Letter from the Parliamentary Commissioner
for Standards to Mr Michael Brown MP
As you know I am, at the request of the Select
Committee on Standards and Privileges, conducting an inquiry
into allegations, made principally by The Guardian, against
a number of Members, including yourself.
I am now in a position to set out in formal
terms the complaint made against you by The Guardian.
ALLEGATION MADE BY THE GUARDIAN AGAINST MICHAEL BROWN
1. In 1988-89, you were paid sums of money by
Ian Greer Associates as a fee for introducing US Tobacco as a
client of Ian Greer Associates; 2. You deliberately omitted
to declare or register the payments and benefits received as set
out above, by making appropriate entries in the Register of Members'
Interests; (I attach a copy of your Register entries and
relevant correspondence from your Registry file. Please note that
these documents are supplied for your information and assistance,
and they are not to be taken as intended to corroborate or otherwise
the above allegation.) In your reply you may wish to refer to
your correspondence with me of last October.
3. Further, notwithstanding the payments from
Ian Greer Associates related to your involvement with US Tobacco,
you failed to make an appropriate declaration of interest in all
correspondence and meetings with Ministers or Parliamentary colleagues.
These allegations have recently been set out
in the book "Sleaze - The Corruption of Parliament"
by David Leigh and Ed Vulliamy - a copy of the relevant pages
(124 to 129) is enclosed. 
I attach a bundle of documents supplied to me by the Department
of Health which are relevant to the above allegations and upon
which Counsel to the Inquiry and I may wish to put questions to
you in person. I will write again shortly about a possible date
for this hearing.
I would welcome a detailed, written response
to these allegations setting out which are accepted, which are
disputed, and in so far as actions or omissions are accepted
by you as correctly described, providing any explanations which
may assist me in my inquiry.
As part of that written response I would be
assisted by details of all benefits received by you from Ian Greer
(or Ian Greer Associates Limited, or any similarly named company
or firm), identifying the amounts received, the dates of receipt,
and producing any relevant documents such as letters to and from
I do not seek to place any limit on the length
of any written statement which you may wish to submit, but so
that the inquiry can proceed I would appreciate your written
statement as soon as possible, and in any event, by 10 February
1997. If you propose to submit written statements from others
who may assist me in considering your responses to these allegations,
I would also hope that they could be provided to me by the same
If there are potential witnesses from whom you
have not been able to obtain written statements, please identify
them (with details as to how they can be contacted) and explain
why their evidence will assist me in investigation of the allegations
set out earlier in this letter.
I would welcome copies of any documents upon
which you may wish to rely - including but not limited to the
documents identified above.
I enclose a copy of the procedure note which
forms the basis for the conduct of my inquiry.
Sir Gordon Downey
30 January 1997
Letter from Mr Michael Brown MP to the
Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards
Thank you for your letter of 30 January 1997
and enclosures regarding the allegations made against me by "The
I shall try to answer your questions as fully
Firstly, I freely admit that I received £6,000
in 1988 as a commission payment from Ian Greer Associates (IGA)
for introducing United States Tobacco (UST).
Secondly, I confirm that I omitted to declare
this introduction fee in the Register of Members' Interests at
the time. I categorically deny, however, that this was a deliberate
omission on my part which constituted a deceitful attempt to
conceal a relationship with either IGA or UST.
As I stated in my letter to you dated 2 October
1996, this regrettable omission was due solely to my misunderstanding
the obligation to disclose such a payment because of the lack
of clarity in the rules governing the Members' Register as they
In mitigation of my failure to declare, I would
plead that this requirement was not obvious given the old structure
of the annual questionnaire sent to Members of Parliament (MPs)
which invited us to register our outside interests by category.
The absence of a category which related specifically
to commission payments misled me into thinking that disclosure
of this particular information was unnecessary. Whilst I now recognise
that this was not in fact so, for which I profusely apologise,
I would draw your attention to the Third Report of the Select
Committee on Members' Interests (HC561, July 1990), which suggested
redefining the annual questionnaire so as to eliminate any confusion
on this matter, following a very similar allegation of impropriety
being levelled at Sir Michael Grylls MP.
