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the junk-food eating, less-educated poor and functional food eating, better-informed higher classes.
It highlights the importance of education, yet the statement is silent on the horrifying potential inequality in health outcomes between rich and poor. What is the Governments strategy to tackle that? Overall, is this not one of the worst examples of great rhetoric not being matched by action?
I do not think the report is an example of that at all. The hon. Gentleman welcomes the report, so I assume he has read it. It was not I who said that it gives us the opportunity to lead the world on the issue. The report itself states that the work assembled for the project gives the UK a platform to become a global leader in tackling a problem that is challenging policy makers across the world. It points out that nowhere across the world is there a comprehensive
strategy to tackle the problem. It identifies some important community initiatives, such as the North Karelia project in Finland, which had remarkable success. The report suggests that we consider setting up a similar project in a couple of regions or cities in the UK.
The report makes it clear that no one has a magic bullet and that there is no single answer. There is no use waiting for some kind of medical technology to produce a magic pill or tackle the issue. That is not going to happen. The report concentrates our attention on the need to rise above the political fray and to accept that mistakes have been made, although I do not accept the hon. Gentlemans point. The science has moved on and our approach has moved on. One of the reasons why we commissioned the report and sponsored it is that we recognised that we were running to catch up on the evidence that the scientists were producing on the need to tackle obesity.
We can consider various initiatives. The hon. Gentleman mentioned health inequalities. The report states that the Governments action in tackling health inequalities and climate change could help, because energy saving could help to encourage people to exercise more. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary positionyou two are such chums, Mr. Speaker, on unhelpful comments from the backthat the statement was silent on that. In my statement to Parliament, I set out what is in the report, picking out some of the issues. The statement the day before yesterdaythere does seem to be one almost dailypointed out that we will introduce 100 GP practices into the 25 per cent. most deprived areas to try to deal with the problem of under-doctored areas. The report points to a series of measures that need to be taken, and tackling health inequalities is crucial. The hon. Gentleman talks about the day-to-day banter that we sometimes have, but the report will have an important role in tackling these problems in the longer term.
The reduction in the take-up of school meals has also been mentioned, so let me point out yet again that the city I represent followed Finlands lead and became the first to try to tackle health inequalities and problems with educational attainment by saying that every primary school pupil should be able to have a free breakfast, free fruit and free lunch. What is more, we did that before Jamie Oliver, and it had a remarkable impact. The programme is due to be assessed by Hull university, yet the incoming Lib Dem authority cancelled the scheme this year[Hon. Members: Ah!] Yes, they abolished it. So much for free school meals as a means of tackling deprivation. The Lib Dems in Hull say that we have to introduce this nationally, but it is not a problem for Kingston upon Thames; it is problem for Kingston upon Hull, so the local authority should be involved in tackling it. It is a disgrace that the programme has been abandoned.
Putting all that aside, I hope that the Liberal Democratswhichever leader is in charge of them this week, next week or the week afterwill engage fully in the debate. I believe that the Liberal Democrats have a huge contribution to make to tackling some of these long-term problemsand the Conservative party does
as well. As for the Great London run, I will consult shadow spokespersons to ensure that we all give the same answer!
Dr. Howard Stoate (Dartford) (Lab): May I congratulate the Foresight team on its excellent report and pay particular tribute to the work of the Minister for public health, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Dawn Primarolo), who made an excellent speech at the launch this morning? I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State understands the frustration of people like me, who know how difficult it is to tackle this enormously complex problem of obesity, and that, like me, he recognises that the Government cannot solve the problem on their own. A whole societal approach is necessary, involving literally everyone in the country. Will he consider my wish list of the day? First, will he consider introducing a mandatory labelling scheme that could be agreed across the boardirrespective of whether individual supermarkets like it or not? Next, will he commit to having a school nurse in every single school, which would make a huge difference to the public health of the nation? Also, can I ask him to be even tougher on food advertising to children, particularly in respect of foods high in fat, salt and sugar, as that alone could make a considerable difference?
Alan Johnson: I thank my hon. Friend for his customary constructive comments and for giving us a good lead-in during Prime Ministers questions. I join him in congratulating our right hon. Friend the Minister for public health and, indeed, the Minister for sport and the Minister for Children, Young People and Families, all of whom were signatories to the reports foreword. My hon. Friend makes a very important point about the inability of Governments alone to tackle the problem. The report makes that point repeatedly and eloquently, which will provide a huge boost to my hon. Friends other point about the need to convince those involved of the need to produce a better food labelling scheme. I am not saying that I am going to push anyone into anything, but as Bob Dylan once said,
You dont need a weather man to know which way the wind blows.
