I have some sympathy with John Reid, as he tries to drive public health up the political agenda. Of course surgery and medicine are enormously important and have helped to increase both life expectancy and the quality of life. Technological advance has brought cures for many ailments and I welcome that.
But life-style illnesses are all too prevalent and they need to be addressed. A hip replacement operation may bring relief and restore mobility; but if obesity was part of the underlying condition, would not prevention have been better? How many resources are tied up dealing with illnesses that are preventable, denying those same resources to tackling illnesses that are not?
For Conservatives, the role of the state in lifestyle decisions raises difficult issues. We want individuals to take informed decisions about themselves and to be responsible for the consequences. But if the flow of information that influences life-style decisions is biased or unequal, that I am in favour of intervention to secure a better market in information.
And while I favour freedom of action by the individual, that freedom has to be qualified where it does harm to another. The right of one man to smoke ends where the nose of another begins.
Hence my question to John Reid about the absurd inconsistency in his proposals. On public health grounds, he wants to ban smoking in pubs where food is served. But he will not ban smoking in pubs where food is not served. The customer or employee is exposed to the same risks in both circumstances, but he receives no protection in the second type of pub or bar. Unlike in Scotland or in Wales.
What are his reasons? I asked him. Judge for yourself if his reply makes sense.
See extract from Hansard below
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): The Secretary of State has just announced wide-ranging restrictions on smoking in public places, and speaking purely personally I wholeheartedly welcome what he has just done, in the name of public health. May I press him on the issue raised by his hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, West (Stephen Hesford) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford)? From the point of view of public health, and from the point of view of the customer or the employee, why has he chosen to exclude pubs and bars that do not prepare food?
Dr. Reid: First, I wanted to get a balance between protecting the majority's health and preserving the minority's rights.Secondly, a distinction is already made between restaurants and pubs that sell food and other pubs that do not. There is already a classification, which is to hand, which means that no additional bureaucracy or definition will be necessary, because that classification is already carried out through the local authorities.
Thirdly, I made that choice because it is the nearest position to that which the public, in our consultation and in all opinion polls, said that they wanted. It is slightly ahead of public opinion because what public opinion would have us do is to have restrictions within a pub itself, rather than restrictions among pubs. So, it is not exactly replicating public opinion, and it is not, as some people say, behind public opinion—it is slightly in front of it. For those three reasons, this seemed the most balanced way of doing things.