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Public Health White Paper

Volume 519: debated on Tuesday 30 November 2010

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on public health. Today, the Government have published a public health White Paper with two clear aims: first, to protect and improve the health of the nation; and secondly, to reduce health inequalities by improving the health of the poorest fastest.

The need for this White Paper is beyond question. Britain currently has among the highest rates of obesity and sexually transmitted infections in Europe. Smoking still claims 80,000 lives a year. Alcohol-related admissions to hospital have doubled in the last seven years. In recent years, inequalities in health have widened, rather than narrowed.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot’s review to my Department said that

“dramatic health inequalities are still a dominant feature of health...across all regions.”

There is a seven-year gap in life expectancy between the richest and poorest neighbourhoods, but a gap of nearly 17 years for disability-free life expectancy. About a third of all cases of circulatory disease, half of all cases of vascular dementia and many cancers could be avoided by reducing smoking, improving diet and increasing physical activity.

We need to do better, and we will not make progress if public health continues to be seen just in terms of NHS provision and state interventions. Two thirds of our potential impact on life expectancy depends on issues outside health care. Factors such as employment, education, environment and equality are all determinants of health. They are, as Michael Marmot put it,

“the causes of the causes”—

the underlying factors leading to poorer health. Unhealthy behaviours, such as drinking too much, smoking or taking drugs, are part of a complex chain of individual circumstances and social causes, typically rooted in poor aspiration, adverse peer pressure and low self-esteem.

The human cost of poor health is obvious, and so too is the financial one. Alcohol abuse costs an extra £2.7 billion and obesity an extra £4.2 billion each year to the NHS alone. Although there are things we can do to help, we cannot resolve all the difficult issues from Whitehall. Hence the White Paper has one clear message above all others: it is time for politicians to stop telling people to make healthy choices, and start helping them to do it. There will be a profound shift in tone, attitude and outlook. Rather than nannying people, we will nudge them by working with industry to make healthy lifestyles easier; rather than lecturing people about their habits, we will give them the support they need to make their own choices; and rather than dictating policies from the centre, we will support leadership from communities, by giving local authorities more power to develop the right approaches for their communities.

The White Paper is a genuine cross-Government strategy. Through the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Public Health, we will put good health and well-being at the heart of all our policies. To do so, we will recognise that we need to provide support at key times in people’s lives. We will not only measure general well-being; we will seek to achieve it. For instance, because we know a mother’s health is key to a child’s health and development, we are investing in 4,200 more health visitors working with Sure Start children’s centres to give families the support they need; because we know those who are unemployed for long periods are more likely to be admitted to hospital and more likely to die prematurely, we are transforming the welfare system, ending the benefits trap and making sure that work always pays, through a single universal credit; and because we know more people would cycle to work or school more often if there were safer routes for them to use, the Government are investing £560 million in sustainable transport.

Subject to parliamentary approval, there will be a new dedicated public health service—Public Health England—which will provide the resources, the ideas, the evidence and the funding to support local strategies. Public Health England will bring together, within the Department of Health, expertise from a range of public health bodies, including the Health Protection Agency, the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse and the chief medical officer’s department. It will work with industry and other Government Departments to shape the wider environment as it affects our health. It will also develop health protection plans and screening programmes to protect people from health risks.

The foundations of good health are rooted in the community, often at a neighbourhood level, so we must strengthen and renew local leadership to ensure that these efforts reach deeply into communities and match their unique circumstances. Under the White Paper, the lead responsibility for improving health will pass to local government for the first time in 40 years. We intend to give local authorities new powers to plan, co-ordinate and deliver local strategies with the NHS and other partners, and to embed the foundations of good health in ways that fit local circumstances. Directors of public health will provide strong and consistent leadership within local councils. We also intend to establish the new local statutory health and well-being boards as a way of bringing together the NHS and local government.

Whereas before, public health budgets were constantly raided by other parts of the NHS, we will prioritise public health spending through a new ring-fenced budget. We will look to the highest standards of evidence and evaluation to ensure this money is spent wisely. The new outcomes framework for public health, on which we will consult shortly, will provide consistent measures to judge progress on key elements across all parts of the system—national and local. The framework will emphasise the need to reduce health inequalities, and will be supported by a new health premium, incentivising councils that demonstrate progress in improving the health of their populations and so reducing health inequalities.

We have learned over the last decade that state interventions alone cannot achieve success. We need a new sense of collective endeavour—a partnership between communities, businesses and individuals that transforms not only the way we deliver public health, but the way we think about it. Through the public health responsibility deal, the Government will work with industry to help people make informed decisions about their diet and lifestyle, to improve the environment for health, and to make healthy choices easier. Through greater use of voluntary and community organisations, we will reach out to families and individuals, and develop new ways to target the foundations of good health. Reflecting the framework in the ladder of interventions developed by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, we will adopt voluntary and less intrusive approaches, so that we can make more progress more quickly and resort to regulation only where we cannot make progress in partnership.

