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25 Apr 2008 : Column 1644

However, he has presented a Bill today that would increase all those things. Many people think that it is a triumph for the nanny state.

Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): I apologise to Members for coming into the debate so late, but I have been at a meeting of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. The hon. Gentleman thinks that the measures in this Bill are unnecessary, but what measures would he support for reducing salt, sugar and other additives in children’s food? Or does he think that children’s diets are perfect at the moment?

Philip Davies: The hon. Gentleman should not apologise for coming in late. His contribution is more than welcome at any stage. The problem is that we have a fundamental disagreement on principle. He clearly believes that the only way to engineer any change is through regulation and Government legislation. However, in recent years we have seen a huge reduction in the amount of salt and sugar in food products. That has not happened because of Government legislation and regulation: it has happened because customer demand has changed. Customers now want healthier products as they are more health-conscious than before, so we do not need all this legislation to bring about those changes. They are taking place already. Anybody who works in industry knows that the most successful companies in the world are those that look after their customers and deliver what they want. If the hon. Gentleman is right and people want healthier products, that is what retailers and food manufacturers will deliver, without any Government intervention. That is why the Bill is unnecessary.

Angela Watkinson: Does not that exchange highlight the difference between information and regulation? Provided that people have the information to make sensible choices, they can be trusted to do so. They do not need to be told what to do.

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is right. She is a great champion of people taking individual responsibility for their decisions, and especially of parents taking responsibility for their children. This Bill is the ultimate triumph for the nanny state, and I shudder to think where the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South will seek to take us next when he realises that his Bill has made no difference to childhood obesity.

It is not often that I am proved right, but when the initial restrictions were first mooted by Ofcom, I recall saying in the Select Committee—I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) will be able to confirm this—that when they did not make any difference to the levels of childhood obesity, and it is clear that they have not, the health zealots would quickly be back to say, “Well, the restrictions haven’t made any difference to childhood obesity levels because they did not go far enough.” Within no time at all, they would be back to urge us to go even further. When those further restrictions did not make any difference, they would want to go further still. The only thing that surprises me is how quickly those health zealots have come back to ask for further restrictions. The point is that whatever is introduced, it will make no difference to levels of childhood obesity and it will not satisfy the health lobby or these health zealots. Whatever is done
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will never be enough for them; we will always be pressed to go one step further. The Bill is bad enough as it stands; it will only encourage people to try to bring about further restrictions in the very near future.

I support what the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South said when he was a Minister at the Department of Trade and Industry—that we should be wary of over-regulation—and I am delighted that the Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the right hon. Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge), has confirmed that that is the Government’s position in respect of the Bill, which they see as an example of over-regulation. I pay tribute to that Minister. When she was a DTI Minister, she was always a champion against too much regulation, even when some of her ministerial colleagues were swayed by some of the arguments in favour of it.

I am also delighted that Ofcom—the regulator that the Government have put in charge of this policy area—claims to have a bias against regulation. In its recently published annual plan, outlining its strategic approach for the year, Ofcom makes it clear that it


I am greatly heartened by that strategic approach; if Ofcom adopts and follows it, as set out in the annual plan, it could not possibly reach any conclusion other than that the Bill and any further restrictions should not be supported.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend had the benefit of attending yesterday’s Select Committee interview with Ofcom. Is he satisfied that it is wholly independent of the Government and that it will not bow to pressure when faced, for example, with the Secretary of State for Health saying, as he did last November, that advertising restrictions should go much further than they do already?

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend raises a very interesting point. If I did not know better, I might have thought that he watched our evidence-taking session with Ofcom earlier this week, when I placed in question its independence of the Government. Because the restrictions introduced last year do not appear to me to be based on any evidence, but rather appear to be a sop to the Government who wanted those restrictions, I rather think that my hon. Friend has a point. Given that the Government have given Ofcom this responsibility and that Ofcom said in our evidence session earlier this week, as it has reiterated on a number of occasions, how independent it was of the Government in being an independent regulator, I think it rather mischievous of Government Departments, whether the Department of Health or others, to try to pre-empt Ofcom’s deliberations into these matters by trying to push it down a particular line. If the Government have set up Ofcom as a truly independent regulator, they should leave that independent body to
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get on with it, without trying to nudge it in a particular direction when it suits them. If the Government want to interfere in all these matters, they should not have set up an independent regulator in the first place; they cannot have it both ways and they should not expect an independent regulator to do their dirty work for them, if that is the direction in which they want to go.

I was surprised to hear that the main argument advanced by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South in support of his Bill was that it would deal with pester-power. That was the hon. Gentleman’s main focus at the start and it may also explain why the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) said that he had seen a poll showing that 80 per cent. of the public think that this sort of restriction would be a good thing. I am not sure that if people understood the full ramifications of the Bill, we would see that kind of endorsement, but I can see why some people would instinctively and at a superficial level be attracted by a restriction on advertising. It has the two ingredients that I mentioned at the start of my speech: it does not really offend anybody and a parent might think that it will avoid a bit of pester-power.