In my letter of 2 October 1996, I pointed out
that the Select Committee acknowledged that it was not "readily
apparent" whether such introductory payments should be registered.
(See Appendix A). 
Thirdly, I accept that I ought to have declared this interest
when making representations to Ministers in relation to UST.
My reason for this was, as I explained above, my mistaken belief
that receipt of an introductory payment was not a declarable
interest. I deeply regret this error of omission.
More generally, I should like to try to account
for my former involvement with UST, especially in the light of
the wholly false inferences drawn by "The Guardian"
about the motivation for my actions. Examination of my record
during my time as an MP will, I believe, disprove the implicit
allegation that I was somehow in the pay of either UST or IGA.
Since my election in 1979, I have consistently
supported a number of what might be called "libertarian"
causes. For instance, in the House of Commons I voted against
compulsory seat belts in July 1982, the Water Fluoridation Act
1985 and, most recently, the move to ban all handguns as opposed
to just high calibre ones. Equally, I have always espoused homosexual
law reform and the civil rights of smokers.
You may wish to be aware that, according
to the Parliamentary On Line Information system (POLIS), I have
asked 12 Parliamentary Questions (PQs) about smoking generally
between the Elections of 1979 and 1983, 19PQs between the
1983 and 1987 Elections and 21 PQs between 1987 and 1992. (See
Appendix B). This adds up to 52 PQs in which I upheld the right
to smoke during my first 13 years in the House of Commons.
I also signed my name to a number of Early Day
Motions (EDMs) over the same period which advocated that adults
should be allowed to smoke if they wanted to, regardless of the
health risk. (See Appendix C).
I have long felt that individuals should have
the freedom to make decisions for themselves without interference
from the State, so long as this does not deprive other people
of their civil liberties, even if this freedom results in self-harm.
On the whole, it is no-one's business but our own how we choose
to conduct our lives.
It was this underlying philosophy which led
me, in November 1985, to table an amendment to EDM No. 53 which
was in the name of Mr George Foulkes MP.
Mr Foulkes had called for the Government "to
impose effective restrictions on the advertising and promotion
of Skoal Bandits". This was an oral tobacco product which
was being manufactured in East Kilbridge by UST encouraged by
a grant from the Scottish Office.
I proposed that the EDM should be amended to
include the words, "but nevertheless welcomes the availability
of this legal tobacco product so that smokers can enjoy a smoke-free
commodity in the increasing number of places where smoking is
totally prohibited, not least on the London Underground."
(See Appendix D).
At this time I had no knowledge of UST and had
never met any of their representatives before then. They subsequently
wrote to me to congratulate me on my proposal and I agreed to
meet them. They pointed out to me that the Government was offering
UST regional selective assistance to encourage the company to
establish a factory in Britain to make oral tobacco. During the
meeting I identified a number of other libertarian-inclined MPs,
including Mr Neil Hamilton, who would be supportive of the right
of adults to use this product if they so chose.
It seemed to me a reasonable stance to question
Ministers who, on the one hand, had actively encouraged UST to
come to Britain in order to create jobs in an area of high unemployment,
while on the other hand, were also trying to restrict demand
for the principal product, Skoal Bandits, despite this having
been partly paid for by the British taxpayer.
The Guardian has criticised me for
taking an interest in this case given that it had no direct connection
to my constituency. Such criticism is misdirected: the only reason
I became involved, during the mid to late 1980s, was the Government's
empty gesture (as I saw it) to the health lobby in pursuing a
policy which would have had the effect of closing the only factory
in the UK making oral tobacco, even though this was the same factory
which the Government had wanted UST to build in Britain with
some public money in the first place.
