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Dr. Jones: I think that anyone interested in this debate will regard that issue as a red herring when it comes to considering the needs of women and babies and the need to encourage breast-feeding. In fact, the EC directive gives considerable freedom to this country as to how to regulate such matters and, of course, the Government have already made clear their support for the World Health Organisation's code, which is perhaps more stringent.
I was referring to the attitudes which persist in society. I believe that they have a great deal to do with what amounts to considerable consumer resistance to breast-feeding, even though the Government-- [Interruption.]
Dr. Jones: I was talking about the consumer resistance which persists despite all the expert opinion to the effect that breast-feeding is the ideal method for feeding babies. It is in this respect that advertising is of such crucial importance, as has long been recognised in the World Health Organisation code, which stipulates that there should be no advertising to the general public of formula or other products within the scope of the code. It is a much stricter code than that in the EC directive.
The code allows dissemination of information to health care professionals but, unfortunately, in the voluntary code operated by baby milk manufacturers since the World Health Organisation code was established, it has been interpreted as allowing the advertising of infant formula milks to mothers in publications distributed through the health care system. That is just at the point when mothers are most vulnerable, and it goes completely
Column 1628against the WHO code which states that no facilities in the health care system should be used for the purposes of promoting infant formula.
Baby milk companies spend anything between £5 million and £12 million a year on advertising--saturating hospitals and clinics with booklets, videos and leaflets, which pretend to promote breast-feeding while using subtle messages to undermine it. They always include the statement that breast-feeding is best, but the very juxtaposition of this information with the brand name implies that the particular product is just as good. A poster that I saw recently in my GP's surgery illustrates that point well. The logo of the company responsible for the poster was prominently displayed next to a picture of a mother breast-feeding her baby.
Interestingly, the information given by the baby milk manufacturers fails to identify the actual ingredients of the formula: cows' milk which may be supplemented with beef fat, maize oil, chicken egg or large amounts of glucose syrup. The information given is selective and creates the impression that breast-feeding is difficult and that artificial feeding presents few risks. These conflicting messages undermine women's confidence in their ability to feed their own babies.
In December 1993, it seemed that this would soon become a thing of the past when the Government, as we have heard, issued draft proposals for the implementation of the EC directive which would have banned baby pictures from tins, the advertising of infant formula to the public and the issue of free samples. The role of ensuring that all mothers received unbiased information and were given the help and advice that they needed in order to make informed choices would have been the responsibility of trained health care workers, not commercial marketing. Unfortunately, despite support for the proposals from major health bodies such as the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Midwives, as well as the National Consumer Council and, in fact, some calls to strengthen the proposals to include follow-on formulae, the Government decided to put commercial interests before infant health.
Dr. Jones: Obviously, the hon. Gentleman was not here when I was talking about the nature of the advertising and the way in which that slogan is used to undermine breast-feeding rather than to promote it.
If Britain is to get anywhere near achieving the Government's targets on breast-feeding in the White Paper, "The Health of the Nation", we shall have to learn from the experience of countries such as Norway. There is no promotion of baby milk in Norway. Since 1970, when breast-feeding rates there were similar to those in the United Kingdom-- [Hon. Members:-- "He is going now."] That shows the interest that the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) has in the matter.
Since 1970, the Norwegian Government have had a strong policy of support for breast-feeding. All mothers have access to a mother-support network. That is to be compared with the attitude of our Government: in response to a question that I tabled in July asking what advice is given to employers about arrangements for encouraging mothers to continue breast-feeding after their
Column 1629return to work, the Government--both the Department of Health and the Department of Employment--unashamedly answered, "None." If the Government are really serious in their stated support for breast-feeding, they should properly implement the WHO code and do more to promote breast-feeding through the health care system. Spending 20p per mother--compared with at least £6 per mother spent by baby milk manufacturers to promote their £119 million business--simply is not good enough.
