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My hon. Friend the Member for Wantage, who speaks from the Front Bench, has not particularly blamed anybody for his make-up, size and so on. The former head teacher of the school where my children are being
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educated reminded all the parents collectively, before they got too ambitious for their children, that “Genes travel.” That is very relevant to this debate on shape, size and so on. We are in danger of creating a climate where people who have a different shape from others and who are not so lean and lanky get bullied in the school playground—they may get called Billy Bunter.

I cited the Scottish statistics on children’s diets, which show that the fatter people may not have a more unhealthy food intake than the thinner ones, so we must take the extremely complex issue of metabolism into account in this debate. The Bill does not address that, other than by trying to simplify the matter, to condemn all food advertising and to undermine individual responsibility.

Like adults, children need to experience new foods, and the best way of their doing so is probably in a family setting, around the table with their parents at home. If they are exposed in that setting to healthy food, preferably home-prepared food—they may even have been encouraged to do some cooking—that is good news. One of my children has recently discovered how to make flapjacks, and as a result he knows what goes into a flapjack. That is much more important than trying to read the back of a label on a manufactured flapjack, which is probably much less nutritious than one that has been baked at home.

Mr. Evans: We are again returning to the ridiculous nature of this Bill. A ban on the advertising, and therefore the promotion, of these products would extend to scout fundraising jamborees, because if the scouts had made and were advertising or promoting their own lemonade or brownie cakes, that would fall foul of this legislation. One can imagine the food police marching into fĂȘtes and arresting youngsters simply because they were promoting their home-made lemonade.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend tempts me to mention home-made ginger beer, on which many of us were brought up. Those who make their own ginger beer know exactly how much sugar needs to go into it, just as those who make elderflower cordial know that, as well as elderflowers and water, a heck of a lot of sugar is needed. Some may think it a good idea to drink gallons of elderflower cordial diluted with fizzy water or lemonade, but if it is drunk in excess, their sugar intake will be massive. People who prepare their own food and drink have a better understanding of the ingredients.

I shall end my speech shortly, because I am absolutely gagging to hear what the Minister has to say about this subject. She has been sitting there very patiently. On past Fridays she has spoken at length, because she enjoys the Friday experience. I do not know whether she will speak at length today, but I hope she will be able to address the fundamental issue of regulation that is raised in the Bill.

The Prime Minister gave the Better Regulation Commission a task. He said

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Philip Davies: When he was a Minister in the Department of Trade and Industry, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South was a big supporter of the Better Regulation Task Force, as it then was. He once said, apparently criticising the European Union for its regulatory burdens, that what was needed was

Does my hon. Friend agree that the hon. Gentleman seems to have strayed from that noble ambition?

Mr. Chope: I fear so. The facts speak for themselves. Paragraph 1.1 of the Better Regulation Commission’s report “Public Risk—the Next Frontier for Better Regulation” states

It specifically identifies

and other factors which I shall not spell out. It continues:

I do not think that that rigour and breadth of consultation have been displayed by the promoter and sponsors of the Bill—or, for that matter, by those who seem to have signed the supportive early-day motion without thinking about it properly.

That, I think, is what lies at the heart of this and so many other Friday debates. Do we really need more regulation, more outlawing and condemnation of people going about their ordinary lives, more intervention in the marketplace—in this case, the advertising industry—or should we allow common sense to prevail, and rely on individual and family responsibility as the best judge of these matters?

1.14 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Margaret Hodge): What is good about Friday debates is that people engage with the issues in a much more open and less partisan way. I have learned a lot this morning—for example, that Father Christmas was invented by Coca-Cola. We have had an informed debate and I thank all Members for it.

I particularly thank my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Nigel Griffiths), and congratulate him on choosing such an important issue after his success in the ballot. Obesity is one of the important issues that confront our society. It poses enormous policy challenges and requires considered reflection by all Members from all parties.

We have heard some good contributions. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) referred to the importance of obesity and children’s health. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Kerry McCarthy)
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made an interesting intervention that linked mental health issues to what we eat. As she pointed out, there is growing evidence of the interrelationship between mental health conditions and diet, and we should be doing much more work on it.

The hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) made two really good points. The first was about the impact that a ban on advertising before the watershed could have on investment in children’s programming and how damaging that would be to plurality in the provision of television—a point reiterated by a number of Members. The second point was that the 9 o’clock watershed has ceased to be effective because we can record programmes and watch them at other times.

