Order for Second Reading read.
Obesity, especially among children, is a threat to their health, to the NHS and to the economy. The World Health Organisation, the World Cancer Research Fund and the Government’s expert scientists have warned that obesity is a problem of potentially epidemic proportions and that drastic action is needed if millions of young lives are not to be blighted and billions of pounds drained from the NHS and the economy.
The impact of obesity on Britain has been likened to climate change: a disaster for the lives of individuals, our health service and the economy. Today, in Britain, one in three children are classified as overweight or obese. More than nine out of 10 children consume too much saturated fat; more than eight out of 10 too much sugar; and more than seven out of 10 too much salt. The Government’s foresight report has predicted that between half and two thirds of all our children will be overweight or obese if current trends continue.
The estimated cost of the rise of obesity in cash terms is put at £45 billion a year if no action is taken. Diabetes UK tells us that, unless action is taken, the incidence of type 2 diabetes will rise by 70 per cent., and of strokes by 30 per cent. and coronary heart disease 20 per cent. Massive funding to advertise and promote junk foods—£800 million a year—is undermining the efforts of parents to control the food and sugary drinks that children take. As a former Minister with some responsibility for the advertising industry, I am pleased to introduce a Bill that will reinforce parents’ efforts and make it easier to encourage healthier eating to benefit children and the economy.
There is no single solution to childhood obesity, but everyone except the food and advertising industries agrees that tougher regulations and restrictions on how unhealthy foods are marketed to children are essential. Even the advertising industry concedes that such regulations would make an impact, otherwise it would not oppose the Bill so vigorously.
The hon. Gentleman says that everyone accepts that the Bill is needed to tackle childhood obesity, yet a recent opinion poll showed that 76 per cent. of the public thought that the restrictions would make no difference whatever to childhood obesity levels. I am not entirely sure how he has worked out that everybody agrees with him. On what basis does he take that view?
It is the case because having listened to people, I have introduced a Bill that is a compromise. I am sure that if those people were polled on even tougher regulations, they would say that they would have an effect. As we are trying to reach a compromise, we have introduced a Bill that is practical and proportionate. I am sorry if members of the public feel that even tougher action is needed, and I certainly would not hesitate to introduce a Bill that would achieve it.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the survey included in the Which? submission on the Bill, in which 80 per cent. of people told us that they did not think that TV advertisements for unhealthy foods should be allowed during the times when the greatest number of children watch? There is evidence on both sides of the debate.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that this is a very difficult subject to get right? There are a number of changes and improvements that one can make to help to deal with the problem, but does he recognise that more parental responsibility is important? What does he think could be done to educate parents and ensure that more of them take a responsible line in feeding their children and seek to minimise the problems of obesity?
I certainly agree with the hon. Member, and I shall tell him what I think can be done. We can diminish the pester power that children exert on their parents, which is fostered by an advertising and food marketing industry that has already been caught using websites that were so unacceptable to the public that even some of the largest companies in Britain had to pull them. I hope that there is support for backing parental responsibility, which is one of the primary aims of my Bill.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing that out, and for his continuous support for the Bill. It is a direct response to what I believe parents want, but more importantly, it is also a response to the scientific review that our Government carried out, which reported towards the end of last year. The foresight report of last October chillingly warned that a substantial degree of intervention was required to have an impact on the rising trend of obesity.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for being generous in allowing interventions. I wanted to stop him when he talked about little children’s pester power about food. On the basis of seeing my own child and those of parents whom I know, it is clear to me that pester power definitely applies to toys, but does it apply to food? I have never heard the phrase, “I’ve got to have that packet of crisps.” Children may want a packet of crisps, but it will not necessarily be a packet of Walkers crisps. I do not agree that children are so motivated by food advertising. In the end, it is the mum who does the shopping, or maybe the dad, but definitely not the child.
The hon. Lady is one of the luckiest parents in the country. She must be one of the few whose children have not pestered them for fizzy drinks or candy bars. Perhaps she may care to write a treatise, which we can publicise so that every parent in the country can benefit from her near-unique experience.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that pestering is not just for specific products, but for such things as McDonald’s burgers or Kentucky Fried Chicken? Many of us have had to say to our children, “I am not taking you there,” but they see such places on the television. Pester power is not just for Cheerios or whatever happens to be advertised.
I commend the hon. Member for that important point, which gets to the heart of the Bill. It is about advertising not only during children’s programme hours, but during family television. Such products are relentlessly marketed to families, and in this case to children, too.
I thank my hon. Friend for being so generous in giving way. Before I came to the House I did work in the community, part of which was about parents and food. The message that I received from parents was that children would eat only the foods that they recognised and that, unfortunately, recognition came largely from television. The other problem that parents had was the accessibility of different foods. Many of them without cars found themselves having to shop at corner shops, which rely on highly advertised foods rather than fresh and affordable foods.
My hon. Friend speaks with great authority and reflects what food nutritionists, as well as Nick Nairn, Jamie Oliver and others, are saying. Her remarks illustrate the impact of pester power and the value of advertising. After all, why do we have such a large and successful advertising industry?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his success in the ballot and on introducing the Bill. In response to the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride), I point out that when the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) and I served on the Select Committee on Health some half a dozen years ago or so, we conducted an inquiry on obesity. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman remembers it well, as he played a very constructive role. He will recall that we came across a company—I have a pretty clear impression that it was Kellogg’s, and if it was not I apologise unreservedly—that had on its website a marketing strategy that actually encouraged the use of pester power. It quoted it as a strategy for selling its products. That pester power clearly applied to children, not adults.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That report was critical in ensuring that the Government’s views on obesity were taken seriously and that, more importantly, society and Parliament took obesity seriously. More recently, Which? produced two reports. One was “Food Fables”, on the myths that the industry had put out about how responsible its marketing was. My hon. Friend has given one example, and I shall give another later. The other report was “Cartoon Heroes and Villains”, on the use of cartoons by such companies to lure children into having more of their products than is healthy. The views of my hon. Friend and other hon. Members who have spoken in support of the Bill are reflected by the more than 200 right hon. and hon. Members who have signed early-day motion 445, supporting the 9 pm watershed.
The term used in the Bill, “less healthy food”, is fairly subjective, but I assume that it would encapsulate products such as those of McDonald’s. The Bill refers not just to broadcast advertising but to point-of-sale material. Youngsters walking down Victoria street past McDonald’s would come to one of those plastic Ronald McDonald characters, which I suspect would be made illegal under the Bill. Does the hon. Gentleman really want to go down in history as the man who killed Ronald McDonald?
I do not want to go down in history—I am sure that this is true of the hon. Gentleman, too—as the person who put the health of our advertising industry and of McDonald’s before the health of our children. He is mistaken, because there is nothing subjective about the provision. Clause 2(1) clearly refers to the Food Standards Agency definition of foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar.
Out of 1,484 early-day motions, I am glad to say that early-day motion 445 came in the top 10 for the number of hon. Members’ signatures. Sadly, many hon. Members who signed the early-day motion cannot be with us today, because they are campaigning in the London mayoral elections or in their local council elections. I have received apologies from strong supporters of the Bill on both sides of the House. I am especially grateful to Which?, Cancer Research UK, Diabetes UK, Sustain, the Children’s Food Campaign, the British Heart Foundation, the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing, the National Union of Teachers, Unison and many others for their support for the Bill, which aims to control the advertising, marketing and promotion of less healthy food and drink products to children.
The Bill follows Government action to ban adverts targeted at children’s TV programmes. What a generation ago was a treat—a bar of candy, a box of chocolates or a fizzy drink—is now taken for granted. Economic prosperity has made such treats commonplace. Of course, that is not enough for some companies, which have commissioned labs to come up with artificial smells outside food shops to act as a magnet to pressurise shoppers—at such outlets what smells fresh is totally artificial. It is difficult for children, who must learn that items that were treats to my generation are, when taken in quantity, damaging to their health.
The definition would not include those foods. I urge the hon. Member to study what the FSA has actually categorised.
In one short generation, as economic prosperity has risen so abuses have occurred on the parts of both consumers and the producers of goods. As I said, parents have told me that their efforts to educate their children on reasonable consumption are being fatally undermined by the relentless advertising and marketing to their children of food products that are high in fats, sugars and salts. Frankly, they are sick of their children being manipulated, and they are sick of pester power.
My hon. Friend has focused on the impact on obesity in children of consuming junk food and the influence of advertising. Does he accept that the consumption of junk food can have a significant impact on children’s behaviour in terms of attention deficit disorder, which can occur if they consume food containing lots of additives, and hyperglycaemia? Studies of children in young offenders institutions have shown how changes in diet can improve behaviour.
That is a critical point. That is the reason why local schools in my constituency—I am sure that this is true around the country—have taken out the fizzy drinks machines and reported great benefits in children’s responses. Incidentally, that is one of the reasons why I strongly support universal school lunches, which would allow children to see what goes into a good meal. I congratulate the hon. Members who are taking forward that cause, which I strongly support.
I am glad that my hon. Friend has mentioned the role of education. Will he join me in congratulating Bolton council on committing itself to introducing free school meals for all first-time primary school children in September? That will lead those children down the correct nutritional path, rather than down the path of bringing junk food into school for lunch.
I certainly congratulate Bolton council. In the manifestos for the next election, I want to see all political parties pledge to support the funding of universal school meals, which could enhance not only children’s health, but the educational environment. Universal school meals could give children benefits that last a lifetime.
Clause 1 defines “advertising and promotion”, and lists the types of media that will come within its scope, including the internet, which I shall mention in a minute. Clause 2 refers to “less healthy” products, as defined by proposed section 7(c) to the Food Standards Act 1999—such foodstuffs are high in fat, sugar or salt. It specifies that such foods should not be advertised, marketed or promoted between the hours of 5.30 am and 9 pm. The 9 pm watershed has been selected for two reasons. First, evidence cited in the Ofcom report indicates that, among all the options that it examined two years ago, a 9 pm watershed would screen out up to 95 per cent. of junk food advertisements from popular TV programmes watched by children. Secondly, the 9 pm watershed is already accepted for TV adverts for gambling. I commend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions for his work in his former post as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, when he achieved that watershed by threatening legislation. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport will not hesitate to do the same to protect our children’s health.
Having killed off Ronald McDonald, the hon. Gentleman is moving on to kill off children’s television. Does he realise that one of the unintended consequences of the Bill is that it will remove a substantial amount of advertising from children’s television? In that case, why would it be in the interest of TV producers to produce children’s programming? The Bill would have an enormous impact on such programming.
The hon. Member is right. With the exception of one or two hon. Members, the whole House knows that there has been a long-term decline in the commissioning of children’s programmes by UK companies. That is part of the argument that has been deployed against the Bill, but the bad news for the people who have deployed that argument is that the Bill is not law and that that has been the trend for the past decade, which has nothing to do with advertising restrictions.
Since the advertising restrictions were introduced, children’s television commissioning has fallen off a cliff. The BBC effectively has a monopoly, which nobody wants, while other channels only carry American imports. Is the hon. Gentleman going to put the health of American television ahead of the health of British television?
The hon. Member is advocating putting the health of American television before the health of British children. His hyperbole, as a journalist, does him no credit, because the truth is that prior to the restrictions—they were rather small, and came in only in summer last year—all the evidence showed that tens of millions of pounds’ worth of children’s programming was no longer being commissioned in Britain, and that was the case before a single bit of legislation had been put in place. Small and welcome steps have been taken so far and they are being evaluated in full by Ofcom. However, Ofcom’s evidence indicates that less than half of the programmes watched by young children are affected by the restrictions, which is why they are not very effective.
It is fairly obvious that not everyone agrees with the hon. Gentleman’s Bill—there is a fair amount of disagreement. Given that there is already a ban on advertising during children’s programmes, would it not be more appropriate to determine whether that ban is effective? If that were determined to be the case, he might be better able to persuade those of us who are extremely sceptical and think that this is just a “something must be done” Bill, rather than a Bill that will have any effect; indeed, this Bill might even have perverse consequences. We could then move forward in the knowledge that some science backs up the Bill.
The hon. Member makes a very valuable point. However, let me tell her that if such well-funded industries as the food processing and advertising industries thought that her conclusions were likely to be valid, they would have commissioned their own research and presented it to us. The fact that they have not done so tells me a lot.
I will, of course, give way to the hon. Lady, because she will want to explain her statement that there is considerable opposition to the Bill. I concede that an early-day motion was tabled against my early-day motion. Mine attracted 211 signatures and the other attracted nine signatures, although I notice that it has only seven signatories listed today. It is one of the few early-day motions that have lost supporters in the three months during which it has been tabled, and two people signed both early-day motions.
I am going to make some progress. The hon. Member will have plenty of time to respond to my points later.
Clause 2 would allow the Secretary of State to produce guidance, in consultation with the Food Standards Agency and Ofcom, on the content of adverts and the association between a less healthy product and a brand name. It would also allow him to produce guidance on the appropriate level of fines. Clause 2(2)(a) sets the 9 pm watershed. Clause 3 clarifies the role of the FSA, and clause 4 provides for the time scale of the Bill coming into force and its extent.
All Governments readily accept severe restrictions on the advertising and marketing of perfectly legal goods and services. Not only cigarettes and alcohol are subject to very tight restrictions, but so are casinos, betting and gambling. From last summer, unhealthy foodstuffs could no longer be advertised on children’s TV. That followed work by Liverpool university and others demonstrating that children watching cartoons interspaced with junk food adverts increased their consumption of such foods and drinks, while a control group watching the same cartoons with adverts for toys were not affected.
Ofcom, the TV regulator, now concedes that only 41 per cent. of programmes watched by children are currently covered by such restrictions and that barely 50 per cent. of programmes for the youngest children are covered. However, much of children’s viewing is not of children’s programmes, but of family entertainment. Which? examined the top 20 most popular TV programmes this year watched by the whole family. “The X Factor” and “Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway” are among the 19 of the top 20 that are simply not covered by the present ban. Only one of the most popular TV programmes watched by the family—by many children—is covered.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that as several of those top 20 programmes were shown after the 9 pm watershed, they would not be covered by his Bill either?
I do not favour a complete ban. I believe that adults have the right to exercise a choice and that children have to be protected until they are old enough to make an informed choice. The gap is being exploited through the marketing of certain types of foods, which my Bill would abolish.
Those of us who have followed debates on this matter in the Chamber for a long time will have noticed that organisations such as those cited by my hon. Friend—the British Heart Foundation, Diabetes UK and the BMA—have made totally consistent arguments over the years. There is cross-country support for my hon. Friend’s Bill, including in Wales—I think that I am the only Welsh Member in the Chamber—which I point out just in case he thinks that support comes from only England and Scotland. Does he agree that the consistency of those organisations’ arguments shows that they believe that the health of the nation is more important than that of the marketers?
I do. In short, they have been right and we have been wrong. It is time that the House caught up by legislating to take firm action in the face of the dire warnings given by the organisations that my hon. Friend mentioned. I am pretty sure that that was why, on 17 October 2007, our Health Secretary said that
“the reason why advertising restrictions should go much further is that about 70 per cent. of children watch television…outside the traditional children’s viewing times.”—[Official Report, 17 October 2007; Vol. 464, c. 838.]
In the House of Lords, on 29 November, Baroness Royall, a Minister, said that
“we need a ban on all high-fat, salty and sugary foods before the 9 pm watershed.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 29 November 2007; Vol. 696, c. 1297.]
The Bill embraces other media, such as websites, which is necessary following the exposure by Which? of companies’ tricks to hook our children on their HFSS products. In anticipation of the ban on adverts during children’s programmes that started last summer, cereal companies set up child-friendly websites to entice children to pester their parents for their products. The public were so shocked by the cases that Which? presented that they forced the closure of a least six websites. The kids zones run by Pizza Hut and Burger King, the Nestle cereals, Nesquik, Cookie Crisp and Golden Nuggets websites, the Frosties and Coco Pops sites, and dairylea.co.uk were all withdrawn after the name and shame report by Which?.