This is a time when the NHS and social care are under intense pressure from an ageing population and higher costs—a time when we must therefore put as much emphasis on preventing illness as we do on treating it. In the past, public health has been a fragmented and forgotten branch of the health service. This White Paper will make it a central part of everything that we do, and we will bring forward legislation in the new year to enact these changes. By empowering local authorities, strengthening our knowledge of what works, and establishing the right incentives to drive better outcomes, this White Paper will deliver the strategy and support needed to reduce health inequalities and improve the nation’s health. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his oral statement. I am sure that the House will also thank him for the advance copies of the White Paper, which were available before he made his statement.

On Sunday the Health Secretary promised a White Paper that would

“take a radical new approach to public health”.

Today he has published the White Paper, and it falls far short of his hype. He has had six years in opposition and six months in government to prepare for this White Paper, but it will disappoint many of those who are most committed to better public health in this country and most concerned that we still have a great deal further to go. For the most part, this White Paper is not new. It is not clear how it will help to improve public health, and it is not a guarantee that the big gains made in the last decade—in cancer screening, healthy food in schools, stopping smoking and free flu vaccines, as well as the big cut in deaths from heart disease—will be continued.

However, in the spirit of responsible opposition, let me tell the Health Secretary that we can offer general support for his aims, which are very similar to those that we set out in our White Paper in 2004. I can promise him close scrutiny of his actions and those of his Government, because as the White Paper says, good public health depends on much more than what the NHS does. As he said in his statement, education, employment, environment and equality are the causes of the causes of poor health. However, the Government’s wider policies, which will lead to higher unemployment, poorer housing, greater poverty and an end to the Sport for All programme in schools, will do more damage to public health than his White Paper will do good, and more to increase health inequalities than his plan will do to reduce them.

So what did the Health Secretary say to the Chancellor about policies that will see a third of a million public sector staff on the dole? How hard has he argued against the Education Secretary’s plan to axe the school sports partnerships, which have seen three times as many children playing competitive sport than six years ago, and nine out of 10 children playing more than two hours of sport each week? Why is it that everyone else in the Government is set to make announcements affecting public health—on alcohol taxation or pricing, for example —except the Health Secretary? Far from being, as he said, a genuine cross-Government strategy, the White Paper—like his last one, on NHS reform—shows that this a Health Secretary working alone and operating largely in isolation from the rest of Government.

There is nothing new in “nudge”, except the soundbite and how hard the Secretary of State is pushing it. We set out the importance of individual decisions and incentives, alongside the need for support services and Government action, in our White Paper on public health in 2004. The test for the Health Secretary is whether the Government will act when they can and when they are needed, especially to protect children. The legislation is in place to end point-of-sale displays of cigarettes. The evidence is there and the experts are clear. Cancer Research UK says that

“we need to put tobacco out of sight and out of mind to protect all young people. The Government has the opportunity to act with conviction and reduce the devastating impact that tobacco has on so many lives.”

Will the Secretary of State do that: yes or no?

There is little new in this White Paper, and little is clear about how its plans will improve health and reduce health inequalities. It is 96 pages long but short on detail. We welcome in principle the lead responsibility for improving health being passed to local government, but can the Secretary of State guarantee the powers and the funds that it will need to do the job? Will he confirm that public health outcomes will also be part of the operating frameworks for the NHS and social care, because it would be a disaster if the NHS were now to decide that public health was not its job?

We are concerned about the Secretary of State’s responsibility deals. What exactly does he mean by that? What influence will industry have over future health policy? What does he say to the Liverpool health expert and Tory adviser, Professor Simon Capewell, who said that health experts on the public health commission

“were outnumbered and outvoted by people from Tesco, Diageo, and other food and drink manufacturers—and the Commission went with what the industry wanted…which is a scandal”?

What does he say when one of his own advisers offers that view?

We welcome the health inclusion board and the new national public health service, although we thought that this Government were committed to cutting, not creating, quangos. But is not the fact that the inclusion board will tackle the health needs of groups such as homeless people, drug users, alcoholics and sex workers an admission that GPs on their own do not know, and will not commission, what they need for the future?

Is not this one of the first in a series of bodges that will be needed to make the Secretary of State’s massive reorganisation plans for the NHS actually work? Whatever he says, we and the public will judge him on what he does. Will he ensure that his £3 billion internal reorganisation of the NHS does not damage public health? Will he take tough decisions about Government action on tobacco? Will he make and win the big arguments in government about the damage to health that comes from no work, poor housing and bad education? In government, it is deeds that count, not words.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his support for the strategy that is set out in the White Paper. However, he then proceeded to aim off in every other direction. He said that I was in opposition for six and a half years, and, indeed, I made it very clear six years ago that when we came back into government, we intended to ring-fence the public health budget, to create directors of public health who were accountable to the NHS and to local authorities, and to establish a public health service that was more independent and more effective. His Government could have adopted those proposals six years ago, but they simply did not do so.

