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Gillian Merron: With the leave of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker. Protecting young people from the damage and death caused by tobacco is indeed a very serious issue, which the Government are determined to address. Tobacco vending machines, we believe, reflect a time when shops closed early and people were not able to purchase cigarettes out of hours, which is no longer the case. We think it right and proper to give effect to the will of the House because those vending machines exist for the convenience and temptation of those who smoke and as a means of recruiting new young smokers. As I have said, prohibiting the sale of tobacco from vending machines will be a major step forward in tackling the very serious problem of children and young people having access to tobacco and in supporting those who want to quit. I should also say that the measure brings the UK into line with many other countries, including 16 other EU states, that have banned the sale of tobacco from vending machines.
Mike Penning: The Minister is arguing for banning vending machines in a way that suggests that that was the Government's proposal all along, so I repeat that at no stage-on Second Reading, in Committee or on Report-did a Minister support what the she is saying now. Why have the Government changed their mind so quickly?
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Before the Minister responds, let me remind the House again that this is not an opportunity to re-run the proceedings of an earlier debate. I said just a few minutes ago that the scope for debate on these amendments is very narrow.
Let me repeat a point made in an earlier discussion-that the evidence for action is clear; the issue is how fast we go and how far. The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) suggested that the will of the Commons was not clear. I take issue with that. As to the vote on vending machines on Report, it is clear that the House determines its own rules and the Speaker presides over the House to ensure that those rules are followed. The Speaker ruled on the day; the record of the decision is in Hansard; the amendment was accepted-so that acceptance reflects the will of the House.
David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op):
I think that the reaction on the Opposition Front Bench is a little churlish. Speaking as the chair of the all-party
group on smoking and health, I welcome the Government's living up to what they said they would do on Report. This is the right thing to do: it is the next natural step in a sensible tobacco control policy, and I congratulate the Government on implementing it.
On the regulations, it would seem wise to await the decision of both Houses before publishing them. By their very nature, however, they will be brief and very direct. They will indeed be subject to affirmative resolution. Whether or not it is a free vote is entirely a matter for the Whips on both sides of the House.
That the draft Ministry of Defence Police Appeals Tribunals Regulations 2009, which were laid before this House on 12 October, be approved. -(Mary Creagh.)
That the draft Ministry of Defence Police (Conduct) Regulations 2009, which were laid before this House on 12 October, be approved. -(Mary Creagh.)
That the draft Rail Vehicle Accessibility (Networks) Exemption Order 2009, which was laid before this House on 12 October, be approved. -(Mary Creagh.)
That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 13732/09, Commission/ Presidency Paper on an operational framework for the EU to promote aid effectiveness; and calls on the Commission and Member States actively to implement its recommendations. -(Mary Creagh.)
That Mr David Kidney be discharged from the West Midlands Regional Select Committee and Mrs Janet Dean be added.
That Linda Gilroy be discharged from the South West Regional Select Committee and Roger Berry be added .
Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset) (Con): The petition relates to the Government's response to the parliamentary ombudsman's report on Equitable Life. I must declare an interest as a policyholder in the Equitable Life Assurance Society. As such, I might enjoy a financial benefit if the petitioners were successful in their endeavours.
The petitioners, who are my constituents, are policyholders in the assurance society, their survivors and their supporters. The petitioners state that, as policyholders, they have suffered maladministration leading to injustice, as found by the parliamentary ombudsman in her report of July 2008. Furthermore, they and those whom they represent have suffered regulatory failure on the part of the public bodies responsible from 1992 onwards, but have not received compensation for the resulting losses and outrage.
I have been handed 10 signatures in support of the petition. You are probably aware, Madam Deputy Speaker, that more than 400 members and former members of Equitable Life attended a rally here in Parliament last Wednesday.
To the House of Commons,
The Petition of residents of the constituency of North Dorset in the Dorset region of the U.K. regarding the Government's response to the Parliamentary Ombudsman's report on Equitable Life,
Declares that the petitioners either are or they represent or support members, former members or personal representatives of deceased members of the Equitable Life Assurance Society who have suffered maladministration leading to injustice, as found by the Parliamentary Ombudsman in her report upon Equitable Life, ordered by the House of Commons to be printed on 16 July 2008 and bearing reference number HC 815; and further declares that the petitioners or those whom they represent or support have suffered regulatory failure on the part of the public bodies responsible from the year 1992 onwards, but have not received compensation for the resulting losses and outrage.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to uphold the constitutional standing of the Parliamentary Ombudsman by complying in full with the findings and recommendations of her Report upon Equitable Life.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
Free fruit and vegetables, such as carrots, have been provided for all infant-age children in English schools since the end of 2004. The introduction of the service followed pilots in 2000 and 2001 showing minimal delivery problems, strong support from children and staff, and even stronger support for the scheme as part of teaching children about healthy eating. I shall expand on the nature of the scheme, and on how it relates to the educational process and goes beyond health. The social process of distributing the fruit and eating it collectively was thought valuable, and there was a reported improvement in the ethos and atmosphere in classes.
