New Clause 2 - Age of sale

Health Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:00 am on 15th December 2005.

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‘The appropriate national authority may issue regulations modifying the Children and Young Persons (Protection from Tobacco) Act 1991 so as to substitute for the age specified in any of its provisions such other higher age or ages as they consider appropriate.’. —[Sir George Young.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Question proposed [13 December], That the clause be read a Second time.

Question again proposed.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

I remind the Committee that with this new clause, we are considering:

New clause 7—Sale of tobacco—

‘In section 7(1) of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 (c. 12), leave out ‘sixteen’ and insert ‘eighteen’.’.

Amendment No. 71, in title, line 2, after ‘vehicles’, insert

‘to make provision in relation to the sale of tobacco’.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Shadow Minister (Health)

Despite my cold I am bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I hope—as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as I ever get. The amendments are well worthy of the Minister’s support, and I hope that she has given them some in-depth thought in the past few days. I am only sorry that I did not put them forward myself, although I was happy to add my name and those of my hon. Friends to the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough (Jeff Ennis).

This is one of those situations in which one thinks, “Why on earth didn’t I think of that?” It seems blindingly obvious, in the context of trying to improve public health, that we should seek to increase to 18 the age at which one can purchase tobacco. That is eminently reasonable, particularly as it would be a simplifying measure. The age at which one can legally purchase alcohol is 18, and most people accept that 18 is a significant age—except, perhaps, the Liberal Democrats; I hope that they will speak to this set of amendments. It is the age at which one achieves majority and the age of competence for so many things: in our electoral system, for example, and with   regard to the way in which people are approached at work. We have to have a defining age at some point in our chronology, or life span, and society accepts that that point is the age of 18.

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Health

This question does not have an obvious, right answer that the age of majority should be the same for absolutely everything. I shall give an example that I hope you will accept is in order, Lady Winterton. By analogy, if the hon. Gentleman argues that the age of 18 should be the age of majority for everything, he must think that the age at which one should be allowed to drive should be raised to 18. Does he think so?

Photo of Jeff Ennis Jeff Ennis Labour, Barnsley East and Mexborough

The point with tobacco is that it is what I would call an age-restricted sale product. We are talking about products that are sold over the counter, rather than issues such as driving licences. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we are concentrating on age-restrictive products when we talk about the age of 18?

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Shadow Minister (Health)

Yes, that is the focus of our debate on this set of amendments. I return briefly to the point made by the hon. Member for Northavon (Steve Webb), who I hope will be more expansive in his remarks during our debate on the amendments. Of course, I am not trying to set any particular age in stone, but it seems sensible to me to recognise the age of 18 as a significant age—as the majority of people in this country do. It is important to have a level of consistency. There are good reasons to allow people to drive earlier than that; the hon. Gentleman does not need me to expound them, but they have to do with the need to have a car for employment and other purposes. We could debate whether that age is sensible—

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

Order. I point out to hon. Members that they should not drive down that particular route.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Shadow Minister (Health)

Thank you, Lady Winterton. I suspect that this is a debate for another day, so I shall not pursue it any further, but I hope that I have addressed the hon. Gentleman’s point to some level of his satisfaction. He might like to comment further when he makes his remarks.

To raise the age at which one can smoke to 18—or another age, which is, I think, the crux of the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young)—is entirely sensible. We are debating public health, so we must focus on that. We have been a little distracted, if I may say so, by issues that are more properly to do with nuisance and amenity, but this is a straight public health issue. Raising the age would send a clear message to young people that smoking is harmful and that they should think twice before they do it. It would also send a message to retailers and to society at large about how smoking is perceived. I hope that a general public health message will come from the new clauses, as distinct from the specifics about the mechanics of the sale of tobacco to young people.

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Health

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we are discussing two new clauses, one of which would create a general power to raise the age, and one that would raise the age to 18. As the Government are talking about consulting on the appropriate age, does the hon. Gentleman think that we should pre-empt that consultation today by setting a specific age, or would he prefer a more general permissive power?

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Shadow Minister (Health)

I think that the age of 18 is reasonable. I am interested to see whether the hon. Gentleman is prepared to accept that. I know that his party likes to consult ad nauseam, but the Bill is a health Bill and we have, throughout, pressed the Minister to make its contents specific. It creates many powers to act by regulation, and it is very thin. We shall come to that point again in the debate on hospital-acquired infection, on which we consider the Bill is extremely thin. We would like some specifics in the Bill, to be used to improve public health right now, rather than yet another consultation, although I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm for consultation.

