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Will Quince: I am interested to know why sugary soft drinks, in particular, are being targeted. Why are we not looking at cereals, biscuits and cakes as well? Why is it just sugary drinks?

Jim Shannon: I am happy to look at sugary drinks because we have to start somewhere, but I will happily look at cornflakes and other foods as well, so they should not think that we are going to let them off. The issue is that there are nine teaspoons of sugar in a can of fizzy drink, so we need to address the issue where it starts.

We cannot ignore the statistics, because they are very clear. The fact that by age 11 a quarter of children in Northern Ireland at not just overweight, but obese is an alarming statistic. I think that a comprehensive and robust approach will be required if we are to address that. One way to doing that is through education in schools. I think that we need to bring that education in at an early stage. I think that the Minister will probably respond along those lines.

I fully support having a tax on sugar, which I think would be a step in the right direction. If we do that, we can move things forward and address the issue of obesity and people being overweight very early. Without addressing this serious health issue at the earliest stage possible, it will lead to problems for the health of the person in question, and for public health and society as a whole. I found some statistics on obesity the other day. The obesity epidemic in Northern Ireland has led to a doubling in just three years in the number of call-outs for firefighters to help obese people. Those are startling figures. We can sit and ignore those and say, “No, we’re not going to tax sugar,” or we can address the issue early on. I say that we should do it early on. Let us do it now.

Dr Hilary Cass, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, has said that if the problem is not tackled now, it will rapidly get worse. She said:

“We should be worried because if we do not fix this problem now, we will see unhealthy kids turning into unhealthy adults with diabetes, heart disease and kidney problems.”

Why is it that it tends to be those on low incomes who are overweight or obese? It is quite clear to me, but perhaps it is not clear to others. I think that it is because their income dictates what they buy. If they do not have much money, they will buy the cheapest food they can, even if it is not the healthiest food, and more often than not cheap food contains levels of fat and sugar that are far too high. The issue of low incomes is therefore something we have to address as well, for those whose food choices are dictated by what is in their pockets.

We should be tackling these issues now not only because that is the right thing to do morally, but because it makes economic sense. The right hon. Member for Leicester East referred earlier to the supermarket that had all the chocolate and sugary foods in one aisle in the middle of the shop. That is where they should be. They should not be at the checkout, where kids will see them and want their chocolate bar or their bottle of Coke. We have to address that issue as well.

Despite greater education on food and nutrition, there is still an obesity epidemic. Children are getting too many of their calories from sugars—on average, three times the Government’s recommended amount. That only contributes to an overall overconsumption of calories. One in three children are overweight or obese

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by the time they start secondary school, and that is a very clear problem that needs to be addressed. Childhood obesity is associated with conditions such as insulin resistance, hypertension, asthma, sleep problems, poor mental health—we cannot ignore that in children; we cannot think that they do not have it, because they do—early signs of heart disease, and an increased risk of developing cancer. The hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince) referred to the need to have more physical activity in schools, and that issue could be addressed. Ministers mentioned it during this morning’s Culture, Media and Sport questions, so they recognise it as well. I have mentioned just a small number of the health costs of not acting to address this epidemic.

It is not just health that suffers because of inaction on this epidemic. Health problems associated with being overweight or obese cost the NHS more than £5 billion annually. Poor dental hygiene costs the NHS £3.4 billion a year, of which £30 million alone is spent on hospital-based extractions of children’s teeth. The total societal cost of obesity in the UK in 2012, including lost productivity, was £47 billion. The evidence is clear.

There can be no one solution to this complex issue. We need to enhance our nutritional education strategy, tackle poor diets through legislation, and encourage greater physical activity among our children. Given the shocking statistics that we have all spoken about, it is clear that despite health being a devolved issue, obesity, and obesity in our children, is truly a national problem. As such, it will require a national solution and a comprehensive approach.

2.1 pm

Nigel Huddleston (Mid Worcestershire) (Con): I, too, pay tribute to the Health Committee for its great work. I pay tribute particularly to the Chairman of that Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), and to my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) for her work in the all-party obesity group.

This is a very important topic. It is also a very emotive one, as we have heard, especially for those of us who are generally instinctively against Government interference and taxation, and want small government. I have wrestled with that, like my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double), but I have come round to the idea that when it is necessary to interfere, and when we have to balance out these freedoms with doing the right thing by our children, then we do need to consider all options. I have been slowly persuaded, but am now comfortably persuaded, on issues such as the sugar tax. So unfortunately, probably for the first time ever, I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince). However, I am sure that it will be the first of many such times over coming years.

The evidence is overwhelming. Like the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), in researching this topic I found that the numbers are astounding. The figures are overwhelming, and very alarming. I will not repeat them, but the report contains many such figures, and it is well worth a read.

One of the issues that comes up again and again is food marketing. Research tells us that children as young as 18 months can be influenced and are capable of recognising brands, which is a truly astounding fact.

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The House will be aware that current regulations on TV advertising mean that foods high in fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar are banned from being advertised during children’s programming, but many organisations, as well as the report, have suggested that that should extend up to the 9 pm watershed, and with considerable reason, given the evidence. The latest Ofcom figures show that two thirds of children watch television during what is considered adult airtime, with peak viewing for children between 7 pm and 8 pm. The British Heart Foundation found last year that during just one episode of “The X Factor”, a programme that is quite popular with children, there were no fewer than 13 junk food adverts. The issue is even more acute with online advertising, where adverts are often attached to videos, including music videos. That is probably worthy of a debate in itself.

Let me turn to food standards in schools, where there has been a tremendous breakthrough over the past few years. Those of us who visit schools look on with envy at the school meals now compared with the ones that many of us had to suffer years ago. Yet in many schools up and down the country, we have the farcical situation where lunches provided by schools are generally very healthy, but the food children themselves bring into schools, or is provided by their parents, is often not healthy. We can only imagine how frustrating it is for teachers, and indeed everybody who works in schools, including my wife, to see children filling themselves up with junk food at school and knowing there is little they can do about it. We need more co-operation between schools, and between parents and teachers. I back the Committee’s proposal that nutritional guidelines should be published for packed lunches and that, where necessary, teachers should be able to have, perhaps robust, conversations with parents so that these guidelines are followed.

Of course, diet is very important, but so is physical activity, as has been mentioned many times. I back up the supportive comments about the DCMS’s sports strategy. In The Times on Monday we saw a snack guide that included information on how long it would take to burn off the calories of various foods. It is easy to laugh at things like this, but it showed that a chocolate bar, bag of crisps and a bottle of Coke would require almost one hour of running or more than two hours of walking to burn off. How many children, or indeed parents, know that? Given that a child could consume all those things on top of, or instead of, a healthy meal, while doing no exercise, it is a really alarming picture. We must do more to encourage and enable exercise.

I am blessed to represent a primarily rural constituency. It is very easy for me and my family to get outdoors, to go on bike rides, and to go on public pathways. I am well aware that not everybody in the country has those privileges. Councils and local government need to do much more to enable access to healthy outdoor living and sports facilities. Planning plays a part in this too. When I see planning proposals for housing developments, I find it remarkable how little provision there is for recreational facilities, or indeed access to countryside. Cities fare far worse than the countryside in this regard.

Helen Whately: My hon. Friend is making an important speech covering a wide range of actions that need to be taken to tackle the obesity problem. Does he agree that

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this is not just about the sugar tax or product placement? The scale of the problem is such that we need a whole range of steps where the Government take a lead in showing how serious the problem is, and a whole range of actions to make sure that a difference is made quickly.

Nigel Huddleston: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention; I could not agree more. Indeed, she has stolen my conclusion. It is absolutely the case that this is a very complex matter that covers so many areas that it is difficult to fine tune it. I hope that we can avoid focusing purely on the sugar tax, as important as it is.

We must recognise and praise the fact that up and down the country there are some great experiments going on, with schools practising innovative ways to encourage physical activity. For example, Commando Joe’s goes into schools and encourages team building and physical activity. I give credit to Bengeworth academy in Evesham in my constituency where we have our own Commando Joe—a gentleman called Chris Parry who works alongside staff and children having previously done four tours of Afghanistan with the Marines. He is doing great work, and long may that continue.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) said, this is not just about healthy eating. It is also about planning, education, labelling, and information, and the cost in healthcare if we do not do anything—we need to cover so many areas. If the aim of this debate was to give the Government ideas about what they could do to help in this area, then I am sure that by the end of it that will have been achieved.

2.7 pm

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston). I agreed with everything he said, including his disagreement with the hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince). I also agree with the points made by the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double). We are both members of the SAS—Surfers Against Sewage, that is, before people get the wrong idea.

I congratulate the Chair of the Health Committee, the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), on introducing this debate. As she will know, I have been active in this area, not least in the Sugar in Food and Drinks (Targets, Labelling and Advertising) Bill, which has its Second Reading tomorrow. The Bill basically asks for sugar labelling because people do not realise how much sugar they are eating. As I said earlier, this morning I bought three products from Portcullis House: a can of Coke, which has nine spoonfuls of sugar, the daily limit for a man; a container of yogurt, which has seven spoonfuls, more than a woman is allowed; and a Snickers bar, which has five spoonfuls.

The reason for a focus on fizzy drinks, other than the reasons set by the Chair of the Health Committee, is that they represent a very large proportion of the overall sugar intake of children, and so they represent an easy big hit, early on. There was a trading of statistics about the efficacy of sugar taxes, but we need only look at the elasticity of demand for fizzy drinks. Part of my background

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is in marketing products in multinational companies—not these products. I was the marketing manager for Colgate, for example. People have talked about the impact on teeth. When I was at Colgate, we thought that with the advent of fluoride we were going to see the end of tooth decay. However, there has been such a big increase in the consumption of fizzy drinks through focused marketing, that we have turned the corner and gone into reverse, and people’s teeth are dropping out. The point about marketing aimed at children highlights some of the demographic differences in the impact of sugar, because high consumers of television tend to be less well-off people who pick up brand awareness from watching it and then follow those brands.

I am in favour of labels noting the number of spoonfuls of sugar. I know that the Minister will say that there are issues with packaging in Europe, but my understanding is that, while there is a European competence, we have a national opportunity to do our own thing, and that is what we should do. Jamie Oliver and the Health Committee are following up on that. Retailers could put pressure on manufacturers to take voluntary action, but, sadly, even though retailers claim they are doing so, they are not taking proper responsibility, certainly not on cola drinks, which is a massive problem.

At one point in my distant past, I promoted the School Meals and Nutrition Bill. Its suggestions that Ofsted should be required to audit nutrition in schools and to get rid of unhealthy vending were agreed. I also still stand by its suggestion to gate children in schools so that they could not run to McDonald’s or elsewhere at lunchtime.

Obesity is costing the economy about £47 billion a year. This is not just about diabetes and the cost to the NHS, which is terribly important; the overall economy is suffering. Members have mentioned bullying in school, but obesity also has an effect on people’s quality of life. It is uncomfortable and those who are obese live shorter lives. If people know that one jar of pasta sauce has six teaspoonfuls of sugar and another has three, they will be able to make a rational choice; otherwise they will pick the one that is sweeter. The mechanisms available are simple. Members have also mentioned the need to encourage exercise, which is clearly very important.

On the main thrust of the debate, I agree with a fizzy drinks tax, but I want us to move towards an ingredient tax, which would mesh into the reformulation. Professor Graham MacGregor, who is now working with Action on Sugar, has been instrumental in getting the salt content down through reformulation. As I have said, if a 10% tax is put on a Hobnob, for example, the producer could reduce the amount of sugar and the price would not go up.

