Tory peers call for delay and changes to new junk food advertising restrictions

A 9pm television watershed and heavier online restrictions for advertising products high in fat, sugar and salt are to be introduced.

Richard Wheeler
Friday 04 February 2022 15:43
The Health Secretary will be given the power to delay the introduction of new junk food advertising restrictions, amid Tory backbench opposition to the policy (PA)
The Health Secretary will be given the power to delay the introduction of new junk food advertising restrictions, amid Tory backbench opposition to the policy (PA)

The Health Secretary will get the power to delay the introduction of new junk food advertising curbs, amid Tory backbench opposition to the policy.

Conservative whip Baroness Penn said changes to the Health and Care Bill have been made to give the Government “flexibility” on the implementation date – should “emerging challenges” make January 1 2023 “unworkable”.

But she insisted ministers “currently have no plans to delay” the restrictions, despite several colleagues urging a timetable change to give manufacturers and advertisers more time to prepare for them.

We have taken this decision to provide flexibility should emerging challenges mean the implementation from January 1 2023 proves unworkable. However, I should emphasise that we currently have no plans to delay the introduction of these restrictions

Lady Penn

A 9pm television watershed and heavier online restrictions for advertising products high in fat, sugar and salt are to be introduced.

The regulations will allow exemptions for the healthiest foods within each category, such as honey, olive oil, avocados and yeast extract.

Lady Penn said the Government recognised the measures are “not a silver bullet” to tackle childhood obesity but are part of a wider approach, which includes working with manufacturers to tweak their products.

Speaking for the Government, Lady Penn told the House of Lords: “Amendments 249, 252 and 254 separately introduce the ability to delay that implementation date via secondary legislation should this be deemed necessary after the Bill receives royal assent.

“We have taken this decision to provide flexibility should emerging challenges mean the implementation from January 1 2023 proves unworkable.

“However, I should emphasise that we currently have no plans to delay the introduction of these restrictions.”

At the risk of being trolled both in French and Canadian on Twitter, I gather that in Quebec - which has had a ban now for 40 years - the Quebecois have got fatter faster than the rest of Canada

Lord Vaizey

Earlier, Conservative peer Lord Vaizey of Didcot said the measures will have “zero impact” on obesity and noted he did “fight” them when a culture minister.

He said: “I think these proposals are wrongheaded and extremely damaging for our public service broadcasters.

“I gather that the Government’s own impact report assesses that it would reduce calorie intake in children by 1.7 calories – that is either a Tic Tac or half a Smartie, depending on your predilections.

“But it will, it is estimated, cost broadcasters some £200 million a year.”

Lord Vaizey said advertising bans have “comprehensively failed” elsewhere, adding: “At the risk of being trolled both in French and Canadian on Twitter, I gather that in Quebec – which has had a ban now for 40 years – the Quebecois have got fatter faster than the rest of Canada.”

Conservative Lord Grade of Yarmouth, who has held senior roles at the BBC, ITV and Channel 4, described it as a “shocking piece of bodged legislation” that needs to be made more sensible and fair.

Even now at the 11th hour they should think again because it is disproportionate based on scant, frankly implausible, evidence, it'll damage the creative economy, which is already under such stress, and it'll have unintended consequences like so much legislation that impacts on the media

Lord Black

Lord Black of Brentwood, a Conservative peer who is a deputy chairman of the Telegraph Media Group, said he supports the aims to tackle childhood obesity but added he is “wholly opposed” to the advertising ban.

He said: “Even now at the 11th hour they should think again because it is disproportionate based on scant, frankly implausible, evidence, it’ll damage the creative economy, which is already under such stress, and it’ll have unintended consequences like so much legislation that impacts on the media.”

Lord Black also warned it sets a “hugely dangerous precedent” for Government interference in “advertising freedoms”.

Conservative Baroness Stowell of Beeston, former leader of the Lords, reiterated the need to deal with childhood obesity but said there is “a case for a delay” to the measures.

But Lord Bethell, a Conservative former health minister, said it was “absolutely crucial” to continue with the plans to help reach the ambition of halving childhood obesity in England by 2030.

He also backed reformulation measures, saying of the risk of inaction: “More children will grow ill, more will have shorter lives.”

Crossbench peer Lord Stevens of Birmingham, a former NHS England chief executive, said “obesity is the new smoking” and noted the Bill “makes a start” in delivering action.

He said opponents of the measures were adopting tactics of “deny, dilute and delay”.

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