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Ofcom will conduct a review in respect of all these changes. In July, it will carry out a review of the effectiveness of the new measures that have been put in
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place, and before we make any further changes we should wait to hear the impact of that. We have heard discussion about the nutrient profiling model, which is referred to in the Bill. That, too, is under review; by early 2009, recommendations for possible changes will be made, and we should also wait for that.

Mr. Evans: As part of its review, will Ofcom examine not only the efficacy of the new changes that have been introduced—whether they work and have any impact on youngsters’ eating habits—but the unintended consequences that they have had, such as the disappearance of children’s programming from the commercial TV sector?

Mr. Foster: I have no doubt that Ofcom will consider that aspect, because it acknowledged in its own recommendations that the stringent new rules would reduce advertising revenues, but it will do it at a time when there are other pressures on commercial broadcasters. It will have separate the two factors, which may prove difficult.

Philip Davies: Might not many broadcasters be fearful about where banning advertising when a problem is identified might lead? It does not involve a great leap of faith to imagine that those who are concerned about, say, debt levels might decide that all advertising of loans should be banned.

Mr. Foster: The hon. Gentleman may be right, but having seen figures showing the significant decline in broadcasters’ advertising revenue that has already taken place, I think that they have a good many other problems on their plate. For that reason, Ofcom’s review of the future of public service broadcasting and how we may have to fund it in future is critical. This is a very difficult time for broadcasters, particularly as so much advertising is moving away from broadcasting and into the new media. The Bill picks up that point, although not necessarily in a way that will achieve the effect that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South wants.

Some of the toughest measures in Europe were introduced relatively recently. Reviews of those measures and of the nutrient profiling model are in progress, and research is being conducted by the Department of Health and the Department for Children, Schools and Families. The Bill strikes me as somewhat premature. Given the absence of any scientific research evidence to suggest that it will have the desired effect, I think we ought at least to wait until we see the results of all that research.

Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab): I am touched by the slavish defence of the advertising industry that was presented from those on the Tory Front Bench. I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s arguments and he has made some good and sophisticated points, but does he not agree that my hon. Friend’s Bill is primarily about children’s health, and did he not find it depressing to hear the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey) simply refer to vested interests?

Mr. Foster: I want to be slightly more generous to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South than others have been—particularly the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans)—and I hope that I was at the beginning of
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my speech. I genuinely believe that the hon. Gentleman has raised an important issue about obesity and children’s health. The debate between him and me concerns whether the Bill is being introduced at the right time in the absence of the necessary research and investigations, and whether there is any clear evidence that it will have the effect that he wants. I shall advance further arguments that may persuade him that problems exist other than the lack of research evidence.

What we do know is that the new measures are already having an impact. Core category advertising during terrestrial children’s programmes has fallen to negligible levels. The decline of such advertising on dedicated children’s channels has been greater than the reduction that was required in Ofcom’s phased rules. The greatest decline has featured in programmes watched by children aged between four and nine, which I consider the most important age range. Interestingly, Ofcom has said:

As others have said, other measures are also having an impact. I do not want to go overboard in praising the food industry, but it has responded well to the new regulations. The Advertising Standards Authority has said that

As we have heard, there have been further industry-led initiatives. We have heard about GDA labelling, for instance. Like others, I am not sure whether “traffic light” or GDA labelling is the answer, and hope that a way can be found of merging the two.

We also know that in recent years more than £15 billion-worth of branded products have been reformulated to contain lower levels of fat, salt and sugar, and that a further £11.5 billion-worth of products have been launched as lower LFSS variants. There is little evidence of a correlation between junk-food advertising and obesity. A new set of rules was introduced relatively recently and there are more to come. There are early indications that those rules are having an effect, and research will take place on all that, so I believe that we should wait. I also believe that, in any event, the Bill would prove to be a blunt instrument if it were implemented.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) pointed out, the pre-9 pm watershed would not target programmes watched by a high proportion of children after 9 pm, “Ugly Betty” being a good example. It would, however, affect all the programmes shown before 9 pm that do not target children, including news and current affairs programmes and documentaries. That is not proportionate, effective or fair.

As others have observed, there would be a serious impact on broadcasters’ revenues, representing up to £250 million. That was dealt with effectively by the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford, and I do not want to repeat all that he said. However, if we think of that £250 million as the equivalent of all the money spent on all UK-initiated children’s programming and all news programming across all broadcast outlets, we realise how serious the impact would be.