What was the record of the right hon. Gentleman’s Administration? Obesity rates in this country are way above average; in fact, they are among the highest in Europe. Alcohol-related admissions to hospital have doubled in seven years. Sexually transmitted infections are up by more than two thirds in the last decade. Even smoking rates have not changed. Parliament approved a smoking ban in public places, but in the most recent years, there has been persistent prevalence of smoking. It has not gone down in the past year. One in five of the population are experiencing mental ill health at any given time. Those are the records of the Labour Government on public health. Inequalities have widened. In life expectancy, the gap has widened. In infant mortality, the gap has widened. On their own measures, the Labour Government failed in public health, and we are going to put in place a strategy that is truly effective.

Some of the leading international experts, including Sir Michael Marmot, have welcomed what is in the public health White Paper today. The public health profession also welcomes it, because it knows that we are committed to addressing the wider determinants of health. My colleagues across Government are direct participants in the Cabinet Sub-Committee that is delivering this strategy, which is the starting point for public health delivery. Not all the details are in here. We are going to move on to a tobacco control strategy, a physical activity plan, an obesity strategy, alcohol strategies and a range of other responses to the public health threats that we face, and we are going to do that across Government. Only today, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that we would do what we said we would do, and increase duty on the strongest beers while reducing it on some of the weaker ones, thus beginning the process of incentivising and nudging.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the responsibility deal. Let me give him an example. In 2004, the last Labour Government said that they would introduce front-of-pack food labelling. They wanted to introduce a single traffic-light system. All that fell apart in utter confusion. There was never a consistent front-of-pack food labelling system. The last Government never worked with industry; they worked against industry, and what was the result? A variety of different systems, and nothing consistent for the public to look at.

Only by working together on a voluntary approach will we start to make progress more quickly, whether it is on labelling, reformulation or activity with employers in the workplace. We will make progress, we will do it more quickly, and we will regulate only when necessary, rather than resorting to regulation and, as the Labour Government did, failing to make any progress and failing to regulate. That is not a basis on which we can deliver the public health improvements that we need.

This is a starting point for a public health strategy that will deliver the improvements in public health that the country requires. We are a Government who are committed to those improvements. They are central to improving well-being, and our strategy will deliver them.

Order. There is much interest in this subject but real pressure on time, with two heavily subscribed Opposition day debates to follow. What we need are short questions and short answers.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on a White Paper that redeems his pre-election pledge to raise public health to a higher level of priority than was accorded to it not merely by the last Labour Government, but by the Conservative Government in which I held my right hon. Friend’s responsibilities. I congratulate him on delivering the first step towards that commitment, and particularly on the transfer of public health responsibility to local government. The White Paper proposals will fulfil the promise to make public health a cross-Government responsibility, and will deliver what has been described as the “fully engaged scenario”. That is the only way in which we can deliver our broader public health objectives.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his comments. Derek Wanless said that we needed an “engaged” scenario back in 2002, but it simply did not happen. I know that many in public health feel that the transfer giving local government the lead responsibility on public health—which is radical and new—will, in many respects, bring public health back home. It allies the public health initiative and resources to the responsibilities of local government on economic development, the environment, planning, housing and education in precisely the ways that will influence the wider determinants of health.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s proposal to return public health to local authorities, from which a Tory Government took it away, but why did he not mention housing in his statement? It is widely accepted that homelessness, poor-quality housing, overcrowding and insecurity of tenure are major causes of both mental and physical ill health, and a major cause of inequalities in health.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his support. In fact, I did mention housing. However, I have also established in the Department a health inclusion unit—derided by those on the Labour Front Bench as a quango, although it is not one—whose purpose will be to focus specifically on some of the most excluded communities, such as the homeless and Traveller groups. Life expectancy in some of those groups can be in the 40s, and the gap in life expectancy and the health inequalities are a scandal. I have appointed Professor Steve Field, formerly of the Royal College of General Practitioners, to lead it, and I think that he will do a fantastic job in ensuring that the NHS, as well as local authorities, reaches out to deliver the health improvement that is needed.

I welcome the White Paper in general, and particularly welcome the commitment to rigorous and evidence-based policy-making. I commend to the Secretary of State the latest report of the all-party group on smoking and health, which I chair, entitled “Inquiry into the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of tobacco control”. May I give the Secretary of State and his ministerial colleagues a strong nudge to implement as soon as possible the orders on control of the display of tobacco that were passed in the last Parliament?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. As in a number of other areas I have mentioned, we will publish a strategy in due course, and a tobacco control strategy will be published in the new year. Parliament voted for the display regulations and we are looking into that, but we have to balance the evidence on health improvements with the impact of such a measure, particularly the burdens on small retailers. We are also currently examining the option of plain packaging of cigarettes, which the last Government did not do. That might in itself be an important measure to reduce both the visibility of cigarettes and the initiation into smoking of young people in particular.