Mr. David Faber (Westbury): I am delighted to make what I hope will be a brief speech. I listened very carefully to the speech of the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones) but I did not feel that his heart was in it. Having prayed against the regulations, it is ironic that only one Labour Back Bencher is here to support her Front-Bench team. There probably would have been more debate if the regulations had been debated upstairs.
The speeches of the hon. Members for Clwyd, South-West and for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Dr. Jones) contained a true sign of some of the thoughts of new Labour and of the Labour party. We have heard that they are anti-business, that they are anti-choice, and in condemning the fact that some European companies own companies here in Britain, we have seen that they are anti-EC investment in this country. I shall not follow the hon. Member for Selly Oak down the path that she took. I found some of what she said quite incomprehensible.
I am delighted to declare a constituency interest as Cow and Gate Ltd. has its headquarters in Trowbridge in my constituency-- [Interruption.] I am proud to do so. The hon. Member for Selly Oak, in an intervention in the Adjournment debate of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) a couple of weeks ago, seemed in some way to question the fact that it was right for me to have introduced an Adjournment debate a year ago when I had a constituency interest in Cow and Gate. I should have thought that that is exactly what we are here for in the House of Commons-- to represent businesses in our constituencies and to speak up for them and their interests. On this occasion, happily, the interests of my constituents and my own beliefs coincide, which of course does not always happen. Cow and Gate has a long tradition, as my hon. Friend the Minister pointed out. I am happy to admit to being a Cow and Gate baby, as, indeed, did the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery in his Adjournment debate. The House may remember that the Minister who responded to the Adjournment debate that I secured a year ago was my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames), my hon. Friend the Minister's predecessor. We had some trouble in ascertaining that evening whether he was a Cow and Gate baby. However, I notice that The Daily Telegraph today reports that he is due to start a crash diet, and I am sure that Cow and Gate will be able to come up with a suitable recipe to help him.
As the House knows, since 1983 the rules governing the marketing of baby milk have been enshrined in the voluntary code of practice, which will in effect be formalised this evening by the regulations. However, as the Minister has said, in some respects the EC directive being implemented does not go as far as the voluntary
Column 1630code, and baby milk advertising will continue to be allowed, but only in publications distributed through health care professionals and in trade journals.
For the past 12 years the voluntary code has been monitored by an independent committee, most of whose members are wholly independent from the infant formula industry. The committee considers complaints against the code, which historically and traditionally have come from pressure groups, not from the general public. Few of those complaints have been upheld.
Baby milk manufacturers have taken independent steps over the years to control their marketing--the most obvious being the banning of free and subsidised supplies to the health service some years ago. Both inside and outside the House, much has been made of the World Health Organisation code, which, as the Minister has confirmed, Britain fully supports. The code rightly seeks to promote breast-feeding as the ideal means of feeding babies, but we all know that we do not live in an ideal world. Contrary to what the hon. Member for Selly Oak says, many mothers simply cannot breast- feed, or do not wish to do so. Ironically, it is often the infant formula manufacturers that provide most of the information that is available about breast-feeding.
Parents can obtain information about breast-feeding and all the other forms of baby feeding from a variety of sources--from health professionals, from the Government, from specialist organisations and, of course, from the manufacturers. All those sources have an important role to play, and the manufacturers provide a service to health professionals and to mothers through the distribution of leaflets and through sponsorship, training and advertising, as well as by other means.
Manufacturers promote not only breast-feeding but their own products. In all, the industry hands out about 5 million leaflets a year to about 800,000 mothers. Had the draft regulations, which I opposed this time last year, been accepted, that source of information for mothers would have disappeared altogether. Since 1983, when the voluntary code was introduced- -here I disagree with the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery and with other Opposition Members--the breast-feeding rate has remained static, at about 65 per cent. How, then, can it possibly be said that the maintenance of the status quo has resulted in a drop in breast-feeding rates?
