Letter From Mrs Edwina Currie MP to the
Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards
Thank you for your letter of 21 January 1997
in which you refer to the "Dispatches" programme "Cash
for Questions" on Channel 4.
When approached by the production company for
this programme I made inquiries of the Department of Health to
support my memory of the events of Spring 1988. Normally I understand
the Department of Health would not be able to tell me which MPs
I met while I was there as the Minister, but by a complete coincidence
(naturally) the file had been retrieved from the archives.
MPs who attended a meeting with me on 12 May
1988 were Michael Brown, Eric Forth, Neil Hamilton, David Amess
and Sir William Clarke. I believe David Amess was there in his
capacity as PPS to myself and other junior Ministers. Apologies
were received from John Lee and Allan Stewart. As I recall, however,
most of the talking was done by Mr Hamilton and Mr Brown.
The relationship between several Members, including
those mentioned and others, and the tobacco lobby was well known
and understood. The contacts of Ministers and Civil Servants within
the smoking lobby were quite good, since we were actively engaged
in negotiations on voluntary agreements on smoking. On the whole
their lobbying agents, the MPs, were those associated with the
Right Wing or more "libertarian" side of the Party,
who could legitimately make out an argument for freedom of choice.
The meeting on 12 May 1988 was agreed in response
to a request from the MPs. They did not bring anyone else with
them, as I recall, but made the case on their own. This coincided
with a period of numerous questions and many letters to the Department
on the issue of Skoal Bandits, which were not at that time legal
in the UK and which the Department wished to ban permanently,
a process which was brought to a successful conclusion in late
1989 after I left the Department.
There is not much to add to the Dispatches programme
on the conduct of the meeting itself. MPs are entitled to put
whatever case they wish to Ministers, and Minsters are expected
to listen courteously. After all, when a consultation procedure
is underway or changes in the law are contemplated, it is very
important to understand the opposing point of view and to practice
marshalling arguments against it.
We wished to ban Skoal Bandits because they
were an additional form of tobacco and because they caused in
particular a form of mouth and throat cancer which was virulent,
which tended to attack young people (unlike the main tobacco
cancers), which was site-specific in that cancerous ulcers would
develop at the site where the tobacco pouch was normally lodged
in the cheek, and which was easily prevented by not permitting
this product to be sold in the UK. It seemed to me therefore
a sensible introduction to the discussion to show all concerned
photographs of these cancers which I obtained with the help of
a local hospital (I believe the Hammersmith but DoH could tell
you if you wish to be certain). I distributed these photographs
around the table and pointed out that the product they were promoting
caused these cancers. Most of those present were shocked but Mr
Hamilton indicated that he did not feel the photographs were
Since you ask, I can only repeat that it was
well known that these MPs were being paid by tobacco lobbyists;
Sir William Clarke in particular was believed to be very well
paid in his capacity as Chairman of the Back Bench Conservative
Finance Committee, since it would then be his job to lobby against
tax increases on tobacco products. I must tell you that Ministers
regarded this as a perfectly legitimate operation, although we
did not have a high opinion of those who functioned in this way.
Nevertheless it was a point of view and it was legitimate that
it should be put. I did not at any time check whether these financial
links were registered as that element was of no interest to me.
I hope this is helpful.
29 January 1997