Previous Section Index Home Page

The Department of Health survey for England revealed that incidents of obesity have more than trebled in the past 20 years. For adults, that represents a rise of between 14 and 16 per cent., based on body mass index calculations for obesity. The rising obesity figures for children revealed by the survey for that period are even more alarming. While there was little change between 1974 and 1984, between 1984 and 1994 the prevalence of obesity increased to 1.7 per cent. of boys and 2.6 per cent. of girls. By 2002, those figures had risen to the extent that 5.5 per cent. of boys and 7.2 per cent. of girls in England aged two to 15 years were categorised as obese.

Projecting these figures forward 15 years—assuming that incidents of obesity continue to increase steadily—it is shockingly estimated that one third of adults in England will be obese by 2020. A Royal College of Physicians report estimates that, if the rapid acceleration in childhood obesity that we have witnessed continues, incidence of obesity in children could rise above 50 per cent. by 2020.

I could go on with these statistics, but bemoaning the state that we have got ourselves into will not bring about change and reverse the damage already done. That is why I am presenting this Bill, which seeks to provide just one measure that might help consumers in Britain to make healthier choices about the foods that they buy in a market flooded with pre-packaged, mass-produced foods with long lists of complex ingredients. A single format for simplified front-of-package nutrition information—giving the amounts of salt, sugar and fat contained in the product, combined with an interpretive element such as colour coding—would certainly bring about a positive change in the way that we shop and eat. Moreover, if such a scheme is not taken up voluntarily by the food manufacturing and retail industries, the Government ought to make provision to ensure that standards are enforceable.

As the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Jim Dowd) said in his splendid Adjournment debate last week, the Health Select Committee’s inquiry into obesity, which reported in May 2004, is indeed its “magnum opus”. The report highlighted the growing prevalence of obesity in the UK and its effect on people’s health, and the consequent impact on the health service of increasing incidence of weight-related illnesses such as heart disease and type-2 diabetes. The Committee estimated that the associated costs are between £3.3 billion and £3.7 billion a year, and this figure will continue to rise unless urgent steps are taken.

Nutrition-based advice pertaining to the calorie or fat content in foods can often be misleading. For example, a product advertised as 90 per cent. fat-free still contains 10 per cent. fat and could still be high in calories and salt. Such promotional information
18 July 2006 : Column 174
prevents consumers from making the informed decisions that I know the Minister with responsibility for these matters wants them to be able to make. A more transparent and yet still simplified system of nutrition labelling would allow busy shoppers to make quick and informed decisions about the foods that they buy, and enable them to make comparisons with other products and brands.

The Food Standards Agency action plan on food promotions and children’s diets and the public health White Paper “Choosing Health” endorse the voluntary scheme for giving simplified nutrition information on the front of packaged foods. More than 2,600 consumers were surveyed in June 2005 in one-to-one interviews to test responses to and the general understanding of possible nutrition information formats. The two models that emerged on top were the multiple traffic-light system and colour-coded guideline daily amounts. It appears that the success of those two formats lies in the combination of colour coding and numerical information that makes them both accessible and informative to the busy consumer. It appears that 96 per cent. of the people surveyed thought that simplified packaging would enable them to have better health choices. Ninety per cent. were able correctly to use the traffic-light format to identify the levels of sugar, fat and salt in the products. That is compared with only 69 per cent. for colour coded guideline daily amounts.

In support of those findings, in the National Consumer Council snap shot survey consumers cited front-of-pack signpost labelling as one of the top three easy methods, alongside healthier school meals, that would help people eat more healthily and would help companies to cut down on salt, sugar and fat in processed foods.

Furthermore, there is research such as that undertaken by the consumer magazine, Which?, which I applaud. It shows that a multiple traffic-light labelling format was the preferred option for the majority of consumers and the most easily accessible system for low-income people and those from minority ethnic backgrounds.

There is an inherent danger in labelling some foods as being healthy, with other foods in contrast being regarded as unhealthy. That gives a wrong impression. Recommendation 23 of the Health Select Committee’s report stated that the Government must accept that some foods that are extremely energy dense should be eaten in moderation by most people. It therefore recommends that legislation should be introduced to introduce a traffic-light system for labelling foods either red for high energy density, amber for medium energy density or green for low energy density, according to criteria devised by the FSA.

Recommendation 24 says that although several interventions for better food nutrition labelling have been made, the traffic-light system stands up to objective assessment, and if accepted widely across the industry would be a good measure of the impact of shifts in consumption across supermarkets and brands from relatively unhealthy to healthier food products.