I guess that consultation, if we are to have it, is better than nothing, but it would be nice if the Minister could be clear about her intentions. I hope that she will table her own amendments to improve the Bill, since the Government are reluctant to accept others’ suggestions in Committee. The general direction of travel is towards raising the age for sale of tobacco. I hope that the hon. Member for Northavon will subscribe to that and it will be interesting to hear his comments shortly. If he does not think that that is right, he should explain, although I accept that, presumably, his party wants to be consistent, and I am particularly mindful of the private Member’s Bill that a member of his party—the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Stephen Williams)—presented a few days ago, to lower the age of enfranchisement to 16. I appreciate that the Liberal Democrats want perpetually to lower that age, and that it might fit ill with that if they were to support the new clauses.

However, I make a promise. I shall spare the blushes of the hon. Member for Northavon on Report by not raising the possible inconsistency in the Liberal Democrat approach, if he will undertake in Committee to support the new clauses. I promise—trust me, I am a politician—that I will not raise the matter of that inconsistency on Report. However, I would raise the inconsistency of his failure to support the new clauses, given the general drift of his remarks so far, which has been towards deliberalising the use of tobacco. The hon. Gentleman has a choice. If he gives his support to the new clauses, I shall not raise it, although it is my habit to raise Liberal Democrat party inconsistencies. It is make-your-mind-up time for the hon. Gentleman.

Children aged 11 to 16 spend £135 million a year on cigarettes and 25 per cent. of pupils tried to buy cigarettes in shops last year, 60 per cent. of them remarkably successfully, according to the Office for National Statistics. The last time that the matter was looked at properly was during the passage of the Children and Young Persons (Protection from   Tobacco) Act 1991, which was an important Act because it required proof of age before the sale of tobacco. Previously, since 1908 when the sale of tobacco to people under 16 was first prohibited, retailers’ defence would be, “Well, he looked like he was 16 to me.” That would be a defence. The 1991 Act removed that and required proof of age, without which there should be no sale.

Under the existing Act there is a range of things that trading standards must do. They are important, but need to be updated, which is what we are aiming for today. The trading standards service is required to give advice and education to traders and customers, to respond to complaints, and to use children to make what are called test purchases. Apparently, 140 prosecutions were made last year by test purchasers. That is not many, and I suspect that the practice is not particularly widespread for that reason. However, I am vaguely uncomfortable with using 15-year-olds to make such purchases. I have no first-hand experience of it; it might be useful to see how trading standards approach it, but it seems contentious. Perhaps the Minister will describe it.

Raising the age to 18 would get around the problem. If test purchases were still to be made, they could be done using slightly older people. The practice of using children to test the system of enforcement would no longer be necessary. It would help if the Minister were to describe the process undertaken by trading standards in some areas, particularly if she is minded not to support the new clause. I am slightly worried about trading standards’ use of that group of children, although I suspect that it is done carefully and under tightly defined circumstances.

The age of 18 is mandated for alcohol, and although I would not want to draw an absolute comparison between the sale of alcohol and cigarettes—or anything else, as the hon. Member for Northavon suggested I might try to do—such consistency would be helpful for retailers. We are talking about selling things, and having a common age would remove an element of uncertainty in the minds of retailers. We are asking them to do quite a lot, and if the general feeling was that the age of 18 should be the age when one could do all those things, it would be helpful.

Such a provision would also help the retailer to enforce the law, because it is often difficult to tell whether someone is 16 or 18. I find it difficult accurately to tell people’s age. The joke is that policemen always look younger; as we get older it becomes police inspectors and then police superintendents, and so on. It can sometimes be extremely difficult to determine someone’s age, and we ask a lot of retailers. However, if we raised the age to 18 it would be much easier. At that age, we get all sorts of identity information—for example, photo-identity cards for work—so determining whether someone is 18 or not would be a great deal easier. It would certainly be helpful to retailers.

Like most hon. Members, I have been barraged with literature from all sorts of lobbying groups, pro and anti tobacco, and from tobacco manufacturing organisations, but it is significant that I have received   nothing on the subject of age. Either the tobacco manufacturing sector is not too concerned about the Bill, or it believes that it would be extremely difficult to oppose it. It is almost as if we are pushing at an open door with the new clauses. I am sure that the pro-smoking lobby knows about our proposed amendments, so the silence is significant. I would be interested to know whether those involved in the trade or the manufacture of tobacco have made approaches to the Minister, and if so what arguments they marshalled in opposition to the change.

