The government has insisted that proposals for tobacco plain packaging and minimum alcohol pricing are still on the table despite their exclusion from today’s Queen’s Speech.
Both measures have been consulted on but have reportedly caused splits within the Cabinet. Recent media reports suggested that ministers have abandoned plain packaging proposals.
But speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “Just because something is not in the Queen’s Speech does not mean the government can’t bring it forward as law, but we have not made a decision.
“On plain paper packaging, if we do it we will be the first country in Europe, the second country in the world - Australia only introduced it in January. So it is a much harder job to assess the evidence as to how effective it would be. I want to make sure we do the job properly so I’ve said I will take the time needed.”
He said an ongoing legal challenge to minimum pricing in Scotland meant it “wasn’t possible for us to consider what course of action to do” in time for today’s speech.
The Scotch Whisky Association has vowed to take its case to the European Court of Justice after Scotland’s highest civil court ruled last week that the measure was compatible with UK and European Union law.
The Queen’s Speech included the National Insurance Contributions Bill aimed at helping small businesses employ more staff. From April 2014 all small businesses will receive a £2,000 annual deduction from their employer National Insurance contributions.
It also included the Deregulation Bill, which aims to reduce the burden of excessive or unnecessary regulation. Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman said: “We welcome in particular the duty imposed on regulators to promote growth as often it is the way rules are enforced, rather than the rules themselves; that creates a burden for business.”