Not so much nudge as fudge on this issue. Why will the Secretary of State not accept that giving those displaying tobacco and cigarettes time to adjust by allowing them to implement the regulation this time next year is good common sense? Is it not the case that the Government’s refusal to acknowledge the implementation of this regulation passed by Parliament can only be explained by there being an ideological objection to protecting young people in particular from the incitement to buy?

I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman is simply wrong about that: we have made no announcement, and I have said we are considering it. More to the point, I have said we are also considering the question of plain packaging of cigarettes, which is being pursued by a Labour Administration in Australia, and which his Administration did not pursue.

The White Paper states that we are going to provide easy access to confidential non-judgmental sexual health services. Will that include better counselling for women seeking an abortion, and will that counselling include the information that has so far been withheld from women seeking a termination?

The support for women seeking the termination of a pregnancy should include the fullest possible information about the nature of that procedure and its consequences. Consent should always be fully informed.

There is much merit in what the Secretary of State has announced. Will the new outcomes framework, which will provide consistent measures to judge progress on key elements, include smoking cessation figures? As he well knows, 50% of our health inequalities in this country are created by tobacco use.

We will publish a consultation on the outcomes framework soon, but smoking cessation and the absence of initiation into smoking are clearly very important. Smoking is still the single largest avoidable cause of early mortality, and we must try to reduce further the prevalence of smoking. It has not been reduced in the last couple of years, and we need to reduce it.

May I urge the Secretary of State to ensure that councils serving very rural communities do not lose out under the new regime?

All councils will be supported to develop health improvement strategies. When we come to publish the consultation on the funding of the public health budget, that will set out how, in addition to the resources used nationally, there will be significant resources in a ring-fenced budget for local authorities. Because of the nature of the health premium, that budget will be significantly weighted towards areas of greatest disadvantage and poorest health outcomes.

Whatever Government were in power, I would welcome an enhanced role for environmental health officers in improving public health policy. Given the depth of the coming cuts to local authority budgets, however, there is real concern, regardless of the ring-fencing statement we have had, as to whether there will be sufficient resources and capacity for environmental health officers. Does the Secretary of State intend to have an environmental health officer at chief officer level inside the Department of Health?

I have had discussions with environmental health officers and they are enthusiastic about the opportunity for much greater synergy between their work and public health responsibilities. They see their role as integral to the achievement of public health. Indeed, some of the greatest public health improvements of the past were initiated in local government and through responsibilities that are currently within environmental health legislation, so I am looking to the health and well-being boards to bring these responsibilities together more effectively.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that about 30,000 people a year in this country die as a result of alcohol, and that Department of Health modelling has shown that if we were to increase the minimum price per unit to 50p we would save over 2,000 lives a year? Will he look at the proposals published in the British Medical Journal to have variable rates of VAT so we can increase the price without penalising the on-licence trade?

My hon. Friend will know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer made an announcement today about the level of duty on beers, in particular. We have made it clear, in the coalition agreement and since, that we will act to ban the below-cost selling of alcohol. I think that that will make a significant difference. We will also in due course publish an alcohol strategy, through which we will examine a range of ways in which we can not only enforce the current legislation more effectively, but create an environment in which we progressively reduce the abuse of alcohol. It is very important for us to understand that we must distinguish between our relationship with tobacco, whose use we want to minimise—we want to encourage people never to use tobacco—and our relationship with alcohol, where we are seeking its responsible use, rather than seeking to penalise people who engage in responsible drinking.

Which part of the health service or the Sure Start budgets will be cut to fund the new army of health visitors, and where are they going to come from?

The health visitor programme is not funded by cutting anything else; it comes from within the NHS budget, because we regard providing support to families when babies first come home and offering a universal health visiting service that signposts other resources to help families as absolutely integral to the improvement of health in the future. That is funded from within what was an historic commitment from this Government to protect the NHS budget and to increase it in real terms over the next four years. We are going to fund this from within the NHS resources.

Males in the Blackpool part of my constituency have only a 56% probability of reaching the age of 75. Can the Secretary of State tell me what measures in the White Paper will help to promote the act of ageing and allow more of my constituents to reach a milestone that many of us take for granted?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. Many aspects of the White Paper and subsequent strategies relate to these issues. In the long run, his constituents will find that the measures that have an impact early in life or which work through early intervention will make the biggest difference, as was made clear in Sir Michael Marmot’s review, in which he talked of a universal proportionality. Such measures include, for example, our universal health visiting service and family nurse partnerships, which are intervening at that stage. If we have not succeeded through early intervention, however, or many people have chronic ill health, we will continue to ensure through our screening programmes and local health improvement plans that people are identified early and opportunities are created for them to make lifestyle decisions that will improve their chances of disability-free life expectancy thereafter.

