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Mr. Paul Marsden: Does the Minister have the equivalent figures for gun crime related to drug use and pushers?

Fiona Mactaggart: They are not in front of me, but I will write to the hon. Gentleman, who is right to indicate that there is a significant problem with gun culture, which is often associated with drug use and misuse. There is a cycle involving those in which the causative factor is not clear, which is one reason why we have made such rigorous efforts to deal with the gun menace and to work not just using the criminal justice system but with civil society, including such groups as Mothers Against Guns, to reduce the gun culture often associated with drug culture. I do not, however, share the hon. Gentleman's view—I do not know whether this is his view, but one might read it as being his view—that legalising cannabis would make any contribution to the reduction of that gun culture.

The general principles set out in the ACPO cannabis enforcement guidance are clear. In general, there is a presumption against arrest, but the police can arrest in
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specific circumstances, including where an adult is smoking cannabis in a public place. As with all policing, it is for the individual officer to judge the most appropriate response to a specific set of circumstances within the overall framework of the guidance. Clearly, where someone is openly flouting the law, they are liable to be arrested, but our main energy is directed to ensuring that our drugs laws reflect the relative harm of drugs, so that the Government can send an effective and credible message to young people about the dangers of the misuse of drugs.

Mr. Evans: The Minister is making a logical argument, but following reclassification there was a headline in The Observer reading "Drug Surge Follows Law Change". The newspaper specifically related the surge to the fact that the law had changed, saying that the police had taken their eye off the ball and more people were taking cannabis. How does the Minister react to that?

Fiona Mactaggart: That story was based on what was said by a single officer in the Metropolitan police. There is no evidence of a surge in imports. The Observer referred to one officer, but the Met and ACPO support the policy on reclassification. They changed policing on personal possession, but they did not affect policing on Customs, or Customs policy on importation and dealing. Penalties for those things have not changed at all: we still have a 14-year penalty for dealing. The police have been shown to be effective in targeting dealers and importers. Indeed, perhaps the 199,000 police hours to which I referred earlier have enabled the police to target mass importation of cannabis rather than spending their time arresting users who were smoking with their friends. Frankly, in my view, that is a better use of police time. That action is likely to reduce the harm that cannabis can cause more effectively than anything else.

Our public information campaign, including 600,000 leaflets and radio and television advertisements, has had a real impact on the young people who are the most vulnerable targets for cannabis.

Mrs. Gillan: The Minister says that 199,000 hours of police time have been saved. I presume that that would equate to just one policeman over 20 years, which is hardly an enormous saving in time. Following my intervention earlier this week on the Minister with responsibility for drugs, can the hon. Lady confirm that the amount of drugs seized in the latest crackdown is not as great as the quantities seized back in 1998 and 1999? Has she had the opportunity to study those figures and the reference sources that I gave? Can she give me figures that would disprove those that I cited? Admirable though it is that the police are seizing quantities of drugs, it does not seem that they are seizing as much as in 1998–99.

Fiona Mactaggart: I do not have all the figures in front of me, but I will write to the hon. Lady.

We are determined to tackle effectively the importation of drugs and reduce the use of drugs in our communities. The British crime survey shows a slow but steady decline in cannabis use among young people. Under the present Government, the number of people entering and being retained in treatment has increased.
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We are tackling the supply of drugs in the UK. We are educating young people about the harm that drugs cause us all. We cannot be complacent. There is more to do to make our families and communities safer. However, the measures in the Bill will not contribute to that aim, so I cannot commend it to the House.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 13, Noes 11.

Division No. 97
[12 noon


Conway, Derek
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice & Howden)
Evans, Nigel
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Hawkins, Nick
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Lilley, rh Peter
Maclean, rh David
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury & Atcham)
Ottaway, Richard
Stunell, Andrew
Tyrie, Andrew
Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Eric Forth and
Mr. John Randall


Adams, Irene (Paisley N)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Colman, Tony
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Lammy, David
Lilley, rh Peter
Mactaggart, Fiona
Pound, Stephen
Stringer, Graham
White, Brian

Tellers for the Noes:

Paul Clark and
Laura Moffatt

It appearing on the report of the Division that fewer than 40 Members had taken part in the Division, Mr. Deputy Speaker declared that the Question was not decided, and the business under consideration stood over until the next sitting of the House.

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David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the rule of the House is that the vote must follow the voice, and on this occasion the Minister spoke and voted against this excellent measure. I seek your advice on the propriety of Government Whips blocking the No Lobby to prevent hon. Members voting in order to allow a procedural device to destroy this important measure, which obviously has the support of the House today.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I am not sure what the right hon. Gentleman means about obstruction. It is not unusual for persuasion to be used until the eleventh hour with regard to votes in this House, and that is not a matter for the Chair. The Chamber is not the only place in which persuasion takes place.

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School Meals and Nutrition Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

12.12 pm

Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central) (Lab): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill is about providing an environment and regime for healthy eating in schools to enable our children to have healthy eating habits for life. It is the Government's responsibility to protect future generations from obesity and bad health, and the Bill is part of that process.

Today, I shall briefly set out the background to the problem of obesity in terms of child and adult health, and mention my involvement with the issue in the run-up to the health White Paper and the recent statement on school meals, both of which represent excellent progress towards a comprehensive strategy on general nutrition and healthy choices in schools. Then I shall run through the elements of my Bill, which contains a menu of practical steps to tighten the school regime in favour of better children's nutrition. In the first place, a food-based approach will be used to screen out many bad meals, but the Bill heads towards a nutrient-based approach, where children will eventually face choices between healthy meals rather than between healthy and unhealthy meals, which is the case at the moment.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): I have not completely got to grips with the Bill. When I dealt with school meals several years ago, it was suggested that I should try to ban—or at least reduce the amount of—chips in school meals. I took advice from schools, which said that when they banned chips or unhealthy food from the menu, private enterprise stepped in and parked a chip van down the road from the schools and the children patronised it daily. Will anything in the Bill prevent children from having that freedom?

