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Television Advertising (Food) Bill [HL]

Volume 692: debated on Friday 8 June 2007

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

It is an honour and a pleasure to introduce this Bill to your Lordships’ House. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Morgan of Drefelin, whose Bill this was before she joined the Government Front Bench as a Whip at Christmas. We were both wondering whether she might find herself having to deal with her former Bill from her new position; and I think we are both relieved to find that this is not the case.

I am immensely flattered that the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has chosen to make his maiden speech during this debate. He is without doubt the expert, and he is largely responsible for producing the science and information that has allowed this issue to come to the top of the public policy agenda. I, for one, am looking forward to his contribution to the debate, and I welcome him to life in your Lordships’ House.

I place on record my gratitude to Sustain and to the Children’s Food Campaign for their support and briefing, not just to me but to many noble Lords who have chosen to participate in this debate, particularly those who are supporting the Bill.

One of the reasons why I was convinced that this was an important and vital cause to support was the range and impressiveness of the support from more than 300 organisations and 12,000 members of the public, some of them distinguished scientists and chefs, such as Sophie Grigson, who joined me at a meeting with children and parents before today’s debate. Chefs such as Raymond Blanc, Prue Leith, Antony Worrall Thompson, and parents like me, are committed to improving the diet and health of the UK’s children and young people.

The British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, Which?, the Children’s Commissioner, the Consumers’ Association, Diabetes UK, the British Medical Association and many other organisations have written to give me their support. More than 100 Members of your Lordships’ House have written to me offering support, and many apologised for not being here today. We might miss them, but in terms of the length of the debate, we might be relieved that they could not all be here to speak. I am delighted and grateful for their response, as I am to noble Lords who have chosen to be here today to participate in the Second Reading debate, even if they disagree with me.

Noble Lords might wish to know that Early Day Motion 404 in the other place has now gathered 233 signatures from across the parties in support of the proposals in the Bill. The Bill is in two parts. It will end television advertising for high in fat, salt and sugar—HFSS—food and drink before 9 pm, it will restrict the advertising of food “ranges” with HFSS items in them before 9 pm and finally it seeks to prevent the sponsorship of pre-watershed programmes by HFSS products.

The Bill seeks to do that by defining a watershed that covers most of the time when children might be watching television, but it is not limited to what are commonly known as “children’s viewing times”. It seeks to find a form of words that would cover not only foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar, but that will deal with the manufacturers and producers of brands of those foods, hence the use of the phrase “range of foods” in Clause 1(4). Clause 2 seeks to use the classification and models that are already in existence to classify foods, particularly because those are the nutritional classifications that have been used by Ofcom in its deliberations about the restrictions on advertising to children.

Why is this Bill necessary now, when, as I am sure the Minister will tell us later in the debate, the Ofcom-recommended restrictions are only just being introduced? It is no exaggeration to say that there is a crisis in children’s diets. The National Diet and Nutrition Survey found that 92 per cent of children consume more saturated fat than is recommended; 86 per cent consume too much sugar; 72 per cent consume too much salt; and 96 per cent do not get enough fruit and vegetables. The Chief Medical Officer has compared the crisis in children’s diets to a health “time bomb” that must be defused.

It is to our shame that the UK now has the highest rate of obesity in Europe, and childhood obesity is rising at an alarming rate. One in three children is now overweight or obese. Obesity in children under 11 has risen by over 40 per cent in 10 years. If that trend continues, half of children will be obese or overweight by 2020. The Government have set themselves a target to halt the rise in obesity by 2010. The Bill points to the fact that that will not be achieved unless urgent measures are taken.

The consequences of childhood obesity are now clear. Incidences of high blood pressure, raised cholesterol and even clogged arteries in children are rising. Obesity in childhood is likely to develop into obesity in adulthood, increasing the risk of heart disease, diabetes or cancer. Ten years ago, type 2 diabetes in UK children was reported as an anomaly; today, there are up to 1,000 known cases, all of which can be directly attributed to an increasingly poor diet and lack of physical activity. The prevalence in children could be over 50 per cent by 2020 if the current trend continues.

The psychological impact of obesity can be as damaging as the physical for many children. Being overweight or obese is associated with increased levels of distress, disadvantage and psychological problems. Alongside the problems associated with obesity, junk food diets are causing other health problems. I have mentioned type 2 diabetes, but junk food diets also have significant effects on children's behaviour, concentration, learning ability and mood. Many noble Lords who are parents will know about the sugar high and spike that our children experience. I have one daughter, and we used to say that she climbed the walls if she got the wrong kind of sugar and additives in the sweets that she had access to from time to time, despite my best efforts. Children with diets lacking in essential vitamins, minerals and fatty acids tend to perform worse academically, cannot concentrate and can be more aggressive.

A great deal of this will be familiar to noble Lords, Ofcom and the Government. All that information helped to inform Ofcom in its deliberations last year when it was deciding the precise recommendations about the restrictions on advertising of certain foods. I pay tribute to the thorough way that it set out to define the scale of the problem, although I note that Ofcom was asked to undertake that task in December 2003 by the Secretary of State, Tessa Jowell. The four years that it has taken to get to this point is no doubt due to the comprehensive nature of the analysis Ofcom undertook of the available scientific and audience data to assess the extent to which television advertising influenced children's food preferences.

I also pay tribute to the Food Standards Agency for providing us with nutrient profiling which defines food and drink products rated as high in fat, salt and sugar, about which there will no doubt be more from the noble Lord, Lord Krebs. I am reassured that Ofcom will continue to look to the FSA to ensure that the nutrient profiling scheme remains in line with scientific thinking as it evolves.

My contention, and I think that of many others today, is that the conclusion that Ofcom came to from its deliberations and the resulting proposals are inadequate given the scale and urgency of this problem. We cannot wait another year for the proposals to be enacted, then another two or three years to find out that they are inadequate, and then perhaps even more years to find a firmer remedy. The UK’s children do not have that time to wait, and deserve better. This Bill therefore lays down a challenge to Ofcom and the Government to get serious with the issue. It does so with a huge amount of public support. If Ofcom and the Government believe their own research by their own experts, why are they not prepared to take the steps necessary to have a real impact?

The Bill is not the silver bullet that will solve overnight the problems of child obesity, diet and lack of exercise. Of course, it is not up to the House of Lords to substitute for parents and their responsibilities. The most important people in this equation are parents and families, and then there are teachers and other carers, youth workers, doctors and so on, all of whom have important jobs in educating and persuading children and young people to eat sensibly and well. But all the good work of schools and the efforts of parents are being undermined by the torrent of advertising for less healthy food. The average child sees 18,000 adverts a year.

A recent British Heart Foundation survey found that 68 per cent of parents were in favour of pre-9 pm restrictions on junk food advertising, while only 7 per cent were against them. Which? found in a 2006 survey that 79 per cent of parents believe that unhealthy foods should not be advertised when children are most likely to watch television. Ofcom found in 2004 that 81 per cent of parents and carers wanted some form of regulation of the advertising of junk food products, while just 11 per cent wanted no change. Some 48 per cent supported a ban on junk food advertising before 9 pm, and 24 per cent opposed it.

Professor Hastings, in his distinguished review published in 2003 on the impact of broadcast food and drink promotion on children's eating behaviour, found not only that there was a substantial amount of food advertising for children, but that food promotion affects children's preferences and what they decide to buy and eat. Those findings were further endorsed by additional research that Ofcom carried out before it initiated its 2006 consultation and research published in the Lancet.

It is therefore clear not only that children are being subjected to considerable high fat, salt and sugar food TV advertising, but that this in turn affects their eating habits. Some 80 per cent of the junk food advertising that children are subjected to is on television. The Hastings review on the effect of television advertising demonstrated that this has a significant influence on not only their preferences, but their purchasing behaviour—and the pressure that they put on their parents and family in their purchasing behaviour, and on their friends through peer group pressure.

The problem is that Ofcom's recommendations for restrictions on junk food advertising do not properly protect children from it and contain a significant number of loopholes. Ofcom's proposals effectively prevent the advertising of junk food only during the hours of children's television, and 71 per cent of television watched by children falls outside those hours, so we have a serious problem. Research by Which? found that none of the 26 commercial television programmes watched by most children was covered by Ofcom's proposed regulations. These are programmes such as “Coronation Street” and “Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway”, which has 11 million viewers. They are not covered by the Ofcom regulations. It is estimated that imposing a watershed at 9 pm could save the nation up a billion pounds a year, at a cost to the industry of only £150 million a year—less than half of ITV’s latest dividend to shareholders. The Bill will encourage TV advertising for healthier products. This may well encourage children to eat healthier foods.

Ofcom’s failure to place any restrictions on brand advertising allowed a significant loophole for food companies producing products that are high in fat, sugar and salt (HFSS). Its recommendations do not apply to brand advertising where no products are shown. For example, you could advertise the golden arches of McDonald's, which are recognised even by a large number of three year-olds, without showing a hamburger. Thereby, companies have the freedom to promote their products via their brands. Even Ofcom admitted that:

“If there are no restrictions on brands, there is a risk that manufacturers of HFSS products might seek to use brand advertising and especially brand sponsorship to substitute for the loss of product advertising opportunities”.

It is up to the Government to get Ofcom out of this dilemma. Ofcom probably also believes that it is up to the Government and this Parliament to make sure that the watchdog can take the necessary steps to end such brand advertising. There is every reason to expect that loopholes in HFSS advertising regulation will be exploited by food and drink companies and their advertising agencies, leading to continued marketing pressure on children from companies promoting fast food, snacks, confectionery and soft drinks.

This Bill tackles the issue of brand advertising by preventing advertising for any range of food that includes HFSS items, although advertising of any non-HFSS product within that range is still allowed. This will mean that much brand advertising is controlled, without harming advertising for healthier products.

In conclusion, I urge the Government to follow the logic of their own research, the logic of their stated public aims, and the views of many respected scientists, the medical profession, teachers and the vast majority of parents and families who support the Bill. I am aware that there would be an impact on profits in the commercial television world. Indeed, one television channel wrote to me to tell me of the detrimental effect that my proposals would have on its ability to make children’s programmes. I do not deny that there would be such an effect, although, like the doom mongers who opposed the ban on cigarette advertising and indeed smoking in public places, it is probably exaggerated. However, there is a greater good here that cannot be denied.

I have several reasons to be optimistic that we will succeed. Apart from the fact, as my children and their friends say, that it is a bit of a no-brainer, in an interview on GMTV on 25 October 2006, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, gave his support for pre-9 pm watershed restrictions on junk food advertising to children, stating:

“We have got to do something about television advertising before the watershed hour”.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Thornton.)

My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest as chief executive of the Advertising Association. If a ban on the advertising of foods high in fat, sugar and salt solved the problem of obesity in Britain, how simple life would be. Unfortunately, life is not that simple and I am afraid that this Bill is a classic case of a quick-fix solution to a complex problem.

Advertising is an easy target, but advertising bans have unintended consequences and will not tackle the root causes of the problem of obesity. Obesity is a hugely important and multi-faceted social issue that must be taken seriously. The increase in obesity can be attributed to a complex range of inter-relating causal factors, including changes in lifestyle and diet, and social, environmental and cultural factors. Both Ofcom and the Food Standards Agency have acknowledged this.

Recommendations on advertising comprised only three of the 91 recommendations in the Government’s 2004 Choosing Health White Paper. One might well ask what happened to the other 88, especially given the huge amount of activity and change that has taken place in the reformulation of food and marketing to children. Not only would a watershed be damaging and disproportionate, but it is not evidence-based; it is certainly not rational to introduce yet more changes when the current ones are only just being phased in.

The pressure groups behind this Bill advocate a 9 pm watershed on the grounds that it will significantly reduce exposure of food advertising to children up to 15 years of age. This view has evolved from Ofcom’s 2004 research, which showed that 70 per cent of children’s viewing is outside children’s airtime. In fact, this is an oversimplification of the figures and children’s exposure to adult viewing is considerably less.

Ofcom was asked in 2004 to research the impact of television advertising of food and drink to children and to consider proposals on tightening the rules on television advertising. Its comprehensive and evidence-based report concluded that food advertising had “modest direct effect”—around only 2 per cent—on children’s food choices. It also said that indirect effects were likely to be larger but that there was insufficient evidence to quantify the indirect effect of TV advertising on children’s food preferences, consumption and behaviour, by comparison with other relevant factors such as exercise, trends in family eating habits, school policy and food labelling.

Ofcom decided that there was a case for strengthening advertising rules but concluded that a total ban on pre-watershed television advertising of food and drinks to children would be neither proportionate nor, in isolation, effective. Indeed, it recognised that this “nuclear option” would not be sufficiently targeted and would be disproportionate. Its chief executive, Ed Richards, confirmed that it would reduce broadcaster revenues by a sum greater than the entire commercial TV industry’s combined expenditure on all children’s programming and national news coverage and that it would cut,

“a swath through quality British made programmes on our TV screens”.

It is often forgotten that TV food advertising expenditure has been declining since the beginning of this decade, yet obesity in younger children continues to rise. The evidence is just not there to support the restrictions that this Bill would impose. Instead, it is time for government and politicians to face up to uncomfortable truths. In the United States, the attention on obesity is rightly focused, by inspirational organisations such as the Johnson and Johnson Foundation, on the balance between “energy in”, or food intake, and “energy out”, or exercise, of children. I suggest that the FSA and the Government would do well to look at what Johnson and Johnson is doing on this.

Politicians in this country must face up to the fact that ideological posturing by both left and right has harmed children. Doctrinaire positions on the selling of playing fields and the banning of team sports in schools have failed a generation of children. Only this week we heard from the Children’s Society that parents are afraid to let their children go out and play by themselves and explore and grow as individuals. On Wednesday morning we heard two health professors, Professor Wardle and Professor Fox, on Radio 4’s “Today” programme, explain that the increase in obesity is due to a chronic imbalance of eating and exercise, with a lack of healthier food at lower prices and the microwave contributing to an overweight nation. Advertising is an easy target when politicians do not want to blame either themselves or the lack of responsibility exercised by their constituents. Yet if we really want to tackle the root causes of obesity, this is where we should be looking.

Frankly, the bizarre posturing of consumerist groups on this issue is as damaging as it is perplexing. Generating a bandwagon of C-list celebrities looking for attention and of contenders for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party, as has been attempted in support of this Bill, is not serious politics. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth and raises the serious question of why these self-styled consumerist groups behind the Bill are not campaigning on more serious problems and the root causes of obesity.

