Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. It will be within your recollection that, on 19 October 1989, the Home Secretary came to the House to announce the setting up of a judicial inquiry into the Guildford and Woolwich convictions under a former High Court judge, Sir John May. Tomorrow, four years and eight months later, Sir John May is due to report. In stark contrast to Lord Justice Scott's inquiry, much of Sir John's inquiry has been conducted in private, and it is difficult to discover any details about the publication of its report tomorrow.
My purpose is to ask whether it would be possible for you, Madam Speaker, to persuade the Home Office to arrange for a statement to be made in the House tomorrow on the results of that judicial inquiry so that we may question its outcome, or, failing that, to be a little more open with the details of where and when the report will be published.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I have just listened to your ruling that you cannot take further the question of a statement, but you will be well aware of the practice by which it appears that Ministers persuade individual Members to put down questions for answer at short notice. I believe that on today's Order Paper there about 10 questions which were tabled yesterday for answer today. Is it possible for you at least to draw that practice to the attention of the House so that it can be used today in order that we can discover whether the report of the inquiry will be published by means of a written answer or given in a statement ?
Mr. Secretary Hurd, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Heseltine, Mr. Secretary MacGregor, Mr. Secretary Hunt, Mrs. Gillian Shephard and Mr. Heathcoat-Amory, presented a Bill to amend the definition of "the Treaties" and "the Community Treaties" in section 1(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 so as to include the treaty concerning the accession of the Kingdom of Norway, the Republic of Austria, the Republic of Finland and the Kingdom of Sweden to the European Union ; and to
Column 814approve that treaty for the purposes of section 6 of the European Parliamentary Elections Act 1978 : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. [Bill 138.]
Mr. William Cash (Stafford) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Is it not inconsistent, in line with the opinion poll that has just been released showing that 67 per cent. of Conservative Members of Parliament are against a single currency, for us to find that, contrary-- [Interruption.]
Madam Speaker : Order. I shall determine whether that is a point of order. Most points of order put to me are totally bogus and many points of order from hon. Members who are now complaining are equally bogus. I know a bogus point of order when I hear one and there is one coming my way. I am ready to answer the hon. Gentleman, but I am such a courteous Speaker that I do not want to interrupt him. Will the hon. Gentleman now come to the point of order that is for me and leave out the percentages and the political arguments ?
Mr. Cash : I endorse your view on these matters, Madam Speaker. I simply say that the House of Commons has recently enacted a Bill which states that we shall decide in due course whether we are to move towards economic and monetary union and a single currency. In a speech, my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that he wishes
Madam Speaker : Order. Let me help the hon. Gentleman. I gave him his chance, and I know exactly what he is getting at. If the hon. Gentleman reads the Order Paper carefully, he will see precisely what the Bill is and is not about.
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. The Bill is about the potential accession of various other countries to the European Community. If there is to be monetary union, that then is a European state. We need to know whether or not the Government are in favour of that.
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to regulate the diet industry ; to bring all medicines relating to diets under control ; and for connected purposes.
The Bill that I seek leave to introduce would make provision to regulate the diet industry and to bring weight loss pills, potions and patches under the Medicines Acts. Such a Bill is long overdue. At present, the diet industry can claim virtually anything for its products. When they do not work, the consumer blames herself--it is usually women who buy such products--and moves on to try the next product.
Leading health professionals in this country, America and Canada agree that dieting is not good for our health. It has been widely established that diets do not work. Ninety-five per cent. of dieters regain all the weight lost within two or three years.
Another purpose of the Bill is to reinforce and support the aims of Dietbreakers--an excellent organisation founded by Mary Evans Young, which challenges the perils and futility of dieting except for medical reasons, such as diabetes and other diagnosed illnesses. Dietbreakers opposes the tyranny of thinness. I am glad to say that the movement is growing and has taken on an international dimension. No Diet Day on 5 May was celebrated by men and women, but mainly women and girls, from Helsinki to New York. They are saying loud and clear that they have had enough of the ill-health and misery peddled by the diet industry.
Ninety per cent. of British women diet at some time during their lives. At any given time, 50 per cent. of women are dieting, including girls as young as eight and women as old as 75. There is also growing evidence that men and boys are being targeted by the diet industry. Dietbreakers points out, and I agree, that dieting undermines women's emotional and physical well- being and is often a step towards serious eating disorders.
