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Tobacco Products (Packaging)

Volume 566: debated on Tuesday 16 July 2013

The Government’s policy remains unchanged. We are waiting to see how the legislation recently introduced in Australia pans out before deciding whether to follow.

Given some of the public health Minister’s previous pronouncements, some of us could be forgiven for thinking that the Government’s policy has changed. Will she advise the House, therefore, on who overruled her support for this policy? Was it the Prime Minister, the Health Secretary or Lynton Crosby?

Unfortunately, the hon. Lady has not listened to my last answer or, indeed, to my statement on Friday. The Government’s policy remains unchanged. We are waiting to see the evidence before making a decision. I take the very firm view that the best legislation is based on good evidence.

Of course, there are those of us who believe it is up to the individual to take personal responsibility for their own health and who entirely support the Government’s decision not to have any extension of the nanny state. Does the Minister agree that, before we introduce any new laws on tobacco, we ought to enforce more strictly the existing laws on not selling cigarettes to children?

My hon. Friend makes a number of excellent points with which I agree, save for one: with great respect, standardised packaging would not be an extension of the nanny state, because it would not impinge on anybody’s freedom or right not only to buy cigarettes, but to smoke them. It is all about ensuring that the package is not attractive, especially to young people, who are at risk of taking up smoking.

18. Earlier this year, I met young people from Dudley who set up the Kick Ash project campaigning for plain packaging. They showed me evidence from research that plain packaging would stop young people smoking in the first place, which is something every MP ought to be committed to trying to do. If the Government reject plain packaging, will those young people be right to conclude that the Government take the advice of big tobacco companies and their wealthy lobbyists more seriously than the views of young people in Dudley? (165216)

First, I pay tribute to Kick Ash. I am more than happy to meet those youngsters; they seem to be doing a very good job. Secondly, we are not in anybody’s pocket. I am sure the hon. Gentleman can say he is not in the pocket of any trade unions either. This is an important decision, but we have not made it yet; we are waiting to see how things develop in Australia, and as I say, good laws are based on good, sound evidence. That is the way forward.

Is the high evidential threshold being set for the plain packaging proposals to be applied across Government legislation or only where lobbyists are involved?

I am rather disappointed at that question from my hon. Friend. I can assure him that the Government take all these issues very seriously. I am proud of our emerging record on public health, but as I say, we have yet to make a decision, because, quite properly, we want to see what happens in Australia, and of course we are also waiting to see what happens elsewhere, notably in Ireland, where the Irish Government intend to introduce this policy. It might or might not be successful.

The Minister says, quite correctly, that the best legislation is based on evidence, but should it not also be untainted by the activities of lobbyists? She will be aware that Department of Health officials met Philip Morris Ltd at the end of January this year, but although minutes of meetings with other tobacco companies that occurred at the same time have been released, the Department insists that the minutes of the meeting with Philip Morris have yet to be finalised. Is it not the truth that the Government are trying to cover their tracks over their relationship with Lynton Crosby and his clients and that when it comes to the decision effectively to drop plain packaging for this Parliament, all roads lead back to No. 10 and Lynton Crosby?

I have just seen a piece of straw flying over, which the hon. Lady attempts to clutch at. [Interruption.] “Clutching at straws”—it is a bit lost on the Opposition, but that is more a sign of their difficulties than ours. The minutes of the meeting with that tobacco company have been published this morning. The reason for the delay—I very much hope the hon. Lady is not suggesting for one moment that my officials have been in any way dishonest—is because unfortunately the tobacco company did not agree the minutes, and there was some to-ing and fro-ing. I really wish she would not subscribe to conspiracy theories where they do not exist.