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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Government welcome Ofcoms announcement on its proposals to strengthen the rules on broadcast food promotion to children. We now look to Ofcoms new rules to help prevent children being overexposed to broadcast advertising for less healthy food whichtogether with the Governments record investment in promoting school sport and the work to improve school meals and nutrition at homewill 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 seebecause so many adverts appear during early evening adult programmes which children watchshould 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 childrens 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.
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 waryparticularly in the present climate, when there are problems with certain aspects of television, such as return from advertisingof 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.
That the committee have power to appoint a sub-committee and to refer to it any of the matters within the committees terms of reference; that the committee have power to appoint the chairman of the sub-committee;
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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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 jobsas they have been for more than four yearsas if there was no tomorrow. Northern Irelands 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 Irelands 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 Novembertwo days from nowthe 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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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 peoplenot next week, not next month, not next year and not the year after that, but now. The imperative is to do it now.
These are fundamental tenets of power sharing, which go well beyond the symbolismimportant though that isof two different political traditions working together in equality without sacrificing either principle or integrity.
We believe that the essential elements of support for law and order include endorsing fully the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the criminal justice system, actively encouraging everyone in the community to co-operate fully with the PSNI in tackling crime in all areas and actively supporting all the policing and criminal justice institutions, including the Policing Board.
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.
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 agreements 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 setwell before St Andrews, of coursethe 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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