The difference between the new EC directive being implemented tonight and the WHO code of conduct is, of course, that by law the Government have to implement the directive. At a time when all Departments, especially the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, were seeking to deregulate, we were faced with the prospect of the United Kingdom implementing a directive and going even further. Given my past interest, I am pleased that the Government have pulled back from that intention. As has already been said, article 8 of the EC directive, which deals with advertising, says:
"advertising of infant formulae shall be restricted to publications specialising in baby care and scientific publications. Member states may further restrict or prohibit such advertising." Article 8 thus allows for advertising not only in specialised baby care publications, such as Bounty books distributed within the health care system, but in baby care
Column 1631and parenting magazines, such as Mother and Baby and Practical Parenting , which are readily available on general sale in newsagents.
Dr. Lynne Jones: The hon. Gentleman has correctly said that member states may further restrict or prohibit such advertising. Does he not accept that if we implemented the WHO code that is exactly what we would be doing? Does he support the code or not?
Mr. Faber: As the Minister has said, we as a Government support the code. However, I have said precisely why I support what the Government are doing: I do not wish to see over-regulation, least of all in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
I was about to draw the attention of the House to regulation 17, which says that
"No person shall publish or display any advertisement for an infant formula . . . except . . . in a publication specialising in baby care and distributed only through the health care system". That clearly prohibits the more general advertising that would have been allowed under article 8, which other hon. Members--some of whom may feel that the regulations are too restrictive--and manufacturers would oppose.
Finally, a great deal has been made of the organisations that are opposed to advertising baby milk and of the representations that they have made to my hon. Friend the Minister. I disagree with the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West, who questions the validity of an independent survey carried out for Bounty. He is right that Bounty may not be independent, but the company which carried out the survey--Market Trends--is independent. [Laughter.] The hon. Gentleman may laugh, but is he saying that when MORI carries out a poll for the Labour party he would question whether MORI was an independent polling organisation because the Labour party had an interest in the result of that poll? He could not possibly say that.
The independent survey was quite categoric, and showed that 93 per cent. of bottle-feeding mothers opposed a ban on advertising, as did 74 per cent. of breast-feeding mothers, 68 per cent. of midwives and 64 per cent. of health visitors. As has been pointed out, the latter two groups are made up of professionals who would vet whether such material was suitable for distribution. Those experienced professionals, in my opinion, should be listened to.
It has been alleged that the industry spends some £12 million a year on promotional materials, but I do not believe that. I know what Cow and Gate's market share is, and how much it has spent to support that market share. Either it is infinitely more competitive than its competitors, or the true figure is much lower--perhaps less than half that figure. Of that expenditure, more than 40 per cent. goes on educational material.
The debate has been about freedom of choice and the right of a mother--who, whatever others may think, knows best--to choose what to do for her baby. The Government rightly acknowledge that breast is best, and we will do everything possible to promote that. Bottle-feeding is not dangerous--it is a matter of the degree of goodness for the baby. While cigarettes can still be freely advertised it would be ludicrous to ban the limited advertising of a legal and healthy product such as baby milk.
Column 1632It would be insulting to mothers and to their intelligence to say that they cannot make a rational decision. [Interruption.] I hope that Opposition Front Benchers are paying attention.
Mr. Martyn Jones: I am not intervening just to prove that I am paying attention; I should like to make two points. First, my speech was not in any way diffident--this is an important issue, and I am very sincere about what I am saying--and, secondly, the hon. Gentleman said that baby milk is not harmful. Does he not consider a 10-times higher risk of gastroenteritis to be harmful?
Mr. Faber: Anyone would prefer babies not to have gastroenteritis, but I go back to what I said a few minutes ago. Contrary to what the hon. Member for Selly Oak said, many mothers are physically unable to breast- feed, and many do not do so for other reasons. It would be quite wrong to deprive them of the right to choose and the information that is available.
Since her well-deserved promotion, my hon. Friend the Minister has been an eloquent proponent of minimum interference mixed with plenty of good common sense. That is what we have in the regulations this evening, and I commend her on laying them before the House. 9.32 pm
Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery): The hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Faber) has represented his constituency interest well tonight. One could almost hear echoes of his distinguished grandfather as he told us that babies, apparently, have never had it so good.