The fashion industry and the image-makers place enormous pressures on people, and on women and girls in particular, to be unhealthily thin. They imply that, unless we can get into a size 10 or 12 dress, we are no longer attractive. It is a tragedy that those powerful image-makers are encouraging western women and girls to starve through dieting when so many people are dying from starvation in many parts of the developing world.
I believe that the regulations that I propose are eminently sensible. All weight loss centres should prominently display a health warning that rapid weight loss is dangerous to health. All weight loss companies should provide consumers with a card that clearly outlines the benefits and risks of any weight loss. They should also disclose additional charges. Too often the consumer buys a product and then discovers that she must incur extra charges when a programme has been devised. All diets and weight loss pills, potions and patches should be brought under the Medicines Acts.
All products--including books, tapes and videos--should clearly state the risks of rapid weight loss and that permanent weight loss is unlikely and cannot be guaranteed. Consumers should be informed of the estimated or actual duration of the recommended programme.
Column 816Weight loss centres should do what is now being done in America, which is to display posters on their premises carrying the warnings, "Rapid weight loss may cause serious health problems", "Only lifestyle changes such as making healthy food choices and exercising are likely to promote any long-term weight loss" and "People should consult a doctor before starting a weight loss programme." Consumers should have the right to ask about the qualifications of people promoting weight loss programmes.
The potential damage of rapid weight loss is a serious health issue. It is not a trivial matter. At the extreme end, it can lead to the sad and haunting pictures that we saw recently in the press of the surviving twin, Samantha Kendall, whose sister Michaela died from anorexia. Until Samantha went to Canada, where she is now happily responding to treatment, she starved herself almost to the point of death. She weighed just 4 stone. It was a terrible tragedy that started with dieting. As two happy, plump, 14- year-old teenagers, they decided that they needed to lose some weight. It resulted in the death of one and the near-death of the other.
If it is argued, as it was yesterday on another ten-minute Bill, that regulations could cost industry profits--the Conservative party is averse to regulations--the Government should study the statistics for people being treated on the national health service for anorexia, bulimia and other diet -related diseases. Although the prime cost is in human misery, if the argument is to be one of economics, what about the cost to the NHS ? It far outweighs anything else. Dieting causes other illnesses. I have spoken about the extremes, but it also causes constipation, headaches, gallstones and depression. It brings on mood swings and causes infertility in some women, but most of all it causes a loss of self-esteem.
I want to mention a few of the more outrageous claims made by those who are exploiting people who have been led to believe that they are not attractive because they do not fit into a size 10 or 12. In the book "You Don't Have to Diet", Dr. Tom Sanders of King's college and Peter Barzalgette expose a few of the greater excesses of the diet industry. They say :
"As the cult of thinness has gradually perverted our view of our bodies, so a huge range of misleading and even fraudulent products has emerged to exploit the situation. These pills, potions and magic cures do not help you to lose body fat."
I shall give a few examples of points made in the book. It warns about appetite suppressants, which are common in the diet industry. In the long run they do not work, but, even more important, they can be very harmful. Bulking agents are pills taken before meals to feel fuller. They often cause wind and other uncomfortable feelings in the stomach. Even worse, they can lead to a blockage of the intestines. There are creams that are supposed to dissolve cellulite, whatever that is--I think that it is the diet industry's word for fat. One such cream, Fadeaway, claims that all one needs to do is to rub the cream into the skin and the fat will disappear. I hope that no one is conned into paying a great deal of money for that. It is described as vanishing cream, but it does not work.
One of my favourites is what Mary Evans Young of Dietbreakers calls the Chinese connection. Dr. Stephen Chang claims that his weight loss remedy emerges from 6,000 years of study of alternative medicines and that all
Column 817one has to do is to lie on one's back, rub the tummy and the fat will disappear. Do not try it ; it does not work. It is possibly one of the daftest programmes and it is certainly not the cheapest. There are also various drugs that stimulate the metabolic rate. All the drugs have unpleasant side effects.
