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25 Apr 2008 : Column 1583

House of Commons

Friday 25 April 2008

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means took the Chair as Deputy Speaker, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Jim Dowd (Lewisham, West) (Lab): I beg to move, That the House do sit in private.

Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 163 (motions to sit in private):—

The House divided: Ayes 0, Noes 44.
Division No. 151]
[9.34 am


Tellers for the Ayes:

Jim Dowd and
Jim Sheridan

Barker, Gregory
Beith, rh Mr. Alan
Boswell, Mr. Tim
Bottomley, Peter
Brown, Lyn
Burns, Mr. Simon
Chope, Mr. Christopher
Clarke, rh Mr. Tom
Davies, Mr. Dai
Davies, Philip
Devine, Mr. Jim
Eagle, Maria
Evans, Mr. Nigel
Fabricant, Michael
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Foster, Mr. Don
Francois, Mr. Mark
Goodman, Helen
Greening, Justine
Griffiths, Nigel
Hodge, rh Margaret
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Horwood, Martin
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Johnson, Ms Diana R.
Khan, Mr. Sadiq
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
McCabe, Steve
McCarthy, Kerry
Pearson, Ian
Robertson, Angus
Robertson, John
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Snelgrove, Anne
Vaizey, Mr. Edward
Villiers, Mrs. Theresa
Wallace, Mr. Ben
Waltho, Lynda
Weir, Mr. Mike
Whittingdale, Mr. John
Williams, Mrs. Betty
Williams, Mark
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie
Wyatt, Derek
Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Russell Brown and
Andrew Gwynne
Question accordingly negatived.
25 Apr 2008 : Column 1584

Orders of the Day

Food Products (Marketing to Children) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

9.47 am

Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South) (Lab): Obesity, especially among children, is a threat to their health, to the NHS and to the economy. The World Health Organisation, the World Cancer Research Fund and the Government’s expert scientists have warned that obesity is a problem of potentially epidemic proportions and that drastic action is needed if millions of young lives are not to be blighted and billions of pounds drained from the NHS and the economy.

The impact of obesity on Britain has been likened to climate change: a disaster for the lives of individuals, our health service and the economy. Today, in Britain, one in three children are classified as overweight or obese. More than nine out of 10 children consume too much saturated fat; more than eight out of 10 too much sugar; and more than seven out of 10 too much salt. The Government’s foresight report has predicted that between half and two thirds of all our children will be overweight or obese if current trends continue.

The estimated cost of the rise of obesity in cash terms is put at £45 billion a year if no action is taken. Diabetes UK tells us that, unless action is taken, the incidence of type 2 diabetes will rise by 70 per cent., and of strokes by 30 per cent. and coronary heart disease by 20 per cent. Massive funding to advertise and promote junk foods—£800 million a year—is undermining the efforts of parents to control the food and sugary drinks that children take. As a former Minister with some responsibility for the advertising industry, I am pleased to introduce a Bill that will reinforce parents’ efforts and make it easier to encourage healthier eating to benefit children and the economy.

There is no single solution to childhood obesity, but everyone except the food and advertising industries agrees that tougher regulations and restrictions on how unhealthy foods are marketed to children are essential. Even the advertising industry concedes that such regulations would make an impact, otherwise it would not oppose the Bill so vigorously.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): The hon. Gentleman says that everyone accepts that the Bill is needed to tackle childhood obesity, yet a recent opinion poll showed that 76 per cent. of the public thought that the restrictions would make no difference whatever to childhood obesity levels. I am not entirely sure how he has worked out that everybody agrees with him. On what basis does he take that view?

Nigel Griffiths: It is the case because having listened to people, I have introduced a Bill that is a compromise. I am sure that if those people were polled on even tougher regulations, they would say that they would have an effect. As we are trying to reach a compromise, we have introduced a Bill that is practical and proportionate. I am sorry if members of the public feel that even tougher action is needed, and I certainly would not hesitate to introduce a Bill that would achieve it.

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Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the survey included in the Which? submission on the Bill, in which 80 per cent. of people told us that they did not think that TV advertisements for unhealthy foods should be allowed during the times when the greatest number of children watch? There is evidence on both sides of the debate.

Nigel Griffiths: That is a telling point from the premier organisation representing consumers—something it has done for many decades.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that this is a very difficult subject to get right? There are a number of changes and improvements that one can make to help to deal with the problem, but does he recognise that more parental responsibility is important? What does he think could be done to educate parents and ensure that more of them take a responsible line in feeding their children and seek to minimise the problems of obesity?

Nigel Griffiths: I certainly agree with the hon. Member, and I shall tell him what I think can be done. We can diminish the pester power that children exert on their parents, which is fostered by an advertising and food marketing industry that has already been caught using websites that were so unacceptable to the public that even some of the largest companies in Britain had to pull them. I hope that there is support for backing parental responsibility, which is one of the primary aims of my Bill.

Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): Central to my hon. Friend’s Bill is reinforcing assistance to parents. I have had a lot of correspondence in my mailbag from constituents who support the Bill and the action that he is taking.