There are concerns about regressive taxation. The sad fact is that poorer people find it more difficult to afford fresh foods. People pooh-pooh that argument, but if various products are mashed up with sugar, salt and fat and then frozen, they will stay on the shelf for months on end. However, if produce has to be sold within a week because it is going to decay, it will be more expensive, which causes problems. There is a case to be made for taking the revenues from the tax and hypothecating it to provide easier access to fresh foods for people with less money. As well as putting up the

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prices of sugar-rich products, we need to provide information. We have a battery of opportunity to confront this difficult task.

It has been suggested that multinationals have been helping. Such companies are rational, focused and see the lie of the land. They know that people have cottoned on to the fact that sugar consumption is costing the country an arm and a leg, sometimes literally. Productivity is down and costs are up, and they know that the Government will ultimately take action, so they are following a rational trajectory. We need to encourage them to do so.

We have heard stories about elasticity of demand before. As every economist knows, when the price is put up, demand goes down. That is not a point of argument. Certain manufacturers used to say that there was nothing wrong with smoking. We know there is a problem with sugar. The emerging science suggests that if, for example, I and the hon. Member for Colchester both consumed 2,000 calories a day but I took in more sugar than him, over time I would develop a predisposition that meant that more of the calories I consumed would settle as fat. I would then feel hungry and listless and become obese. There are, therefore, other issues associated with sugar consumption.

The World Health Organisation has said that the sugar calorie intake should be 5%. Those of us here know that that means six spoonfuls for women and nine spoonfuls for men, but people out there do not realise how much sugar they are supposed to have, and even if they did they are not able to calculate it. Public Health England has produced an app that enables people to scan products with their phone to find out how many cubes of sugar they are consuming. It is difficult to calculate how much sugar is in one chunk of chocolate and in the bar as a whole. It would be better if it was all clearly labelled, without having to go through that process. The app is helpful and I welcome it, but it is not a serious solution.

Dr Tania Mathias (Twickenham) (Con): I concur with the hon. Gentleman on labelling. Does he agree that, whether we label a chocolate bar or fruit, we need information on sucrose, glucose and fructose? We need to know how many of those chemicals are in everything we consume, including fruit.

Geraint Davies: I agree that people should be aware of that. My big beef, as it were, is that people do not know how much added sugar they are consuming. For instance, they do not know if there is twice as much sugar in one jar of pasta sauce than another. People need to know how much sugar they are taking in. To a certain extent, people prefer naturally occurring sugar in bananas and similar products, but I agree with the hon. Lady that people should know what they are eating.

The manufacturers argue that they have done everything they can. The back of a packet of Frosties has all the information, so long as people have a PhD and a lens through which to read the data. Products are packaged in such a way as to give the impression that they are healthy. The Bill that I am promoting tomorrow argues that products should not be allowed to be promoted as low fat when they are in fact high in sugar, because people infer from that that they are healthy. It also

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proposes an overall, aggregate sugar target—similar to a carbon target—so that the Government can see how much sugar we are consuming overall and gradually manage strategies to get it down.

2.16 pm

Dr Tania Mathias (Twickenham) (Con): May I join other Members in applauding my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) for securing this important debate? I did not come across paediatric type 2 diabetes when I was a medical student. Perhaps her experience was similar to mine. Like many people, I was shocked to find at the turn of the century that there were instances in this country of childhood type 2 diabetes. There are now more than 100 cases a year in this country of that incredibly serious condition. Just a few months ago, a three-year-old in America was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. The treatment involved decreasing the weight of the child, who was obese.

I believe that the Minister’s strategy should be cultural. The papers show that more evidence is emerging and it is prescient. It involves not just genetics, but nurture. Studies of children who have been adopted by obese parents show that there is a risk that they will have childhood obesity.

On culture, I, like others, have seen many households with a TV room but no dining room. Families do not eat at a dining table in the same way as previous generations did. Members have talked in depth about the cultural change relating to exercise. I applaud the head of St Ninians in Stirling, who introduced a 1-mile-a-day idea for the primary schoolchildren. Interestingly, obesity levels on entry to the school are not as high as those in other schools; the figure a few years ago was one in 10. There is now an association—we are not talking about causation—between the 1 mile a day and pupils leaving St Ninians without being obese. That lady has rightly been given Pride of Britain awards. I want that culture change to continue and for the House to applaud it.

At the moment, I am not in favour of new taxation. In our culture, we can access such information. I absolutely agree with what everybody has said about better labelling, and we need more of it. However, as I said to the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), we need information about all the foods we eat—about fruit and vegetables, as well as about fast food. There is a debate about using sucrose as opposed to fructose, but we need to be aware of all such chemicals. In our culture today, we can give people that information. I would like to have such information myself.

As we get more evidence, the treatment and management of, as well as education about, childhood obesity will rise to the levels available for adult obesity. For many people, the concern is not about the obesity itself, but about its medical consequences. An obese adult who goes to their GP can look at the algorithm or the chart, and discuss the five or 10-year risk of their developing cardiovascular problems. If we give parents such information about their child, they will, in time, change their family habits. They do not want their child to have an increased five or 10-year risk of cardiovascular complications.

Geraint Davies: On that basis, does the hon. Lady advocate removing the tax on cigarettes?

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Dr Mathias: The hon. Gentleman is testing me. I would say yes if I followed the argument all the way through, but I would not now go back on the tax on cigarettes. In my experience, education and information are the most powerful factors. Sadly, all GPs have treated people who later died from lung cancer. In my limited experience, it is information, not the effect on their pocket, that will change such people’s behaviour. I want an obesity strategy that will provide such information, because I trust the patient to make an informed choice. For me, the facts and the evidence are key.

We need to hold up a mirror to our culture at the moment. We have a culture of fast food and little exercise. I want that to flip to become a culture of slow food and more exercise. I encourage the Minister to look at such a culture, rather than at taxation.

2.22 pm

Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP): Before I begin, I want to add my voice to those of other Members in thanking the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) for securing this debate.

Childhood obesity is a problem across the UK, and the devolved legislatures as well as the UK Government must do all they can to tackle the problem, both in the short and the long term, for the benefit of our children and tomorrow’s citizens, to relieve the health problems obesity all too often creates, and for our long-term economic sustainability, as has been outlined this afternoon. All corners of the UK can learn from each other, and I hope they will. The Scottish Government have been working hard on this concern by taking forward a number of initiatives to enable people more easily to become active, to eat more healthily and generally to find ways of feeling better through an improved lifestyle.

There is no silver bullet, as we all know. We all agree that there is a significant problem. We must take into account the clear socioeconomic considerations that have a direct effect on the health of our children in general and on obesity in particular. The SNP Scottish Government are implementing several measures both to combat and to prevent childhood, and indeed adult, obesity. However, there are far too many to mention in the limited time available.

It is worth remembering that fruit and vegetable consumption among the poorest 20% has fallen by 20% since the recession began, with children’s diets being hit hard. On a number of national indicators of obesity and childhood obesity in Scotland, performance is improving or being maintained. In particular, physical activity performance has improved. The SNP Scottish Government are working well with schools and local authorities to ensure that children are more physically active. My local authority, North Ayrshire Council, has developed its own outdoor access strategy.

Much has been made today about imposing a sugar tax. The food we consume all too often contains significant quantities of sugar, of which many of us are seldom aware. I know that both the UK and the Scottish Government are considering a sugar tax. It is certainly an option that we are quite right to consider, but we must be careful about a tax that may, disproportionately, hit the poorest hardest. We all know that eating healthily is not always affordable for families on a tight budget, and a sugar tax must not be held up as a panacea for a

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very complex problem. If it is introduced, we must be certain that it has a positive impact on our health, without the unintended consequence of increasing inequalities.

We pay the price for our poor choices. We pay the price with our health and with our life expectancy, due to the development of serious health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer. This puts more demands on our health services, and those demands will become greater unless we tackle this problem. The Health Committee has recently heard that the cost to society of this problem is £27 billion.

Beyond the cost in pounds, shillings and pence, overweight children face other problems, such as bullying, social exclusion, lack of self-confidence, unfulfilled potential and underachievement in school, which plague them long into adulthood and feed into their job prospects for many years afterwards. In Scotland, about 31% of children were at risk of becoming overweight in 2014, and 17% were at risk of obesity. Although those figures have stabilised in recent years, they are still worryingly high.

Research in Scotland shows that factors associated with children being overweight or obese include snacking on crisps or sweets between meals, skipping breakfast, not eating in a dining room at home and a lack of parental supervision, not enough physical activity and greater social deprivation. A higher proportion of children are at risk of obesity in Scotland’s most deprived areas—22% in 2014, compared with13% for the least deprived. Any action to tackle this problem must be sensitive to that fact. Any debate about how to make our children healthier must avoid wagging fingers at parents, who, often in very difficult circumstances, are doing the very best they can. It is important to support people to make healthy choices where possible, not to shake our heads at them in righteous condemnation.

I end by making an important point for us all. Food labelling must be part of the solution. Although labels telling us what is in our food have improved over the years, in my view they are still too complex. One should not need to be a pseudo-scientist to understand what is in the food one buys. Labels must be clearer for shoppers so that parents are fully informed about what is in the food they eat and in the food they feed to their children.

There is no doubt that there are challenges ahead, but we must take people with us in this debate. How and what people feed their children can be a sensitive matter. Parents of course want the best for their children, and we must support and enable all parents to make the best choices for their children. Otherwise, regardless of what we say in this place, they just will not swallow it.

2.28 pm

Maggie Throup (Erewash) (Con): I am pleased to contribute to this debate as chair of the newly reformed all-party group on adult and childhood obesity. The group has been set up to bring together Members of both Houses and parliamentarians of all parties who want to explore the best ways to lower the obesity rate. There is no doubt that such a group is needed. It barely needs repeating, but two thirds of adults are obese or overweight, as are more than a third of children. Such a pressing public policy issue demands the constructive involvement of parliamentarians, and I welcome today’s debate as a means of highlighting the need for action. My vision is for the all-party group to become a forum

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for lively discussion of practical ways in which we can support people both to live healthier lives themselves and to help their children grow up healthy.

I understand why the role of the Government is a tricky one when it comes to tackling obesity. Some Government involvement is vital, but a Government cannot simply pass a law to make people eat healthier food and give healthier food to their children or legislate for a certain amount of exercise each day. What the Government can do is produce strategies, ideally for both children and adults, that lay out a longer-term solution for what is a long-term problem.

The worst thing that a Government could do would be to publish such proposals and then forget about them. Fortunately, the APPG will be there to keep an eye on the progress that is made, or not, and to work with the Government to promote what works and point out what does not work. I hope that Members on both sides of the House this afternoon, including my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince), with whom I usually agree, are interested in getting involved in the group, because all are welcome.

Let us focus specifically on childhood obesity, not forgetting that adults are role models. Our children are our future and it would be irresponsible as legislators not to take the future health of our nation extremely seriously. We must take whatever action is needed to address this issue. We can see the impact of obesity on the lives of adults in an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and the life-changing complications that go with it, and cancer. All those medical conditions are life-limiting. Why would obesity have a different effect on children from the one it has on adults? It does not.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) said, the Health Committee report on childhood obesity called for “brave and bold action”. That brave and bold action is needed from Government, the food and drinks industry, food outlets, educators and healthcare professionals. But let us not forget that all that will be wasted unless people take personal responsibility. This is a huge issue and fiddling at the edges will not work.

Today, there has been a lot of focus on the proposal for a sugary drinks tax. I was originally against it, but when I saw the compelling evidence, I changed my opinion, like my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double). A sugary drinks tax should be just one of a range of measures. I believe that the food and drink industry can and should implement many of the measures that are needed without the need for legislation. The industry can make changes without legislation, given the will, and that is already happening.

