Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn has hit back at criticism directed at him for accepting hospitality from a tobacco firm.
The MP attended last year’s Chelsea Flower Show in London at the invitation of Japan Tobacco International, maker of brands including Benson and Hedges, Camel, Winston and Silk Cut.
He was condemned by anti-smoking campaigners for accepting the hospitality package, then voting against plans to introduce plain cigarette packaging.
Mr Hepburn has defended his actions for the first time since coming under fire last week.
The MP said he was fully supportive of Labour’s proposed tax on the tobacco industry to pay for more doctors and nurses, but he says he makes no apologies for backing staff at Essentra, formerly known as Filtrona and, before that, Cigarette Components.
Though he voted in favour of the ban on smoking in public places several years ago, he dismissed calls to make plain packaging for cigarettes compulsory as “barmy” and “counter-productive”.
“In recent months, I have visited Essentra on the Bede Trading Estate. Although not as big as it once was, the firm provides 240 jobs and is regarded as a decent employer.
“I have always been supportive of its growth plans.
“These jobs are invaluable when unemployment is a curse, and I make no apologies for standing up for both a local company and South Tyneside as a great place to do business.
“I supported Labour’s proposed tax on the tobacco industry to hire more NHS doctors and nurses, but I think it’s barmy to force all cigarettes to be sold in the same plain packs.
“I know the harm to health caused by smoking – that’s why I voted for the pub ban – yet as long as people buy cigarettes, I’ll stand up for Essentra’s workers.”
> Even if it means having to do unpleasant things, like accepting hospitality packages at the Chelsea Flower Show. I hope Essentra’s workers are suitably grateful.
Source – Shields Gazette, 27 May 2015
Labour MPs had a night at the opera and tickets to the Chelsea Flower Show paid for by a tobacco company.
Senior party figure and opera fan Nick Brown MP, went to a show courtesy of Japan International Tobacco which make Silk Cut and Benson & Hedges cigarettes.
Stephen Hepburn, MP for Jarrow, accepted tickets worth £700 from the same company for the internationally famous flower festival in May.
Both declared accepting donations of tickets as part of the MPs register of financial interests.
Nick Brown, who represents the Newcastle East constituency, said he had taken up JTI’s offer of hospitality on July 24 to find out more about the work of the Glyndebourne Opera.
Mr Brown voted in favour of the smoking ban in pubs and nightclubs in 2006.
Mr Brown, said:
“The event was hosted by Glyndbourne Opera and sponsored by JTI. The invitation was to see behind the scenes of the Opera Company, to learn something of their work and in the evening attend Glyndbourne’s new production of La Traviata.”
“The event took place during the Parliamentary recess. For the avoidance of doubt I declared this in the Register of Members Financial Interests.”
Tickets for the Chelsea Flower Show were also handed to Stephen Hepburn from the same company, which he accepted despite smoking rates in South Tyneside continuing to soar.
Earlier this year it was reported that a quarter of women in South Tyneside are still smoking at the time they give birth – more than twice the national average and the highest proportion of any local authority in the country.
Like Mr Brown, Mr Hepburn also voted in favour of the smoking ban back in 2006.
Jeremy Blackburn, Head of Communications for JTI UK, said:
“Like many other businesses we host at events throughout the year to update stakeholders on developments at JTI, as well as exchange views and opinions informally with our guests on issues affecting our Company.
“We are strongly of the opinion that engagement results in better and more informed regulation and is therefore in the best interests of all relevant parties.
“We are able to share our views and opinions with independently minded MPs who are interested by the issues that impact on our business and MPs will judge for themselves the merits of our views.”
The Sunday Sun contacted Stephen Hepburn several times but he declined to comment.
Source – Sunday Sun, 16 Nov 2014