Nigel Griffiths: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing that out, and for his continuous support for the Bill. It is a direct response to what I believe parents want, but more importantly, it is also a response to the scientific review that our Government carried out, which reported towards the end of last year. The foresight report of last October chillingly warned that a substantial degree of intervention was required to have an impact on the rising trend of obesity.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for being generous in allowing interventions. I wanted to stop him when he talked about little children’s pester-power about food. On the basis of seeing my own child and those of parents whom I know, it is clear to me that pester power definitely applies to toys, but does it apply to food? I have never heard the phrase, “I’ve got to have that packet of crisps.” Children may want a packet of crisps, but it will not necessarily be a packet of Walkers crisps. I do not agree that children are so motivated by food advertising. In the end, it is the mum who does the shopping, or maybe the dad, but definitely not the child.

Nigel Griffiths: The hon. Lady is one of the luckiest parents in the country. She must be one of the few whose children have not pestered them for fizzy drinks
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or candy bars. Perhaps she may care to write a treatise, which we can publicise so that every parent in the country can benefit from her near-unique experience.

Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that pestering is not just for specific products, but for such things as McDonald’s burgers or Kentucky Fried Chicken? Many of us have had to say to our children, “I am not taking you there,” but they see such places on the television. Pester power is not just for Cheerios or whatever happens to be advertised.

Nigel Griffiths: I commend the hon. Member for that important point, which gets to the heart of the Bill. It is about advertising not only during children’s programme hours, but during family television. Such products are relentlessly marketed to families, and in this case to children, too.

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend for being so generous in giving way. Before I came to the House I did work in the community, part of which was about parents and food. The message that I received from parents was that children would eat only the foods that they recognised and that, unfortunately, recognition came largely from television. The other problem that parents had was the accessibility of different foods. Many of them without cars found themselves having to shop at corner shops, which rely on highly advertised foods rather than fresh and affordable foods.

Nigel Griffiths: My hon. Friend speaks with great authority and reflects what food nutritionists, as well as Nick Nairn, Jamie Oliver and others, are saying. Her remarks illustrate the impact of pester power and the value of advertising. After all, why do we have such a large and successful advertising industry?

Jim Dowd (Lewisham, West) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on his success in the ballot and on introducing the Bill. In response to the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride), I point out that when the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) and I served on the Select Committee on Health some half a dozen years ago or so, we conducted an inquiry on obesity. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman remembers it well, as he played a very constructive role. He will recall that we came across a company—I have a pretty clear impression that it was Kellogg’s, and if it was not I apologise unreservedly—that had on its website a marketing strategy that actually encouraged the use of pester power. It quoted it as a strategy for selling its products. That pester power clearly applied to children, not adults.

Nigel Griffiths: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That report was critical in ensuring that the Government’s views on obesity were taken seriously and that, more importantly, society and Parliament took obesity seriously. More recently, Which? produced two reports. One was “Food Fables”, on the myths that the industry had put out about how responsible its marketing was. My hon. Friend has given one example, and I shall give another later. The other report was “Cartoon Heroes and Villains”, on the use of cartoons by such companies to lure children into having more of their products than is healthy. The views of my hon. Friend and other hon.
25 Apr 2008 : Column 1587
Members who have spoken in support of the Bill are reflected by the more than 200 right hon. and hon. Members who have signed early-day motion 445, supporting the 9 pm watershed.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): The term used in the Bill, “less healthy food”, is fairly subjective, but I assume that it would encapsulate products such as those of McDonald’s. The Bill refers not just to broadcast advertising but to point-of-sale material. Youngsters walking down Victoria street past McDonald’s would come to one of those plastic Ronald McDonald characters, which I suspect would be made illegal under the Bill. Does the hon. Gentleman really want to go down in history as the man who killed Ronald McDonald?

Nigel Griffiths: I do not want to go down in history—I am sure that this is true of the hon. Gentleman, too—as the person who put the health of our advertising industry and of McDonald’s before the health of our children. He is mistaken, because there is nothing subjective about the provision. Clause 2(1) clearly refers to the Food Standards Agency definition of foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar.

Out of 1,484 early-day motions, I am glad to say that early-day motion 445 came in the top 10 for the number of hon. Members’ signatures. Sadly, many hon. Members who signed the early-day motion cannot be with us today, because they are campaigning in the London mayoral elections or in their local council elections. I have received apologies from strong supporters of the Bill on both sides of the House. I am especially grateful to Which?, Cancer Research UK, Diabetes UK, Sustain, the Children’s Food Campaign, the British Heart Foundation, the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing, the National Union of Teachers, Unison and many others for their support for the Bill, which aims to control the advertising, marketing and promotion of less healthy food and drink products to children.

The Bill follows Government action to ban adverts targeted at children’s TV programmes. What a generation ago was a treat—a bar of candy, a box of chocolates or a fizzy drink—is now taken for granted. Economic prosperity has made such treats commonplace. Of course, that is not enough for some companies, which have commissioned labs to come up with artificial smells outside food shops to act as a magnet to pressurise shoppers—at such outlets what smells fresh is totally artificial. It is difficult for children, who must learn that items that were treats to my generation are, when taken in quantity, damaging to their health.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): We should be debating the issue of being “taken in quantity”. If the Bill were to become law, unhealthy foods would include Marmite, honey and cheese, which are not unhealthy if they are eaten in moderation.

