That is not just some pie-in-the-sky thing. In Swindon, we have the ice-skating disco on a Friday night for teenagers and 600 kids chase around the ice after whoever they think is particularly good-looking. They are being very active for a couple of hours; they are off the streets; and the youth service could and should be parking its mobile facility outside. Those young children who need the traditional youth service, from which they can get advice and seek help, will find that that is available. For all of the others who might have been put off going to the youth club, because that was the only thing that was available, there is the enjoyable activity of

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ice-skating. I am very keen to push such projects and we could judge their success by the number of children who are engaged by them.

To conclude, it is for us—whether we are the local authority or the Government—to provide as many opportunities as we can: through the planning system, through making changes in teaching cookery and in food labelling, and also through the power of sport.

3.7 pm

Dr Daniel Poulter (Central Suffolk and North Ipswich) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I will not speak for very long, but it is worth highlighting some of the issues that have been raised in a comprehensive way. I congratulate the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) on securing this debate.

Obesity in the UK is a growing problem. In 1993, only 13% of men and 16% of women were obese, but in 2009, 22% of men—and 24% of women—were obese, which represents almost a doubling of the number of men with obesity. I am not talking about people with a body mass index of between 25 and 30, which means that they are overweight; I am talking about obesity. Almost a quarter of the UK population is obese and I am sure that we all find that unacceptable.

How can we deal with obesity effectively, because whatever previous Governments have done, obesity has not been addressed in a way that has worked or has been effective? First, I will briefly outline how Government policy is moving towards more community-based interventions on obesity, and I will explain how that approach, through the health and wellbeing boards that will be set up under the health care reforms, will be effective and work well. Secondly, I will talk a little about nudge theory, because I am more hopeful and optimistic about it than my medical colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston). There is good evidence elsewhere, particularly in Iceland, that it has worked, and I hope it will also work effectively in relation to obesity.

Jim Shannon: While the hon. Gentleman is giving us his thoughts, and given his experience in his previous job, will he comment on gastric band operations? Just two weeks ago, I had occasion to visit the Northern Ireland Health Minister, Edwin Poots, with some of my constituents. These people had tried everything to lose weight; they had tried dieting and exercise—some of them were not able to exercise, which was the other problem—but they had clear medical and health problems. As a last resort—this really is the last chance saloon, or the last chance restaurant, perhaps—should regions and Health Ministers set aside money specifically for gastric band operations?

Dr Poulter: We certainly have to look at how the Government can help people to take more responsibility for their own health care. That is fundamental to obesity issues, and it is a particular challenge in more deprived areas. People often require gastric bands at the point where the medical problems associated with obesity—diabetes, the risk of heart attack or stroke, or high blood pressure—pose a potentially life-threatening risk. Such people may not have that long to live if a gastric band is not put in place, so it is the only feasible

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mechanism for dealing with obesity in such cases. Gastric bands have been shown to be an effective mechanism for looking after that part of the population, and there is good medical evidence to support their use. There is also good evidence in terms of the health care economics, as helping people to become slimmer will lessen the burden on the NHS.

The gastric band is good for the patient, because their health improves dramatically when it is used effectively, but the challenge with obesity is to bring about long-term lifestyle change, and the question with gastric bands is whether they necessarily deal with long-term lifestyle changes. In a medical sense, there needs to be greater emphasis on the education that goes with the bigger issues around obesity and lifestyle at the same time as the gastric band is fitted. I hope that that helps to answer the hon. Gentleman’s question.

Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): Does my hon. Friend share my concern that celebrities regularly have gastric bands fitted, with the result that the bands are now seen as a shortcut to losing weight? People think that celebrities have them, so we must all have them.

Dr Poulter: That is a good point. There is good evidence that the celebrity culture around dieting causes anorexia in young girls. It would be much better for us and for many of our constituents if celebrities sometimes showed greater responsibility in the way in which they behaved. Gastric bands are an effective way of dealing with severe obesity, but they should not be used as a general method of bringing about weight loss. Weight loss is about education and people taking responsibility for their own weight and lifestyle. It is also about putting support in place in communities to let people do that, particularly in more deprived areas.

Mr Dodds: I have heard constituents talk about the use of statins and polypills. These medications have enormously beneficial effects for many people, and many people need them, but people almost seem to think, “Well, we have this magic pill available. We can eat and drink as much as we like, and then we can go on this pill.” Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that we need more education about the use of such medications? At the moment, people are under the impression that there is something out there that can solve all these problems without their having to do anything to change their lifestyle.

Dr Poulter: Yes, certainly. There is an issue about how physicians prescribe effectively. Statins are an effective way of controlling cholesterol, and there is good evidence that they benefit people with heart disease and high cholesterol and that they increase life expectancy. There has been a lot of research, and I believe that it has been shown that statins may have beneficial effects in reducing the risk of breast cancer, although the Minister will correct me if I am wrong.

The right hon. Gentleman touches on the wider point that the emphasis in this debate needs to be on effective community-led interventions that tackle obesity and health care, and my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) discussed that very effectively. However, we need to ask how we will make those community health care measures effective.

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The Government are setting up health and wellbeing boards, which are a very useful part of their health care reforms, because they will, for the first time, bring together different organisations in a meaningful way. Local councils in certain towns may run good community initiatives that connect GPs with leisure centres, exercise and sport, and some schools may encourage sport and physical activity in an effective way or have good links with local sports clubs. However, that does not often happen in a co-ordinated way across whole counties or, indeed, across the country. Health and wellbeing boards will help to bring together different organisations to address key public health problems, and obesity is a key public health challenge in all our constituencies.

As part of the health care reforms, the health and wellbeing boards will be able to address issues such as obesity. For example, if we know that there is an issue with teenage pregnancy or obesity in certain schools or among certain schoolchildren in my constituency, targeted interventions can be put in place in a much more community-focused way by getting the local authority together with health care representatives at a much more strategic level. That must be a good thing, because it allows much more targeted interventions.

