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Children: Healthy Eating

3.29 pm

Baroness Howe of Idlicote asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Government welcome Ofcom’s announcement on its proposals to strengthen the rules on broadcast food promotion to children. We now look to Ofcom’s new rules to help prevent children being overexposed to broadcast advertising for less healthy food which—together with the Government’s record investment in promoting school sport and the work to improve school meals and nutrition at home—will support our drive to halt the rise in childhood obesity by 2010.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I am sure that many will wish to join me in congratulating Ofcom on having clearly recognised the need to protect under-16s from the harmful effects of TV advertising in the promotion of foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt and particularly on having based its restrictions on the nutrient-proofing model suggested by the Food Standards Agency. However, since Ofcom acknowledges that these proposals will protect children from only less than half of the HFSS adverts that they see—because so many adverts appear during early evening adult programmes which children watch—should not Ofcom now consider imposing a 9 pm watershed on all such kinds of advertising?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Baroness will recognise that Ofcom took into account strong representations that the restrictions should operate until the 9 pm watershed. Of course, such constraints have consequences for the industry and its advertising revenue. Ofcom has reached this position on the balance, which it is obliged under law to seek, between the wider health needs of the public and the strength of broadcasting and the multiplicity of its production in this country.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, does the Minister accept that people who look upon this less kindly than I do might say that it is just a bit of tokenism, since children can see all these goods on the shelves when they go shopping with their parents? There is a greater problem: overall on television, there is a huge proportion of food advertising; it is far greater than in most other countries. This, rather than the narrower scene, ought to be looked at.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, Ofcom is aware that the Government asked it to look at children’s health. I recognise what the noble Baroness says about the wider extent of food advertising, but adults can to a large extent look after themselves.

We are greatly concerned about growing obesity among younger people, and certainly need to address it. This is an important step in that direction, but we would want to see its impact and success before considering anything else.

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Lord Rea: My Lords, I am sure the Minister is aware that Ofcom estimated that £22 million would be lost in advertising revenue to the independent television companies if the current suggested Ofcom guidelines were followed, but that £200 million would be lost if the 9 pm watershed ban, advocated by all responsible consumer and public health organisations, were adopted. Is it not therefore pretty unlikely that Ofcom, which is apparently more concerned with the financial health of TV companies than the future health of the nation, will voluntarily move to an effective ban? Is it not about time for the Government to consider stepping in with regulations sooner rather than later, as they did with television many years ago?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his points. The Government intend to review the position some 18 months to two years from now, and will look at progress being made in the area. My noble friend suggests that Ofcom will somehow not fulfil its duty to the nation when it has regard to the broadcasting industry, but that is its role as defined by legislation. Of course it is wary—particularly in the present climate, when there are problems with certain aspects of television, such as return from advertising—of taking decisions that would cost the industry to the extent that my noble friend accurately identified in his question.

Lord Addington: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the health of the nation is a more important objective of the Government than the health of the commercial television sector and that if new steps are needed in this sector, they will be taken? With the best will in the world, there is a chance that this will not work, and the Minister must give us a backstop and say that, if it does not work, something will be done.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I sought to identify that backstop; namely, the Government intend to look at this situation in the not-too-distant future to see the progress that is being made. The House will recognise that the health of the nation is one of the prime objectives for the Government, and all of us in our society, to promote. Equally clearly, the strength of our television broadcasters is an important feature of the values in our society.

Deputy Chairmen of Committees

Economic Affairs Committee

Constitution Committee

Refreshment Committee

3.36 pm

My Lords, I beg to move the four Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper.

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Deputy Chairmen of Committees

Moved, That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed as the panel of members to act as Deputy Chairmen of Committees for this Session:

V Allenby of Megiddo,

L Boston of Faversham,L Brougham and Vaux,L Carter,L Cope of Berkeley,L Elton,B Fookes,L Geddes,B Gould of Potternewton,L Grocott,L Haskel,B Hooper,L Lyell,C Mar,B Pitkeathley,V Simon,B Thomas of Walliswood,L Tordoff,B Turner of Camden,V Ullswater.