Those who feel that we need to control the sale of tobacco to younger people have suggested various other manoeuvres, one of which is a licence to sell tobacco. That is appealing, because if people infringed the law it would be a relatively simple matter to remove the licence. However, it would introduce a welter of bureaucracy, paperwork and administration. For obvious reasons, I hope that the Minister will not be minded to go down that route.

Of course, we must be clear about the fact that there would be penalties involved in altering the age at which someone could be sold tobacco. For example, there would be costs involved in changing signage. Those who do not smoke probably do not know this, but there are signs on premises where tobacco is sold and on machines that dispense tobacco, saying that one cannot buy tobacco unless one is 16. Clearly, that would all have to change and there would need to be guidance notes, so there would be a cost. Perhaps the Minister—I hope that she is minded to support the new clause—could give us some idea of the cost just for information. I do not think that the cost would be of sufficient magnitude materially to affect our views on whether to support the new clause, but it would be interesting to have an idea of what the cost might be.

We hope that the Minister—[Interruption.] She is chuntering away, and it does not sound too positive, which is a pity.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health) 9:15 am, 15th December 2005

Was that written down for the hon. Gentleman to say at this point?

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Shadow Minister (Health)

No, it was not written down for me to say at this point; it was an observation, and the Minister was indeed chuntering. Nevertheless, I hope that she will be minded to support new clause 2. If not, we will be minded to press the matter.

Photo of Eric Joyce Eric Joyce PPS (Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MBE, Minister of State), Department for Work and Pensions

I have some brief comments on what we have heard so far. We have had some excellent contributions, particularly from my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough, and I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison) said.

Although I am not necessarily a fan of copying what those in Scotland do, they have moved further along the line than we have. Interestingly, the Health Minister has been given powers to decide whether to raise the age, which is what the right hon. Member for   North-West Hampshire would do in this case. The trouble with bringing such a provision through this Committee, however, is that it seems odd to use health legislation to deal with the sale of a product that takes place, by and large, in shops. Perhaps the Minister will deal with the point shortly, but it strikes me that this is more a matter for legislation or regulation by the Department of Trade and Industry and that that is probably the more logical route.

It also strikes me that it would be a fairly significant shift to change the age at which someone could be sold tobacco and I suspect that such legislation would need to be preceded by consultation. The Minister said that there would be such consultation, albeit from a Department of Health perspective, and that makes perfect sense.

I also have a question about what is happening in Scotland, where the Department is simply being handed powers to make what seems quite a large decision. That should be a matter for this House and it should be legislated for properly, with the age specifically set out.

Finally, the hon. Member for Westbury had a perfectly good point: the Liberal Democrats have not been inconsistent across the UK, because only they opposed the Scottish legislation on libertarian grounds similar to those that we heard from the hon. Member for Northavon. Indeed, the Liberal Democrats are even minded to use more libertarian—not to say libertine—arguments. As the health spokesman in Scotland suggested, they might even consider reducing the age at which people could be sold cigarettes. That is in line with their position on a host of other activities that they are famous for discussing—the hon. Member for Northavon mentioned driving—although I shall not mention them now, because that would not be sound. However, the fact remains that the Liberal Democrats’ libertarian instincts on this issue have yet again been shown to be more important to them than the health of people aged 16 to 18. I therefore support the new clause in principle, and I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say.

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Health

No one has mentioned amendment No. 71, which amends the Bill’s long title. I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify whether it is necessary to do that to enable either of the new clauses to be implemented or whether they already come within the ambit of the long title.

Of the two new clauses, new clause 2 is more permissive and new clause 7 is more prescriptive, but they both come from the same territory. My reason for hesitating, although I shall clearly state our position, is that our approach throughout the Bill—we set great store by consistency, as the Committee will know—has been that our concern is the impact of smoking on third parties. Adults should be able to smoke if they want to but third parties, particularly employees, should not have to face the consequences of that smoke. That has enabled us to take the only consistent position in the Committee, and to be a conciliator and consensus-builder. Our position is that because we are concerned about the impact on third parties of adults deciding to smoke, exemptions such as those for   private clubs, which the Conservatives support, do not make sense because the arguments are just the same. Likewise, exemptions based on food, which the Government support, do not make sense. The consistent approach that we have taken throughout is a primary concern about the impact of adults smoking on third parties and that has informed our thinking. It does not give a clear-cut answer to the new clauses, because it leads to the question of what is an adult and what is not.

Photo of Jeff Ennis Jeff Ennis Labour, Barnsley East and Mexborough

That is exactly the point that I was trying to draw out. The hon. Gentleman has used the word adult. Is he referring to adults at the age of 18 or at the age of 16? For me, people become adults at the age of 18.