Laxatives, which are widely promoted, can be very dangerous, and some have been banned. Any weight loss resulting from the use of diuretics or water loss pills is temporary, and such use could be dangerous. The latest fad is slimming patches : people are instructed to attach a seaweed preparation to their skins. It is claimed that the preparation passes from the patch into the body and speeds up the metabolism so that calories are burned faster. That is absolute rubbish--and, even worse, the American Food and Drug Administration believes that the preparation may act adversely on the thyroid gland, and has banned its use.
Then there are the books. Judith Wills has published one entitled "Size 12 in 21 Days". That is a positive lie : the average woman would never be able to drop two dress sizes in three weeks without seriously affecting her health. Why do people like Judith Wills and Rosemary Conley keep producing new books if they have found the perfect solution to weight problems, as they frequently claim ? The truth is that they have not found it ; like the rest of the diet industry, they are simply out to make money.
Too many people are suffering at the hands of the pill pedlars and jack-the -lads selling seaweed patches and other such nonsense. I want to stop it, and that is why I am presenting my Bill.
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire) : In rising to oppose the Bill, I have no personal interest to declare. I am not sponsored by any food or diet company, nor have I ever been on a diet ; indeed, I suspect that--like you, Madam Speaker--I am a little underweight. Sadly, however, that is not the case for just under 50 per cent. of all adults in the country.
While no one would disagree with the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) that claims made by the distributors of some patent slimming drugs and pads are false, the problem is already being addressed. The Advertising Standards Authority has recently begun a campaign to prevent such advertising by the media, and--as I shall attempt to explain later--the diet industry is working closely with the European Commission to establish safe and effective guidelines for slimming products.
Newspapers have a duty of care as well, however, and they should exercise greater responsibility. The Mirror Group has been singled out by the Advertising Standards Authority for accepting some advertisements for medicines that are in flagrant breach of the code. In naming that bastion of socialism, I hope that members of its advertising department will exercise higher standards in the future, matching those of their editorial colleagues.
My objection to the Bill is this. The long title makes it clear that it seeks to restrict bona fide slimming products : the net effect of that would be detrimental to the health of the nation, as well as imposing a wholly unnecessary burden on industry. The hon. Member for Halifax believes that we should introduce costly and cumbersome new regulations to prevent 18 million adults from taking
Column 818responsible steps to improve their own health. As I have said, nearly 50 per cent. of adults in the country are overweight, and one in seven--nearly 6 million people--are so fat that their health is in danger. It is getting worse : throughout the 1980s, the number of women suffering from clinical obesity shot up by some 50 per cent. The hon. Lady spoke of illnesses caused by dieting, but it is well known that being fat--or, in the case of my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames), pleasantly padded--puts people at risk of heart disease, strokes, diabetes, various cancers, infertility, respiratory problems, painful joints and other illnesses. The list goes on and on.
We can gain some idea of the cost to the national health service. In Sweden, where the prevalence of this problem is not dissimilar to that in the United Kingdom, 15 per cent. of the entire health budget is spent on treating the effects of overweight and obesity. The consequences of being overweight and obese are among the most serious public health issues that face us today.
The suggestion that we should simply hand the problem over to doctors is absurd ; how exactly does the hon. Member for Halifax imagine that the 27,000 general practitioners in this country will be able to regulate products and services that are needed by 18 million people ? Even if they concentrated only on the medically obese, GPs would have to see more than 40 extra patients every day. That could not be left to the dietitians, because there are only 3,300 in the whole United Kingdom.
On the other hand, there are 10,000 slimming club leaders and diet counsellors, most of whom are women, who perform a valuable service to the community, providing regular advice and contact that is helpful to those who need to lose weight. GPs cannot possibly be expected to have time for that.
There is no medical reason why people should be forbidden free access to proven safe and successful methods of self-help. Diet products are not only safe, but are often extremely successful. Meal replacement diets, for example, are backed by a wealth of clinical evidence showing that many thousands of people have lost weight and have learnt how to stay slimmer and much healthier, many without the costly burden of medical supervision.
The manufacturers represented by the Infant and Dietetic Foods Association's slimming foods working group are now working closely with the European Commission to establish high standards of quality and safety. Yet that is the industry that the hon. Member for Halifax says is literally "getting away with murder". She should think carefully before using such emotive language. She must understand that if we allow the weight of the nation to spiral upwards unchecked, more and more deaths are inevitable, along with pain and disability for millions, much of it preventable.