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I find it interesting that so many Members have signed early-day motions in favour of protecting children’s television programming, while also backing an early-day motion supporting the Bill. I find it equally odd that so many Members who support the Bill have spoken of the importance of regional news programming, particularly on ITV, and have signed early-day motions calling for more such programming. They cannot have their cake and eat it. They cannot support measures that will significantly reduce the amount of money provided for broadcasting, and then ask broadcasters to spend more money on children’s television and regional news programming.

Martin Horwood: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way again. He is being extremely patient with me. He says we cannot have our cake and eat it by wanting more money to be spent on children’s programming while also supporting the Bill, but perhaps less money overall could be spent on programming because fewer programmes were being produced, while the quality of output could rise because more children were watching—admittedly fewer—non-commercial channels. Is that not a possible scenario?

Mr. Foster: My hon. Friend is a very intelligent gentleman so I am sure that he has made an important point, and I promise him that after the debate I shall go into a darkened room and put a wet towel around my head so that he can explain it to me. I shall then have the benefit of his expertise. I thank him for that well-made point.

I hope that by now the House has caught my gist—the Bill is well intentioned but I do not think it will achieve its aims. It is absolutely appropriate that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South has raised the issue of non-broadcast media, with which there are all sorts of problems. However, there are problems with the Bill’s provisions relating to the 9 o’clock watershed, because fewer and fewer people watch actual television; they watch what are sometimes called the new media. There is also the problem of time shifting and the introduction of personal video recorders in more and more households, meaning that people can watch programmes at any time of the day or night regardless of when the watershed is imposed.

As well as all those problems, there is also the question of what we should do about increased advertising in the new media. We have heard stories about children receiving food advertising on their mobile phones, and although the practice is now wholly contrary to the rules that the industry has set itself, more and more advertising of such products is going on to the internet. That is why I welcome the fact that the industry has acknowledged the need to do something. Without the need for regulation, the industry has set up working parties to look at the issue and set up a code of practice. The New Media Group has been established to review the regulations. As a result, the industry has already introduced many of the things that the hon. Gentleman seeks to impose on it by regulation. I welcome the fact that the industry has done that.

The point of the industry taking such action rather than its being done by regulation is that regulations imposed in the UK apply only to UK organisations, but
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much of the advertising comes from outside the country. Self-regulation would have the effect of dealing with that problem. Indeed, the European Advertising Standards Alliance is already working vigorously in that area. If self-regulation is working, as it appears to be, I believe that it is better than imposed regulations.

Furthermore, I have reservations about the sanctions the Bill would impose, such as the unlimited fine about which we have already heard. It is interesting that the industry has for several years imposed a set of sanctions on itself for breaches of its self-regulated rules, and those sanctions have been effective. They include notice and take-down, name and shame and disqualification from awards.

In the field of non-broadcast advertising, why would we want to impose new regulation on an industry that has been able to self-regulate effectively and has addressed many of the concerns in the Bill? It would be additional, unnecessary regulation.

The Bill is well intentioned. It raises issues in respect of obesity that are crucial to the future of our country, but I genuinely do not believe that its provisions will solve the problem that it rightly raises.

12.2 pm

Mr. Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con): Following the speech of my mentor, I thought I would take this opportunity to speak. As the Minister knows from many debates I often refer to the Liberal Democrat Front-Bench spokesman as my mentor. Such was the eloquence of his speech that he has inspired me to make a few brief remarks before my hon. Friends and the Minister comment.

One thing that unites everybody in the Chamber is the recognition that obesity is a serious problem in the UK. I make that statement in the full knowledge that I am an obese man who needs to lose at least 40 lb and who was obese long before the advertising and food industries got their teeth into me. It is obviously true that obesity problems start in childhood, from bad habits picked up as a child.

The causes of obesity are extraordinarily complex, but in essence it comes down to three things. We will avoid obesity if we take more exercise and eat less food, and parents will avoid having obese children if they are prepared to take responsibility for the kind of food their children eat. However, the Bill suggests another solution: if we close off exposure to the advertising of food that is high in fat, sugar and salt, we will somehow reduce obesity.

I recognise that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths) has made it quite clear that he sees the Bill as part of incremental measures to help to reduce obesity in this country. I certainly take on board the fact that he does not claim that the Bill is a magic bullet or that obesity will be eradicated as a problem a few years after the Bill is introduced. If he were to make such a claim, it would be quite rightly shot down. However, he contends that the Bill will have some effect on obesity in this country. I will not get into an argument about the extent of the effect that it could have or whether it would have any effect at all, but even if it had a small effect on obesity—I do not concede that point—one must consider whether this is not a
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case of a sledgehammer being used to crack a nut, or rather a huge legislative sledgehammer that will have a very small effect on the problem that he seeks to address.