It is worth noting that the Bill is being promoted by the pressure group Sustain, which is funded by farming groups, such as the National Farmers’ Union, and by Baby Milk Action and other related organisations. I wonder how those unbelievably hard-pressed dairy and pig farmers would feel if they realised that their produce—cream, butter, cheese and sausages—is all already classed as junk food according to the FSA nutrient profiling. Indeed mothers’ milk, if it could be advertised, would be banned as well. Farmers are effectively funding an organisation, Sustain, which we can only deduce is happy to destroy them.

At a time when we habitually read of killings of children by other children and of drug, substance and physical abuse, why is there such a disproportionate and hysterical agenda against advertising being conducted by groups that claim to campaign for the common good?

Perhaps the most disheartening aspect of all this was to watch the British Medical Association leap on this bandwagon. It is in such a powerful position to make a real difference and it should be asking itself what thousands of GPs are doing to help obese patients. Instead, its only excuse for posturing on this issue is to cite the very dubious research—indeed, it is not really research—compiled by the increasingly sensationalist and commercial Which? magazine.

We have to stop being afraid of saying what has to be said. The quick fix of restricting food advertising has already brought consequences that are way beyond what was intended and has possibly brought more harmful effects than beneficial ones. Around £40 million of ad revenue per annum has been taken out of the TV market, in addition to the losses that commercial broadcasters have already incurred as advertisers have, over the past couple of years, voluntarily withdrawn from advertising during children’s programme times. This is yet another disincentive for broadcasters to invest in quality, UK-originated children’s programming, let alone to increase spend. So-called “junk food” advertising may well be replaced with much worse “junk TV” for children.

A 9 pm pre-watershed ban is not the answer to reducing childhood obesity. When considering the option of excluding all HFSS advertising before the 9 pm watershed, Ofcom concluded that this would “undermine” its regulatory objectives. Rather than targeting children, it would prevent adults from viewing advertisements for HFSS products that are aimed at them and could make television an unattractive medium for food and drink advertisers.

According to Ofcom’s qualitative research, parents have indicated that they do not favour a ban on HFSS advertising extending to 9 pm. Also, Ofcom considers that the impact on broadcasters would be disproportionate. Ofcom also says that, given the limited impact that advertising has on children’s food preferences, excluding the advertising of such foods before the 9 pm watershed would have a minimal effect on obesity levels in contrast to the impact that it will have on broadcasters’ revenues and, as such, on the quality of programming.

It is clearly not rational to introduce yet more changes when the current ones are only now being phased in. What is often forgotten in this depressing debate is the positive power of advertising. At a time when the Department of Health is rightly looking at a public information campaign to educate and inform the public of the dangers of alcohol abuse, why are similar, well thought-out and logical solutions not being proposed in the obesity debate? It is time to end the increasingly hysterical calls for bans, restrictions and bandwagons and to look instead for common sense, clarity and real solutions.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for introducing the Bill and I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, to our debate and to this House. I am sure that we all look forward to hearing what he has to say.

I start by saying that I do not represent any interest; I am not an expert even in this field but I am interested in the welfare of children and the effect that health in children has on the general health of a population. I shall speak from that point of view.

The rate of obesity in children has risen in both boys and girls aged between 12 and 15 so that now 18 per cent—getting on for one in five—are obese. That is the evidence produced for us by the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research and Diabetes UK. They go on to say that not only has the rate of obesity in children increased “dramatically”—their word, not mine—but that this trend has dangerous implications for the health of these same young people in later life because of the increased risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

Of course, nobody is suggesting that diet alone can solve the problem of childhood obesity. Exercise is also essential for the health of young people, but that needs to be addressed by other means. That is one area in which I support the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. Meanwhile, we are in danger of raising increasingly obese adults. Today, one in five adults in this country is obese and the fear is that by 2010 that figure will be one in four. An unhealthy diet and excess bodyweight are second only to smoking as risk factors for cancer—risk factors that it is in our power to do something about.

Similar analyses have been done, with similar conclusions, on the connection between obesity in children and the risk of heart disease and diabetes. The next question is: what has television advertising to do with that? The facts are, first, that children and young people are heavily influenced by television and, secondly, that they do not watch only the TV programmes that are provided especially for them, as research done by Which? clearly indicates. In fact, the programmes most appreciated and watched by children are generally those that are principally aimed at adults. Hence the prohibition of the advertising of fatty, oversalted and oversweet food on television before a new 9 pm watershed proposed in the noble Baroness’s Bill.

It should not be forgotten that, of the children who watch TV at that time, many are of an age to control their own diet—to skip the healthy choices that are offered in schools and to have lunch in the local burger bar and/or to buy crisps, chocolates and sweets on their way home. Addressing the problem of advertising on television will not, by itself, ensure that children are discouraged from eating unhealthy food. We know, for example, that strenuous efforts are being made in schools to offer healthy options at school dinners. However, advertising is a powerful influence on children’s choices. If that were not the case, companies would not spend so much money on it.

The argument may be made that the advertisers and television companies would lose revenue if this Bill were to become law. Personally, I think that the gain in the health of young people and in the reduction of costs to the National Health Service would be sufficient justification. But we know that suppliers adapt to the market. In future years, organic or local foods may come to have greater importance for food suppliers in sales and market share. To encourage that end, companies will no doubt advertise their new products with the same enthusiasm as they now advertise less desirable ones.

Why does the regulator not deal with advertising dangerous foods on television if the problem is so serious? That would, in some ways, be the ideal solution. One of the spin-offs from this Bill—even if it does not succeed in getting enacted—could be to convince Ofcom that it has a duty further to regulate these matters in the interests of the health of children and the adults whom they will become. I hope that the noble Baroness’s Bill, whatever happens to it, will encourage Ofcom to look again at its policies on advertising fatty, salty or sugary foods before 9 pm.

The noble Baroness has done children and their parents a real service in bringing this Bill before the House this morning. I hope that she is successful in getting her Second Reading. She has been very precise and quite modest in her claims about the importance of the Bill but, simply by putting it forward, she has raised the prominence of an important issue that affects not only children but also the adults whom they will become.

The Bill may not survive the parliamentary process on which it has been launched but it will help those parents who are already trying to discourage their children’s tendency to prefer salty, sweet or fatty foodstuffs. It will encourage the medical organisations that have warned us of the dangers of these foodstuffs to continue their campaign and it may well encourage Ofcom to go further in the direction proposed by the Bill. That acceptance on the part of Ofcom that it can and should extend the watershed to 9 pm in order to protect children and young people could eventually be the best possible outcome of the noble Baroness’s efforts today.

My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for introducing this important Bill. I also welcome the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, to the House, and look forward very much indeed to his contribution.

I want to set the Bill in a slightly larger context. Noble Lords may be aware that in late medieval society wall paintings in the aisles of churches in western Europe frequently depicted images of a story known as “The Three Living and Three Dead”. They showed three beautifully dressed, well fed and haughty young men suddenly being confronted by three rattling, grimacing skeletons with yellow teeth. Emerging from the mouths of those skeletons was the medieval equivalent of a speech bubble, which said, “As you are now, so once were we; as we are now, so you will be”. It was, I suppose, an attempt at narrative advertising, designed to remind all those who lived that one day they would die. In the same period, there were also tombs called transi tombs. High-status individuals were portrayed at the top level of the tomb in all their glorious finery and, at the level underneath, were shown gaunt, with the flesh falling off and covered in worms, slugs and toads.

Both the story of “The Three Living and Three Dead” and the transi tombs were part of a culture in which people were reminded of the dangers of vanity, their own finitude and their accountability to God for their behaviour. Noble Lords may wonder what all this has to do with the Bill. I argue that our society is characterised, at least in much of the media and in advertising, as being obsessed by self. Vanity has become the ruling metaphor of our age and is accompanied by its first cousin, greed.

I should love to know when the use of the word “consumer” first hit the public airwaves. I guess that it was in the 1950s or 1960s and, ever since, consumption has been a dominant motif in our society. We are constantly urged to consume, and I look to the skills of a 21st century Hogarth or Rowlandson to reveal us in our grossness. I suggest that he would take the image of the British Isles, lift it up somewhere around Hadrian’s Wall and show a dustbin full of garbage being emptied into the open mouth of our country. We swallow absolutely everything we can.

Even worse, we now refer to children as consumers. We do not think of them having their own lives or their own imaginative needs, and, above all, we do not consider their need for places of stillness. Instead, we bombard them in supermarkets and on billboards, the internet and TV with suggestions that what they need is to learn how to consume. “Open your mouth and we will fill it”, we say. While this relentless targeting of children goes on, we have, at the same time, developed a terrible but understandable anxiety about children’s safety and well-being. The relationship between those two things in our society needs further research. I suggest that we spend much, much more time in society looking at the spiritual needs of children.

Far from seeing the Bill as the nuclear option, I want to up the ante even more. I should love to see us following the Swedish example of banning everywhere all advertising with anything aimed at the under-12s. The Wordsworthian child trailed clouds of glory, but the 21st-century child trails crisp packets, designer-label trainers and drink cans. It is a horrible image. Surely, childhood is a place where things of the spirit need to be given room to grow, because at that stage children are spiritually delicate. If we do not enable virtues relating to truth, gentleness, compassion and care for others to take root, we treat them simply as dustbins.

On a previous occasion, I spoke of us as a society producing fat and greedy children with thin and starving souls, but at least this Bill, which I welcome, is an attempt to ensure that the fat part of that statement is taken seriously. I wish it well.

My Lords, it is a great honour to address this House for the first time. I start by thanking the staff of your Lordships’ House, as well as my fellow Peers, for the warm and helpful welcome that I have received. Some have suggested that my academic background as a zoologist studying the behaviour of animals and as an ecologist acquainted with endangered species will equip me exceptionally well for work in the House. However, today’s debate links to my time as chairman of the Food Standards Agency.

In July 2004, the agency published a wide-ranging action plan for improving children’s diets. It included the recommendation to Ofcom and the food industry that the promotion and advertising of food, including soft drinks, to children should reflect a healthy diet. As we have already heard, the National Diet and Nutrition Survey shows that the average child in this country has an unbalanced diet. Put simply, he or she eats too much fat, salt and sugar and not enough fruit and vegetables.

Again as we have already heard, a poor diet is bad for a child’s health, and it contributes to the rapidly rising prevalence of obesity in children. The last Health Survey for England recorded that 25 per cent of children between the ages of 11 and 14 were obese—an increase from 14 per cent a mere 10 years earlier. We know that these children are likely to suffer many health problems in the future, and most of us would agree that we have a duty of care to protect children and support their parents in their responsibility in looking after their kids’ diets.

The Bill introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, aims to implement a specific recommendation made by the Food Standards Agency of a nine o’clock watershed for television advertising of foods high in fat, salt and sugar. I want to focus on just one question: how robust is the evidence to support the propositions in the Bill? There are two parts to that question. First, is there evidence that TV advertising affects children’s diets and, secondly, is there a proper scientific basis for discriminating between “healthy” and “less healthy” foods? As is often the case in the interface between science and policy, the underpinning science does not provide us with clean, crisp answers, so it is not surprising that there is much heated debate about both issues. That makes it all the more important to stand back and take an impartial view, following the advice of James McNeill Whistler, who famously said:

“I maintain that two and two would continue to make four, in spite of the whine of the amateur for three, or the cry of the critic for five”.

So does the evidence on the effect of TV advertising add up? As we have heard, children’s diets are influenced by many factors and it is hard to separate out their relative importance. But the Food Standards Agency’s systematic review of the evidence—the so-called Hastings review—showed that advertising food does have a significant influence on children’s diets. It influences not just brand preference, such as Mars versus KitKat, but diet as a whole—chocolate versus vegetables. That conclusion is now widely accepted by experts in the field. Indeed, the claim that advertising has no effect invites the retort, “Why does the industry spend £300 million a year doing it?”. Moreover, since the food industry is in favour of government advertising campaigns to promote positive messages about healthy eating, such as “5 a day”, they must surely assume that such promotion and marketing has an effect on children’s diets.

The Hastings review concluded that the direct effect of TV advertising on children’s diets may be small. The science is not really precise enough to put numbers on it. But Hastings also concluded that there is a much larger indirect effect of advertising; for instance, through children’s classmates or parents. Any parent who has experienced pester power does not need to be further convinced of this. Advertising undermines their attempts to steer their kids towards a healthy diet.

My second question is whether there is a scientific definition of healthy and less healthy food. In this context, the term “junk food” is often bandied about, but it is not a scientific term and, in my view, it is not helpful. How do you decide, apart from by personal prejudice, what is a junk food and what is not? There is, however, a more objective basis for separating foods into healthy and less healthy, starting from the science of nutrition. The Food Standards Agency has developed a model of nutrient profiles for foods, a way of combining the positive and negative nutritional aspects of a processed composite food, such as a pizza, into a single score. So the nutrients that children tend to eat too much of—fat, sugar and salt—count as negatives, while the nutrients that are under-represented in children’s diets—components such as fruit, vegetables, protein and fibre—are counted as positives. There is no precise formula for combining these components into a single score, so an element of judgment is involved. Therefore, the resulting categorisation of foods into healthy and less healthy can be no more than an approximation, but it is based on the best available scientific evidence.

This nutrient profile model has been criticised by some in the food industry because they are surprised that certain products, such as hard cheese, come out as “less healthy”. But surely this is putting prejudice before science. It is saying, as perhaps Galileo experienced, “The science is defeating my prejudice; therefore I accept prejudice and reject the science”. I, for one, would rather follow a scientific analysis than one based on preconceptions. The Food Standards Agency’s model has, as we have heard, been adopted by Ofcom in the restrictions on TV advertising now being introduced.

The noble Baroness’s Bill is based on the proposition that Ofcom’s proposals do not go far enough; that they do not strike the right balance between health benefits to children and costs to the advertising and broadcast industries. This is a judgment about the proportionality of regulation. The argument for going further, as we have heard, is that more children watch programmes not covered by the Ofcom restrictions than watch the ones that are covered. A 9 pm watershed, as proposed in the Bill, would capture most of the programmes that children watch. How effective would such a ban be? A recent Australian study, comparing a range of possible measures to tackle childhood obesity, including stomach stapling, concluded that restricting TV advertising of less healthy food and drink to children is the single most cost-effective population-level public health intervention to tackle childhood obesity.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, has pointed out, while the tight restrictions proposed in the Bill are not going to transform our children’s diets on their own, they should form part of a wider strategy to change the food culture in this country. We have heard comments about the importance of exercise. Exercise is important, but bear in mind a simple fact: if you go to the gym and run for 30 minutes flat out on the treadmill, step off the treadmill and drink a single can of Coke, you will have put on all the calories that you had burnt off in that 30 minutes. It is difficult to burn off calories by exercise.

