At Business Questions in the House of Commons, Sir George asked the Leader of the House about the shambles surrounding smoking policy.
“Geoff Hoon did his best on a rather sticky wicket; I have consistently opposed the partial ban on smoking in public places, and, as a former cabinet minister, I know how demoralising it can be when these splits burst into the open.”
See extract below:
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): May we have an early statement from the Secretary of State for Health to explain the shambles surrounding the Government's policy on smoking? We have seen a breakdown of collective Cabinet responsibility and of the normal confidentiality that surrounds Cabinet discussions. Do we not need a statement so that it can be explained why a Scottish Labour Member—the Secretary of State for Defence, whose constituents will benefit from a totally smoke-free environment in public places—has used his influence to impose on my constituents a less healthy option?
Mr. Hoon: This is a difficult issue. No one is pretending that these issues cannot be resolved sensibly. The issue is one of balancing the freedom of individuals not to suffer unwarranted exposure to cigarette smoke against the interests of not turning those people who want to smoke into pariahs in our society. That was put extremely well by the shadow Leader of the House when he made that observation, and it indicates that all political parties have their debates on this question. I should have thought that the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) welcomed the fact that there was such public discussion of these issues.
I regularly receive complaints that, in fact, such issues are decided behind locked doors and that there is no possibility of having that kind of public discussion. Indeed, I congratulate the Conservative party on the various approaches it takes to the issue. In Wales, the Conservative health spokesman supported the ban on smoking in public places; in Scotland, the Conservative health spokesman opposed the ban. However, those positions are models of clarity compared with that of the shadow Health Secretary, who said in a speech last month that the Conservatives would replace the Government's plans
"either with the provision for a self-regulated approach, or a full statutory ban on smoking in public places."
So it appears that, in this country, the Conservative party's official position is both for and against a ban.