Northern Ireland MP Ian Paisley has defended hosting an event for a tobacco company at parliament.
The Guardian reports on information released by the House of Commons on hospitality events held by MPs. The North Antrim DUP MP held a tea with Japan Tobacco International, which was a major employer in his constituency operating the Gallaher's factory in Ballymena.
Mr Paisley said the event in July was held to highlight the work needed to combat trade in illegal tobacco and the dangers posed by its distribution.
“The reception I hosted was promoting the problem of illicit trade and identifying that much more needs to be done and how much is lost to the exchequer," he told the Guardian.
"While everyone recognises there are issues to do with tobacco, it is very important that if people are going to buy a legal product, they must buy a legal one rather than a smuggled one or one that is fake or poses even more hazards. That’s why I think it was a worthwhile seminar to identify the extent of that problem."
Labour said such events with tobacco companies were inappropriate given the health risk posed by smoking and government campaigns to get people to quit.
A JTI spokesperson added: “The parliamentary event JTI held in July 2017 provided an opportunity for us to communicate the results of our mystery shop operation in London which found one in eight retailers selling illegal tobacco. We were also able to demonstrate how JTI works with national and local law enforcement to help prevent a crime which since 2000 has cost HMRC £43.5bn.
“We are strongly of the opinion that this type of engagement results in better and more informed debate about the issues surrounding illegal tobacco.”
Gallaher's factory in Ballymena closed after decades as one of Northern Ireland's biggest employers in October after owners JTI moved operations to Poland.