As we have heard, recent opinion polls show that more parents are in favour of a 9 pm watershed than are against it. Some will argue that this is taking the nanny state too far, but the major challenge of childhood obesity will not be solved without significant action by government. What is more, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, has mentioned, there will be a further benefit of tightening the restrictions: they will drive innovation in the food industry. As the chairman of one our largest food companies said to me two years ago, the race is on to create new products that come under the bar in terms of high fat, salt and sugar. The first companies to develop those products will market them furiously to our children and thereby help them to eat a healthier diet.

If we are to wait and see whether Ofcom’s measures produce thinner children over the years, we will be waiting for a very long time indeed. I support this Bill. It has a sound scientific basis and it will make a difference to the health of the nation.

My Lords, we expected a cogent, thoughtful and penetrating maiden speech from the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and we have not been disappointed. His is a famous name, and we welcome him to this House. Best known as Sir John Krebs and the former chair of the Food Standards Agency, the noble Lord has a distinguished career behind him as a zoologist, ornithologist and expert in the natural environment. A fellow of the Royal Society and principal of Jesus College, Oxford, he has written more than 250 books and articles on animal behaviour. It is my privilege to congratulate him on a maiden speech which has informed and enlightened us all, and from which I have learnt a great deal about a subject in which I am very interested. It is my misfortune to be obliged to make my speech immediately after his.

I can recall only very few obese people from when I was young. Extreme fatness was virtually unknown. One very overweight child attended my school and her condition, as we all knew, was not the result of eating unsuitable foods but of an endocrine imbalance: hardly any junk food—I know the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, does not like the term—was available. At that time, there was, of course, no television. It was a curiosity in those days, something to be wondered at. When I was nine I knew just one family who possessed a set. It is hard not to make the connection.

As my noble friend Lady Thornton has told the House in introducing a much-needed Bill, children are exposed to a huge amount of TV advertising of foods high in fat, salt and sugar, those three nutrition bugbears. Ofcom’s research has shown that the vast majority, 82 to 90 per cent, of food and drink advertisements to children are for products high in these substances and that the most popular programmes among two-to-nine year-olds are shown in the early evenings. Perhaps it would not matter if being overweight meant no more than that, but obese children grow into obese adults, of which there are one in five in Britain and the rates are on the increase. It has been estimated that over a quarter of British adults will be obese in three years’ time. For the first time in more than a century, average life expectancy may fall, with the prospect that children may live a shorter time than their parents.

How has this come about? Recent research has shown that, after smoking, an unhealthy diet and excess bodyweight are the most important modifiable risk factors for cancer, something which will come as a surprise to most people who think of obesity as damaging to the cardiovascular system alone. But one third of all cancers are caused by poor diet, obesity and alcohol problems. Some authorities say that the tape measure is a better guide than the scales. Carrying fat around the waist and stomach can quadruple the risk of diabetes and heart disease, for it produces hormones which can be carcinogenic and are linked to breast cancers and bowel and oesophagus cancers. Chemicals produced by excess waistline fat can damage the insulin system, and Diabetes UK has acknowledged that abdominal weight is a contributing factor in type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes, which was once associated with the aged—my grandfather developed it at the age of 80—is now by no means unusual in young and middle-aged adults. Ten years ago it was almost unknown in children, but today there are 1,000 cases in the United Kingdom, all of which are directly due to poor diet and lack of exercise. Diabetic children grow into diabetic adults. Some data link Alzheimer’s to obesity. Being fat can also cause children psychological distress; teasing a child about his or her appearance often leads to isolation and low self-esteem.

Fatty, sweet and salty foods and sweet fizzy drinks seem to have a special appeal for children unless they are never introduced to them or are weaned off them. Exposure to advertising and peer pressure militates against those measures, and children and teenagers are highly influenced by advertising. Yet promotion by the large food outlets could equally be for healthy foods that children like if they are exposed to them very early in life: fruit and vegetables, foods high in fibre and unsweetened fruit juices. Where advertising to children has been restricted, there is demonstrable evidence of the health benefits. In Sweden and Quebec, all broadcast advertising to children under 12 and 13 respectively is prohibited. Sweden has one of the lowest rates of childhood obesity in Europe and Quebec’s rate is the lowest in Canada. Research published in the state of Victoria in Australia has found restricting TV advertising to be the most effective way of combating childhood obesity, while the European Association for the Study of Obesity has shown that the United Kingdom has one of the highest prevalence rates for overweight children in Europe.

When healthy options were offered to children in schools, there were cases of parents bringing junk food to the school gates for their children’s lunches. Parents are ultimately responsible for what children eat and drink and are also responsible for what they watch on television. Considering that articles on childhood obesity appear in newspapers virtually every day and proliferate in magazines on sale in supermarkets, and seeing that the Department of Health’s website, among many websites highlighting this subject, publishes Why Your Child’s Weight Matters, it is remarkable that so many parents seem unaware of which foods are bad for their children and which are beneficial.

Not only that, but while many people have indicated their support for the Bill, they are often not aware that their children are overweight. A study published on the British Medical Journal website shows that, of 277 overweight children surveyed, only a quarter of their parents were aware that there was a problem. A team at a Plymouth hospital found that when children were obese a third of mothers and 57 per cent of fathers thought their offspring were “about right”. Denial is responsible for a lot of the lack of parental concern, and parents are apparently less likely to recognise obesity in boys than in girls, while adults are unaware of their own weight problems. Just as many of them register a self-enhanced view of themselves when they look in the mirror, their naturally strong bias towards their children makes them see them as slimmer and more attractive than they are. If love is not necessarily blind, it is a powerful beautifier. Parents are far more aware of their daughters reducing themselves to the so-called “size zero” than they are of excess weight. Even now, this may be a legacy from the days when being big or well built meant being sufficiently well fed in a society where being undernourished was the norm. While parents recognise anorexia as a disease, they often dismiss its reverse, obesity, as puppy fat and say that their children will grow out of it. The majority do not, but carry it on into adulthood and for the rest of their lives.

If the proposal we are discussing today becomes law, as many of us hope it will, and the advertising of unsuitable foods is banned until after the 9 pm watershed, it will be aimed at parents even more than at children, aiming to give them a clear signal of when high-fat advertising starts. Is it time to turn off the television? That is again easier said than done. Moreover, many children now have their own TV sets in their bedrooms, and for them the watershed means very little. Yet some experts are saying that children under three should watch no more than eight hours of television a week, while others recommend none at all for that age group. In the three-to-12 age bracket, television viewing should be less than three hours a day. It is the job of parents to enforce that, which is a responsibility that they find hard given the commercial pressures placed upon their children.

Cases of obesity, which causes physical damage, are increasing at the rate of 200,000 per year. Speaking as a crank who would like to see junk food disappear from shops, not just from TV, I believe that the Bill, excellent though it is in principle, fails to go far enough. There is no doubt that a complete ban is untenable at this time and is a matter for the future, but in the words of one advertiser’s slogan, “Every little helps”.

My Lords, it is my privilege to be the first speaker from these Benches to compliment the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, not only on joining our House but also on the expertise he brings to our deliberations. He will recall that some years ago I went to see him when he was first appointed chairman of the Food Standards Agency to welcome him to the role of bringing some objectivity to a very difficult scientific area. I did that because I was chairman of the All-Party Food and Health Forum, which was set up with the help of the late David Ennals to improve the understanding of food products, vitamins and minerals. It continues today and works across both Houses, but I am thankful that I am no longer chairman. I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Rea, is in his place. He was also a founder member of the organisation.

I spent 25 years in advertising and promoted some of the leading food brands—I am proud to have conceived and promoted Jacob’s Club chocolate biscuits—so I understand how the world of advertising works and how it does not. I hope to bring that to bear on the Bill.

First, we all agree that there is a problem of obesity in our children today. Secondly, we all agree that it has got considerably worse in the past 10 years—whichever way the Government like to wriggle, it happened on their watch, and the problem is increasing. Thirdly, we all agree that not enough is being done to tackle the problem. My noble friend Lady Buscombe made a point about the Government’s White Paper Choosing Health. The Government are clearly aware of the problem, but of the 91 proposals in that White Paper, only three appear to have been tackled. They are self-evident.

First, there is a major effort to make school meals sound and nutritionally healthy. We all support that, although much more needs to be done, and I hope that the Minister will have some positive news on that front. If not, it will be a major disappointment. Secondly—the House needs to take note of this, although the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is probably aware of it—the food manufacturing industry has been working extremely hard, particularly in the past 10 years or so, to try to remove salt and sugars and, where possible, to substitute ingredients to reduce fat content. No one can say that it is dogmatically sticking its head in the sand and refusing to do anything. It may not have achieved what should be achieved, but there is progress, and that should be placed on the record. Thirdly, there is the Ofcom agreement. It has just started, and it is greatly to be welcomed.

What about the rest? In particular, how will this Bill help if it is passed? First, it will wreck the work that the Ofcom measure has put in place. It is not good science, good strategy or good politics to set up a process, monitor it and then wreck it within six to nine months, or a year, before the progress can be evaluated. That is not a sensible use of resources and the time and energy that all parties have put into it.

Secondly—this is a commercial dimension but Parliament needs to think about it—by extending the restriction to 9 pm and the coverage of the products, ITV revenue will fall. ITV, as part of one of the large companies in our FTSE 100, is in some commercial difficulty. Maybe there are those who hate advertising so much that they would like to see ITV go to the wall, but it is a consideration that people should bear in mind. There would certainly be a reduction in specific young children’s programme-making. As the proud grandfather of two year-old and nine month-old granddaughters, I want to see good children’s TV programming. We should recognise that in this House.

Thirdly, today’s society seems to forget about parental responsibility—to control children’s viewing and perhaps to get them to bed at a decent time. What has happened to the regime whereby all young children used to be in bed by 6.30 pm or 7 pm? I admit that I have problems with my daughter getting her children, my grandchildren, to bed at a decent hour, but when they come to stay with us my wife ensures that that happens. What has happened to homework? Perhaps nobody does it any more; perhaps they just sit and watch television. I should have thought that parents had a major responsibility there.

I am sorry to say it, but this sort of Bill fails completely to understand the purchasing process of any product—a chocolate biscuit, a crisp or whatever it may be. Mothers do the purchasing, certainly up to the age when the child goes to middle school, and for the area where children's programmes are specifically geared. Maybe we need to do some more work on how, and at what age, you make the distinction between when a mother buys totally for a child and when children begin to make their own purchases. I do not know that much work has been done on that.

The Bill refers to “range” advertising. Somebody called it brand advertising. It is not that; it is generic brand advertising. At least let us use the right terminology. It will not work. I can assure your Lordships, from a lot of experience, that it will not work.

I have made the point about the Bill ignoring all other media. Gone are the days when ITV was competing just with the BBC. We now have a plethora of channels, communication via the web, iPods and everything else under the sun. Frankly, it is only the responsibility of the food manufacturers and their code of practice that reduces the impact on children.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, mentioned that she had received a letter. I imagine it was from channel 5, as that is the letter I have received. It makes it very clear about the impact of the legislation on its programming. The noble Baroness needs to answer that problem. She cannot throw it aside and say, “Well, I am not terribly interested in channel 5 and its children’s programmes”. That is not a responsible attitude.

Next, I do not seek to be terribly difficult, but it seems to me that, when you have an Ofcom situation operating, to take up the time of the House and officials on a Bill at this stage in the parliamentary year is an absolute waste of time and resources. Would it not be far better, as my noble friend Lady Buscombe emphasised, to have a campaign to get competitive sport into all our schools? At the moment, we leave that to voluntary bodies. I am very involved in cricket, but it is a tragedy that it is left entirely to the ECB, county bodies such as Hampshire County Cricket Club, to which I belong, and wonderful actions such as Chance to Shine. These are all voluntary organisations.

However, school sports grounds have either gone or are neglected and the pitches are awful. That is a real tragedy and it is for the Government to stop any further sale of sport fields unless it is for a substitute sports field. I agree that that should have been done years ago, but now is the time to put the foot down and say, “No more sports fields to be sold off”.

Lastly, I want to see real encouragement of healthy eating. I am a five-veg man. I am still classified as obese, which is distinctly upsetting since I have lost one stone and three pounds. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, is absolutely right: although I play tennis very actively, you do not lose much weight playing tennis, as too much input produces excess weight. I have reduced the input to one decent meal a day and the pounds are beginning to fall off. I still have in reserve restrictions on alcohol, which I have not attempted yet.

I look to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, to put some pressure on the FSA’s existing members. I understand clearly the technology used to assess nutritional value; what appears to be missing, as far as I can see, is an analysis of volume and frequency of consumption. We come back to Marmite. I love Marmite soldiers, but I have precisely one slice of white bread with Marmite on it once a week. If I was having that six times a week of course it would have a detrimental effect. But the volume I am taking in—and you need very little Marmite to enjoy it—does not have an adverse effect. The serious point is that this is about volume and frequency of intake.

There is a lot of work to be done. If the noble Baroness’s speech were just a speech I would welcome the way she introduced the Bill. However, the Bill does not have the objectivity that I would like to see on such a serious issue. As far as I can see the Bill is basically just getting on the bandwagon of a whole host of people who do not like television, who are not brave enough to do anything themselves and see it as a quick fix; none of that is right. I see absolutely no benefit in cutting short the Ofcom agreement; therefore, I regret that I shall not be supporting the Bill. Indeed, if it should receive its Second Reading and go to Committee, I fear that I shall have to do my very best to kill it.

My Lords, with the exception of the rather depressing arguments of the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, and the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, this has been an excellent debate on a very important Bill. However, the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, redeemed himself with his more moving remarks about losing weight. I sympathise with his exercise and experience in those matters. None the less, I have some hesitation about his main arguments on resisting the Bill.

I believe that the Bill does not go far enough and that it is therefore a first step. It should operate simultaneously with the Ofcom exercise, which the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, said is far too slow in its insipient attempt at making progress in this vital field. But, above all, I have the honour of being the first person in this part of the Chamber to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, on a truly outstanding maiden speech. It is one of the best I have heard since I became a Member of this House in the summer of 2004. I think that the whole House would thank him very much not only for his great expertise and experience, but for signalling, with the skilful presentation of his arguments, that he will make some extremely important contributions on many matters as the months unfold. We thank him for the particular focus of the FSA’s work in this field, which, to my mind, now is becoming increasingly urgent.