I objected to this inconsistency, but particularly
to the later use of prohibition as a means of promoting the nation's
health. For the reasons I gave above, I believe that informed
individuals should enjoy the right to decide to use any tobacco
product they choose, and not have that decision made for them
by the State, regardless of the health risk.
You kindly sent me a copy of the Third Reading
of the Tobacco Products (Sales Restriction) Bill in 1986, which
was renamed the Protection of Children (Tobacco) Bill. My remarks
at the time (18 April 1986, Hansard, column 1182)
will confirm the approximate date of my first ever meeting with
UST. I also hope that my general contribution to the Bill's Third
Reading will further demonstrate my libertarian instincts and
strengthen your appreciation that I was behaving entirely in
On 23 January 1986 I asked my first PQ with
direct respect to Skoal Bandits. (See Appendix E). The Minister's
reply stated that, "although the overall risk is small relative
to the enormous risk of smoking cigarettes, the risks of the
less common, but very serious cancers of the mouth and larynx,
are similar to those of cigarette smokers".
In other words, the then Department of Health
and Social Security (DHSS) was especially concerned about the
danger of this specific tobacco product causing oral cancer because
its effects were equivalent to people smoking cigarettes despite
the fact that the incidence of oral cancer amongst this group
is very low.
Indeed, the Health Education Authority (see
Appendix F) estimated that, in 1988, only 5.4 per cent of all
UK smoking-related deaths were attributable to cancer of the
buccal cavity, oesophagus or larynx, whereas the major causes
of death in smokers then were coronary heart disease, lung cancer
and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
My next three PQs on Skoal Bandits (30 October
1986, 23 February 1987 and 30 November 1987, Appendix E) were
all more or less identical in that I was trying to verify the
seriousness of the DHSS in concluding a voluntary marketing agreement
with UST. This was because I was beginning to suspect that the
DHSS might have ulterior motives for procrastinating.
In February 1988, the Government suddenly announced
that it was going to outlaw oral tobacco by using the powers
of the Consumer Protection Act 1987. My 5th PQ (25 March 1988),
therefore, wanted to know why the DHSS had been negotiating a
marketing agreement with UST when the intention all along was
to ban the product in question, of which UST was the sole manufacturer
The 6th PQ (29 March 1988) sought to discover
the legal rationale for using Section 11 of the Consumer Protection
Act when Section 13 specifically excluded tobacco from any prohibition
of goods. I did not feel that the Government had the legal right
to outlaw one particular tobacco product without logically having
to outlaw all forms of tobacco at the same time.
The next PQ (30 March 1988) tried, once again,
to ascertain the medical basis upon which the DHSS was trying
to rationalise the prohibition of oral tobacco when there was
no plan to outlaw the very much more dangerous form of tobacco
My penultimate PQ (26 April 1988) sought to
find out how prevalent under-age smoking was given that Parliament
had already enacted many laws to prevent this. Under-age use of
oral tobacco was an argument being deployed to justify the prohibition
as a way of stopping cigarette smoking in later life.
I must emphasise that I supported
the passage of the Protection of Children (Tobacco) Act 1986 through
Parliament. This is illustrated by "Hansard",
18 April 1986, column 1182 and 1184. The Act made it an offence
to sell any kind of tobacco product to someone under the
age of 16.
In what was effectively my last PQ on Skoal
Bandits (14 November 1988), I tried to have placed on the
record all the representations by letter which I had made
to Ministers because I, myself, wanted to publicise what I saw
as the Government's inconsistency in wanting to ban a product
while at the same time negotiating a voluntary marketing agreement
with its manufacturer.
At this point, I must make clear that I tabled
these PQs wholly on my own initiative. Neither anyone from UST
or IGA suggested that I do so on their behalf and I never offered.
I had no financial relationship with either of these companies
(apart from the introductory payment I have openly admitted) nor
did I expect such a relationship to develop. The only material
benefit I ever accepted from UST was a visit to their headquarters
in the USA in September 1986 which I declared in the Register
of Members' Interests at the time.
