(MENAFN - Gulf Times) Conservative and DUP MPs have been criticised for hosting a string of receptions, lunches and dinners in parliament for tobacco companies over the last 18 months.
Labour said the events were inappropriate given the public health risk posed by tobacco companies, which sell cigarettes despite the government's efforts to make them less attractive through high taxes, plain packaging and graphic health warnings.
The MPs include John Whittingdale, a former Cabinet minister, and Nigel Evans, the former deputy speaker, who both held receptions for Philip Morris International in November 2016 and March 2017 respectively.
The former MP Byron Davies held a reception with British American Tobacco in a parliamentary dining room in November last year, and Craig Mackinlay, a Conservative MP, hosted a roundtable for the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association (TMA) in October last year.
A fifth MP, Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist party, held a tea with Japan Tobacco International (JTI) in a parliamentary dining room in July.
The hospitality is revealed in data from the House of Commons authorities, which shows hundreds of events MPs hosted on behalf of private companies and their lobbyists between July 2016 and July 2017. These include a defence and arms exhibition, gambling companies, drink companies and many others.
Justin Madders, Labour's health spokesman, said: 'Members of parliament ought to be setting a lead on public health issues and, with such a well-established link between tobacco and poor health, it seems incongruous and unsettling for so many tobacco companies to be hosting events here in parliament.
'Of course it's important that businesses are engaged in implementing a health policy that works for patients, but there inevitably will be questions from the public about whether events like this are appropriate in the modern day. We need to be certain that political parties are setting their health policies according to what's best for patients, not under the influence of big business.
Alexandra Runswick, the director of Unlock Democracy, a grassroots campaign for democratic reform, said: 'Big corporations in the arms, gambling and tobacco industries are already perceived as having an undue sway over public policy. When they are allowed to roam free in the corridors of power it is hardly surprising that the public loses faith in our democracy.
'Most voters would find it hard to imagine being wined and dined in parliament, but for many corporations this kind of access is commonplace. To tackle public distrust in politics MPs should consider spending less time being courted by corporations, and more time serving their constituents.
Most of the MPs did not return requests for comment, but Mackinlay, the MP for South Thanet, defended his actions. He said he feared it was 'just more grandstanding from Labour.