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Health

The hon. Gentleman, to whom I pay tribute for the way in which he has pursued the issue, puts his finger on the kernel of the point I was coming to. Our judgment on whether to support this group of amendments depends on a view about when one becomes a responsible adult who is able to make such decisions.

The point that I was making to the hon. Member for Westbury—it is always easy to spot a Member who has the Lib Dems in second place in his constituency—is that the decision about when one is an adult and when one is not is, in my judgment, a case-by-case one. In other words—I gave the example of driving, but I will not pursue that analogy—different criteria apply in different cases. The hon. Gentleman grudgingly accepted that. There is no single right answer to the question. We should look on a case-by-case basis.

The argument for saying that the status quo is acceptable is that we currently allow a lot of things at 16, not least of which is that we allow 16-year-olds to leave school, go out to work and pay income tax—I do not know about national insurance. We allow them to go out to work and, presumably, to work in environments where they operate heavy machinery and do all manner of responsible tasks. It is not self-evident that someone of the age of 16 is obviously still a child. That question has at least to be considered.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West, as has been mentioned, made a compelling case for the franchise to be extended to 16-year-olds, for which there is growing support. There are compelling arguments for that as well. The question is what we should do about smoking specifically. Is someone adult enough to decide about smoking at 16 or 18? We have had one or two examples so far: Guernsey has been cited, and I think the Isle of Man was cited last week. There was some suggestion that where measures had been taken, the prevalence of smoking among younger people, to use a neutral phrase, had declined, perhaps significantly. Clearly, if one simply dons a public health perspective that has to be an unalloyed good thing. However, we could raise the age to 21, 25 or 30 and fewer people would smoke. From a public health point of view that would be a good thing. However, the question is at which point we leave people to take the consequences of their actions. That is the critical point.

One reason why I might be minded to support new clause 2 would be that we are not simply discussing iPods or whatever 17 or 18-year-olds buy nowadays; we are talking about purchasing an addictive substance. That might be a significant distinction. Although we might say that adults are able to make choices and we should not fetter their ability to do so, if a substance is addictive and what we do makes it easier for those who are clearly children— I do not think that the Committee would dispute the fact that people below school-leaving age are children—that might colour the way in which we consider the issue.

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams Shadow Minister (Health)

My hon. Friend might be interested to learn that, perusing the website of the Office for National Statistics, I found the general household survey of 2003. The statistic that shone out at me was that 50 per cent. of those who now smoke more than 20 cigarettes a day—more than a full packet—started that habit when they were under 16; so their addiction started early in life.

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Health

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, whom I have long suspected of spending his spare time on the ONS website. He makes a good point. Wherever a threshold is set, there will be people just below it who sneak through. As we have heard, if it is 16, 15 and 14-year-olds will smoke, and if it were 18, it would be 17 and 16-year-olds. It is more of a worry if 15, 14 and 13-year-olds are smoking than if 17 and 16-year-olds are doing so, which they can do at the moment. My hon. Friend makes a strong case for us to consider raising the age.

I do not generally agree with the hon. Member for Falkirk (Mr. Joyce), but if we are to make a change of this sort, it needs to be based on careful investigation of the likely impact and on talking to retailers—not long ago, I followed the hon. Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough on a radio programme when he said that retailers supported the proposal because it would make the rules consistent with those on alcohol. That is the sort of evidence that might persuade me to consider the matter seriously. For that reason, I am minded to support the proposal of the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire to look at the evidence from comparable countries. Guernsey is indicative and interesting, but I am not sure that it tells us what would happen in central London.

I would favour some investigation, and I would like us, today, to enable the Government to make the change by affirmative resolution, should the outcome of the consultation and the research indicate that it was required. In response to the hon. Member for Westbury, by “consultation” I do not mean asking, “What do you think, everybody?” I mean research and evidence gathering. The hon. Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough does not seem too worried about evidence-based research for this policy, but I am. I would want to know more about the likely implications.

I find the Government’s approach confusing. My impression from the comments of the hon. Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough is that the present public health Minister supports the change or is, at   least, sympathetic and would like to see it happen. I presume—I cannot say who the last health Minister was—

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb Shadow Secretary of State for Health

Right. I do not know whether she was equally sympathetic, or overruled by the Secretary of State. Why, if this part of the Bill is concerned with the harm that is done by smoking, is this not in the Bill? Why could it not have been put in the White Paper, consulted on when everything else was consulted on, researched when everything else was researched, and brought forward in the Bill? I can only assume that it was because the previous Secretary of State did not want it.