I agreed with the hon. Gentleman on those two points, but I did not agree with him about sport. The Government have a good record on sport. In the past five years or so, we have increased participation in school sport so that 86 per cent. of our children now enjoy two hours of school sport a week, with an aspiration to take that to five hours. It is a fantastic achievement. Opposition Members are feeling rather negative about the Olympics but I think the opposite, and the Olympics will have a further impact by encouraging more people to engage in sport.

Mr. Don Foster: The Minister cannot be allowed to get away with skimming over things that easily. Will she confirm that more than 1 million schoolchildren do not currently participate in two hours of sport, and will she further confirm that to meet the Olympic building costs vast chunks of money have been taken away from lottery good causes that would have funded grass-roots sport?

Margaret Hodge: The hon. Gentleman wants Rome built in a day. Let us consider the statistics. Five years ago, I think either 40 or 60 per cent. of children were doing two hours of sport a week; we have raised that figure to 86 per cent. It is one of the areas where we have actually exceeded our target. Of course, there is more to do to reach 100 per cent. He is correct about that, but we have made fantastic progress. If I compare what children do in school nowadays with what my children did, when they would go for weeks with no engagement in sport whatever, I can see that there has been a terrific improvement since the Labour Government have been in office.

The point about the Olympics is that the infrastructure that will be built, whether in sport or elsewhere, and the stimulus and catalyst of the games in engaging more children in sport make it worth investing in such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for all of us. There will be an impact on our lives in all sorts of ways.

The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) killed off Father Christmas. My apologies. [Laughter.] He accused my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South of killing off Father Christmas as an unintended consequence of the Bill. I found that a little difficult to take. The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) talked a lot of common sense, however, and brought to our attention the fact that the ban on the advertising of high-fat foods to children has had little impact in both Sweden and Quebec, which are the only two countries
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where an attempt has been made to introduce such a ban. He said something that it is important for the House to remember: we have some of the toughest regulations in the world on the advertising of food to children, and we ought to wait to see how the new regulations bed down and whether we need to introduce further regulations or whether a ban would be a blunt instrument.

The hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey) talked about the damage that could be done to indigenous British children’s television. I accept that there is some correlation, but we are taking further action, as we need to do, to ensure that our indigenous programme makers have the opportunity to provide what is always excellent programming, because of the talent that we have in Britain. I am not sure whether advertising is the one issue that would change the way in which more American television programmes are being imported into the UK. We need action on all sorts of fronts, some of which are included in the creative economy strategy programme. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will have further ideas to ensure that we get the high-quality British children’s television for which we are renowned. It is important that Ofcom is undertaking its current review, as the issue is of concern to all hon. Members.

Mr. Evans: I agree with the Minister. We are all concerned about the disappearance of children’s programming from the commercial sector. Will she state what she believes the Government ought to do to ensure that we can get good children’s programming made in this country and shown by the commercial sector, so that there is not a monopoly provider?

Margaret Hodge: We must wait to see what Ofcom recommends, as it is the body to which we have given responsibility for investigating the matter, and it is considering the whole of public sector broadcasting and children’s programming, so let us wait to see its recommendations. In the meantime, the effort that we are putting into growing the talent and providing the appropriate competences, so that we have talented programme makers in the UK, is probably about the best contribution that the Government can make to ensuring a thriving children’s programme sector. Whether or not more subsidy should be given to it is an issue that I should like to reflect on when I see the research and evidence that Ofcom is gathering at the moment.

Philip Davies: Is not what the Minister has just said exactly the point? Ofcom is looking into the issue, and its review will take place in June or July, I think, dealing with the effect of the restrictions that have been put in place already. Therefore, it would be wholly premature to pre-empt that review by passing the Bill now.

Margaret Hodge: I agree; I have been given some words to say on where we are in the timetable, and I hope that they will also provide some comfort to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South. As we set out in the public health White Paper, the Government are committed to reviewing the impact of the rules introduced across all media. We have continued to monitor the impact of the measures that we have already put in place. As the hon. Member for Bath said, the Department of Health will produce an interim review later this year that will consider changes in the nature
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and balance of food promotion to children across all media. That review will be followed by a more comprehensive assessment, again to be produced later this year. The Ofcom review, which has been brought forward, will complement the work undertaken by the Department of Health.

The important point is that, as the public health White Paper has clearly stated, if the measures that have been taken so far fail to produce a change in the nature and balance of food promotion to children, we will take action to implement a clearly defined framework for the regulation and promotion of food for children. For broadcast advertising, we can do that within existing legislation, so we do not need a new Bill.