Straddling the introduction of the national scheme, a major research project was undertaken, based on a large sample of schools in 2003, 2004 and 2005. It showed, predictably, that fruit consumption rose among those in the scheme, and fell back once children ceased to qualify, effectively to the level of the control group who had never been in the scheme. Sadly, it also showed that children from deprived areas consumed less fruit than those in more affluent areas even when it was available. However, a similar increase in consumption occurred while they were in the scheme.
Research by the National Foundation for Educational Research published in 2007 showed a material increase in the proportion of children consuming five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, but also showed that a pupil in year 3-the year immediately after the scheme ends-was less than half as likely to consume five portions a day as a younger child. Since, laudably, the Government have also been supporting improvements in school meals, it is hard to separate the benefits in terms of overall consumption of fruit and vegetables of the fruit scheme from those of other activities that the Government have supported, but the research suggested that those eating school meals, as opposed to packed lunches, were benefiting most.
It was also clear that the full benefits of dietary change, in combating obesity, would occur only if fruit and vegetable consumption was substituted for consumption of sweets and desserts. It was not clear that that was happening. In other words, children were often consuming the extra fruit and vegetables at school, but not necessarily cutting out the sweets and other items available to them. The full benefit of the additional fruit and vegetables was therefore not being felt.
It should not need to be explained why we should be interested in this issue. Fruit and vegetables provide critical vitamin and fibre intake for the body. Obesity in children both limits their ability to participate fully in school and threatens their health in the longer term. The staff of my hon. Friend the Minister will have been able to trace a chain of questions that I have asked since 2007. She nods in assent. Why have I been interested? Naturally the health policy arguments are persuasive
anyway, but I was struck by something else: it is remarkable how popular this scheme is in schools, and how easily and efficiently it works.
Let me give an example. Last Friday I visited one of the smallest primary schools in my constituency, in the village of Shardlow. I did not mention that I would be raising this topic in the House. In fact, as the Minister knows, I did not know that I would be raising it, because the subject of my motion has changed. However-quite unprompted-the head mentioned the popularity of the scheme in the school. She said that it was one of the Government's great successes in education.
I have visited schools in which the scheme has been worked into classroom activities and integrated in the work of catering staffs, where they exist. In some of the small primary schools in my constituency there is no kitchen, but in many there is, and there is an opportunity to bring the work of the catering staff into the school My constituency recently produced the school cook of the year. It has a strong track record in school catering, which, as I have mentioned, is closely related to this area of policy of producing better nutritional standards for schools. There are regular references by head teachers and other staff to the scheme being a shared social activity. Eating fruit is a popular activity that can be linked to important subjects such as sharing and to getting across the nutritional content of fruit, while relating that to other parts of the school curriculum. Among many schemes that are seen by some to have burdened schools and to have had relatively limited effect, this is a shining star.
So when the European Union published a proposal to support a Europe-wide school fruit scheme stretching beyond our own and covering children up to the age of 10, I was delighted. Surely that would provide an additional incentive to extend the UK scheme. The total costs of extending the scheme to all primary-age children would be £84 million a year, according to a parliamentary answer given late last year. That would roughly double the cost of the scheme, which costs around £43 million now. The European Union has set aside an indicative sum of just over €11 million for UK participation in the scheme. As is normal, the EU insists that any funding it provides be matched; the money cannot be used to replace existing Government funding. The marginal cost to the Department, depending on the use of the funding by the other authorities within the UK-an excellent Scottish scheme broadly parallels the English version-would be a little over £30 million. For the health impact that that would have on millions of children, the associated educational benefits and-perhaps this is one of the origins of the European interest in this issue-the impact on the horticulture sector in this country, it seems a startling bargain.
We would have difficulty making an administrative mess; all the key structures and supply chains are already there and working effectively. The reason why the head at Shardlow drew this to my attention was that the delivery man had just arrived with the fruit. It was greeted with enthusiasm and he was asking for directions to a nearby school. The quality of the fruit was excellent and the scheme is popular with children. I have often asked the children which is the most popular fruit. Apparently, tomatoes are mentioned, although not enthusiastically, carrots are not enthusiastically eaten by tiny children, and apples and bananas are very
popular. It is all working, something that cannot often be said of Government initiatives. We can build on it and we know it works. Little can go wrong. In policy terms, it is called low-hanging fruit-an easy target for policy development.
It seemed so obvious to me that I assumed that the Government were keen to press ahead too with extending the age range, but extracting answers about our intentions once the EU decided to proceed 12 months ago has been hard. In July this year, a parliamentary answer from my hon. Friend the Minister of State referred to
"a number of pilots and evaluation projects currently under way that are looking at the school fruit and vegetable scheme".-[ Official Report, 14 July 2009; Vol. 496, c. 233W.]
However, when I asked when those might be completed, my hon. Friend replied that there were no current pilots. Among the questions that I would like my hon. Friend to address is how this seeming confusion arose.
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