We now have the unfortunate situation in which the Government have said that changing the age will be considered next year but, as the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire said, the Bill does not give the Government the power to make the change if they should decide to do so. Presumably—I hope that the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—we would need fresh primary legislation if the Government were to consult and decide that they wanted to change the age to 18. They would have to come back to the House with a new Bill, or a tacked-on bit of another health Bill. If the decision can be made that this is the right thing to do, that delay seems to be unnecessary. I cannot understand why the Government would want to resist. I am not normally one for giving the Government powers that they do not need, but if we think that the matter is worth considering and we can have a separate vote on regulations to enable it to go ahead, I cannot see why the Government would not want, at this stage, to give themselves the power, whether or not they want to exercise it in future.

My judgment is that these issues have to be decided case by case. The issues raised by cigarette smoking are different from those relating to other substances, particularly because of its addictive nature and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West said, the tendencies of people under the legal age. Clearly, the existing law needs to be better enforced but, in principle, I can see no reason not to give the Government the power to ask for information, to consider the issues, to find out what the effects are likely to be and to come back to the House with their verdict for a vote on regulations. On that basis, I am minded, unless the Minister can convince me otherwise, to support the new clause.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health) 9:30 am, 15th December 2005

I, too, hope that we can make progress today. This is an interesting debate, which gives rise to a number of issues. The hon. Gentleman’s question was one of the first questions that I asked when I became a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and had to consider all the different activities that are necessary across the piece, because   there is no single solution that will encourage adults as well as young people and children not to start smoking or that will encourage them to give it up.

My discussions on the subject have been quite interesting. Indeed, I have had several conversations with my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough about the fact that when I first entered the Department and asked whether the age limit should be raised, the position of various organisations was unclear, although in more recent months some organisations seem to have shifted their position towards that championed by my hon. Friend.

I understand that the “Choosing Health” White Paper contained a question about age-related sales, and although several organisations such as ASH supported a total ban, they offered very little that supported raising the age to 18, probably because their focus was on a total ban and they believed that that was where the next steps needed to be taken in order to reduce the amount of smoking in public places.

I asked about raising the age limit when I met several different stakeholders to discuss the Bill and the “Choosing Health” White Paper, particularly in the consultation that we conducted in the summer. Again, health organisations generally did not send out the strong message that they would support such a step, although there were exceptions, such as Cancer Research UK and people who represent trading standards officers, who suggested that it was worth doing more research on the matter and considering other possibilities. I shall discuss the reasons for that later.

As I said, the matter was not clear-cut, which was partly why we did not consult on the evidence. There did not seem to be a view, whereas there was clearly a view among all parties that legislation to restrict and to ban smoking in public places should be the focus of the Government’s next steps in this area.

It has been an interesting six months. I do not believe that there is necessarily a one-age scenario for young people, whether we are talking about smoking, alcohol, buying solvents, or buying knives, which has been the subject of some debate, too. We should consider these matters case by case.

A positive suggestion has been made in meetings and when talking informally to people who work in local authorities that raising the age to 18 could make enforcement easier. Organisations such as ASH, however, are concerned not to send out the message that smoking is okay once someone is 18. That is a valid point of view.

The hon. Member for Westbury asked about representations from the tobacco industry. I understand that it is not particularly critical of the possibility of raising the age limit, but others on the anti-smoking side have said that it would say that, because it would like to market smoking as an adult activity and raising the age limit could help it in some way. That is the alternative argument of some in the anti-smoking and health lobbies.

It is important to recognise that we must address several areas when tackling smoking-related issues. Before I say more on that, I am pleased to say that   smoking levels among young people have gone down. The last reported figures show that 9 per cent. of children aged between 11 and 15 smoke. That figure is not acceptable, and I am not complacent about it for one minute, but it is a reduction from the 1998 figure of 13 per cent., and it surpasses our target for this year of 11 per cent., which was set as part of the 1998 “Smoking Kills” White Paper.

The statistics also show that between 1988 and 1996 there was a steady increase from 8 to 13 per cent. in the prevalence of regular smoking, which is smoking at least one cigarette a week, among children aged 11 to 15. However, I am pleased to say that that rate has fallen since 1996.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Secretary of State for Health

Does the Minister recognise that the figures from which she quotes also show that in the last four years for which data were collected—from 2000 to 2004—the rate of smoking among girls under 15 has not changed?

