Friday, 19 July 2013

House of Commons Scrutiny Committee questions Under Secretary of Public Health Soubry

Time for opposition parties to challenge government on the Tobacco Products Directive. So eager was Anna Soubry to get the Tobacco Products Directive in Europe through that she went to Luxembourg and took part in all the deliberations, without clearing any of her positions with the Scrutiny Committee. She requested a waiver from scrutiny from the relevant committees, which was allowed by the House of Lords committee(!) but disallowed by the House of Commons committee, which said that there was not sufficient time to debate.

She explains her reasoning for this debacle in the video below, in committee, where she has been called up to answer questions as to how she came to over-ride its scrutiny:

Ms Soubry states fairly bluntly that the legislative outcomes were far more important to her than anything else. Committee members don't seem very impressed with the low priority she places on following parliamentary procedures. They have her apology on record, but it looks as if investigations will be ongoing.

Not only did she give a national position on the Tobacco Products Directive without UK Members of Parliament being able to debate them, but she failed for the preceding six months to keep the committee advised of progress. She thereby contributed significantly to the fact that time ran out for proper scrutiny and debate.

This is open and unembarrassed abuse of process – Soubry says she feels the committee ought to be grateful to her setting out to create conditions whereby the UK government will be able to come back and introduce plain packaging. She somehow attempts to make the case that her abuse of the parliamentary process was designed to protect Westminster's sovereignty.

Will the UK opposition start asking pointed questions?

Perhaps it is time to start writing letters. This seems about the level of debate on tobacco legislation: Why Labour should keep asking Cameron the Lynton Crosby question (New Statesman).

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