We have to ask ourselves who is standing up against such weighty groups—apart from the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans). It is just a few advertisers and a handful of companies that do very well out of peddling unhealthy foodstuffs to children, sometimes in unethical ways.
On that point, does my hon. Friend agree that food processors, and food processors alone, are resisting traffic-light front-of-pack food labelling? Instead, they go in for the spurious and reprehensible guideline daily amount scheme, which the public do not understand, as they do not want the public to understand exactly how much saturated fat, sugar and salt is in their products.
My hon. Friend could not be more right, and could not speak on a subject more dear to my heart. Early on in my time in the House, I sought to bring in a Bill introducing a traffic-light system. I commend Sainsbury’s for introducing a system of that sort, but I am critical of Tesco’s failure to use a simple colour-coding device. He is right that there is opposition to the traffic-light system, and when those who are opposed to it think that they have been overwhelmed by public opinion, they then seek to confuse us, as Tesco is seeking to do.
The Government started off so well; they introduced initial first-stage restrictions on advertising on children’s television to children under the age of nine, and since January there have been further restrictions that apply to all children—that is, those under 16. We need my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, to commit herself to taking the current Ofcom review seriously. Ofcom will report later this summer, having taken into account the evidence that it is considering. I am sure that it will receive a massive volume of evidence in the lead-up to publication of its report in July. It should not be frightened to recommend a 9 pm watershed, and I hope that my right hon. Friend and the Government will not hesitate to implement such a measure, or even go further if necessary.
I commend the Bill to the House. I know that it is supported by many hon. Members, and I look forward to hearing the Minister give a commitment to ensuring that the health of our children is protected for the next generation.
I had not intended to speak on the Bill, not least because I am keen to see the next Bill on energy efficiency and microgeneration progress successfully, but I have heard such arrant nonsense being spoken by Conservative Members that I am forced to speak.
I am sure that if my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) has objections to the Bill, they will be sensible ones, but some of the objections that I have heard Conservative Members give are completely ludicrous.
I have a few qualifications that entitle me to speak on the subject. My first qualification is as a parent. Unlike the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride) , I have certainly been subjected to pester-power by my six-year-old and three-year old when it comes to food. I would be glad to see the back of Mr. Ronald McDonald, who has been responsible for some of it.
Secondly, I have worked in the advertising and marketing industry; my career began in commercial advertising. We have a great, creative advertising industry in this country, and it is absolutely true that its revenues would be affected if the Bill were to be enacted, and as a consequence the revenue of some media owners would be affected, but not nearly as much as they would have been just 10 years ago, because the media environment is increasingly diverse and much more targeted now. The Conservative Front Bencher the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey) asserted that the Bill somehow backs American TV over British TV, but that is a ludicrous assertion. The opposite is true. The non-commercial BBC channels, CBBC and CBeebies, provide plenty of space for domestically produced television programmes, whereas the commercial channels—CiTV and the others—are dominated by American material, so the reverse of what the hon. Gentleman says is true.
No, not just yet. I have a point to make. I will not be distracted by debate on the Olympics. My third qualification is that I am secretary of the all-party group on corporate responsibility. There is a very good example of good corporate responsibility in my constituency, in the national headquarters of Kraft Foods. It has run a responsible promotion aimed at children, called Health 4 Schools. It is about promoting healthy cooking and eating in schools. It has resisted making any association with the many confectionery products produced by Kraft. If I have one concern about the Bill, it is with clause 2, which refers to associations. I would regret it very much if Kraft’s obvious association with confectionary brands meant that it was not able to run a responsible promotion. Subsection (2)(b) offers a mechanism through which that might be addressed; that issue could perhaps be considered in Committee, but it is important that it be addressed.
Finally, I speak as the husband of a public health doctor, and therefore as someone who is well aware, if somewhat vicariously, of the seriousness of the rising tide of ill health, a lot of it associated with poor diet and nutrition, that is affecting our whole country and that starts in childhood. We are talking about a serious, deadly threat to our nation’s health and, through the NHS, to our nation’s finances in the longer term. Those are not issues to be dismissed lightly in defence of Ronald McDonald or the advertising industry’s short-term benefit.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned McDonald’s. The hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) has vacated his seat temporarily, but the fact is that McDonald’s is sponsor of the International Olympic Committee; that is where the McDonald’s sponsorship comes in. It does not come into the issue of the London Olympics. I realise that if the House were to spend its time correcting the hon. Member for Christchurch, we would have to publish a separate supplement to Hansard, but that is the fact of the matter.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that clarification. My closing point is about the seriousness of the epidemic of ill health that we are likely to face, and of the increasing incidence of diseases such as diabetes. Any risks and concerns associated with the Bill should therefore be considered in Committee, and the Bill should certainly be allowed to progress.
As I suggested in an intervention, I want to focus on the impact that the changing nature of the food that we consume has, not only on children’s physical health, but on the mental health of children and adults. On the detail of what is in some of the food that children are consuming, a Food Commission nutritionist, Annie Seeley, said recently:
“Nearly 40 per cent. of children’s foods and drinks contain additives”.
A national survey conducted in 2000 by the Department of Health looked at the diets of more than 1,700 children, and found:
“Children aged between 11 and 14 were getting as much as 31 per cent. of their energy from sugar, compared with the recommended level of 11 per cent.”
Legal additives commonly used in children’s food include tartrazine. It has been assessed that its side-effects include anxiety, migraines, clinical depression, blurred vision, a feeling of suffocation, purple skin patches and sleep disturbance. Most importantly, there is a link to childhood obsessive-compulsive disorder. The Food Standards Agency found that when it was used in combination with other additives, it increased levels of hyperactivity in children.
There are also real concerns about the use of artificial sweeteners in children’s food. Such sweeteners may have a link to carcinogens, and are also linked to migraines, nausea and bowel problems. Other additives in children’s food that have caused concern are hydrogenated and trans fats and refined carbohydrates. A survey by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reported that the IQ of children who ate the greatest amount of refined carbs was 25 points lower than that of those who ate the least amount of refined carbs. Obviously, the question of whether that is cause and effect is an issue; the difference is not necessarily the result of diet, but it is a matter that is worth considering.
A study carried out in 2006 looked at the overall impact on mental health of the nutrients that are being consumed—or rather not being consumed—these days. It was carried out by Sustain, the food campaign group, and the Mental Health Foundation. They concluded that the changing nature of people’s diets had a significant impact on mental health and could be linked to the rise in mental illness in the past 50 years.
The report was called, “Feeding Minds”, and examined a topic that is a hobby-horse of mine—the growth of industrialised farming. It cited the introduction of pesticides in foods and also the intensive farming of, for example, chickens, which now reach their slaughter weight twice as fast as they did 30 years ago. That means that the fat content is 22 per cent. rather than 2 per cent. The balance of vital fatty acids, such as Omega 3 and Omega 6, in chickens has also been altered. That is not specifically the point of the Bill, but we need to take into account of not only the food that we can readily identify as unhealthy, but other food, which is becoming increasingly less nutritious and healthy.
The study also confirmed that people eat 34 per cent. fewer vegetables and that could be linked to depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and Alzheimer’s.
I want to consider surveys of attempts to moderate people’s diets and clinical trials of moderating young people’s diet to affect behavioural problems and improve mental health. A controlled experiment was conducted in the United States in a jail for chronic offenders aged between 13 and 17. Many of the boys there were found to be deficient in specific nutrients. For example, they consumed on average only 63 per cent. of the iron, 42 per cent. of the magnesium, 39 per cent. of the zinc and 39 per cent. of the vitamin B12 in the US Government’s recommended daily allowance. The researchers conducted a trial in which half the inmates were treated with placebos and half were given capsules that contained the missing nutrients. They also gave the prisoners advice on how to improve their diets.
As a result of the trial, the number of violent incidents caused by inmates in the control group, which took the placebos, fell by 56 per cent., and those caused by prisoners in the experimental group, which took the capsules, fell by 80 per cent. However, there was no reduction among the inmates who took the placebos but refused to improve their diets. It is therefore clear that those who took the capsules benefited most, those who voluntarily changed their diets showed the second most notable change in behaviour, but those who did not change their diets showed no change.
Other studies have been conducted. A study carried out in Aylesbury young offenders institution between 1995-97 found that, among young adult prisoners given vitamin, fatty acid and mineral supplements, disciplinary offences fell by 26 per cent. and violent offences decreased by 37 per cent. In the control group, which was given placebos, disciplinary and violent offences did not decrease. The author of the report told The Ecologist last year that,
“having a bad diet is now a better predictor of future violence than past violent behaviour…Likewise, a diagnosis of psychopathy”.
Lord Ramsbotham, the former chief inspector of prisons, picked up on that and said that he was
“convinced that there is a direct link between diet and antisocial behaviour”,
and that it was “hugely important” to tackle that in our prisons.
I am following the hon. Lady’s argument with interest. The problem with the Bill is that Brian Young of Exeter university did a study of the effects of food advertising on children’s food choices, and found that their food acceptance patterns and eating preferences developed in infancy, before they came under any influence of advertising. Whether her point is right or wrong, advertising food products makes no difference to the tastes that the children have developed.
If that is the case, why do food manufacturers spend so much money on advertising their products?
A considerable amount of research has been carried out. A new survey, partly funded by the Wellcome Trust, was launched in May 2008, and will consider approximately 1,000 young male offenders aged between 16 and 21. The charity, Natural Justice, is also involved. The survey will examine the amount of violence, drug-related offences and self-harm that individuals perpetuate during the 12 months they take supplements.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths) on promoting the Bill. If we can tackle the food choices that children make at a young age—that is affected by not only direct advertising, but inclusion of toys in cereal packets, the use of cartoon characters and so on—it will improve children’s behaviour in school and make a significant impact on youth reoffending and antisocial behaviour. We have discussed children’s food Bills in the past; I hope that we can put this one on the statute book.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths) on his good fortune in being able to promote a private Member’s Bill, and I acknowledge that his concern is genuine and important.
There is no disagreement in the House about the dangers of childhood obesity and the need to take measures to tackle it. It is a serious problem. One only has to look around to see the number of obese children and adults in the country—indeed, one can possibly see the latter even in the House of Commons. The only consolation I can offer is that, in some places, the position is even worse.
During the Easter recess, I took my two children to Disney World for a week, and its patrons make us look like a nation of size zeroes. If one goes into any restaurant in Disney World—and possibly throughout America—there is no healthy option. I would be worried if that position were replicated here. We relied on burgers and fries or pizzas and fries for survival for an entire week because it is impossible to find anything else to eat in Disney World. One person said that they had managed to find a fruit portion on sale, but when they took it to the sales counter, they were asked whether they wanted it with fries.
Things can be done to remedy the problem. However, in my view there is no such thing as unhealthy food. Specific types of food are unhealthy if one eats too much of them. Eating a McDonald’s will not shorten one’s life, whereas, as the film, “Super Size Me” demonstrated, a diet of nothing but McDonald’s probably will. That is a question of education and, to some extent, common sense.
Attention has been paid to efforts to inform consumers about what is healthy, and considerable progress has been made. The hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Jim Dowd) mentioned guideline daily amounts—GDAs. I do not share his concern about whether they are an effective means of educating consumers or cause confusion; I believe that they are useful. They indicate clearly percentages that are regarded as healthy. It does not take much common sense to work out whether a product contains too high an amount of a substance. However, there are two competing systems and doubtless, in time, consumers will make it clear which one they find easier.
The food industry has also worked hard. It is easy to demonise food manufacturers as wanting to pump out quantities of unhealthy food and force feed our children with it. It is worth paying tribute to food manufacturers for what has been achieved in the past few years. In 2005, the Food and Drink Federation surveyed its leading members and found that 36 per cent. of products, worth approximately £7.4 billion, contained lower amounts of salt than they did in 2004. To give just two companies as examples, between 2005 and 2007, Nestlé reduced the volume of salt in its food manufacture by 13.6 per cent., the volume of sugar by 12.3 per cent. and the volume of fat by 15.6 per cent. Mars, which has achieved a great deal, reviewed its snack portfolio in 2002 and set out to reduce trans fatty acids in products that had a content of above 1 per cent. That has resulted in an average reduction in trans fatty acids of 72 per cent. Now more than 99 per cent. of Mars’s snack food sales contain less than 0.5 per cent. That represents a reduction in the use of trans fatty acids of more than 3,500 tonnes across its snack food portfolio.
We should make it plain that the Food and Drink Federation is not an impartial academic centre, but the mouthpiece of the very companies that the hon. Gentleman mentions, such as Mars, Nestlé and Kellogg’s. He says that people will come to a conclusion on whether GDAs or traffic lights are easier to understand, but how does he respond to the work of the Consumers Association and the Food Standards Agency? They have done tests on both systems and found that the recognition level for traffic lights is more than 90 per cent., whereas the recognition level for the information garnered from GDAs is below 10 per cent.
All I would say to the hon. Gentleman is that I have some reservations about traffic lights. They are too simplistic and tend to suggest that anything with a blot of red on the packet will automatically be bad for people, whereas consumers need to know that it might represent, for instance, only 75 per cent. of their recommended daily intake of salt. If they decided that they still wanted to purchase the product, it would not damage them, as long as they recognised that they probably should not eat another packet within the next 24 hours. One has to give some credit to the intelligence of consumers and their ability to reach judgments when they are given the information.
The other point that I would make to the hon. Gentleman is this. It is very easy to say that any trade body representing an industry is completely unreliable and that one should not believe anything that it says in defence of its members. However, I take it that he is not disagreeing that the food manufacturers have made huge progress in reducing in their products the content of the more damaging substances, such as salt, sugar and trans fatty acids in particular. Just because the FDF has pointed out that that has been achieved does not mean that we should not commend the food manufacturers for doing it.
As well as giving consumers the information that allows them to make a judgment, we could also give the public more opportunities to work off the calories that they have taken in, through sporting activities. There is a danger that people will tend to focus on criticising the advertisers and food manufacturers because they do not want to face up to what would be a much more effective strategy, namely putting more money into sport and encouraging children to go out and take physical activity. The Government are vulnerable on that issue, because the amount of money available for sport across the country will be reduced, owing to the black hole of the Olympic games, which is sucking lottery money in. That has resulted in less money being available for Sport England to spend on sporting facilities outside London.
One should pay especial tribute to the private sector on the money that it puts into sport. Without that money, sporting clubs up and down the country would be considerably poorer. I should like to pick out two companies in particular. The first is McDonald’s, whose record of supporting amateur football up and down the country is second to none. Every year, McDonald’s sponsors junior football coaches who do a tremendous amount in voluntary sports and football clubs, training young people and encouraging them to take up the game. Presumably the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South would wish to prevent that under the terms of his Bill.
The other food manufacturer to which I should like to pay tribute is Kellogg’s, which for 10 years has sponsored the Amateur Swimming Association, putting millions of pounds into swimming, to encourage young people to take part, get in pools, learn to swim, enjoy swimming and make it part of their exercise regime. The danger is that the measures that the hon. Gentleman is proposing would prevent companies that invest in sport from continuing to do so. That would be damaging, which is precisely the opposite effect to that which he seeks to achieve.
The Government have already implemented measures to restrict the advertising of so-called unhealthy foods to children. I was fairly sceptical about whether the measures that have been put in place would have any effect at all. The first question that we have to address is: how do we define unhealthy food? The FSA’s model, which is based on nutrient profiling, has been subject to considerable criticism. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) has already referred to one or two perverse outcomes of nutrient profiling. Because it focuses on measuring the salt, sugar and fat content in a 100 g portion, it has deemed Marmite to be extremely unhealthy, despite the fact that the idea of anybody eating 100 g of Marmite is utterly perverse.