In the run-up to this debate, I received many emails from organisations on both sides of the argument. I had one email from a leading supermarket, outlining the measures that it is taking. Those include reducing sugar in its range of breakfast cereals, chilled juices, fizzy drinks and yoghurts. I know that reformulations do not happen overnight, but I would like to think that the extra focus on obesity over recent months, including in Jamie Oliver’s campaign, has embarrassed manufacturers into making changes to their formulations in their own way, rather than as a result of legislation.

There is still more to be done. I am sure that we have all bought a newspaper from a well-known high street newsagents and been offered a mega-sized bar of chocolate

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at a special price. I do not know about my fellow Members, but if I want a bar of chocolate to eat while reading my newspaper, I will buy one without being asked—not that I do that, of course! What I am saying is that some manufacturers and retailers are taking the current and future health of our nation seriously and acting responsibly, but sadly others are not.

The causes of obesity are extremely complex and numerous, so it would be wrong of me just to focus on sugar. Fats, saturated fats and salt all have an impact on our weight, as does exercise. For adults—not for children, I hasten to add—alcohol also has an effect. It is because of this complexity that we cannot rely on just one measure. The Health Committee has made a range of recommendations, as has been outlined.

Regular exercise has a role to play. One of my local primary schools, Ladywood in Kirk Hallam, makes exercise fun. It is a member of the Erewash school sports partnership, it has active dinner playtimes and it links up with the secondary school, Kirk Hallam Community Academy, to take part in “This Girl Can”. We need to inspire young people at an early stage to make exercise a part of their way of life.

We must not forget that we need to consider cure as well as prevention. I have spoken to a number of healthcare professionals about this matter. Although it is important to recognise that people need to take personal responsibility for their own lifestyle, it is important not to stigmatise people who are obese. We must ensure that people recognise it as a condition, as they would with any other medical condition.

Obesity is a ticking time bomb. As politicians, we have a responsibility for the current and future health of our nation. I am ready to address it straight on.

2.35 pm

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP): I am glad to be able to speak in this debate and hope that what I say will provide a different kind of insight into the debate on childhood obesity.

I am a great enthusiast for breastfeeding. Breast milk has many exceptional qualities, the most obvious being that it is exactly the right thing for infants to be eating. In the beginning, there is the double cream of breast milk, colostrum, which appears before a baby is even born in preparation for those first feeds. The milk that comes thereafter changes and adapts over time as the baby’s needs change. Breast milk has everything that a baby needs and, taken directly from source, it has the advantage of being at the correct temperature. It is easily absorbed by the infant gut. It is a miracle of nature.

What breastfeeding contributes to this debate is the impact that it can have on reducing childhood obesity. An excellent study was pulled together by UNICEF a few years ago called, “Preventing disease and saving resources: the potential contribution of increasing breastfeeding rates in the UK”. The report analysed data from many studies to ensure that there was a sound scientific basis for the claims that it made. Although I accept that giving precise figures and modelling on this is difficult, the UNICEF report estimates that:

“A modest increase in breastfeeding rates could result in a reduction in childhood obesity by circa 5%. If this was the case, the number of obese young children would fall by approximately 16,300, and annual health-care expenditures would reduce by circa £1.63 million.”

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That would be no mean contribution. Breastfeeding starts babies off on the right track and, with the accompanying health benefits, such an increase could result in a generation of healthier babies and young people.

The Government should bear that in mind and ensure that services to promote, protect and support breastfeeding are well maintained. This is too important to be left to the good will of the wonderful network of voluntary organisations across the country. It needs to be an identified priority of this Government. The newly formed all-party parliamentary group on infant feeding and inequalities, which I established this week with colleagues from across the House, aims to examine the matter further. We will consider the issues of inequality, because there are multiple deprivation issues, with lower rates of breastfeeding in deprived communities.

What is less well known about infant formula is the specific contents of that product. It takes a complex chemical process to produce formula that involves either dry blending or wet mixing and spray drying, in which cow’s milk is treated with added lactose or other carbohydrates, vegetable and other oils, vitamins and minerals. According to the First Steps Nutrition Trust, the current regulations require infant formula and follow-on formula to have an energy content of between 60 kcal and 70 kcal per 100 ml. Those figures are based on the energy content of breast milk, but, as I mentioned earlier, breast milk composition changes in response to the baby as it grows. Breast milk also has more unsaturated fats than cow’s milk and the fats in infant formula tend to come from the vegetable oil. If anyone has an interest in finding out more about this, I recommend that they seek out the “Infant milks in the UK” report that is produced by the First Steps Nutrition Trust. The level of detail is fascinating.

There are differences between the growth curves of breastfed and formula-fed babies, with the formula-fed babies gaining more weight in the first year. Some studies suggest that that may, in part, contribute to childhood obesity. Pressure is also put on mothers to ensure that their baby is gaining the correct amount of weight. We should consider how formula milk is delivered. I have heard many people describe how many millilitres of formula their baby has drunk at any given time, comparing and contrasting this with others. There is an expectation of how much is normal.

There is a risk in the making up of formula milk, because one must ensure that the correct dosage of powder is dissolved in the water. If this is not done accurately, there is a risk of babies being overfed or, indeed, underfed. The risk of that is far lower for breastfed babies, although I admit that I could only really tell how much breast milk my babies had by the amount that they both threw up all over me. There is not really any other way of telling.

Mrs Hodgson: I agree with everything the hon. Lady has said so far. As she knows, I took part in the debate that she led in Westminster Hall on this issue. The point that she is making is very important. I was an evangelical breastfeeder myself and still encourage everyone to do it in every which way they can. She makes the point that breastfed babies feed on demand, so they take as much or as little as they need, whereas when babies are bottle fed, there is an obsession with whether they have taken half a bottle, 8 ml or whatever. Parents inadvertently

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force-feed their baby the amount they think they should have, rather than what the baby needs, so babies get used to being full. As we all know, that is not necessarily good and can lead to the bad habits in adulthood that I spoke about earlier.

Alison Thewliss: I absolutely agree with what my good friend says. Bottle feeding tends to be at a set time—“Is it time for the baby’s feed yet?”—rather than when the baby actually needs to be fed, whereas breastfed babies are fed little and often on demand, which is a slightly better habit to get into.

There is also a beneficial effect on breastfeeding mothers. As well as reducing the risk of cancer and diabetes, breastfeeding burns calories and helps to get mothers back to their pre-maternity weight—for me the prospect of burning an extra 400 to 500 calories just by breastfeeding my baby was very attractive, and it certainly helped me to fit back into the clothes that I wore before I had my children, both of whom were breastfed for two years.

I was interested in the findings of the Select Committee report, and I particularly note the points about marketing and sugar content in foods. I was a wee bit disappointed that it does not contain much discussion on baby foods and toddler milks, as there are significant issues in that area regarding the advertising and the content of the products. In evidence to the Committee, Dr Colin Michie of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health stated:

“Follow-on formulas are not necessary for human beings, but it would not seem so if you watch television. The problem is we are all very convinced by the stories. There are other issues that have parallels for what was said earlier in that the milk companies sponsor education, training, events and an awful lot of professional activities, which again does exactly, to our minds, what we heard it does to infants’ minds: when we see brand names, we equate certain things with them. It is an insidious business that we know enough of to be very wary of.”

The artificial creation of a market for follow-on or toddler milks is of some concern, because those products are not subject to the same level of scrutiny as formulas for very young babies. Research gathered by the First Steps Nutrition Trust suggests that

“Growing-up milks and toddler milks contain almost twice as much sugar per 100 ml as cow’s milk, and some Aptamil and Cow & Gate growing-up milks and all SMA growing-up milks contain vanilla flavouring. It is unclear whether repeated exposure to sweet drinks in infancy and toddlerhood might contribute to the development of a preference for sweet drinks in later life.”

It is important to take cognisance of that and consider the issue as part of the obesity strategy.

Dr Wollaston: I thank the hon. Lady for her powerful contribution, and I completely agree with what she says. I also agree that the advertising of follow-on milks is a covert form of advertising infant formula. Does she feel that that should be completely banned?

Alison Thewliss: Absolutely, and a lot of the advertising is very—I supposed we could say cunning. Products are made to look the same on the shelves and to match the adverts for follow-on milks, rather than those for the younger infant formulas, and more needs to be done about that.

The sugars in follow-on milks are not always made clear on the packaging, and that should certainly be of concern to us in this House. Establishing a sugar habit at such an early age should be discouraged, and as was said earlier, that also has an impact on the teeth of a

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growing child. Baby Milk Action has campaigned tirelessly on the marketing of formula, and it has been involved in challenging those issues in the European Parliament. There are related issues concerning the marketing and composition of baby food, and about the jars and packets found in supermarkets, which are often marketed at babies under six months, contrary to World Health Organisation advice.

Pressure from groups such as Baby Milk Action, and actions by MEPs such as the Green MEP Keith Taylor, led yesterday to the European Parliament rejecting draft EU rules on baby food. If they had been approved, they would have allowed baby foods to contain high levels of sugar, and products to be labelled for use from four months of age, rather than from six months, which is the advice. As a result, the Commission has been forced back to the drawing board to bring the regulations in line with recommendations of the WHO and the World Health Assembly, and to fit better with the international code on such issues. I would like further debate on the composition of baby foods, how they are marketed, where they are placed in supermarkets, and what advice is given to parents. Again, the sugar content and the rationale behind waiting until six months before bringing babies on to solid foods is not always made clear to parents.

Advice on such matters has changed over the years and has sometimes been conflicting, and well-meaning advice from family members can cause doubt in the minds of new parents. People need to have the best advice on feeding. All agencies should be clear about the advice that they give out, and we must guard the most vulnerable babies in our society against the vested interests of wealthy baby food and formula companies that seek to exert influence on professionals and groups giving out that advice. I hope that these issues will be given due consideration in the debate on obesity, and that thought will be given to the contribution that breastfeeding can make to improving infant and maternal health.

2.45 pm

Mrs Flick Drummond (Portsmouth South) (Con): I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), who has established the fantastic all-party group on infant feeding and inequalities. I am looking forward to being part of that as it progresses, and I thank her for setting it up.

The chief executive of NHS England describes obesity as “the new smoking”, and in many ways he is right. Obesity leads to a multitude of health complications, ranging from lack of mobility to cancer. There are also many hidden health risks for people who are obese or severely overweight. Obesity can lead to a lack of self-worth or depression, and it can affect relationships and careers. Because of the growing obesity problem, and the very serious threat to our children’s futures, I am happy that this debate is taking place, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) on securing it.

In my constituency of Portsmouth South, 20% of children and 25% of adults are obese, which is above the average for England. In other ways, obesity is unlike smoking—there is no “vaping” technology for people who struggle to maintain a healthy diet. We know that fast food is an immediate satisfaction, whereas healthy food can take longer to prepare. I am concerned, however, that some studies suggest that healthy food is more

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expensive than the fast and unhealthy food that we see on offer every day, or positioned conveniently at supermarket checkouts.

I am particularly concerned by a fairly recent report by the University of Cambridge, which found that healthy food was three times more expensive than unhealthy food. I would dispute that. It is perfectly possible to eat healthily on a low budget. As Baroness Jenkin from the other place has shown, someone can live healthily on £1 a day, and I know from my own busy household that it is possible to live healthily on a very small budget. At the local food bank where I volunteered before the election we handed out healthy recipes for the food that was provided, which should have lasted people for three days. I am sure that I do not need to repeat what that issue means for those living in deprived areas, except to say that in my constituency of Portsmouth South, where deprivation is higher than the English average, the challenge to encourage people to eat healthy food is even greater.

The whole House will agree that today our nation’s children are more susceptible and at risk of becoming obese. Children do not control their diets—it is the parents who do the weekly shop—and we would never blame a child for their poor dietary choices. Children who develop obesity at a young age are at risk of developing lifelong conditions, some of which are also life-limiting; as we have heard, cases of diabetes are increasing. During childhood, people develop habits that can last the rest of their lives. A lot of facts have been flying around in this debate, and although I understand the financial burden that a growing obesity problem poses for our NHS, the human cost cannot be quantified.