The poll was much more significant, however, because it went on to ask people whether they thought the restrictions would make any difference to childhood obesity, and 76 per cent. of parents said that they did not think they would. Therefore, they might be in favour of this on a superficial level if it stops a bit of pestering, but they do not believe that it would make any difference to childhood obesity. However, that is what the Bill is trying to do. We are trying to deal with childhood obesity, not the convenience of parents who are being pestered by their children.

Angela Watkinson: My hon. Friend is right. A lot of the pestering comes from children themselves. I can well recall collecting my children from primary school and being pestered to allow them to go into the sweet shop next door but one, by them claiming that they were the only ones not allowed to do so—quite erroneously, of course. It is up to parents to resist such pressure, because their children’s teeth, weight and general health is far more important than giving in to their temporary whim of wanting to go into a sweet shop every day.

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is entirely right. Like her, I believe passionately that parents have responsibility for bringing up their children. There are certain things in life that are very important and about which people should think very carefully. Raising children falls into that category; people must understand that bringing up their children is one of the most crucial things that they do. They cannot farm that out to the state; they have to do it themselves. People should bring up their children with a belief in what is right and wrong, and be passionate about how they want to bring them up.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch powerfully made clear in his speech, the more often the state takes the responsibility for bringing up children away from parents, the less responsibility parents will take for bringing up their children. I do not want us to reach the point that this Bill would take us to. Some Members believe that people can farm out the responsibility of bringing up their children to the
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Government—that the Government will do that for them, and will decide what is best for children and what is not good for them. That is a very dangerous route.

Mr. Chope: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and does he agree that if this line of thinking continues we will soon find that candy floss or toffee apple salesmen are banned on the basis that their mere presence in a high street or in a public park could engender pester- power?

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is right, and it does not take a great leap of faith to see the direction in which Bills of this nature might take us. Indeed, this Bill’s measures are drawn so widely that it is not entirely clear whether it would itself exclude some of these activities. Ice cream sellers who set up in parks at weekends hoping to do some business may well soon find that they are banned from doing so, and therefore people will not be able to enjoy an ice cream when they are feeling hot in the middle of a summer weekend. It is not entirely clear whether the Bill’s promoter, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South, seeks to stop such activities.

Parents should be held responsible for bringing up their children and decide what their children eat. I feel sorry for parents who are pestered. I am the parent of two very young children; one of them is four years old and the other is two. They pester me no end about certain things. I am not sure whether they have ever been influenced by any advertising; that just seems to be what children do. By nature, children pester their parents for certain things, and parents have the responsibility to stand up to that, and to say, if they do not think their children should have something, “No, you can’t have it.” I do not want us to have legislation that takes that responsibility away from parents, as that would be counter-productive.

I wish now to praise an eminent figure in the fields of psychiatry and psychology—he has a number of qualifications and degrees. Members will be aware of him; his name is Dr. Raj Persaud. He wrote an article entitled, “How the culture of blame has made victims of us all”. The thrust of his argument is that we are in danger of creating a society in which there is always somebody else to blame for what goes wrong and nobody takes responsibility for what happens in their own lives. Is that attitude not very convenient? His article captures the thrust of this Bill perfectly. How convenient it would be for all of us who are overweight—like my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey), I certainly class myself as being in that situation—to blame somebody else for that, saying, “It is not my fault because I eat unhealthy things and do not do enough exercise; it is the fault of those awful advertisers putting things in my way. How on earth can I resist temptation? It is the fault of all those supermarkets that put things on the shelves that are unhealthy for me.” There is always somebody else to blame for our problems. If people are overweight, the only person they have to blame is themselves. To be perfectly honest, on the whole, the people who are chiefly responsible for the vast majority of overweight children are the children themselves and their parents.

Angela Watkinson: Will my hon. Friend join me in acknowledging the very good work being done at school meal times in educating children to make choices between
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healthy and unhealthy foods? They are not being told what to eat and having foods banned; they are educating themselves to make their own decisions, so that when they become adults they can pass that education on to their own children.

Philip Davies: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend; she is absolutely right. It is far better to educate people—for people to see for themselves the consequences of their actions and to conclude what is right for them. Those of us who know that eating too many chips and too many curries will make us overweight have made that decision in the full knowledge of the facts. I am well aware of the problems that my diet might cause me, but I have decided to take that on board and I am going to eat that food anyway. If that makes me overweight, so be it; if that makes me die early, so be it—that is the choice I have made. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is far better to let children come to these conclusions themselves, rather than having the state nannying them and telling them what they can and cannot do, potentially leading to their wanting to rebel against what the state is telling them. It is much better that they see things for themselves.

Mr. Chope: Does my hon. Friend not think it a bit ironic that the campaign behind this Bill is being promoted by the Consumers Association—a body that one would expect to want to promote consumer choice?