Nigel Griffiths: The definition would not include those foods. I urge the hon. Member to study what the FSA has actually categorised.

In one short generation, as economic prosperity has risen so abuses have occurred on the parts of both consumers and the producers of goods. As I said, parents have told me that their efforts to educate their
25 Apr 2008 : Column 1588
children on reasonable consumption are being fatally undermined by the relentless advertising and marketing to their children of food products that are high in fats, sugars and salts. Frankly, they are sick of their children being manipulated, and they are sick of pester power.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab): My hon. Friend has focused on the impact on obesity in children of consuming junk food and the influence of advertising. Does he accept that the consumption of junk food can have a significant impact on children’s behaviour in terms of attention deficit disorder, which can occur if they consume food containing lots of additives, and hyperglycaemia? Studies of children in young offenders institutions have shown how changes in diet can improve behaviour.

Nigel Griffiths: That is a critical point. That is the reason why local schools in my constituency—I am sure that this is true around the country—have taken out the fizzy drinks machines and reported great benefits in children’s responses. Incidentally, that is one of the reasons why I strongly support universal school lunches, which would allow children to see what goes into a good meal. I congratulate the hon. Members who are taking forward that cause, which I strongly support.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): I am glad that my hon. Friend has mentioned the role of education. Will he join me in congratulating Bolton council on committing itself to introducing free school meals for all first-time primary school children in September? That will lead those children down the correct nutritional path, rather than down the path of bringing junk food into school for lunch.

Nigel Griffiths: I certainly congratulate Bolton council. In the manifestos for the next election, I want to see all political parties pledge to support the funding of universal school meals, which could enhance not only children’s health, but the educational environment. Universal school meals could give children benefits that last a lifetime.

Clause 1 defines “advertising and promotion”, and lists the types of media that will come within its scope, including the internet, which I shall mention in a minute. Clause 2 refers to “less healthy” products, as defined by proposed section 7(c) to the Food Standards Act 1999—such foodstuffs are high in fat, sugar or salt. It specifies that such foods should not be advertised, marketed or promoted between the hours of 5.30 am and 9 pm. The 9 pm watershed has been selected for two reasons. First, evidence cited in the Ofcom report indicates that, among all the options that it examined two years ago, a 9 pm watershed would screen out up to 95 per cent. of junk food advertisements from popular TV programmes watched by children. Secondly, the 9 pm watershed is already accepted for TV adverts for gambling. I commend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions for his work in his former post as Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, when he achieved that watershed by threatening legislation. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport will not hesitate to do the same to protect our children’s health.

25 Apr 2008 : Column 1589

Mr. Evans: Having killed off Ronald McDonald, the hon. Gentleman is moving on to kill off children’s television. Does he realise that one of the unintended consequences of the Bill is that it will remove a substantial amount of advertising from children’s television? In that case, why would it be in the interest of TV producers to produce children’s programming? The Bill would have an enormous impact on such programming.

Nigel Griffiths: When the hon. Member previously intervened, I asked him whether he would put the health of the advertising industry before the health of our children; sadly, he has answered that question.

Martin Horwood: The BBC channels CBeebies and CBBC dominate younger children’s programming. They have no advertising at all, so they would not be damaged in the slightest, and they provide a good, educational service for children.

Nigel Griffiths: The hon. Member is right. With the exception of one or two hon. Members, the whole House knows that there has been a long-term decline in the commissioning of children’s programmes by UK companies. That is part of the argument that has been deployed against the Bill, but the bad news for the people who have deployed that argument is that the Bill is not law and that that has been the trend for the past decade, which has nothing to do with advertising restrictions.

Mr. Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con): Since the advertising restrictions were introduced, children’s television commissioning has fallen off a cliff. The BBC effectively has a monopoly, which nobody wants, while other channels only carry American imports. Is the hon. Gentleman going to put the health of American television ahead of the health of British television?

Nigel Griffiths: The hon. Member is advocating putting the health of American television before the health of British children. His hyperbole, as a journalist, does him no credit, because the truth is that prior to the restrictions—they were rather small, and came in only in summer last year—all the evidence showed that tens of millions of pounds’ worth of children’s programming was no longer being commissioned in Britain, and that was the case before a single bit of legislation had been put in place. Small and welcome steps have been taken so far and they are being evaluated in full by Ofcom. However, Ofcom’s evidence indicates that less than half of the programmes watched by young children are affected by the restrictions, which is why they are not very effective.

Miss Kirkbride: It is fairly obvious that not everyone agrees with the hon. Gentleman’s Bill—there is a fair amount of disagreement. Given that there is already a ban on advertising during children’s programmes, would it not be more appropriate to determine whether that ban is effective? If that were determined to be the case, he might be better able to persuade those of us who are extremely sceptical and think that this is just a “something must be done” Bill, rather than a Bill that will have any effect; indeed, this Bill might even have perverse consequences. We could then move forward in the knowledge that some science backs up the Bill.

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