The second thing I want briefly to discuss—I do not want to speak for much longer—is nudge theory. My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes has a slightly different view of it. I have more faith in nudge theory than she does, and I say that because we have had debates about agriculture—some of the Opposition Members here today were present—in which we discussed the need for corporate firms and supermarkets to show greater corporate responsibility on issues such as food labelling. We have now seen active movement from some supermarkets on honest food labelling. For example, we talk about food in a store being labelled British only if it is actually farmed in Britain, and not if it is merely processed or sliced here. We are beginning to see such initiatives come through, with supermarkets supporting British farmers. Morrisons is a good example of a supermarket where the British food stamp actually means something, and that allows consumers to make an informed choice. Supermarkets are therefore able to show corporate responsibility when they are asked to do so, although things are not entirely perfect, as we all know.

In a similar vein, the Government have introduced a public health responsibility deal, and it is a good initiative. Almost 200 different companies have signed up to the deal, including supermarkets such as Asda, the Co-op, Morrisons, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose and many others. Fast-food outlets such as McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and KFC have pledged to remove trans fats and introduce calorie labelling as a result of this initiative. Those are all pleasing and beneficial steps in the right direction.

Dr Wollaston: Does my hon. Friend share my concern, however, that organisations such as Asda, which have signed up to the new responsibility deal, are in some ways undermining it by offering hugely discounted alcohol products?

Dr Poulter: There are areas of obvious concern, where supermarkets can go further. As I said earlier, when we were talking about the agricultural sector, even though several supermarkets are backing honest food labelling, and showing responsibility in food labelling

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and calorie counting to tackle obesity, it is right to highlight the areas in which they need to show greater corporate responsibility. Cut-price alcohol is one of those, and we will continue to monitor it carefully in our work on the Select Committee on Health, and as physicians. My hon. Friend makes a good point.

In preparing for the debate, although I do not normally take an active interest in children’s TV, I found out about an Icelandic TV show called “LazyTown”—the Minister may want to expand on the subject a little later. The show is watched by children all over the world, and we have it in Great Britain as well. There is a healthy sports superhero character, called Sportacus, who motivates children to eat healthily and be active. In Iceland several “LazyTown” initiatives have been run in partnership with the Government and the private sector. For example, children between four and seven years old were sent an energy contract, which they and their parents signed, in which they were rewarded for eating healthily, going to bed early and being active. In one supermarket chain, all the fruit and vegetables were branded “sports candy”, which is the “LazyTown” name for fruit and vegetables. That led to a 22% increase in sales at that supermarket, and improved health and reduced obesity levels in Iceland.

The fact that Iceland’s child obesity levels have started to fall as a result of initiatives of that kind is good evidence in support of such corporate responsibility. Those initiatives are designed to support supermarkets coming together with Government, to make effective use of the nudge theory of improving behaviour, and they can work—and have worked. For that reason, we must support what the Government are doing, because there is evidence that it can work. It is a good thing and the evidence from Iceland is that we need to do what works, with children and communities.

I understand, and I am sure that the Minister will confirm, that the Department of Health has set up a partnership with “LazyTown” and is interested in expanding that initiative in the United Kingdom. We need more such approaches. The reason supermarkets sign up to such deals and initiatives is that it is good not just for the children, who become healthier and less obese, but for the supermarket and its brand image. Supermarkets see that working with corporate responsibility—we see it in our constituencies with Tesco schools vouchers—can enhance their image and custom, and do real good, for example, by reducing obesity levels.

I have greater faith in the nudge theory than my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes, and we need to allow similar initiatives to take root in the future. What has been done in the past has not worked very well; obesity levels have been going up. We have good evidence, from examples of corporate responsibility, that things can be tackled, so let us give nudge theory a chance. Let us also look to those health and wellbeing boards to provide community-based interventions that will work. If we do not do something, things will get worse, and the boards are a good way to address the problem.

3.23 pm

Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): Thank you for giving me the chance to speak in the debate, Mrs Riordan. I had not applied to speak until I arrived

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today. I congratulate the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) on securing the debate. Obesity is a problem that we underestimate at our peril. We have heard from Members who are medical people—I am not one of them—and have heard figures about the increase in obesity and the problems being stored up for the country. Those problems are to do with both physical well-being and the economy. Late onset diabetes, which can be related to obesity, will have an impact on health spending in the future, for example.

The problem has crept up on our society in the past 10 or 15 years. We have talked about diet, and I am at a slight advantage because I spent two years training to be a chef many years ago. To this day I always try to cook myself a balanced meal, although since being elected—other hon. Members’ experience will no doubt chime with mine—there is a tendency on getting back to the flat to get a little lazy and reach for the frozen ready meal. That behaviour—the sort of thing we are probably guilty of—is what pervades the country. As people cook less, they tend to eat less healthily. We have already heard discussions about school cookery classes. I tend to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) that those classes should be a staple part of children’s education.

As to the cost of ready meals, we have all been to the big-name supermarkets, where there are buy-one-get-one-free offers, ready meals for £1 and so on. I often have an argument with people outside this place about the fact that I still think it is cheaper to cook a balanced meal than to buy a ready meal, whatever its price. Fruit and vegetables are not expensive; they can be bought and prepared quite cheaply. The difficulty is that people are so busy—or the perception is that they are so busy—that they say, “I haven’t got time.” They prefer, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon said, to do microwave cooking—three minutes, and ping. It is a question of education. We need to educate people to understand that it is quite simple to cook a balanced meal and live on a balanced diet.

I was visited some time ago by a constituent who came up with an idea called the Diet Plate. It is a fantastic idea—a plate that is portioned. If someone puts the relevant food group on the right portion of the plate it will be a balanced meal. Kay Illingworth was named in the British female inventor of the year awards in 2002 for that invention. I was given one, which I have in my office, and I am sure that hon. Members will realise, from looking at me, that I use it every day. It is a really good product, which looks nice and is made in this country. It demonstrates how to balance a meal and is a great way of educating people.

We have talked about sedentary lifestyle. I, like my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon, remember the days of jumpers-for-goalposts football—kicking the ball around in the street, playing cricket in the summer, and so on. I still think that a lot of young people like physical activity. I spent 12 years as a councillor on High Peak borough council. We have a new all-weather football pitch in Hadfield. Hon. Members who know the area will know that someone coming down the road can see the floodlights, and every night there are dozens of people playing there. We used to do summer sports in the school holidays, to use the school facilities that were lying idle. Young people like to get out and play physical sport, and we need to encourage that as much

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as we can. There are two strings to this: it is not only what people eat, but how they burn it off. If the energy is not burned off, what is eaten becomes more important.