Philip Davies: I agree with my hon. Friend. It strikes me as utterly bizarre that an organisation that supposedly supports the rights of the consumer would want to restrict consumer information through advertising. How on earth it has come to that conclusion I am not entirely sure, but I urge it to revisit what it is about as an organisation. Rather than promoting something that is its own personal bugbear, it should perhaps think about what is in the interests of consumers as a whole. State interference is never really in the interests of consumers.

Before I entered Parliament, I worked in marketing for a large food retailer, so I have at least some knowledge of the marketing and food retailing industries, although perhaps not as much as some other people in this House. There are some misconceptions about marketing and how it works. People who know me know that I used to work for Asda, which does lots of TV advertising. I was not personally responsible for the TV adverts involving the “pocket tap” theme that Asda developed, and I certainly would not try to claim credit for it; somebody far more talented than I am came up with that. In fact, the “pocket tap” first appeared in a TV advert back in 1975, so people might wonder what on earth Asda’s marketing department did for the next 30 years, given that we kept to exactly the same “pocket tap” theme—and, indeed, exactly the same music—in our adverts for that entire time.

My point about our advertising strategy is this. We never expected somebody who was sat on a sofa watching a TV advert instantly to leap off their feet, switch off the TV and make a wholly unnecessary extra trip to the supermarket, and the same applies to adverts that Asda puts out today. The purpose of advertising and marketing is not to try to get an extra visit to the supermarket.

Martin Horwood: Is the hon. Gentleman arguing that advertising has played no role in increasing the size of the market for supermarket multiples as a whole over the past 20 years?

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Philip Davies: To be honest, I am not sure whether it has or not, but the point that I would make to the hon. Gentleman is that the supermarket industry is now a mature market, as is the food manufacturing industry. When a market is in its infancy, advertising might well help to grow that market as a whole, but once it has matured, advertising does not increase it; it simply affects the market share of the organisation within that market.

The factors that have driven the growth of supermarkets over recent years have nothing to do with the advertising of each individual company; they include the fact that supermarkets sell products that customers want to buy at prices that customers want to pay. Supermarkets are very good at giving customers what they want, such as a place to park or the convenience of buying many different things under one roof. Those are all much bigger factors in the reason people shop at supermarkets than any advertising strategy, and I say that as someone who worked in the marketing department at Asda. Neither my colleagues in that department nor I could claim credit for the success of Asda as an organisation. That was due, more than anything else, to the people working in-store looking after the customers.

The reason that Asda spent millions of pounds every year on TV advertising was not because we expected anyone to make an extra unnecessary visit to the supermarket but because we wanted them to shop at Asda, rather than at Tesco, when they next went to a supermarket. Advertising builds a company’s market share. That is the whole purpose of the advertising.

Introducing a Bill that restricts the advertising of particular products would be similar to stopping a game of pass the parcel at a particular time to benefit a particular player. If the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South gets his way, when the music stops and all the marketing ceases, it will be a huge triumph for whoever happens to have the largest market share at the time. No competitor would ever have the opportunity to stick their oar in and get involved in that market again.

Angela Watkinson: Does my hon. Friend agree that a great deal of psychology goes into the creation of the ambience of a supermarket? That is how they try to increase their market share. The colours used in the store, the width of the aisles, the way in which goods are displayed and the convenience of getting into the store will attract customers to one supermarket rather than another. Those factors have a much greater influence than advertising.

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend raises an interesting point about what motivates people. To be perfectly honest, I think that the vast majority are motivated by convenience. I imagine that the vast majority of people shop at their nearest supermarket, simply as a matter of convenience. People who take into account other factors probably consider lots of factors, including some of the ones that my hon. Friend has mentioned. However, people’s choice will also be governed largely by price. They will often go to the cheapest supermarket, particularly if they are on a fixed income. People with a disability might well shop at the place that offers the best facilities for them. There is a range of factors involved, including the best service or the shortest queuing time. Advertising plays a very small part.

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Mr. Evans: It seems to me that another of the Bill’s aims is to stop youngsters pestering their parents. However, one of the nice things about going round supermarkets is seeing parents shopping with their children. When youngsters see a product that they like, yes, they will pester their parents, whether the product has been advertised or not. They will say, “Please, mummy, can I have that?” Perhaps the next Bill that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South introduces will try to ban children from shopping with their parents in supermarkets, just in case they pester them in that way.

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is the logic of this argument. I am sure that we have all been tempted to purchase a product that might not be particularly healthy simply because it looks rather good, so, yes, the logical extension of this argument is that we should ban children from going round supermarkets lest they be tempted by a particularly big piece of cake with a big splodge of cream on it. We could not possibly have that, could we?

Mr. Chope: While my hon. Friend is on the subject of supermarkets, may I ask him whether he thinks the Bill would prevent supermarkets from being able to offer school vouchers for computer or sports equipment if the vouchers were issued in respect of sales of unhealthy foods?

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is right to raise that, and I return to clause 2(3), which is over-zealous to say the least. It proposes a restriction in respect of

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