If the hon. Member for Halifax believes that it is the diet industry that is
"dictating that all women have to conform to a certain body shape",
I imagine that she must be completely unaware that the diet industry is already subject to strict controls on advertising and is simply not permitted to use idealised over-thin images to promote its products. The only body shapes to which the responsible diet industry encourages women to conform are those that are healthy and comfortable for each individual.
Nobody should feel pressurised for being fat, but everybody has the right to take control of his or her own
Column 819health and to have full information and access to all available safe methods of doing so. The Government are not about to remove the freedom of the individual.
Supporters of the Bill should be careful that they do not become involved in sizeism in reverse. If people are heavily overweight, of course it is right that they should be persuaded to lose weight, just as heavy smokers should be persuaded to cut down, because for many that will mean escape from a painful and disabled old age, and possibly an early death.
Everyone is horrified by the apparent increase in eating disorders, but the hon. Member for Halifax clearly does not understand that the abnormal eating behaviours of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are symptoms-- outward expressions of deep and serious psychological disorders. Any clinical reference manual will explain that clearly. She must be clear in her mind that the difference between dieting and eating disorders is profound. One is a necessary undertaking for nearly half the population ; the others are symptoms of deep psychological disturbance.
It is trite and irresponsible to believe that complex psychological disorders can be cured by restricting products from which no one is in danger. By holding up the industry as a scapegoat, and thereby ignoring the need to look for the real causes, we should not only jeopardise the health and well-being of almost half the population, but also do the small but tragic minority who suffer from anorexia and bulimia a huge and desperate disservice.
We are a Government of deregulation, so what possible value can there be in introducing costly and cumbersome burdens and regulations that have no medical basis whatever, would be unenforceable and would put an unnecessary and impossible burden on GPs ? I beg to oppose the Bill.
Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No.19 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business), and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mrs. Alice Mahon, Mrs. Ann Clwyd, Ms Dawn Primarolo, Ms Jean Corston, Mr. Tony Banks, Ms Diane Abbott, Ms Liz Lynne, Ms Mildred Gordon, Mrs. Helen Jackson, Ms Harriet Harman, Ms Clare Short and Mr. Ken Livingstone.
Mrs. Alice Mahon accordingly presented a Bill to regulate the diet industry ; to bring all medicines relating to diets under control ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 15 July, and to be printed. [Bill 139.]
Madam Speaker : I must first tell the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister. Secondly, because of the interest in the debate, I have had to limit speeches to 10 minutes between 6 pm and 8 pm.
That this House condemns the failure of the Government's housing and urban policies for England ; notes that they have too frequently been characterised by contradictory objectives and doctrinaire solutions which have resulted in cuts in main programmes more than cancelling out the benefits of specifically targeted funds, the waste of millions of pounds as those in need are forced into the private sector at higher cost and in worse conditions than could have been available in local authority houses, the undermining of voluntary action and community identity, the reinforcement of a dependency culture and of unbalanced communities as rents are forced up and economically active people are trapped on benefit, unacceptable levels of homelessness, houses in disrepair, and mortgage arrears and repossession ; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to abandon its ideological blinkers, to develop a new partnership with local authorities, the private sector and community groups, to allow the phased release of capital receipts, and to secure effective co-ordination of all Government main and specific programmes so as to improve England's urban communities, and the affordability and availability of housing across the country.
Last week, the Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction published a major report on the impact of urban policy. There was no fanfare for its publication, no stage-managed press conference and no glossy summary of the kind so often adopted by Ministers. In their place, there was just a planted parliamentary question which gave no insight into the report's findings or conclusions, but instead sought to claim that the report's recommendations had been addressed by the "major reforms" that the Secretary of State for the Environment had announced to the House in November 1993.
The report does not even have the customary statement of introduction giving such basic details as when the report was commissioned, when it was first delivered to Ministers and how many months it had taken Ministers to decide what to do with it. We know the reasons why. The party of open government received the report more than 18 months ago and since that time, because of the embarrassment of its conclusions, Ministers have been working out what to do with it and how to ensure that it never saw the light of day. When the Minister replies, perhaps he will explain why the report was delayed.