I may have to make an exception for my hon. Friend, who is clearly a Marmite addict, but most people would not consume that amount. There is some dispute about whether it is helpful to brand cheese and other dairy products, which provide a considerable amount of the daily requirement of calcium, as unhealthy just because they do not fit the model adopted by the FSA. That has created some problems.
My hon. Friend is making a typically powerful case. Other products covered by the restrictions include some cereals. Does he agree that it is rather perverse to restrict the advertising of certain cereals, when one of the biggest problems in children’s diets is not eating at breakfast time?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. My children grew up eating cereals—I imagine that most parents in this country had the same experience—and I agree that that restriction is a perverse result. There are a number of reasons why the blunt instrument of simply banning a particular kind of advertising not only will not achieve the effects that the Government are seeking, but might have perverse effects of precisely the kind that my hon. Friend identifies.
When the Government decided to go down that road, they asked Ofcom to conduct a thorough analysis and undertake a wide consultation, both to determine how effective advertising restrictions would be and to calculate the consequences of those restrictions on the broadcasting industry. That exercise was conducted over two years and produced voluminous reports. As a result, Ofcom concluded that food advertising had
“a modest, direct effect”—
around 2 per cent.—
“on children’s food choices.”
Nevertheless, Ofcom still decided that there was a case for introducing a ban on advertising HFSS foods in programmes that are watched by children or made specifically for them. Ofcom went as far as children aged 15, which I was concerned about, since that would affect, for instance, music channels such as MTV, as well as programming specifically for children.
That was the decision that Ofcom reached, although it recognised that it would come with a cost attached. The cost was removal of some £20 million in revenue from the commercial broadcasters that they would otherwise have received in advertising around UK children’s programming. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South was right to say that the problems facing UK children’s programming predate the advertising ban. Investment in UK children’s programming has been in decline for some six or seven years. Indeed, between 2001 and 2006 it fell by 56 per cent., from £62 million to £27 million. However, we can see from those figures that if another £20 million is removed by the ban already in place, a huge hole is left. The consequence is that investment in UK children’s programming in the commercial sector is now essentially dead. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) is right to say that excellent children’s programming is available on the BBC. CBeebies, CBBC and the main terrestrial channels offer children’s programming of a very high quality.
It is not desirable or healthy, however, to have only one broadcaster supplying a sector of public service programming as important as children’s programming. It is not desirable that all other programming on the commercial channels directed at children should be American or Japanese imports. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey) is right, and it is why the Select Committee concluded that there was a case for intervention, using public money, to support the provision of children’s programming in the commercial sector.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but so far he has not told us of his estimate of the Bill’s impact on advertising. Can he confirm that the Ofcom estimate is not £20 million, but £250 million, which is the equivalent of all of the money spent on children’s programming and on news programming?
The hon. Gentleman demonstrates his usual foresight by anticipating the exact point that I was about to make. Ofcom decided that the specific restrictions that are now in place, and the money that would be lost as a result, were a price worth paying. The restrictions were therefore put in place last year. At the same time, as the hon. Gentleman rightly points out, Ofcom considered the proposal in the Bill for a complete pre-9 o’clock watershed ban. It said that it had
“considered the option of excluding all HFSS advertising before the 9pm watershed.”
It recognised that that would remove 82 per cent. of recorded HFSS advertising impacts on all children, which would achieve one of the key regulatory objectives, that of significantly reducing the impact of HFSS advertising on younger children. Based on data provided by the FSA, Ofcom recognised that that would have social health benefits of perhaps £50 million to £200 million a year. However, Ofcom also concluded that
“this option would also undermine two other regulatory objectives. Most importantly, it would impose a disproportionate impact upon broadcasters, given that television advertising only has a modest impact upon food preferences. We estimate that the exclusion of HFSS advertising up to 9pm would cost broadcasters somewhere between £130 million-£240 million in lost advertising…Secondly, rather than being a targeted measure on younger children, its effect would be to restrict the viewing of audiences other than younger children.”
That was why Ofcom said that it had
“concluded that a ban on HFSS advertising before 9pm would not meet Ofcom’s regulatory objectives, and that it is therefore not appropriate to consult on this option.”
The hon. Gentleman makes a strong case, and I am touched by his concern for my former employers and for the media owners. Is he aware that another foresight report puts the cost to our society of obesity-related diseases at some £49 billion a year? In being concerned about advertisers, we are not perhaps getting our priorities right.
If I thought that bringing in a pre-9 pm ban would remove the problem of obesity and save the nation £49 billion, I would be first in the queue to support the Bill, but I simply do not believe that it would have that effect. It is easy to say that the opposition to the Bill comes from multinational food producers such as McDonald’s and Nestlé. I draw the House’s attention to a letter sent to Members on behalf of ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, Sky and Virgin Media Television. It states:
“Such a ban would have a major and dramatic impact on our companies’ ability to fund programming and invest in original UK production—without achieving significant health benefits. There is no…evidence that advertising restrictions can have a major impact on obesity, and academic research has concluded that advertising has modest direct effects of maybe 2 per cent.”
We cannot go ahead with a measure that will have such a dramatic effect on the commercial television sector, when there is very little evidence that it will achieve its objectives.
What is the hon. Gentleman’s opinion on the advertising of alcohol and cigarette products? It is generally accepted that such advertising should be restricted, presumably because otherwise young people would be encouraged to smoke and drink more alcohol. What is the difference between those products and food products?
There are differences, but the hon. Lady raises an interesting point. It is worth considering whether it is right in a free society to say that certain products are legal and people have the right to choose to consume them if they wish to do so, but to ban completely any advertising of them.
Is my hon. Friend aware that there is no evidence that a total ban on advertising alcohol has any effect on alcohol consumption? It is slightly odd for Labour Members to be pious about alcohol advertising when they introduced 24-hour drinking and a binge-drinking culture in this country.
My hon. Friend makes a strong point. As I had the honour of representing the Opposition during the passage of the relevant Bill, I can remember expressing some concern at the time.
Whether one chooses to smoke is a matter of freedom of choice, and I certainly do not favour banning cigarettes. Indeed, I opposed the smoking ban, but I accept that the evidence is overwhelming that smoking even one cigarette is bad for people and they risk damaging health consequences. That is not the case for eating a McDonald’s. If people eat one McDonald’s, it will not shorten their life. It is a question of proportion and the extent to which people overeat McDonald’s or live on nothing but McDonald’s. Therefore, there is a big difference between so-called unhealthy foods and products such as cigarettes, where even one is probably bad for one’s health.
Again, gambling is a different issue, but I wish to address the issue of the 9 pm watershed. The Bill picks out the 9 pm watershed as the appropriate time to draw the line—everything banned before 9 pm and complete freedom afterwards. However, the 9 pm watershed is becoming meaningless. It was created in the days when viewers had a choice of two or three channels and, yes, most children probably were in bed by 9 pm.
Several things have changed since then. I wish that my children were in bed by 9 pm, but time and again they are not. I have a 14-year-old son—[Interruption.] I have previously revealed some of his tastes in films and music, probably not endearing myself to him in the process, but I can say that one of his favourite programmes—and this is a confession—is “Skins”. It is an extremely good programme that resonates with teenagers. It is made for them—perhaps for teenagers slightly older than my son—and appeals greatly to 13 and 14-year-olds, yet it is broadcast at 11 o’clock at night. I can tell the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South that I am not quite such a negligent parent as to allow my son to watch television at midnight, but, like a growing number of households in this country, mine has a personal video recorder, so my son watches the programme on the PVR. He sets it and can then watch it any time. The ability to do that is increasingly destroying the meaning of the 9 o’clock watershed.
We are now in the age of PVRs, which make time shifting so simple that we no longer have to pore over the Radio Times and punch in numbers; we can time shift with one button. We are now getting video on demand, which means that we can call down programmes at a time of our own choosing. Focusing on the 9 o’clock watershed as somehow protecting children from exposure to late-night programmes is increasingly becoming irrelevant and ineffectual. For that reason, I believe that the Bill will not achieve the objectives that its promoter seeks.
The question is a little premature. Gambling advertising has only just been permitted on television, so there is not much evidence as yet. Children are not allowed in gambling establishments anyway and they are prevented from online gambling because they have no access to credit cards—and those are much more effective measures. I entirely accept that it is important to protect children from gambling, but we can already take effective measures to achieve that without preventing advertising, which is intended to inform adults and allow them to take rational decisions based on the information they receive.
It is important to stress that advertising is not brainwashing. There is a great tendency for people to demonise advertisements by claiming that they force people to buy things that they really do not want to buy, but that is not the case. A functioning free market depends completely on advertising, because only through advertising are consumers given the knowledge they need to reach judgments about which products they want to buy. Advertising has a very important part to play in a market, which is why we need to be extremely careful before adopting measures to restrict it.
I am not sure that I would agree that it is necessarily very damaging. I would have to confess my almost complete ignorance—obviously unlike my hon. Friend!—of the different types of cannabis; but strong advocate of advertising as I am, I am not sure that we should be making that information widely available.
Let me conclude by returning to the main theme. The Select Committee conducted an inquiry at the end of last year into the future of public service broadcasting—a very serious issue. I believe that it is extremely important for the healthy functioning of democracy that there should be plurality, so public service programming should not be monopoly of the BBC. Public service programmes—the news, current affairs, documentaries, children’s programming, regional programming—should also be available on the commercial channels, but we have to recognise that those channels are under pressure to an extent that they have never been before.
A revolution is taking place in this country’s broadcasting, which I welcome, as it will result in a huge increase in viewer choice. The Government are the catalyst as a result of their courageous decision to proceed with the switch-off of analogue broadcasting, but digital switchover will result in the fragmentation of audiences and an inevitable decline in the market share of every single broadcaster. That will have huge financial consequences for those broadcasters, some of which we are already seeing, with Channel 4 telling the Government that it might not be able to sustain its business model without future financial help. ITV has asked the Government about withdrawing from some of its regional programming commitment and ceasing to commission UK-produced children’s programming. The Select Committee thus believed that there was a case for Government intervention to sustain public service programming.
Is it not striking that, although we know the consequences on commercial broadcasters of such a ban on advertising, no supporter of the Bill has been able to give any indication of how much childhood obesity will be reduced as a result of it? Perhaps that is because, as they may concede themselves, the Bill may make no difference to childhood obesity levels, even though we know that its impact on commercial broadcasters will be devastating.
My hon. Friend is right, and I am sure that he will want to expand on that point in his own speech. In countries where restrictions have been imposed, there is no certainly evidence that they have led to a sudden reduction in obesity. In fact, the levels have normally tended to increase. Such evidence and research as there is actually goes to show that advertising restrictions have extremely little, if any, impact on obesity.
My hon. Friend is showing alarming interventionist tendencies for a Tory! I have to say that that is unlike him; he is usually a great believer in freedom and libertarianism. I agree with him, however, that one of the key solutions in this area is the exercise of parental responsibility; it is parents who should be determining what their children eat and, equally, how much television they watch. I do not believe that that role is appropriate for the Government, but if my hon. Friend is suggesting that parents should restrict the amount of TV that their children can watch, I certainly agree with him.
I gave that example to produce a reductio ad absurdum in respect of the Bill’s arguments. As my hon. Friend knows, I greatly believe in parental and individual responsibility. Does he also accept that we should point out to parents the connection between sitting on the sofa and obesity?
Yes, we should do that. As I suggested earlier, we should also make available more facilities in the community so that children, rather than sitting on the sofa, participate in sporting activities. As I pointed out, many food manufacturers are contributing to that effort.
Let me finish on the point I was making before we got slightly side-tracked. This is a very difficult, as well as exciting, time for television in this country, and it will result in huge pressures on the commercial sector. As Ofcom has determined, the measures in the Bill are likely to cost commercial television broadcasters £224 million. That would be a catastrophic loss of revenue at any time; at this particular time, it would be hugely damaging. As I said to the hon. Member for Cheltenham, if I thought that the Bill would result in a dramatic improvement in the health of our children or in a huge reduction in the level of obesity, I might accept that there was a case for it, but nothing in the speech of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South persuaded me that there is any evidence to suggest that the Bill will achieve that.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths) on being successful in the private Member’s Bill draw, but that is where my congratulations end—so that is the generous part of my speech over with. It is a great shame that he has wasted this opportunity. I am sure his Bill is well intentioned—a little more generosity from me—but, like other Members, I do not believe that it will address the important topic of obesity.
Obesity must be addressed. Too many youngsters are overweight. There are all sorts of reasons for that, such as lack of sport, or just too much eating, or too much eating of the wrong foods. We would have to be blind not to see that there are too many overweight youngsters, and we must address that. However, the Bill will not kill off obesity, but it will kill off a lot of advertising, and as advertising leads to programmes appearing on our televisions, that would have an enormous impact.
The hon. Gentleman talked about colour coding on products. That goes some way towards giving the information that parents need about whether products are healthy, but it is simplistic. I far prefer the information that is contained on some packaging, particularly on some Tesco products, which states how many calories, sugars, fats, saturates and salts products contain. Sometimes we might think a product is healthy, but when we read that information we are amazed to discover how many calories it actually contains. When people are given that information, they can be far more intelligent about not only about what they eat, but how much of it they eat, and how often they eat it.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman does the weekly shop for his family, but nowadays a lot of information is displayed on products. Children in some families might be lactose intolerant or glucose intolerant. I am vegan so I have to scrutinise everything right down to the last detail to see whether it contains, for example, lactic acid. Would it not make it a lot easier if people could see a very clear red, amber or green traffic light, rather than have to analyse all that GDA—guideline daily amount—information?
No, that is too simplistic. Some people are allergic to nuts, for instance, and if a product contains even traces of nuts it can have a huge impact on them. Yet eating nuts can be quite healthy for those without a nut allergy, if eaten in the right quantities. I do my own shopping, but now may be the appropriate time to declare that I have an interest as I own a retail convenience store in Swansea. It is called “Evans the News” and it is open early in the morning and stays open until late at night, selling good quality products—advertising on the parliamentary channel cannot be beaten, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) touched on the point of the quantity that people eat rather than what they eat. Does he agree that if there were a restriction on advertising, as the Bill proposes, many food manufacturers might decide to spend the money that they had spent on television advertising on other forms of promotion, such as buy one, get one free? Therefore, rather than reducing the amount of unhealthy products being consumed, such a restriction could easily lead to much more unhealthy products being consumed because the marketing spend would change in that way.
My hon. Friend, with his expertise in the supermarket field, knows exactly what might happen. That is another unintended consequence of this proposed legislation; it is intended to promote health, but it would have the opposite effect. Of course manufacturers will look at different ways to promote their products. The Bill does not even address whether these so-called unhealthy foods should not be allowed to be promoted in any way, even by price discounting or buy one, get one free offers. The Bill opens up a can of worms in that respect.
We need an element of common sense about these matters. Members have mentioned parental involvement, and ultimately this issue is all about guidance from parents. However, too often some parents are themselves obese, and are the wrong role models for their youngsters.
On the quantities that people eat, I remember reading in a newspaper once about a woman who went to see her doctor because the pigmentation of her skin had changed; she had turned orange. She was rather worried about that, as we can imagine.
I shall not name and shame anybody. When the doctor discussed with the patient’s eating habits with her, he found out she was eating tomato soup for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Nobody would say that tomato soup is dangerous or unhealthy, but it clearly has such an effect if that is the only thing someone eats. That is not a balanced diet. We ought to be promoting a balanced diet, not picking on so-called unhealthy foods and clobbering them with an advertising ban.