I was lucky enough to have an Adjournment debate on 22 March to which the Minister replied. During that debate, I told the House that I was a Cow and Gate baby. Incidentally, I was born on the same day as the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, who ate for both of us. The Minister told us during that debate that she was a mother-in-law. During her percussive reply to the debate--in which she showed a degree of petulance which, I suspect, she would not display in her relations with her offspring and offspring-in-law--she seemed to claim that those of us who criticised the Government for the regulations were somehow treating women as unintelligent creatures who were not able to make their own choice.
I too have a mother-in-law. Like the Minister, she is extremely charming, highly intelligent and very experienced and I have nothing but praise for her, even after more than a quarter of a century. I am afraid that, as an intelligent and wise woman, she would not agree for one moment with the hon. Lady.
As the hon. Member for Westbury said, in this country we have a breast- feeding rate of about 65 per cent. That is a great deal less than in some other countries, which have been much more successful in persuading mothers to breast-feed. I hope that the Minister will agree that the success of those countries is to be commended and that one should try to learn from it and to find out why, for example, there is a much higher breast-feeding rate in Norway. Is it because women in Norway are better at exercising choice? I doubt it. It is far more likely to be because the Norwegian Government have taken much more seriously the World Health Organisation's code and have enacted it.
Column 1633During this debate, an unseemly war of words broke out on the fourth row back below the Gangway on the Government side between the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) and the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor), who were separated only by a nervous-looking referee. For this to be an argument about European regulations begs the question as to what level of action the Government should take.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Dr. Jones) is right--the Government should be doing more to enable women to make that informed choice, which I, like the Minister, believe they can make. Unlike the Minister, however, I suspect that they are being influenced in the opposite direction.
Mrs. Browning: I do not want to hold up the hon. and learned Gentleman, but he will recall that in his Adjournment debate I asked him whether he felt that he knew better than the mothers of this country--it is on the record--and he replied, "I do."
Mr. Carlile: It is clear from the evidence that many mothers in this country who might be persuaded to breast-feed are being persuaded to bottle -feed. That is the issue. The answer that I gave to that question is reflected in the answers that are given by people who are much more expert than me.
I do not want to take up much time, as I had my opportunity to speak on the issue on 22 March and I will certainly not repeat what I said then, but may I remind the Minister that there have been extremely telling articles in a number of distinguished medical journals, which demonstrated through proper scientific protocols that breast-feeding gives remarkably important protection to babies? They are journals such as The Lancet , the British Medical Journal , the International Journal of Epidemiology , the "Journal of Paediatrics", the "American Journal of Epidemiology", the "New Zealand Medical Journal", the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology and--probably the most distinguished medical journal of all-- The New England Journal of Medicine .
The article in The New England Journal of Medicine was published in 1988 and written by Mayer and others. It demonstrated that the risk of the onset of diabetes is significantly reduced by breast-feeding. Diabetes is just one of the conditions to which the journals refer--others are breast cancer, respiratory infections and sudden infant death syndrome. Surely the Government should have done more than the minimum to reduce the incidence of that sort of damage and of those conditions.
Will the Minister answer one question that she did not answer in the Adjournment debate? Having drafted regulations that were considerably tougher than those that have been introduced, why did the Government change and dilute them? Although it would be cynical, the obvious answer--I am content to set it aside if she can give us a better answer--is that the Government were giving way to a large and significant lobby from the food industry.
The minimal regulations that have been introduced have taken matters not a jot further. The Minister has told us frankly that the regulations that were introduced simply put the voluntary scheme into statutory form. Is she proud of taking a step that is barely a step? Surely she should have gone further and taken some steps at least to the extent of the original draft regulations, which still fall
Column 1634short of the World Health Organisation code. That might have ensured better health for more babies through better health education for more young mothers.
Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge): I believe that breast-feeding is best, but, like other hon. Members, I know that it is not always possible for mothers to breast-feed in what is a less than perfect world. I strongly support what my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning), said in her sensible and down-to-earth speech. I oppose the motion because it would place an unreasonable restriction on the advertising of infant and follow-on formulae. It would restrict the freedom of choice to which every mother is entitled.
I declare that I have a constituency interest inasmuch as Milupa Ltd. is located in my constituency, but I have no personal or financial interest in that firm. It is simply an important local employer in Uxbridge.
We heard this evening that the proportion of mothers who breast-feed to mothers who bottle-feed has hardly changed in the past 10 to 15 years, despite changes in marketing practice. No Government or commercial evidence exists to suggest that advertising has a significant influence on a mother's choice of feeding method. I know that a number of factors affect a mother's choice, as I have been married for 37 years and have a family of my own; I have therefore been able to observe some of those matters at first hand. First, it is matter of personal preference. Many women prefer to feed their babies with infant formula rather than breast-feed them. Family and social pressures may cause a woman to make that decision. The advice that many women receive from health professionals may also lead to that decision.
The most recent Government survey gave the reasons why mothers choose not to breast-feed. First, 39 per cent. of all mothers and 47 per cent. of all first-time mothers said that they chose to use infant formula--bottle-feed- -because it allowed other people to feed the baby. Secondly, there is the well-known and obviously acceptable reason that a mother has insufficient natural milk to feed her baby. Many mothers suffer physical discomfort, and some babies reject breast-feeding. Another reason is that of life style. We live in a society where the vast majority of mothers go out to work and therefore choose, by their own free will, to bottle-feed instead of breast- feed their babies.
Mr. Shersby: No. The hon. Lady has had quite long enough tonight. I am under great pressure from my colleagues to be brief. Some 39 per cent. of all mothers and 47 per cent. of first-time mothers quoted previous experience as a factor.
My hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. Faber) referred to the research by Market Trends Ltd. carried out in 1994. That research is persuasive because it shows that mothers want a ban on neither infant formula nor advertising, and that view is shared by a wide variety of health professionals. That survey found that 60 per cent. of health professionals were opposed to a ban. That figure included 68 per cent. of midwives and 64 per cent. of
Column 1635health visitors. Those professionals are constantly concerned with the care of mothers and babies, and their views must be taken seriously.
I submit that there is a need for advertising. It is an essential communications channel for all those involved in the food chain, such as manufacturers, retailers, distributors, health professionals and consumers. Advertising provides information about products, such as details of changes to packaging, formulations and product names. At least 100 changes are made to infant formula every year.
Mothers need to be confident that the products that they are buying are safe and of a high standard. Advertising identifies the brands to parents so that they can distinguish easily between different products. It is well known that branding provides a guarantee of safety and nutritional quality backed by a reputable company name. Those are important factors that any mother--or father, for that matter--would wish to take into account in taking what is essentially a personal decision.
Advertising also provides the mother with protection against the use of inappropriate products. It ensures healthy competition between manufacturers, which in turn ensures that product innovation has progressed considerably, which increases product choice.
Those are the principal reasons why I oppose the motion. There is a terrible tendency among some Members of the House to tell mothers what is best for them, a tendency to dictate what people should eat and drink, a tendency to quote from one world organisation or another. The fact is that the British do not like it. The British want a sensible regime of the type described so wisely by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary in her admirable speech. I therefore strongly oppose the motion, and I shall vote against it in the Lobby.
Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North): This is a terribly serious issue--in many instances, literally a life or death issue. It is a simple issue. It cannot be right to allow the advertising of infant formula and follow-on feeds in the national health service. Common sense tells me that that cannot be right. Two things are evident. First, mother's milk is beneficial to babies. It follows that it is detrimental to babies not to have mother's milk. That is as true of human beings as it is of any other species. Anyone who has reared animals knows the effect of not allowing the young to have their mother's milk.
