The government yesterday defended its decision to delay the implementation of plain packaging of tobacco products in a lively Westminster debate.

It currently plans to wait until December 2014 – three years after the introduction of plain packaging in Australia - in order glean a clearer picture of the impact on smoking rates and the illicit trade.

Despite claims by Conservative MP for Harrow East Bob Blackman that “about 600,000 children would begin to smoke” in this timeframe, health minister Anna Soubry reiterated that the government had made “no final decision” and that it was “important” that it considered the evidence before taking action.

Soubry, who is a strong supporter of plain packaging, said it was “right and fair” for the government to wait.

“Of course we know that the Irish government have also said that they want to introduce this measure. Again, we will wait and see. It is no simple matter to introduce standardised packaging. There will be many challenges that the Irish will face in their attempts.”

“Standardised packaging is no silver bullet. There is no simple solution to the problem of persuading both the remaining 20% of the population to give up smoking and our youngsters not to smoke.”

The government also needed to conduct “more research” into why children continued to take up smoking, and the link between the higher smoking prevalence among the children of parents who smoke, Soubry added.

“I hope that I have made the government’s position absolutely clear,” she added.

“My own views are clear, but it is right to wait to see the evidence. I assure Members that the wise words from so many different parties today will be taken back to the government and will be listened to. It is to be hoped that in due time, standardised packaging will be introduced.”