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

The fact that that rate has not changed means that it has not gone up, which it was doing before 1996. I have said—I hope that the hon. Gentleman treats what I say in good faith—that I am not happy about the prevalence of smoking, but it must be acknowledged that a rate that was steadily going up has gone down. Some rates have plateaued, and we must further consider how to deal with that situation.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Shadow Minister (Health)

There are certain implications behind what the Minister says. She implies various things, but will she be specific about why she thinks those trends occur? It might help if she were to make some international comparisons, particularly with our European neighbours, and discuss what has been happening in those countries.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

I shall just finish what I was saying, because the divide between girls and boys is an important consideration. The relevant figure for girls is 10 per cent., which is down from 15 per cent. in 1996; the figure for boys is 7 per cent., which is down from 11 per cent. in 1996. There are a lot of related matters that we must address. I am afraid that with girls in particular there are often issues of eating and diet to consider. There is a notion that smoking helps to keep the weight off and that one will eat more if one stops smoking. We have to get beneath some of the issues that create those gender divides.

Of course, we need to make comparisons. I understand that the age at which people can purchase tobacco ranges from 14 to 21 years old across Europe, and internationally. That is one reason why it is important to consult on and research this area: so that any decision to raise the age is based on firm evidence.

I move to the issue of advertising aimed at young people who are over 16. We recently ran a campaign that was aimed particularly at 16 to 24-year-olds. Our research found that traditional health messages often do not work very well with that group. I think that that is part and parcel of young people thinking that they will live for ever, and that they need not worry about   such things when they are 25 or 30. However, we found that what works well is linking the idea that smoking is an unattractive habit with that of looking to catch the eye of a prospective boyfriend, girlfriend or partner. That is one reason why we focused on that age group in the adverts that some hon. Members might have seen, such as the one in which a guy in a pub looks across at an attractive woman and goes over to her, then realises that she is a smoker from the smell of her hair and turns away. Such messages have had more impact than others with that group. We followed them up with targeted advertising in magazines that young men and women read, and the radio stations that they listen to, to find a different way of getting the message across. It is important that we evaluate the messages, recognise that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and avoid a situation in which people are numbed by the messages that are being given to them, which do not get through.

A combination approach is required. My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough related the experience in Guernsey and there were interesting aspects to that. However, in addition to introducing the age change Guernsey embarked on an expansive programme of enforcement and education and a package of joined-up measures to make that age increase effective. We want to include that in the consultation.

The hon. Member for Westbury talked about test purchasing. It is never particularly nice that young people are used in any such situation, whether it involves alcohol or solvents or other goods that young people are not permitted to buy. Often they are younger than 15. However, they are important in enabling local authorities and trading standards officers to check whether retailers follow the law. I think that it is done incredibly sensitively. I was very pleased when I attended a recent responsible retailers awards ceremony in Doncaster to meet a young person who had taken part in the test purchasing schemes. It would be nice not to have to do it, but, unfortunately, it is part and parcel of necessary work. Even if the age were raised, it would still be necessary to ask in future whether retailers were asking for proof of age.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Shadow Minister (Health)

I think that there is consensus on that. My point was that if the age were to be raised to 18 presumably the test purchases would be made by children who were that little bit older, and therefore a little more mature and capable of coping with a situation that many might find quite challenging.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

There is logic in that point, but as I have said, at present huge sensitivity is applied and family members are involved when young people assist. The fact that local authorities deal with the matter in that way should be acknowledged.

The hon. Member for Northavon asked about amendment No. 71. The long title of the Bill is generally meant to reflect the contents of the Bill, but I should want advice on the matter from parliamentary counsel, in conjunction with the House authorities.   However, I assume that the fact that new clauses 2 and 7 were selected by the Chairman shows that they were already within the scope of the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk spoke about the Department of Trade and Industry. Clearly, issues arise in this context relating to the DTI and the Home Office, as well as health. The new clauses concern an offence by those who sell cigarettes. They are not about criminalising a young person. Therefore discussion is needed, which is why consultation is important. That is recognised in Scotland too, and although powers have been given to the Scottish Minister, the decision whether to go ahead is subject to an expert reporting group’s evidence. It is not decided that Scotland will go ahead with the relevant measure. Those responsible are minded to do so if the evidence stacks up. That is very important.

The hon. Member for Westbury mentioned cost. We need to consider the costs and where the money is to come from, both for signage and for the enforcement costs resulting from restrictions on smoking, which we discussed at length earlier in the week. I was interested to hear that the measures in Scotland were opposed by the Liberal Democrats. I shall be interested to see what happens in Westminster.

I turn to the substance of the new clauses. I realise why the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire and my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough tabled them. It is an important matter. I have already announced that we plan to hold a formal 12-week consultation; I hope that it will start in February 2006. It will follow the normal lines of Cabinet consultations. It will allow us to delve more deeply into all the issues raised by hon. Members and others; we can get all the evidence and hear all sides of the debate.

