Former prime minister Liz Truss has said the Government’s proposed smoking ban for youngsters is the result of a “technocratic establishment” that is aiming to “limit people’s freedom”.

She described the Tobacco and Vapes Bill – which Rishi Sunak sees as a key part of his long-term legacy – as a “virtue-signalling piece of legislation”.

In a warning to Tory colleagues, Ms Truss claimed there were enough “finger-wagging, nannying control freaks” on the opposition benches willing to support the proposals, urging Conservatives to instead “stand by our principles and our ideals”.

The Bill will make it illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone born after January 1 2009, which covers children who are currently 15 or younger.

The legislation would not ban smoking outright as anyone who can legally buy tobacco now will be able to continue to do so if the Bill becomes law.

During the Bill’s second reading, Ms Truss told the Commons: “The reason I am speaking today is I am very concerned that this policy being put forward is emblematic of a technocratic establishment in this country that wants to limit people’s freedom, and I think that is a problem.”

Liz Truss speech
Liz Truss said she was ‘disappointed’ that a Conservative government was bringing forward a smoking ban (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

She added: “The problem is the instinct of this establishment, which is reflected by a cross-party consensus today in today’s chamber, is to believe that they, that the Government are better at making decisions for people than people themselves and I absolutely agree that that is true for the under-18s.

“It is very important that until people have decision-making capability while they are growing up, that we protect them. But I think the whole idea that we can protect adults from themselves is hugely problematic and it effectively infantilises people, and that is what has been going on.

“And what we’re seeing, is we’re seeing not just on tobacco but also on sugar, also on alcohol, also on meat, a group of people who want to push an agenda which is about limiting people’s personal freedom, and I think that is fundamentally wrong.”

Later in her contribution, Ms Truss said she was “disappointed” that a Conservative Government was bringing forward a smoking ban.

She told the Commons: “The only other country in the world where such a bill was brought forward was New Zealand under a very left-wing prime minister and that bill has now been reversed under the new Conservative government in New Zealand.

“And 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 on the benches opposite, and that’s the way they will vote.

“And if people want to have control over their lives, if they want to have freedom, that is why they vote Conservative and we have to stand by our principles and our ideals.”

Last month, the former prime minister attempted to introduce a private members’ bill which would have barred transgender women from participating in women’s sports and stopped children attempting to change their sex.

The Cass Review
The Cass Review into NHS children’s gender services concluded that young people had been let down by a lack of research and evidence on the use of puberty blockers and hormones (Yui Mok/PA)

MPs spent five hours debating two other proposals from backbench MPs, meaning they ran out of time to debate Ms Truss’s bill.

The Cass Review into NHS children’s gender services last week concluded that children had been let down by a lack of research and evidence on the use of puberty blockers and hormones.

Ms Truss told the Commons on Tuesday that the Government should be focusing on implementing the review authored by Dr Hilary Cass, instead of the smoking ban, adding that the NHS had been captured by “gender ideology”.

“We should be legislating on implementing the recommendations in the Hilary Cass report to prevent real dangers to our children, rather than a virtue-signalling piece of legislation about protecting adults from themselves in the future,” she said.

Downing Street has pushed back against Ms Truss’s attack on “control freaks” supporting the Government’s proposed smoking ban.

A No 10 spokeswoman told reporters: “I think the Prime Minister would disagree with that.

“I think, as he set out right when he first announced this, this is an important change which will save thousands of lives and billions of pounds for the NHS. And the Prime Minister thinks that that is an important thing to do.”

Asked why Mr Sunak believes the move is not unconservative, the spokeswoman said: “This has always been a free vote and that’s because he respects that people’s attitudes to smoking is a matter of conscience – and that’s why the approach that we’re taking with this legislation has been in line with previous interventions.”