Speech in the House of Commons debate on the Tobacco and Vapes Bill

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

I am not speaking in this debate because I love smoking, although I have voted against every single smoking prohibition since I have been a Member of Parliament. I am speaking today because I am very concerned that the policy that has been put forward is emblematic of a technocratic establishment in this county that wants to limit people’s freedom. That is a problem.

The problem is that the instinct of this establishment, which is reflected in cross-party consensus in the Chamber, is to believe that it—that the Government—is better at making decisions for people than people themselves. I absolutely agree that that is true for the under-18s. It is very important that we protect people while they are growing up until they have decision-making capability. However, I think the whole idea that we can protect adults from themselves is hugely problematic and effectively infantilises people. That is what has been going on. We are seeing, not just on tobacco but on sugar, alcohol and meat, a group of people who want to push an agenda which is about limiting personal freedom. I think that that is fundamentally wrong.

I go out canvassing a lot in my Norfolk constituency. People raise all kinds of issues with me on the doorstep. They are concerned about immigration. They are concerned about the cost of energy. They are concerned about the rise of China. They want to support Ukraine. Not a single voter has ever said to me, “My big concern is adults smoking.” This proposal has not come from people—our constituents—talking to us. It has come from a group of people who, by and large, work in a professional capacity pushing these policies. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) was Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, this proposal was sitting on her desk, so it is not new. I am pleased to say that she put it in the bin, but unfortunately since then it seems to have been pulled out of the bin and resuscitated.

My real fear is that this is not the final stage that the health police want to push, and people are concerned about this. They want to be able to make their own decisions about what they eat, what they drink and how they enjoy themselves. If the hon. Gentleman does not understand that, I suggest that he starts listening to the public.

What I also find extraordinary is the fact that almost four weeks ago I put a private Member’s Bill to Parliament to ban under-18s from being able to access puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones in the private sector and on the national health service. Children have been taking those drugs, and that has had life-changing effects on them. They have prevented them from having their own children, created problems with their physique and their bodies, and damaged their health.

Not only did the Labour party not support my private Member’s Bill but its Members talked and filibustered—they talked about ferrets—so much that I was not even able to speak. These are the same people who are saying that in future we should ban cigarettes for 30-year-olds, yet they will not vote to ban puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones for the under-18s. Thank goodness that Hilary Cass has come forward with her report. I welcome the support of the Health and Social Care Secretary for that report, but that is what we should be legislating on. We should be legislating on implementing the recommendations in the Hilary Cass report to prevent real danger to our children, rather than a virtue-signalling piece of legislation about protecting adults from themselves in future.

I am afraid that too many Members of Parliament have gone along with this orthodoxy. I am not surprised that that is the case for Labour and Liberal Democrat Members, who generally do not support freedom. They believe that the Government know best—the state knows best—and we understand that. I am disappointed, however, that a Conservative Government has introduced the Bill. The only other country in the world where such a Bill was brought forward was New Zealand, under a very left-wing Prime Minister. That Bill has now been reversed under the new conservative Government in New Zealand. I have a message for my colleagues on this side of the House. If people want to vote for finger-wagging, nannying control freaks, there are plenty of them to choose from in the Opposition, and that is the way they will vote. If people want to have control over their lives, if they want to have freedom, that is why they vote Conservative.

There are double standards in this debate. My view is that it is absolutely right that we protect the under-18s from these potential dangers before they have full decision-making capability, but we should allow adults to exercise that freedom. It seems to me that the medical establishment, the national health service and others working in the health industry have unfortunately been captured by this gender ideology, which is preventing them from seeing the truth of what is happening. That is why the Cass report is welcome. If only the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) had shown the same level of interest in dealing with the issue of young people and puberty blockers that he has shown in pursuing his crusade against smoking—he was not saying this a few years ago.

I will come to my conclusion, because I know that a lot of people want to speak in the debate. What I ask is that Members do not just follow the instructions of the health lobby. We have heard about what the chief medical officer says. I know from being a Government Minister that there are often schemes pushed by officials and civil servants because, fundamentally, there is a belief that government knows best. I want Members of Parliament to think not just about what happens if we ban smoking for people who are over the age of 18, but about the implications for shopkeepers who have to identify whether people are the right age. Will it mean that people have to carry ID into shops with them into their 40s? What are the practical implications? It is a very dangerous precedent to start saying that some adults can have the freedom to smoke and some cannot. That is a fundamental problem. It is fundamentally unconservative, it is unliberal and I will not be supporting the Bill.

I will come to my conclusion, because I know that a lot of people want to speak in the debate. What I ask is that Members do not just follow the instructions of the health lobby. We have heard about what the chief medical officer says. I know from being a Government Minister that there are often schemes pushed by officials and civil servants because, fundamentally, there is a belief that government knows best. I want Members of Parliament to think not just about what happens if we ban smoking for people who are over the age of 18, but about the implications for shopkeepers who have to identify whether people are the right age. Will it mean that people have to carry ID into shops with them into their 40s? What are the practical implications? It is a very dangerous precedent to start saying that some adults can have the freedom to smoke and some cannot. That is a fundamental problem. It is fundamentally unconservative, it is unliberal and I will not be supporting the Bill.

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In Ten Years to Save the West, Truss, who as Prime Minister sought to champion limited government and individual freedom, will argue that the rise of authoritarianism around the world and the adoption of fashionable ideas propagated by the global left give us barely a decade to preserve the economic and cultural freedom and institutions that the West holds so dear.