The new clauses have some drafting problems. New clause 7 would amend section 7 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, which deals with the age for the sale of tobacco. However, a corresponding amendment would need to be made to section 4 of the Children and Young Persons (Protection from Tobacco) Act 1991. The 1991 Act makes it an offence not to prominently display the statement,

“It is illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 16” at every premises at which tobacco is sold. It would not make sense to amend the 1933 Act without also amending the 1991 Act.

Amendment No. 71 is a consequential amendment to new clause 7. It simply amends the long title of the Bill. I am uncertain whether it would be necessary.

New clause 2 attempts to create a regulation-making power by amending the Children and Young Persons (Protection from Tobacco) Act 1991. That new clause, too, has deficiencies. The amendment would deal only with the requirement to display signs on the age of sale. A corresponding amendment is needed to section 7 of the 1933 Act.

As a result of those drafting problems, neither of the new clauses achieves the desired effect. The very fact that new clause 7 would change the age from 16 to 18 means that it would pre-empt the consultation. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough accepts that. I do not suggest that we are looking beyond the age of 18, but a range of ages is to be found among the member states of the European Union.

Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Secretary of State for Health 9:45 am, 15th December 2005

I suppose the question is this: if the Government propose to consult in detail in February and to conclude that consultation in May, the results of that consultation are likely to be available just as the Bill receives Royal Assent. Whether or not the new clauses are entirely effective, does the Minister accept that during its passage through Parliament we should put into the Bill a measure capable of implementing positively the outcome of the consultation? Should we not use the Bill for that purpose?

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue. I shall finish what I was going to say, as it might be helpful to all concerned.

It is an important issue. I take on board the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk: giving reserve powers to the Secretary of State in other circumstances would, I am sure, have the Opposition rising to their feet to object. That being said, I want to reflect further on the matter. I have to discuss it with others. I should like to return to the issue on Report to give an indication of what I intend to do, but I must have discussions first. This is an important matter and there is an argument for asking whether we should have such powers, but only if they are subject to the evidence and consultation. For that reason, I want to reflect and consult on the issue before returning to hon. Members.

Photo of George Young George Young Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee, Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee

The Minister is making a helpful contribution, and I welcome what she has said. However, is she saying that new clause 2 is defective or that we need another amendment to another bit of the Children and Young Persons (Protection from Tobacco) Act 1991 to give effect to what we want to do?

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

My understanding is that new clause 2 relates only to the Act that deals with signage, whereas new clause 7 refers to the Act that defines age. Both are important in terms of change. Having said that, we would have to take a proper look at the drafting of any provision if we were to move forward, and I have looked at the Scottish Parliament’s wording to inform my thoughts on the issue. In particular, I would want to be assured that if we did go down the proposed path—as I said, I want to reflect seriously and have more discussions on that—the powers would be clearly subject to the consultation. If that were the direction that we wanted to take, we would then seek to make any changes through affirmative resolution. I hope that that helps the right hon. Gentleman.

I acknowledge the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough, who has been championing this issue for a considerable time.   There are those who have suggested that it has come out of nowhere, because of issues around whether we are in favour of a total ban, but that is just not the case, and we have had the issue under discussion. It was unclear where the different organisations stood, but some have moved more in my hon. Friend’s direction in the past month. For those reasons, we now have an opportunity to deal with the issue, and the early-day motion and my hon. Friend’s private Member’s Bill have allowed us to have a bigger debate and to challenge some of the accepted thinking. Having said that, we still need to take into account the evidence, practicality, cost and regulation, as well as all the other issues. We need to test those in the consultation.

I also give credit to the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire for making his views clear throughout the Committee—[Interruption.] He is very clear, although I am not sure that the rest of his party is. He has made it clear that he would like comprehensive legislation on the statute book to ban smoking in public places. Although he probably thinks that the Bill does not go far enough, I hope that he acknowledges and recognises what a huge step forward it is in meeting his concerns in this area of public health.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Opposition Whip (Commons)

I have listened carefully to the Minister’s comments and I am generally pleased with the direction in which they are going. However, I am not clear whether she has given an undertaking to return to the issue on Report, having completed the consultations that she must have with colleagues. Will she be using this Bill to give herself the necessary powers if the Government come to the conclusion that they are minded to make the proposed change? Will she give the whole House the opportunity to discuss the issue on Report or will the Government wait until a later stage in the House of Lords to tackle it? Will she return to the issue on Report if she wishes to take those powers?

