Select Committee on Standards and Privileges First Report


Extract from letter from the Rt Hon David Mellor QC, MP to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards

* * *

  Turning to the issue of Skoal Bandits, I should explain that this is something I feel very badly about, and indeed had discussions with The Guardian and their legal representatives about it prior to the expected trial of the Hamilton/Greer liable action. I would have been willing to give evidence on behalf of The Guardian on this point had the trial proceeded.

  When I became Minister of State for Health, a position I held between July 1988 and November 1989, I was disturbed to discover that US Tobacco wished to manufacture this noxious form of chewing tobacco, trade name Skoal Bandits, and indeed were in line to receive an investment grant from the Scottish Office to establish a factory in Scotland to manufacture the same. I saw papers that plainly evidenced the greatly enhanced risk of appalling oral cancers as a result of using this product, and determined to render its use in this Country unlawful. I expected that amidst all the many controversies of politics, this at least would unite all sections of opinion, but I was wrong. I received representations from Neil Hamilton and Michael Brown which, if my memory serves me well, claimed that on personal liberty grounds it was appropriate that people should be free to use this substance if they so wished, and that it should be freely sold in this Country. I also recall a meeting taking place at Ministerial level which I attended on this point. When it appeared that I might have to give evidence in the trial, I did arrange with the Department of Health to review the files, and I believe they show what I say to be true. I must however make clear that before I had a chance to do so the trial was aborted, and so I rely entirely on my unrefreshed memory for what I say on this point. I have no doubt that these letters and notes of meetings will be available to you from the DOH Archive, and it is a tribute to how angry I felt about this, that I still have a clear recollection of aspects of this business nearly a decade after the event.

  It goes without saying that at no time did either Hamilton or Brown indicate that they were acting for US Tobacco pursuant to any commercial agreement or inducement. Obviously I do not know whether they were, but I can certainly say that while, with an ill concealed bad grace, I was prepared to see them to give them a chance to argue their civil liberties point, I should certainly not have agreed to see them if I had had any reason to think they were acting as they did for commercial reasons.

  Returning for the moment to Greer's donation, I also enclose for the sake of completeness as Annex V[66] a statement I put out at the time that there was newspaper comment on Greer's donations to the election funds of a number of Members of Parliament.

  Please do not hesitate to let me know if I can be of any further assistance.

20 February 1997

66   Not printed. Back

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Prepared 8 July 1997