The Communications Act 2003 provides the legislative framework to respond to concerns about food promotion to children and, if necessary, allow further action to be taken. The 2003 Act details Ofcom’s statutory responsibility for setting broadcast standards for advertising and for the sponsorship of programmes. It is in accordance with those duties that Ofcom examined the case for greater restrictions and subsequently strengthened the regulation of broadcast food promotion. Based on the available evidence at that time, Ofcom concluded that the new rules that it introduced were a proportionate and appropriate response.

Taken with the wider, cross-Government range of measures aimed at tackling childhood obesity and poor diet, to which I shall return, we have a tough agenda for action, which will stimulate the necessary culture change in our society. The Secretary of State has the power under the 2003 Act to issue directions in relation to prohibiting categories of advertising. If he were persuaded by the evidence that the rules were not strong enough, the 2003 Act includes powers to direct Ofcom. On non-broadcast advertising, we will continue to work with the Advertising Standards Authority and the industry.

The committee of advertising practice and its broadcast committee will undertake full reviews of all advertising codes in 2008, and they will publish revised codes for public consultation later in the year. The findings of those reviews into the effectiveness of the advertising codes will be taken into account in formulating and enforcing revised codes, if they are needed. Both broadcast and non-broadcast advertising regulations must be based on best evidence, and they must be robust and subject to appropriate assessments. If new evidence were to emerge that clearly highlighted major problems in relation to children’s exposure to the advertising of food with high fat, sugar or salt, the regulator would have a duty to consider the matter and take appropriate action.

Nigel Griffiths: The sponsors of the Bill and the many hon. Members who have signed early-day motion 445 will be reassured by the Minister’s firm words. The regulator has a specific duty in the light of the evidence that is currently being considered, and I hope that she will join me in urging those organisations with an interest in the matter to ensure that appropriate evidence is submitted to the regulator for consideration.

Margaret Hodge: I hope that everybody submits appropriate evidence. During the debate, it has become clear that the evidence base is sparse. Although we can
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establish a correlation between childhood obesity and television advertising of foods with a high content of sugar, salt and fat, we cannot establish causality, which has been a contested issue in today’s debate.

On obesity in general, I agree with my hon. Friends that obesity is a huge challenge. One has only to consider the figures. In 1997, one in five women was obese; in 2005, one in four women was obese. In 1997, one in six men was obese; in 2005, the ratio was more than one in five. That is a 25 per cent. increase in a mere eight years. The foresight report was important, because it drew attention to a major issue. The report estimated that by 2050, 60 per cent. of men and 50 per cent. of women might be considered obese. We know that obesity is responsible for premature deaths, reduces life expectancy and imposes a massive cost on the NHS as well as a cost on the economy as a whole. However, we must understand the causes of obesity to ensure that we take the appropriate public interventions. It is a multi-faceted and complex issue, and therefore requires a multi-faceted and rather more complex response.

All of us tend to reach for what looks like a simple solution, because it makes us feel that we are taking action and doing something. We must ask ourselves whether it is effective action and whether there will be unintended consequences such as those mentioned by a number of hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), whom I have not yet mentioned—my apologies for that.

Many hon. Members have mentioned parenting, and of course parental influence on children’s behaviour is hugely important. It is an interesting statistic that only 17 per cent. of parents with an obese child were correctly able to gauge their child’s weight status. That demonstrates the challenge for other Departments and the type of work that they need to do to provide support for parents and help them to understand the impact of what happens to their children.

I assumed that Members would mention the fact that we have stopped walking our children to school, but nobody has. There has been a 10 per cent. drop in the number of children walking to school over the past couple of decades, partly because time has become more precious and partly because of fear.

Mr. Chope: Speaking of unintended consequences, there is a campaign in the House for free bus travel to school for children. Does the Minister share my concern that one of its unintended consequences would be even fewer children walking to school?

Margaret Hodge: That is a difficult one. That is precisely the type of issue that one should consider so that we can ensure proper understanding of motivations and consequences. If travelling by bus were to cut the number of parents going to school by car, that would be good for the environment and probably have zero impact on obesity—although people would have to walk to the bus stop, so I suppose that they would do a little more walking than they otherwise would. I am sure that the motivation for that suggested measure comes from environmental concerns, not obesity concerns, but I would like to examine the evidence before expressing a view on it.

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