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Almost half of Liberal Democrat MPs think they are fat, two-thirds are regular consumers of high-fibre foods and a quarter of those who smoke don't think it harms their health.

The findings were part of a survey carried out by the Cancer Research Campaign to examine levels of health awareness. It found:

48 per cent consider themselves overweight;

76 per cent think they eat a balanced diet;

69 per cent eat high-fibre foods regularly;

86 per cent do not smoke - but of those who do, 25 per cent thought smoking was not harming their health.

The statistics were revealed during a fringe meeting chaired by campaign director-general Professor Gordon McVie. During the debate, Dr Harris took issue with a two-week breast cancer referral time limit imposed by the government earlier this year.

Dr Harris described the target as a 'political gimmick', diverting resources from treatment to diagnosis budgets.

Professor McVie agreed that 'there was no shadow of a doubt' why prime minister Tony Blair picked breast cancer as the first cancer to have referral time limits imposed - 'obviously it is a sexy subject'.

But the initiative 'has upset a lot of doctors... I don't want to slander my colleagues, but some surgeons are so namby-pamby when it comes to having to work extra hours.'