I welcome the acknowledgement in the White Paper that about 25% of HIV cases in this country are currently undiagnosed. Will the Secretary of State therefore lend his support to the “Halve It” campaign, which is being launched tonight by the all-party group on HIV and AIDS, which I chair, with the Terrence Higgins Trust and others? The campaign aims to halve that number by 2015. That will mean fewer early deaths, fewer cases of HIV being spread and, ultimately, significant savings for the NHS.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Almost 22,000 people with HIV are unaware of their condition. We need to ensure, through the sexual health services, that people have consistent access to HIV testing and are encouraged opportunistically to ensure that they are HIV tested so that we can deliver the services they need. What he describes is one of the opportunities that we can examine when considering how the outcomes framework will measure the performance of local health improvement plans.

I have just learned that for the past year Hertfordshire primary care trust has been plotting to close the enormously successful urgent care centre in Cheshunt. If that happens, can the local authority step in, if its finances allow, to run the urgent care centre?

I was not aware of what my hon. Friend describes, and strictly speaking it does not relate to the White Paper. None the less, it will remain the case that local authorities, through current overview and scrutiny arrangements or future scrutiny arrangements, have the ability to ensure that major service changes of that kind are subject to scrutiny. If such changes are not justified in the interests of local people, they can be referred to me and I can seek the independent reconfiguration panel’s advice.

The Health Secretary rightly underlined in his statement the importance of tackling obesity. Is there any truth in the suggestion that he has expressed concerns that plans to dismantle the school sport partnerships will exacerbate the problem of tackling childhood obesity and has he discussed those concerns with the Education Secretary?

No; the hon. Lady should not believe what she reads in newspapers. The Education Secretary is not scrapping the school sport partnerships; he is providing the resources directly to schools so that they can make the decisions on how they promote sport. From my point of view, I have always made it clear—this has been the burden of my conversation with my colleagues—that we are already supporting school sports clubs in secondary schools through Change4Life. We intend to maintain that and to expand the role of Change4Life, linking in to primary schools so that we stimulate activity and exercise for young people overall. That is entirely complementary to how schools, using their own resources, stimulate sport. With regard to competitive sport, they will be assisted additionally through infrastructure funding for the new school Olympics.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on his long-standing and personal commitment to public health as the best way of dealing with health inequalities. How do we stop GPs operating in silos and prescribing pills where they might prescribe exercise? How do we join up the pieces?

I am grateful for that question. The answer has two parts. First, the general practice-led commissioning consortiums will be members of the new health and well-being boards in local authorities to which I referred. They will participate in the joint strategic needs assessments and strategies through the commissioning framework, the outcomes framework and the quality and outcomes framework, which applies directly to general practice. The less we focus on processes, and the more we focus on outcomes for patients, the more general practice will be focused on preventive solutions, because they will deliver good outcomes at relatively low cost. To that extent, the preventive agenda in general practice and community health services will be incentivised through a focus on outcomes.

What proportion of the NHS budget will go to local authorities to provide for public health and how will the funding reflect local health inequalities?

I must disappoint the hon. Gentleman. We will publish shortly—I hope before Christmas—the consultation on the funding arrangements. We started by establishing the baseline spend for public health, which was never identified under the last Government. It has taken months even to get to the point where we can establish what it looks like—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall) mentions Julian Le Grand from a sedentary position. He did good work, but it included the whole of maternity services as a public health service. Julian Le Grand and Health England’s work arrived at the figure of £4 billion. In fact, the baseline is in excess of £4 billion, but its composition is completely different. We will set out shortly the structure and proposals for funding local authorities’ public health activity.

Given my right hon. Friend’s voting record in the last Parliament, and indeed that of most Government Members, will he advise the House what specifically he is looking to achieve through the tobacco display ban analysis?

Through our tobacco control strategy, I am looking to achieve, as we will set out, a continuing reduction in smoking prevalence. In particular, I want to identify how we can substantially reduce the initiation into smoking among young people.

I genuinely welcome the Secretary of State’s recognition of the importance of a cross-Government approach to tackling health inequalities. He will be aware that Sir Michael Marmot identified income as one of the most important determinants of health. Will the Secretary of State make representations to his colleagues the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to ensure that everyone can have an adequate income, from those reliant on out-of-work benefits to those who are in employment?

I understand the hon. Lady’s point. Sir Michael Marmot has generously welcomed the White Paper’s proposals and its thrust. He made a specific proposal about a specific standard of living related to health—effectively a basic income proposal. That is not the Government’s proposal, but we intend to act on the other five domains in his report, the effect of which, among other things, will be to ensure that the welfare to work programme—the most ambitious and comprehensive programme ever initiated by any Government in this country to take people off benefits into work—will support people not only through better disability benefit assessments, which will help in health assessments, but by ensuring that people in work are healthier because they are less likely to be poverty and more likely to be free of the distress associated with unemployment.