I shall not take too long and go into the clauses of the Bill, although, in general, it is quite a gentle first step at trying to deal with this matter through legislation, which is unavoidable in order to achieve the right objectives. We owe a most cordial vote of thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and her colleagues, who were involved in the large exercise of getting this text presented to the House for Second Reading. The noble Baroness has enormous experience in retailing, the Co-operative Wholesale Society, food intake and children’s food. We thank her for her tireless efforts in promoting this Bill.

The noble Baroness rightly wrote to Members about the Bill. Paragraph 2 of her letter earlier this year states:

“My Bill seeks to protect children from the worst excesses of television advertising for unhealthy food”.

It is not really an overall blanket protection to save them completely from perdition in terms of food intake. It is a beginning. I am not an expert like the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, but I do not apologise for using the term “junk food”. I know that it is emotive, but it helps us to make progress in this urgent field. The noble Baroness continued:

“It will introduce a 9pm watershed”—

I would be happy for 10 pm—

“for advertising foods high in fat, salt or sugar and brands associated with them”.

On 21 May, I asked the Government what they were doing and was reminded that, with the public health White Paper, Choosing Health, they had enjoined Ofcom to do its own exercise which,

“recently introduced significantly stronger rules on television advertising of food and drink to children”.

The Government used the word “significantly”. I have my doubts about that. Ofcom is too gentle and is making the matter too complicated. This Bill therefore would help to simplify, in the right sense, a complex field, but we need to take drastic steps. The noble Lord, Lord Davies, in his Written Answer concluded:

“The Government are committed to evaluating the impact of these new measures and will then decide whether further action is necessary”.—[Official Report, 21/5/07; col. WA 75.]

If this Bill is given its Second Reading and goes to Committee stage where detailed examination can proceed, the Government ought to give some of their preliminary answers to those complex points at that stage.

How urgent and drastic is the situation? In a recent paper, the Children’s Food Campaign, said:

“The statistics are really frightening: 92 per cent of children consume too much saturated fat; 83 per cent consume too much sugar; and 72 per cent consume too much salt. One in three children is now obese or overweight. Obesity in under-11s has risen by over 40 per cent in 10 years and the International Obesity Task Force estimates that each year in England 220,000 additional children become overweight or obese. It is extremely reckless and careless of people to suggest there should be no controls on this kind of advertising of junk food on television and other related media”.

I know what happens with other media forms is a separate question. The paper continues:

“It is extremely reckless and irresponsible in the face of all that very scientific evidence”.

The Ofcom measurement system too is producing the wrong results, as the noble Baroness said in her introduction. I agree with a speaker—I think that it was the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell—who referred to the saddest photo of the year of very fat mums pushing junk food through the school railings, which was one of the most irresponsible acts I have seen in the press for a long time. I am glad that the newspapers for once highlighted seriously a very sad depiction.

Walk down any street in Britain nowadays and you will see obesity in adults and children. We are getting like the United States, which I visit frequently, where the scene is truly terrifying. This is the frightening beginning of what has happened in the USA and we must do something about it. It is the duty of legislators to take action to protect children. The consumers of the worst junk food in the world are in the United States. They consume also the largest helpings. Go behind any luxury hotel in the US to see the food that is thrown away after excessively large helpings have been consumed. There you will see the huge tragedy of what is happening, particularly to children but also to adults. Is their Government doing anything about it? The answer is not much. There are some schemes, but the laissez faire attitude in America is bedevilling any serious efforts.

In all parts of this House, elsewhere, and outside—many interest groups have done a lot of work on this matter—there is huge support for this excellent Bill. I believe also that the non-broadcast rules are a farce. They need looking at, but that is a matter for some other legislation, unless noble Lords want to propose amendments in Committee, which would be a good idea without taking up too much time in this very complex area. One of the difficulties is that because it is complex, we get nervous and hesitant about recommending specific, tangible solutions. I am glad therefore that the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, has shown such courage in going ahead with this very convincing text.

We can all argue about some of the points. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones, when he winds up from these Benches, will make legitimate points about the difficulties of classification and definition, but I do not think that those would be reasons for us to retreat from giving this Bill a Second Reading. I am also very concerned about the Government’s lax—the only world I can use—attitude to non-linear TV advertising and promotion. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s open market attitude is commendable in one sense—the world of multi-channel rubbish, which I am afraid is the word to be used for most of what is inflicted on us. The free market choice for consumers actually producing good quality programmes is simply nonsense when one considers what mass television does in terms of its effect on declining quality as there are more channels.

The Government’s attitude, as depicted through the Minister, Sean Woodward, in the other place, is that the advertisers will be allowed to do more or less what they like on non-linear television. As far as I can see, the promotion of junk food and, probably, even tobacco products will be allowed unless they pull their socks up and get back to a proper system of control. A politician’s duty is to protect the public from things that are manifestly dangerous to health in medical terms, which applies particularly to children who do not make their own choices. Should there not therefore eventually be an outright ban on adverts of any junk food at any time on terrestrial television, or would that annoy Rupert Murdoch? Would that therefore be a mistake for that reason?

Two hundred and thirty-three MPs have signed EDM 404 and I am delighted to say that the new PM-designate appears to be very sympathetic to these matters, so perhaps there will be more hope there than from the retiring Prime Minister who has not shown much interest in this issue. Surely, we all need to support the Jamie Oliver initiatives and much more work is still needed to achieve anything near even half success. Voluntary agreements and codes of conduct do not work in this field. I know of the misgivings about the draft text and so on, what can be put in, whether the clauses are constructed in a rational way—those points can always be argued—and whether Ofcom has had full opportunities to draw up a more rigid system. The answer is no, but we have been waiting for some time. Despite those obvious hesitations, surely it would be best to send the Bill to Committee stage so that some of those points can come out in more detail and the Government can give their response. Perhaps the Minister will suggest that there might be some improvement in the drafting. However, none of that changes the reality and the duty that we all face today.

My Lords, I share the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, about childhood obesity, but I would urge her to think twice about advocating a measure which falls so short of the established standards of good regulation. Before explaining what I mean, I must declare various interests. First, I am one of the independent members of the Broadcast Council of the Advertising Standards Authority, which has been contracted by Ofcom to adjudicate on all complaints about TV advertising. It is not the job of the council to determine the rules, only to apply them. If a pre-watershed ban on HFSS food advertising were to be adopted, I would of course faithfully apply that rule in my role as adjudicator. Secondly, I am currently a part-time paid independent adviser on corporate responsibility for Mars, some of whose advertising would undoubtedly be affected by the proposals in this Bill. However, I am not seeking to represent that company’s views and have not had any discussions with it about this Bill.

It is in the light of my experience as a commissioner at the Better Regulation Commission, an appointment I held until a few weeks ago, that I would like to concentrate my remarks today. The Government have endorsed the five principles of better regulation identified by the commission. These are proportionality, accountability, consistency, transparency and targeting. The Government have integrated these principles into their guide to regulatory impact assessment. I believe that this Bill falls short in relation to two of those principles in particular, proportionality and targeting. The proportionality principle in simple terms means not using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. All the options available for delivering a policy objective should be considered, from prescriptive legislation through to educational campaigns, to financial incentives, self regulation and even doing nothing. Regulation should be proportionate to the risk and intervention made only when necessary.

In my view, the evidence to justify a pre-watershed ban is flimsy. A ban would be disproportionate. The Better Regulation Executive scrutinises impact assessments, and it found that Ofcom’s assessment on the new TV advertising rules currently being phased in was very thorough and that the consultation undertaken was extensive and comprehensive. It concluded that there was insufficient reason to impose the tougher restrictions proposed by this Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, relies in part on recent research from Liverpool University, but this is a study which has not yet even been published in full in the public domain. Its sample was only 59 children. This does not strike me as a robust evidence base. Supporters of the Bill also rely on the research review conducted by Professor Hastings in 2003. Yet Professor Hastings himself expressed considerable caution and qualification in his review, which found that even the strongest study he could find showed only a 2 per cent direct impact on children’s food choices as a result of TV advertising. Furthermore, most of the studies he examined were from North America where there is far more TV advertising and where the same strict rules do not apply. Many of the studies were between 20 and 30 years old, while three-quarters of the studies relating to children’s behaviour were more than 11 years old. Again, that is not a very robust evidence base, particularly in the wider context of such a rapidly evolving new media technology.

Ofcom has recently introduced significantly tougher rules. Not only do they impose scheduling restrictions to protect children at times when programmes are targeted at them, they also strengthen the rules on the content of food ads whenever they appear. For example, there is now an obligation on advertisers to avoid anything likely to encourage poor nutritional habits or unhealthy lifestyles in children. In line with better regulation principles, there will be a post-legislative review. An interim review this autumn will be followed by a full-scale review in the autumn of 2008, in which the effectiveness and consequences of the rules, including any unintended consequences, will be assessed. Common sense surely dictates that to change the rules yet again, before the latest restrictions have had time to make an impact or otherwise, is unnecessary.

I referred just now to unintended consequences, but there is one very much intended consequence of the new rules that I thoroughly endorse. Ofcom said that it hoped that they would provide an incentive to food manufacturers to reformulate existing products, as well as to develop new products which are low in fat, salt and sugar. This is already beginning to happen and I believe that any food producer who wants a sustainable business and a fair regulatory environment will need to be very much quicker off the mark than in the past with innovation of this sort. Turning to the principle of targeting, which I think is being missed by the Bill, the BRC’s advice is that regulation should be focused on the problem and that side-effects should be minimised.

There are claims that a pre-watershed ban is required because 71 per cent of TV watched by children falls outside the conventional hours of children’s TV. However, we know from Ofcom’s impact assessment that 20 per cent of children’s viewing in adult airtime is BBC viewing, where there is no advertising. Secondly, although many programmes most popular with children are adult programmes, the vast majority of people watching those programmes are adults. Between 6 and 9 pm, only 1 in 20 of the total TV audience is a child. One in 25 viewers of “Coronation Street” is a child, and it is one in 26 for “Emmerdale”. A pre-watershed ban would therefore effectively be a ban on food advertising to adults, which some may say would be no bad thing, but it is not what is proposed and it is not what has been consulted on. It has not been subject to a regulatory impact assessment and the alternatives have not been analysed. The targeting principle looks even more relevant when the trends in advertising spend and obesity are compared. Since 2003, there has been a decline of 21 per cent in the number of TV food ads seen by children, and a 22 per cent reduction in TV ad spend by the industry. Yet obesity levels among children have continued to rise.

I agree that obesity is a critical problem. At the same time, though, calorie intake is at or below what it was in 1980, so we are missing something really important if we focus only on the food side of the equation. People now walk 25 per cent less, but watch twice as much television. Only half as many young people now play extra-curricular sport. Obesity has multiple and complex causes and I fully recognise and appreciate that the noble Baroness is under no illusion that her Bill, if made law, would crack the problem on its own. Many other changes in society are needed. For example, healthy eating at home, within the family, must improve. I speak as the daughter of a chef and was brought up to know that eating healthily and eating for pleasure are perfectly compatible activities. It is not only about eating good food, but eating all together at a table and not on your knees in front of the television. All these elements are very important.

I must also mention school meals. People often talk about the “ticking time bomb” of childhood obesity. In my view, that time bomb began ticking in 1980 when the then government first repealed the statutory duty on local education authorities to provide school meals with minimum nutritional standards. The consequence of that piece of social vandalism was to unleash the lunchbox culture and produce a new-style school meal that rapidly became not chips with everything, but just chips full stop. I know that this is beginning to change back now; I certainly hope so.

Also on my wish list of what would really make a difference is that the food industry will respond positively to the challenge to innovate and to market its products responsibly, with health and nutrition at the heart of its business strategy. It must exercise some enlightened self-interest for the sake of public health gains and the preservation of commercial freedoms.

In conclusion, I find myself unable to agree that the measures proposed in this Bill need to be part of the bigger picture. A pre-watershed ban would be disproportionate, hit the wrong target, and distract people from more effective measures. I am very glad indeed, however, to acknowledge the opportunity that the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, has provided by introducing her Bill to have this debate and thrash out the issues. I hope that it will spur the industry into action, that it will inspire people to eat well and exercise well, and encourage the noble Baroness and her supporters to think again about the regulatory framework, principles and consequences of the Bill’s proposals.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, for her thoughtful and interesting contribution to the debate. I take a rather different view but I found some of her statements extremely cogent.

Every organisation representing consumers or health professionals, particularly those responsible for promoting public health, as well as the great majority of parents, will be grateful to my noble friend for introducing the Bill. We all know that it is most unlikely to reach the statute book starting at this stage of the parliamentary year, but it is extremely useful in raising the issue in Parliament, acting as a precursor for possible further Bills on the subject and as a focus for wider discussion.

I declare several interests. I am chairman and a founder member, as the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, pointed out, of the all-party Food and Health Forum and a trustee of the National Heart Forum and the Caroline Walker Trust, which aims to promote public health through good food.

I very much welcome the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, to our deliberations and thank him most warmly for his clear and well focused contribution.

I shall not repeat my noble friend’s account of the powerful effect of TV advertising on children’s food choices and why it is so necessary to extend controls to 9 pm. The Hastings report and, more recently, Ofcom’s own research testify to the very real effect of TV advertising. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, spelt this out. I am sorry that his speech did not come after that of the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, because I would have been extremely interested to hear his comments on that. Perhaps we will be able to talk about it later.

I want to concentrate on the effects of consuming a diet containing too high a proportion of fat, sugar and salt on the health of children and, more particularly, on the health of the adults whom they will become. The increasing epidemic of obesity, which is affecting all industrialised countries to a greater or lesser extent, is now accepted as perhaps our biggest health problem. The “time bomb” phrase used by the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, was coined by the Chief Medical Officer. There is clear evidence that obese children are likely to become obese adults; dietary habits track from childhood into adult life.

Obesity in itself brings its own health problems, whether they be psychological, social or physical. There is greater mechanical stress on bones, ligaments, joints and muscles and a consequent increase in osteoarthritis, and there is an increased risk of being involved in accidents and sustaining fractures that heal more slowly. But it is the increased prevalence of other serious chronic diseases associated with obesity with a high mortality rate that gives most concern to doctors and public health professionals. As my noble friend pointed out, type 2 diabetes, raised blood pressure and cholesterol, with consequent atherosclerosis leading to coronary heart disease and stroke, are perhaps the most serious. The risk of cancer is also increased.

The food industry is keen to point out that lack of physical activity is a major contribution to the western obesity problem—its case has been put clearly by several noble Lords—and, of course, this is true. The lifestyle of people in the affluent countries of the world is entirely different from that of a generation ago, with almost every activity that used to require physical energy now being assisted by electric motors or internal combustion engines. Our houses are warmed by central heating in winter and public spaces are often cooled by air conditioning in summer. All these, of course, result in much generation of carbon dioxide. Children now watch TV or play computer games instead of playing outdoors, a point referred to by a number of noble Lords. The television sets of course use electricity, which again contributes to global warming.

