Fast-food Industry (Public Health Responsibility Deal)

Oral Answers to Questions — Health – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 22nd October 2013.

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Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 11:30 am, 22nd October 2013

What recent assessment he has made of the effect of the public health responsibility deal on the products and marketing practices of the fast-food industry.

Photo of Jane Ellison Jane Ellison The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

We appreciate the contribution that the fast-food sector is making to the responsibility deal. More than 5,000 fast-food restaurants have labelled calories clearly, which means that more than 70% of high street fast food and takeaway meals are labelled. There is always more to do and we are keen to take this forward. Progress has been made through voluntary responsibility deals with industry.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I welcome the Minister to her new post. I do not suppose she has yet had time to look at the authoritative international study of asthma and allergies in childhood, which shows a clear link between the consumption of fast food and asthma and allergies. The Government, however, have refused to discuss that with the public health responsibility partners. When will the Government start to take public health seriously and hold companies to account?

Photo of Jane Ellison Jane Ellison The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

The idea that the Government do not take responsibility for public health seriously is ridiculous. Public health will never be improved just from Whitehall. The work has to be done together, among local government—which is keen and has been given the tools and resources—central Government, business and industry. Such long-term partnership working to improve the public’s health can only be done together. I will look at the hon. Lady’s specific point, but I reject the idea that the Government are not taking this issue seriously—far from it.

Photo of David Nuttall David Nuttall Conservative, Bury North

Will the Minister confirm that as far as fast food is concerned, personal responsibility will not be replaced by Government-imposed nanny state regulation?

Photo of Jane Ellison Jane Ellison The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

It is good as a Minister to hear the phrase “nanny state” get its first airing. We believe in the informed consumer, and that is the idea behind so many restaurants labelling calorie content on their food. Most of us want to be healthy and most of us know when we want to diet and lose weight. By working with business, we can enable the consumer to make an informed decision about their health.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

I declare my interest and welcome the Minister to her new portfolio. I wish to support the nanny state to this extent: it is fine for companies to sign up to the responsibility deal, but they have to deliver. As her first act as Minister with responsibility for diabetes, will she ban sugar from all Department of Health canteens, and stop selling in our hospitals fizzy drinks that contribute to diabetes?

Photo of Jane Ellison Jane Ellison The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

As the right hon. Gentleman might know, my first outing as public health Minister was to attend a diabetes think-tank, which I hope indicates how seriously I take the issue. I do not think what he asks for is within my powers, but obviously I will take a close interest in the Department of Health canteen. The right hon. Gentleman is right. We have never said that other measures will not necessarily be taken, but the responsibility deal has taken us a long way when many predicted it would not, and we are keen to inject new energy into it.

Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Conservative, Brigg and Goole

When I was in the classroom as a school teacher, people used to come to school having had Micro Chips for breakfast. I do not wish to see a nanny state imposed on anybody, but we must do a lot more education. I urge the Minister’s Department to work cross-departmentally with the Department for Education to ensure that we get proper health and food education in our schools. Those using fast food at the moment are often those who can least afford it.

Photo of Jane Ellison Jane Ellison The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

I am glad my hon. Friend has raised the issue of working with schools and education, and I have already had initial discussions with my opposite number at the Department for Education. We think we have an exciting agenda to take forward, and I hear what my hon. Friend says.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights)

In 2011-12, childhood obesity rose by 37% across the United Kingdom. Will the Minister take into account the child marketing strategy of the fast-food industry when considering how best to address the issue?

Photo of Jane Ellison Jane Ellison The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

I am interested in looking at what the hon. Gentleman says, and I will be happy to talk to him about that.