I regret that a number of companies seem not to support that recommendation, in contrast to leading supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s and Waitrose. All Members have received a letter from Danone,
18 July 2006 : Column 175
Kellogg’s, Kraft, Nestlé and PepsiCo, which want to go for the guideline daily amounts information labelling. I think that they are wrong in that regard and I wonder why they are taking that stance. Their approach is in contrast to the Health Select Committee report, the Government’s recommendation and the FSA’s report. The FSA believes that a consistent approach to food labelling will make it easier for consumers to eat more healthily and encourage consumers to look for and demand healthier food products, and incentivise businesses to produce foods that are lower in salt, sugar and fat content. I regret, for instance, that Tesco has gone ahead and done its own thing, which I believe is not in the public interest. I applaud the way in which Sainsbury’s supermarkets have introduced their own multiple traffic-light scheme, or wheel of health , which works on the principle of the FSA guidelines. Those symbols are now printed on the front packaging of more than 2,100 Sainsbury products, including and expanding on the recommendation list of items included by the FSA. Research that has been undertaken by Sainsbury’s found that the wheel of health had influenced the purchasing decisions of consumers.

Regulations on food labelling standards are currently set at a European level. The proliferation of different formats of simplified nutrition labels is a concern for consumers and the food manufacturers and retail industries alike. On 12 July the European consumers organisation presented the European Commission with the conclusions of a multi-stakeholder discussion group that included representatives from national Governments, industry, retailers and academics. I certainly support those conclusions.

The FSA, supported by the National Consumers Council, Which? and the Health Committee, recommends that industry-wide adoption of the single front-of-pack signposting scheme should be voluntary, but it would be in favour of mandatory take-up should
18 July 2006 : Column 176
this initial approach fail. Should a voluntary scheme fail to find unanimity among retailers and manufacturers, I urge the Government to step in to ensure an end to consumer confusion over nutrition labelling. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. David Amess, Dr. Richard Taylor, Mr. Ronnie Campbell, Sandra Gidley, Dr. Howard Stoate, Bob Russell, Jim Dowd, Charlotte Atkins, David Taylor, Mike Penning, Jeremy Corbyn and Dr. Doug Naysmith.

Food Labelling

Mr. David Amess accordingly presented a Bill to introduce a uniform system for the labelling of food and drinks retailed in England and Wales to show the quantity of salt, sugar and fats they contain; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 20 October, and to be printed [Bill 216].

Health Bill (Programme) (No. 3)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83A(6) (programme motions),

Question agreed to.

18 July 2006 : Column 177

Orders of the Day

Health Bill

Lords amendments considered.—[Queen’s Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.]

Clause 3

Smoke-free premises: exemptions

Lords amendment: No. 1

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With this we may discuss Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 12 and 36.

4.51 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Caroline Flint): I beg to move, That the House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

I thank their lordships, particularly my noble Friend Lord Warner, for their hard work on the Bill since it left this House. The modest changes before us now, which are the result of the constructive and collaborative approach taken in the other place, have improved the Bill, and I am therefore delighted to be able to accept all the Lords amendments today.

The legislation shifts the balance significantly in favour of smoke-free environments. Virtually all enclosed public places and workplaces will be completely smoke free by summer 2007. It will introduce new laws to enforce higher hygiene standards in the NHS and clearly strengthen clinical governance arrangements in light of the findings of the Shipman inquiry. Those are three important health manifesto commitments.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend refers to the summer of next year. Could she be a little more specific? An appropriate day would be 31 May, as the Minister is aware. Is that a day that finds favour with her?

Caroline Flint: I will not commit to any particular date at this stage, but we are having discussions with stakeholders about the countdown to the introduction of the legislation, and I hope to report back on the exact date in the autumn. We are working on that at the moment. As I have said previously, we felt that a date in the warmer weather might be more conducive to a ready compliance with the legislation, as and when it comes into effect.

Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD): I am in close contact with my local authority, South Gloucestershire, which is a great enthusiast for the smoking ban, but is also anxious that it will have inadequate notice of when everything will happen, so it would like a definite date as soon as possible. It also wants to know that it will have the resources to enforce the ban. Can the Minister assure us that local authorities will not be finding money out of their already very cash-strapped coffers to subsidise the enforcement of the ban?

Caroline Flint: Officials are already meeting representatives of the Local Government Association
18 July 2006 : Column 178
and there are others who have asked some questions about the planning for next year. We will clearly try to commit to a date as soon as possible. We are also having discussions about a range of other issues, including enforcement, and the Bill provides for the need to finance and support local enforcement. It has been incredibly encouraging to learn from both the Irish and the Scottish experience and from my recent visit to New York, that on one level little punitive enforcement has been necessary, although there will clearly be issues for those working in this area, and that will be part of our discussions in the months ahead.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): I am grateful to the Minister for yesterday’s publication of the draft regulations. The trade is concerned whether it will have sufficient time to make the necessary adaptations. Will she assure the House that the definitive regulations will have a sufficient lead-in time, so that small businesses can make the necessary adaptations without suffering competitive disadvantage?