In St Albans we are lucky that people live for quite a long time, but often elderly care packages are not put in place to allow elderly care patients to come out of hospital and into adult social care services. Will the proposals in the White Paper to give local government more control help to ease this problem?

As my hon. Friend may know, we are acting already. Through the spending review we have made very clear the NHS commitment to support local authorities in the delivery of adult social care responsibility, particularly through the integration of health and social care. That includes £70 million this year for re-ablement, £150 million in the next financial year for more re-ablement activity and nearly £650 million in the next financial year in direct support from the NHS for preventive and other activities to support social care. That will make a big difference to her constituents.

Hull city council’s recent record is of raising sports charges, blocking free swimming, axing free healthy school meals, dragging its feet on smoking and allowing junk food outlets to open near schools. In the light of that record, I am concerned about local authorities taking control of public health. What safeguards will there be regarding local authorities whose public health agenda is more from the era of “Life on Mars”?

There we have it: the Labour party as the opponent of local government. I am sure that people will recognise that when we arrive at local government election time. The Labour party has never trusted local government but we are going to trust it. We are going to give it not only greater freedoms but greater powers and responsibilities. Not every local authority will be brilliantly successful, but at least local authorities are directly accountable to the people who elect them—those for whom the authorities will deliver services.

Many of the measures that my right hon. Friend proposes, such as the plain packaging of tobacco, forcing responsible drinkers to pay more for alcohol in supermarkets than they otherwise would and, bizarrely, forcing employers to allow women to breastfeed at work are a triumph not for public health but for the nanny state—something that we thought had gone out with the previous Government. Why is he still so wedded to the nanny state?

I am wedded to achieving improvements in public health. Interestingly, today I have been accused both of being an exponent of the nanny state and of having abandoned it in favour of “nudge”. The truth is that, as one sees in the White Paper, there is a clear philosophy here that we will pursue a voluntary approach, regulate only where necessary and seek to have less intrusive and less interventionist approaches in order to make more progress more quickly. If we do not make progress through voluntary approaches, we will of course still have to protect the public’s health and we will seek other measures to do so, but they have been tested to destruction by the previous Administration. It did not happen—they did not succeed and they did not improve public health—but we are determined to do so.

The Secretary of State consistently comes to the House and announces policies that seem to have been written on the back of a fag packet from the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns), but in his explanation on this morning’s “Today” programme the Secretary of State could not even make his mind up about the fag packet. Does he understand that the time allowed for the implementation of legislation that has been passed by the House was meant to allow people who are consequential in delivering that policy enough time to plan for it? The delay that he has introduced has made it more difficult for people such as the newsagents whom he spoke about in his statement because they have to prepare. Are we going to have branding or not? Will packets be on display or not? What is the Government’s policy?

I think that I have already answered that question. The hon. Gentleman at least among Opposition Members seems to have understood what it is to be in opposition: the point is simply to oppose and that is all he is doing. This is a positive statement and he should address it in that light.

Does the Secretary of State agree with local GPs in my constituency that one way to help reduce health inequalities and spend money in the NHS better is to review reporting mechanisms in the NHS and how they impact on referral decisions, particularly in-house referrals?

Yes. I know that the GPs in Cheshire are a very go-ahead group and I am looking forward to seeing how they take on these responsibilities. I have seen GPs recently make presentations showing that they can really take a grip on referral patterns. They can see referrals not just in terms of trying to interpret patterns and numbers, but on the basis of clinical judgment. The combination of clinical judgment and understanding and knowledge of commissioning and contracting leverage is the basis from which we can improve overall the commissioning of activity for patients.

The Secretary of State mentioned that the Government are investing £560 million in encouraging sustainable forms of transport, such as walking and cycling, but given that the Department for Transport is systematically un-ring-fencing many of the transport budgets for local government, what guarantees can he give that that pot of money will be spent on that specific purpose?

We have been very clear in the spending review and subsequent announcements that we will take the ring fence off many of the grants provided to local government, because we trust local government and we expect those in local government who are responsible for such things to be accountable to their electors. Where public health is concerned—this is separate from the point the hon. Gentleman makes—NHS money will be ring-fenced in the hands of local authorities for health gain. There will be many appropriate uses, so the ring fence will in no sense, I hope, have a constraining effect.

I am sure that, like me, the Secretary of State recognises that different population groups offer and present different public health challenges; for example, the Asian community has higher rates of cardiovascular disease. Does he agree that the White Paper presents an excellent opportunity for local authorities to address specific local concerns that are relevant to their NHS populations?

Yes, I do. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The structure proposed in the NHS reform White Paper in July was to bring local authorities and the NHS together to undertake joint strategic needs assessments leading to a combined strategy. Understanding the causes of ill health, and understanding where ill health is occurring and where the greatest areas of unmet need are in a community, will impact positively both on NHS commissioning and on local authorities.