Economic Affairs Committee

Moved, That a Select Committee be appointed to consider economic affairs and that, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the committee:

L Kingsdown,

L Lamont of Lerwick,L Lawson of Blaby,L Layard,L Macdonald of Tradeston,L MacLaurin of Knebworth,L Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay,L Paul,L Sheldon,L Skidelsky,L Turner of Ecchinswell,L Vallance of Tummel,L Wakeham (Chairman).

That the committee have power to appoint a sub-committee and to refer to it any of the matters within the committee’s terms of reference; that the committee have power to appoint the chairman of the sub-committee;

That the committee have power to co-opt any member to serve on the sub-committee;

That the committee have power to adjourn from place to place;

That the committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;

That the committee have leave to report from time to time;

That the evidence taken by the Economic Affairs Committee or any sub-committee in the last Session of Parliament be referred to the committee;

That the evidence taken by the committee shall, if the committee so wishes, be printed.

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Constitution Committee

Moved, That a Select Committee be appointed to examine the constitutional implications of all public bills coming before the House; and to keep under review the operation of the constitution;

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the committee:

V Bledisloe,

L Carter,L Goodlad,L Holme of Cheltenham (Chairman),L Lyell of Markyate,L Morris of Aberavon,B O’Cathain,L Peston,L Rowlands,L Smith of Clifton,L Windlesham,L Woolf;

That the committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;

That the committee have power to adjourn from place to place;

That the committee have leave to report from time to time;

That the evidence taken by the Constitution Committee in the last Session of Parliament be referred to the committee;

That the evidence taken by the committee shall, if the committee so wishes, be printed.

Refreshment Committee

Moved, That a Select Committee be appointed to advise on the refreshment services provided for the House, within financial limits approved by the House Committee;

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the committee:

L Borrie,B Darcy de Knayth,L Davies of Oldham,B Fookes (Chairman),B Gould of Potternewton,L Glenarthur,B Harris of Richmond,C Mar,V Montgomery of Alamein,B Pitkeathley,L Redesdale,L Wade of Chorlton;

That the committee have leave to report from time to time.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motions agreed to.

Northern Ireland (St Andrews Agreement) Bill

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Of the many Northern Ireland Bills to come before this House over the years, few have been as important as this. It is potentially the most significant for generations. It gives effect to the

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St Andrews agreement with its twin pillars of power-sharing on a fair and equitable basis and support for policing and the rule of law across the whole community. These twin pillars stand or fall together. This legislation means that the vision set out in the Good Friday agreement can at last be fully realised: a Northern Ireland of equals where political difference can be accommodated, cultural diversity celebrated, division healed and where young people can look forward to a safe, secure and peaceful future.

We are now at the point where we must complete this transition with the local political parties delivering on a stable and lasting political settlement. In Armagh last April, the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach made it clear that 2006 is the year of decision for the political parties in Northern Ireland. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State made it clear in another place that the political process cannot be allowed to become an end in itself and that politicians could not, and would not, continue to be paid without doing their jobs—as they have been for more than four years—as if there was no tomorrow. Northern Ireland’s public will not tolerate that. They deserve better. The time has come for action on restoring devolution, ending the democratic deficit and closing down direct rule. The people of Northern Ireland have waited long enough for locally accountable, democratic government. This Bill delivers that goal. It is now up to the parties to deliver on their obligations too.

As has been the case throughout this process, little is ever easy or straightforward, and I can understand why the parties might wish to edge forward with caution. In Northern Ireland’s politics, it has always been easier to say no, and always harder to say yes. I know that there are issues on which all sides want reassurance. Where the Government can give reassurance, we will. Where the parties must give reassurance to each other, they should. However, as the Secretary of State said yesterday, there is nothing that cannot be resolved within the timeframe set out in the St Andrews agreement, given the will to do it. I believe that the will is there, and the St Andrews momentum must be maintained to achieve that end.

The timetable for devolution is clear. On 24 November—two days from now—the Assembly will convene, and the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein, as the two largest parties, will indicate who the First Minister and Deputy First Minister will be come restoration on 26 March next year. This indication will trigger the transitional Assembly, which can then get down to the real work of preparing a programme for government.

