David Cameron has accused big business of encouraging unhealthy lifestyles and promised a crackdown on them to relieve the growing pressure on the National Health Service.
He said that a Conservative government would propose "responsibility deals" with different industries to tackle problems such as obesity and alcoholism and prevent unhealthy products being targeted at children. Although legislation would be used only as a last resort, it would be threatened if companies refused to change "irresponsible" behaviour.
In a speech yesterday, Mr Cameron admitted it could be difficult to make responsible choices in a highly seductive commercial environment. "The truth is that many big businesses are making huge profits on the back of poor health choices," he said.
Rejecting Labour's "top-down, state control" approach, he said the way to tackle the problem was to promote both personal and corporate responsibility. "Bureaucratic methods are increasingly ineffective today because the public health problems of today are increasingly the consequence of perfectly legal personal decisions, made in private spaces," he said.
Ideas being considered by the Tories include calling for a reduction in the use of trans-fats, urging restaurants to stop "super-size portions" becoming the norm, restricting marketing to children, and extending calorie information to alcohol and fast-food outlets.
A drive for "responsible drinking" would include government action to raise taxes on alcopops, strong lagers and ciders, banning "loss-leader" alcohol sales by supermarkets and ending late-night sales by take-away shops and food stores. Speaking in Bolton, the Tory leader promised a crusade to improve public health, saying his party's pledge to boost NHS spending each year would not be enough.
In an attempt to end the row over the Tory MEP Dan Hannan's description of the NHS as a "60-year mistake", Mr Cameron made an emotional defence of the service and recalled the treatment it provided for his disabled son, Ivan, who died in February aged six. "Whoever you are, wherever you're from, whatever's wrong, however much you've got in the bank, there's a place you can go where people will look after you."
He added: "We are committed to the NHS, and to the principle of a healthcare system that is free at the point of use, based on need and not the ability to pay." He promised an end to the reorganisations that have dominated the past decade in the NHS.
Gillian Merron, the Health minister, accused Mr Cameron of failing to take on opponents of the NHS within the Tory ranks.Reuse content