I was going to ask the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South for guidance on a technical point. The Bill covers a lot of issues, as the hon. Gentleman has tried to cover every base on the promotion of products, including the internet, but he will know about social networking sites such as Facebook and Bebo, where a lot of youngsters put up their own sites supporting products they like. For instance, there may be a “We love Smarties” site. I suspect that under the Bill the promotion of Smarties on the internet before the watershed would not be allowed. However, if youngsters put up a fan page for a product that they like, would that be covered by the Bill? I am unsure whether it would be, but that raises the prospect of the food police knocking on a youngster’s door and telling the youngster that they were promoting an illegal produce. That would be perverse, and I am sure that it would be an unintended consequence.
The Olympics has been mentioned. We cannot ignore it and its sponsors, whether international or otherwise. The Bill contains restrictions on sponsorship. McDonald’s or Coca-Cola, as international sponsors, would fall foul of it. Does that mean that there could be no perimeter advertising of such products around the Olympics stadiums, or might there be a ban on advertising products within a certain distance, as there is with, for instance, point of sale material in the school tuck shop? Cigarette packets would have to be under the counter so that people could not see them until they went into the shop and asked for them. The extension of that logic would be that sweets or unhealthy products should not be on show, in case that entices people to put them in their trolleys. That raises the image of shoppers going up to the shopkeeper and whispering to them, because they should not be asking in a loud voice in case someone else hears them, “Could I have a packet of Frosties, please?” and the shopkeeper wrapping the pack in brown paper so that nobody can see the product when the customer puts it in their bag. That is ludicrous. Such products, particularly breakfast cereals, tend to be fairly colourful. A lot of the packets contain gifts—I understand that there is a voluntary code on that—and even items such as CDs and DVDs, which may be educational or promote sports, are given away with these products. Even they could be said to be enticing youngsters to buy such products, so all that might become illegal, as well.
My hon. Friend says that they “might” become illegal; under clause 1, they would. It would be illegal for the international sponsors of the 2012 Olympics—Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, for example—to refer to that sponsorship on any of the products on sale in this country. That is absolutely ludicrous.
Yes, and I therefore wonder whether products such as Coca-Cola and McDonald’s would even be allowed to use the Olympic rings, because in a way, that would be reverse advertising: trying to associate themselves with something healthy. However, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), the Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said, a lot of these firms actually do support sport, and they do so because they want their consumers to be healthy and to live longer, in order to carry on buying the products that they rather like. So the situation I described would be an unintended consequence, as well.
I spoke earlier about another unintended consequence: the programming that would disappear. We have heard estimates of the cost to the commercial television industry of this ban coming in. Friday mornings here have almost become a case of, “What are we going to ban this week?”, and this is the latest in that sequence. A lot of current family programming—including after the watershed—would also disappear. As my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford intimated, the watershed is becoming increasingly ridiculous. Sky Plus and other such products enable people to record television programmes, and there is also the internet. I understand that most of Channel 4’s programming is now available to watch on demand, at any time people like. Would there therefore be restrictions on such advertising of these products? There are doubtless a lot of youngsters who watch not just “Skins” but “Shameless”—another programme that one might deem unsuitable for those under the age of 16, but one that I suspect has a fair following among such people, who will watch it on the internet or via Sky Plus.
May I bring my hon. Friend back to the point raised earlier about the promotion of particular brands? I should be interested to know what he thinks about this issue, because the Bill does not make it entirely clear to me where we stand on it. The Bill covers
“any brand name which is associated with the food product in question or similar less healthy food products.”
Does he have any thoughts on what might happen to a food manufacturer that produces healthy, as well as so-called unhealthy products? Could its brand be advertised, in the sense that it associates itself with healthy products, or would it be banned from advertising that brand because it is also associated with unhealthy products? I am not entirely sure where we stand on that.
I suspect that Coca-Cola would fall into that category, because it produces not only the drink Coca-Cola but a number of other soft drinks. Some of them might be deemed healthy under this simplistic guide, and some would be deemed unhealthy, so that would be an issue. Following the cigarette ban—this was not even an unintended consequence—the Marlboro clothing range was effectively banned from sale, simply because it contained the word “Marlboro”. Nobody has ever argued that clothes are going to kill people, but the fact is that there was legislation intended to deal with just that issue. All this would prove rich pickings for lawyers—they must be rubbing their hands together. I suspect that they are on their knees praying that this Bill is passed, so that they can enrich themselves even further.
I am listening to my hon. Friend’s speech with great interest. Does he also accept that in recent years tremendous strides have been made by food and drinks companies? Britvic, which I have the honour of having in my constituency, has done a tremendous amount of work in reducing and removing the sugar content of its drinks, and in producing ranges of healthy drinks to meet a changing and developing market.
I fully accept that, and that is the direction in which we need to go. We need to work with the industry to find out how it can alter the content of some of its products in order to make them healthier. I understand that the amount of salt and sugar has been reduced in a number of products, but that cannot be done overnight, apparently. Our taste buds are so sensitive that, if all the salt and sugar were removed from such products, sales would plummet. The industry simply does not have the flexibility to do that overnight, but I am sure that it could be done over a period of years in order to change people’s tastes, until we finally reach a stage where the product in question is deemed as healthy as it possibly can be. So my hon. Friend is right—such work should be done, and should be recognised.
Does this not get to the nub of the issue? In the past 20 years or so, at the same time as the amount of salt and sugar in such products has been reduced, there has actually been a reduction in the amount of advertising of those products. There are now far fewer advertisements for such food products on TV than there were 25 years ago, but it is during that period that the increase in obesity has occurred. Does my hon. Friend not conclude, therefore, that the advertising of such products makes absolutely no difference to obesity levels? If it did, we would have seen a reduction in obesity in that time.
I fully accept that. People are becoming obese for reasons other than sitting watching television adverts; indeed, I suspect that sitting watching television per se is part of the problem, not the advertisements themselves. We have to target where the problem is, and it is not addressed by the Bill.
There is another issue about which we must also be very careful. The problem is not just the disappearance of children’s television from the commercial sector that we have increasingly seen since the ban came in—there is now a virtual state monopoly of children’s television on the part of the BBC, which is unhealthy—but the fact that if the Bill is enacted, there will be wider ramifications, such as loss of advertising on other programming that has been deemed family entertainment. Ant and Dec were mentioned earlier, and several other such shows could be jeopardised by the loss of advertising. We can already see the impact that the economic downturn is having on the commercial sector; such legislation would add insult to the injury that already exists.
There would also be a problem with product placement, which is seen as a more sophisticated form of advertising. It is not blunt, in-your-face advertising; however, product placement—be it watches, cars or soft drinks—is vital to a lot of films that we see in the cinema. As a form of advertising, it would be covered by the Bill, and I suspect that that would destroy in one fell swoop the film industry in this country. In fact, the provision would be almost impossible to enforce and would constitute bad legislation. Product placement is an issue that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South did not cover.
My hon. Friend is making a very powerful point. As an esteemed member of the Select Committee, he will know that much of such legislation is now emanating from European Union directives. Could it be that the Bill flies in the face of such directives, which in itself would raise constitutional issues?
We had to wait two hours before the mention of the dreaded EU on a Friday morning; we apologise for being so lax in that regard. My hon. Friend is right: the Bill has wider ramifications, such as the importance of the EU in meddling with these affairs. That point has to be taken on board, as well.
I mentioned earlier how difficult it would be to enforce the legislation relating to the point of sale. We have also mentioned some of the characters that are involved in selling certain products, including Ronald McDonald, a clown who has been closely associated with the McDonald’s product. Such characters can appear within a store or outside it, but they would all be banned immediately under the legislation. Other characters such as Tony the Tiger and the Honey Monster would all be assassinated in one fell swoop by the Bill. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South would be guilty of killing off a long list of characters. The only person left would be Father Christmas, and I suspect that the hon. Gentleman’s next private Member’s Bill would ban him as well.
In that case, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South would not even need a separate piece of legislation to kill off Father Christmas. How popular he would be with every child in the country—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) says that Father Christmas does not exist—[Interruption.]
Order. I want to make two points. First, please can we follow the rules of debate in this House if people want to make interventions? Secondly, may I remind hon. Members that the Bill is about the provision of advertising and marketing, so can we please keep on the subject?
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sure that none of us would wish to see Father Christmas killed off.
Clause 2(4) says:
“A person or body guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to an unlimited fine.”
I know that the next subsection talks about sentencing guidelines, but we could be talking about substantial sums of money if anyone were to contravene the provisions of the Bill. We have already said that those provisions are open to interpretation as far as product placement and the definition of a point of sale are concerned. There is also uncertainty about what appears in or on a pack that might suggest that it is promoting itself to youngsters. This is a complete quagmire, and I would be totally opposed to opening these companies up to unlimited fines.
In coming to my conclusion—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] That seems to be very popular. I congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South on trying to do something about a problem that we know exists, but I think that he is going down the wrong route. We all ought to be doing a lot more to help youngsters to be more healthy and to get them involved in sports, but employing the nanny state to deny parents and youngsters access to the information contained in the advertising is wholly wrong. As the hon. Gentleman knows, a lot of advertising is more to do with market share than with increasing sales per se. We have some of the best television in the world, with some of the best programmes, and in enacting this legislation, he would be killing that off as well. That is an unintended consequence that we should be able to prevent by not giving the Bill further passage.
I should like to begin more or less where the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) ended his speech. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths) on his good fortune in being able to present the Bill and on giving the House the opportunity to discuss the important issue of obesity. That has been touched on by many hon. Members already today, and Members on both sides of the House agree that we need to take more action to address the problem.
I know that many of my hon. Friends support the principles behind the Bill and that they have signed the early-day motion, as an expression of their concern about the growing problem of obesity. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) on his speech earlier in the debate. He has a great deal of personal and professional experience in these matters, and he made it clear how crucial it is to find ways to address this issue.
We know that 25 per cent. of the adult population in this country is already obese, and it is estimated that, in a couple of years’ time, one in five children will be overweight or obese. Currently, three in 10 women and four in 10 men take part in less than the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity, five days a week. My hon. Friend has already mentioned the prediction that, if we carry on as we are, the cost to the nation in 40 years’ time will be more than £45 billion as a result of the problems that will arise from obesity.
The point has been made that addressing obesity requires a multi-faceted approach. There is no silver bullet solution. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley made a crucial point when he said that we should be concentrating on the fact that far fewer people are taking part in physical activity. Statistics show that, on average, we consume the same number of calories today as we consumed 50 years ago. The reason that we have a problem of rising obesity is that we are far less active. It is crucial that we try to get more people to be active, not that that would provide a silver bullet solution in itself.
It is deeply worrying that about 50 per cent. of young people drop out of all sports activity once they leave school. Despite some welcome measures by the Government, it is worrying that we are still selling off playing fields and that, even where funds have been allocated to improve sports provision, the money often remains unspent. The sum of £750 million was announced some time ago for sports action zones, but only £6.2 million has been spent. So, despite well-intentioned announcements, even where funding is being made available, it is not being used. Indeed, the vast bulk of the £200 million that was promised years ago for improving children’s play areas has still not been spent. Addressing the issue of activity is crucial.
The Bill concentrates on advertising, but we must be confident if we are going to introduce regulations. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South has spoken passionately about the overburdening amount of regulation that exists, so it is somewhat surprising that he is now proposing to introduce more. He needs to convince the House that there is overwhelming scientific research evidence to show that those regulations would have the effect that he and the rest of us want. Like the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), I would happily support the Bill if I could see that there was clear research evidence that the result would be a significant impact on rising obesity levels in this country, but as hon. Members have said, the research is not that clear. Indeed, in countries such as Sweden and Quebec—part of a country, admittedly—that have introduced all-out bans on junk food advertising, levels of obesity have not fallen but have continued to rise. Other research provided by Ofcom indicates that such measures have only a 2 per cent. impact on children’s food choices.
We must be clear about one thing: everyone is agreed that extending the watershed would work. The debate between myself, the advertising industry and the food processing manufacturers is about whether, as they would claim, this matter involves as little as a 2 per cent. impact, or whether it involves more than that. Like climate change, this is an incremental issue—one where a number of significant steps, although they may be small in themselves, must be taken to staunch the tide of obesity in childhood and subsequently in adults. If we were to seek overwhelming scientific evidence on this subject—to use the hon. Gentleman’s words—we would wait for decades, and the consequence for our children’s health, our nation’s economy and our national health services would be catastrophic.
The hon. Gentleman rightly speaks with great passion, as this is an important issue. My concern is simply that I am not convinced that there is even relatively significant evidence, let alone overwhelming evidence, for this proposal. If we go ahead with it, there will be damaging consequences and we will be making a big mistake.
The hon. Gentleman may say that we cannot afford to wait, but it is interesting that a number of Departments are conducting research into these and related issues. It is only very recently that the Department for Children, Schools and Families has rightly introduced research, to be carried out by Professor David Buckingham, on “Assessing the Impact of the Commercial World on Children’s Wellbeing”. The clear terms of reference make my point, because they state that
“there is a gap in understanding properly the impact that cumulative exposure to shopping, advertising and commercial messaging may have on children’s wellbeing.”
There is a lack of understanding in that particular area, which the research will examine.
The Department of Health is also commissioning work to examine the balance and nature of advertising for HFSS products—those that are high in fat, salt or sugar—across a range of media, including television, radio, press, outdoor and cinema advertising. That work is going on, so the House would be somewhat foolish to accept the Bill’s stringent limitations without sufficient evidence to back them up.
Of course I do. That I why I used that particular example—although the point would apply equally to the provision in Sweden—and why I have huge reservations on the matter. I know that other research has contradictory views to the ones that the hon. Gentleman and I are expressing. My point is that we simply do not have a good enough understanding of this issue to carry on with the imposition of severe regulation. I do not believe, for reasons that I will demonstrate, that it would have the effect that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South suggests.
I therefore wish to examine some of the Bill’s provisions. As the House knows, the Bill deals with broadcast media and with non-broadcast media. I give huge credit to the hon. Gentleman for raising the latter issue properly for the first time in this House, because it has been avoided by many people for far too long. Initially, however, I shall concentrate on broadcast media, on which the Bill would make it an offence to advertise “less healthy” products between 5.30 am and 9 pm. The Bill would also change the definition of junk food to include not only HFSS products, but all products “associated with” the brands that make such products.
We have heard much debate about the impact that that association provision will have, so I do not propose to discuss that, although the fact that it is of great concern to many of us is crucial. For instance, why should the firm that makes Frosties not be able to advertise Bran Flakes? Such a situation would be extraordinary and inexplicable. I pay tribute to hon. Members who have debated these issues before. For example, Debra Shipley, the former Member for Stourbridge, introduced a private Member’s Bill on the issue, and only last year Baroness Thornton introduced such a Bill in the other place. Much has happened in the relatively short period since those most recent attempts to go down this line. The House should be aware that this country already has some of the tightest and strictest restrictions on junk food advertising on television in Europe, and more is still to come in what has already been proposed.
Since reference has not yet been made to this, let us remind ourselves what has happened in that short period: promotional offers targeted at the under-fives are now banned; celebrities and well-known cartoon characters are banned in advertisements aimed at children; HFSS ads are not shown in or around programmes aimed at children or programmes likely to appeal to children aged four to 15; and regardless of the time of broadcast, these advertisements cannot be shown during programmes for which more than 17.6 per cent. of the viewers are children. There is more to come, because from December dedicated children’s channels will have to phase out all HFSS advertising. That is what is currently taking place.
My hon. Friend is making characteristically astute observations on the Bill, and I hope that they will be addressed in Committee, if it progresses. On the viewing figures for particular programmes, does he accept that the regulations prevent advertising of this kind during programmes that have a preponderance of children viewing them, but not during the most popular programmes that appeal to children, for instance “Dancing on Ice”, or my children’s current favourites, which are programmes aiming to provide cast members for the various musicals of Cameron Mackintosh or Andrew Lloyd Webber?