Secondly, it is evident that advertising influences behaviour. We have heard two speakers from the Conservative Benches who have had to admit that in their constituencies are commercial interests whose interests they have been, to some degree, representing. The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) mentioned Milupa. It is worth mentioning that Milupa sponsored a hearing room in Hillingdon hospital--a room that is used by expectant mothers--and, following the exhibition of the word "Milupa" above the entrance to the hall, sales of Milupa milk increased there by 560 per cent. Obviously, advertising has that effect.
Column 1636Bearing those two facts in mind, it is not surprising that people who know and understand the importance of mother's milk to children's health want to prohibit advertising of infant formula feed in the national health service. We have heard that 48 agencies, including the United Nations Children's Fund, the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives, wished the regulations to have that effect.
It is not surprising that that is the case, and it is not surprising that the baby food industry wants promotion and advertising to continue. Of course it does; it is in its interest. To whom should we listen--the baby food industry or the health professionals? The answer is self-evident. My next question is rather sad: to whom is the Government more likely to listen--the health professionals or the food industry? I am afraid that the answer to that is self-evident. That is why it has become self-evident to right-thinking people that it is time for the Government to fall--[ Laughter .] It is because of just that sort of thing. Conservative Members find that amusing, but we should consider the public's perception of the Government's line on the subject. I think that the Government's line will be regarded with repugnance, but without surprise, by the British public.
I wish to say something on the basis of personal experience. My children were not breast-fed, for reasons that I have discussed with my wife. She experienced some initial difficulty and in hospital she was discouraged from continuing to breast-feed after her first attempt. She admits that she was influenced by the promotional activities of the powdered milk manufacturers.
I have three children. When he was younger, the eldest suffered badly from migraine. The other two children both suffer from asthma. It is well known that those conditions are likely to be exacerbated if the baby was not breast-fed and did not have the advantage of such food. I do not think that many people would question that. It is highly likely that my children would have had better health, and my two younger children would have better health now, had it not been for the influence of the baby food manufacturers on my wife's decision. My wife recognises that.
My wife is a highly intelligent woman, but she concedes that at the time she was young, inexperienced and vulnerable in her immediate post-natal condition, and was influenced by the promotional activity. How much greater will be the influence on other mothers? It is evident that thousands of mothers will be influenced in that way. It cannot be right to allow that influence to be brought to bear on mothers in those circumstances when the crucial choice as to whether they will breast-feed is made.
The line peddled by the Parliamentary Secretary is unworthy of her. I shall support the revocation of the regulations, and so should she.
Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent): I declare an interest in that my wife works at the centre for international child health, the research arm of Great Ormond Street hospital and a worldwide centre of excellence in the care of children.
Column 1637The unanimous view of specialists at the centre for international child health is that the unnecessary use of formula feed is expensive, damaging to children and harmful to mothers. That view is based on experience from all over the world, including many countries where the activities of formula feed salespeople are harmful.
The Government have put a number of health professionals in an extraordinarily difficult position because they have set targets or suggested goals for the promotion of the best health care while at the same time frustrating the professionals in a variety of different ways.
It is important for me briefly to set out some of those frustrations. If the Government are determined to improve the promotion of breast-feeding, why are they so content with such poor performance relative to most countries in Europe? We know that they are in favour of it, because they state in the White Paper "The Health of the Nation":
"the Government proposes to set up a national working group to help identify and take forward action to increase the proportion of infants breastfed both at birth and at six weeks."
I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will say what that group has achieved. I thought that she said in her opening remarks that, if we hang about for a few more weeks, as a result of its hard work there will be a new code. That seems a fairly minor achievement after three years of unremitting toil.
I did not understand why, if Ministers are confident that their promotion of breast-feeding is as effective as commercial promotion, in booklets and videos distributed throughout the health system--which is bound to be the most effective way of reaching the target audience--one of my hon. Friends said that there was some merit in confining advertising to specialist health journals. It seems improbable that there would be very much response to advertising in a motor cycling magazine, for example.
Specialists all over the world agree that breast-feeding is better for babies, better for mothers, much less expensive than bottle milk and proprietary feeds and, therefore, better for the all-round prosperity of low-income families; yet here in the United Kingdom, we seem determined to sustain the promotional efforts of companies whose commercial advantage must be to depress as far as possible the levels of breast-feeding. That makes very little sense.