In January next year we will have the 13th report of the Independent Monitoring Commission. Significantly, this will be the seventh report since the IRA declared it would end its illegal activity. On 7 March, there will be an election in which the people will speak and on 14 March, members of the Executive will be nominated by the party leaders. On Monday 26 March, power will be devolved and the d'Hondt process of choosing an Executive will run, with Ministers assuming office taking the pledge of office. That will indeed be “democracy day” for Northern Ireland. But the Government are

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under no illusions. There is still much work to be done. Nobody can be forced into government. The Government cannot force people into government. Neither this House nor the other place can force people into government.

If at any stage between now and 26 March we run out of track then devolution will become dissolution. The clock is stopped; the election scrapped; that is the reality. This is not a threat either from me or the Secretary of State. There would simply be no point in continuing. In that event direct rule and plan B, with even closer co-operation with the Irish Government, will stretch into the foreseeable future. So a choice is to be made by the parties and the people—not next week, not next month, not next year and not the year after that, but now. The imperative is to do it now.

The twin pillars of power sharing and the rule of law are enshrined in the pledge of office that all Ministers must take on 26 March. The pledge of office requires all Ministers to,

to represent and work for not only those who voted for them and loaned them their mandate, but also for those who did not.

The pledge requires all Ministers to,

If devolution is to deliver good government, all the institutions of government must function effectively. Any less than a full commitment to that will sell short everyone in Northern Ireland.

The pledge of office also requires Ministers to,

These are fundamental tenets of power sharing, which go well beyond the symbolism—important though that is—of two different political traditions working together in equality without sacrificing either principle or integrity.

On support for the rule of law, the pledge of office could not be clearer. It states that all Ministers will,

Let me remind the House what paragraph 6 of the St Andrews agreement, and, indeed, Clause 7(2) of the Bill, says about support for law and order. It states:

We recognise that the issue of policing has been contentious ever since Northern Ireland came into being, and still more so during the conflict of recent years. But we are in a very different and much better place now. There is no greater example of this than in the transformation that has taken place within the Police Service of Northern Ireland, so ably led by Sir Hugh Orde.

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The St Andrews agreement also included a clear commitment, and a target of May 2008, for the devolution of policing and justice powers to the restored Executive. We expect all concerned to take that target seriously. Indeed, the Bill requires the Assembly to report to the Secretary of State before 27 March 2008 on progress towards the devolution of policing and justice powers.

I want to make clear that, once policing and justice is devolved, there is nothing in the pledge which would remove or unreasonably constrain any future Minister for policing and justice from making any legitimate criticism of the police. After all, proper accountability was central to the Good Friday agreement’s vision for new policing arrangements in Northern Ireland and proper accountability was a core element of the Patten report's recommendations. Proper accountability, which can sometimes include constructive criticism, is essential in delivering the police service that Northern Ireland deserves. There is a world of difference between that and a failure to support Northern Ireland policing and justice institutions.

I remind the House that, this summer, Parliament legislated for devolution of policing and justice. We want to see it delivered so that the whole of Northern Ireland can have better ownership of the rule of law and policing. That is in the interests of everyone. Of course, much of policing has already been devolved and I pay tribute to the work of the Policing Board, the police ombudsman and the district policing partnerships for the role they play in making the Police Service of Northern Ireland more accountable than perhaps any force anywhere else in the world.

The future of devolution in Northern Ireland rests on those twin pillars. If either collapses, the whole edifice collapses. We must know that the parties want to move forward to 26 March on that basis. That is why 24 November, two days from now, is so important. When that deadline was set—well before St Andrews, of course—the Government said that we needed to know by then that a deal was on and that we were on track for a lasting political settlement: devolution. That remains the case.

Without knowing that, there cannot be a transitional Assembly. Without knowing that, there cannot be an election. Without knowing that, there cannot be devolution. The sequence set out in St Andrews will not be set aside. If the Assembly has to be dissolved because we cannot move forward, it will be, but of course we sincerely hope that it does not come to that.

We are conscious that there were a range of views on how the commitment at St Andrews to consult the people should be met. There is a powerful case for a referendum. It has the attraction of being a single-issue question. But if a referendum was held, an election to the Assembly would follow within a year of the new Executive getting down to work. We think that what the newly devolved institutions will need is a prolonged period of stability over their incoming four years. That will allow the MLAs to get on with the business of government on the wide range of challenges that will face them: on education, rates, rural planning, water charges and so on. That is what the people want to see their locally elected politicians taking charge of.

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