The solution to this problem is not simply more money. As other Members have said, it requires the energy and commitment of central and local government, health organisations, and our local charities, to educate the population on how to live on a low wage. I am really pleased that the Roberts Centre in my constituency is a family-focused charity. It offers a range of services offering support and assistance, including making healthier lifestyle choices, to some of the most disadvantaged families in the city.

Mrs Hodgson: On the hon. Lady’s point about living healthily on a low wage, I take on board that it is very possible to make healthy food very cheaply, but people need the skills and knowledge to be able do that. I wonder whether she will say a bit more about that. The School Food Plan says that education should start with children learning the skills they need to be able to look after themselves as adults.

Mrs Drummond: That is exactly what I was going to come on to, so I thank the hon. Lady very much indeed.

Last week, I met Home Start, a national family charity with a strong presence in Portsmouth. It has an army of volunteers who offer unconditional help and support to all families who need help in getting it right, and show them how to cook healthily. There is, however, a major role for our schools in tackling obesity. The school where I am a governor, Milton Park primary, is taking the lead locally in educating children about healthier choices. The cooks at the school have won awards and I can recommend their so-called “chocolate muffins,” which in fact are made of beetroot.

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I would like to see cooking classes become mandatory in schools. I know it would be difficult to re-establish kitchens, but the rewards would be worth it. I see that as the only way to prevent future generations from continuing poor eating habits. The only way to do that is by teaching them how to cook healthily and how to budget. Like some of my colleagues, I was against a sugar tax to start with. If we can use the sugar tax to fund cooking classes in schools, however, then I am all for it.

In Portsmouth, there are a number of charitable organisations actively engaging with the community to help to tackle obesity through a more active lifestyle. Affiliated with Portsmouth football club, Pompey in the Community provides education and opportunities for children in the city.

Geraint Davies: The hon. Lady makes some interesting points about the relationship between nutrition and poverty. Does she agree that it is a good idea to provide free school breakfasts in school? They help poorer children in particular to achieve and to know what good food tastes like.

Mrs Drummond: I totally agree. I also back the attempt by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) to get free school meals for everybody receiving the pupil premium. That is a very good point; I am thinking particularly of a healthy breakfast with porridge, not necessarily sugar-laden cereals.

Not only does Pompey in the Community provide a lot of the physical education curriculum in local schools, but it runs a number of out-of-school and holiday clubs. There are plenty of sports clubs in Portsmouth. I would like to see a lot more outreach from sports clubs to children from low-income families. The Portsmouth Sail Training Trust does this with sailing, focusing solely on children from low-income backgrounds. More sports clubs need to get out and do this, too. Perhaps we could use the sugar tax to help to fund some of those sports activities. I would also like to see more sport in the curriculum, with the possibility of at least one hour of activity every day. We heard about a school doing one mile a day. Every school should be doing that. I would like the Department for Education and the Department of Health to lead on more sport in school, perhaps with extended days to fit it in.

Often the simplest changes are the most effective. By encouraging our children to walk to school, and by continuing to develop nutritional education, I am sure we will see more positive results. Members on both sides of the House talk a lot about tackling deprivation in our communities. It is crystal clear that the House must now turn its energy towards fighting the terrible problem of obesity, through education and providing more opportunities for an active lifestyle.

2.52 pm

Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP): I thank the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) for securing this extremely important debate. It is not listed in my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, but I must declare a terrible sweet tooth, which gives me great experience from which to speak in this debate.

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Over preceding decades, there have been profound changes in the UK in the relationship we have with food. Historically, the public health challenges we faced tended to relate to under-nutrition and unsafe food and water. However, in modern society, those issues have largely been replaced by the risks of poor diet. Food is now more readily available and there have been significant changes in how we eat, the type of foods we consume, and how they are produced and marketed. Busy lifestyles and easy access to convenience and processed foods have helped them to become a staple part of many families’ diets.

In general, we over-consume foods high in fat, sugar and salt, and we do not eat enough fruit, vegetables, fibre and oily fish. Our type of diet underlies many of the chronic diseases that cause considerable suffering, ill health and premature death. It is also a major factor in the issue of childhood obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The recently published findings from the Health Committee’s investigation into childhood obesity highlighted that one in five children is overweight or obese when they begin school. That figure was found to rise to one in three by the end of primary school. There was also evidence of inequality between different sectors of society, with those from deprived backgrounds found to fare significantly worse and to be twice as likely as their more affluent counterparts to be overweight or obese.

These figures are extremely concerning. Obesity is a serious problem that has significant implications, both on the long-term wellbeing of the individual child and on society as a whole. Many of the most serious and potentially life-shortening physical health risks that accompany obesity are well publicised and have been raised already in the Chamber today. I will not, therefore, go into them again.

Instead, I will highlight the detrimental social effects that can impact on individuals’ overall wellbeing and life chances. Research indicates that childhood obesity is associated with mental health issues in both children and adults, such as depression, low self-esteem, social isolation, self-harm and behavioural problems. It is also associated with stigma and bullying. In addition to obesity, a poor diet that includes too much sugar and acidic food substances can lead to oral health issues, which can impact on an individual’s ability to eat and socialise, and this again can adversely affect their mental health and contribute to their social isolation.

Addressing these issues will require a concerted effort to alter health choices, to address cultural and lifestyle issues and to improve our relationship with exercise and sport. It will require a multifaceted response; no single measure will do the trick. We need a response from private enterprise to improve choices and healthy options that are appealing and, importantly, cheap, as was highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson). We need to address the effect that marketing can have on children and parents and make sure it is done responsibly, as was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss). We need to enhance skills gained at school and home in cooking healthy meals, and this must be role-modelled at school, with fruit bars, water and other healthy choices that are low in fat, salt and sugar, as was discussed in detail by the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson).

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Childhood obesity must also be addressed by local commissioning in areas where fast-food outlets are placed near to schools. In one of my local areas, refuse staff are in place at school lunch times to clear up fast-food packages left by school children in shopping squares. This must be addressed and must not be encouraged. Wider Government initiatives are also required to improve food labelling. We need labelling that is understandable to families and ordinary people and which does not look like gobbledegook.

As debated today, taxation should be considered as part of an evidence-based approach. We also require an increased focus on sports, exercise and healthy pursuits as being integral to our lifestyle; increased funding; and an emphasis on engaging children and young adults in these activities and making them affordable to people from all walks of life. We know from psychological research that education, in itself, does little to change behaviour. We therefore require a Government strategy to reinforce healthy choices. This would be cost-effective in the long term for our health service and quality of life.

Geraint Davies: The hon. Lady is making a powerful and excellent speech. She might know that in Mexico the average consumption of Coca-Cola is 0.5 litres a day per person and that children are being fed Coke in baby bottles. Does she agree that the Government need to take action not just on pricing but on marketing? We cannot have this situation where people can buy two litres for 5% more, so that we have these huge stocks of Coke that people feel they have to get rid of before it loses its fizz, and everybody’s teeth fall out.

Dr Cameron: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I have pinpointed the need to address the effect of marketing on children and parents’ healthy choices.

A clear strategy would benefit our children, society as a whole and future generations. That is surely Parliament’s job. We should not shy away from a bold and effective obesity strategy.

2.58 pm

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): I pay tribute to the Backbench Business Committee for allocating time for such an important debate and to the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) for her eloquent opening speech. I also extend my thanks to the entire Health Select Committee for producing such a comprehensive report on childhood obesity. She was dead right to entitle it, “Childhood obesity—brave and bold action”, because that is precisely what is needed. I would also like to thank for their contributions my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) and the hon. Members for Colchester (Will Quince), for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double), for Strangford (Jim Shannon), for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), for Twickenham (Dr Mathias), for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), for Erewash (Maggie Throup), for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), for Portsmouth South (Mrs Drummond) and for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron)—I am sure I pronounced that kind of right.

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Returning to the Select Committee report, the starting point has to be the scale and the consequences of the problem, and this requires looking at doing things differently. Failure to act will make the problem worse—not just for the individuals concerned, but for the public purse, which will, frankly, struggle to cope with the health inequalities that we are exacerbating.

The statistics are clear. Childhood obesity is strongly linked to deprivation, almost reversing the trend of the entire history of the human race whereby malnourishment, not obesity, was the key indicator of poverty. As we know from the statistics of Public Health England, the most deprived children are twice as likely to be obese at reception and at year 6 than the least deprived children—and that gap is widening, as the hon. Member for Totnes set out.

We often get into the habit of praising the fact that a debate is even taking place here, but in this instance, the timeliness of the debate really cannot be overstated. It is no understatement to say that the Government’s strategy has been a long time coming. Although we are debating obesity today, I hope that this is not a sign that the document is being slimmed down. Today’s debate has suffered from the slight disadvantage of addressing the contents of a document that does not yet exist. Perhaps the Minister will give some certainty—perhaps even a date—on when we can expect publication of the strategy. This also presents a rare opportunity, hopefully, to influence what will eventually be published in that strategy. It is important to remember that Government can do immense good when it comes to public health.

If we think about some of the great strides in public health that we have taken in recent years—from the banning of smoking in public places to reducing the rates of teenage pregnancy—we realise that these moves came about, in part, as a result of Members putting difficult issues on to the political agenda. With that in mind, I shall focus my remarks today around the key issue of obesity and diet.

I believe that we need action to tackle the problem at the supply side on the part of food and drink companies, and also action to tackle it on the demand side, with a need for far better education on how we could be looking after ourselves, as well as give people the means to eat healthier food. We believe a comprehensive and broad approach is necessary to help families, schools and children to make the right decisions. I commend the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West, who has long been a champion of better standards of food in our schools.

In November, the Health and Social Care Information Centre released data showing that one in every five children leaving primary school are classified as obese, and one in every three children are either obese or overweight. Frankly, those figures should shame each and every one of us. Although there has been a shift in providing healthier, more nutritious meals at schools, so many of the problems start before school or at least outside of school hours.

Between April and September 2015, Trussell Trust food banks in Greater Manchester, which includes my constituency, gave 22,739 three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis. Some 8,666 of those three-day emergency food supplies were given to children. When so many families are having to rely on food banks to feed their children, they may be limited in their ability

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to provide fresh and healthy meals. In these upsetting circumstances, feeding their child something is better than seeing them go hungry. Wider problems of poverty must be addressed to ensure that people have access to good diets. How does the Minister plan to help families who are having to rely on food banks to improve their duets?

Funding is a crucial side issue. Following the removal of protected status from all Department of Health budgets that are not controlled by NHS England, the pot of money that pays for public health will be subjected to huge cuts in the coming years. That will have a significant impact on Public Health England, and could put at risk our ability to tackle obesity to the necessary extent. It could also put at risk the future of public awareness campaigns, many of which have been a great success. The cuts in the public health grant to local authorities could drastically reduce the amount of support that is available locally to those who want to lose weight or have a healthier lifestyle. I should be interested to hear from the Minister how the public health cuts in the coming years are consistent with the emphasis on prevention in the Five Year Forward View, and, in particular, whether the crucial issue of funding will be addressed in the forthcoming strategy.

Geraint Davies: Obviously funds are tight, but does my hon. Friend agree that if we introduce a sugar tax, it will ease the burden and enable us to focus our fire on reducing obesity in other ways?

Andrew Gwynne: That may well be the case, but we must of course ensure that any income raised by such a tax is reinvested in public health.