Simon Hart: My hon. Friend is making a strong case for children being inspired to take part in sport. Does he have a sense, as I do, that sometimes sponsorship of major sporting events by chocolate or crisp manufacturers creates a slightly false image, by relating unhealthy food to healthy activity? Does he have a view or some advice on that?

Andrew Bingham: I was going to come on to other activities shortly. I will watch or take part in sport, but who sponsors it does not chime with me much. However, ideally it would be better for an active product to support a sport. Interestingly, leisure centres all have vending machines full of chocolate. I know from experience that when the chocolate bars are replaced with cereal bars and healthy alternatives, the spend drops, because people like chocolate.

I am fortunate to live in the High Peak, which is a fantastic area with a huge amount of outdoor activity to do, including walking and hiking—the woods to play in. I am lucky, but inner cities do not have a huge playground such as the one I and my constituents have to play in. It is vital that people use leisure centres, and that they are encouraged into them. We can talk about what the Government should or should not do to get people to do that. I agree that the nudge theory will work. We have been subconsciously nudged into the present situation, because people have gone to the quick, easy meal and have taken up a more sedentary lifestyle. We have heard about the PlayStation generation, and we all walk around with BlackBerrys. If texting was good exercise and made people fit, the present generation would be the fittest ever. With young people in particular it is text, text, text. However, that is not active.

Mr Simon Burns: I am very interested in what my hon. Friend says and have listened carefully to the interventions. A number of Members have talked about what the Government, the Department of Health, the Department for Education or local government should do, but it strikes me as slightly odd that there has been little recognition of the responsibility of parents.

Andrew Bingham: I think that the Minister has been reading my notes. The point I was coming to was that we have talked a lot about what the Government can or cannot do, but this is one of many issues on which responsibility lies with us and with the parents of young people. My generation’s parents taught us how to poach eggs, for example; it is all about education in the home. I know that I sound like a grumpy old man, talking about how it was in my day, with rose-coloured glasses—[Hon. Members: “No, Never”] I will concede on grumpy; old I will argue with, at the moment. We can discuss different demographics, but if people are brought up on balanced, home-cooked food they will carry that on through their lives. It worries me that the more ready meal-type culture we have, the more it will go on and the bigger the problem will get.

We can expect, or ask, the Government to do this, that and the other, but as with many things, responsibility lies with individuals and with the parents of young children. That is where we need to start, with people being responsible for their own actions.

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We have a fantastic opportunity with the 2012 Olympics, when we will see athletes from across the world. I will wager that in a year’s time, when Jessica Ennis wins a gold medal—I hope she does—we will see children out doing long jump and triple jump, using their own resources to copy their sporting heroes. We must capitalise on that. I played football in the winter as a kid because that was what was on TV, I played cricket in the summer and we all played tennis for two weeks when Wimbledon was on. We can use the Olympics. We talk about the legacy Olympics, and I would like the legacy to be the starting point for people getting active again.

Justin Tomlinson: We all have a role in encouraging our local schools to get 100% behind the school Olympics principle, so that when we have our successful athletes, in javelin or whatever we prove successful in, children can be inspired to take up the sport on a regular basis.

Andrew Bingham: Absolutely. There are dozens of sports in the Olympics, and everyone will watch and take an interest in one, so let us foster that and make the legacy of the games a healthier and more active society. We need to take that together with using the supermarkets, to get healthier eating.

We have a surfeit of cookery programmes on television. Every time we put it on there is someone gardening, doing DIY or cooking. Those three hobbies, or whatever we want to call them, can help to produce healthier people and a healthier country. Let us not necessarily rely on the Government. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) that the health and wellbeing boards and the reforms in the Health Bill will help, but let us take on our responsibilities and get the message across to our constituents, getting the whole of society involved in this to make for a healthier and less obese Britain.

3.33 pm

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Riordan. I congratulate the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) on securing this important debate, to which we have all been glad to contribute. He reminds us of how many issues we have in common in these British Isles.

I want to focus on the important subject of child obesity, and to talk about the responses so far to the Government’s obesity strategy entitled “Healthy lives, healthy people: a call to action on obesity in England”, which was presented to both Houses on 13 October. First, however, I want to say that some people might feel that Members of Parliament have a certain temerity talking about healthy lifestyles when their own lifestyle is relatively unhealthy, and I speak as someone who has been in this House for 20 years. Perhaps we should give credit to the few colleagues we sometimes see going through the Division Lobby dressed in their running gear after a bracing run. I am sure that Members will unite with me in congratulating those rare Members on that.

We are facing a crisis in childhood obesity. As I said earlier, gone are the days when we could look at a chubby child and say that they would grow out of it: chubby children grow into obese adults. I have to say, more in sorrow than in anger, that a wide range of

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people both inside and outside this House have expressed doubt about the effectiveness of the Government’s obesity strategy. Before moving on to what I think the Government should be doing, let me focus on the picture in London.

London has higher levels of childhood obesity than any other British region. The capital’s childhood obesity rate is 22%, compared with an average for England as a whole of just 19%. Across the capital, one in five youngsters are obese, with rates varying widely from 12% in leafy Richmond to 28% in Westminster. Childhood obesity costs the capital £7.1 million a year to treat, and the annual bill could reach £111 million if today’s young people remain obese into adulthood.

Research commissioned by the Greater London assembly found that adult obesity costs London £883.6 million a year, and in my own constituency—Members will forgive me for mentioning it—a quarter of all year 6 pupils are obese. That is one of the highest rates in the country as recorded by the national child measurement programme. In 2010 in City and Hackney, 13% of children in reception year were overweight and 14% were obese. The number of overweight children was similar to the national average, but the proportion of obese children was slightly higher. Greater efforts are needed to prevent overweight and obesity at the pre-school stage, because a high proportion of children are already obese and overweight by the time they start school. The escalation of the trend through to year 6 suggests that we also need to implement robust interventions in primary schools.