The Minister might explain something else as well--the extraordinary choice, perhaps the Freudian choice, of photographs on the front page. The first photograph shows a waterside development. The other photograph is extraordinary and revealing : it shows the inside of a betting shop. Nothing more symbolises the Government's lottery and casino policy. Of all the pictures to select to characterise and symbolise inner-city policy, the Government chose a picture of the inside of a betting shop.
We should not be surprised by the delay and by Ministers' attempts to suppress the report. Nor should we
Column 821be surprised by the deliberate and selective leaking of parts of the report, such as the article in The Independent , under the headline
"£10 billion wasted on failed inner city policy."
The leaks were designed to give an impression different from the conclusions of the report.
The report is the single most thorough and comprehensive study of urban policy ever undertaken. Far from telling Ministers and Conservative central office what they wanted to hear, it blows apart the doctrinaire, market- driven ideology of the Conservative party. It exposes the short-term incoherence of much of the Government's approach and it shows the importance of sensible public spending in building the economic and social base of urban areas. It highlights the neglected but vital role that local elected councillors have to play.
The report first addresses the issue of coherence and of whether there has been any consistent strategy which has linked, in some logical way, the myriad programmes, initiatives, gimmicks, wheezes and, yes, pilot projects- -which we heard about in Question Time--which have characterised urban policy and Ministers' key public spending decisions in main programmes. The report says :
"There is widespread evidence that policy has lacked the coherence that could have come through a more strategic approach to regeneration . . . There has been a shifting target, a shifting set of priorities and a growing and fluctuating set of policies to tackle urban problems."
It can say that again.
Perhaps most disturbing of all to the dogmatists of the Conservative party, the report wholly rubbishes the view that spending billions of pounds of public money, such as the £2 billion spent in docklands on putting up vast office blocks like Canary wharf, would lead to benefits trickling down to local people, as bankers had their cars valeted by hoi polloi and bought their fags in the local sweet shop.
The report says :
"Our work reinforces the view that trickle down' has not generally been very effective".
Mr. Riddick : If urban renewal in inner cities is so important, will the hon. Gentleman explain to the House why there is no mention of it in the document "Change and National Renewal" ? Perhaps while he is about it, and because he is the campaign manager, could he explain why we have not heard one solitary word spoken in the House of Commons over the past six weeks by the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) ?
Mr. Straw : The hon. Gentleman can always be relied on to ask the most absurd questions. [Interruption.] As soon as the Government bring forward the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill and the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill from the wreckage which has been heaped on both of them in the House of Lords, my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield will have a great deal to say in this House, as he has outside.
Let me continue to deal with the report's conclusions because I know that the reason why Conservative Members have sought to suppress it and the reason why they are now asking irrelevant questions about it is that they do not want to hear what the report says about their policies.
Mr. Straw : I shall give way in moment to the hon. Gentleman. The report shows that there is no coherence in Government policy--a dogma which has not been delivered. There are, however, some areas of this Administration's record which have, of course, been consistent. First, there has been a consistent belief that public spending almost automatically crowds out other economic activity. Secondly, there has been a profound, coruscating hostility to local government which has got worse as the Conservatives' local government base has shrunk. Both those beliefs are seriously challenged by the report. The report also shows that, generally, additional public spending has acted positively to bring down unemployment and to improve economic activity and socio-economic conditions.
There were, the report says, positive relationships between public spending and employment, economic activity and socio-economic conditions. It says :
"public resources appear to have made an impact on turning around aspects both of the economic and residential distress in urban areas".
However, the authors go on to seek to explain how, in the most deprived areas, especially in conurbation cores and areas of high unemployment, policy has not been able to make significant inroads into socio-economic problems. Why ? The answer that the report's authors give is very simple and it confirms what Labour has said for so long :
"Most local authorities have experienced real or relative reductions in both HIP and RSG finance during the decade."
The report continues :
"allowing for inflation, RSG and HIP declined by over one third between 1979-80 and 1989-90 in five authorities of Tyne and Wear". The experience of other areas, I may add, has been exactly the same. The report concludes :
"The recurring complaints of financial cuts' by many of the big cities are therefore difficult to refute".