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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is certainly a problem, although not an entirely new one. After all, many children have always been bussed home straight after school. Therefore, the issue relates to the timetable and the availability of sport in the school curriculum as well. I agree with the noble Baroness:
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Lord Tanlaw: My Lords, does the Minister not agree that still better use could be made of such facilities by the introduction of daylight saving? One of the main lobbyings that I received during the passage of my lighter evenings Bill was from school people, certainly in northern latitudes. They said that they could not get children out of school and on to the playing fields simply because it was dark and the children had to go straight home. There is also the high risk of accidents during that period.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the House will recognise that the noble Lords representation has many merits, one of which is that an additional hour of light in the evening would help. He will also know, however, that he has not won his case just yet. There are difficulties with regard to children and the early mornings.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, one-stop shops are easier to pronounce than to create. The noble Lord will recognise that the Department for Education and Skills is bound to play a significant role in schools expenditure, in partnership with local authorities. He will recognise that school sport and exercise represent just one dimension of the curriculum and the resources that we need to make available in schools. I accept his point that we need to make progress on the integration of sports facilities for schools. We aim to meet many of the Audit Commissions requirements as rapidly as we can.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, my noble friend will recognise that our requirements for sport and exercise apply to all schools irrespective of the auspices under which they are organised, as long as they are in the state system. However, she has identified the challenge of encouraging younger Asian girls in particular to participate in sport. The education system and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will do all that they can to demonstrate the benefits to the Asian community of participation by young people.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, will the Minister remind us how many playing fields have been closed recently in the state system? Does he recognise that each closure brings added pressure? No wonder the Government are looking to get more facilities from the private sector to support their achievements.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, far fewer playing fields are closed than sports facilities are created as a result of the resources released. We made a commitment in 1997 that we would not continue the previous Administrations policy of closing down school playing fields, but that only where school playing fields could be replaced by enhanced sports facilities would we give the go-ahead for them to be sold. We have retained and stuck to that policy, with the result that every month greater numbers of sports facilities are being created than school playing fields are being sold.
What action they will take as a result of the Food Standards Agencys recommendation that all television advertising of food with high fat, sugar or salt content should be banned before the nine oclock watershed.
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner): My Lords, the Government await with interest the outcome of Ofcoms consultation on how to restrict food and drink advertising on television to children. Ofcom will carefully consider all the evidence that it has received, including that from the Food Standards Agency. The Government will review the success of measures undertaken on the balance of food and drink advertising and promotion to children. If those measures have failed to produce change, we will consider the need to take action through existing powers or new legislation to implement a framework for regulating the promotion of food to children.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his now increasingly familiar Answer, but does he accept that an increasing number of childrennow perhaps 17 per cent under 16are clinically obese and no less than a third are seriously overweight? Is he also aware that each of the three restrictions so far proposed by Ofcom is regarded by the Food Standards Agency as inadequate? Therefore, will the Government undertake urgently in the interest of public health to arbitrate between those two regulators, which obviously have their different remits and responsibilities, and to give full weight to the widespread support for a complete ban on junk food advertising before the familiar 9 pm watershed?
Lord Warner: My Lords, the Government have said that they are awaiting the outcome of the Ofcom consultation, which did not end until 30 June. We
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Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the board of the Food Standards Agency. Does the Minister accept that the agencys nutrient profiling model is a suitable tool for Ofcom to use to classify foods for advertising?
Lord Warner: My Lords, we accept that the nutrient profiling system developed by the FSA is based on a simple scoring system that compares food products energy, fat, sugar and salt levels with those of other products and that it is soundly based on a good scientific approach.
Baroness Barker: My Lords, will the Governments response include the potential for brand sponsorship of programmes to become a loophole in restrictions on advertising to children? Will it also include radio advertising?
Lord Warner: My Lords, we await Ofcoms report on television promotion. We are also looking at non-broadcast promotions. As I said in my Answer, we are willing to consider legislative changes, should they be necessary, once we have seen the outcome of the Ofcom review.
Lord Rea: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that originally Ofcoms consultation document precluded discussion of the banning of such advertising between 6 pm and 9 pm but that subsequently, under pressure from the Food Standards Agency and a range of other consumer and health organisations, it changed its mind? The reason given for the original decision was that it would cost television companies too much in lost advertising revenue. In whose interests does Ofcom act? Is it in the interests of the wider public, including their health, or in the interests of the broadcasting and advertising industry?
Lord Warner: My Lords, I am aware that there have been twists and turns in this area. Ofcom operates under the legislation under which it was set up, which was debated extensively in the House. The Food Standards Agency also operates under the legislation under which it was set up. The Government await the outcome of the Ofcom review and will consider what it is necessary to do. We made it clear in our manifesto that we would help parents by restricting further the advertising and promotion of foods high in salt, fat and sugar. We stand by that manifesto commitment.
