I am not aware that any of my coalition Government colleagues have met representatives of the tobacco industry face to face. I have met representatives of the tobacco industry in the past but not in my capacity as a Minister. It is possible that officials in the Department of Health have had dialogue with the tobacco industry but I cannot give the noble Lord any details because they are not in my brief. If I am able to enlighten him I shall gladly do so.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, asked why we had not published any details of government meetings with the tobacco industry. I would say to her that we take very seriously our commitments under the WHO framework convention. We are taking forward work to implement all the commitments in the plan; we will make sure that we publish details of policy-related meetings between the tobacco industry and government departments and we are currently exploring the most effective and appropriate mechanism for doing that.
The noble Baroness and other noble Lords suggested that the decision to delay the display regulations was unduly influenced by the tobacco industry. I want to take this opportunity to reject that emphatically. We are well aware of the views of the tobacco industry through public consultation, correspondence, press articles and the open lobbying that it does. We have listened carefully to the views of a range of retail organisations as well as the public health community; nevertheless we believe that retailers have genuine concerns and that they deserve our support. We have a clear mind on supporting business during these challenging times and we believe that a balance has been fairly struck, although it is open to noble Lords to disagree with that.
My noble friend Lord Naseby and the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, mentioned the issue of plain packaging. the tobacco control plan includes a commitment to consult on options to reduce the promotional impact of tobacco packaging, including an option to require plain packaging before the end of 2011. I must emphasise that the Government have an open mind on plain packaging, and we will use the consultation to gain an understanding of the views of interested parties.
My noble friend Lord Rennard asked what we are doing about illicit tobacco sales. Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs published a renewed strategy to tackle the illicit trade in tobacco products in April of this year. Our tobacco control plan complements that strategy by stressing the importance of cracking down on illicit tobacco sales, which will in turn reduce tobacco consumption and organised crime and will support legitimate retailers. It is relevant to add that there is no evidence from countries that have stopped tobacco displays in shops that a prohibition increases the illicit trade. For example, we are told by the Irish Government that stopping tobacco displays in the Republic in July 2009 has not caused the illicit trade to increase there. According to a report published earlier this year by Japan Tobacco International, an estimated 22 per cent to 24 per cent of all tobacco consumed in Ireland evaded Irish excise duty, but that is actually a decrease from 2009. It is the first decline since recording began in 2005.
So there are two imperatives here. The Government are committed to improving public health, including by reducing rates of smoking. We are also committed to economic recovery. I believe that our way forward on ending tobacco displays in shops strikes a fair balance between those two priorities. I thank your Lordships for participating in this important debate and I welcome the continuing support of the noble Baroness for tobacco control and I hope that, in the light of what I have said, in particular in the wider context of these regulations, she will feel able to withdraw her Motion.