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banner Monday, 8 October, 2001, 18:46 GMT 19:46 UK
Free vote call on 'sensitive' issues
MPs should be allowed a free vote on socially liberal issues such as the legalisation of cannabis and promotion of homosexuality in schools, former cabinet minister John Redwood has urged.

The one-time leadership hopeful said by adopting the policy, party leader Iain Duncan Smith could avoid four years of "rowing" and concentrate on more important issues to restore Tory fortunes.

I don't think we want to waste the next three or four years wasting our time arguing over these issues

John Redwood
Mr Redwood was speaking at a party conference fringe meeting called Conservative policy - what now? held by Wessex Area Tories.

He told the audience new policies on schools and hospitals were necessary for the Conservatives but it would be "very foolish" to drop opposition to further European integration.

There had been widespread suggestions that by adopting support for relaxation of drug use, the Tories could regain power.

But, despite describing himself as a "fairly liberal person", Mr Redwood insisted these were not crucial issues for the electorate.

Hard-fought issues

"I do have a suggestion for Iain (Duncan Smith) because I don't think we want to waste the next three or four years wasting our time arguing over these issues.

"I think where there is a hard-fought issue, like perhaps the legalisation of cannabis, why not offer a free vote and then those of us trusted as MPs could consult and exercise our vote accordingly.

"I don't think we want to take up our time rowing over these relatively minor matters from the point of view of overall electoral impact when there are so many more important things we agree about and need to talk about in order to win the election."

He said he was sure William Hague, in the run-up to the election, had been "very conscious" of the threat posed to the Tory vote by single-issue anti-European parties.

Less bureaucracy

"It would be very foolish to dilute our message when there's still that threat," he warned.

Schools policy was one of the Conservatives' strongest and most popular suits, he went on, with its emphasis on less central government control and bureaucracy.

On health there was now more cross-party consensus in terms of support for "blurring the edges rather more between public and private provision".

He suggested hospital patients be allowed to pay for satellite television, more elaborate meals or phone and faxes in their room if they wanted them.

See also:

08 Oct 01 | Conservatives
Davis rules out women's quotas
07 Oct 01 | Conservatives
Drop Thatcher, Duncan Smith urged
05 Oct 01 | Conservatives
Tories' crisis conference
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