As far as school nurses are concerned, we cannot commit to one for every school, but our plans relate to clusters of schools and we intend to follow our successful approach to school sport. We want the expertise to be present in order to benefit a number of schools in an area.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con):
May I advise the Secretary of State that I believe that there is an obesity pill, so his earlier comment was perhaps ill informed? In connection with the increased hours for sport and exercise in schools, will the Secretary of State ensure that team gamesnot just any exerciseare provided in school? We need team games, which I believe are the best for keeping young people fit, and to have team games, we need sports fields. Will he therefore remonstrate with local authorities because, under the learning communities programme, schools
are merging and selling off the sports fields? That is happening in my village of Poynton, where the Vernon infants and junior schools are combining. I am in favour of the merger, but not of selling off the sports field, which is currently part of the infants school and adjacent to the junior school. Will he contact the authority to make it clear that this must not happen? We need playing fields if we are to provide more recreation, exercise and sport in schools.
Alan Johnson: The hon. Gentleman is right that there are various pills around, but they have not proved to be particularly successful. The report points out that they have had varying degrees of success, but that no single medical solution is likely to come along and solve all the problems.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the need for team games and sports. There was a period in which it was felt in the education world that competitive sports were somehow bad for children. That is ludicrous and it should go back to whichever strange opinion former it stemmed from. It is essential to have sports, including team sports.
School sports field are important. This year, for the first time in many years, there was a net increase in the number of sports fields opened rather than closed. The policy that we introduced insists that no school can get rid of a sports field without the express permission of the Secretary of State, and only then if the money received for it is going to be reinvested into sport, fitness and education. I believe that the hon. Gentleman will welcome that policy, as he will welcome our extra £1 billion investment in sport.
Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): As my right hon. Friend knows, I take a great interest in increasing the level of physical activity in response to obesity. Building on what the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) has just said, will my right hon. Friend commit to ensuring that the single delivery system for sport, physical education and activity across the countrythe county sport partnerships and othersbecomes more heavily involved with primary care trusts? I offer the Secretary of State the opportunity to visit Leicestershire county sports partnership, which I chair, as one example where the local PCT is heavily involved in our activity.
Will my right hon. Friend also work with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to define clearly the roles of Sport England and the Department of Health? There are some difficulties, of which the attitude to walking is a good example. It is a great way of getting people to start to take up physical activity and then move into sport. That was demonstrated last week when it was found that 40 per cent. of people taking up sport in north-west Leicestershire did so as a consequence of walking. Will the Secretary of State try to bring those two elements together and clearly define who takes responsibility for which part of the governmental programme? That is crucial to delivering the first steps in tackling adult obesity. We can tackle child obesity if we get school sport right.
The answer to my hon. Friend is a very simple yes. What he says is crucial and the talks with the DCMS have already started. My hon. Friend
has made an enormous contribution to sport in this country and I believe that he can make an important contribution to the work that is now under way. As I mentioned earlier, the Minister for sport, the Minister for Children, Young People and Families and the Minister for public health are working closely together. The new cross-Government initiative will involve everyone in government. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) has a very important role to play, and we will be in touch.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): I find it a bit odd that the shadow Secretary of State criticised the Government for abandoning and relaxing targets when, only an hour ago, that is exactly what the Leader of the Opposition called on the Prime Minister to do. On the question of the futility of isolated initiatives, my right hon. Friend has accepted the need for an integrated approach in central Government, but does he also accept that, in reality, it is at local authority level that the integration will have to take place? Only the local authority and the childrens trusts can seriously integrate and influence health, schools, leisure, youth services, land use planning and transport planning. Does he agree that this will be a real test of the Governments commitment to ending simple top-down government and to decentralising more? Will it not also be a real test of the ability of childrens trusts to deliver and, indeed, of the commitment to achieving all five outcomes in the Every Child Matters agenda?
Alan Johnson: I do agree with my hon. Friend. I do not know whether he has had an opportunity to read the report yet, but the Foresight group says precisely what he has saidthat it is at local government level, where initiatives in Finland and other parts of the world have been hugely successful, that we can establish what could be described as an embryonic facility to test measures that may well be necessary throughout the country.
The group also makes the point that planning is central, especially local authority planning. Cities must be planned on a particular basis. They should not be like Los Angeles, where people take the car to buy a pint of milk. We should look towards 2050 and the world beyond, and plan for that world now. That is why my right hon. Friend the Minister for public health and others are in touch with the Local Government Association to talk through the issue and try to identify areasBury might be one of themwhere we can try out some of this integrated work at local level.
David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): Is not the dismal truth that the problem has occurred on this Governments 10-year watch? As much as anything, it is about a failure to inform effectively.