Lord Soley: My Lords, will the Minister reassure the House that he will keep a close eye on the situation? We have one of the highest rates of obesity in Europe, which is linked not only to diabetes but now also to depression, which has a profound impact on family functioning, not least parenting. This is one of the most important matters, but it does not always
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Lord Warner: My Lords, I assure my noble friend that the Government are keeping a close eye on the situation. My honourable friend Caroline Flint, the Minister for Public Health, has reiterated on a number of occasions the need to encourage the continued promotion of healthier foods and for advertising restrictions to focus on the most vulnerable children. We shall be watching this area closely, and we await eagerly the outcome of Ofcoms consultations.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, the use of the watershed as the criterion for whether programming or advertising is suitable for children is increasingly irrelevant because of the ease with which programmes are recorded or time-shifted on the web. Therefore, will the noble Lord ask Ofcom to take that into consideration in tendering its advice?
Lord Warner: My Lords, we have given a remit to Ofcom; we await the outcome of its consultation. I know that a number of organisations have placed great store by the 9 pm watershed in their evidence to Ofcom.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, with the leave of the House a Statement will be repeated this afternoon. The subject is Afghanistan troop levels. It will be repeated by my noble friend Lord Drayson at a convenient point after 5 pm.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Therefore, unless any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.
As I have mentioned in previous debates, the Government accept the principle behind your Lordships amendment for individual registration, but we believe that we should make changes that affect our democracy only with great care. To do otherwise could cause damage. Therefore, on reflection, we ask that your Lordships House does not insist on its amendment.
We have already agreed unanimously, between both your Lordships House and another place, on a new system for personal identifiers for postal voters, which is of course where the main risk of fraud occurs. We will, as we have committed to do, examine what lessons we learn from this in some form of post-legislative review, as I indicated in our previous debate on the subject.
The key challenge for us is to ensure that we can get these important measures in place in time for next years local elections in May. This will be a significant challenge for administrators and the wider electoral community and can happen only if noble Lords approve this Bill, which I hope they will do today. If this Bill is passed today, I hope we can send out the message that your Lordships House has approved measures which will significantly improve the security of the system. I believe that this is critical to public confidence.
As noble Lords will know, within this legislation we have in place that the Bill requires personal identifiers for postal and proxy votes to protect against postal voting fraud. It creates two new election offences; it revises the offence of undue influence, enabling the offence to be prosecuted even where influence has not led to any action being taken; it increases the length of time available for the police to carry out investigations; and it provides the statutory secrecy warnings to accompany postal voting papers. These measures, and in particular the use of postal voting identifiers, will help to eliminate electoral fraud and increase public confidence. This is a comprehensive package of important changes. I believe it deserves, and rightly has, the support of your Lordships House.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I find myself back in a familiar place. Indeed, I am reminded of Sisyphus, who was condemned by the gods to roll a rock up a mountain, only for the stone to fall back on its own weighta punishment of futile and hopeless labour. The hopeless labour has been to try to persuade the Government on at least three occasions to make it a requirement to provide personal identifiers for all those on the electoral register, not just postal voters. The Government conceded that early on during the progress of the Bill through this place, as the Minister said.
We have had a hopeless task getting everyone to have to provide identifiers, despite recommendations from the Electoral Commission, despite the opinion of your Lordships' House which has been positively tested on at least two occasions, despite calls from local authorities nationwide and, most intriguingly, despite calls from members of the Ministers own party from across the country. Letters to the Ministers department in response to consultation would have made extremely interesting reading, if only we had received them in time.
My honourable friend in the other place, Oliver Heald, asked in November for us to see the response to the consultation on these matters. On 15 June, after the first amendments had gone back to the other place for consideration, the consultation responses arrived. I have them here. Within them, the honourable Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk supported the view of the Member for Harlowa Labour Minister in another placewho stated that he would support the use of individual identifiers, as did the London Borough of Merton, the metropolitan borough of Bury and the Borough of Telford and Wrekin, to name but a few. The East Midlands branch of the Association of Electoral Administrators states that,
Noble Lords will recall the series of fiascos in Birmingham council and my statement on the previous occasion that we considered this matter about people who were in Pakistan managing to appear at the same time at the polling stations in Coventry. The Minister reminded noble Lords on that previous occasion that 10 new security measures were introduced by the Bill, one of which is the need to provide a signature at the polling station, which is contained in Schedule 1. However, there is no formalised means of verifying that signature.
Efforts have been rejected on grounds of convenience. The Minister cited the registration system in Northern Ireland as an example of where personal identifiers have put people off registration. But over a million people are on the register in Northern Irelandsome 91 per cent of the voting-age population. The Minister referred to the legislation going through Parliament as we speak that will revolutionise registration in Northern Irelandthe Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. However, the reality is that that Bill does nothing to seek to end personal identifiers but seeks to alter the timing of the registration canvass. In fact, registration in Northern Ireland is at a high level of participation and a high level of security, so criticism of personal identifiers in that context is a red herring.
We are at the end of a long road regarding this Bill. We on this side are pleased with many of the measures that we have helped to introduce, especially the introduction of personal identifiers in postal voting. Much more could have been done to secure the integrity of the vote if we had been able to secure this final aspect of obtaining individual registration and individual identifiers. Both opposition parties in this House, supported by Her Majestys Opposition
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