I welcome the proposal to give public health responsibility to local government, but will the Secretary of State assure the House that his intention is to build on proven successful initiatives, such as the family nurse partnership that works with teen mothers in my constituency, and health advocates? In contrast to GPs who, when offered an opportunity to give out membership of slimming clubs, managed to give only one in six months, health advocates managed to gain about 2,000 regular participants in slimming clubs, thus helping to deal with the obesity problem in Slough.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. At least I know that she supports the proposal to transfer the responsibility to local government—not something I discovered from the reply of the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey). The short answer is that I have already announced that over the next four years we will double the number of family nurse partnerships, so we shall indeed support them. More than that, as Sir Michael Marmot made clear, it is vital that we combine the targeted support that the FNPs can give and a restored universal health visiting service to help every family as they start out.

One of the clearest indicators of health inequalities is life expectancy. In two near-neighbouring wards in Milton Keynes, there is a variation of 12 years, which is a staggering figure. How can we address this problem?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The truth is that we know we have to take action nationally, and we will, not only through health protection but through much more effective health screening, immunisation programmes and an early start in the health visitor programme, for example. It will be for his local authorities and communities to get together to ask how they can address the inequalities. That will be vital to achieving health improvement in his community.

Last year, Birmingham had about 500 confirmed cases of tuberculosis and there were calls for the city council to have compulsory city-wide inoculation programmes. Under the Secretary of State’s newly conferred powers, is that something that local authorities could now do?

No; the response to infectious diseases will continue to be the responsibility of the Department of Health, with a more integrated Public Health England incorporating the responsibilities of the Health Protection Agency and recommendations from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation and others. There was a lot of important debate about the discontinuation of the BCG inoculation. My view is that targeted action in areas with high prevalence of TB—as there is in a small number of places—is more appropriate than the introduction of any generalised inoculation at this stage.

My hon. Friend will not have to wait long for announcements from hon. Friends of mine in the Government.

Is not part of the problem the way in which Departments continue to operate in silos, so the Secretary of State for Education can cut the school sports initiatives with no impact on educational outcomes, but massive impacts on health? The Department of Health can consistently underfund children’s health services such as speech therapy and mental health, with very little impact on the Minister’s Department but massive impact on education outcomes. Is the statement not just evidence of more silo working?

That is all complete nonsense. On sport and activity in schools, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education is supporting schools and mainstreaming funding for sport and physical activity into school budgets; my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport is working to support competitive sport and the sport Olympics; and I am working to stimulate physical activity through Change4Life school sports clubs, increasingly in the primary sector as well as in the secondary sector. We are working on all that together and it is entirely complementary.

Given the commitment to popular choice, can my right hon. Friend confirm that when responsibility for putting fluoride into drinking water is taken away from strategic health authorities, the people who have the final say on the matter will be the people who drink the water?

The responsibility will be transferred to local authorities, and they will have the same obligation to consult their population as exists in the present legislation. In my view, local authorities are more accountable to the population that they serve than strategic health authorities have been in the past.

The Secretary of State said in his statement that politicians need “to stop telling people to make healthy choices” and actually help them to do it. He said that they need to stop nannying people, but nudge them “to make healthy lifestyles easier”, and that “rather than lecturing people…we will give them the support they need to make their own choices”. Can he explain how failing to implement the tobacco display policy is forwarding those aims?

The hon. Lady does not seem to understand. We have made no announcement in relation to the tobacco display regulations—[Interruption.] They were approved by Parliament before the election. We have made it clear that we are looking at a tobacco control strategy. I made it clear just now at the Dispatch Box that, beyond anything done by the previous Government, I am considering the question of the plain packaging of cigarettes, which in itself could be a significant additional weapon in our armoury to reduce the initiation of smoking among young people and the visibility of cigarettes. When we publish a tobacco control strategy, we will weigh up the wide range of such factors.

Harlow parents will welcome the extra support for Sure Start, particularly after the scares from the Opposition at the last election. Will my right hon. Friend set out the measures that the White Paper takes to support other local charities that do so much to combat drug and alcohol abuse in my constituency and elsewhere?

I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend says. I appreciated visiting a children’s centre in Roehampton just this morning to see how it was bringing together all the opportunities. Important among those was the relationship with health visitors and their signposting role in relation to that service and others. Through the White Paper, we will, in a number of respects with which I shall not detain the House now, focus on how we can work with social enterprises, the voluntary sector and charities in order to deliver health improvements. As that will involve factors such as behaviour change, the ability of charities to work with people at a personal level and to be highly innovative will be important in making it successful.

I welcome the liberation of public health from its ivory tower. It will be able to do much more good in the real world. Can my right hon. Friend say a little more about how the health and well-being partnerships might work with businesses, the police and other relevant agencies to reduce alcohol-related admissions to hospital?