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

I am seeking to have discussions so that I can give a definitive answer on Report. That is what I am working towards and I hope that helps.

As I have said before, this is a good example of how tackling smoking-related issues requires endeavours on a lot of fronts. Our proposals in the Health Bill will historically change the way in which we work and live our lives in relation to being exposed to second-hand smoke. They are part and parcel of a Government who have made it their commitment from 1997 to tackle tobacco legislation, to ban advertising, to bring legislation forward to make it a serious offence to sell tobacco to those under the age of 16, and to bear down on those who do so. That has been backed by national funds for campaigns and support throughout the NHS for smoking cessation services. Of course, we have now reached a point where we can further discuss restricting and banning smoking in most public places and workplaces. That is not bad for the Labour Government over the past eight years and it stands in comparison with the 18 years between 1979 and 1997.   On that basis, I hope that I have given some reassurance and indication of my thoughts, and that the right hon. Gentleman will withdraw the motion.

Photo of George Young George Young Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee, Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee

I am grateful to the Minister. On her final paragraph, she was in Prime Minister’s questions yesterday when this bit of the Bill was raised with the Prime Minister. She will have heard, as I did, the Prime Minister saying that he would listen to the debate. That was very interesting because up to now we have been told that the manifesto is the manifesto and what is in the Bill is in the Bill. The Prime Minister did not say in his response to the hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) that there was no question of considering changing the ban on smoking in pubs that do not sell food, but that he is now going to listen to the debate. I welcome the flexibility that the hon. Lady has just displayed. I understand that that would be a change in policy and she would have to go back to her colleagues to get clearance and, as she said, other Departments are involved. I entirely accept that.

I accept what the Minister has said about being minded to table Government amendments on Report that build on the new clauses that have been tabled. She has clearly done some work to identify the necessary consequential amendments that would have to be tabled, so the Government draftsmen will hopefully not be confronted with an impossible task in making the necessary changes to new clause 7 and new clause 2.

I was encouraged by the debate. I welcome the support from my hon. Friends and from the hon. Member for Northavon, who said that he could smile on new clause 2. The hon. Member for Falkirk said that in Scotland this power already existed. Against that background, I am sure that he would not want to deny the same power to Ministers in England. The Minister gave us some indication of the time scale of consultation that will begin in February and last 12 weeks. That was helpful.

Against the background of the spirit in which the Minister replied it would be churlish for me to press new clause 2 to a division. I am conscious that I am a bit of a cuckoo in the Barnsley nest and that the hon. Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough may have his own views. However, I am sure that he will want to get hold of the journalist to whom he referred on Tuesday, Mr. Siggs. I am sure that he will want to say that following pressure from Back Benchers on both sides of the House the Government have recognised the force of our mutual case and he may wish to claim single-handed victory to his local newspaper. On the basis that I will do the same to the Andover Advertiser, we can probably come to a mutual conclusion. Subject to what the hon. Member for Barnsley, East and Mexborough says, I am minded to claim a moral victory and not to press the new clause to a vote.

Photo of Jeff Ennis Jeff Ennis Labour, Barnsley East and Mexborough 10:00 am, 15th December 2005

On the very point that the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire raised, I phoned Mr. Siggs the other day to give him a progress report, and he said, “I do not mind you using me as the butt of your jokes, Jeff”, but I digress.

I have pressed the matter since day one because I believe that raising the age is a public health issue as well as a matter of effective enforcement. I think of cigarettes as an age-restricted product available for over-the-counter sales, just like the dangerous knives and air guns that we considered under the Violent Crime Reduction Bill. I have the support of the Trading Standards Institute. The hon. Member for Northavon mentioned driving at 17 and working at 16. Those are not age-restricted sales products, but we should consider tobacco in that category rather than in the wider context of the debate about 16 to 18-year-olds.

There is a lesson to be learned from our debate on the new clause. I have been vociferous about the issue since the White Paper was published. I read it and, as an ordinary Member, put a question to the Minister suggesting that we put the matter out to public consultation, because it is a public health issue. I was slapped down by the civil servants, who said that it was nothing to do with such things, there was no proof and they were not prepared to take the matter forward. The lesson to be learned is that Members of this House, whatever their political persuasion, can sometimes enhance the public consultation process. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take that message back to the Secretary of State. Civil servants are not always right and hon. Members can add to the debate.

I totally agree with the point that the measure has been successful in Guernsey but only as part of a wider group of measures. That is why I am going to support the proposal to put the matter out to public consultation. It is important that we do not just implement the measure without introducing a raft of others to complement it. Having said that, I shall not press my new clause to the vote.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.