I am strongly in favour of encouraging increased physical activity, as are all public health professionals, but it is a long-term and uphill task that goes against the trend in increasingly affluent and mechanised societies. To restrict calories may be a quicker way to achieve results, but that will not be easy either. The problem must be tackled from both ends. Neither cutting intake of calories nor increasing physical activity is by itself likely to succeed in curbing the obesity trend.

One result of our decreasing physical activity is that we require to consume fewer calories, a point mentioned by the noble Baroness. Apparently we actually do consume fewer calories than we did in former times, according to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey, although there is some question as to whether it measured accurately all the food eaten outside the home. That in itself is an argument for cutting down the promotion of calorie-rich food, especially if it is also nutrient poor—that is, deficient in vitamins, minerals, trace elements and essential fatty acids—as is the case with most of the food advertised on television.

A calorie-rich, nutrient-poor diet not only leads to obesity and its consequences, but contributes to a diet that may be deficient in these essential nutrients. If total calorie needs are partly or largely satisfied by the type of food that we are discussing in the Bill, it is less likely that a child—or an adult, for that matter—will eat sufficient natural food containing the necessary nutrients. The consequences of this may be considerable. Apart from exacerbating the secondary consequences of obesity, which I have mentioned and are familiar, more subtle mental and behavioural consequences may result.

Last year, Sustain produced an effective and well documented monograph describing the relationship between diet, mental health and behaviour. The all-party Food and Health Forum is at the moment compiling a report following this up, which we hope to publish in the autumn, having heard a number of expert witnesses on the links between diet, mental health and behaviour. There is now increasing research evidence that dietary imbalance may be contributing to anti-social behaviour in children and mental health problems in adults.

I could expand on all these areas but, as it is Friday, I shall come to my conclusion. Perhaps I may make one further and final point. I expect that every speaker in the debate has received a briefing from the National Farmers’ Union strongly opposing the Bill. It states:

“Above all, consumers want and should be given impartial information to assist them to make their own balanced decisions”.

I agree completely with that sentiment, but it is difficult for the Food Standards Agency, the Department of Health, local education authorities and parents to get their message heard against the loud barrage of advertising coming from some sections—not all—of the food industry. I fully agree that some sections of the food industry are trying to become part of the solution, not part of the problem.

The aim of the advertising that we are trying to control is to persuade consumers to do precisely the opposite to what the public health message says. It uses sophisticated, ingenious, often amusing, witty, effective messages to attract children to buy—or to get their parents to buy—seductive products, which of course they find delicious. This advertising costs the industry millions of pounds, but it works. Public health messages stand little chance of competing on a budget that is very much smaller. Until the volume of advertising is reduced, health promotion will have an uphill struggle. The measure outlined in the Bill is a necessary step towards levelling that hill.

I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will be able to persuade the Government to support the Bill, or to bring in a similar measure at the earliest opportunity, and not wait for years to acknowledge that Ofcom’s current proposed restrictions are not sufficient.

My Lords, as a general dental practitioner, I find it always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rea, a respected general medical practitioner. However, I have not received the briefing from the National Farmers’ Union.

I share the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, over diet and nutrition and the role that they play in a desirable healthy lifestyle. I support the findings of the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK and Diabetes UK. I agree that foods high in fat, sugar and salt are harmful to health, but I do not share the view that the reappearance of this Bill will achieve any of the noble Baroness’s ambitions for changes to the way in which children access foods that still have unacceptable levels of fat, salt or sugar.

During my dental career, I have offered advice to my patients on nutrition in an attempt to reduce dental decay, promote the health of bone and gums, reduce stress and enable and maintain an efficient and effective immune system. I believe that dentists have an important role to play in nutritional advice to their patients at all age levels and that nutritional screening should be an integral part of the dental check-up.

Members of my profession have been engaged in discussion with the food and drink industry for as long as I can remember and I recognise its co-operation and attempts over many years to reformulate its products. For example, the industry is working with the Food Standards Agency to reduce salt in bread, breakfast cereals, savoury snacks, soups and sauces and cakes. Effective reductions have been achieved of between 25 per cent and 40 per cent over the past 10 years. I have difficulty with the concept that there are good and bad foods. I prefer to consider good and bad diets, the need for overall dietary advice and advice on a healthy lifestyle.

As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, the principle underpinning current advertising rules for food and the proposed 9 pm watershed ban is the FSA nutrient-profiling model. That model creates a situation where natural products such as cheese, olive oil, honey or even raisins are classified as food that cannot be advertised to a child. The fundamental problem lies in the use of a universal nutrient-profiling model that determines what products can and cannot be advertised on television. The model subverts many nutritious foods eaten by children and serves to discourage investment in the reformulation efforts.

An additional distortion of the results is introduced by the fact that the model scrutinises products on a 100-gram basis. To emphasise the point made by my noble friend Lord Naseby, the generous portion of Marmite served here by the Refreshment Department between 4 o’clock and 6 o’clock is a good example. It has been banned from being advertised, even though the 100-gram measure is far more than the portion usually consumed, which would, incidentally, pass the nutrient-profiling test. I remind your Lordships that an average family jar of Marmite is 250 grams. Unfortunately, the Bill does not provide a solution to this misconception. On the contrary, it takes it further, taking the same model and applying it to a more radical scenario.

I am concerned by how a pre-9 pm watershed ban can possibly be justified on health grounds. I want children to cut down on these harmful foods, but I cannot agree that a rule banning advertising before 9 pm would work. The Children’s Food Campaign, which I usually support, claims that the Bill will,

“provide clarity on when HFSS food adverts will be shown, allowing parents to exercise responsibility over whether their children see HFSS food adverts or not”.

Are parents being advised to vet advertising content? Let’s return to the real world.

In July 2005, Ofcom concluded that food advertising has a modest 2 per cent direct effect on children’s health choice. After undertaking a thorough impact assessment, it also concluded that a television advertising pre-9 pm watershed ban of food and drink to children would be neither proportionate nor effective. As the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, has said, those figures do not agree with the findings of the Liverpool University research that claims that watching adverts for unhealthy food significantly increases children’s consumption rate of such products—more than doubling it in some cases. That research is used in support of the Bill. I do not know who is correct. Perhaps the Government should initiate a broader-based survey than the 59 children whom Liverpool looked at. In the medical world, that survey would be considered anecdotal and not statistically significant.

When Ofcom considered the efficiency of the measure in relation to its legitimate aim, which is the protection of children, the measure’s relative costs and benefits and the absolute costs of the measure to broadcasters, bearing in mind the potential impact on quality and diversity of programming, it concluded that a pre-9 pm ban could result in a £224.4 million loss per annum for broadcasters. That impact on revenue would certainly affect the viability of some channels and programme quality. Some broadcasters might not survive. Having regard to those figures and to the relatively small part that advertising plays in influencing food preferences, Ofcom concluded that such an intervention could not be justified and that the measures suggested in the Bill would not be effective.

Earlier this year, Ofcom introduced new rules on food and drink advertising on TV, imposing a ban on certain foods in or around children’s programmes or programmes that are likely to be of particular appeal to children under the age of 16. In addition to those scheduling restrictions, food and drink manufacturers will no longer use celebrities and licensed characters, promotional offers and health claims in high salt, sugar and fat products advertisements targeted at pre-school or primary school children.

That is now the situation in non-broadcast advertising, which is covered by new rules published in April 2007 by the self-regulatory Committee of Advertising Practice. Those rules prevent the use of celebrities and licensed characters, promotional offers and health and nutrition claims in all processed food and drink—apart from fresh fruit and vegetables—adverts directly targeted at under-12s. Ofcom committed to undertake a review of the new rules in the autumn of 2008. The Department of Health will later this year conduct an interim review and carry out a full review in 2008 to determine whether the recently adopted rules need reshaping and whether they are attaining the required objectives.

The new rules, which are among the toughest in the world, should be allowed enough time to bed in so that we can watch how the advertising landscape in the UK changes and then assess its impact on diet. We should remember, though, that Ofcom concluded that advertising has only a modest 2 per cent direct effect on children’s food choices. I believe that there should be more research and analysis. The disproportionate and ineffectual measures proposed in the Bill would not address the issue of childhood obesity. We should, however, consider other measures, such as the introduction of home economics into the school curriculum and the promotion of the physical activity and healthy lifestyles that were outlined in the 2004 White Paper Choosing Health and deemed to have a much greater impact on obesity and general lifestyle.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Thornton on allowing us to have this superb debate today. In opposing her Bill, as I do, I want to say from the outset that there is no disagreement in this House about the importance of the issue, the urgency of the crisis and the need for something to be done about it. That is common ground. I therefore wholly relate to the speeches of my noble friend Lord Rea and others, pointing out the dangers of what we face. This is an argument about means, not ends. If the supporters of the Bill can bear to sit through the unpalatable bits of my speech, they may find that there is a twist at the end—I am tempted to say a Rendellian twist—that may be more to their taste.

Let us start with the evidence. There is plenty of it. Indeed, had I realised that I would have to read through 107 pages of Hastings, 161 pages of annexe 7 of Ofcom 2006 and another huge mountain of evidence on top of that, I might well have decided to lose some calories on the golf course rather than detain your Lordships’ House. When you read that material, however, you find some important and valuable points that are not necessarily obvious. One is that this is intrinsically a very difficult subject to research, because advertising is a small factor in a social and economic trend to greater consumption of these bad foods. Therefore, it is difficult to disentangle what is due to advertising and what is not.

It is hard to assess the benefits, because the benefits of getting diet right fall many years hence. Therefore, the assessment is extremely sensitive to the discount rates used on future outcomes and those used because things may change in the mean time. For example, we may find a pill you can pop that deals with obesity. As a result, everybody can interpret the evidence as they want. The Children’s Food Campaign, in its briefing to Members, said that there are benefits of up to £1 billion from the changes it wants. That is true. But it would be equally true, using exactly the same sources the campaign uses, to say that the cost of the benefits may be as little as £42 million, another figure included in Ofcom’s annexe 7. We cannot say there is firm evidence of the scale of the benefits.

On my second point, I echo the wise words of the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins. We all pay lip service to the needs of modern regulation. Those include, in the work of the Better Regulation Task Force, that it must be proportionate and targeted. We all sign up to that, except that too often, when it comes to a specific case on something we fancy having regulated, we change our position and say, “In this case, those have to go by the wayside”. That is why we have too much pettifogging, nanny-state, ill-conceived, ill-designed and ineffective regulation. We should stick with our principles of regulation, even when they are less than wholly comfortable.

My third point is about process. Parliament, including this House—I was very involved in the debates on the Communications Act 2003—set up Ofcom which, as I have said, has devoted a mountain of paperwork to considering this subject. I do not think that anyone studying that paperwork could doubt the seriousness with which it has approached this very difficult task. It entirely accepted—and there could be reasons to question this—the Food Standards Agency view of the health and financial benefits that stem from this proposal, and then it came to a judgment, balancing those against costs. It could be said to be a judgment of Solomon; it is a pretty stiff judgment—some have said it is the stiffest of any regime in the world. There is now a ban on advertising this stuff during children’s programmes and the BCAP code has been toughened on the things that cannot be done to twist children’s minds. That has been set in place; there is to be, as the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, pointed out, a Government review in 2008 of whether it is working.

I do not say that Ofcom’s judgment is perfect—no judgment is in these matters. But there has to be an immensely strong case before we set aside a procedure, logically based, and based on the decision of this House in the Communications Act, in favour of a sudden rush to something quite different. There is a touch of the dangerous dogs legislation about this: innocent victims—children—and ravening dogs in that case; mastiff McDonald’s and the vicious teeth of the food industry in this case, and a press that love to blow up every breath of wind into a gale. It is right that we should consider all those matters but not that we should be blown off course and take action too readily. That is not fully justified by the right kind of investigation which, in my view, is what Ofcom has carried out.

I come to my twist, and it is this: if it is true—and I am inclined to believe that it is—that this stuff is dangerous, that it is poisoning our children and will damage their future health, why are we talking about the advertising of it? Why are we focusing on that? If there is poison in the shops, you ban it or restrict its sale. My approach is that if, on the evidence, when the Government come to it at the end of 2008, it is clear that the measures that have been taken have not prevented obesity, there has to be a programme of reduction and limits on the fat, sugar and salt content of products. That is regulation, but it would be effective, not ineffective. I should be glad if that could be done in discussion and agreement with the food industry, because I prefer self-regulation intrinsically to imposed regulation, but if it will not agree, we should legislate and enforce. That would make a real impact. This, in my judgment, will not. If a tank is coming towards you, it is much better to equip yourself with a bazooka than a pea-shooter.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, on this important debate. In opposing the Bill, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, on his opening remarks. My interest is as a parent, not as an expert. I declare that I have no interests in any of the food or advertising agencies.

We find ourselves running around in circles with ideas on how we should be reducing our young people’s levels of obesity. Indeed, running could be a good start in answering how to do it. The Bill highlights a real need to question our approach to food and of its added value of nutritional content and the feel-good factor associated with some foods. This must be measured on all consumers, regardless of age. Surely I am not alone in thinking that the most effective way to restore the health of our nation is to engage people in more physical activity and educate them on the impacts of fatty food and the benefits of the healthy nutritional foods.

Of course children and young people are susceptible to the advertising and market teams—seduction of the consumer is their job. However, ultimately it is our choice whether we buy into that seduction. Surely, the responsibility lies with the parents and carers of children and young people when it comes to what they consume. In placing a pre-watershed ban on advertising certain food products or brands, we would be creating a false and dangerously ignorant bubble around our children and young people, who need to grow up able to judge what is good and bad for them as they will face a world of marketing images throughout their lives.

Television advertising has been in decline since the start of the decade. Many companies have voluntarily withdrawn their products from being advertised during children’s airtime, yet obesity is still on the rise. Losing revenue from television advertising sadly means that less money will be available for good programme-making. Instead, we will receive poor-quality programmes, with less and less invested in home-grown programming.

We travel down a very dangerous path when we think that banning is the solution to all problems. Where does parental control and responsibility fit into this argument? Surely, as guardians of the health and safety of their children, parents have a role to play. Would we next tell parents that full-fat milk is bad for children, so it must be banned from our television screens, or that cheese and other dairy products are bad, so they must be removed?