The Government's problem will become more acute as they move into health promotion rather than simply curative medicine. Governments are mostly very poor at advertising effectively; it is particularly difficult for a Conservative Government, because Conservative Governments are always concerned lest the weight of taxpayers' money behind a Government promotional scheme should be seen as unfair competition to private sector advertising campaigns. Consequently, Governments feel paralysed and do not promote their cause with anything like the vigour of the people promoting the alternative cause.
If the Government are serious about promoting breast-feeding, they have to improve their performance a great deal more than they have done so far, and the almost unanimous voice of international specialists should be more influential. I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will understand the considerable frustration of the professionals who, on the one hand, are encouraged to promote the best of health and, on the other, are faced with an almost impossible position.
Column 16389.58 pm
Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East): Views have been expressed that breast-feeding is a good idea, and that the absence of it causes migraine-- which surprises those who get migraines for other reasons. Others have expressed the view strongly that it is ridiculous to interfere with the freedom of mothers and commercial companies. I hope that, before hon. Members vote on the motion, they will read the regulations, particularly regulations 21 and 22. Hon. Members must first appreciate that we are not voting on some magic idea of whether breast-feeding is a good or a bad idea. All we are doing is implementing a European regulation which has already been passed. People who speak those rather ridiculous, sentimental words and say that it is of great moment should admit to the world that we are merely implementing legislation that Europe has applied already. There is also the question of the Euro-thought police. In this country, we accept that people should be able to argue for or against something. They may argue with great sincerity that breast-feeding is a great idea or that it is not such a good thing. Regulation 21 says:
not me or any other hon. Member or any member of the public-- "shall produce or publish any informational and educational . . . material"
that is aimed at mothers--mothers read most relevant
information--which does not promote
"the benefits and superiority of breast-feeding".
If academics, doctors or social workers think that that may be wrong, not only are they not allowed to publish their views but they could be fined under regulation 22.
Hon. Members who intend to vote for the regulations because they think that they are good and that it is exciting to do so should appreciate that they are voting in favour of interfering with people's liberty to discuss issues and to publish their views. The Parliamentary Secretary may say that that is rubbish, and that the regulations are aimed at commercial companies.
There are restrictions on the donations that commercial companies can make. They can make donations only with the written authority of the Secretary of State or in accordance with guidelines that she has drawn up. Commercial companies--the Cow and Gates of this world--are not allowed to make donations to anyone unless they make them subject to the rules drawn up by the Secretary of State under the European directive.
Finally, what the blazes is the point of having silly rules which were drawn up by a European directive? They restrict our freedoms. The House may take a wholly different view; hon. Members may think that these sorts of issues should be discussed and written about in newspapers and magazines for mothers with infants, and that we should examine all aspects of the issue. Our freedom of speech is being restricted and undermined. That is not funny. It is making nonsense of our democracy, nonsense of the House of Commons and nonsense of our debate.
The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) may yawn, but it is not funny. We are witnessing the death of democracy, and that matters. After the hon. Member has had a yawn, I ask him to read the document. If he does not, I hope that other hon. Members will.
Column 163910.2 pm
Sir Giles Shaw (Pudsey): I shall make some brief observations on the subject. First, I am glad to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) in speaking in the debate. I understand that it would be a desperate situation if we all had to feed at the Euro-breast; that is something that we must avoid. There is considerable confusion as to whether, by taking the voluntary system into a statutory form, there is any significant difference in the Government's policy on promoting infant formula products. If the Parliamentary Secretary can assure me that there will be no change from the proposals that were published originally, which had the blessing of the World Health Organisation and which tried to prevent persuasion being applied to those who are perhaps less able to understand and accept the arguments, I shall be satisfied. However, I believe that there have been changes, and representations have been made to me expressing great anxiety that what is now proposed runs counter to the original proposals, and the reasons for that have not been made clear.