My hon. Friend is right, but as the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South has rightly pointed out, a number of those programmes appear after the 9 pm watershed and would not be covered. If the Bill goes to Committee, I hope that the Committee will examine ways of addressing that issue, because it is important. I would like any Committee to address the possibility of a ban that specifies an actual number of children watching the programme, rather than just a percentage. Provision should be made for a percentage and an absolute number, because that would address that issue.
Ofcom will conduct a review in respect of all these changes. In July, it will carry out a review of the effectiveness of the new measures that have been put in place, and before we make any further changes we should wait to hear the impact of that. We have heard discussion about the nutrient profiling model, which is referred to in the Bill. That, too, is under review; by early 2009, recommendations for possible changes will be made, and we should also wait for that.
As part of its review, will Ofcom examine not only the efficacy of the new changes that have been introduced—whether they work and have any impact on youngsters’ eating habits—but the unintended consequences that they have had, such as the disappearance of children’s programming from the commercial TV sector?
I have no doubt that Ofcom will consider that aspect, because it acknowledged in its own recommendations that the stringent new rules would reduce advertising revenues, but it will do it at a time when there are other pressures on commercial broadcasters. It will have separate the two factors, which may prove difficult.
Might not many broadcasters be fearful about where banning advertising when a problem is identified might lead? It does not involve a great leap of faith to imagine that those who are concerned about, say, debt levels might decide that all advertising of loans should be banned.
The hon. Gentleman may be right, but having seen figures showing the significant decline in broadcasters’ advertising revenue that has already taken place, I think that they have a good many other problems on their plate. For that reason, Ofcom’s review of the future of public service broadcasting and how we may have to fund it in future is critical. This is a very difficult time for broadcasters, particularly as so much advertising is moving away from broadcasting and into the new media. The Bill picks up that point, although not necessarily in a way that will achieve the effect that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South wants.
Some of the toughest measures in Europe were introduced relatively recently. Reviews of those measures and of the nutrient profiling model are in progress, and research is being conducted by the Department of Health and the Department for Children, Schools and Families. The Bill strikes me as somewhat premature. Given the absence of any scientific research evidence to suggest that it will have the desired effect, I think we ought at least to wait until we see the results of all that research.
I am touched by the slavish defence of the advertising industry that was presented from the Tory Front Bench. I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s arguments and he has made some good and sophisticated points, but does he not agree that my hon. Friend’s Bill is primarily about children’s health, and did he not find it depressing to hear the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey) simply refer to vested interests?
I want to be slightly more generous to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South than others have been—particularly the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans)—and I hope that I was at the beginning of my speech. I genuinely believe that the hon. Gentleman has raised an important issue about obesity and children’s health. The debate between him and me concerns whether the Bill is being introduced at the right time in the absence of the necessary research and investigations, and whether there is any clear evidence that it will have the effect that he wants. I shall advance further arguments that may persuade him that problems exist other than the lack of research evidence.
What we do know is that the new measures are already having an impact. Core category advertising during terrestrial children’s programmes has fallen to negligible levels. The decline of such advertising on dedicated children’s channels has been greater than the reduction that was required in Ofcom’s phased rules. The greatest decline has featured in programmes watched by children aged between four and nine, which I consider the most important age range. Interestingly, Ofcom has said:
“While it’s still too early to come to any firm conclusions about the success or otherwise of the new rules, there are clear signs that the new rules are having the intended effect on reducing the amount of food and drink advertising that children are exposed to on television.”
As others have said, other measures are also having an impact. I do not want to go overboard in praising the food industry, but it has responded well to the new regulations. The Advertising Standards Authority has said that
“the food and soft drink advertising industry had successfully understood and acted upon new rules”.
As we have heard, there have been further industry-led initiatives. We have heard about GDA labelling, for instance. Like others, I am not sure whether “traffic light” or GDA labelling is the answer, and hope that a way can be found of merging the two.
We also know that in recent years more than £15 billion-worth of branded products have been reformulated to contain lower levels of fat, salt and sugar, and that a further £11.5 billion-worth of products have been launched as lower LFSS variants. There is little evidence of a correlation between junk-food advertising and obesity. A new set of rules was introduced relatively recently and there are more to come. There are early indications that those rules are having an effect, and research will take place on all that, so I believe that we should wait. I also believe that, in any event, the Bill would prove to be a blunt instrument if it were implemented.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) pointed out, the pre-9 pm watershed would not target programmes watched by a high proportion of children after 9 pm, “Ugly Betty” being a good example. It would, however, affect all the programmes shown before 9 pm that do not target children, including news and current affairs programmes and documentaries. That is not proportionate, effective or fair.
As others have observed, there would be a serious impact on broadcasters’ revenues, representing up to £250 million. That was dealt with effectively by the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford, and I do not want to repeat all that he said. However, if we think of that £250 million as the equivalent of all the money spent on all UK-initiated children’s programming and all news programming across all broadcast outlets, we realise how serious the impact would be.
I find it interesting that so many Members have signed early-day motions in favour of protecting children’s television programming, while also backing an early-day motion supporting the Bill. I find it equally odd that so many Members who support the Bill have spoken of the importance of regional news programming, particularly on ITV, and have signed early-day motions calling for more such programming. They cannot have their cake and eat it. They cannot support measures that will significantly reduce the amount of money provided for broadcasting, and then ask broadcasters to spend more money on children’s television and regional news programming.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way again. He is being extremely patient with me. He says we cannot have our cake and eat it by wanting more money to be spent on children’s programming while also supporting the Bill, but perhaps less money overall could be spent on programming because fewer programmes were being produced, while the quality of output could rise because more children were watching—admittedly fewer—non-commercial channels. Is that not a possible scenario?
My hon. Friend is a very intelligent gentleman so I am sure that he has made an important point, and I promise him that after the debate I shall go into a darkened room and put a wet towel around my head so that he can explain it to me. I shall then have the benefit of his expertise. I thank him for that well-made point.
I hope that by now the House has caught my gist—the Bill is well intentioned but I do not think it will achieve its aims. It is absolutely appropriate that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South has raised the issue of non-broadcast media, with which there are all sorts of problems. However, there are problems with the Bill’s provisions relating to the 9 o’clock watershed, because fewer and fewer people watch actual television; they watch what are sometimes called the new media. There is also the problem of time shifting and the introduction of personal video recorders in more and more households, meaning that people can watch programmes at any time of the day or night regardless of when the watershed is imposed.
As well as all those problems, there is also the question of what we should do about increased advertising in the new media. We have heard stories about children receiving food advertising on their mobile phones, and although the practice is now wholly contrary to the rules that the industry has set itself, more and more advertising of such products is going on to the internet. That is why I welcome the fact that the industry has acknowledged the need to do something. Without the need for regulation, the industry has set up working parties to look at the issue and set up a code of practice. The New Media Group has been established to review the regulations. As a result, the industry has already introduced many of the things that the hon. Gentleman seeks to impose on it by regulation. I welcome the fact that the industry has done that.
The point of the industry taking such action rather than its being done by regulation is that regulations imposed in the UK apply only to UK organisations, but much of the advertising comes from outside the country. Self-regulation would have the effect of dealing with that problem. Indeed, the European Advertising Standards Alliance is already working vigorously in that area. If self-regulation is working, as it appears to be, I believe that it is better than imposed regulations.
Furthermore, I have reservations about the sanctions the Bill would impose, such as the unlimited fine about which we have already heard. It is interesting that the industry has for several years imposed a set of sanctions on itself for breaches of its self-regulated rules, and those sanctions have been effective. They include notice and take-down, name and shame and disqualification from awards.
In the field of non-broadcast advertising, why would we want to impose new regulation on an industry that has been able to self-regulate effectively and has addressed many of the concerns in the Bill? It would be additional, unnecessary regulation.
The Bill is well intentioned. It raises issues in respect of obesity that are crucial to the future of our country, but I genuinely do not believe that its provisions will solve the problem that it rightly raises.
Following the speech of my mentor, I thought I would take this opportunity to speak. As the Minister knows from many debates I often refer to the Liberal Democrat Front-Bench spokesman as my mentor. Such was the eloquence of his speech that he has inspired me to make a few brief remarks before my hon. Friends and the Minister comment.
One thing that unites everybody in the Chamber is the recognition that obesity is a serious problem in the UK. I make that statement in the full knowledge that I am an obese man who needs to lose at least 40 lb and who was obese long before the advertising and food industries got their teeth into me. It is obviously true that obesity problems start in childhood, from bad habits picked up as a child.
The causes of obesity are extraordinarily complex, but in essence it comes down to three things. We will avoid obesity if we take more exercise and eat less food, and parents will avoid having obese children if they are prepared to take responsibility for the kind of food their children eat. However, the Bill suggests another solution: if we close off exposure to the advertising of food that is high in fat, sugar and salt, we will somehow reduce obesity.
I recognise that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths) has made it quite clear that he sees the Bill as part of incremental measures to help to reduce obesity in this country. I certainly take on board the fact that he does not claim that the Bill is a magic bullet or that obesity will be eradicated as a problem a few years after the Bill is introduced. If he were to make such a claim, it would be quite rightly shot down. However, he contends that the Bill will have some effect on obesity in this country. I will not get into an argument about the extent of the effect that it could have or whether it would have any effect at all, but even if it had a small effect on obesity—I do not concede that point—one must consider whether this is not a case of a sledgehammer being used to crack a nut, or rather a huge legislative sledgehammer that will have a very small effect on the problem that he seeks to address.
We already have some of the tightest restrictions on such advertising in the world. Indeed, a great many companies and advertising agencies have already engaged in a voluntary downgrading of such advertising. Since Ofcom introduced its ban, the exposure of unhealthy food to children aged four to nine has been reduced by a quarter, to children under 16 it has been reduced by more than half. Food advertising is now at its lowest level since 1982, on an absolute measure of food advertising. As a proportion of the total advertising take, it is less than half the level in 1982. Indeed, the advertising industry has been found to be 100 per cent. compliant with the Ofcom ban. So we find ourselves in a conundrum, where the advertising of unhealthy food has been dropping not simply since the Ofcom ban, but for several years, yet obesity continues to rise.
As has been pointed out by some hon. Members, including me in an intervention, bans on the advertising of unhealthy food exist in other countries, and as yet no evidence can be seen to show that they have any effect on childhood obesity or, indeed, adult obesity. As has been said, in Quebec, a ban has been in place since 1980—almost 30 years—and if it had had a noticeable effect, such as even a 10 or 20 per cent. reduction, and we could stand here and say that the Quebecois were 10 or 20 per cent. thinner than the British or that a graph showed a downward trend in obesity in Quebec, the Bill’s proponents would have an enormously powerful argument to deploy. But they cannot deploy that argument, because the ban on the advertising of unhealthy food in Quebec has had no noticeable effect on obesity there.
If we look at Sweden, which also has a ban on unhealthy food advertising, we learn that there are more spherical Swedes than there are fat Finns next door in Finland, which has no such ban. Sweden has a higher obesity problem than Finland, yet the ban has not produced svelte Swedes; there are still spherical Swedes and fewer fat Finns. So we have controlled models. [Hon. Members: “That was good.”] Do hon. Members like that? There is more if they want it.
I think that there is an alcohol advertising ban in Sweden, but I hear what you say, Madam Deputy Speaker, and you are aware, as are many other hon. Members, that I am a vastly inexperienced performer at the Dispatch Box. I am therefore extremely grateful to you for your guidance and for setting the boundaries. Indeed, you are in danger of taking over the role of mentor from the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster).
As I was saying before the helpful intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), an analysis of bans in other countries shows us that a ban on food advertising does not dramatically affect levels of childhood obesity. It is important to make that point, because while the proponents of the Bill think that a ban will have a good effect, which is the point that they want to push, a ban on food advertising will have some very bad effects. If the proponents of the Bill cannot show that the Bill will have dramatically good effects on the health of our children, they must consider the catastrophic effects that it will have on our children and ourselves.
We have already discussed children’s television, which I described as having fallen off a cliff. There is no doubt that the Ofcom ban has had a serious effect on children’s television. It has been pointed out that children’s television has been in decline for a number of years, but the advertisers and the broadcasters implemented a voluntary code of conduct and a voluntary reduction in the advertising of unhealthy foods during children’s television programmes before the Ofcom ban came into effect. I will take any hon. Member who wants to challenge me on that point to a meeting with the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television to meet dedicated, professional television producers who have spent their careers making children’s television programmes. I have met such people, who have told me exactly what has happened in their industry, and they put the blame fairly and squarely on the advertising ban.
They are using American imports. The hon. Gentleman, who has made comments about other people and vested interests, has a vested interest in Nickelodeon. I concede that there is more children’s programming, but it is cheap American imports rather than home-grown British product. The hon. Gentleman might as well write “Disney” on the back of his jacket, because if he supports this Bill in the Lobby, he will promote Disney.
Can the hon. Gentleman not see that the solution to the problem of encouraging domestic production lies partly in ensuring that the licence conditions applied to the BBC, and the commercial conditions applied to independent television, lead to the sourcing of material made in Britain rather than the United States?
We are back in the land of unintended consequences. As a result of the abolition of the 10p tax rate, the House has spent a whole week debating what happens when one advances a measure and then realises the consequences. Certain methods could be considered to help indigenous children’s programming. PACT has been lobbying the Government for a tax credit for children’s programming for three years. It is possible to play around with the conditions, but the fundamental point is that we are in this position because of the ban. If the Bill is enacted, we will see what has happened to British children’s television multiplied 10 times over. Hon. Members have mentioned figures of £224 million and £250 million, which are well-established figures for the revenue that would be lost to commercial broadcasters as a result of the sweeping advertising ban proposed in the Bill. A reduction of £250 million in revenue would mean £250 million less to spend on programming. As a result, the hon. Member for Falkirk (Mr. Joyce) would see many more imported, cheap American television programmes on our screens and far fewer home-grown products.
I am not following the hon. Gentleman’s argument. How can Conservative Members argue simultaneously that the Bill would be a boon to American TV and that it would reduce competition and give an unfair advantage to the BBC channels that promote domestic television production? It is nonsense.
No one, not least the Liberal Democrat Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Bath, has ever been able to follow a point made by the hon. Gentleman. I join the hon. Member for Bath in being a member of an ever-growing group of people unable to comprehend one of his points. If he wants a British broadcasting monopoly, he can by all means advocate it. He can say, effectively, “Let’s ban all advertising, close down our commercial broadcasters and just have the BBC.” To be sure, the BBC has a large budget—£3.5 billion or £4 billion—
As I have said, by banning advertising, the Bill would take £250 million away from the commercial broadcasters. That is money that could be used to produce British programmes. I, for one, believe that British programmes should be produced and shown on a range of channels, not just the BBC.
Obviously, the ban would affect the advertising industry. I make no apologies to the hon. Member for Falkirk, who wants to parody me as seeing the advertising industry as a vested interest. We have a very successful advertising industry in this country. The Minister has just published her creative industries strategy paper, which flagged up the contribution that advertising and other creative industries make to this country, and the hon. Gentleman should know that there is a thriving advertising industry in Edinburgh. I therefore make no apologies if the message goes out from this House that the Conservative party supports the advertising industry and believes that it is doing a good job, including in self-regulation. I shall come to that in a moment.
The record will show that the hon. Gentleman referred to me as the vested interest of the advertising industry, and I accept that criticism.