Does the Secretary of State agree with Peter Hollins, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation? He says that the report
is hardly a wake-up call. Repeated reports like this... should have had alarm bells ringing in Whitehall long ago.
Is it not clear that we must now consider not just the level of calories, but the degree to which food is processed? Will the Secretary of State take that into account when he considers labelling?
Finally, what advice is the Secretary of State taking from the United States, which has an even larger problem than we have? Will he examine that problem very carefully?
Alan Johnson: I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says. I do not blame earlier Governments. The Foresight report looks back at many, many years. A useful section considers the approach to smoking over the years and notes that although there has been a big public health success in that regard under Governments of different persuasions, it was preceded by a long route that began in the early 1960s with information, proceeded to more intervention, and concluded with regulation providing for smoke-free areas. It would not have been possible to implement such regulation back in the 1960s: there would have been public outrage. The Foresight groups point is that obesity is a long-term issue which has not arisen under any particular Governments watch. Indeed, it is a global problem.
I was disappointed by the hon. Gentlemans quotation from the British Heart Foundationit may have been taken out of contextbecause the report adopts the most comprehensive approach possible. Scientists have examined the matter scientifically. I did not have a chance to reply to a question from the shadow Secretary of State, who asked whether we would put together a team of experts or something of the kind
Mr. Lansley: A research centre.
Alan Johnson: We plan to keep the same team together to work on the project, although I do not know whether the building in which they are housed will be called a research centre.
The way in which food is processed is central. We can learn lessons from the United States, which does indeed have a far greater problem, although we will soon have as great a problem here if we do not do something about it. My right hon. Friend the Minister will talk to her opposite numbers in the United States during her visit, which will take place shortly.
Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): Will the Secretary of State stress the importance of personal responsibility to the campaign? Information about diet, nutrition and the importance of exercise is available wherever we turn, and it is difficult to understand how the message has not already reached everyone in the country. No adult in this country is force-fed, and adults must take responsibility for what they choose to eat, but parents must take responsibility for what their children eat. They cannot transfer the responsibility to schools. Our schools are doing a very good job with the meals and exercise that they provide, but parents can give their children exercise in the form of sporting activities at the weekend, and they must take responsibility for that.
If the campaign is to succeed, we cannot constantly provide excuses for people. Obesity is not the fault of Government, the advertising industry, the food industry, schools or the health service. People must take personal responsibility.
Alan Johnson: I could not agree more with the hon. Lady on one very important point. The Foresight report says that this is not just a question of individual responsibility, although it does not suggest that it is not an element. What the authors want to tackle is the view that the problem is merely about people who eat too much, and has nothing to do with the way in which society is organised. They point out that because our biology has not kept pace with technological advances, the amount of energy that we take in is not matched by the amount that we expend. That is an important point, particularly because obesity gives rise to bullying, which affects youngsters in this position.
The hon. Lady is, however, absolutely right about the amount of information that is available. What we must ask is why, if all that information is there, people are not acting on it. She is also right about the need for parental responsibility. The fact that mothers were passing fish and chips through the railings at that school in Yorkshire is thoroughly depressing. Ensuring that youngsters become used to a healthy diet from a young age depends on their having that healthy diet at home as well. There is a two-way education process, involving parents as well as others. I think that the hon. Ladys question, which will be encapsulated in Hansard, is the very first important contribution to the debate.
Jeremy Wright (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con): May I pursue what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson)? Does the Secretary of State accept that one reason why children eat more fast food and ready meals than they should is the increasing time pressure on ever busier parents? If he does accept that, what steps will the Government take to implement flexible working and other family-friendly policies so that parents can go home and cook more wholesome food for their children?
Alan Johnson: That is precisely why I personally took legislation through the House introducing the right to request flexible working, which at the time was attacked by the trade unions because it did not give a right to demand flexible working, and by some, although not all, sectors of business on the grounds that it imposed a burden on business. In fact, it has been remarkably successful: 80 per cent. of requests are accepted without the need for any process, while a further 10 per cent. are accepted following discussion about how more flexible working can be accommodated.
The first six months of a childs life are crucial. The report mentions breastfeeding in that context. Paid maternity leave has been increased to 26 weeks and more recently to nine months, and eventually it will be increased to a year. Men now have paid paternity leave. All that is essential to the debate. The hon. Gentleman ought to look at the record. I do not want to make a political point, but I will in the sense of reminding him that the Conservative party opposed those proposals.
We need to expand that flexibility. We have already extended it to carers, but I believe that we should now extend the right to request flexible working much more widely, perhaps as part of the debate on obesity.
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