A number of Members have talked about parental responsibilities. I put it to colleagues that some of the parents who are doing what we might understand as the wrong thing are, in their own minds, trying to be good and vigilant parents. One of the problems that young children in Hackney and the rest of London have is their sedentary lifestyle, and part of what motivates parents to keep their children indoors is this idea of stranger danger. We all know that attacks on children have not gone up in 20 years, but childhood obesity has spiralled. Many parents—not bad or careless ones—think that they are doing their children a service by keeping them indoors, safely watching television or playing on the PlayStation, rather than playing outside.

I was not the most sporty of children, unlike some of the Government Members who have contributed to the debate, but in the summer holidays my mother thought nothing of us having breakfast and then going out to play all day. We might have come in for lunch, or have gone to a friend’s and come back for tea. Nowadays, no London parent would allow their child to play out all day without knowing where they were, and it is that sort of vigilance and possibly unwarranted fear of stranger danger that leads to many thoughtful parents deciding, perhaps because they have not had the education or do not have the understanding, that they will feel better if their children are indoors rather than outside playing.

Let us also remember that in a big city such as London a greater proportion than ever of our children live in flats, maisonettes and other accommodation without a back garden. As a child, if I was not out, I spent most of the day in the back garden, on the swing, climbing trees and shouting at my brother, but many

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children in my constituency are trapped in flats and it is not obvious to their parents where they can be allowed to play safely.

Andrew Bingham: That is a good point. We talked briefly about video games. Does the hon. Lady think that the advent of Wii Fit-type games is beneficial? I have seen young people playing them, and they involve a lot of jumping around and so on, which I suppose is a form of exercise, at least.

Ms Abbott: Far be it from me to advertise any particular product in this Chamber, but Wii Fit games are perhaps better than PlayStation games.

Mr Simon Burns: I have been listening carefully to the hon. Lady, who is making some valid points. The danger has to do with not simply the age of computer games but the age of television before that. For some parents—this is a generalisation—the easy option is to let their children spend hours watching television or playing games, because it involves less effort on the parents’ part. One must try to educate people that that is not only an easy option but an unfair one.

Ms Abbott: I am loth to agree with the Minister, but I think that he is right on that point. A particular interest of mine is the education of urban children and the challenges of getting them to achieve their educational potential. As part of working with parents, especially in urban communities, we must teach them that just putting their children in front of a television set is not necessarily the best thing for their health or their education.

I agree entirely with what has been said about exercise and sport, but we also need a particular focus on girls and exercise. Statistics show that girls give up exercise younger; after they leave school, they do not continue to exercise, as boys do. I was interested to hear about, was it ice hockey—

Justin Tomlinson: It was an ice-skating disco on Friday nights.

On the point about getting more girls involved, that is why I proposed merging youth and leisure services to identify opportunities. Girls, in particular, follow what is on television. If street dance, cheerleading or football is popular, let us provide those services and facilities, and they will come flocking.

Ms Abbott: I agree. That is the point that I was going to make. We need to be more innovative in the sorts of game that we encourage and make available to children. Girls do not want to play ping-pong, because they are quite self-conscious physically, but they will do things such as breakdancing and ice skating.

As other Members have said, we have a generation of parents, especially in inner cities, who do not know about food, have only the dimmest idea of where some foodstuffs come from and do not know how to cook. Because they are bombarded by advertising for processed food, when they whip out a ready meal from Marks and Spencer, it is not just idleness; they think that they are being good parents: “Look, I’m getting you something from Marks and Spencer which is advertised on the television.” We should work with communities and parents to educate them.

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In my view, the Government obesity policy’s reliance on responsibility deals is a little problematic. Common sense suggests that companies that make billions of pounds every year peddling fizzy drinks and foods larded with trans fats will not seriously undermine their profits by genuinely trying to change the public’s eating habits. Although we must applaud the Government for whatever progress they think they have made with responsibility deals, we must go beyond them as they are currently fashioned if we are to stop the epidemic of obesity among our young people.

To return to the Government’s obesity strategy, the message from health professionals, key health groups and experts is clear. We need tough action now and a proper long-term strategy to stem the rising tide of lifestyle-related diseases. Jamie Oliver, probably the single most famous person in public health, has said in the past few weeks that this Government’s obesity strategy is

“worthless, regurgitated, patronising rubbish”.

As usual, he was not pulling his punches. Terence Stephenson, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said that the Government’s plan

“has no clear measures on how the food and drink industry will be made to be more ‘responsible’ in their aggressive marketing of unhealthy food…Suggesting that children in particular can be ‘nudged’ into making healthy choices, especially when faced with a food landscape which is persuading them to do the precise opposite, suggests this would be best described as a call to inaction.”

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said that the Government’s approach to tackling obesity was

“woefully inadequate…The Government calls on people to cut down the calories they eat, but isn’t giving them the tools to do so.”

Charlie Powell, campaigns director of the Children’s Food Campaign, said:

“This is a deeply disappointing and utterly inadequate response which represents a squandered opportunity to address the UK’s obesity crisis.”

There is broad agreement in the House about the issues that we must address. It is a mix of issues; there is no silver bullet. Better labelling of food, including in restaurants and cafés, is part of the answer. Fashioning a sport offer for young boys and girls is crucial, as is better education and working with parents and communities.

I would like to say a word about gastric bands. We read an enormous amount about them, particularly in relation to celebrities. As a Conservative Member said, there are cases, if people have tried everything else, where a gastric band might be the answer, but I deprecate the promotion of gastric bands without some of the measures that we have discussed if that suggests to people that they can eat whatever rubbish they like because, at the end of the day, the NHS will pick up the tab for a gastric band. That is not the way forward, either for costs in the NHS or for people’s quality of life. I have read about people who, having got gastric bands, proceeded to liquidise fish and chips so they could continue to enjoy their favourite junk food. That suggests that a gastric band, in itself, is not the answer to the underlying issues.

I hope that, in his winding-up speech, the Minister will address the serious concerns raised about the Government’s obesity strategy by a wide range of

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stakeholders and specialists. I look forward to hearing what the Government plan to do further to address the growing epidemic of obesity among our young people.

3.47 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr Simon Burns): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Riordan, during this extremely interesting and thoughtful debate, to which there have been a number of erudite and imaginative contributions across the range.