An important point of principle is the position of Ofcom. Hon. Members have referred in detail to the extensive consultation that Ofcom undertook before it introduced its current regulations on advertising to children, and the fact that it is reviewing the effect of the regulations and will report back in the summer. The point has been made, not least by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) in his excellent article in The Grocer, which I recommend to all hon. Members, that the Bill compromises Ofcom’s independence. [Interruption.] I have a photocopy with me, if the hon. Member for Falkirk would like me to circulate it. I hasten to add that my hon. Friend did not send it to me, in case hon. Members think that he is vain and self-promoting.
Ofcom is a very expensive piece of machinery that this Government created to regulate broadcasting. By and large, it does a pretty effective job. I know that it has its serious critics, but it is an important organisation, not least because the nature of broadcasting and communications is changing so rapidly, as it will in relation to advertising to children. There are now many different ways to get children’s attention. Ofcom has engaged in extensive consultation, and as a matter of principle, regardless of the merits of the Bill, it would be wrong for Parliament to legislate on such a specific, narrow broadcasting issue. Ofcom has clearly acted on it, continues to review the situation and may act again in future. It consults the Department of Health and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and will consult Ministers and perhaps even Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen on the merits or otherwise of a ban. However, as Ofcom is engaged in the exercise, it would be odd for Parliament to legislate. Indeed, in the next two or three years we might get another communications Bill that would give Parliament the opportunity to debate the matter and decide whether to set parameters.
I am worried that the Bill is one of those fashionable measures on an issue about which people get greatly exercised and that they pursue single-mindedly and doggedly without any thought of the consequences. Where would this end? If one watched a series of television adverts over an hour or so, it would be pretty much possible to come up with a case for banning every single one, and a start would certainly be banning all car adverts. We know that cars reduce people’s need to exercise and pollute the environment. The start would be banning adverts for 4x4s immediately, but a case could be made down to the Mini.
Adverts for clothing could be a problem because we know that a lot of clothes are made in pretty unpleasant conditions in third-world and developing countries. Obviously, adverts for shops selling both food and clothing, such as Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer, could be banned in case an M and S advert featuring Twiggy enticed a mother to that shop and she then bought a high-fat product for her child. Adverts for almost all products, such as detergents and perfumes, could be banned because almost all products that we use and consume have a downside.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Clause 2 refers to the banning of
“any brand name which is associated with the food product in question or similar less healthy food product.”
He thus makes a pertinent point about banning supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s and Tesco from advertising on TV because they are associated with the sale of unhealthy products. Such a thing might not be further down the line. This very Bill could well lead to a ban on supermarket advertising.
That is correct, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have to say that M and S was the culprit in my downfall as a child, with the M and S teacake the prime example. I do not think that it is a stretch to say that an advert for M and S, regardless of the product, could be construed under the Bill as involving a brand associated with unhealthy food for children.
The Bill’s scope is wide, so hon. Members who cited the Olympics were absolutely spot on. It would be unavoidable that the BBC television broadcast of the 2012 Olympics 100 m final, with a large McDonald’s hoarding in the background because it was the chief sponsor, would fall foul of the Bill by promoting a brand associated with unhealthy food. Nothing in the Bill would grant an exception. Technology might allow the McDonald’s sign to be pixillated out, but if McDonald’s, or any other commercial advertiser, thought that the large amount it had spent on sponsoring the Olympics was being undermined by the Bill, it would have pretty strong words to say to the International Olympic Committee and the Olympic Delivery Authority.
The Bill is a sledgehammer to crack a nut, there is no evidence that such a ban would tackle a problem that we all recognise, and the Bill is drafted in such a way as to have enormous ramifications across a huge area of marketing. Additionally, however, the Bill is an excuse not to talk about the positive things that we could do to reduce childhood obesity. As the hon. Member for Bath pointed out, running through the Bill there is a hostility to the private sector, a belief that everybody working in advertising is childless, and a belief that no one who works for a food company has children or worries about them. That is ludicrous.
McDonald’s, the company that people love to hate and pillory, has done an enormous amount in terms of corporate social responsibility. My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) mentioned football, but it has also been involved in training, including vocational training. Because of my involvement in work experience, I have visited McDonald’s and have seen what it does. An enormous amount of responsibility is taken. As everybody knows, the McDonald’s product range has changed, mainly because of public pressure, and there is a much greater focus on healthy eating. It is important that we recognise that the debate is not completely one-sided, with people from the evil industry desperately trying to force high-fat products on our children behind our backs, and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South standing like Horatio at the bridge to prevent them from crossing. As has been mentioned, billions of pounds-worth of food products are now much lower in fat, sugar and salt.
It is a bit rich of Labour Members to lecture us about the need to ban the advertising of high-fat foods because of the effect on our children, when their Government have closed 187 playing fields, and 57 more are earmarked for development. If the Government were serious about tackling childhood obesity, they would immediately ban the selling of playing fields, not the advertising of high-fat foods. They would reduce the cut to the number of training places for physical education teachers. They would tell us how they will get the 1 million children who currently do not do two hours a week of sport into sport and exercise. That is the type of positive thing that the Government could be doing.
The Government could be encouraging our children to eat better food. We know that when Jamie Oliver had his school dinners campaign, we heard a lot of rhetoric from the Government, but it turned out that the additional funding provided was something like 50p per meal, per school. I recognise that we can change children’s eating habits, both at home and at school. I have seen that in numerous primary schools in my constituency, which now have a huge focus on healthy food. We can change children’s habits by providing them with the opportunity to exercise and play competitive sports. Measures of that type, and not a misplaced, mistimed and grossly disproportionate attempt to ban the advertising of high-fat food to children, will help us to reduce childhood obesity.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey), who made a witty, highly cogent speech on this important subject. A good place to start is recommendation 7 of the report, “Risk, Responsibility, Regulation: Whose Risk Is It Anyway?” produced in 2006. Recommendation 7 is that a campaign be launched
“against regulatory inconsistencies and absurdities”.
If we want to take part in that campaign, we could do a lot worse than not give the Bill a Second Reading today.
We have yet to hear the Minister set out the Government’s approach, but having read the Prime Minister’s trenchant words about the need for proportionality in regulation I should be very surprised if the Minister supported the Bill. If she did so, she would be going against all the homilies given by her Government on the subject of less and better regulation.
I was waiting to see whether the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths) would refer to this April’s FSA News when he introduced the Bill. On page 6, there is a feature on Scotland, entitled:
“Scottish children’s diet too high in sugar”.
It reports on a survey of 1,700 Scottish children aged between three and 16, which found that the main sources of sugar in youngsters’ diets were
“soft drinks, confectionary, biscuits and cakes”,
yet that the Scottish dietary target stipulated that less than 10 per cent. of the total calories consumed should be non-milk extrinsic sugars, which are added to food, drink and table sugar, and are present in fruit juices. The findings were that average NMES consumption was now 17.4 per cent. of calorie intake—higher than in 1997, when it was only 16.7 per cent. I do not know whether that has happened because the Scottish National party has become more powerful in the intervening period—the hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Weir) intervened earlier—or whether the statistics are related to political parties and policies.
The report in FSA News was interesting not only for the findings that I have outlined but for stating that there is no evidence of a difference in average consumption between children who are overweight and those who are not. The FSA was obviously surprised by that and said that it could be due to the fact that, at the time of the study, youngsters were either eating less or under-reporting what they ate, thereby undermining the whole purpose of such a survey.
The survey’s important conclusions are contained in the report’s final paragraphs. It states:
“It underlines the ongoing need for FSA Scotland to continue to work with organisations”,
“the Scottish Government, to promote a healthy balanced diet and give children the support and information they need to make better dietary choices.”
I want to spare the hon. Gentleman from citing an out-of-date report. Yesterday in Scotland, evidence was published, which shows that, as a result of action, the diets of children in Scotland mean that they are now a healthier generation. Perhaps he would like to reflect on that. It is good news, which the House should celebrate.
I am all in favour of joining in celebrations with the hon. Gentleman, and perhaps the information provides an excuse for doing that. However, I cannot accept responsibility for not being up to speed on the subject when I am quoting the research supplement to FSA News, dated April 2008. Its findings show the importance of promoting a healthy, balanced diet. That was underlined in a good speech by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), who emphasised the importance of calorie intake in relation to obesity.
Even Innocent products, which are full of fruit and meant to be good for you, are bad if eaten in large quantities because they contain many calories.
All the talk of food made me hungry, so I nipped out and had a Jaffa Cake. I suspect that Jaffa Cakes would fall foul of the Bill and could not be advertised, yet the packet says that they are backed by sports nutritionists. Is not the point that diet should be balanced and that we should not simply pick on one food group and say that it is so bad that it should not be advertised?
My hon. Friend is right. The importance of a balanced diet and not consuming more in calories than they expend or need for healthy growth is the message that we should convey to young people.
Was Ian Botham being irresponsible when he said that he could eat three Shredded Wheat in one day? I do not think so, but if people who did not take any exercise followed him and thought that they were doing themselves a favour by eating three Shredded Wheat, they were probably mistaken. When Ian Botham was promoting those products he was a fit gentleman and was taking a lot of exercise. Nobody would suggest that young children should eat three Shredded Wheat a day, unless they were taking quite a lot of exercise.
My hon. Friend makes his point extremely well without any need for me to try to trump it in response. Sport is highly relevant to this debate. It is fair that the Government should come in for quite a lot of criticism for not promoting their investment in sport as they said they would. The statistics that the hon. Member for Bath adduced on that subject were highly enlightening.
The next question is: where is the scientific evidence in support of the Bill? In intervening on the hon. Gentleman, the promoter of the Bill said, “Well, we haven’t got the scientific evidence yet, but we’ll find it later, after we’ve regulated.” That is completely at odds with the sound regulatory policy that is pronounced by the Government and certainly supported by us on the Conservative Benches.
As usual, my hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Does he also agree that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South seemed to be saying that the Bill should go forward whatever it takes, no matter how big the cost or how small the benefit? Does my hon. Friend also agree that any sensible legislation must come with a sensible cost-benefit analysis? It strikes me that the huge costs to commercial broadcasters more than outweigh any tiny benefit to obesity.
Absolutely. The Bill has a number of shortcomings, including the absence of a proper cost-benefit analysis or regulatory impact assessment. The Bill does not even have any explanatory notes attached to it, which we would normally expect to see on Second Reading and which might be able to throw some light on the potential impact of clause 3, for instance.
The situation is not that there is no scientific evidence in support of the Bill; the situation is that there is scientific evidence against it, which the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South conveniently omitted from his introduction. He started with such enthusiastic, over-the-top language that he was clearly hyped up—I do not know what he had in his diet this morning, but he was certainly not in a position to overstate his case.
Let us consider some of the evidence that exists, some of which is produced in an excellent article that has been drawn to my attention by Patrick Basham and John Luik, the co-authors of “Diet Nation: Exposing the Obesity Crusade”. They point out that
“none of the studies purporting to demonstrate that food advertising causes childhood obesity control for more than a handful of…other risk factors. These studies…cannot establish an evidence-based case about the connection between food advertising and children’s weight.
If food advertising caused children’s weight gain and obesity, wouldn’t you expect to find an increase in advertising that parallels the increase in obesity? This is not the case. UK food and drink ad spending has been falling in real terms since 1999 and is now roughly at 1982 levels…while rates of overweight and obesity have been rising.”
The projections are that those rates will continue to rise under the Government. The authors also point out that
“in 1982 food ads constituted 34 per cent. of total television advertising, whereas in 2002 they made up only 18 per cent. Where is the link between food advertising and children’s weight, let alone children’s obesity?”
In the US, similar evidence has been adduced. According to the Federal Trade Commission, advertising during children’s television programming has declined by 34 per cent. in recent years and food advertising on television has declined by 13 per cent. since 1993. However, there is no evidence that childhood obesity levels in the US have declined as a result.
The authors then say that if the level of advertising has not increased, perhaps the level of television viewing has increased. In fact, to the surprise of many—including me—television viewing has not increased over the period of the obesity epidemic. Some observers suggest that it has not changed for children and adolescents for the past 40 years. There is some evidence that the time children spend watching television has actually declined in recent years. The idea that people are getting fatter because they are couch potatoes may be wrong according to that evidence.
The authors then draw attention to the fact that when children sit down and watch television, they view a balanced presentation of foods. A British study looked at the food messages and references in regular programming, as opposed to those contained in food advertising, because there are as many references to food in regular programming as during the adverts. Children’s regular programming contained references far more centred on so-called healthy foods. For example, fruit and vegetables were the most frequently portrayed foods in regular programming, and that might be regarded as positive advertising for healthy eating. If one of the unintended consequences of the Bill would be less good children’s programming, there would be less opportunity for those positive messages to be put across.
One of the supporters of the Bill said earlier that if advertising made no difference, companies would not advertise. Does my hon. Friend agree that that misunderstands the purpose of advertising by food manufacturers? The chief purpose of their adverts is to build their market share in a sector, rather than to grow the sector as a whole.
Everybody knows that people should eat five pieces of fruit a day, and there is a lot of advertising promoting that, whether on television, in magazines or elsewhere. Children who come into my shop rarely ask for fruit. Instead, they want crisps, cans of fizzy drink and other sweets. That reinforces the point that advertising on its own does not have the impact that people suggest.
I agree with my hon. Friend. Indeed, there is substantial econometric literature that disproves the alleged connection between advertising, diets and weight. Peter Kyle of the University of Lancaster examined the impact of food advertising on food consumption, and he found no evidence to support the popular myth that advertising increased market size. Martyn Duffy of the University of Manchester studied the impact of advertising on 11 food categories. Not only did advertising have no effect on food demand, but it also had virtually no effect on the demand for any individual food. Duffy’s conclusions are hardly exceptional. Other studies into the effect of advertising of such items as breakfast cereals and biscuits, both frequently cited as bogeymen in the childhood obesity epidemic, have concluded that advertising did not affect market size in any general way or to any material extent.
The hon. Gentleman is putting on a characteristically fascinating exhibition, but if he really supports these academic theses, how does he explain the explosion in the consumption of breakfast cereals, for example, in emerging economies where they had never been promoted before?
First, I am not sure of the facts about the amount of breakfast cereals consumed in emerging economies, but one of my concerns—I referred to it earlier—is the increase in drug taking, particularly cannabis, among young people, which is totally dissociated from advertising. I suspect that drug taking is increasing in this country for exactly the same reason as cereals are being consumed more widely in the third world countries that the hon. Gentleman mentioned—mainly as a result of availability and the fact that word on the street says that they are good things to get one’s hands on.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. It also depends on the maturity of the market, and the particular market that the Bill focuses on is a very mature market, so the point raised by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) does not apply. Would not the only consequence of the Bill be to protect the market share of the current biggest food producers because no one else would be able to advertise to get a slice of the market? If someone produced a slightly healthier version of a particular product but it was not healthy enough to meet the demands of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South, they would not be able to advertise it, so people would have to stick with the current more unhealthy product.
I think that my hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are not talking only about advertising on television. If we are talking about advertising in the wider sense of promotion, many new products are promoted because they are offered at a reduced price in supermarkets or smaller shops. People, including me, are always looking for a bargain, so they can choose a new brand of a well known product with new ingredients to discover whether they like it. They can do so by buying it at a price significantly below that of the standard product. That is another way in which producers can get new products on to the market, but if the foods were regarded as being unhealthy for children, they would be outlawed under the Bill.
My final example on the same theme is the report by Bob Eagle and Tim Ambler, who looked into the impact of advertising on chocolate consumption in five European countries in order to test the claim that a reduction in advertising would reduce consumption. They reported no significant association between the amount of advertising and the size of the chocolate market. When we went to supermarket check-outs in the past, they used to try to tempt consumers by offering two bars for the price of one; nowadays, they have two bars or one very large bar on offer and try to tempt us by saying, “More to share”. I am not sure that people buying those bars are not going to eat them all themselves, but this provides an example of the promoters attempting to be politically correct, in the sure knowledge that most of the “more to share” bars are going to be consumed by one particular individual.
