is X—that that is X's delegated job and that the responsibility for not doing that job therefore lies with X. Alternatively, we could provide that it is a defence if a proprietor has a procedure in place. Those were my suggestions. Neither of them was put in legal terms, but there is an issue there to which I hope we can return on Report when the Minister has had a chance to reflect on and clarify the clause.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

In my brief introduction, I said that I was happy not to press the amendment, to move the Committee on. However, the Minister then gave a rather longer answer and the matter went further. My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne made some pertinent comments, which raised further questions that the Minister has offered to go away and examine. There is clearly more to the clause than we had thought, but if we can have a short debate on clause stand part, I shall not press the amendment. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

We should like the Minister to clarify some brief points, which I am sure can be easily answered. Clause 3(b) refers to

''any person who (directly or indirectly) procured the inclusion of the advertisement''.

In my experience, ''procured'' is not a very parliamentary term. I have not seen it used in other Bills. Can the Minister elaborate on what procuring will mean in the context of this Bill? I would have thought that it throws up a whole host of possibilities.

Under clause 3(c),

''any person who sells the publication, or offers it for sale, or otherwise makes it available to the public, is guilty of an offence.''

I believe that concerns about that were raised in another place. Logically, we are talking there about paper boys or girls, who could be guilty of distributing something that contains a tobacco advertisement. They might see that, but have no knowledge that the law prohibits it. In reality, they are at the bottom of the responsibility chain. The culpability should lie with the newsagent selling the newspaper, periodical or

magazine being distributed by the paper boy or girl, and, above that, with the publisher, printer and other people whom we have discussed. I should like some assurances about where the cut-off point is. Common sense dictates that such people, in the lower echelons of the dissemination process, should not be included but, strictly speaking, under the clause as worded, they would be.

Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire Conservative, Spelthorne

I have a couple of arguments that, again, may sound like nit-picking requests for definitions, but I should like them to be on the record. What does the Minister mean by ''proprietor''? Most organisations that are likely to fall foul of the legislation will be limited companies of some kind, which will have a separate legal identity. Are we saying that the proceedings will be taken against the company? I think that we can reasonably leave the shareholders out of that for the moment, although that might need to be cleared up too. Or, will proceedings be against the directors of the company? The penalties, under clause 16—

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.