Tobacco Packaging: 11th June 2013

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab)
4. What his policy is on the introduction of standardised tobacco packaging; and if he will make a statement. [158869]
 
Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op)
9. When the Government plan to respond to their consultation on standardised packaging of tobacco products. [158874]
 
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Anna Soubry)
The Government have yet to make a decision. We are still considering the lengthy consultation, and in due course we will publish a report on that.
 
Paul Flynn
We heard on the radio this morning about the poor state of the country on levels of cancer. The Government have an opportunity to reduce those levels by the Bill and by the minimum price for alcohol, but when it comes to the Queen’s Speech, have they again been persuaded by the blandishments of lobbyists, and instead of putting the health of the nation first, have put the needs of big business first?

Anna Soubry
I certainly do not agree with the latter part of that. Just because something was not in the Queen’s Speech does not preclude us from introducing legislation should we take that decision. The hon. Gentleman makes some important points when he talks about the link between mortality and choices about how much alcohol one drinks or whether one chooses to smoke, but we await a decision from the Government.

Gavin Shuker
Many of my constituents, including Cancer Research UK ambassador, Elizabeth Bailey, are asking a simple question: why is it taking the Government so long to respond to this consultation? Is not the truth that they are caught up in interdepartmental squabbles while public health suffers?

Anna Soubry
No, it certainly is not, and I have given my views. The hon. Gentleman will know that like many decisions on public health, these are complicated matters. Most importantly, it is vital that we take the public with us. I have said before that I welcome a debate, and perhaps he and the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) might come to you, Mr Speaker, and ask for a debate in this Chamber or in Westminster Hall. Let us have the debate, because taking the public with us is always important when we make these sorts of difficult and controversial decisions.
 
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con)
Does the Minister agree that some of the proposed standardised packaging is more colourful than the existing packaging, and given that we have a display ban on cigarettes, what on earth is the point of having standard packaging for something that cannot be displayed?
 
Anna Soubry
Unfortunately, I do not have enough time to advance all the arguments, but I am more than happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss this with him at length and show him a packet of the said cigarettes from Australia, and he may see the light.
 
Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con)
Does the Minister agree that there is nothing plain about plain packaging? It just shows the reality of gangrene of the foot with graphic images, which is not very attractive to hand round at a party.
 
Anna Soubry
Yes.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab)
The Minister is aware that smoking is the biggest single cause of health inequality, and she will know that the Labour Government took difficult, complicated and controversial decisions that were successful in driving down smoking from 27% to 20%, saving thousands of lives. Why are this Government stalling? When will they announce a decision? Or is it that the business interests of Lynton Crosby matter more to these Ministers than the health of the nation?

Anna Soubry
I am sure that Mr Crosby would be grateful for that bigging-up. I can assure the hon. Lady that, as she knows, if standardised packaging was as simple as she tries to suggest, no doubt the last Government would have introduced it in some way. I am proud of the fact that we have made sure that the point of sale legislation has been achieved. As she knows and as I have said before, this is a difficult and complex issue. It requires a good and healthy debate. Let us bring on that debate. Perhaps the Opposition would like to use one of their Opposition days to bring it forward. I will be more than happy to take part.