I congratulate the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) on securing the debate and giving us the opportunity to discuss one of the major public health issues of modern times. He has spoken repeatedly on the subject in the House and should be congratulated on doing so. He knows, of course, the scale of the problem. Most adults in England, 61%, are overweight. Sadly, one third of those are clinically obese, giving us one of the highest obesity rates in the world. As for children, almost a quarter of four to five-year-olds are overweight or obese, rising to one third in 10 to 11-year-olds. I am sure that we all agree that those figures are genuinely shocking. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the scale of the problem in Northern Ireland, to which he alluded during the course of his remarks, is similarly daunting, with 59% of adults and 22% of children overweight or obese.

As recently as the 1980s, obesity rates among adults were a third of what they are now. Although figures for the last few years show that levels of obesity may be stabilising, that is simply not good enough, because excess weight has serious consequences for individuals, the NHS and the wider community. Not only does it cause day-to-day suffering such as back pain, breathing problems and sleep disruption, but it is a major risk factor for diseases that can kill. An obese man is five times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, three times more likely to develop colon cancer and two and a half times more likely to develop high blood pressure than a man with a healthy weight, and women face equally serious risks. That is not to mention liver disease, heart disease, some cancers and miscarriages, all of which are linked to excess weight.

Although the real and present danger of obesity in terms of immediate health risks is seen largely in adults, obesity also has significant effects on children and young people, as many hon. Members have mentioned. Obese children are likely to suffer stigmatisation, and there are growing reports of obese children developing type 2 diabetes. We also know that if a child is obese in their early teens, there is a high chance that they will become an obese adult, with related problems later in life.

As waistlines expand, so does the amount of money that we spend on the issue. As a number of Members have said, excess weight is a burden of approximately £5 billion each year, and costs billions more through days of work and incapacity. Neither can we ignore the link between obesity and health inequalities. Data from the national child measurement programme show a marked relationship between deprivation and obesity. The Marmot review in 2010 showed the impact that income, ethnicity and social deprivation have on someone’s chances of becoming obese. As things stand, the less

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well-off a person is, the more likely they are to be carrying excess weight, so we are talking about an issue of social justice, as well as a narrow health issue involving exercise and healthy living.

The hon. Members for East Londonderry and for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) both asked, in effect, whether the Department of Health should work with companies that produce and sell products that contribute to the nation’s obesity and alcohol problems. Up to a point, it is the responsibility of the individual how much they consume and what they consume. How do we make sure that people know what they are eating—the calorie, salt and fat content and so on? To my mind, that means clear, easily understandable labelling, and education about what is healthy and what is the best approach.

On the narrow point of the issue mentioned by both hon. Members, improving the health of the public is clearly a priority for the Government, but we need a whole-society approach to tackle the health problems caused by poor diet, alcohol misuse and lack of exercise. To change people’s behaviours, we need to make the healthier choices the easier choices for everyone.

Commercial organisations have an influence on and can reach consumers in certain ways that Governments cannot. They have a key role in creating an environment that supports people to make informed, balanced choices that will enable them to lead healthier lives. Through their position of influence, they can address some of the wider factors that affect people’s health, such as how healthy our food is and how easy it is to access opportunities to be more physically active. Through the work on the public health responsibility deal, despite what the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington has said, we are tapping into that unrealised potential to help improve the public’s health.

Ms Abbott rose—

Mr Burns: I will give way in a moment. It is also important to say that, if we can get an agreement with commercial companies to change the way they behave and some of their practices, it will be far quicker to achieve that and put it in place than to wait for the heavy hand of Government legislation, which can take a minimum of a year and sometimes years. Why wait for the heavy hand of legislation that might take a long time, if we can get a voluntary agreement that will work quicker and more effectively to start dealing with the problem?

Dr Poulter rose—

Mr Burns: I will give way to the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington first, because I promised her, then my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter), and then I will make progress.

Ms Abbott: On changing commercial practices, when will the Government do something about the practice of so many supermarkets whereby they place rows of sweets next to the checkout? If a parent has fought off their children and not bought sweets on their way around the supermarket, the children then have 10 minutes to whine while the parent waits to pay for their shopping.

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Mr Burns: I understand the hon. Lady’s point, because the charge has been made on a number of occasions and I have considerable sympathy with it. The supermarket at which I shop each week—I shall not name it, because I do not want to advertise for it—does not do that any more. I think that the hon. Lady will find that, throughout the country, the responsible supermarkets have stopped that practice, for the very reasons that she has mentioned.

Dr Poulter: Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to be careful about introducing regulation for alcohol and other relevant products? It could be a very crude measure and have unforeseen consequences. For example, on alcohol, we may be concerned about the cheap sale of white cider, but the bigger issue is that introducing legislation may impact on brands that market themselves responsibly to responsible drinkers. We have to be careful about that sort of thing.

Mr Burns: My hon. Friend makes a valid point.

I will address a number of issues that some of my hon. Friends have raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) talked about the important issue of weighing and measuring children. I hope that she will be reassured by the national child measurement programme. It measures children in reception class—four to five-year-olds—and in year 6. Those measurements and weights are fed back to parents, so that they can not only know the information, but make informed choices about the lifestyles of their children.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) made some valid and good points about the planning regime and open spaces that enable parents and children to exercise. His points were well made and sensible. It would be worthwhile for local government, which has responsibility for the issue, to read what he has had to say, particularly, as the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington has said, because certain inner-city areas do not have the advantages of some of the more rural and smaller town constituencies, which have far more access to open spaces.

As a Government, our general approach to tackling the problem is based on the latest scientific evidence on the underlying issues and causes of obesity, as well as what has worked best previously. Ultimately, there is a simple equation: people put on weight because they consume more calories than they need.

Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): Will the Minister give way?

Mr Burns: No, I will not, because I have only three minutes. People need to be honest with themselves. We need to recognise that we are responsible for controlling our weight. That means eating less, drinking less and exercising more.

We are also calling on the food and drink industry to play a much bigger role in reducing the population’s calorie intake by 5 billion calories a day, to help close the crucial imbalance between energy in and energy out. That will build on commitments that businesses have already made, through the public health responsibility deal, on things such as eliminating trans fats, reducing the amount of salt in food, and proper calorie labelling.