As I suggested earlier, as well as there being no evidence in support of the Bill and of the thesis advanced by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South, there is evidence against it. The Bill completely breaches the principle that regulation should be based on proper scientific evidence.
My hon. Friend mentions chocolate marketing. Does he agree that when Cadbury’s sponsored “Coronation Street”, which would presumably be outlawed by the Bill, the company did not expect everyone immediately to leap off the sofa, switch off the TV and go out to the nearest newsagent to buy an extra bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, but rather advertised in the hope that the next time someone went to the newsagents to buy a bar of chocolate, they would buy a bar made by Cadbury rather than Nestlé?
As my hon. Friend will remember, the leader of our great party once attacked one well-known shopping brand for promoting Terry’s Chocolate Oranges and not having real oranges in its shops. If the Bill were enacted, people would look into different ways of promoting products. In some stores, we see signs saying, “Five chocolate bars for a pound”. I suspect that it is those offers, rather than watching advertising on television, that entice people into buying five bars—and then, perhaps, eating one or two more than they should.
As always, my hon. Friend is absolutely right.
There is the related issue of school lunchbox inspections. At the behest of television chef Jamie Oliver, and promoted by the Department for Education and Skills and the Food Standards Agency, there was a plan to promote healthy food in school lunchboxes by encouraging teachers to confiscate unhealthy products. As a consequence of that, head teachers were a lot busier than hitherto, as they had to deal with angry parents. Those parents might previously have made only an occasional visit to the school, but their interest in what was happening at school was provoked by the fact that their children were unable to eat for lunch what they had decided would be good for them.
Let me turn to another fundamental flaw in the Bill. Who will decide what is unhealthy? The Bill’s promoter suggests that the FSA’s remit should be extended so that it has a role not only in informing the public about food facts but in making a judgment on behalf of the public that could, in a regulatory context, result in the promoters of certain foods becoming criminalised.
Buoyed up by the Jaffa Cakes I have eaten, I have thought of another instance of people or organisations involved at the point of sale possibly falling foul of the law if the Bill is enacted. Strawberries and cream are advertised at the Wimbledon tennis tournament. The strawberries would be deemed good, but the cream would be deemed not good. Therefore, would Wimbledon fall foul of this Bill and be liable to pay an unlimited fine?
Provided that they are English strawberries and it is British cream, I am sure that that would be all right. However, my hon. Friend provides another point on which the Bill can be ridiculed. It is good that Members are scrutinising it today, because the fact that so many of our colleagues have signed early-day motions in support of it shows that a lot of them have not fully thought through its implications. It might sound like a good idea to say, “Obesity’s an issue, so let’s deal with it by not allowing television advertising to target unhealthy foods at our children.”
Does my hon. Friend share my surprise that when the promoter of this Bill was a small business Minister he said he had four ministerial goals, one of which was
“to argue within government against over-regulation, red tape and zealous bureaucracy”?
Has he not performed an astounding somersault since his days as a Minister?
It is certainly hard to find any consistency between what the hon. Gentleman said was his role then and his work in the House at present—although I am sorry that he is temporarily absent from the Chamber and therefore unable to defend himself. Like other Members, I hope that he will decide to withdraw his Bill, rather than try to press on to a Second Reading and then into Committee. My own view is that it is so far short of perfect that it is incapable of being improved and made into a proper and acceptable Bill in Committee. It would be much better to go back to the drawing board and to look at calorie intake and how we encourage children to balance their intake with their outputs.
Giving to the FSA the additional role assigned to it in clause 3 gives rise to a very serious point. At the moment, people look to the FSA as an impartial, rational provider of information. As soon as that role is changed to that of a partial, judgmental decider of what does or does not constitute less healthy food, it will find its position compromised and increasingly untenable. The idea of extending that duty to the FSA, which would be necessary to make the Bill work, is particularly ill-conceived.
In an earlier intervention, the hon. Member for Conwy (Mrs. Williams) said that the Bill is very much supported by the people of Wales. However, the Welsh National Farmers Union and the NFU generally are extremely concerned about its implications. As was said in earlier interventions—my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) also made the point—foods such as dairy products would be regarded as less healthy, even though they are absolutely critical in establishing a balanced diet.
Parents are being bombarded with many different messages. I even read in a newspaper recently that the “five a day” message is now being distorted. Some children are having so much in the way of fruit and vegetables that they are not getting enough carbohydrates: their diet is becoming unbalanced, with perhaps too much fruit and acidity in it. Because fruit and fruit juice are linked, people think, “Let’s have a lot more fruit juice.” I know people who consume litre upon litre of fruit juice each day, yet such juices are rich in sugars and in calories. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage has a lot of fruit juice.
So it all comes back to the basic principles, which are moderation in all things and a healthy mind in a healthy body, as we used to say at school. I leave it for others to judge whether that has worked out in practice.
The Bill’s next major defect is its references to non-broadcast media, which are listed as (a) to (h) in the second part of clause 1, on interpretation. Under (h) we have
“sponsorship, including communications which refer to sponsorship”,
with all that that involves regarding the Olympics. The hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Jim Dowd) was critical of what I said about the London 2012 Olympic Committee having got McDonald’s as a sponsor.
I want to drag my hon. Friend back to when he was talking about the print media. We are talking about red wine here, because the provisions include alcohol. Doctors tell us that the odd glass of red wine is healthy and does us good, but under the Bill the advertising of red wine would be outlawed.
That is an aspect of the Bill that I have not yet noted, but I am sure that my hon. Friend is absolutely correct. We do not necessarily want our children to go out and buy a lot of red wine too early in life, but I certainly support the continental approach to bringing up children, which involves allowing them an occasional glass of wine at the table, rather than creating a climate in which alcohol is regarded as something that they should not get their hands on until they are 18. Responsible drinking and eating are all part of the same thesis. The Bill would pick out a particular item and demonise it, as my hon. Friend has pointed out.
Does my hon. Friend not agree that the main responsibility for what children eat lies with their parents? Similarly, the amount of pocket money that they are allowed to spend unsupervised is also a matter for parents. If children have enough money to buy expensive items such as wine, that also ought to be the responsibility of their parents, who should be supervising what their children spend their money on.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am not sure whether she was here during some of the earlier enthusiastic contributions from people who support the Bill, but we almost reached a stage at which it could be suggested that shopkeepers should be banned from selling some foodstuffs to children. Obviously, there are rules and regulations relating to the sale of alcohol and tobacco to children, but it seemed that, if we were to follow the logic of some of the promoter’s supporters, it would not be long before we were banning certain items from being sold to children in the shops because they were regarded as less than healthy. That is another example of what some of the zealots would like to see.
My hon. Friend is touching on an important point. When the initial restrictions were placed on advertising, it became perfectly clear that they would not make any difference to childhood obesity, but the health zealots have come back and said that those restrictions did not work because they did not go far enough. Then, when further restrictions are shown not to work, they will no doubt come back again and say that they want even more restrictions. It will not be very long before they are advocating banning certain products from being sold in shops.
We know what the consequences of that would be. The law of unintended consequences would apply, and any products that could not be bought openly in the shops would become contraband among children. They would become the products that the children would most want to go for. That is the way in which the real world operates, and there is nothing that those who advocate a more nannying state can do about it, thankfully.
The category of non-broadcast media includes sponsorship, cinema, video, text messaging and the internet. It is significant that the restrictions on the non-broadcast media would apply 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, whereas the restrictions on the broadcast media would apply only between 5.30 am and 9 pm. That is a grossly simplistic and unfair division to impose. Television programmes that are broadcast between 9 pm and 5.30 am can be recorded and watched at other times. In the context of the Bill, we must note that such programmes could contain a mass of advertisements targeted at children and urging them to buy particular products. If such programmes were being recorded and watched at other times, they would be in a different position from internet programmes. If such a programme were broadcast on the internet, such advertising would be outlawed completely, but if it were originally broadcast between 9 pm and 5.30 am and then recorded, such advertising would not be outlawed. That inconsistency has not been properly explained.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the same principle that applies to the spending of pocket money and what meals children eat also applies to what they watch on television and to their internet use? Parents should be aware of when their children are viewing, when they are using their computers and what they are doing. This is a matter for control within the home.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The more we undermine responsible parenthood by measures such as this Bill, the less responsible parenthood there will be.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wantage, who speaks from the Front Bench, has not particularly blamed anybody for his make-up, size and so on. The former head teacher of the school where my children are being educated reminded all the parents collectively, before they got too ambitious for their children, that “Genes travel.” That is very relevant to this debate on shape, size and so on. We are in danger of creating a climate where people who have a different shape from others and who are not so lean and lanky get bullied in the school playground—they may get called Billy Bunter.
I cited the Scottish statistics on children’s diets, which show that the fatter people may not have a more unhealthy food intake than the thinner ones, so we must take the extremely complex issue of metabolism into account in this debate. The Bill does not address that, other than by trying to simplify the matter, to condemn all food advertising and to undermine individual responsibility.
Like adults, children need to experience new foods, and the best way of their doing so is probably in a family setting, around the table with their parents at home. If they are exposed in that setting to healthy food, preferably home-prepared food—they may even have been encouraged to do some cooking—that is good news. One of my children has recently discovered how to make flapjacks, and as a result he knows what goes into a flapjack. That is much more important than trying to read the back of a label on a manufactured flapjack, which is probably much less nutritious than one that has been baked at home.
We are again returning to the ridiculous nature of this Bill. A ban on the advertising, and therefore the promotion, of these products would extend to scout fundraising jamborees, because if the scouts had made and were advertising or promoting their own lemonade or brownie cakes, that would fall foul of this legislation. One can imagine the food police marching into fêtes and arresting youngsters simply because they were promoting their home-made lemonade.
My hon. Friend tempts me to mention home-made ginger beer, on which many of us were brought up. Those who make their own ginger beer know exactly how much sugar needs to go into it, just as those who make elderflower cordial know that, as well as elderflowers and water, a heck of a lot of sugar is needed. Some may think it a good idea to drink gallons of elderflower cordial diluted with fizzy water or lemonade, but if it is drunk in excess, their sugar intake will be massive. People who prepare their own food and drink have a better understanding of the ingredients.
I shall end my speech shortly, because I am absolutely gagging to hear what the Minister has to say about this subject. She has been sitting there very patiently. On past Fridays she has spoken at length, because she enjoys the Friday experience. I do not know whether she will speak at length today, but I hope she will be able to address the fundamental issue of regulation that is raised in the Bill.
The Prime Minister gave the Better Regulation Commission a task. He said
“The Government believes that policy-making would benefit considerably from a fuller and more rounded consideration of public risk. I have asked the Better Regulation Commission, building on its report ‘Risk, Responsibility and Regulation’, to devise a structure and approach that ensures that this ambition is embedded in real policy action, even when facing pressures to react to events.”
When he was a Minister in the Department of Trade and Industry, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South was a big supporter of the Better Regulation Task Force, as it then was. He once said, apparently criticising the European Union for its regulatory burdens, that what was needed was
“every government following the principles of good regulation - proportionality, transparency, accountability, targeting and consistency.”
Does my hon. Friend agree that the hon. Gentleman seems to have strayed from that noble ambition?
I fear so. The facts speak for themselves. Paragraph 1.1 of the Better Regulation Commission’s report “Public Risk—the Next Frontier for Better Regulation” states
“Intervention in matters of public risk, whether in Whitehall or Brussels, often involves systems with many, sometimes hidden, interdependencies and complex behavioural challenges”.
It specifically identifies
“climate change, obesity in children”
and other factors which I shall not spell out. It continues:
“This complicates not only targeting and devising the counter-measures – the policy choices – but also managing the delivery of the intervention. Good risk assessment and management is vital in both the policy-making and the implementation. The policy-making process is often made all the more demanding by the need to seek views from and build consensus amongst a broad and diverse group of stakeholders and to understand fully options and trade-offs. Such interventions require a rigour and breadth of consultation and consideration that are rarely displayed in the face of such pressure.”
I do not think that that rigour and breadth of consultation have been displayed by the promoter and sponsors of the Bill—or, for that matter, by those who seem to have signed the supportive early-day motion without thinking about it properly.
That, I think, is what lies at the heart of this and so many other Friday debates. Do we really need more regulation, more outlawing and condemnation of people going about their ordinary lives, more intervention in the marketplace—in this case, the advertising industry—or should we allow common sense to prevail, and rely on individual and family responsibility as the best judge of these matters?
What is good about Friday debates is that people engage with the issues in a much more open and less partisan way. I have learned a lot this morning—for example, that Father Christmas was invented by Coca-Cola. We have had an informed debate and I thank all Members for it.
I particularly thank my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths), and congratulate him on choosing such an important issue after his success in the ballot. Obesity is one of the important issues that confront our society. It poses enormous policy challenges and requires considered reflection by all Members from all parties.
We have heard some good contributions. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) referred to the importance of obesity and children’s health. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Kerry McCarthy) made an interesting intervention that linked mental health issues to what we eat. As she pointed out, there is growing evidence of the interrelationship between mental health conditions and diet, and we should be doing much more work on it.
The hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) made two really good points. The first was about the impact that a ban on advertising before the watershed could have on investment in children’s programming and how damaging that would be to plurality in the provision of television—a point reiterated by a number of Members. The second point was that the 9 o’clock watershed has ceased to be effective because we can record programmes and watch them at other times.
I agreed with the hon. Gentleman on those two points, but I did not agree with him about sport. The Government have a good record on sport. In the past five years or so, we have increased participation in school sport so that 86 per cent. of our children now enjoy two hours of school sport a week, with an aspiration to take that to five hours. It is a fantastic achievement. Opposition Members are feeling rather negative about the Olympics but I think the opposite, and the Olympics will have a further impact by encouraging more people to engage in sport.
The Minister cannot be allowed to get away with skimming over things that easily. Will she confirm that more than 1 million schoolchildren do not currently participate in two hours of sport, and will she further confirm that to meet the Olympic building costs vast chunks of money have been taken away from lottery good causes that would have funded grass-roots sport?
The hon. Gentleman wants Rome built in a day. Let us consider the statistics. Five years ago, I think either 40 or 60 per cent. of children were doing two hours of sport a week; we have raised that figure to 86 per cent. It is one of the areas where we have actually exceeded our target. Of course, there is more to do to reach 100 per cent. He is correct about that, but we have made fantastic progress. If I compare what children do in school nowadays with what my children did, when they would go for weeks with no engagement in sport whatever, I can see that there has been a terrific improvement since the Labour Government have been in office.
The point about the Olympics is that the infrastructure that will be built, whether in sport or elsewhere, and the stimulus and catalyst of the games in engaging more children in sport make it worth investing in such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for all of us. There will be an impact on our lives in all sorts of ways.
The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) killed off Father Christmas. My apologies. [Laughter.] He accused my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South of killing off Father Christmas as an unintended consequence of the Bill. I found that a little difficult to take. The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) talked a lot of common sense, however, and brought to our attention the fact that the ban on the advertising of high-fat foods to children has had little impact in both Sweden and Quebec, which are the only two countries where an attempt has been made to introduce such a ban. He said something that it is important for the House to remember: we have some of the toughest regulations in the world on the advertising of food to children, and we ought to wait to see how the new regulations bed down and whether we need to introduce further regulations or whether a ban would be a blunt instrument.
The hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey) talked about the damage that could be done to indigenous British children’s television. I accept that there is some correlation, but we are taking further action, as we need to do, to ensure that our indigenous programme makers have the opportunity to provide what is always excellent programming, because of the talent that we have in Britain. I am not sure whether advertising is the one issue that would change the way in which more American television programmes are being imported into the UK. We need action on all sorts of fronts, some of which are included in the creative economy strategy programme. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will have further ideas to ensure that we get the high-quality British children’s television for which we are renowned. It is important that Ofcom is undertaking its current review, as the issue is of concern to all hon. Members.
