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Does he have any thoughts on what might happen to a food manufacturer that produces healthy, as well as so-called unhealthy products? Could its brand be advertised, in the sense that it associates itself with healthy products, or would it be banned from advertising that brand because it is also associated with unhealthy products? I am not entirely sure where we stand on that.

Mr. Evans: I suspect that Coca-Cola would fall into that category, because it produces not only the drink Coca-Cola but a number of other soft drinks. Some of them might be deemed healthy under this simplistic guide, and some would be deemed unhealthy, so that would be an issue. Following the cigarette ban—this was not even an unintended consequence—the Marlboro clothing range was effectively banned from sale, simply because it contained the word “Marlboro”. Nobody has ever argued that clothes are going to kill people, but the fact is that there was legislation intended to deal with just that issue. All this would prove rich pickings for lawyers—they must be rubbing their hands together. I suspect that they are on their knees praying that this Bill is passed, so that they can enrich themselves even further.

Mr. Burns: I am listening to my hon. Friend’s speech with great interest. Does he also accept that in recent years tremendous strides have been made by food and drinks companies? Britvic, which I have the honour of having in my constituency, has done a tremendous amount of work in reducing and removing the sugar content of its drinks, and in producing ranges of healthy drinks to meet a changing and developing market.

Mr. Evans: I fully accept that, and that is the direction in which we need to go. We need to work with the industry to find out how it can alter the content of some of its products in order to make them healthier. I understand that the amount of salt and sugar has been reduced in a number of products, but that cannot be done overnight, apparently. Our taste buds are so sensitive that, if all the salt and sugar were removed from such products, sales would plummet. The industry simply does not have the flexibility to do that overnight, but I am sure that it could be done over a period of years in order to change people’s tastes, until we finally reach a stage where the product in question is deemed as healthy as it possibly can be. So my hon. Friend is right—such work should be done, and should be recognised.

Philip Davies: Does this not get to the nub of the issue? In the past 20 years or so, at the same time as the amount of salt and sugar in such products has been reduced, there has actually been a reduction in the amount of advertising of those products. There are now far fewer advertisements for such food products on TV than there were 25 years ago, but it is during that period that the increase in obesity has occurred. Does my hon. Friend not conclude, therefore, that the advertising of such products makes absolutely no difference to obesity levels? If it did, we would have seen a reduction in obesity in that time.


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Mr. Evans: I fully accept that. People are becoming obese for reasons other than sitting watching television adverts; indeed, I suspect that sitting watching television per se is part of the problem, not the advertisements themselves. We have to target where the problem is, and it is not addressed by the Bill.

There is another issue about which we must also be very careful. The problem is not just the disappearance of children’s television from the commercial sector that we have increasingly seen since the ban came in—there is now a virtual state monopoly of children’s television on the part of the BBC, which is unhealthy—but the fact that if the Bill is enacted, there will be wider ramifications, such as loss of advertising on other programming that has been deemed family entertainment. Ant and Dec were mentioned earlier, and several other such shows could be jeopardised by the loss of advertising. We can already see the impact that the economic downturn is having on the commercial sector; such legislation would add insult to the injury that already exists.

There would also be a problem with product placement, which is seen as a more sophisticated form of advertising. It is not blunt, in-your-face advertising; however, product placement—be it watches, cars or soft drinks—is vital to a lot of films that we see in the cinema. As a form of advertising, it would be covered by the Bill, and I suspect that that would destroy in one fell swoop the film industry in this country. In fact, the provision would be almost impossible to enforce and would constitute bad legislation. Product placement is an issue that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South did not cover.

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is making a very powerful point. As an esteemed member of the Select Committee, he will know that much of such legislation is now emanating from European Union directives. Could it be that the Bill flies in the face of such directives, which in itself would raise constitutional issues?

Mr. Evans: We had to wait two hours before the mention of the dreaded EU on a Friday morning; we apologise for being so lax in that regard. My hon. Friend is right: the Bill has wider ramifications, such as the importance of the EU in meddling with these affairs. That point has to be taken on board, as well.

I mentioned earlier how difficult it would be to enforce the legislation relating to the point of sale. We have also mentioned some of the characters that are involved in selling certain products, including Ronald McDonald, a clown who has been closely associated with the McDonald’s product. Such characters can appear within a store or outside it, but they would all be banned immediately under the legislation. Other characters such as Tony the Tiger and the Honey Monster would all be assassinated in one fell swoop by the Bill. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South would be guilty of killing off a long list of characters. The only person left would be Father Christmas, and I suspect that the hon. Gentleman’s next private Member’s Bill would ban him as well.