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Of course, it is for each of us to make our own decisions about how we live our lives. The best and most sustainable changes come not when people are ordered about, but when they are given the tools to change, given the justification and then take responsibility to do it themselves. That is why we need to work together to make sure that the healthier choices become the easier choices. Everyone has a role to play—the food industry, the drinks industry, the many organisations that encourage physical activity and sport, employers who can support the health of their employees, and the local NHS staff in talking to people more about obesity and its consequences.

Under the new public health system, local leadership will be critical. We want to move away from the days when legislation and demands came down from Whitehall like thunderbolts from Mount Olympus. Local authorities will be supported by a ring-fenced budget and will bring together local partners, including the NHS, to provide the most effective services for their communities. We will support local people and local authorities by making sure that they have access to the best possible data and evidence.

We will not shirk our duty to provide national leadership where it is necessary—by working, for example, with business and non-governmental organisations, and making sure that Government Departments work together in supporting better health. That is already happening. The Department for Transport is providing more than half a billion pounds of funding for local authorities to increase sustainable travel such as walking and cycling. The new teaching schools programme, led by the Department for Education, will explore how schools can support and encourage children’s health and well-being. We will also continue to try to inspire people, young and old, to embrace a healthy, active lifestyle, via, for example, Change4Life. Moreover, the London Olympics, as many of my hon. Friends have mentioned, give us the golden opportunity to perpetuate that legacy after they have finished.

The new national ambitions provide a clear goal that we can all aim for. We should all play our part in raising awareness. Once again, I congratulate the hon. Member for East Londonderry on securing this debate, and I hope that he sees the benefits in our strategy. I hope that he supports it and that he will continue to be an advocate for his constituents on the matter.

Mrs Linda Riordan (in the Chair): Order. Mr Bryant has withdrawn his debate, so the sitting is suspended until 4.30 pm.

4 pm

Sitting suspended.

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Fire Service (Halesowen and Rowley Regis)

4.29 pm

James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Riordan. I thank the Minister for being here to listen and respond to the debate, and for being so open and accessible when I have contacted him about this issue.

I applied for this important debate because, unless the Minister is able to come to our aid or the West Midlands fire and rescue authority can be persuaded to reject the proposals put to it by the West Midlands fire service, the fire service in my constituency is threatened with extremely deep cuts. I will offer a brief summary of how we got to this point.

In 2008, the West Midlands fire service conducted a comprehensive review of its operations to improve its effectiveness and to ensure that resources were best deployed to maximise the level of fire cover across the county. The review recommended that a number of fire stations should be merged, while maintaining the same number of fire engines and crews across the county, to offer a more effective service. Among its proposals, the review recommended that the two fire stations located in my constituency, Halesowen and Cradley Heath, should be merged with a new fire station built at a suitable location between the two towns.

The proposals were put out for consultation at the end of 2008, and a large number of responses were received from different sections of the community. Despite strong opposition to the proposals to replace the two existing fire stations with a new fire station, including a strong campaign mounted by the Fire Brigades Union and submissions from Labour-run Sandwell council, the fire service decided to press ahead with the proposal and the merger was agreed by the fire authority in February 2009.

Although the fire service did not change its plans to merge the two fire stations, it did agree to modify its proposal in one important way following the consultation exercise. The review originally proposed that instead of having one 24-hour pump located at each of the two fire stations, the newly merged fire station should have one 24-hour pump and one 12-hour pump. Following the consultation, that proposal was changed and it was agreed that there should be two 24-hour pumps at the new fire station. That proposal was agreed by the fire authority in February 2009.

After the fire authority’s decision, not much happened. In fact, with regard to the two fire stations in my constituency, nothing happened at all. While the review’s proposals were implemented in other parts of the west midlands, the fire stations in Halesowen and Cradley Heath continued to operate as before. To all intents and purposes, it appeared that the proposal had at the very least been put on the back burner. The first indication that the plans might be back on the table came when the chief fire officer wrote to me last December to lobby me on the local government finance settlement. He said:

“I will do everything possible in order not to close your local fire stations—but at this level of cuts I see some closures as an inevitability.”

The first time that the proposal was publicly resurrected was this summer, when the West Midlands fire service announced that it would press ahead with the decision

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to merge the two fire stations. However, when that was formally announced, it became clear that the fire service intended to implement only parts of the decision agreed in February 2009. Whereas the 2009 decision explicitly stated that the two fire stations would be replaced by a new fire station that would be built between the two existing stations, the proposals that the fire service now intends to implement could see the fire stations replaced by a rented industrial unit somewhere in the area, or—as seems to be the favoured option—the merged fire station would actually just be Cradley Heath fire station.

I hope that you will not think that I am overly pedantic, Mrs Riordan, if I suggest that closing one fire station and moving the service it provides to another fire station is a very different proposition from building a new fire station to cover both areas and locating it between the two towns. Back in 2009, the fire authority accepted that distinction. In its response to the consultation, the fire authority dismissed suggestions that Cradley Heath could serve the whole area. It said:

“Cradley Heath fire station was built in 1942. It is a cramped old fashioned building with no training facilities and it has been the intention to replace the station for some years. There will be significant costs if the Authority attempts to maintain the station on the present site. The Authority believes that the risks in the areas covered by the existing Cradley Heath and Halesowen fire stations will be better served by having a combined new fire station located between the two existing sites.”

That is as true now as it was in February 2009.

While the physical presence of a fire station in a town is of enormous emotional importance to local residents, and having a fire station locally has significant practical benefits, I recognise that there is some truth in the argument used by the fire service that fire stations do not put out fires—firefighters do. That is why I am even more concerned that, having agreed to preserve two 24-hour pumps in 2009, West Midlands fire service is now proposing that that provision should be halved and the new—or perhaps not so new—merged fire station would have only a single pump to serve the area. That clearly has grave implications for the level of fire cover available in my constituency.