Caroline Flint: I hope to ensure that we get the regulations right. The regulations that we published yesterday are the result of considerable discussions with many different stakeholders. Obviously, issues will arise in the consultation, but we hope that the regulations give clear guidance to small and medium-sized organisations on how best to meet the requirements of the legislation.

I remind the House that the experience of how the law is enforced and how businesses have applied the legislation in Ireland and Scotland will help us in England and Wales. The latest information from Scotland indicates that sales have not gone down as a consequence of smoke-free legislation.

David Taylor: I have read the draft regulations, which are a fair stab at creating a workable set of regulations to move the legislation forward. The consultation will finish towards the end of the summer recess, on 2 October. Will the Minister say whether she would consider suggestions that might arise very soon after Parliament reconvenes on 9 October, if a debate were sought from Mr. Speaker? Will she give such an assurance at this stage?

Caroline Flint: Obviously, I cannot control parliamentary time, but I am happy to provide all hon. Members with an indication of how the discussions proceeded in the consultation. There is a wonderful opportunity for hon. Members and local groups and organisations to participate in both a health opportunity and the countdown to smoke-free England in 2007, which I hope will have a fun element.

This group of amendments includes all the changes to the smoke-free provisions made in the other place. Amendments Nos. 1, 5 and 10 are all minor drafting amendments. Amendment No. 1 corrects a minor drafting inaccuracy—strictly speaking, licensees do not authorise the consumption of alcohol; they authorise the sale of alcohol for consumption. Amendments Nos. 5 and 10 were introduced by Earl Howe, who felt that the clarity of the drafting could be improved. We
18 July 2006 : Column 179
saw no reason to object to his suggested wording in the other place, and we are equally happy to support it here.

Amendments Nos. 2, 3, 7, 8, 9 and 11 relate to exemptions in regulations for those participating as performers in a performance in which artistic integrity makes it appropriate for performers to smoke. In Committee, I provided reassurances that the Government were minded to make an exemption for artistic performances, but the detail, as with all proposed exemptions, is a matter for the regulations.

During the Bill’s passage through the other place, we realised that it would not be possible to rely on the general power in clause 3(1) to make such an exemption in all circumstances. The prohibition on making any exemptions for licensed premises in clause 3(3), which was introduced following a free vote on Report, would have prevented any exemptions for artistic performances in licensed premises. As we are aware, many theatres and other performance spaces carry out their activities under only one licence, which is likely to cover not only the whole of the premises, but alcohol sales and theatrical performances. In those circumstances, we realised that the prohibition in subsection (3) came into play—in other words, it would be unlawful to make an exemption.

We introduced amendment No. 2 in the other place in order to relax that prohibition so far as is necessary to allow certain performers to smoke during a performance in all possible venues. The amendment also ensures that the exemption can be applied only to the relevant performer or performers. Of course, the detail of the exemption will still be a matter for regulations. The consultation on the draft regulations that was launched yesterday specifically asked for views on the exemption proposed for performers, particularly concerning whether the arrangements are adequate to prevent the development of loopholes.

5 pm

David Taylor: This morning, the all-party group on smoking and health, which I have the privilege of chairing, discussed this aspect of the regulations and sought assurances on whether the exclusion would refer to rehearsals of the performance as opposed to the performance itself. Can the Minister reassure us on that particular point?

Caroline Flint: Through amendment No. 3, we have left the door open on exempting rehearsals, as we are still yet to be persuaded. We must not forget that any exemption is for the performer, not the premises, and that the smoker will be facilitated only when it is integral to the plot or storyline. We must be clear that this exemption is not about allowing certain people to smoke freely. From a purely practical point of view, we must ask whether it would be sensible or practical to light up and stub out cigarettes each time the rehearsal of a performance stops and starts. We will seek to clarify that through the consultation. As I said, I have taken note of the experience not only of Ireland and Scotland but of New York and California, which have exemptions in these artistic areas.

18 July 2006 : Column 180

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): The Minister kindly said that she would contact every Member in respect of this matter, so I presume that she is thinking of writing to us all. When she does so, will she include in that letter her conclusions on the issue of rehearsals following her assessment of any further representations that she may receive?

Caroline Flint: I should like to be able to give a clear indication of the Government’s point of view following the consultation, and I will seek to make that as clear as possible for Members through a letter or some other appropriate medium.

Amendments Nos. 7, 8, 9 and 11 are consequential amendments.

On amendment No. 4, there was some concern in the other place that the power in clause 4 to make additional places smoke free was rather broad and could be used to make all sorts of places smoke free even where there was no significant risk of exposure to second-hand smoke. Given that we have consistently made it clear that we will use this power only to protect people where there is a significant risk of exposure to second-hand smoke, we had no objections to amendment No. 4, which raised the threshold for its use under the Bill. The amendment means that it would only be possible to make an additional place smoke free where “in the authority’s opinion”—that of the Secretary of State in England and the National Assembly in Wales—

Next Section Index Home Page