Cigarette Packaging — Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:30 am on 25th July 2013.

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Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Labour 11:30 am, 25th July 2013

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action is being taken to ensure that they implement their obligations under Article 5.3 of the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control when consulting on cigarette packaging.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Conservative

My Lords, the Government take very seriously their obligations as a party to the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. This treaty places obligations on parties to protect public health policy from the vested interests of the tobacco industry. Our tobacco control plan has a chapter dedicated to how we are going about protecting tobacco control from vested interests. Our approach is consistent with guidelines that have been agreed to assist parties to implement Article 5.3 of the treaty.

Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Labour

I thank the Minister for that Answer but, for the information of the House, the guidelines for the implementation of Article 5.3 state that parties to the convention,

“should require rules for the disclosure or registration of the tobacco industry entities, affiliated organizations and individuals acting on their behalf, including lobbyists”.

The guidelines specify that that covers meetings, receptions and all conversations which should be a matter of public record. Will the Minister ask his right honourable colleague the Secretary of State for Health to write forthwith to all his colleagues across government, reminding them what HMG’s long-standing commitments to the World Health Organisation’s convention are and how they should be enacted? Can he assure the House that Article 5.3 has been complied with in every particular in the past year while leading up to the disappointing announcement that plain packaging has been delayed?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Conservative

I can give the noble Baroness that assurance. She will know from her time in government how seriously the Department of Health takes its obligations in this area, not least around transparency but also minimising the extent to which officials meet representatives of the tobacco industry. I am sure that my colleagues in other departments need no reminding of their obligations as well. We do of course interact with the tobacco industry, as the framework agreement allows, but we encourage those representations to be in writing and minimise face-to-face contact.

Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour

My Lords, has the Minister seen reports that Downing Street said yesterday that Lynton Crosby advises on strategy, not on policy. What is the difference in relation to tobacco legislation?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Conservative

I am sure that we could get into an interesting conceptual discussion about the difference between strategy and policy. The key point is that Mr Crosby has been very clear in his public statement. He has said:

“At no time have I had any conversation or discussion with or lobbied the prime minister, or indeed the health secretary or the health minister, on plain packaging or tobacco issues”.

That is very clear.

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Crossbench

What assessment do the Government intend to make in the coming year of the appeal of current packaging, given that some of the slimline packaging is particularly attractive and enticing to young women and that some of the chunky packaging is particularly enticing to the macho side of young men?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Conservative

The noble Baroness gives me the opportunity to make clear that plain packaging of tobacco is very much still in our sights; we have not decided to reject that option. I am sure that the psychology of marketing is one very important area that we will continue to focus on.

Photo of Baroness Jolly Baroness Jolly Liberal Democrat

My Lords, what better adviser is there for the Department of Health or indeed the Prime Minister than Cancer Research UK, whose only interest is preventing children starting to smoke? When did my noble friend’s department last speak to that organisation about tobacco packaging?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Conservative

My Lords, I cannot tell my noble friend about the dates on which the department spoke to Cancer Research UK; I can tell her that we have very regular dealings with Cancer Research UK. CRUK

made a submission to the consultation on the plain packaging of tobacco. I can feed back to my noble friend with specific details.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Labour

My Lords, given that the Government clearly wanted to make the distinction between strategy and policy, would the Minister have another shot at answering the question raised by my noble friend Lord Foulkes? If he is unable to do so, perhaps he could consult with his colleagues who made such a distinction and write to my noble friend to explain why that distinction was made and what it meant.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Conservative

I answered as I did because it is important for us not to get too bogged down in semantics. Did Mr Crosby speak to the Prime Minister about tobacco issues or did he not? The answer is that he did not.

Photo of Lord Elystan-Morgan Lord Elystan-Morgan Crossbench

My Lords, the issue is not whether or not he spoke to the Prime Minister but whether he, or any other corporate interest in which he is involved, sought any contact with Government or any agency of Government in relation to this matter.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Conservative

My Lords, I am aware that officials in my department—not Ministers, I emphasise—had face-to-face meetings with certain tobacco companies in the context of the consultation on plain packaging. That was done to clarify certain aspects of their written submissions and is as far as it went. I am not aware of which companies those were, but if I can enlighten the noble Lord I will write to him.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is harmful to public health in the United Kingdom for Mr Crosby to have any dealings whatever with government departments while exercising a malign influence in the background, and that he should be got rid of and sent back to Australia?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Conservative

The latter matter is not one on which I will have any influence, nor do I wish to. However, on my noble friend’s point, I cannot say more than I have already: Mr Crosby has had no dealings with Ministers or the Department of Health on the issue of tobacco.