Each day, thousands of portions of fish and chips are sold to the British consumer, thoroughly enjoyed yet never advertised on the television. It is important to have adverts that give consumers choice of lower fat versions of the food we all enjoy. Oven-baked chips are an excellent example—not only are chips a popular food of choice, but these are healthier for you. The pre-watershed ban is proposed on the presumption that people will switch off the TV and remain in a vacuum until the next day. We live in a world of 24-hour access to the internet, mobile phones and technologies that are changing every day. It is impossible fully to control that area of your life. The solution is much easier if it lies in the hands of giving parents back control and ownership of their families. Surely this shows that, apart from damaging UK programming investment, there is no evidence of success in reducing levels of obesity in the British population.

The measures taken by the industry’s regulator, Ofcom, to date, set reductions of up to 50 per cent to the under-10s and 40 per cent to the under-16 age group in certain food advertising. Let us see how that pans out. The food industry has voluntarily responded to the issues on obesity by looking to healthier options and labelling. Parents and carers have the right to be educated on what their children eat, and ultimately it is the parent and carer who will feed that information to their children.

Schools are stepping up their responses to the problem of junk food and offering better alternatives but, as with all things, they cannot be too prescriptive either, as we cannot always take away from children and young people the enjoyment of the food that they enjoy. Educating and showing real alternatives is what we should be arguing for. We must also get our children and young people much more engaged in physical activities. The hosting of the Olympic Games offers us a huge opportunity to encourage the nation on the benefits of physical activity. We need positive action rather than oppressing the very tools of advertising, which can actually help with the solution.

The food and advertising industries have great responsibilities and duties to the consumer and it is for us all to encourage them to respond positively to better provision of information and quality of products. It is crucial to ensure that parents and schools face their responsibilities and that healthier options are affordable, as affordability is often a reason why consumers buy junk food.

In the past 10 years, around 3,000 bans have been introduced under this Government. Can the Government produce evidence to show that these bans have had huge impacts on the lifestyle changes of consumers? Can they show that the number of people with obesity in the population has reduced? I think not. Further controls will prove ineffective and, in my view, unhealthy.

My Lords, I support the Bill. I declare an immediate interest as chairman of the National Consumer Council, which has supported the Food Standards Authority, previously under the leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, whose speech I very much welcome, and the coalition behind the Bill.

I should tell the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, that the National Consumer Council is not in the habit of jumping on bandwagons. We make our judgments on the basis of sound scientific evidence and advice, in this case from the FSA. Nor, as it happens—for purely technical reasons—am I running for Deputy Leader of the Labour Party; but I am rather pleased that the issue of children’s health and diet is featuring in that debate.

I do not join in some of the implied criticism of Ofcom in this respect, as in my view it should never have been given this job. Ofcom does not have responsibility for health outcomes; it is bound to take into account the economic welfare of the television industry and therefore to come up with a balanced view—some would say a compromise. Income to television companies will inevitably form part of Ofcom’s decision. In defence of Ofcom, the outcome was probably more balanced in favour of restriction than some feared and was probably the initial inclination of Ofcom. There is a bigger issue than that: if the Government, the food regulator and society recognise the seriousness of the health problem among our children, responding to it is the responsibility, not of the regulator of the telecoms industry, but of the Government and, in default of their picking it up, Parliament—and hence this Bill. Therefore, I do not share the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, that this should all be shoved back to Ofcom to get right; nor do I share the view of my noble friend Lord Lipsey about the serious nuclear option of the Government banning all this food. We do not, after all, ban alcohol or tobacco, but we place very severe restrictions in a regulated market on their advertising. Similarly, given the health implications of this food, particularly for children, we should adopt the same approach here.

About four years ago, when I was the Minister for food and farming, I was party to discussions with the industry on this issue. I warned the retail and manufacturing industries at that stage, as did other Ministers with more direct responsibility for the regulations in the Department of Health and the DCMS that, if the industry did not voluntarily restrict its advertising, particularly to children, the Government would need to act. Indeed, Tessa Jowell at that point passed the matter to Ofcom to consider and the FSA drew up its action programme, including these measures.

Some companies, as the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, and the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, said, have adopted some very positive programmes, in reducing fats, sugar and salt in their products—perhaps not as fast as the FSA would like, but nevertheless they have made significant progress. My quarrel is not with the scientific side—the product design or reformulation people in the food industry—but with the advertising of the foods that exist. Even within advertising, some of the more respectable confectionary companies no longer advertise during the Ofcom-defined children’s television hours. Unfortunately, however, those slots have been filled out with more junk food adverts, which are much more specifically directed at children. In the context of this Bill, that applies to other programmes that children watch.

As other noble Lords have said, the obesity crisis and the knock-on effects of that and other dietary inadequacies are getting even worse than they were a few years ago. Noble Lords’ criticism of the research cited by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and others does, I fear, remind me of the views of the tobacco and alcohol industries in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s—and, indeed, the asbestos industry. Of course, no research is absolutely conclusive, but it all points pretty heftily in the same direction. The Government recognised that in the Choosing Health White Paper, in which they made a commitment to change the balance of foods and drinks promoted to children from both broadcast and non-broadcast advertising.

The Bill is solely about TV advertising, and some of the arguments about how we advertise and label goods in shops are important and probably more complex than this issue, but that is not what we are concerned about today. It is true that the supermarkets are split on how they interpret the FSA’s position and the alternatives, and a big assessment is taking place, to which the NCC is party, of how best we can improve the labelling of products in shops. But that is quite a complicated argument, about information that is directed clearly at adults and has to be made comprehensible to them. What we are discussing here is advertising that is seen by, and largely directed at, children, who do not make such balanced judgments.

We are dealing with direct targeted advertising of a product which the FSA’s nutritional profiling has deemed inappropriate in significant amounts for children’s diets. It is frankly an abuse of the advertising role because it is directed at provoking pester power from children and at children’s own increasing ability to spend their own money on such products. If the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, who is not in his place, thinks that mothers decide, he should go out with some of them and see what pressure they—and fathers, for that matter—are under to buy those products, which can have been seen only in television and other forms of advertising.

It is incontrovertible that such direct advertisements to children should be severely restricted. Ofcom accepts that children’s television accounts for a significant percentage of hours of television overall, but points to the timings of those programmes and to the fact that, on aggregate, fewer children watch them than watch other programmes, as other noble Lords have pointed out. Of the 30 programmes with the largest audiences under 15 years of age, the first television programme strictly defined as a children’s programme is actually No. 27. I am informed that it is SpongeBob SquarePants, although I am not very familiar with it. It appears to be less popular with children than the ITV News. Nevertheless, that indicates that Ofcom’s threshold for children’s exposure has been drawn too narrowly. The 9 o’clock threshold, after all, is used for other restrictions on advertising. A substantial proportion of children’s aggregate viewing hours would be covered if we moved to the 9 o’clock threshold.

Other factors are, of course, important. Parental guidance, family eating habits, school meals, exercise and other aspects of children’s lifestyle are vital, but television advertising has an important effect. It may not be the most important, but it makes a significant difference. Proponents of the arguments against doing something about advertising remind me of those people who are no longer climate-change deniers but still argue that climate change is due mainly to sunspots: we might be making it a bit worse, but we should not do much about it. We should do something about the things that are under our control. Wider societal norms are only indirectly under our control; the regulation of TV advertising can be put under government control.

I shall briefly mention the finances of TV companies. There will be a deficit in financing as a result of reducing that type of advertising, but Ofcom restrictions already restrict the advertising revenue from children’s-hour programmes; so TV advertising has already taken a direct hit as a result of Ofcom’s decision. But whatever the state of the advertising industry and the competition within it, the total amount of advertising fills up the slots available. I would hope that those slots would be filled up, not as they were with junk food advertisements when the more respectable companies voluntarily restricted themselves, but with advertisements for healthy food of the kind referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, in the latter part of her contribution. The advertising market is capable of moving away from products which society has deemed to be bad and making more money out of products deemed good by society. That may not happen overnight, but I believe that it will be the medium-term effect of any change in restrictions here. That will be to the benefit not only ultimately of profits but of the reputation of the advertising industry and the food manufacturing and retail industry.

This is a good Bill, which the Government should have introduced themselves. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Thornton on it, and my noble friend Lady Morgan, who is sitting next to the Minister on the Front Bench. I hope that it will lead to a very positive response from the Minister: that the Government will at some point implement the proposition in it. The balance of debate so far has supported that conclusion, and I hope that the Minister will make that clear at the end of the debate today.

My Lords, as chairman of the National Consumer Council, will the noble Lord explain which evidence he draws from to say that the advertising industry would make more money if it were to advertise products other than the foods to which he referred?

My Lords, money is made in the advertising industry, which after all depends on the products that it advertises, if society as a whole thinks that those products are good. My point is that other products will take over the slots vacated by advertisements for turkey twizzlers, or whatever, in the hours covered by children’s television. Initially, that might not be to the benefit of the dietary programme, but, in the long run, because of the changes that we intend to make and which the food companies themselves are well into as a result of their reformulation programmes, we will advertise more products that are healthy and, indeed, more profitable, both to the companies and ultimately to the advertising sector. The noble Baroness is better informed than I am about the short-term effects, but I am absolutely confident that they will also be the long-term effects.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, on introducing a short Bill with such wide implications. The difficulty of being at No. 15 on the speakers’ list is that the speech that I originally prepared is probably no longer fit for purpose, so I hope that noble Lords will understand if I stray off the written page and am less lucid than usual. However, the debate is not about the two pages of the Bill but about the future health of our nation. It is about a prevention strategy that reaches out to our children and ensures that they have the best opportunity to lead healthy and fulfilled lives and to grow into fit adults. It is about reducing the stress on our health services by helping people, starting when they are young, to take responsibility for their own well-being but in an environment in which the Government and their agencies, especially the Food Standards Agency, enhanced by the excellent work of NGOs such as the British Heart Foundation, play their part.

I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Krebs on his maiden speech. In declaring an interest as a former board member of the Food Standards Agency, I pay tribute to the work in which he was engaged as chairman in highlighting nutrition and diet issues and ensuring they are firmly on the national agenda. It was, after all, the FSA that highlighted the effects of the overuse of salt, sugar and fat in foods. Your Lordships will be aware of the successful salt campaign, which was a very positive use of advertising. The agency also commissioned the Hastings review. There were criticisms of the review when it first came to the fore. However, the Food Standards Agency was interested not in proving a point but in having evidence and an outcome of evidence. It therefore listened to the alternatives and set up working groups and fora to test the review’s view. At the end, the agency had a number of participants taking part in meetings, one of which was chaired by Professor Nicholas Mackintosh. At that meeting, there was widespread agreement that the Hastings review had the right answer to the question. It is worth knowing that that system had been in place, bearing in mind the criticisms that have been made of the review. It was thoroughly peer-reviewed.

The Department of Health has also played a vital role in taking the issue forward through its work on reducing obesity and heart disease. The Government’s White Paper Choosing Health: Making Healthy Choices Easier, which I think the Minister had in his hand, points out that patterns of behaviour are often set early in life and influence people’s health throughout their lives. Infancy, childhood and young adulthood are critical stages in the development of habits that will affect people’s health in later years. It is true that healthy eating is only one part of the jigsaw, and that exercise, family eating and all the other examples given by your Lordships are also important.

Overall, children have fewer opportunities for physical activity, as was well illustrated in the very recent debate highlighted by the Children’s Society. Children are more restricted because of heightened concern about the perceived risks of unsupervised play—something I know much about through my work in child protection, although I hope that we are able to reverse that trend. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, so cogently said, this does not absolve us from dealing with issues of diet and the powerful influence of advertising on children. To fail to take a comprehensive approach will condemn the next generation to a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, I was struck by the fact that the arguments were very similar to those that I heard during the smoking advertising debate and the smoking Bill, in which the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, and I took part on different sides of the argument. We already have evidence from parents that their children have real difficulties in dealing with the promotion of foods. I shall discuss that in greater detail later.

The arguments do not hold good. The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, for whom I have the utmost regard and with whom I have worked on several pieces of children’s legislation, had an air of desperation in her voice that I have not heard before. I do not believe that this measure will have the dire consequences for the advertising world that she perceives. Like the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, I believe that its effects will even themselves out.

The White Paper states that obesity is likely to increase to a huge extent unless we intervene. In the next generation at least one-third of adults, one-fifth of boys and one-third of girls will be obese by 2020, with all the health risks that brings. Does not the Minister agree that restricting the advertising of foods high in sugar, salt and fat to after the nine o’ clock watershed would contribute to the Government’s own PSA target,

“to halt the year-on-year rise in obesity among children under 11 by 2010”,

in the context of their broader strategy to tackle obesity in the population as a whole?

I listened with interest to the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, talking about her experiences as a parent, but her view is not necessarily that of many parents. There is a view that parents must take total responsibility for their children and that they should exercise control over what the latter watch, eat and do. I have talked to parents at the Family and Parenting Institute, which has talked to hundreds of parents who feel powerless in the face of large corporations, which have so much more opportunity to develop schemes that will get under their children’s skin. Its poll revealed that 84 per cent of parents thought that there was too much marketing aimed at children. From their own experience they considered that marketing affected children, shaped and formed their views of themselves and placed parents under pressure to make purchases.

That pressure is even greater for poorer families. Parents talked of rows with children when faced with saying no continuously. In focus group discussions organised by the institute, parents gave their opinion that the advertising of these foods should be banned entirely and that there should be no marketing at all to under five year-olds. I do not necessarily take that view but parents have expressed it to the institute. Does the Minister agree that the Government should listen to the real experts in this—the many parents who find it difficult to deal with this issue—and do all in their power to support them, as outlined in their own health and Every Child Matters strategies? Would not the noble Baroness’s Bill be one part of doing that?

My Lords, as a former board member of the FSA, is the noble Baroness aware that it has already decided to review its nutrient profiling model?

My Lords, from the very beginning the FSA took a view that this was a highly complex area and that it would engage with any other groups, including the food industry. As the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, pointed out, there have been discussions in a number of areas. I am no longer a member of the board but when I was I understood that the strategy was continually to review this complex area. There has been much discussion about some issues, including cheese. I love cheese but we must remind ourselves that it is composed of solid fat.

My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to speak in support of the Bill. I add my thanks to my noble friend Lady Thornton for championing this issue so effectively and giving us the chance to debate its merits today. I declare an interest as the deputy chair of the School Food Trust, which has been tasked by government to help improve children’s nutrition and tackle obesity by transforming school food.

