A cabinet minister was left struggling to defend the health secretary’s resolve to excuse herself from food policy decision during her media round on Monday.
Touching on a report about Britain’s obesity problem – said to be costing £100 billion per year – Times Radio host Aasamah Mir pointed out that action is clearly needed.
However, new health secretary Victoria Atkins promised to recuse herself from some government business when she secured the top job last month.
That’s because her husband is British Sugar managing director Paul Kenward, although Atkins previously denied any conflict of interest in her role.
Speaking to Atkins’ colleague, culture secretary Lucy Frazer on Monday, Mir explained: “Now, obesity is a huge problem, but the health secretary can’t get involved because of her connection with the sugar industry.
“Isn’t that ridiculous?”
The culture secretary initially attempted to dodge the question and explain how her department intends to address this issue, but the host pushed back.
“Lucy Frazer, the point here is that a health secretary was married to the MD of British Sugar,” Mir noted.
“The situation now seems to be that she’s recused herself from food policy and those kind of meetings. And this is slightly ridiculous.
“If you, for example, Lucy Frazer, were married to [BBC Director General] Tim Davie, would you have to recuse yourself from discussions about the licence fee?”
Frazer just pointed out that the health secretary’s job is “massive”, and she is currently dealing with the NHS’s huge waiting lists and strikes.
But the radio host pointed out that “looking at the health of the nation” is key, too.
Frazer argued: “And that is part of the job.
“Sugar is not the only part of that job.
“She’s got a massive task ahead of her. And I know that she’s focusing on a number of issues.
“And of course, it’s appropriate for her to recuse herself on this particular one.
“Whether ministers or permanent secretaries or people in the civil service have, or indeed in private industry, I’m sure this issue arises all the time. It’s inappropriate to take decisions on matters where you are conflicted.”