Tobacco firm gave thousands of pounds worth of hospitality to nine MPs who opposed smoking bill

MPs who received thousands of pounds worth of hospitality from one of the world’s largest tobacco companies opposed a new law banning smoking in cars.

The parliamentary register of members’ interests shows Japan Tobacco International, which produces Benson & Hedges, Silk Cut and Camel cigarettes, spent £23,000 entertaining 20 MPs in the past six months.

Richard Ottaway

Richard Ottaway MP, British Conservative politician.

Almost half of them voted against a Private Member’s Bill banning smoking in cars carrying children.

The MP behind the Bill, Labour’s Alex Cunningham, has asked Parliamentary Standards Commissioner John Lyon to investigate.

In May, seven Tory MPs accepted tickets from JTI to the Chelsea Flower Show, costing at least £1,100 each for themselves plus a guest.

Less than a month later they voted against the Bill, which passed the first stage of the parliamentary process by 78 votes to 66 on June 22.

The seven were Therese Coffey, Richard Ottaway, Christopher Pincher, Alun Cairns, Stephen Metcalfe, Laurence Robertson and Michael Ellis.

In August Labour MP Simon Danczuk and Tory Andrew Rosindell watched the England versus India Test match at the Oval courtesy of JTI. They had also voted against the anti-smoking Bill.

Laurence Robertson

Conservative MP Laurence Robertson (left) and Therese Coffey enjoyed benefits laid on for fellow MPs by Tobacco firms

Mr Danczuk received hospitality to the value of £1,389 and Mr Rosindell was given £1,447 worth. Both attended the game with a guest.

The MP behind the bill – Labour’s Alex Cunningham – is now demanding an investigation by John Lyon the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner.

Mr Cunningham said: ‘I’m really quite amazed that MPs would put themselves in such a vulnerable position by taking this stand on proposed legislation around the same time they were receiving such lavish entertainment from the tobacco industry.

‘I’ve asked John Lyon to look into it.’

The tobacco industry fears Mr Cunningham’s bill could be the first step in a total ban on smoking in cars, seriously affecting its profits.

It is keen to lobby MPs to limit new regulations from the health campaigners that have already led to a ban on smoking in public places.

Alun Cairns

Michael Ellis and Alun Cairns (right) accepted gifts from Tobacco firms in order to generate interest in smoking laws

In May, seven MPs, all Conservatives, accepted tickets from Japan Tobacco International to the Chelsea Flower Show costing £1,132 for themselves plus a guest.

They were also given lunch at the horticultural event.

Less than a month later they voted against the anti-smoking Bill which passed the first of the Parliamentary process by 78 votes to 66.

Between them, the nine MPs who voted against the Bill were treated to £10,778 of entertainment by JTI.

Mr Cunningham’s Private Members Bill is due to be voted on again on Friday.

Very few Private Member’s Bills become law but they stimulate debate and can lead to more powerful legislative efforts.

The Department of Health is already planning a publicity campaign next spring warning of the dangers of smoking in cars and at home.

Existing rules on lobbying make clear that MPs must not place themselves under any financial obligation to outside individuals or organisations and must not act as a paid advocate in any parliamentary proceedings.

They should not take payment to speak in Parliament, to vote a certain way, to introduce legislation, to amend legislation or to urge others to do so.

The lobbying industry is under increasing pressure after the resignation of former Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox over his relationship with friend Adam Werritty.

But the Prime Minister has delayed plans to introduce a statutory register of lobbyists despite warning last February that: ‘lobbying was the next big scandal waiting to happen.’

Sir Alistair Graham, the former chairman of the committee on standards in public life, said: ‘It is odd that these MPs are so keen to genuflect towards the tobacco industry and worrying that they are so easily accessible to it.

‘Given David Cameron’s very strong words about lobbying being the next scandal to hit the political class you would think that MPs would be more cautious in their approach.’

A spokesman for JTI said: ‘Like other businesses or bodies, we invite politicians and their parliamentary staff to our events, and this exchange of views has helped bring more balance to an otherwise one-sided debate.’

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