I agree with the Minister. We are all concerned about the disappearance of children’s programming from the commercial sector. Will she state what she believes the Government ought to do to ensure that we can get good children’s programming made in this country and shown by the commercial sector, so that there is not a monopoly provider?
We must wait to see what Ofcom recommends, as it is the body to which we have given responsibility for investigating the matter, and it is considering the whole of public sector broadcasting and children’s programming, so let us wait to see its recommendations. In the meantime, the effort that we are putting into growing the talent and providing the appropriate competences, so that we have talented programme makers in the UK, is probably about the best contribution that the Government can make to ensuring a thriving children’s programme sector. Whether or not more subsidy should be given to it is an issue that I should like to reflect on when I see the research and evidence that Ofcom is gathering at the moment.
Is not what the Minister has just said exactly the point? Ofcom is looking into the issue, and its review will take place in June or July, I think, dealing with the effect of the restrictions that have been put in place already. Therefore, it would be wholly premature to pre-empt that review by passing the Bill now.
I agree; I have been given some words to say on where we are in the timetable, and I hope that they will also provide some comfort to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South. As we set out in the public health White Paper, the Government are committed to reviewing the impact of the rules introduced across all media. We have continued to monitor the impact of the measures that we have already put in place. As the hon. Member for Bath said, the Department of Health will produce an interim review later this year that will consider changes in the nature and balance of food promotion to children across all media. That review will be followed by a more comprehensive assessment, again to be produced later this year. The Ofcom review, which has been brought forward, will complement the work undertaken by the Department of Health.
The important point is that, as the public health White Paper has clearly stated, if the measures that have been taken so far fail to produce a change in the nature and balance of food promotion to children, we will take action to implement a clearly defined framework for the regulation and promotion of food for children. For broadcast advertising, we can do that within existing legislation, so we do not need a new Bill.
The Communications Act 2003 provides the legislative framework to respond to concerns about food promotion to children and, if necessary, allow further action to be taken. The 2003 Act details Ofcom’s statutory responsibility for setting broadcast standards for advertising and for the sponsorship of programmes. It is in accordance with those duties that Ofcom examined the case for greater restrictions and subsequently strengthened the regulation of broadcast food promotion. Based on the available evidence at that time, Ofcom concluded that the new rules that it introduced were a proportionate and appropriate response.
Taken with the wider, cross-Government range of measures aimed at tackling childhood obesity and poor diet, to which I shall return, we have a tough agenda for action, which will stimulate the necessary culture change in our society. The Secretary of State has the power under the 2003 Act to issue directions in relation to prohibiting categories of advertising. If he were persuaded by the evidence that the rules were not strong enough, the 2003 Act includes powers to direct Ofcom. On non-broadcast advertising, we will continue to work with the Advertising Standards Authority and the industry.
The committee of advertising practice and its broadcast committee will undertake full reviews of all advertising codes in 2008, and they will publish revised codes for public consultation later in the year. The findings of those reviews into the effectiveness of the advertising codes will be taken into account in formulating and enforcing revised codes, if they are needed. Both broadcast and non-broadcast advertising regulations must be based on best evidence, and they must be robust and subject to appropriate assessments. If new evidence were to emerge that clearly highlighted major problems in relation to children’s exposure to the advertising of food with high fat, sugar or salt, the regulator would have a duty to consider the matter and take appropriate action.
The sponsors of the Bill and the many hon. Members who have signed early-day motion 445 will be reassured by the Minister’s firm words. The regulator has a specific duty in the light of the evidence that is currently being considered, and I hope that she will join me in urging those organisations with an interest in the matter to ensure that appropriate evidence is submitted to the regulator for consideration.
I hope that everybody submits appropriate evidence. During the debate, it has become clear that the evidence base is sparse. Although we can establish a correlation between childhood obesity and television advertising of foods with a high content of sugar, salt and fat, we cannot establish causality, which has been a contested issue in today’s debate.
On obesity in general, I agree with my hon. Friends that obesity is a huge challenge. One has only to consider the figures. In 1997, one in five women was obese; in 2005, one in four women was obese. In 1997, one in six men was obese; in 2005, the ratio was more than one in five. That is a 25 per cent. increase in a mere eight years. The foresight report was important, because it drew attention to a major issue. The report estimated that by 2050, 60 per cent. of men and 50 per cent. of women might be considered obese. We know that obesity is responsible for premature deaths, reduces life expectancy and imposes a massive cost on the NHS as well as a cost on the economy as a whole. However, we must understand the causes of obesity to ensure that we take the appropriate public interventions. It is a multi-faceted and complex issue, and therefore requires a multi-faceted and rather more complex response.
All of us tend to reach for what looks like a simple solution, because it makes us feel that we are taking action and doing something. We must ask ourselves whether it is effective action and whether there will be unintended consequences such as those mentioned by a number of hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), whom I have not yet mentioned—my apologies for that.
Many hon. Members have mentioned parenting, and of course parental influence on children’s behaviour is hugely important. It is an interesting statistic that only 17 per cent. of parents with an obese child were correctly able to gauge their child’s weight status. That demonstrates the challenge for other Departments and the type of work that they need to do to provide support for parents and help them to understand the impact of what happens to their children.
I assumed that Members would mention the fact that we have stopped walking our children to school, but nobody has. There has been a 10 per cent. drop in the number of children walking to school over the past couple of decades, partly because time has become more precious and partly because of fear.
That is a difficult one. That is precisely the type of issue that one should consider so that we can ensure proper understanding of motivations and consequences. If travelling by bus were to cut the number of parents going to school by car, that would be good for the environment and probably have zero impact on obesity—although people would have to walk to the bus stop, so I suppose that they would do a little more walking than they otherwise would. I am sure that the motivation for that suggested measure comes from environmental concerns, not obesity concerns, but I would like to examine the evidence before expressing a view on it.
We have more choice now. We go out to eat much more, and the built environment has changed. I well remember that when my children were small, we did a month’s house swap with a family in Sacramento. They had two cars and a wonderful swimming pool, but interestingly, they came to our inner-city house and had not realised that we walked to Sainsbury’s, the shops, the park or the tube station. They were used to getting into the car. We could see their completely different culture and the different way in which individuals used the built environment. We in the UK are moving further towards that American-style environment. We tend to get into our cars much more for simple journeys, which we would not have done in the past.
The Minister has just stated that we eat out more often, which is absolutely right. When we are preparing food for ourselves, we can go around the shops and look at the little tables on the cans, whether they use the traffic-light system or something more detailed. We can assess how many calories are in a food and what sort of portions we should have. When we eat out in restaurants, we are not given that same information. A lot of people are absolutely ignorant about how many calories are in what they buy. Would it not be useful to give people more information, particularly about children’s food, and therefore more power over how many calories they consume each day?
I share that view, although the hon. Member for Christchurch, who is sitting behind the hon. Gentleman, might see it as involving yet further regulation and the nanny state. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that better information is important.
There is a role for parents in tackling obesity. There is also a role for the public services, whether schools or the health service, and a role for the industry in examining what it markets and how, and in considering the better nutritional profiling that we have just discussed. The industry can help us to promote healthy diets and proper exercise. The Government’s role is to give people information and opportunities that will help them to make good choices for themselves and their children, to ensure that people get clear and transparent information about food and exercise, and to put in place the right incentives and facilities to support people in making healthier choices.
I am proud of what the Government are doing to try to tackle obesity. We have a comprehensive cross-government approach. In January, we published our most recent strategy on ensuring that we tackle obesity in children. We are being extremely open by saying that we will report every year and use experts when possible to try to ensure that we take any steps that we can. There are good innovations in the strategy, not least of which is making cooking a compulsory subject for children at key stage 3.
The evidence base for the impact of advertising and promotion is contested—I think that that is the best that one can say. The Hastings Strathclyde review produced probably the most serious piece of evidence that we have. Its main finding was that a direct link between the prevalence of obesity and food advertising could not be proved, but it established that there was evidence that advertising had a 2 per cent. impact on children’s food preferences. We must remember that that, in itself, was based on a 1983 study that took place in Arizona, America, using the diaries of 262 children.
Everyone who is concerned about the issue should read Ofcom’s thorough review. When it asked about the role of parents through a NOP survey, the overwhelming majority of people—79 per cent.—said that parents had “a great deal” of responsibility for ensuring that their children had a proper diet. The survey showed that people thought that others—schools, food manufacturers, the media, the Government, supermarkets and broadcasters—had responsibility. However, when people were asked which group could do the most to ensure that children ate healthily, 55 per cent. of people named parents, while only a small minority—16 per cent.—named food manufacturers. Schools were named by only 14 per cent. of people, and very few named the media and the Government. Supermarkets were named by 3 per cent. and broadcasters by 1 per cent. The public’s view is that parents are key to this. Even with regard to the 2 per cent. figure that I cited, one cannot even determine whether that effect is due to television viewing itself, the snacking that tends to take place when watching television, or the impact of the advertising.
Many hon. Members talked about the regulations that Ofcom has instituted, and we want to see how they bed down. The hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford, the Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, made a strong point about the possible loss of advertising revenue if we were to extend the watershed threshold. We must think about that seriously, which is why we would need much better research-based evidence if we were to take further steps.
We have had an interesting debate and I shall conclude my speech now.
I had rather hoped that the Minister would move on to the important non-broadcast points raised by the Bill before concluding her speech. Will she confirm that the Government are happy—for the time being, at least—with the self-regulatory approach, which appears to be working quite well? Will she comment on the sanctions proposed in the Bill, which I argue are perhaps not the right approach?
I concur with the hon. Gentleman’s remarks; we believe that, for the non-broadcasting media, a self-regulatory approach is far more effective. We would intervene with regulation only if there was overwhelming evidence demonstrating that regulation could have a real impact on issues such as obesity.
I once again congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South, and all those who supported him, as well as the voluntary organisations and communities that have worked hard to bring the issue to the attention of the House. I ask him to give us time. I hope that I have given him some comfort by saying that Ofcom will, on the Government’s behalf, monitor the newly implemented regulations closely. We need to wait to see what the review says, and what the work done by the Department of Health comes up with. If we are persuaded that further action is needed, we will take it, as and when it is necessary. The best laws are always based on real evidence, so let us wait for the evidence before taking any further action.
I have followed the debate with great interest, and I was particularly interested to hear what the Minister had to say. I am delighted that she made it clear to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths), as politely and tactfully as possible, that the Government do not support the Bill. I imagine that even people who would like to support the Bill would consider it premature, given that Ofcom, which has been left in charge of the issue, has not had time to consider the restrictions that have already been put in place. No matter where one stands on the issue—whether one supports the thrust of the hon. Gentleman’s Bill or not—one would have to conclude that the Bill is totally premature, given that the evidence resulting from the initial restrictions has not even been considered.
The hon. Gentleman quite rightly repeats a point that a number of us made about the need to have research done by Ofcom. Does he think, as I do, that as a crucial part of the Bill is the definition of what constitutes “less healthy food”, it is vital that we hear the evidence from the research that is being conducted on the current definition and potential changes to it?
The hon. Gentleman is entirely right. The Bill opens up a huge array of issues, not just to do with the effect on broadcasters and on obesity, but to do with definitions. The scale of the impact that the Bill would have on the advertising industry needs to be considered, too. I praise him for his speech, which was particularly well-argued and proportionate, and which made some very sensible points about why the Bill is not the right way forward.
I did not come to Parliament to ban everybody from doing all the things that I do not happen to like. It strikes me that many Members, particularly Labour Members, have come into Parliament to do nothing else. It seems as though whenever we are here on a Friday, we are talking about whether to ban something. In fact, that happens not just on Fridays; the Government often do the job for Labour Members. I wonder where all this banning of things will end. The Bill is just another in a long line of attempts by Labour Members to ban something that they happen not to like. Above all else, it is the height of intolerance for them to want to ban everything that they do not like.
My hon. Friend is right. I hope that we are conscious that the public have a low regard for politicians. One reason is that, when politicians are confronted with a specific problem about which people are concerned—there is no doubt that many people in this country are rightly worried about childhood obesity—their instinctive solution appears always to be to incorporate two ingredients. The first is to be seen to be doing something. I believe that that, more than anything else, brings politicians into disrepute. Whatever the problem, politicians never underestimate their ability to interfere, meddle and change something. I long for the day when more politicians say, “This has got nothing to do with us—it’s for other people to sort out their problems.”
Does my hon. Friend agree that opinion about whether a food or drink is healthy or unhealthy is highly subjective? Some foods go in and out of fashion. One wonders about the qualifications of those who make the decisions in, for example, the Food Standards Agency, and who would create policy if the Bill reached the statute book.
My hon. Friend is right. Foods that were once deemed unhealthy are later considered good for you before being thought bad again and so on. Research findings about what is good and bad for people change all the time. Introducing the Bill, which would write off specific foodstuffs, even though they may be perfectly good for people if eaten in moderation, is not only disproportionate but slightly crazy.
Politicians always have to be seen to be doing something. The Bill strikes me as an example of someone being given a problem and wanting to be seen to be taking action.
The second ingredient that politicians often use when faced with a problem is a proposal that does not offend anybody. The Bill is a prime example of the sort of action to which politicians will rush. It looks as if they are doing something and the proposal does not offend anybody. That calculation lies behind such responses.
Margaret Thatcher, in her days in opposition and early days in government, had a fantastic guru called Sir Alfred Sherman, who wrote a marvellous book entitled, “Paradoxes of Power”, which I urge people to read. In it, he referred to politicians always offering “painless panaceas”. He was right. Time and again, we discuss proposed legislation, which provides what could be described as a painless panacea—something that will sort out all the country’s ills with, lo and behold, no pain for anybody. Such solutions do not exist. Whenever we legislate, we should be clear about the proposed benefits—I doubt whether there are any in the Bill—and the costs. We must ask who will lost out. Even cursory scrutiny of the Bill shows that many people could lose out.
My hon. Friend knows that many large corporations, which manufacture what is encompassed by the umbrella term “fast food”, also make enormous donations under their corporate responsibility schemes to sport, environmental projects and so on. If their sales plummeted through a ban on advertising, those projects would suffer.
My hon. Friend is right. Others who spoke in the debate made it clear that some organisations, such as McDonald’s, spend millions of pounds on promoting sport. Those of us who believe that promoting sport and physical exercise is a far better tool for tackling childhood obesity find it perverse that the Bill would prevent a food manufacturer from spending millions of pounds on promoting sport for young people.
At the risk of prolonging the unfortunate attempt to talk out the important measure, I want, as secretary of the all-party group on corporate responsibility, to make the opposite point to that raised by the hon. Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson). Valuable promotions, such as that which I mentioned by Kraft Foods, could easily be excluded from the Bill’s provisions because they encourage healthy eating and do not associate the promotion with an unhealthy product.
The hon. Gentleman said at the start that he had come in for the second Bill on the Order Paper. His interventions are making that increasingly obvious, because he has clearly not read the Bill that we are discussing. Under clause 2(3), the Bill would prevent the promotion of a
“brand name which is associated with the food product in question or similar less healthy food products.”
That is perfectly unequivocal and means that the Bill would cover any company that sold or manufactured unhealthy food products. The exemption that the hon. Gentleman suggests, which may well be sensible, is not incorporated in the Bill that he supports, which is a blunt instrument that tries to catch everything and therefore has the unforeseen consequences that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) mentioned.
I mentioned in earlier interventions that I was surprised that it should be the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South who had brought forward the Bill, given his comments and his reputation when, as a Minister at the Department of Trade and Industry, he was a powerful champion of the Government’s better regulation agenda. The hon. Gentleman prefers better regulation; personally, I prefer less regulation.