By pursuing my customary defence of smokers'
civil rights, I believe that I exposed the Government's irrationality
with regard to UST. Namely, the DHSS decided to ban oral tobacco
in the UK even though it knew that the risk of contracting mouth
cancer was considerably smaller than getting lung cancer from
smoking cigarettes. Moreover, this was the same Department of
State which has, to this date, steadfastly refused to ban cigarettes
or all tobacco advertising which promotes a habit the DHSS was
claiming to discourage by prohibiting Skoal Bandits.
To my mind, it seemed perverse that the Government
was apparently determined to outlaw the relatively safe oral
tobacco ostensibly to prevent a carcinogenic habit from starting,
especially amongst children to whom it was illegal to sell such
Consequently, on grounds of consistency, I thought
that Skoal Bandits should not be discriminated against
because of a possible risk to health, but that it should
be subject to the same warnings and taxation as the popular forms
of tobacco which were actually much more dangerous to people's
health. This was the main purpose of all my meetings with Ministers
in 1988 and 1989.
In answer to my PQs, the DHSS appeared to
indicate that this was their outlook, too, which is presumably
why it was negotiating a voluntary marketing agreement with the
producer. With the benefit of hindsight, however, it transpires
that Ministers were being less than candid because, from 1986
onwards, they had effectively decided to ban oral tobacco in
spite of having encouraged its production in Britain two years
Indeed, in December 1990, as the High Court
annulled the eventual ban because the Government had not followed
proper procedures, Lord Justice Taylor commented that UST had
been "kept in the dark", and, "led up the garden
path". (See Appendix G).
It was not, I submit, wrong of me to pursue
an issue until it was concluded. I do not believe that I can be
criticised for questioning Ministers on oral tobacco over a period
of years when, in retrospect, the Government had been acting
Some time after the 1987 General Election (I
am afraid that I am unable to be more specific than that), Neil
Hamilton and I suggested to UST that they really needed a more
professional Public Affairs consultant than the one they had
at the time because we felt that UST was not receiving the best
advice in its dealings with Government.
We recommended the names of three leading consultancies:
IGA, Westminster Strategy and GJW to the best of my recollection.
IGA was successful in gaining UST as a client. As is often the
practice with such firms, IGA consequently offered me an introductory
payment of £6,000.
"The Guardian" has implied
that, by accepting this commission, my independence was compromised
and that I was somehow placed under an obligation to assist UST
in resisting a prohibition of oral tobacco.
This is fatuous given that I have already pursued
my interest in this matter for some two years before receiving
any payment. I cannot, therefore, be accused of having been paid
to lobby against the public interest especially since my defence
of the right to smoke was already well established.
I concede that I continued to make representations
on oral tobacco to Ministers after UST became IGA's client, but
I did not at the time see that I was behaving essentially any
differently as to how I had done before accepting the introductory
As I have already explained, my involvement
stemmed from my desire to expose what I perceived to be the double
standard of the Department of Health (as it now is) in prohibiting
oral tobacco on health grounds while refusing to ban the much
more widespread forms of tobacco which carry a greater risk of
cancer. Indeed, if my actions had been selfish, as has been suggested,
then it is more likely that I would have immediately ceased all
activity in relation to UST because I had just been paid.
You requested any documentation I possess with
regard to this matter. Unfortunately, my files are only kept
for two or three years before being destroyed due to lack of space,
so I am afraid that I have no relevant correspondence available.
In any case, there were no written contracts of any kind between
IGA or UST and myself because, as I have stated before, I was
not working for either of them.
I have asked my Bank to obtain for me details
of my current account statements for 1988-89 which I will forward
to you as soon as they are received so that you may see the exact
dates on which the introduction fee was paid. So far as I can
recall, the payment was made in two halves of £3,000 each,
but this will be verified by my Bank statements.
I hope that all of the above is of help to you
in your inquiry. If you require any further assistance of me,
please do not hesitate to ask.
10 February 1997
44 Not printed. Back
This document is printed as part of Appendix 57. Back