Unlike the 2008 review, the new proposals are not part of a comprehensive assessment of the needs of the county and how best to deploy resources to provide the best possible level of cover in all areas. This summer’s proposals would affect only Halesowen and Cradley Heath, thus reducing the service in my constituency. Clearly, like all services, the West Midlands fire service has had to bear a share of the savings needed to reduce the deficit that the Government inherited. Indeed, because the West Midlands fire service has set a much lower council tax precept than other parts of the country, the overall impact of the local government finance settlement is even greater in the West Midlands than in other metropolitan fire authorities. I urge the Minister to bear that in mind when considering the settlement for future years to ensure that metropolitan fire authorities in general—and the West Midlands in particular—are not forced to make deeper savings than can possibly be afforded without significant front-line cuts.

While there are significant financial pressures on the fire service, it seems that Halesowen and Cradley Heath

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are expected to carry a disproportionate share of the burden to produce the required savings. As I have said, my constituency is the only area in the county to face a reduction in the number of pumps through these proposals. As I explained earlier, the West Midlands fire authority recognised in 2009 that it was not appropriate to reduce the number of pumps covering the area from two to one and a half, yet the fire service is now proposing that, instead of sharing the burden across a number of stations, the number of pumps in my constituency should be cut from two to just one. It would seem to be basic common sense—something on which my constituents pride themselves—that either the decision to preserve two full-time pumps in 2009 was extraordinarily wasteful or, as local residents suspect, reducing cover to just one single pump represents a serious risk to the local community.

Although the fire service points to the relatively low number of call-outs from the two stations, the local community does not believe that those statistics tell the whole story. Halesowen fire station is close to junction 3 of the M5, and helps to cover call-outs to the motorway network. With the weekend’s tragic accident in Somerset, we saw again just how important it is that our motorways are properly covered by the fire service network.

Halesowen town is changing. The reduction in the number of incidents over recent years is partly the result of effective fire prevention, but is partly due, too, to a decline in the local manufacturing industry. New growth in the town is changing that, but although the new hotel, supermarkets, fast-food restaurants and petrol stations provide a vital boost for the local economy, there is no doubt that they represent a greater demand for the local fire service that did not exist when the review was conducted in 2008. It therefore seems folly on the part of West Midlands fire service to propose deep cuts to the service in Halesowen precisely when demand could be about to rise.

Although there was significant local disquiet about the 2009 decision, the case could at least be made that it was being done to improve the quality and efficiency of the service—my predecessor broadly accepted that argument. However, the new proposal to cut the number of fire stations and fire engines can only be seen as a reduction in service. There is a great deal of opposition to the proposals in my constituency, bringing together the unlikely alliance of a Conservative Member of Parliament, all local political parties and the Fire Brigades Union. The FBU held a well-supported rally in the town centre, and petitions against the proposals have collected more than 1,000 signatures.

Under the Local Government Act 2010 and the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004, fire authorities, as best-value authorities—

4.42 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

4.52 pm

On resuming—

James Morris: As I was saying, under the Local Government Act and the Fire and Rescue Services Act, fire authorities, as best value authorities, have a responsibility to consult the public effectively. They must also ensure that consultations comply with guidance from the Secretary

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of State. This week’s High Court decision on the Royal Brompton hospital serves as a reminder of the importance of ensuring that public consultations, particularly on service closures, are conducted effectively and fairly.

When the new proposals were announced in the summer, the West Midlands fire service said that as the decision to merge the fire stations had already been agreed, it was necessary to consult only on the staffing changes. The Minister has extensive experience of local government and knows how a competent consultation process should be conducted. It is questionable whether a three-year-old consultation exercise holds much value in the best of circumstances. However, it surely cannot be right to claim that a decision taken on the basis of a three-year-old consultation process remains valid, but then choose selectively to implement only parts of that decision. Either the 2009 decision should have been implemented in its entirety, or there should be a new, comprehensive review of the fire service’s operations, so that a proper judgment can be reached on how resources should be allocated in order that the service complies with its obligations under the national framework. Even the chief fire officer accepts that the consultation has “not been ideal”. But for parliamentary protocols, I would be tempted to use somewhat stronger words.

There is a real threat that unless the Minister can intervene or the fire authority recognises that the proposals before it have not been properly thought through, my constituents will find themselves with a much-reduced service that is radically different from anything on which they have been consulted and that represents a significant risk to the community.

To conclude, I shall ask the Minister three questions. First, can he provide detailed assurances that the process followed by the West Midlands fire service is consistent with its statutory obligations to consult and to minimise risk? Secondly, will he work with the Secretary of State to draw up clear best practice guidance for the minimum standards required of fire authorities’ consultation procedures? Finally, given the shortcomings in the way in which the fire service has consulted the public and other stakeholders—shortcomings recognised by the chief fire officer himself—does the Minister agree that the best course of action would be for the West Midlands fire service to withdraw its proposals, so that a full and comprehensive review can be conducted of how the service’s resources can best be deployed to provide the fire cover that my residents require?

4.55 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Robert Neill): It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mrs Riordan. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris) on securing the debate. I am very glad that he has done so. It is on an issue in which he has taken a very considerable interest and on which he has been campaigning for some time. I am grateful to him for the care that he has taken in providing me and my officials with information about this matter, and for the concern that he has shown for his constituents in seeking a constructive meeting with me, which we had earlier.

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern about service provision in the west midlands. There is no doubt that fire stations provide a vital community safety and protection service. Of course, the pumps stationed in them are

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important, too. Running up the stairs to get back to this debate in time after the Division, I was reminded that they often carry defibrillators as well, because I thought I might need one at one point. Joking apart, these are life-saving, front-line services, and it is right that communities are sensitive about their placement.

Fire and rescue authorities have successfully improved the safety of their local communities in recent years. The number of fire deaths has halved in the past 20 years, and there has also been a fall in the number of fires, so there have been real achievements. That is the background. We recognise the very strong commitment that my hon. Friend has to his local service. However, we have to step back a little and see what the appropriate use is of the Secretary of State’s intervention powers and what the appropriate means are of dealing with the issues of controversy in this case. The Government, like their predecessor, are of the view that fire services are best delivered locally. The Government’s own commitment to localism reinforces that. It involves decisions about local deployment of services generally being taken at local level.