It is also important to increase levels of physical activity among adults and children throughout the United Kingdom. Inactivity is a key factor in ill health, and it is important that we encourage children to maintain active lifestyles from an early age. I believe that increasing the opportunities for young people to get involved in physical activity is just as important as improving diets. Treating obesity and its consequences alone currently costs the NHS £5.1 billion every year. Given that nearly 25% of adults, 10% of four to five-year-olds and 19% of 10 to 11-year-olds in England are classified as obese, the human and financial cost of inaction is significant. We must do much more to ingrain physical activity in our daily lives, whether that means walking instead of driving or taking the stairs instead of the lift. Every little helps.

A number of Members have touched on a point that is crucial to the debate. Many people have argued that the Government should introduce some form of tax on sugary products, particularly soft drinks, and the debate on that issue goes far beyond the Chamber. Public figures such as Jamie Oliver have come out in support of a sugar tax, and he has made a compelling case. However, the issue is complex, and I do not think that the answer is necessarily straightforward. Labour Members have always feared that a sugar tax, in itself, could be regressive, and that it would focus attention on consumers, many of whom are addicted to sugar, rather than manufacturers, who should be reducing the amount of sugar in their products. That said, however, I suggest to the Minister that it is right for us to look at the emerging

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evidence from other countries, which has shown that where similar taxes have been introduced they have had a positive effect, not least in changing behaviour.

Will Quince: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Andrew Gwynne: I am afraid not. I do not have time.

It has not escaped my attention that the Prime Minister has effectively gone from ruling out a sugar tax to not ruling out a sugar tax. I hope that the Minister will clarify the Government's position, but, in any event, it seems that the forthcoming strategy will mark a departure from the ineffective voluntary approach that they have favoured in recent years. The public health responsibility deal has seen firms making all sorts of promises and then hijacking the agenda to promote their own products, ultimately failing to fulfil their pledges. At the time of its introduction, organisations such as the Royal College of Physicians and Alcohol Concern complained that the pledges were not specific or measurable, and that the food and drink industry had simply dictated the Government’s policy.

I hope that the Government will take a much stronger line with industry than it has taken previously, because it must be incumbent on industry to reduce the amount of sugar in products, including comparable products in the European Union that are boxed in exactly the same way, but contain significantly different amounts of sugar and other ingredients. I also hope that if the Government are forthcoming with a fiscal solution, that is part of a much larger and comprehensive strategy of measures. I do not think anyone would try to argue that a sugar tax on its own is a silver bullet. I want food and drinks manufacturers to reduce sugar in their products, and we need to ensure that that happens.

I thank everyone who has spoken in the debate, and I hope the Minister will consider the many excellent contributions when the Government put the final touches to the childhood obesity strategy.

3.10 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Jane Ellison): I am delighted to respond to the debate on behalf of the Government, and, following on from what the shadow Minister just said, I welcome the opportunity to take forward all the points made in the many excellent and well-informed—although occasionally a little confessional—contributions. It is a timely debate that will make a valuable contribution as we finalise our strategy.

The House is at a slight advantage as it has the chance to influence, but I am at a disadvantage as we have yet to publish the strategy and therefore I have to talk in slightly more general terms.

I welcome the Health Committee’s recent report, which we have debated once already, and its previous report, “Impact of physical activity and diet on health”. We will be formally responding to the Health Committee’s most recent report soon.

There is no denying that in England, and indeed globally, we have an obesity problem. Many shocking statistics have been given in this debate and I will not repeat them, but many Members on both sides of the House dwelled on the health inequalities issue—the gap that is emerging—and I will come back to that. My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince)

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drew our attention what is, in effect, a stabilising of childhood obesity statistics, although it is at far too high a level. As he acknowledged, there is a pronounced gap between different income groups.

Once weight is gained, it can be difficult to lose and obese children are much more likely to become obese adults. In adulthood, obesity is a leading cause of serious diseases such as type 2 diabetes—as the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) and others mentioned—heart disease and cancer. It is also a major risk factor for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

We also know that eating too much sugar is linked to tooth decay; it was good to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) make that point. In 2013-14 over 62,000 children were admitted to hospital for the extraction of teeth. This is a serious procedure that frequently requires a general anaesthetic. Children should not have to go through this.

Many Members highlighted—I think there is consensus on this—that there is no silver bullet to tackle obesity. That means that in order to reduce rates we need a range of measures and all of us, and all the parts of our society mentioned in the debate, have a part to play, as our forthcoming strategy will make clear.

Sometimes in the national debate around obesity people question the role of the state and how it should intervene to drive change. In the face of such high obesity rates, with such significant implications for the life chances of a generation, it is right that tackling obesity, particularly in children, is one of this Government’s major priorities, and we showed the priority we place on the issue by making it a manifesto commitment.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South (Mrs Drummond) said, the human cost is enormous. Young children in particular have limited influence over their choices and Government have a history of intervening to protect them: we do not question the requirement that younger children use car seats on the grounds of safety, for example. Children deserve protecting from the effects of obesity, for their current and future health and wellbeing and to ensure they have the same life chances as other children, especially those in better-off parts of our society.

As I have said, I was struck by how many Members alluded to the health inequalities issue. There is strong evidence of a link between obesity and lower income groups. The obesity prevalence among reception-year children living in the most deprived areas was 12% compared with 5.7% and that gap rose to 25% as against 11.5% respectively by the time they leave primary school. That is not acceptable, and we must take action to tackle it.

Any Government with a state-funded health service also have a responsibility to take an interest in the nation’s health to ensure the sustainability of the NHS. The huge cost of treating lifestyle-related type 2 diabetes has been mentioned by a number of Members. Our election manifesto supported the programme for prevention set out in the NHS England’s Five Year Forward View, which states that

“the future health of millions of children, the sustainability of the NHS, and the economic prosperity of Britain all now depend on a radical upgrade in prevention and public health.”

Tackling obesity is a key component of this work. I accept the challenge from the shadow Minister about

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budgets, but I can give him the assurance that over the spending review period we are still going to be spending £16 billion on public health. We can complement local action with national initiatives, and we will talk more about that when we publish our strategy.

We are continuing to invest in the Change4Life campaign, which has been going on for many years. We have learned a lot from it, and we now have valuable evidence about what works and what provides motivation and support for families to make small but significant improvements. On 4 January, we launched the new Sugar Smart app to encourage parents to take control of how much sugar their children eat and drink. Members have described how people can scan the barcode on any of the thousands of everyday products that are catered for by the algorithm. This allows people to visualise the number of 4 gram sugar cubes the product contains. In the first 10 days of the campaign, about 800,000 people downloaded the sugar app. That is a great success, and an example of how we can empower families with information so that they can make decisions about their diet. A number of Members made that point, including my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double), who talked about the role of families.

Geraint Davies: Will the Minister give way?

Jane Ellison: I do not think I have time. I think I know what the hon. Gentleman is about to say, and we have had the teaspoon discussion before. I recommend the sugar app to him; he acknowledged its introduction in his speech, for which I am grateful.

The Sugar Smart app builds on the Change4Life Sugar Swaps campaign, from which we learned a lot. More than 410,000 families registered with the campaign. However, we know that public health messaging and support are not enough. That is why our childhood obesity strategy will be wide ranging and involve Government action across a range of areas.

The food and drink industry also has a role to play, as many Members have said, and I am pleased that it has made progress in recent years. My hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) alluded to that fact earlier. Under the voluntary partnership arrangements and the responsibility deal, there has been a focus on calorie reduction, of which sugar has been a big part. We have made progress. Some retailers have also played their part by removing sweets from checkouts, which we welcome. We urge others to follow suit. Importantly, parents and customers have strongly welcomed that change and supported the measures being taken by the industry. But the challenge to the industry to make further substantial progress remains.

Providing clear information to consumers is vital if we are going to help them to make healthier choices. That has been a theme of the debate. The voluntary front-of-pack nutrition labelling scheme, introduced in 2013, plays a vital part in our work to encourage healthier eating and to reduce levels of obesity and other conditions. The scheme enables consumers to make healthier and more balanced choices by helping them to better understand the nutrient content of food and drinks. It is popular with consumers and provides information on the calories and nutrients in various foodstuffs. Businesses that have decided to adopt the scheme account for two thirds of the market for pre-packed foods and drinks.

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As a Conservative and a former retailer I believe in customer choice, but if consumers are to make an informed choice they need information. Informed consumers can of course shape markets and drive change, as my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr Mathias) pointed out in her thoughtful speech. That point came out strongly in the debate, and I shall reflect on it a great deal.

I want to say a little about physical activity, which is also a key theme. We are very clear that for those who are overweight and obese, eating and drinking less is key to weight loss, but we know that physical activity has a role to play in maintaining a healthy weight. It is also hugely beneficial in many other ways. For children it is a vital part of growing into a healthy, happy adult, so it has been great to hear about the work being done in schools up and down the country. We heard examples of that from my hon. Friends the Members for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston) and for Erewash. That is why raising levels of participation in sport and exercise among children and young people is an area the Government are keen to make further progress on. The Department worked closely with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on the new sports strategy, published just before Christmas. We will be working with DCMS, Sport England and Public Health England in the coming months to implement the strategy. The Minister for sport and I have worked closely together on both the obesity agenda and her agenda on physical activity. We are also working to raise awareness of the UK chief medical officer’s physical activity guidelines. We have already developed an infographic for health professionals to use when they discuss physical activity with adults, but we want to go further and work on further infographics to raise awareness of the daily activity levels required for children and young people, including the under-fives. We hope that that will be a useful resource, not only for families, but for the leisure sector and for many more who have a key role in encouraging people to be more active.

A slightly different point was made by the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), but it was an important one and she spoke knowledgeably about nutrition in the very early years and during pregnancy. I commend to her the recent chief medical officer’s report on women’s health, as it contained a number of chapters that I think she would find of huge interest if she has not already had the chance to look at them.

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There has been a consensus around a number of facts, although one key one stood out: obesity is a complex issue, which the Government cannot tackle alone. Businesses, health professionals, schools, local authorities, families and individuals all have a role to play, as does Parliament. We were all struck by the contribution made by the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), who spoke so passionately about the need to tackle health inequalities. She spoke about the influence of a good start in life and how that works all the way through one’s life. Parliament does have a role to play, so I welcome the engagement of so many Members from all parts of the House. I would be happy to provide more information if it is ever of help to Members about key public health indicators in their own local areas and how they can help to take this agenda forward. Local leadership will be important as we seek to make the critical leap forward on preventive health action described in the NHS Five Year Forward View.

This has been a great debate and I thank Members for their contributions. I look forward to discussing this issue further when we publish our comprehensive childhood obesity strategy.

3.21 pm

Dr Wollaston: I thank all Members who have contributed to today’s debate, including the Minister, who rightly said that the action the Government take now will affect the life chances of a whole generation. I am grateful for her recognition of the importance of not only obesity in itself, but the pressing concern that everyone has about health inequality on this issue. I am also grateful that she is going to include that at the heart of the Government’s obesity strategy.

In conclusion, we are looking for bold, brave and, most importantly, effective action. I would like to finish as I started by saying that we should take a leaf out of the book of British Cycling, because there is no silver bullet and we need to follow the principle of marginal gains—let’s do everything.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House calls on the Government to bring forward a bold and effective strategy to tackle childhood obesity.

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Holocaust Memorial Day

3.23 pm

Wes Streeting (Ilford North) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House has considered Holocaust Memorial Day 2016.

As we begin, I would like to thank those who gave their support to enable this debate to take place, particularly the hon. Members for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay) and for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), and the Backbench Business Committee for granting our request.

The theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day, which will take place in just under a week’s time, on 27 January, is “Don’t stand by”. The holocaust did not begin with the systematic slaughter of Jews in Europe or even with a brick through the window of a Jewish shop during the Kristallnacht of 1938. It began with a simple idea that our differences mark us out as superior or inferior to one another. That simple idea spawned a hateful ideology, expressed through Hitler’s Nazism, that the Jews were at the centre of a global conspiracy to control the world at the expense of Aryan destiny. Some 6 million Jews were murdered by the Nazis, among them 1 million Jewish children. It was pre-meditated slaughter on an industrial scale never before witnessed in human history. Alongside innocent Jewish men, women and children were political prisoners, Romanis, Slavs, gay people, Jehovah’s witnesses, Russian prisoners of war and many others. They met their fate on the streets, where they were beaten sometimes to death; in concentration camps, where they were often worked or starved to the point where they lost their lives; and, most chillingly, in the gas chambers of the Nazi death camps. It is estimated that some 42,500 facilities in German and Nazi-occupied territory were used to concentrate victims, and around 200,000 people were perpetrators of the holocaust planned by Nazi leaders at Wannsee.

This year’s theme for Holocaust Memorial Day is not about leaders; it is about bystanders. I am talking about the bystanders who said nothing as Nazi propaganda targeted the Jews; the bystanders who watched as Jewish homes and businesses were ransacked by the Nazis; and the bystanders who looked the other way, even as the sickly smell of burning human flesh from the ovens was carried by prevailing winds from the chimneys of the Nazi death camps to surrounding homes.

Although we might reflect today on the unique crimes of the Nazi holocaust, we should never avert our eyes from the most uncomfortable truth of all—that its perpetrators were not unique. They were ordinary men and women carrying out acts of extraordinary evil.

If the holocaust demonstrated the very worst of human nature, its survivors represent the very best. The crimes they witnessed and the evil to which they were subjected are impossible to imagine, but through their courage we are able to reflect on the horrors of the holocaust so that we might learn the right lessons as we strive towards a world free from hatred, persecution and genocide.

Many of us will have personal experience of listening to the testimony of survivors, and I am delighted that so many of them were recognised in the new year’s honours list. I pay particular tribute to my constituent Ivor

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Pearl, who received the British Empire Medal for services to holocaust education and awareness. On accepting the honour, Ivor said:

“I think I can speak for most of us when I say that when I give talks I feel all the victims are there behind me looking over my shoulder and as such I accept this honour on their behalf as well”.

Another resident of llford North, Bob Obuchowski, would surely be among them. Bob lived in Clayhall and passed away in 2014. His double act with his daughter, Sue Bermange, was almost legendary. She supported Bob in sharing his testimony and continues his work today.

In that context, I champion the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust. Led by the indomitable Karen Pollock, its outstanding work keeps the memory of those remarkable holocaust survivors alive so that each generation can bear witness to their extraordinary fortitude and reflect on how it was that ordinary men and women unleashed the horror of the Nazi holocaust. Its “Lessons from Auschwitz” project has now taken more than 28,000 students and teachers from across the UK to the Nazi concentration and death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau. They include students from my own constituency, most recently from King Solomon High School and Woodbridge High School, who travelled to Poland in October 2015.

I pay tribute to successive Labour, coalition and Conservative Governments for funding those visits, and I hope that the Minister may be able to give us some good news about continued funding for this important project this afternoon, or at least take away from the debate the desire of this House to see that funding continue.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): I rise to pay great tribute to Karen Pollock. As someone who established the Srebrenica safe area in March-April 1993, I am deeply appreciative of the fact that she said that the Holocaust Memorial Fund also refers to the 8,373 Bosnian Muslims who were killed in a holocaust much closer to our time. I appreciate very much that the Holocaust Memorial Fund cares about those people just as much as it does about the victims of the foul Nazis.

Wes Streeting: I share the sentiments expressed by the hon. Gentleman. I will talk about other genocides later in my speech.

I know from my community in Redbridge that schools across the country are doing some outstanding work to deliver holocaust education as part of the national curriculum, including, of course, acknowledgement of other genocides. It is vital that holocaust education remains a compulsory part of the national curriculum at key stage 3 to ensure that all young people receive this valuable education. I also congratulate the Prime Minister on his initiative of establishing the Holocaust Commission and on the appointment of the right hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir Eric Pickles) as the Government’s special envoy for post-holocaust issues. I know that he is respected on both sides of the House for his commitment and determination and for how he goes about his work in that role.

With the onward march of time, the number of survivors left to bear living witness to the crimes of the holocaust diminishes, and so with every new generation comes an even greater responsibility to ensure that their warning from history is never forgotten. Of course, even as they rebuilt their lives, many continued to suffer,

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whether through silence because the crimes they suffered were unspeakable, premature death as a result of the injuries they sustained, or the ongoing persecution they experienced as a result of being different. Among them were those who were branded with the pink triangle, the Nazi mark of the homosexual. Like other victims of the Nazi holocaust, gay men and women were rounded up by the Gestapo. Many were imprisoned, and some were castrated and subjected to cruel medical experiments. Others met their end in the gas chambers of the death camps.

For many of those people, the end of the second world war did not bring about their liberation. Nazi law remained in place and their suffering at the hands of the state continued. Some were even sent back to prison by the very same judges who had sent them off to concentration camps under the Nazis. I do not mind telling the House that I wept last summer in Berlin as I read the stories of those LGBT survivors of the holocaust who later went to their graves unable to share their story, shunned by their Governments and without any acknowledgement of the suffering they had experienced under the Nazis and, I am afraid, under the subsequent Governments of West and East Germany.

I am inspired by holocaust survivors such as Rudolf Brazda, the last known concentration camp survivor to be deported specifically for homosexuality. Before the Nazis came to power, he and his boyfriend had been accepted in an increasingly tolerant society. A Jehovah’s Witness accepted them as her tenants and Brazda’s family acted as witnesses to a symbolic marriage ceremony in their home.

As Berlin’s thriving lesbian and gay scene was dismantled by the Nazi regime, Brazda and his partner were arrested and they never saw each other again. Brazda served a six-month sentence before being deported to Czechoslovakia. He was arrested again in 1941 and was forced to serve another 14-month prison term. In August 1942, he was deported to the Buchenwald concentration camp and there he was beaten, once having his teeth knocked out. He was subjected to forced labour and survived only through a combination of strength and luck.

It was not until 2008, ahead of the unveiling of the memorial to homosexual victims of Nazism in Berlin, that he felt able to speak out. Those countries that continue illegally to discriminate against LGBT people and those that would have those countries continue to discriminate against LGBT people should reflect on his words before his death in 2011. He said:

“If I finally speak, it’s for people to know what we, homosexuals, had to endure in Hitler’s days...it shouldn’t happen again.”

I pay tribute to all those communities targeted by Nazi hatred and to their survival. In particular, I pay tribute to Jewish communities in the United Kingdom, the state of Israel and countries around the world that stand tall in lasting defiance of Hitler’s evil ideology. I am proud of the Jewish community I represent in Ilford North. Though smaller in number than it has been in previous decades, the Jewish community in Redbridge continues to flourish. Chabad Lubavitch, led by Rabbi Sufrin, has expanded its activities within Redbridge and out into Essex. I recently attended shul with Redbridge United Synagogue, which now meets at the Redbridge

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Jewish Community Centre. Sinclair House is the largest community centre of its kind in western Europe, delivering social, welfare, education and community programmes to more than 2,000 people every week. Wohl Ilford Jewish Primary School, Clore Tikva Primary School and King Solomon High School provide high-quality education to children from all our diverse communities while maintaining their proud Jewish heritage and traditions.

Next week, as we do every year, people from all parts of the community will gather at the Holocaust Memorial Garden in Valentines Park in llford, thanks to the initiative led by Councillor Alan Weinberg to provide a lasting memorial for the victims of the holocaust. Though the Jewish community in Redbridge and elsewhere continues to thrive, we cannot be complacent about the threat posed by modern anti-Semitism, whether it manifests itself on the right or the left of the political spectrum. I am proud to be a vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group against anti-Semitism, under the exceptional leadership of my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann).

Successive reports published by the Community Security Trust, to whom I pay tribute, show a continual increase in anti-Semitic incidents across the United Kingdom, including violent attacks. Last year, a delegation from the APPG visited France, to look at the rise in anti-Semitism there, where thousands had taken to the streets to pronounce “Je Suis Juif” in the wake of the murder of Jews on the streets of Paris.

We know that although Jewish people make a great contribution to public life here, too many Jews in politics are targets for anti-Semitism, both online and offline. Many right hon. and hon. Members will recall my predecessor, Lee Scott, speaking powerfully in this debate last year about his experience of receiving abuse and death threats because he was Jewish, and I pay tribute to him again for his courage and unshakeable commitment in standing up against that anti-Semitism.

“Never again” is a common refrain at events to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day, but I am afraid these words ring hollow. “Never again” will find meaning only when Jews can live freely and safely in all parts of the world. “Never again” will find meaning only when difference and diversity is celebrated, rather than denigrated. “Never again” will find meaning only when genocide is confined to history.

I want to end with a reflection about our responsibility, both as individuals and as the state. I am pleased to see the hon. Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) in his place. He is chair of the all-party parliamentary group for genocide prevention. Often debates in this place about Britain’s foreign policy consider the consequences of action under the shadow of previous mistakes. But as Holocaust Memorial Day is used to commemorate all victims of genocide, and as a vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for genocide prevention, I hope that in its future deliberations this House will also consider the consequences of introspection and inaction. The genocide in Cambodia, the genocide in Rwanda, the genocide in Darfur—each should rest on the consciences of powerful nations who chose to look the other way.

Closer to home, it is for every citizen to reflect on those occasions where we have looked the other way: when someone was called a name, when someone was

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mistreated, when someone was bullied, beaten or even murdered, because they were different. Yehuda Bauer said:

“Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”

It is fitting as the theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day and an exhortation for this House and for every citizen we are sent here to represent.

3.38 pm

Sir Eric Pickles (Brentwood and Ongar) (Con): I am grateful to follow the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), and I am grateful to him for his tribute to Lee Scott, his predecessor. I, along with a number of Lee’s friends, recognise the enormous personal risk that Lee took and endured, and we appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s acknowledgement of that.

I associate myself with the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart), who has spoken many times in this Chamber about Srebrenica and the genocide there, and he does well to remind us of that today.

The hon. Member for Ilford North mentioned that we travelled together to France in autumn last year to look at anti-Semitism there. I vividly recall meeting Jewish students and hearing them talk of how frightened and wary they were on their campuses. I cannot help reflecting on the disgraceful attack on Jewish students at King’s College London just two nights ago. A peaceful meeting—it was literally about peace—was broken up with obscenities, the breaking of a window and the offering of violence. Frankly, we have seen broken glass before, at Kristallnacht. If we need to know who the new fascists are, we need only look at those who perpetrated that attack.

I associate myself with all the remarks that have been made about the Holocaust Education Trust and Holocaust Memorial Day. In September I had the honour of being appointed the UK’s post-holocaust envoy. I took over from Sir Andrew Burns, who held the job for the previous five years. I had the opportunity of working with Andrew on many occasions when I was at the Department for Communities and Local Government. He is a very distinguished man and is very well respected across Europe and around the world. It is a genuine honour to follow him in that role.

I want to concentrate my remarks on what “Don’t stand by”, the theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day, is really about. I will look at that through two of the organisations for which I am responsible in the UK. The first is the tracing service. It began as a way of reuniting people who had been separated during the holocaust, but now it focuses on finding and returning property that was stolen by the Nazis. In addition to the Nazis’ enthusiasm for violence, bigotry and anti-Semitism, running through their DNA was corruption and theft. Essentially, the Nazis were thieves. They stole people’s jobs, their equipment for doing their jobs, their possessions, their property and their identity. They tried to steal the very existence of the people they sought to destroy. Because there is no honour among thieves, they stole from themselves.