Mr. Vaizey: My hon. Friend should be aware that the Father Christmas that we know so well is actually an invention of the Coca-Cola company, so he would go as well.


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Mr. Evans: In that case, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South would not even need a separate piece of legislation to kill off Father Christmas. How popular he would be with every child in the country— [ Interruption. ] The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) says that Father Christmas does not exist— [ Interruption. ]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I want to make two points. First, please can we follow the rules of debate in this House if people want to make interventions? Secondly, may I remind hon. Members that the Bill is about the provision of advertising and marketing, so can we please keep on the subject?

Mr. Evans: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sure that none of us would wish to see Father Christmas killed off.

Clause 2(4) says:

I know that the next subsection talks about sentencing guidelines, but we could be talking about substantial sums of money if anyone were to contravene the provisions of the Bill. We have already said that those provisions are open to interpretation as far as product placement and the definition of a point of sale are concerned. There is also uncertainty about what appears in or on a pack that might suggest that it is promoting itself to youngsters. This is a complete quagmire, and I would be totally opposed to opening these companies up to unlimited fines.

In coming to my conclusion—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] That seems to be very popular. I congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South on trying to do something about a problem that we know exists, but I think that he is going down the wrong route. We all ought to be doing a lot more to help youngsters to be more healthy and to get them involved in sports, but employing the nanny state to deny parents and youngsters access to the information contained in the advertising is wholly wrong. As the hon. Gentleman knows, a lot of advertising is more to do with market share than with increasing sales per se. We have some of the best television in the world, with some of the best programmes, and in enacting this legislation, he would be killing that off as well. That is an unintended consequence that we should be able to prevent by not giving the Bill further passage.

11.33 am

Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD): I should like to begin more or less where the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) ended his speech. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths) on his good fortune in being able to present the Bill and on giving the House the opportunity to discuss the important issue of obesity. That has been touched on by many hon. Members already today, and Members on both sides of the House agree that we need to take more action to address the problem.

I know that many of my hon. Friends support the principles behind the Bill and that they have signed the early-day motion, as an expression of their concern about the growing problem of obesity. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) on his speech earlier in the debate. He has a
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great deal of personal and professional experience in these matters, and he made it clear how crucial it is to find ways to address this issue.

We know that 25 per cent. of the adult population in this country is already obese, and it is estimated that, in a couple of years’ time, one in five children will be overweight or obese. Currently, three in 10 women and four in 10 men take part in less than the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity, five days a week. My hon. Friend has already mentioned the prediction that, if we carry on as we are, the cost to the nation in 40 years’ time will be more than £45 billion as a result of the problems that will arise from obesity.

The point has been made that addressing obesity requires a multi-faceted approach. There is no silver bullet solution. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley made a crucial point when he said that we should be concentrating on the fact that far fewer people are taking part in physical activity. Statistics show that, on average, we consume the same number of calories today as we consumed 50 years ago. The reason that we have a problem of rising obesity is that we are far less active. It is crucial that we try to get more people to be active, not that that would provide a silver bullet solution in itself.

It is deeply worrying that about 50 per cent. of young people drop out of all sports activity once they leave school. Despite some welcome measures by the Government, it is worrying that we are still selling off playing fields and that, even where funds have been allocated to improve sports provision, the money often remains unspent. The sum of £750 million was announced some time ago for sports action zones, but only £6.2 million has been spent. So, despite well-intentioned announcements, even where funding is being made available, it is not being used. Indeed, the vast bulk of the £200 million that was promised years ago for improving children’s play areas has still not been spent. Addressing the issue of activity is crucial.

The Bill concentrates on advertising, but we must be confident if we are going to introduce regulations. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South has spoken passionately about the overburdening amount of regulation that exists, so it is somewhat surprising that he is now proposing to introduce more. He needs to convince the House that there is overwhelming scientific research evidence to show that those regulations would have the effect that he and the rest of us want. Like the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), I would happily support the Bill if I could see that there was clear research evidence that the result would be a significant impact on rising obesity levels in this country, but as hon. Members have said, the research is not that clear. Indeed, in countries such as Sweden and Quebec—part of a country, admittedly—that have introduced all-out bans on junk food advertising, levels of obesity have not fallen but have continued to rise. Other research provided by Ofcom indicates that such measures have only a 2 per cent. impact on children’s food choices.