In the case of fire and rescue services, the democratically accountable fire and rescue authorities are the bodies charged with that responsibility. Those authorities are required by the national framework to produce and regularly update an integrated risk management plan, which identifies and assesses local need and sets out plans to mitigate effectively both existing and potential or future risks to communities, because of course those can change as a result of demographics and other matters. It is therefore a very localist process that has been built into the system with the IRMP. Each fire and rescue authority’s IRMP should enable the local authority to decide how best to provide the services. That includes prevention and protection, as well as the service provided by the stations and the placing of the pumps themselves. Strategic and operational matters, such as the manning and hours of operation of stations, and cross-border arrangements can and should be taken into account in considering the IRMP

It is against that background, as I understand it, that West Midlands fire authority has proposed to change the fire cover arrangements in Halesowen and Cradley Heath. I am advised that those proposals have been made in the light of both the assessed risk and the available resources. The matter is of local controversy, as my hon. Friend fairly says. I am aware that the proposals have generated a great deal of debate. In one respect, the debate is a healthy one—the community is obviously concerned about the proposals, and it is speaking up about them and engaging the fire authority. It is much assisted by the work of my hon. Friend, for which I commend him.

I understand that there are concerns about the adequacy and transparency of the consultation on the proposals. The question, however, is whether those concerns justify the use of the Secretary of State’s intervention powers under section 22 of the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004. My hon. Friend has recited the criticisms made about the consultation, which relate to the adequacy of the up-to-date assessment and whether using a consultation from some time ago is appropriate.

The intervention powers are designed to deal with the worst cases of systemic or corporate failure of fire authorities. The 2004 Act is framed in that way. Section

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21 charges authorities to have regard to the national fire framework in carrying out their functions. The framework expects that there shall be proper consultation on service changes, but it does not specify in detail the means that such a consultation should take. However, we expect fire and rescue authorities to work in partnership with their local communities on such matters.

The powers of intervention under section 22 are designed to deal with failing authorities as opposed to failures of a particular decision process or a decision on a particular proposal. That is analogous to the situation in Haringey with the case of Baby P, where there was such a degree of failure that the system was not operating at all. On the evidence that we have, the situation raised by my hon. Friend does not seem to come into that category. Our policy approach on Government intervention in a failing authority is set out in that way.

We have set out our expectation that, where there are failures with an authority, first of all, the authority, working with its political and professional leadership, will put in place processes to seek improvement. That should normally be the means of dealing with a situation. Where that does not happen, the powers of the Secretary of State under section 22 would be invoked. They are used only for the most serious failings. Under those circumstances, the Secretary of State may give certain directions to an authority.

On what I have heard, that does not seem to be what we, as yet, have here. The authority has been advised by its professional advisers and the chief fire officer. The decision, which has not yet been taken, is one for the members of the fire authority, who are all elected councillors in their area. Like any local authority, a fire and rescue authority must act in Wednesbury reasonableness in its decision making, and it is therefore susceptible to judicial review. Generally, failures of process and of consultation relating to individual decision-making processes tend to be remedied by applications for judicial review rather than by the Secretary of State’s intervention.

Whether such a review is appropriate in this case is not for me to say, because it is not for the Secretary of State or his Ministers to comment on the merits, or otherwise, of a particular application; I am sure that my hon. Friend understands that. I think that that point is reinforced by the reference in his speech to the case of Royal Brompton hospital, in which a judicial review was seen to be the appropriate route. Section 22 of the 2004 Act does not envision that the merits, or otherwise, of an individual decision should normally be of such a magnitude as to trigger the intervention powers. Against that background, an intervention under section 22 does not seem to be appropriate.

It is worth saying a little about the funding of West Midlands fire authority, since my hon. Friend made reference to that. It is fair to say that, like all local authorities, West Midlands fire authority and other fire authorities have had to take their share in our efforts to reduce the deficit. However, taking into account its other sources of funding, such as council tax precepts, reserves and its formula grant, the overall reduction in

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the spending power of West Midlands fire authority is 5.6% in 2011-12 and 2.2% in 2012-13, which is the same as nine other single purpose fire authorities.

As West Midlands fire authority is one of the largest authorities in cash terms—perhaps the largest outside London—the reduction is a large one. However, it receives the largest protection of all such authorities from the floor damping system, which is part of the formula grant mechanism. It will receive £5.2 million in 2011-12 and £3.58 million in 2012-13, which is more than their needs indicators would allocate if the Secretary of State had not applied the damping. It is also worth noting that West Midlands fire authority receives £27 formula grant per head, compared with the shire average of £20. If anyone were to suggest that funding alone were a necessary trigger for the changes, I would suggest that the figures do not bear that out. That is not my hon. Friend’s contention, but that might be said in other quarters. It is also worth bearing it in mind that West Midlands fire authority has benefited from an 82% increase in capital grants on the previous year, which brings it to £2.9 million. How the authority disburses the resources is a matter for the authority, acting on the advice of its chief fire officer.

I am sorry that I am not able to give my hon. Friend all the detailed assurances that he is seeking. We have generally not sought precisely to identify a statutory form of consultation, for the reasons that I have set out—other remedies best apply. As yet, I do not see a situation in which the authority can be said to have acted in breach of its statutory duties under the 2004 Act, because action in accordance with the IRMP, on the face of it, tends to indicate compliance. However, a Minister is not in the best position to judge every detail of the case. As such matters are devolved to local authorities, it is not appropriate for the central Government to advise on the best course of action. They are right to set out the legislative framework, what the remedies are, and the facts, as far as are available, to all those concerned.

That is why I urge my hon. Friend to continue to raise the issues with West Midlands fire authority. I know that he has been in regular contact with the chief officer, the chair of the authority and the other elected members, who include elected members representing the metropolitan borough in his constituency. They are rightly to be held accountable to their electorate for their decisions.

Although the door is always open, I do not want to raise expectations at this stage that the—if I may put it this way—ultimate long stop of statutory intervention power is necessarily the appropriate route in this case. However, I hope that the members of the fire authority and their advisers will listen to my hon. Friend’s carefully and cogently made points. He makes a reasoned case, particularly on some of the issues that he raised about consultation, timing and how up to date the information is. However, as things stand, the matter is for the fire authority and its advisers.

Question put and agreed to.

5.8 pm

Sitting adjourned.