Even now, more than 70 years after the end of the war, we are still trying to reunite people with their stolen property. There are many Governments across Europe

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who have wonderful equal opportunities policies and marvellous remembrance of the holocaust but who fight tooth and nail with obfuscation to prevent people getting their property back. The Nuremberg laws still reign more than 70 years after Hitler’s death. We must not go away with the idea that this is just about stolen Picassos and Klimts, because sometimes it is about very small objects. It might be a book with the signature of a long-lost grandparent or mother, and that might be the only piece of paper that has their signature on it. But still various Governments refuse to hand them back.

Sir William Cash (Stone) (Con): I am extremely glad to hear what my right hon. Friend is saying. I associate myself, in particular, with the remarks of the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), who opened the debate. My right hon. Friend might be aware that a very important book, “Post-War Lives”, by a distinguished German historian exposes the extent to which the 8 million people in Germany involved in the run-up to the war remained on the files, which were only discovered afterwards, and that in the post-war period, despite the fact that they were known to be accredited Nazis, a significant number of them were regrettably appointed to the West German authorities and to the Government. Is he aware that there might be some connection between that fact and what he is saying?

Sir Eric Pickles: I am certainly aware of a particular property—I might want to say something about it outside the Chamber—that was stolen from a Jewish family. It actually went through the hands of Adolf Hitler, who gave it to his favourite photographer, who kept it. After the war, the Bavarian authorities, because they could not find the original Jewish owners, decided to give it back to the Nazi who stole it, which was an extraordinary thing to do. There are a number of files still closed in this country with regard to people to whom we gave an amnesty. My ambition and hope, which I know is shared by the Prime Minister, is that we will at last open those files and answer some of my hon. Friend’s questions. It is important that we press hard. In this country we have a pretty good system with regard to disputes that is worthy of export, but until that property is returned to the people it was stolen from and acknowledged as theirs, the rule of Hitler continues.

Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): I pay tribute to the excellent opening speech by the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting). I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend, not least for his chairmanship of Conservative Friends of Israel. On the eve of the invasion of Poland on 22 August 1939, Adolf Hitler said to his generals:

“It’s a matter of indifference to me what a weak western European civilization will say about me.”

He also made reference to a previous genocide that was largely forgotten in 1939, saying:

“Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is very important that the west keeps a very strong defence; that we, the British, and indeed the whole of Europe, do not stand by if we come across any examples of genocide; and that the message we send to any tyrant thinking of committing genocide is that they will be held to account in future?

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Sir Eric Pickles: My hon. Friend makes a very powerful point that I obviously endorse and agree with. However, these events often start not with an invasion but with small things, and we need to be vigilant about the small things as well. I am in no way diminishing the excellent point that he makes.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance is an organisation comprising 30-odd nations that deals with holocaust remembrance. It has done an excellent job in starting to map the killing fields—the various killing sites. Auschwitz tends to dominate our view, and a visit there is truly heart-breaking, but it represents only some 15% of the numbers murdered. Someone was just as likely to have been shot in a ditch or killed in a field or, to use Himmler’s dreadful expression, “annihilated through labour”. A lot of people died in the quarries and building the camps, and it is important that we remember their graves. We are living in a decade when a number of countries are not so keen to register where those places are. Over the coming decade, we need to have a very comprehensive understanding of where they are.

Our view of the holocaust has been refined over 70 years—the past 10 years have been very influential—but for a number of countries in central Europe it is still very much a contemporary event, in the sense that they had significant anti-Jewish laws similar to the Nuremburg laws and were willing participants in them. In coming to terms with the holocaust, it is important to recognise that. We are sometimes guilty of complacency. We talk about the people who did not stand by and who did the right thing, and say, “Of course, that’s us—we’d do that”, but the truth is that most people did not. It is impossible seriously to contend that people did not know what was going on.

I think there were various reasons why people did not interfere. First and obviously, they might have been anti- Semitic. They might have been indifferent. They might have been ambitious. After all, to be a successful Nazi, people had to show that they believed in the programme. They did not want to be denounced by their neighbours. Of course, it was also the law, and people like to obey the law. It is possible, however, that they rather enjoyed the loot and the auctions of Jewish goods and properties; they might have enjoyed looting their neighbours’ properties and benefiting from their hard luck.

Bob Stewart: I thank my right hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene and to reinforce what he is saying. I have dealt with people who carried out what was clearly a holocaust, and the one thing that rings all the way through with most of them is that they are normal people but they carried out obnoxious crimes. One day, I hope we will understand what it is that makes normal people—I have had dinner with them in Bosnia—do such foul things. I hope very much that the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust will try to ascertain what does that to people who one might actually like.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. Before the right hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir Eric Pickles) continues, I should say that I did not want to interrupt any of the hon. Members who have made interventions, because they are making very careful, balanced points, but we cannot have long interventions, because there is not much time left for the debate.

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Sir Eric Pickles: I will not detain the House for much longer, Madam Deputy Speaker. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart). If he will forgive me, I would timidly suggest that Primo Levi made the same point when he said:

“Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions”.

It is fair to say that the holocaust was not committed by monsters, but that monsters were created out of that very process.

In case we are feeling a little smug, let us consider this: in the latter part, people were allowed to take a bag containing 20 kg of their possessions. That is roughly the amount we are allowed to take as luggage on a flight. What happened to the rest of their possessions?

I was in Jersey in September and visited the German hospital, which has done a marvellous job in making a timeline. I listened to the testimony of a family who, when the Germans occupied Jersey, had not been able to decide whether to leave and go to the United Kingdom or whether to stay. They decided that they would leave, but when they got to the docks they changed their minds. When they got back to their farm, they found that it had been completely stripped by their neighbours. It had been completely looted, including the furniture, carpets and fixtures off the wall.

We need to understand and appreciate that it could have happened—and could happen—here. It is important to be vigilant, to speak out and to acknowledge that what happened at King’s College was a disgrace. When the Minister replies to the debate, I hope he will tell us what we are going to do to protect free speech in our universities and colleges, to ensure that people can go about their business without fearing that they are going to be attacked. I look forward to the Government saying that.

Finally, Martin Gilbert ended the preface to his excellent book “The Righteous” with an old Jewish saying:

“Whoever saves one life, it is as if he saved the entire world.”

I salute those who did the right thing. I salute those who stood up against the Nazis. We will remember forever those who died in such a cruel and wicked system.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. There is not much time, so I must put on a time limit of five minutes.

3.55 pm

Joan Ryan (Enfield North) (Lab): I thank the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) for securing this important debate. It is a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir Eric Pickles).

On 1 November 2005, the UN General Assembly designated 27 January as international holocaust remembrance day. In Britain, we mark it as Holocaust Memorial Day, and we have done so since 2001. It is a national day of commemoration of the millions of Jews and others killed during the holocaust. The lives of 6 million Jews and many other minority groups who perished at the hands of the Nazis must be remembered. It is a time of remembrance for all the victims—the

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Roma, the gays, the Sinti, the mentally and physically disabled—as well as all the victims of more recent genocides.

Genocide does not take place on its own; it is a process that can begin if racism, discrimination and hatred are not challenged and prevented. Today, we are part of that remembering, as well as part of that challenge and prevention. Over the coming week, there will be commemorations, services and events across the UK. Such remembrance is as important now as it has ever been.

I speak as one who has been moved by the tragedy of the holocaust. I have had the privilege to speak to survivors from Auschwitz-Birkenau. The scale of their suffering shows the savagery of which humanity is capable, but the survivors show us how magnificent and courageous the human spirit can be. As each year passes, however, there are fewer survivors able to share their testimony. By educating future generations, we are ensuring that their memory lives on, and that the holocaust never becomes another detail of history.

The work of organisations such as the Holocaust Educational Trust, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Holocaust Commission is therefore vital in keeping these memories alive. The holocaust is perhaps the greatest moral lesson against racism, hate and prejudice, and the establishment of a new holocaust learning centre and national memorial is an important part of that.

Holocaust Memorial Day does more than commemorate and recount the human suffering; it is also a time to pledge that it will never ever happen again. In recent years, Europe has seen a rise in Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, fuelled by the rise of extreme right groups in countries such as France, Hungary and Greece. I and others have been troubled by the reports of French Jews moving to Britain in search of safety. We should not, however, imagine that Britain is free of anti-Semitism; we know only too well that it is not. We must stand up against prejudice and discrimination of any kind, whatever form it takes, and we must heed the lessons of the holocaust.

Ruth Smeeth (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): Given the increase in both anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic attacks, will my right hon. Friend join me in celebrating the incredible work done by the Community Security Trust and Tell MAMA to ensure that the words “Never again” actually ring true?

Joan Ryan: I absolutely join my hon. Friend in paying such a tribute and in giving such support. All the organisations we have mentioned today need and deserve our support.

We must do all in our power to prevent future genocide around the world. The theme of this year’s commemoration is “Don’t stand by”. Elie Wiesel said that he

“swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

The holocaust saw many examples of heroism, sacrifice and altruism. I would like to mention the late Sir Nicholas Winton, who sadly passed away last year. He organised the safe passage of children from Czechoslovakia to Britain before the war broke out. His act of magnanimity saved the lives of at least 669 children and thousands of their descendants.

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It is inspiring too, that World Jewish Relief, which was instrumental in rescuing tens of thousands of Jewish refugees through the Kindertransport, last week committed itself to supporting the integration of Syrian refugees into the UK. The organisation will provide employment and language support to some of the 20,000 Syrian refugees that Britain accepts.

Finally, as we approach the centenary of the Balfour declaration, it is my view that the holocaust truly demonstrated the need for a state for the Jewish people. I would like to reaffirm the state of Israel’s right to exist.

We must speak up and not be bystanders in the face of genocide and persecution. We must have courage and not look the other way. I do not underestimate how hard that can be, but it is easier if we all speak up, stand together and accept that we must not stand by. I pay tribute to the Jewish community here in London and the UK for their significant and positive contribution and engagement. They will not bow down to anti-Semitism and discrimination, and we will stand with them.

4.1 pm

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): I align myself with every word that my neighbour, the right hon. Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan), said. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) and my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay) for securing this debate.

Like many other hon. Members, I begin by paying tribute to the Holocaust Educational Trust, which does such great work with schools, colleges and communities across the United Kingdom to educate us all about the holocaust and its contemporary relevance.

The memories of my own visit to Auschwitz with a local school will always remain with me: the industrial scale of the extermination programme, which affected people at all levels, including very normal people, as has been said in this debate; the individual lives that were lost to their families and communities; and the terror, horror and depravity that underpinned the 20th century’s greatest act of evil. Although it is essential to remember every one of the lives lost in the holocaust, we ought to keep in mind those who survived. We must remember those heroes who managed to escape and who helped others to escape the fate that the Nazis had in store for them—those who did not stand by.

Corrie ten Boom is one such example. Her inspirational book “The Hiding Place” recalls not only her horrific ordeal, but her miraculous release. Corrie tells of how, when the Nazis began persecuting Jews in the Netherlands, a member of the Dutch resistance designed a hidden room behind a false wall, where the ten Boom family and others could hide. That hidden room, which was some 30 inches deep—the size of a medium wardrobe—provided a sanctuary from the Nazis. When the Nazis raided the ten Boom household in 1944, six people were using the hiding place, but hundreds of Jews before them had managed to escape the Nazis’ clutches.

Such examples show that, amid the terror, communities rallied. Despite the threats that they faced, families remained strong and stuck together. Before she died in a Nazi concentration camp, Corrie’s sister Betsie spoke words of comfort to her:

“There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still.”

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Even in those darkest of hours, people facing unimaginable horror kept faith in God and in one another. It is my honour and privilege to be hosting a dramatisation of the life and works of Corrie ten Boom on Monday evening in Parliament. I invite all hon. Members to join me for what will be a moving event.

