SOUTH BASILDON AND EAST THURROCK MP Stephen Metcalfe has denied allegations he deliberately voted against a ban on smoking in cars after accepting hospitality from a tobacco company.
The MP was one of seven MPs to accept tickets from Japan Tobacco International to the Chelsea Flower Show, in May reports The Echo.
Mr Metcalfe attended the event with his wife and the tickets, paid for by the company, which produces Silk Cut and Camel cigarettes as well as other brands, cost £1,132 per couple.
Weeks later, Mr Metcalfe voted against a Private Member’s Bill in Parliament, which called for smoking in cars to be outlawed.
Now the MP behind the Bill – Labour’s Alex Cunningham – is demanding an investigation by John Lyon, the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner.
Mr Metcalfe said he would always have voted against the Bill and added he has never even had a conversation with bosses at Japan Tobacco about the Bill.
He said: “This is just utter rubbish. It’s absurd.
“Japan Tobacco has spoken with me in the past over the problem of illegal cigarette trafficking, as figures show it is a significant problem in Basildon and Billericay. We’ve never spoken about the Bill. It is not in any way strange that in my job I would be talking to a tobacco company.
“Whether you like smoking or not, it is a legal activity and it generates millions of pounds every year in tax.”
Mr Metcalfe, who is a smoker, added: “I think smokers have been castigated over the years.
“It’s about liberty and the fact people should be advised about health issues, but not told what to do in their own homes and cars.
“Nobody wants to see smoking around children, but to legislate this Bill would be difficult and practically impossible to enforce.”
Mr Metcalfe declared the visit to the horticultural show on the register of MPs’ private interests, as required by parliamentary regulations.
He conceded he was shocked at the cost of the tickets: “To be honest I couldn’t believe it when I found out. We had lunch, a couple of glasses of wine and visited the show, that was it.
“It wasn’t until afterwards I found out the price of these tickets and I think it was too high.”
Mr Metcalfe said he is not a supporter of the UK’s outright ban on lighting up in public places.
He said: “If I’d been an MP then, I would have voted against it. Pubs and working men’s clubs have been hit hard by the ban.”
The Bill passed its first stage by 78 votes to 66 and is due for a second vote next week.