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Healthy Eating

Volume 512: debated on Tuesday 29 June 2010

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. May I correct the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner), who suggested from a sedentary position that one of us might be getting the sack, by saying that I doubt it, because it is the previous Government who have just got the sack? In answer to the hon. Lady’s question, I say that there is no doubt that anything that the Government do must have a strong evidence base. It is for individuals to take responsibility for their health, and that includes healthy eating. However, the Government can help people make better choices—for example, by providing information, advice and so on.

I am little disappointed in that answer. Maternal nutrition before and during pregnancy is essential to the birth of a healthy baby. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has shown that a healthy diet costs a minimum of £43 a week. A young woman on jobseeker’s allowance receives only £51.85 a week, so can the Minister explain what she will do to ensure that young women on such low incomes can choose a healthy diet?

I am sorry that the hon. Lady was disappointed. Clearly, she does not feel that the Government should take a strong evidence-based approach to public health. I should point out to her that although life expectancy has increased, the gap between the rich and the poor has widened. If we look at the difference between spearhead areas and the country as a whole, we can see that the gap went up by 7% for men and 14% for women. We are determined to reverse that.

Will the Minister join me in condemning the vote in the European Parliament not to back the traffic light system of food labelling, which is the clearest way of communicating nutritional messages? That followed a lot of lobbying by companies such as PepsiCo, Tesco and Kellogg’s. What will she do in terms of speaking to European colleagues to get that important scheme back on the agenda?

Again, the hon. Gentleman raises the point that anything we do must have a strong evidence base. We are considering a number of schemes at the moment. What is important is that people have the information on the pack of food that they buy, so that they can make good choices about what they eat.

Last week’s Budget scrapped the health in pregnancy grant, which helps all pregnant women to eat healthily in the final 12 weeks of their pregnancy. The previous week, the Government scrapped the free school meals pilot for 500,000 children, thrusting 50,000 children back under the poverty line. They have also scrapped free swimming for under-16s and pensioners just as the long summer holidays begin. Is that not the most extraordinary start for a Government who promised to rename the Department of Health the “Department of Public Health”? With so many broken promises in their first seven weeks, how can we trust a word that they say about public health?

The hon. Lady and I have exchanged niceties in a slightly calmer atmosphere in another setting. I find it staggering that Opposition Members cannot understand that what matters is not what we spend but how effective that spending is. They simply cannot understand it. In fact, Labour has said that it would cut the NHS, whereas we have said that we will not. The sick must not pay for Labour’s debt crisis. We did not get us into this mess, but I would point out to the hon. Lady that everything that we do must be based on evidence. It is not what you spend, but what you spend it on, that matters.