When we publish the alcohol strategy, there will be more to say about that, but it is already clear that we can do much more on local community alcohol partnerships, which have demonstrated their success in places such as St Neots in Huntingdonshire, so that enforcement and work to prevent young people from purchasing alcohol when they should not do so is much more successful. We can also work much more effectively on improving alcohol labelling, and we are working through the responsibility deal to look at those opportunities, too.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement. Does he agree that in local areas it is important for local government to work closely with the voluntary sector, particularly on preventive mental health services?

Yes, I entirely agree. The extent to which charities and the voluntary sector can initiate new ideas is woefully underestimated. This is not just about local authorities, and still less about central Government saying, “Here is a programme, would charities like to bid to run it?” Even more importantly, we must be clear that charities should now come forward to anticipate the resources needed to improve public health, and to suggest their own innovations to deliver better health for their communities.

My right hon. Friend will recognise the description of alcohol treatment as a Cinderella service, which is sadly not just a seasonal description but often the soft target of cuts by PCTs. I therefore welcome the opportunity in the White Paper for pooled budgets and for co-ordination between public health service directors and children’s services directors to prevent and tackle alcohol misuse.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because I think that through these measures we will help to integrate drug, alcohol and sexual health services, rather than see them in silos. Even in primary care trusts, those services have often been treated as completely discrete activities, because they have been related to specific targets that central Government have set, rather than part of an holistic community view of how we improve health.

Inside the NHS we are shifting public health to that degree of protection, because back in 2005 when the Labour party was in charge, the Chief Medical Officer said:

“There is strong anecdotal information from within the NHS which tells a…story for public health of poor morale, declining numbers and inadequate recruitment, and budgets being raided to solve financial deficits in the acute sector.”

Under Labour, public health was raided and denigrated; under this Government, public health will be given the place it deserves.

I support any moves to reduce the use of tobacco throughout the country, and that is why I support the smoking ban so much, but will the Secretary of State assure us that when we look at the tobacco display ban we will consider all the international evidence from countries such as Canada and Ireland, which have found that the ban has not been the slightest bit effective in reducing the number of people who smoke?

Yes, and I believe very strongly that we must work on the basis of evidence in public health, rather than simply on anecdote and assumptions.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and, in particular, the ring-fenced public health budget and the increased role for local authorities. Is he aware that under the previous Government many PCTs cut funding for public health and plugged gaps elsewhere?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point, and that was not all that happened. On the money available to primary care trusts for what is termed the healthy living programme, there is no correlation between how much trusts spend relative to health deprivation, so in places with the poorest health outcomes trusts on average do not spend any more on discretionary health improvement activity. That is why our proposed health premium is so important. The places with the poorest health outcomes will clearly have the money they need to undertake specifically preventive work to raise health outcomes.

I warmly welcome the proposals to transfer public health to local authorities and, indeed, the ring-fencing, but will my right hon. Friend clarify how we will enforce the spending of that money on public health, so that there are no blurred edges and local authorities cannot fund their other services from within that ring-fencing?

I bow to my hon. Friend in his understanding of local government. My experience and understanding of local government is such that I know that the people involved are very concerned about improving health in their communities, and these resources will be available for that. Those people will not only be accountable to the people who elect them but accountable through the incentive mechanism of the health premium for the delivery of improving outcomes in the reduction of health inequalities. They will have an in-built incentive in the funding system to use those resources to deliver the outcomes that are collectively agreed, co-produced with local government. If they do not do so—if they spend the money elsewhere—they will not see the increase in resources that would otherwise flow.

Given the Secretary of State’s support for Sure Start, will he clarify his plans for Home-Start, as several families in my constituency are concerned that it will lose funding?

I will write to my hon. Friend about that. We are very clear that we are going to introduce a universal health visitor service, which has been lost in recent years. That element of universal support to all families when babies first come home is an absolutely integral part of getting them on the right path. We think that not just targeted but early support for all families will have disproportionate benefits in the long run.

I applaud the Secretary of State’s commitment to tackling alcohol misuse and his determination to ban below-cost selling. However, does he share my concern that a definition of below-cost selling that is duty plus VAT, which would still allow supermarkets to sell a bottle of wine for £1.90 or a can of lager more cheaply than a can of Coca-Cola, will fail to deliver the outcomes that he is looking for?

My hon. Friend tempts me to pre-empt announcements which properly fall to my colleagues in the Home Office. I will leave it to them, if I may, to make those announcements, and we will debate the issue then.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Bury people will be happy and prepared to take responsibility for their own health provided that there are fully functioning children’s and maternity, and accident and emergency, departments at Fairfield hospital?

My hon. Friend and I have shared visits to Fairfield hospital on a number of occasions. I know how strongly his constituents feel about their access to services at Fairfield hospital and how well he has represented those at the hospital in their case for the retention of those services.