Stockton North MP, Alex Cunningham, this week sought reassurances from the Government that full disclosure will be a requirement under proposals to register lobbying bodies.
The tobacco industry lobby is one of the most powerful groups within Parliament, employing direct and covert campaigns to delay legislation to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products, among other things. Tobacco companies are also able to finance third-party organisations to promote their causes.
Speaking during Tuesday’s Opposition Day debate on Lobbying and in reference to the organisations that lobby in favour of the tobacco industry, Alex asked:
“Will the Government ensure, if and when they get round to registering lobbying organisations, that such organisations will be required to reveal whose payroll they are on, to ensure greater transparency?”
In response, Leader of the House of Commons and former Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley, said: “In government, I made it clear that we would comply with the international framework convention on tobacco control, which precludes the exercise of influence on our policy by the tobacco industry, and we do so. … I know that this Government are taking decisions in the best interests of the people of this country, including on health grounds, and that we are not taking them at the behest of any tobacco company.”
Following the debate, Alex said:
“I appreciate that the former Health Secretary, when in office, had discussions with his Australian counterpart about the plan of action on plain packaging, and that he initiated a consultation on the issue in 2010 that attracted hundreds of thousands of responses.
“However, Australia has since become the first country in the world to implement standardised plain packaging for tobacco products. Despite the consultation closing almost a year ago, our Government has stood still and has yet to respond by outlining what steps it intends to take.
“The tobacco industry, with a multi-million pound marketing budget, has opposed every effective proposal to cut smoking rates and is propagating myths to try and block or delay the introduction of plain packaging.
“Any action that reduces smoking rates, and smoking uptake, is in the best interests of the public and should be pursued as a priority. However, the Government is dragging its heels, both on plain packaging and banning smoking in cars where children are present. Full transparency in lobbyist registration would be a meaningful step to address this imbalance and correct the situation.”