Select Committee on Standards and Privileges First Report



b) The Campaign relating to Skoal Bandits

  680. Skoal Bandits was the trade name of a product consisting of small pouches of moistened, powdered chewing tobacco manufactured by US Tobacco Inc. Skoal Bandits were first introduced in the United States in 1983. In 1985 the company received a Scottish Office grant of just under £200,000 to build a European distribution centre at East Kilbride. Pressure on the Government grew for a ban on the sale of Skoal Bandits, which was initially resisted on the grounds that this would be anomalous whilst other tobacco products remained legally available. In 1986, however, a Private Member's Bill to prohibit the sale of Skoal Bandits to minors was passed. The Government then began to give consideration to a complete ban.

  681. In February 1988 the junior Minister at the Department of Health (Mrs Edwina Currie) announced the Government's intention to prohibit outright the sale of Skoal Bandits in the United Kingdom, subject to a three month consultation period (subsequently extended to four months).

  682. Around May 1988, Ian Greer Associates, whose name had been put forward by Mr Hamilton and Mr Brown, were hired by US Tobacco to mount a campaign against the Government's proposals.

  683. In December 1989, the Oral Snuff (Safety) Regulations 1989 were made by the Secretary of State for Health. These set a timetable for the eventual total prohibition of the sale of Skoal Bandits in the United Kingdom.

  684. In December 1990, an application by US Tobacco for judicial review of the Secretary of State's decision was granted and the making of the Oral Snuff (Safety) Regulations was quashed. The main ground for the judgement was the Secretary of State's omission to disclose to US Tobacco the scientific evidence on which the decision was based - in other words his failure to consult and thereby adopt a fair procedure. (The objectives of the regulations were, however, eventually secured through European Community legislation).

  685. Both Mr Hamilton and Mr Brown had from the outset opposed, on libertarian grounds, the pressure for a complete ban on the sale of Skoal Bandits (though Mr Brown had supported restrictions on their availability to minors). They also argued that the proposed ban was discriminatory in that products similar in effect to Skoal Bandits would not be caught.

  686. In addition to their Parliamentary interventions, Mr Hamilton and Mr Brown had a number of contacts with Ministers and officials as part of their campaign to influence Government policy on Skoal Bandits. The departmental papers suggest the following pattern of activity between May 1988 and July 1989 (the period covered by the staged commission payments from Mr Greer for the introduction of US Tobacco):


    -    November:   letter from Mr Hamilton to the Department of Health;

    -    May:   meeting between the junior Health Minister (Mr David Mellor) and Mr Hamilton;

    -    June:   meeting between the Secretary of State for Health (Mr Kenneth Clarke), Mr Hamilton and Mr Brown;

    -      letter from Mr Hamilton to the Department of Health;

    -    July:   letters from Mr Hamilton and Mr Brown to the Department of Health.

  687. The grounds for asserting that Mr Hamilton and Mr Brown should have declared relevant interests in their dealings with the Department of Health from July 1988 onwards are twofold:

    -    that they had received, were in the process of receiving, or expected to receive, a staged commission payment of £6,000 each from Mr Greer for introducing US Tobacco to IGA;

  688. There is no evidence in the departmental papers that any appropriate declaration was made and, in any case, neither Member claims to have done so.

  689. Mr Hamilton argued[320] in oral evidence that he had not been paid an introduction fee by Mr Greer in order that he should advance the interests of US Tobacco. Nevertheless, he accepted in retrospect that he had been wrong to make no reference to the payment "when I went on those meetings with Ministers".

  690. Mr Brown acknowledged that he probably had not treated the issue of registration and declaration as carefully in the 1980s as he did now. He regretted his failure to make a declaration but denied any deliberate intention to conceal his interest in relation to US Tobacco.[321]

  691. I also sought the evidence of the relevant Ministers at the Department of Health in 1988 and 1989 (Mrs Currie, Mr Mellor and Mr Clarke) as to their then perception of the motives behind the lobbying carried out by Mr Hamilton and Mr Brown on the Skoal Bandits issue.

  692. Mrs Currie said that the relationship between a number of Members, including Mr Hamilton and Mr Brown, and the tobacco lobby "was well known and understood" and it was no secret that "these MPs were being paid by tobacco lobbyists". She added that whilst Ministers regarded this as legitimate they "did not have a high opinion of those who functioned in this way".[322]

  693. Mr Hamilton and Mr Brown both strongly rejected Mrs Currie's remarks about their alleged relationship with the tobacco industry.

  694. Mr Mellor expressed his anger at the libertarian thrust of the representations from Mr Hamilton and Mr Brown, given the medical advice available to the Department of Health about the harmful effects of Skoal Bandits.[323] He said that whilst he had been prepared "with an ill-concealed bad grace" to see them and to allow them to argue their case, he would not have done so if he had had any reason to think that "they were acting as they did for commercial reasons".

  695. Mr Hamilton claimed that Mr Mellor's letter, like Mrs Currie's, contained factual inaccuracies. Referring to Mr Mellor's remark that he had received Mr Hamilton and Mr Brown only with an "ill-concealed bad grace", Mr Hamilton observed that he had not, at the time, noticed that Mr Mellor's attitude towards them "was uncharacteristic of him in any way".

  696. Mr Clarke's main recollection was of the vigour of the lobbying.[324] Mr Hamilton and Mr Brown had certainly been "very ferocious in their private representations". But he did not think he had ever been aware that either Member "had financial connections with the companies involved".

319  The Guardian alleged in Sleaze (pp 121-3) that Mr Hamilton had enjoyed similar hospitality in October 1988, but in fact, as separate enquiries have confirmed, this trip took place in October 1989, as stated by Mr Hamilton. Back

320  Q 2241. Back

321  Q 2235-6. Back

322  See Appendix 100. Back

323  See Appendix 102. Back

324  See Appendix 101. Back

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Prepared 8 July 1997