Tobacco Advertising: Lobby firm 'helped block smoking Bill': Government accused of receiving help from cigarette makers as MP's proposal runs out of time

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IAN GREER Associates, the parliamentary lobbying firm with close links to the Tory party, played a key role in securing the blocking of yesterday's private member's Bill banning tobacco advertising.

In a virtual re-run of last week's treatment of the Disability Bill, Tory MPs tabled 108 amendments ensuring the measure brought by Kevin Barron, Labour MP for Rother Valley, ran out of time.

During the debate, Tom Sackville, the junior health minister, announced the Government had earlier reached a voluntary agreement with the manufacturers to introduce new advertising guidelines. Mr Barron argued they did not go far enough and accused the Government 'of taking their orders from the tobacco industry'.

It emerged that ministers and health officials met representatives of the tobacco industry about Mr Barron's Bill in late February. Clive Turner, executive director of the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association, said: 'We've never had meetings with the Department of Health to discuss amendments; we've had meetings to discuss the voluntary agreement'.

Ian Greer introduced its client, Philip Morris, maker of Marlboro, to parliamentary agents expert in drafting Bills and amendments. Simon Milton, a director of Ian Greer Associates, confirmed in a letter to Dale Campbell-Savours, the Labour MP, 'that IGA did put Philip Morris Limited in touch with parliamentary agents; and that to my knowledge the tobacco industry trade association, the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association, has been responsible for co-ordinating the industry's response to the Tobacco Advertising Bill.' Philip Morris is a member of the TMA.

Earlier this week, it emerged that a Central TV expose apparently detailing claims by Ian Greer to be close to several senior Tory MPs, including some Cabinet ministers, had been pulled by ITV chiefs.

In the debate, Mr Campbell-Savours named Michael Pritchard of Sharpe Pritchard & Co as having been retained by Philip Morris and being responsible for drafting the 'wrecking amendments'.

The Tories who tabled most of the amendments were John Carlisle, Charles Hendry, Sir Trevor Skeet, James Couchman and Peter Griffiths.

Mr Barron described their actions as 'deplorable' and accused them of stopping a Bill 'which could have prevented many young people taking up smoking, and the damage to their health which will inevitably result'.

Mr Pritchard charges upwards of pounds 140 per hour for his services. He would not say what exactly he did for Philip Morris, but admitted it was 'quite possible I gave them advice'.

One of Mr Milton's colleagues, Andrew Smith, refused to disclose which MPs were also used by Philip Morris. 'The company is in touch with MPs in connection with a broad range of issues,' he said.

The manufacturers, claimed Mr Turner, had behaved no differently from Mr Barron, whom he accused of taking advice from Ash, the anti-smoking pressure group.

'It's no use Kevin Barron and his friends turning round and saying the rules don't apply to them,' he said.

Ties between the Tories and the tobacco industry are close: several manufacturers have made donations to the party and Imperial Tobacco loaned 2,000 poster sites to the Tories at the last election. Mr Turner explained: 'The tobacco industry supports the Tory party because Labour has . . . said it will ban advertising and do everything it can to destroy our industry. What do you expect us to do?'

(Photograph omitted)