Geraint Davies: Elements in the Bill confront that problem. The basic idea is to enable head teachers to keep children in school and not to institute a comprehensive ban on chips from all meals and all schools immediately, but to take a gradual approach to improving health. I welcomed the Government's reintroduction of nutritional standards after the Conservative Government had removed them altogether 20 years previously.

We want a realistic strategy for health through school meals, but there is a debate about the speed with which we can do that. Many people want an immediate nutritional approach so that, from day one, all school meals are healthy. That is difficult to sustain for reasons that have been given. The other approach is more gradualist but accelerates later, and I advocate that. I am all in favour of only healthy meal choices if that is practically possible. I believe that that will happen in the future, but it cannot happen on day one.

Let us consider the problem that confronts us. Two thirds of the population are overweight or obese. The figure has increased fourfold in the past 25 years. Obese people are expected to live nine years less than average-weight people, which means that the current generation of children are expected to have shorter lives than their
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parents. Obesity is therefore a public health issue that has taken on the same proportions as smoking, which is why it is important to grasp the nettle and confront it. The White Paper and my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary's recent statement show that the Government are moving towards a comprehensive approach to tackling the problem. The Bill would accelerate the changes to protect our children's health.

Some 30,000 people a year die from obesity-related conditions. The conditions include arthritis, heart problems, kidney problems, diabetes and various cancers. Since 1991, diabetes has increased by 65 per cent. in men and 25 per cent. in women, and cancer deaths that are specifically related to obesity have increased by 14 per cent. in men and 20 per cent. in women. The problems are therefore enormous.

The economy is also affected, not only by premature deaths but by the 11 million days of work that are lost through back pain, exacerbated or caused by obesity. The cost to the economy and the health service runs into billions of pounds. Our record on obesity is sadly the worst in Europe.

Children face diminished longevity. In the past 10 years, obesity in two to four-year-olds has doubled, and in six to 15-year-olds it has tripled to 16 per cent. Those children have a 50 per cent. likelihood of becoming obese adults and thus dying nine years earlier. Type 2 diabetes is emerging in children—it was previously found almost exclusively in adults. Obesity-related conditions are therefore affecting children. Overweight children suffer other disorders such as psychological problems, which are sometimes linked to bullying, low self-esteem or depression. That undermines their achievement and attainment.

An increasing number of studies show that better nutrients and meals lead to better concentration and attainment and less antisocial behaviour. Those issues are critical. The nutrient balance of children's food—whether it is impregnated with fats, salt and sugar or good and healthy, as well as the overall calorific intake—is going in the wrong direction. The House might be interested to learn that a king-sized Snickers bar contains more calories than a sirloin steak with potatoes and broccoli—I know which I would prefer. It is quite frightening to realise the amount of calories that we can take in without any valuable nutrients.

The national diet and nutrition survey revealed the obvious fact that too much of the wrong food—fat, sugar and salt—was being eaten by adults and, particularly, by children. We need to confront this problem, and it is not enough simply to say, "Oh, well, we'll give children a bit more exercise." Commentators in the industry have said that children's calorific intake is no more than it used to be, and that the problem is a lack of exercise. However, those studies conveniently omit to mention the intake of snacks between meals—chocolate, crisps, Coca Cola or whatever—so they should not be relied on.

I respect the fact that exercise has a role to play. The recommended amount of moderate exercise each day for children is 60 minutes. Some 30 per cent. of boys and 40 per cent. of girls do not achieve that, and people take less exercise as they grow older. The standard of physical education in our schools is lower than that of our European colleagues, and the Government are
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investigating that and tightening it up. There is also a trend towards people staying at home and watching television or playing on their computer, rather than being out and about. These are important issues to take into account as part of a comprehensive plan.

My focus, however, is on nutrition in schools. Today's schoolchildren represent the first generation in 100 years whose life expectancy is falling. A study in Leeds has shown that children now wear trousers two sizes larger than they did 20 years ago. The obesity rate is predicted to rise to 50 per cent. by 2020, although I am cautious about such extrapolations. In reality, however, the incidence of obesity is going up too fast, and to a dangerous level.

The Food Standards Agency has stated that children are now eating half the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables, and that the vast majority are consuming more than the maximum amount of fat, salt and sugar prescribed for adults. We also have a new generation of adults living on convenience foods rather than handing on food preparation skills to their children. This creates a new challenge for our schools to teach children to prepare food properly—and even to help parents to do so.

The advertising industry tends to focus on where the money is. If I were to say, "Here's a potato. How can I make some money out of it?", I would not be advised simply to sell it. I would probably be told to mash it up with fat, salt and sugar, shape it into a dinosaur and put it into a package, before composing a jingle that would sell it. Obviously, more money could be made that way. It is therefore not surprising that the top 10 food brands spend about £450 million a year on advertising. The top four are McDonald's, Coke, KFC—which used to be known as Kentucky Fried Chicken—and Burger King. They use toys to gain the loyalty of children and to try to build brand awareness among pre-school children so that they will become brand loyalists who will spend their lifetime consuming their products, which could possibly lead to an early death.

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