We already have some of the tightest restrictions on such advertising in the world. Indeed, a great many companies and advertising agencies have already engaged in a voluntary downgrading of such advertising. Since Ofcom introduced its ban, the exposure of unhealthy food to children aged four to nine has been reduced by a quarter, to children under 16 it has been reduced by more than half. Food advertising is now at its lowest level since 1982, on an absolute measure of food advertising. As a proportion of the total advertising take, it is less than half the level in 1982. Indeed, the advertising industry has been found to be 100 per cent. compliant with the Ofcom ban. So we find ourselves in a conundrum, where the advertising of unhealthy food has been dropping not simply since the Ofcom ban, but for several years, yet obesity continues to rise.

As has been pointed out by some hon. Members, including me in an intervention, bans on the advertising of unhealthy food exist in other countries, and as yet no evidence can be seen to show that they have any effect on childhood obesity or, indeed, adult obesity. As has been said, in Quebec, a ban has been in place since 1980—almost 30 years—and if it had had a noticeable effect, such as even a 10 or 20 per cent. reduction, and we could stand here and say that the Quebecois were 10 or 20 per cent. thinner than the British or that a graph showed a downward trend in obesity in Quebec, the Bill’s proponents would have an enormously powerful argument to deploy. But they cannot deploy that argument, because the ban on the advertising of unhealthy food in Quebec has had no noticeable effect on obesity there.

If we look at Sweden, which also has a ban on unhealthy food advertising, we learn that there are more spherical Swedes than there are fat Finns next door in Finland, which has no such ban. Sweden has a higher obesity problem than Finland, yet the ban has not produced svelte Swedes; there are still spherical Swedes and fewer fat Finns. So we have controlled models. [Hon. Members: “That was good.”] Do hon. Members like that? There is more if they want it.

Mr. Burns: On fewer fat Finns, might the problem relate not to food but to the alcohol problems that the Finns suffer from?

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I want to protect the hon. Gentleman from being led astray by his hon. Friend. He is well aware of the nature of the Bill that we are discussing.

Mr. Vaizey: I think that there is an alcohol advertising ban in Sweden, but I hear what you say, Madam Deputy Speaker, and you are aware, as are many other hon. Members, that I am a vastly inexperienced performer at the Dispatch Box. I am therefore extremely grateful to you for your guidance and for setting the boundaries. Indeed, you are in danger of taking over the role of mentor from the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster).

As I was saying before the helpful intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), an analysis of bans in other countries shows us that a
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ban on food advertising does not dramatically affect levels of childhood obesity. It is important to make that point, because while the proponents of the Bill think that a ban will have a good effect, which is the point that they want to push, a ban on food advertising will have some very bad effects. If the proponents of the Bill cannot show that the Bill will have dramatically good effects on the health of our children, they must consider the catastrophic effects that it will have on our children and ourselves.

We have already discussed children’s television, which I described as having fallen off a cliff. There is no doubt that the Ofcom ban has had a serious effect on children’s television. It has been pointed out that children’s television has been in decline for a number of years, but the advertisers and the broadcasters implemented a voluntary code of conduct and a voluntary reduction in the advertising of unhealthy foods during children’s television programmes before the Ofcom ban came into effect. I will take any hon. Member who wants to challenge me on that point to a meeting with the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television to meet dedicated, professional television producers who have spent their careers making children’s television programmes. I have met such people, who have told me exactly what has happened in their industry, and they put the blame fairly and squarely on the advertising ban.

Mr. Joyce: In that case, will the hon. Gentleman explain why Nickelodeon.com and Nickelodeon TV are taking market share from CBBC?

Mr. Vaizey: They are using American imports. The hon. Gentleman, who has made comments about other people and vested interests, has a vested interest in Nickelodeon. I concede that there is more children’s programming, but it is cheap American imports rather than home-grown British product. The hon. Gentleman might as well write “Disney” on the back of his jacket, because if he supports this Bill in the Lobby, he will promote Disney.

Nigel Griffiths: Can the hon. Gentleman not see that the solution to the problem of encouraging domestic production lies partly in ensuring that the licence conditions applied to the BBC, and the commercial conditions applied to independent television, lead to the sourcing of material made in Britain rather than the United States?


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