We must remember the holocaust and everything about it, honour those who died and learn the lessons. As has been said in this debate, we have often said, “Never again,” and we still do so today. We must learn from the examples of Corrie ten Boom, her sister Betsie and others. Corrie opened her home to refugees, both Jews and others, who were members of the resistance movement—men and women who were being sought by the Gestapo and its Dutch counterpart. As refugees flee persecution, and indeed genocide, in other countries, we must search our consciences and ask what we are doing to help those in need. How can we be more like Corrie ten Boom? How can we ensure that we do not stand by?

Sadly, this year and in recent years we have witnessed genocide in other lands, and a deliberate attempt to eradicate whole communities because of their faith. In Syria and Iraq, Yazidis and Christians have been persecuted and murdered; to our shame, the response of the international community has been slow and ineffective. Before Christmas, I and 60 other parliamentarians wrote to the Prime Minister to request that the United Kingdom recognise the genocide that is being perpetrated and our responsibility to take action. We must call this what it is: genocide. That is not a matter of semantics; it is because the United Nations, and others, need to ensure that post-holocaust there is accountability to ensure that we bring the perpetrators to account, so that they will at some stage face justice. We must also encourage those 127 countries to face up to their duty to take necessary action to prevent and punish the perpetrators of these evil acts.

Another famous holocaust survivor, Simon Wiesenthal, who later became a Nazi hunter, sought to absolve the blame from human beings by saying:

“God must have been on leave during the Holocaust”.

I do not take that view. I believe that humanity was on leave during the holocaust—on leave from its senses, its duty and its morality. We must ensure that we learn the lessons of the holocaust, and as we remember what happened 70 years ago and see what at times is happening now, we must provide shelter and protection for those who need sheltering. We must not be on leave during another genocide.

4.6 pm

Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP): I am delighted to speak in this debate to mark the 71st anniversary of the liberation of the concentration and death camps, particularly in light of the fact that fewer and fewer holocaust survivors are able to share their stories. It is important that their stories, their experience and their horror are never forgotten.

We live in an increasingly dangerous world, and the story of the holocaust is not just the story of the Jewish people, but a terrible and chilling indictment of mankind itself, and the cruelty and barbarity of which it is capable. As a former English teacher with more than

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20 years’ experience, I am particularly grateful for the excellent work carried out by the Holocaust Educational Trust. Since 2006, the “Lessons from Auschwitz” project has enabled 3,000 pupils and teachers in Scotland to learn and remember the lessons of this brutal part of our recent past.

The importance of teaching this shameful episode from the past to our young people cannot be overestimated. I recall teaching a second-year class in Airdrie Academy in north Lanarkshire more than 20 years ago about this part of history, when we studied the novel “Friedrich” by Hans Peter Richter. It is a moving story set in 1930s Germany of friendship between two young boys—one German and one a German Jewish boy. As Nazi hatred permeates their world, their neighbourhood and their friendship, the German boy finds himself increasingly estranged from his Jewish friend, which leads to tragedy.

As part of teaching children about that period, I was successful in securing a visit from the late Reverend Ernest Levy, himself a survivor of Auschwitz, although his father, brother and sister did not survive. Despite his advanced age and frailty, he made the trip from his home in Giffnock, Glasgow, to Airdrie Academy to meet the children and tell his story, which he still found hard to do almost 50 years later. He talked of the continuing lack of tolerance in an angry world, and he set out his experiences and his will to survive the brutality of Auschwitz in his book, “Just One More Dance”. I am honoured to have met this man of huge courage and gentleness. I will never forget him, and I do not think that the young people who met him ever will either.

Indeed, I said a silent prayer for Reverend Ernest Levy and all those who were so brutally and cruelly killed when I visited Sachsenhausen camp just outside Berlin, again when I visited Auschwitz some years later after his death, and a few years later in the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. It is some comfort to know that he spent the last 48 years of his life happily in Scotland, after his surviving brother and sister persuaded him to settle there, telling him about the welcoming nature of Glaswegians and the freedom for Jewish people to worship in peace. There was anti-Semitism, they said, but it came from ignorance, not hatred. They believed that he could help to alter that, and he spent the rest of his life doing so. He went on to become a leading figure in the Scottish-Jewish community, and a passionate advocate of interfaith dialogue. A testament to the relationships that he built between faiths was evident in the outpourings of tributes, grief and deep respect that he received from leaders of all faiths on his death.

Despite the enormous human suffering, the unspeakable waste of human life, the unimaginable cruelty and inhumane barbarism of the holocaust, it is extremely depressing to think that tolerance in societies around the world is still a challenge. As Holocaust Memorial Day events take place across Scotland and the UK, we must remember these terrible events and reflect on the fact that as a species we have not moved very far forward at all. We have seen other people subject to genocidal attacks, such as those in Rwanda, Cambodia, Bosnia, Darfur and other places. Commemorating the holocaust is essential for our past, but it is even more important for our future. It is right that this House should debate it and highlight the importance of never forgetting and not standing by.

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I will end with the thought that UK poet laureate, Scotland’s own Carol Ann Duffy, put in her poem “Shooting Stars”:


Remember these appalling days which make the world

Forever bad”.

The future is not yet written. The world need not be forever bad. The question is what we are prepared to do to make the world good.

4.10 pm

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): It is an honour to follow the very moving speech from the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson). I congratulate the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) on introducing the debate.

As a statistic, six million people dying is hard to fathom. I think for many of us it is hard to imagine how any human being could murder that number of people, so it is vital that we bring it back to individuals. I pay tribute to the work the Yad Vashem museum has done to capture the personal testimonials of the survivors, so we can see for posterity what happened in Nazi Germany and try to learn the lessons. I first went to Yad Vashem 24 years ago and I have been back six times since. I have never left there without tears in my eyes. It is a deeply emotional experience. I urge hon. Members on all sides to go there and to see for themselves what happened and the history of the Nazi persecution.

I pay tribute to the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust. It does such wonderful work in informing young people of the misery, torture and brutality of the Nazi regime. It is vital that we continue that work, because for everyone, particularly younger generations, it is hard to fathom how human beings could do this to other human beings. I remember going—it is seared in my consciousness —to Auschwitz-Birkenau and seeing at first hand where the great synagogue used to exist. It is now just a set of trees. I saw the work camps where people were crowded in absolutely inhumane conditions, and the terrible railway that brought people to their deaths. They were brought there at the point of a gun and absolutely dehumanised by the people who murdered them.

It is not so much the piles of shoes or spectacles that I remember; it is the walk across the park where they put the ashes after they had burnt the bodies. Nature has a way of demonstrating what happened. As one crosses that park, the birds do not sing. There is no form of animal activity or birdlife at all. There is total silence. That will live with me forever. I well remember going with students who started the day in a buoyant mood. As the day went on, they became more and more depressed and silent. It brings it all home. I pay tribute to the Holocaust Educational Trust. I hope its work goes from strength to strength as we seek to educate the young.

We have heard about other terrible events across the world: Rwanda, Cambodia and others. I just want to highlight one. It is the 26th anniversary this week of another genocide—one that is never talked about. I am talking about the Kashmiri Pandits, who were forced from their homes, in which they had lived for hundreds of years, at the point of a gun. The women were raped or forced to convert to another religion, just because they supposedly had the wrong religion. The issue is never spoken about or debated for some bizarre reason,

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although I had the honour this week of participating in seminars and meetings at the Indian high commission pointing this out to the world. We must continue to highlight it.

There is another danger that has not been mentioned. I mean the holocaust deniers—the people who claim it never happened. We need only look at this country for people who deny it ever happened. They need to be exposed and re-educated. We also have to combat the countries that deny it ever happened. We should remember that only 60 years ago the Jewish population in Arab countries was 2.3 million. It is now less than 100,000. They have been forced to leave their homes and are now refugees. That was another form of genocide and forced evacuation. It is clearly wrong. We must always stand up for those people and make sure that we do not stand idly by.

4.15 pm

Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP): I am grateful for the chance to contribute to possibly the most important debate we will have this year. There can be few subjects as fundamentally important to the survival of the human race as learning the lessons of this dreadful period of history.

I commend the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) for an exceptional and passionate speech, and I forgive him for stealing some of what I intended to say, because it makes it easier for me to keep within the time limit. I am also happy to associate myself entirely with the praise offered to organisations such as the Holocaust Educational Trust, particularly now that, as others have said, there will soon be no one left with first-hand eyewitness experience of what happened. The Holocaust is moving out of our collective memory into our collective history. It is vital that, while the events are behind us, the lessons remain always in front of us.

I echo the hon. Gentleman’s comment about how the Holocaust was committed by ordinary people. I remember watching the groundbreaking documentary series “The World at War” in my early teens. It included interviews not only with military personnel and the victims of German bombs in London, Coventry and elsewhere, but with people who had taken part in the Holocaust and contributed to the genocide, some of whom had served time in prison for their crimes. Some 20 or 30 years later, they had understood that what they had done was wrong and had gone back to being perfectly ordinary, decent human beings. The single most important lesson is that ordinary people can do genuinely diabolical and hellish things to each other if the circumstances are right.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): I saw that in Rwanda one time. I came across a reconciliation village where a man who had been involved in the genocide but had moved on in life was a babysitter—believe it or not—for a woman whose family had been annihilated in the genocide. It was a powerful experience, and it echoes the point made by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) about very ordinary people doing ghastly things.

Peter Grant: I think the best example we will ever see of reconciliation in the aftermath of such dreadful things is that set by the late Nelson Mandela. People could

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look at the experience of truth and reconciliation in South Africa in trying to move on from conflicts in other parts of the world.

As others have said, this year we are being asked to reflect in particular on the ordinary people who allowed the Holocaust to happen, sometimes through active participation but more often through passive compliance and by doing nothing. Again, the fact that these were ordinary people should serve as a warning to us. It happened not so long ago, not so far away from here, and it could happen here—and it will happen here if we allow circumstances to develop in which ordinary people begin by not speaking out when they see anti-Semitic or racial abuse. Within a few years, they find themselves actively participating in acts of violence and murder—acts of such depravity that they cannot be adequately described in words.

Whether it be the anti-Semitic racism that we see in the far right in parts of Europe, the Islamophobic racism that we see on the far right here in the United Kingdom or the white supremacist racism of the Ku Klux Klan, the message must always be that there is no such thing as an acceptable level of, or an acceptable type of, racism. To defend oneself against a charge of racism by accusing someone else of the same thing simply does not wash. A racist is a racist; racism is wrong without exception. The tolerance level for racism is and must always be absolutely zero.

One way to help combat racism is by taking small steps to encourage a spirit and atmosphere of what is sometimes described as “tolerance”. However, I do not like that term much. I do not think we should “tolerate” the diversity of our society; I want to celebrate it. Tolerance is what one does to things that are not all that good; celebrate is what one does about things that make our lives and our world better. We should celebrate the fact that there are so many different faiths, so many different positions, so many different personal choices that people make about how they are going to live their lives and with whom they are going to live them.

As one small example and as part of the celebration of diversity, a decision was taken in the early days of the Scottish Parliament to begin each day with a “time for reflection” that was not exclusively dominated by the predominant religion in Scotland, so that all religions and all faiths would have a chance to lead that celebration. Indeed, people who did not publicly identify with any faith group or religion but had something important to say were equally welcome. That is a practice that I would tentatively suggest this House might want to look at, possibly in addition to the more traditional prayer service with which we open each day.

I am enormously proud of the fact that next week, on the 71st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the Scottish Parliament’s time for reflection will be led by two pupils from Auchmuty high school in Glenrothes. Lauren Galloway and Brandon Low recently visited Auschwitz-Birkenau as part of the Lessons from Auschwitz scheme. I hope that politicians in Holyrood, London and elsewhere will listen to the lessons that those young people have brought back for us to hear. I know I speak for everyone here when I say I long to see the day when “never again” is not a prayer or a promise, but a statement of fact delivered for the benefit of future generations.