Although I welcome the Bill, it is clear to me that it should not really have been necessary. As we heard, the Government, quite rightly, have already recognised that there is a danger that adverts aimed at children add to their poor eating habits and fuel the growth in childhood obesity. Ofcom was therefore asked to investigate, consult and make recommendations. As my noble friend Lord Whitty persuasively argued, Ofcom then set itself an impossible task of balancing the interests of advertisers against those of the health of children. In trying to find a proportionate response, it has created a fudge that loses sight of the larger moral imperative to protect children from emotional manipulation in making food choices—hence the need for the Bill, which addresses and overcomes the inadequacies of the Ofcom proposals.

This brings us back to the fundamental question: when can it be justified to intervene in the market and limit broadcast freedom? I must own up to having a lovable but outspoken nephew who is studying philosophy and sends me regular e-mails arguing that all censorship is wrong. This is second only to his larger campaign to legalise all drugs. While this appeals to my liberal instincts, I have to face up to the fact that I shall disappoint him once again. While, arguably, adults should be free to exercise their own judgment about health and lifestyle choices, it seems to me that we owe a greater duty of care to children to protect them from exploitation.

Ofcom itself has already conceded that children have an emotional engagement with adverts for food and that,

“advertisers are likely to appeal to older children through the use of witty or stylish imagery and subtle messages”.

This is precisely the art of effective advertising; it is what it does. Although we might all despair of all kinds of adverts aimed at children—for example, the marketing of make-up to young girls—the difference here is that there is a real proven link between childhood eating habits, obesity and long-term health problems. It is not something that you can just leave behind as you grow older and become more able to make informed choices. When it comes to food, there are long-term consequences to innocent childhood choices.

As others reinforced today, the health consequences for young people are shocking and escalating. The BMA estimates that there are around 1 million obese children under 16 and the figure is rising. We have heard the national diet and nutritional survey figures, and I shall not repeat them. We know that poor nutrition has a medically proven link with increased incidence of diabetes, heart disease and cancer. This is a cost to the children in suffering and eventual premature death and to the state in providing ongoing healthcare, which the BMA estimates to be £2 billion a year.

As my noble friend Lord Whitty pointed out, the nearest equivalent to this debate is that concerning smoking adverts, which took place many years ago. I remember the passions expressed then on both sides of the argument, although, of course, one side was generously funded by the tobacco industry. It was a hard-won argument, but I do not hear many voices today calling for those restraints on cigarette advertising to be reversed, and I believe that the same will be true on this issue. Far from this measure being limited to the bizarre posturing of consumer organisations and health bodies, as the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, has alleged, I believe that it will turn out to be a welcome and popular measure with broad support. That view is supported by a recent survey by the British Heart Foundation, which showed that 68 per cent of parents support controls on food advertising before the 9 pm watershed, with only 7 per cent against. That reinforces the case for intervention.

That brings us to the next issue: do we believe that a Bill of this kind can really make a difference to children’s health? The answer has to be that on its own it can make only a small difference, but as part of a wider government strategy to tackle obesity, it can begin to punch above its weight. Ironically, in my experience, the issue of public health, and particularly children’s health, is one where the Government have been very effective in working collaboratively across departments. I mentioned earlier that I am the deputy chair of the School Food Trust. We have been given clear targets and timescales by the Department for Education and Skills. These include introducing nutritional standards for school food, increasing the uptake of school meals, reducing diet-based inequalities in childhood and improving children’s cooking skills. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Naseby—I am not sure whether he is with us at the moment—

My Lords, I am pleased that the noble Lord welcomes the work that the School Food Trust is doing. However, the trust’s existence is necessary only to reverse the deregulation of school meals which was introduced by his Government.

However, our targets are one part of a much bigger package to improve nutrition and reduce childhood obesity in which, for example, the Department of Health, the Food Standards Agency and the DfES all play a part through the Healthy Schools policy and the Every Child Matters initiatives. Even the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is doing its bit by facilitating extra sports opportunities in schools. It is therefore ironic that the department has so far failed to play its full part in restricting the enticements to bad eating habits among children.

The key lesson of our involvement in these cross-departmental initiatives is that, to be effective, we need to give clear, simple and consistent health messages to consumers. Unfortunately, the Ofcom compromise fails that test and as a result damages the good work that is going on elsewhere. However, there is another way in which a Bill restricting advertising can make a difference. So far, the debate around the Ofcom proposals assumes that everything remains static; Ofcom places restrictions on food adverts, fewer adverts are produced, and revenues fall. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, argued quite convincingly, what is more likely to happen is that the food manufacturers will adapt to the new situation, exhibiting creativity and resourcefulness.

Most big food manufacturers produce a range of healthy and not so healthy foods. For example, Coca-Cola produces a range of sweetened drinks, but it is also busy buying up bottled water companies. Walkers Crisps is now developing oven-baked as well as deep-fried crisps. Many of these companies have the capacity to market healthier food options to children, and those that do not have the ability to diversify if the pressure to do so exists.

At the School Food Trust, we have seen an excellent example of that. We were asked by the Government to devise new health standards for drinks in school vending machines. We came under considerable pressure from the drinks manufacturers. It was argued that children would not pay for healthy drinks, that the appropriate technology did not exist, that sugar and preservatives were essential for long shelf-life and that introducing those measures would make vending machines uneconomical, losing schools thousands of pounds in income. However, we kept our nerve, and the outcome was very different. New products were developed that met the new criteria, and children’s consumption patterns adapted to the new products. The result is profitable machines and healthier children.

At the same time, there is a growing awareness among adults of the need to eat healthily. Supermarkets have recognised that, and much of their development efforts, revenue and profit growth has come increasingly from the “healthy eating” category, which is among their fastest growing profit areas. That is not just because of pressure from the Government, but because of consumer demand. Manufacturers can take responsibility and show imagination and have the potential to meet the new health challenges; advertisers can do likewise.

If intervention is necessary, what form should it take? The existing Ofcom proposals fall well short of what is required. Setting a new 8 pm watershed will cause unnecessary confusion, and limiting its application to specific programmes of interest to children, as we have heard that Which? has identified, will exclude the 26 programmes most popular with children and limit its effectiveness. Most importantly, the Ofcom proposals fail to understand that effective public health messages need to be delivered clearly, simply and consistently across government.

The Bill is a crucial part of the cross-government strategy to fight childhood obesity. As I have already made clear, other departments are playing their part in delivering that strategy. The challenge now is for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to play its part and recognise its responsibility in that regard. I know that the Minister is a great proponent of joined-up government. If he is serious, I hope that he will take the message back to his colleagues that the Bill has an important role to play in fighting childhood obesity, and that time should be found for it to complete its parliamentary process.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, on instituting such an important debate through her introduction of the Bill. I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, on his contribution and welcome him to the House.

I admire the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton; her understanding of retail, consumer and children’s issues is undoubted. We on these Benches share her concerns, and have done for a considerable time, about the rise of obesity among children and—even more worrying—conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease that follow as a consequence. We also have considerable sympathy with the policy objectives and spirit of the Bill. We do not want advertising for food and drink high in fat, sugar and salt that causes obesity in children to be targeted at them, and we want the exposure of children under 16 to it to be reduced. What is the appropriate way of doing that, and how far should we go? On current evidence and in current circumstances, that is where we part company with the noble Baroness. As the sponsor of the tobacco advertising and sponsorship Bill, I do not see the situation as analogous to that for that Bill.

The sequence of events leading to the Ofcom proposals of November 2006 and to the Bill is clear. The original Ofcom consultation paper of March 2006 argued for three options. In the end Ofcom, in response to concerns raised, went further and essentially adopted a fourth option—to introduce a total ban on HFSS food and drink advertisements in and around programmes of particular appeal to children under 16. At the same time, Ofcom proposed a ban on the use of celebrities and licensed characters in advertisements in children’s programming, and it promised to review the impact of those restrictions a year after implementation, in autumn 2008. Ofcom calculates that its proposals will halve the HFSS food and drink advertising seen by primary school children by 50 per cent and reduce that seen by under-16s by 41 per cent.

On these Benches in both Houses, we welcomed those proposals as a step in the right direction. We have some reservations, which I shall come to shortly. Our reasons for doing so were and are that Ofcom’s judgment about what is proportionate in the context of current research about the impact of advertising, and in the context of the impact of regulation on the television industry, is correct. In the same way that Ofcom has, we need to balance the impact of regulation against the risks that we are trying to guard against. It is estimated that the Ofcom proposals will cost the television industry £39 million. Ofcom, which is the best judge, estimates that the proposals in the Bill would cost some £250 million in lost advertising revenue. As many noble Lords have pointed out, the potential damage to the independent television sector is enormous, and this must be weighed in the balance. I must say that I am not nearly as sanguine on the outcome as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, or the noble Baronesses, Lady Howarth and Lady Jones. The scale of the change required is enormous.

Advertising revenue is falling—just look at ITV’s recent results—and there will be a knock-on effect. Investment in children’s television has fallen by 30 per cent since 1998. ITV has stopped making children’s programmes altogether. Noble Lords may have noticed that Philip Pullman criticised much of the non-UK-originated television programming for children. He is absolutely right, but things cannot improve without the necessary revenue.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, criticised the Ofcom restrictions and wishes to go further, but our knowledge of the impact of advertising on children’s dietary preferences is incomplete. As several noble Lords have said, including the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, the FSA assessed that the direct impact was “modest”, at 2 per cent. Other research cited in correspondence that I have seen, such as that from Liverpool University, is absolutely not authoritative. Indeed, that research applied to only 59 children.

Obesity levels continue to rise, particularly among two to 10 year-olds, yet TV food advertising has fallen by 21 per cent since 2003. Children are watching less television because of other competing media, such as computer games. Therefore, even if we adopted the noble Baroness’s proposals, we do not know whether they would be effective. She and other noble Lords complain that many adult television programmes are watched by children and that they will escape the Ofcom restrictions. But the converse argument is that the majority of programmes shown between 6 pm and 9 pm, for which the audience consists of one child for every 19 adults, would have a total ban on HFSS advertisements. Many programmes before the watershed are watched by only a small number of children. Channel Five says that 36 out of its 749 programmes are transmitted before the watershed and fall into the Ofcom category. Yet all those programmes would be hit by a ban. That seems disproportionate to us. Why are the proponents of the Bill so confident that a watershed solution provides the key to children’s obesity at a cost of £250 million to the television industry?

There is a further reason to be wary of these proposals—the restrictions, whether imposed by Ofcom or by this Bill, are tied to the FSA nutrient profiles. Detailed debate on the Bill is for another day, but the system is flawed. As the retail and food industries have pointed out, how can cheese, olive oil, Bovril and Marmite be caught out, but oven chips, diet fizzy drinks and chicken nuggets be okay? The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, pointed out that it is a matter of judgment on the science, but many people believe that those judgments are incorrect. The impact of the FSA’s nutrient profiles on the type of advertising that could be carried out under the Ofcom proposals would be considerable. If the Bill were to be passed, that flawed system of nutrient profiles would lead to even more perverse conclusions.

All that said, we on these Benches do not believe that the Ofcom proposals are perfect. They do not adequately tackle the issue of brand advertising. As the father of a nine year-old, I see that generic brand advertising, as the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, described it, can have a powerful impact. Thus, not every door is bolted in the Ofcom proposals, but I believe that, given the current state of our knowledge, they are proportionate. They represent a principle, as the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, pointed out in her excellent speech, that Ofcom and other UK retailers must adhere to.

In future, we must ensure that these restrictions are properly monitored, enforced and, if necessary, changed. A number of reviews will take place that will give us the opportunity to reappraise the situation. We have the Ofcom review in the autumn of 2008, as has already been mentioned; there is the continuing debate in the European Parliament and the Commission about the European television without frontiers directive, which will make recommendations in advertising; the Government will conduct an interim review this autumn on changes to the balance and nature of food advertising and a full review next year; and the Department of Health has commissioned an analysis of advertising and promotional activity, which will help in those two reviews. It seems to me that there are quite enough reviews to give us the opportunity to appraise whether this new Ofcom system is working.

Of course all of us in this House recognise that there is no quick fix to a major problem such as obesity; many measures need to be taken. As noble Lords have pointed out, many measures were set out three years ago in the White Paper Choosing Health. It is notable that we have not made enough progress in putting those recommendations into effect.

It is not only with advertising that action needs to be taken; parents, as many noble Lords have pointed out, need to take responsibility for guiding their children towards a healthier and more active lifestyle. I hope, however, that this debate and the Bill’s progress will act as a spur, to repeat the expression that several noble Lords have used, to the food industry, the advertising industry, government departments—including the Department of Health and DCMS—and the regulators, to ensure that those restrictions that are currently in place will be effective. We need to be continually vigilant but not just about advertising; we need, as noble Lords have said, to get the substance of our food right and ensure that we do so not just with the way in which we market and sell it but with the products that are out there in the market.

My Lords, first, I add my congratulations to those offered to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, on introducing what has turned out to be a very interesting and worthwhile debate. Secondly, I add my congratulations to those offered to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, who made an excellent maiden speech. Mind you, I expected that; I remember the noble Lord, when he was in badger mode, coming to talk about that subject many years ago. He is a very eloquent man. I also want to say something about the speeches of the noble Baronesses, Lady Coussins and Lady Jones, neither of whom I have previously heard speak. I do not necessarily say that I agree with what both of them said but they made jolly impressive speeches and much enhanced this debate.

The background to this debate is concern over the diet of children and a reported increase in child obesity. My colleagues and I on these Benches, and everyone taking part in this debate, share that concern. Perhaps I might just add that, although “obese” and “obesity” are, strictly speaking, technical terms, it seems unfortunate to label any child in such a pejorative way. I wonder what the effect is on youngsters who are—I am afraid that they are—name-called like this.

Of course we all want to see healthier children but, if I had the freedom that the noble Baroness has to introduce a Private Member’s Bill to promote healthy lifestyles among children, I would not necessarily be treating what is more symptom than cause. My noble friend Lord Naseby and I would be looking to stop the sale of school playing fields. I would be looking to sweep away some of the silly rules that deter schools from taking children on outings. I would be looking to stop some of the obstacles that are put in the way of promoting sport in schools. I would be introducing a Bill to stop the Chancellor diverting lottery money away from sport. I would be applying my time and energy to promoting healthy eating and healthy lifestyles. I would propose, as suggested by my noble friend Lord Colwyn, that there should be a home economics course in all school curriculums. Before introducing yet another ban—how many more bans will be proposed by this illiberal Government?—I would ask whether often it is not so much advertising that promotes unhealthy outcomes as the whole television habit and some programmes that display unattractive and undesirable things that are far more damaging to health than eating the occasional bar of chocolate. To a large extent, it matters only marginally what you eat if you spend 15 hours a week slumped in front of a television.