Nigel Griffiths: We must be clear about one thing: everyone is agreed that extending the watershed would work. The debate between myself, the advertising industry and the food processing manufacturers is about whether, as they would claim, this matter involves as little as a
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2 per cent. impact, or whether it involves more than that. Like climate change, this is an incremental issue—one where a number of significant steps, although they may be small in themselves, must be taken to staunch the tide of obesity in childhood and subsequently in adults. If we were to seek overwhelming scientific evidence on this subject—to use the hon. Gentleman’s words—we would wait for decades, and the consequence for our children’s health, our nation’s economy and our national health services would be catastrophic.

Mr. Foster: The hon. Gentleman rightly speaks with great passion, as this is an important issue. My concern is simply that I am not convinced that there is even relatively significant evidence, let alone overwhelming evidence, for this proposal. If we go ahead with it, there will be damaging consequences and we will be making a big mistake.

The hon. Gentleman may say that we cannot afford to wait, but it is interesting that a number of Departments are conducting research into these and related issues. It is only very recently that the Department for Children, Schools and Families has rightly introduced research, to be carried out by Professor David Buckingham, on “Assessing the Impact of the Commercial World on Children’s Wellbeing”. The clear terms of reference make my point, because they state that

There is a lack of understanding in that particular area, which the research will examine.

The Department of Health is also commissioning work to examine the balance and nature of advertising for HFSS products—those that are high in fat, salt or sugar—across a range of media, including television, radio, press, outdoor and cinema advertising. That work is going on, so the House would be somewhat foolish to accept the Bill’s stringent limitations without sufficient evidence to back them up.

Mr. Vaizey: Quebec’s ban on advertising was introduced in 1980, which is 28 years ago. Does the hon. Gentleman not think that sufficient time has elapsed for any evidence that the ban has an effect on childhood obesity levels to have become apparent?

Mr. Foster: Of course I do. That is I why I used that particular example—although the point would apply equally to the provision in Sweden—and why I have huge reservations on the matter. I know that other research has contradictory views to the ones that the hon. Gentleman and I are expressing. My point is that we simply do not have a good enough understanding of this issue to carry on with the imposition of severe regulation. I do not believe, for reasons that I will demonstrate, that it would have the effect that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South suggests.

I therefore wish to examine some of the Bill’s provisions. As the House knows, the Bill deals with broadcast media and with non-broadcast media. I give huge credit to the hon. Gentleman for raising the latter issue properly for the first time in this House, because it has been avoided by many people for far too long. Initially, however, I shall concentrate on broadcast media, on which the Bill would make it an offence to
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advertise “less healthy” products between 5.30 am and 9 pm. The Bill would also change the definition of junk food to include not only HFSS products, but all products “associated with” the brands that make such products.

We have heard much debate about the impact that that association provision will have, so I do not propose to discuss that, although the fact that it is of great concern to many of us is crucial. For instance, why should the firm that makes Frosties not be able to advertise Bran Flakes? Such a situation would be extraordinary and inexplicable. I pay tribute to hon. Members who have debated these issues before. For example, Debra Shipley, the former Member for Stourbridge, introduced a private Member’s Bill on the issue, and only last year Baroness Thornton introduced such a Bill in the other place. Much has happened in the relatively short period since those most recent attempts to go down this line. The House should be aware that this country already has some of the tightest and strictest restrictions on junk food advertising on television in Europe, and more is still to come in what has already been proposed.

Since reference has not yet been made to this, let us remind ourselves what has happened in that short period: promotional offers targeted at the under-fives are now banned; celebrities and well-known cartoon characters are banned in advertisements aimed at children; HFSS ads are not shown in or around programmes aimed at children or programmes likely to appeal to children aged four to 15; and regardless of the time of broadcast, these advertisements cannot be shown during programmes for which more than 17.6 per cent. of the viewers are children. There is more to come, because from December dedicated children’s channels will have to phase out all HFSS advertising. That is what is currently taking place.

Martin Horwood: My hon. Friend is making characteristically astute observations on the Bill, and I hope that they will be addressed in Committee, if it progresses. On the viewing figures for particular programmes, does he accept that the regulations prevent advertising of this kind during programmes that have a preponderance of children viewing them, but not during the most popular programmes that appeal to children, for instance “Dancing on Ice”, or my children’s current favourites, which are programmes aiming to provide cast members for the various musicals of Cameron Mackintosh or Andrew Lloyd Webber?

Mr. Foster: My hon. Friend is right, but as the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South has rightly pointed out, a number of those programmes appear after the 9 pm watershed and would not be covered. If the Bill goes to Committee, I hope that the Committee will examine ways of addressing that issue, because it is important. I would like any Committee to address the possibility of a ban that specifies an actual number of children watching the programme, rather than just a percentage. Provision should be made for a percentage and an absolute number, because that would address that issue.


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