Childhood has many gifts and one is a spirit of exploration. There is a natural tendency towards activity and a growing desire to test the bounds of freedom. My own feeling is that, if we are to influence the minds of the young, we do it best by education, inspiration and challenge and not by bans. At the same time, we should try to inculcate self-discipline in children, both at home and at school. This job is down principally to parents, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Naseby, but it is also down to the influence of teachers.

Did the noble Baroness never eat a bar of chocolate as a child? Did her eyes never light up when she was offered one? Did she suffer any lasting damage as a result? Was it advertising that led her to want that chocolate or was it not merely honest, simple, innocent pleasure? If you are to ban advertising, what is the logic for not banning the sale or use in public places of such items? I do not remember one ban or rule from my childhood that a large part of me did not want to try to break, even if I was too much of a wimp to do so. After all, in my experience, what most gets a child wanting a KitKat is not a 5 am advertisement but the sight of another child enjoying one. No ban will do anything about that.

We should be more positive in our approach to our common aim to promote healthy lifestyles and more far-sighted in our vision and memory of what it is to be a child. Like my noble friend Lady Buscombe, I am concerned at the impact of the Bill on British industry and the creative industries, including the making of television programmes for children. The ITV brief that I received had some troubling arguments on this front.

We have, indeed, all received well argued and impressive briefs from organisations on both sides of the argument. It is clear that not all the arguments run one way, but one thing shouts out from every brief. We are just starting a major experiment limiting the advertising of junk food during programmes using the FSA nutrient profiling approach that the noble Baroness enshrines in her Bill. This Ofcom initiative is far-reaching and follows wide discussion. It is to be evaluated by the Government this year and next. Ofcom ruled out a complete pre-watershed ban because that would be disproportionately damaging to the broadcasting industry and it was not widely supported by the public. In fact, the Bill would extend a ban to programmes whose audience, as has been mentioned by several others, is 85 to 90 per cent adult.

It is said that more than 85 per cent of all confectionery sold is bought by adults and that only a quarter of children under the age of 10 ever buy a soft drink for themselves. Perhaps the advertisers should be targeting the post-9 pm audience and not worrying about the children. Indeed, reductio ad absurdum, perhaps we should consider going back to food rationing. Surely we should respect the careful work done by Ofcom and others. We should see the outcome of the Ofcom experiment before changing the rules again.

There is far too much chopping and changing of regulation in this country. We will not carry consent with those in the industry and elsewhere who are working with this new initiative if we tear it up when it has scarcely begun. For all the enthusiasm of the anti-confectionery lobby and their good intentions, it should surely be careful not to give the impression that it is not prepared to accept that every action taken by government must be proportionate to the evidence, if the consent that government needs is not to be lost.

There has already been enough criticism—some of it justified—of the impact of the present rules in banning advertising of Marmite, raisins or cheese, all of which are reasonable components of a healthy, balanced diet. I am particularly interested in what my noble friend Lord Colwyn had to say on this. The Bill would ban the advertising of a range of food products between 5 am—how many six year-olds are on the loose then and, if they are, surely they have bigger problems than chocolate?—and 9 pm. It would put advertising of a chocolate bar on a par with major violence, explicit nudity, graphic sex and repeated violent and foul language. With the greatest respect to the noble Baroness, many people will think that this is frankly ridiculous.

The solution must be an holistic approach. Better education for children, parents and schools is needed. In addition, the Government should work more closely with the food manufacturers and persuade them that producing healthier food is proactive and therefore profitable. Unilever, for instance, voluntarily does not advertise its fast-food products at all and refuses to use size-zero models in its campaigns. PepsiCo no longer advertises during prime time. Tesco is voluntarily reducing its packaging. Companies are beginning to use corporate social responsibility models efficiently on their own account, as opposed to having social responsibility imposed on them by the state.

In conclusion, full marks to the noble Baroness for her concern for children, but rather fewer marks, I fear, for timing and method. We should not agree to a Bill to tear up the Ofcom rules before they have even been evaluated and I can therefore not advise my colleagues to support the Bill. If it received a Second Reading, it would need major amendment in Committee, even if it were wise to proceed at all. I urge the noble Baroness, for all her good intentions, to think again and give the Ofcom experiment a chance.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, on his excellent maiden speech. He led the first-class work of the FSA on the issue we have been discussing today and, during his time at the agency, created a highly respected and effective organisation, working on improving food standards. On behalf of the whole House, we extend to him a very warm welcome.

In thanking my noble friend Lady Thornton for raising this important subject, I pay tribute—as a number of other noble Lords have—to my noble friend Lady Morgan. This was her Private Member’s Bill but, unfortunately, she had to give it up when she became a Minister and pass it into the extremely capable hands of my noble friend Lady Thornton. The debate has been productive and extremely interesting on a complex matter about which the Government are concerned.

I will lay out the wide range of measures the Government are putting in place to tackle the problem. The one thing we are all agreed upon is that the rise in childhood obesity and poor diet are two of the most significant public health issues for society. The Government have recognised the need for decisive action. While we all recognise that the primary responsibility for children’s diets lies with parents—a point made by other noble Lords—the Government are committed to helping families lead healthier and more active lives. A key element of our comprehensive approach to this issue is the commitment to changing the nature and balance of food promotion to children. That is why the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport wrote to Ofcom, asking it to review and toughen up the rules in this area. That work formed part of the Government’s public health White Paper, Choosing Health, which sets out our commitment to a wider range of measures to tackle obesity and improve diet, especially for children. In addition to Ofcom’s work, the Government have worked closely with industry on stronger controls for non-broadcast marketing, including the internet, to ensure a comprehensive approach across all media. The internet has not been covered today, but print advertising is migrating to it and much of it is unregulated. In April 2007, the ASA announced strengthened new rules across all non-broadcast food promotion to children.

The focus of the Bill is food advertising on television. In response to the Secretary of State’s request, Ofcom undertook extensive research. No one would question the depth and breadth of that research, which highlighted that TV advertising has a modest direct effect on children’s food choices but also recognised that it is only one of the many influences at play. Ofcom therefore concluded that effective and proportionate regulation of broadcast advertising would be an important part of any overall strategy to address this issue. The Government’s position is that broadcast advertising is a part of the strategy, not a strategy in itself.

As a result of a wide-ranging consultation, Ofcom announced significantly strengthened new rules earlier this year. Those rules have been touched on today, but I must repeat them. They use the Food Standards Agency’s nutrient profiling model and include a total ban on high-fat, -salt and -sugar food advertising in and around all children’s programming, on dedicated children’s channels and in programmes of particular appeal to children under 16. Ofcom also set out new rules on the content of advertisements targeted at primary school children. They ban the use of celebrities, characters licensed from third parties, promotional claims and health or nutrition claims. That was a substantial task, and the Government very much welcome these new rules, which should significantly reduce the exposure of children to HFSS advertising.

Ofcom’s work has been the catalyst for companies to make significant changes to their food and promotion policies aimed at promoting healthier children’s diets, and we have heard about some of those initiatives today. The Walt Disney Company recently introduced new food guidelines giving parents and children healthier eating options. McDonald’s has been working on a range of measures to reduce the levels of salt, sugar and trans fats across its product range and to promote a greater understanding of nutritional content.

The Government recognise, however, that concerns have been raised about whether Ofcom’s measures are strong enough, while others have suggested that the new rules go too far and impact adversely on the broadcasting sector. We have heard both those arguments this morning. As the independent regulator, Ofcom must always take account of the duties Parliament has placed on it to ensure any regulatory interventions it proposes are proportionate, appropriately targeted and soundly based on evidence of impact. Ofcom was therefore required to undertake an extensive regulatory impact assessment looking at the costs and benefits of all possible regulatory options, including an advertising ban before the 9 o’clock watershed. Based on that assessment, Ofcom concluded that such a ban would be disproportionate in its impact and would have a considerable effect on broadcasters, with an estimated reduction in revenue of over £200 million. That would be likely to affect broadcasters’ ability to invest in commissioning of all types of programming.

We all agree that this is a very complex area. Ofcom has sought to strike a balance between the need to protect the health of our children while considering the impact on our broadcasting industries, in particular on children's television programming.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way. Will he confirm that the loss of revenue from the ban on advertising tobacco was much greater than the figure he has just quoted?

My Lords, I was very impressed by the arguments made by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. Having sat through the tobacco debate, I do not see the same sort of connection between tobacco advertising and the matter we are discussing.

Fundamental to this debate is the recognition that there is no single solution. If, on behalf of the Government, I could say one thing, it is that broadcasting bans and so on are part of a solution, not a solution in themselves. That is why the Government have set out a wide-ranging strategy to help create an environment where children and adults can develop key life skills, in particular recognising the importance of activity, physical exercise and a balanced, healthy diet as well as parental influence—a point stressed by a number of Peers. Ultimately, responsibility for diets and lifestyles has to fall to parents and carers, but our role as a Government is to help them to make the right choices for their children.

A major aspect of the Government’s strategy is the obesity PSA, to halt the year-on-year increase in obesity among children under 11 by 2010. The PSA—here we are looking at joined-up government—is owned by the Department of Health, the DfES and DCMS in full recognition that delivery will depend on a solution right across government. There is, therefore, a comprehensive cross-government programme of action to help families lead healthier and more active lives, which includes investing £1.5 billion in school sports in the five years to 2008—we have already made great strides in increasing participation, with 80 per cent of schoolchildren now doing at least two hours of school sport a week—up to £500 million funding for better school food, and developing simplified food labelling. There are many other initiatives, a list of which I should be very happy to place in the Library.

Of course, none of these measures alone will halt the rise in the prevalence of obesity but taken together they will help us improve people’s health and afford greater protection to our children.

As I have detailed, we now have Ofcom’s strengthened rules for television food advertising. It is only right that we allow time for these changes and those to non-broadcast advertising to bed in before evaluating their impact.

As set out in the public health White Paper, the Government are committed to reviewing Ofcom's and other measures, across all media. If these measures fail to produce a change in the nature and balance of food promotion to children—and this is an absolutely crucial point—we will take further action to implement a clearly defined framework for regulation in this area.

For broadcast advertising, that can be achieved through the existing legislation. I hope that my noble friend will recognise that, through the Communications Act 2003, the legislative framework is already in place to address the concerns she has raised and to allow for further action to be taken, if needed. Under the Act, Ofcom has the statutory responsibility for setting broadcast standards for advertising and the sponsorship of programmes. In accordance with these duties, it has examined the case and options for greater restrictions and came forward with new rules that significantly strengthen the regulation of broadcast food promotion to schools. However, we will monitor the impact of these measures over the next 12 months. As we have heard, Ofcom will undertake a review in 2008.

Moreover, the Secretary of State has powers under the Communications Act to issue directions in relation to prohibited categories of advertising. If the Secretary of State was persuaded that the rules were not strong enough, there are, ultimately, powers in the Act which could be used to direct Ofcom. We therefore take the view that a robust and responsive regulatory framework is already in place to address any concerns raised about broadcast food promotion to children, which will enable further action to be taken if this is deemed necessary. Today we have discussed a range of solutions, but, as I have said on at least two occasions, ultimately the responsibility lies with parents.

We regard the Bill as a valuable contribution to this debate, which reminds us that we cannot afford to be complacent about these significant public health issues. However, we are not convinced that the Bill proposed by the noble Baroness is needed to address concerns about broadcast food promotion to children.

My Lords, I am aware that colleagues who have stayed throughout this debate are probably desperate to get away to their lunch, healthy as I know it will be. However, I need to address one or two points, particularly to the kill-the-Bill brigade, as I have come to address them in my notes, which was led perhaps by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. We have worked together on child safety issues on several occasions and I confess a disappointment at her stance on this issue.

If advertising food and drink to children has as little effect as some of those in opposition to this Bill seem to think, why is so much money spent on it and why are they so exercised by it? I also have to say that I fear the USA is probably not the best example of what might happen. I believe that the attack on the Children’s Food Campaign betrays an ignorance of its broader aims on children’s health, including that which concerns exercise and food consumption, which is why it has the widest possible support and legitimately seeks support from David Cameron, Gordon Brown and other politicians.

I slightly took exception to the “let’s blame the mother” remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, and I am not quite sure how his wife and daughter might feel about that. It takes me back to asking: why advertise to children at all if the mother is always responsible for what the child buys and consumes? The only point on which I agree with the noble Lord is on ignoring other media. However, this is a Private Member’s Bill and addresses itself to one issue. I can assure and promise the noble Lord that I have my eye on the other media coming down the track.

I beg to differ with the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins. I believe that politicians have to take responsibility sometimes to help regulators get it right. If the noble Baroness is really concerned about public health, sometimes it is important to listen to scientific evidence. While she is a most skilled regulator and bureaucrat, her proportionality argument here is wrong. This is an emergency which needs a proportionate response. I knew that the noble Lords, Lord Colwyn and Lord Naseby, would raise the “Marmite issue”, which the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, addressed quite well. But it is not a reason for not tackling this problem or taking forward and always reviewing the scientific evidence.

I have to confess that I am disappointed by my noble friend Lord Lipsey, and I shall probably need to see him later. We agree that the FSA and Ofcom route is the right one to take up to the point of decision, but where we disagree is that, clearly, I think that they took the wrong decision. As a parent, I agree with many of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, but I have to say that I completely failed to take my children out for a nine-mile run after they had consumed a McDonald’s burger, which is what they would have needed to remedy the amount of fat taken in. I think that many other parents also fail in that respect.

I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Thomas and Lady Howarth, the noble Lords, Lord Krebs and Lord Dykes, and my noble friends Lady Rendell, Lady Jones, Lord Rea and Lord Whitty for their support and wise remarks in adding to this debate.

Returning to the kill-the-Bill brigade, I do not think that the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, has too much to worry about or needs to be quite so vociferous in her remarks since she has the full support of both Front Benches of the House. They are united against the Bill, so I am confident that that means that we have absolutely got it right. To take up just one matter, seeking to justify poisoning our children’s minds with a longing for foods that ultimately will poison their bodies by saying that the amount of money available to make decent children’s programmes will be reduced indicates that something is seriously wrong with the way we look at our values and our priorities.

I am a trustee of the Fifteen Foundation and a colleague and admirer of Jamie Oliver. In recent years, he has done more to tackle this issue than almost anyone else. The campaigns he has mounted, along with those of the Children’s Food Campaign, reflect a genuine and widespread wish seriously to limit food advertising to children and support parents in their fight for children’s health. The Government and this House need to listen to that very carefully, and to take heed.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.