Sugary Drinks Tax

Mark made the following contributions to a debate yesterday in the Main Chamber on taxing sugary drinks:

Mark Field: I am eager to get in on that point, because I think it is rather facilely simplistic to suggest that any reduction in life expectancy is just down to diet. I accept that that could be one of the factors, but, in looking at this report and others like it, it is important that we take an evidence-based approach. Diet is a factor in reduced life expectancy in some parts of the country, but it is by no means the only factor.

Helen Jones: The right hon. Gentleman will learn that diet is actually the major factor. I will go on to say a little more about that later. He is right that it is difficult to talk about the subject without seeming like a killjoy, so I will fess up right at the beginning: I enjoy a glass of wine with my meals, although I try to restrict it to weekends; I am martyr to my cravings for chocolate; and, like many of us in this House, I could do with losing a bit of weight. However, we should not let our own frailties put us off tackling what I believe to be a real health emergency.

I have seen a huge change in diet, particularly in children’s diets, over my lifetime. When I was growing up, pop was a treat that we got occasionally, and we usually got a bottle of it between several of us. Sweets were bought by our dads on payday. If we were out playing—most children did play out in those days—and we came in hungry, we got bread and butter and a drink of water. Now, thanks to a huge change in lifestyle, the wider availability of products and some heavy marketing to children, the situation has changed. Many adults and most of our children are not meeting the proper dietary requirements. We eat too much saturated fat and too much sugar—both added sugar, and sugar in fruit juices, honey and similar products.

Mark Field: As the father of two young children aged seven and four, I entirely endorse what the hon. Lady has to say about the prevalence of treats for today’s youngsters compared with that which our generation grew up with. Does she accept, however, that the issues here are the responsibility of parents and of the companies who produce such goods? Many of those companies have shown a level of responsibility, and the average size of confectionery such as the Mars bar has fallen as time has gone by. There is more information on all such products about the amount of fat and sugar that they contain. In many ways, we are living in an age of more responsible and more informed consumers, both young and old. That is where the responsibility lies, and that responsibility has been put into place to a large extent—

Mark Field: Does my hon. Friend recognise that one concern that some of us have about a tax on sugary drinks is that although it seems an attractive idea as a one-off, it would set a precedent? There would then be moves to outlaw discounting, impose portion sizes and implement similar rules. [Interruption.] Many of us believe in the idea of freedom and the responsibility of the consumer, and do not like the idea of the Government imposing that sort of change.

Dr Wollaston: In an ideal world, I agree, it would be nice not to have to do any of that, but I return to the point about whether the Government also have a responsibility for the health of the nation’s children.

Mark Field: It is only fair that we give some credit to the industry, as my hon. Friend has done, particularly for the changes that have been made in relation to salt products. However, it seems to me somewhat insidious that, as we heard in an earlier contribution, the financial interests are being questioned, as though health professionals, who are often well funded by public funding, did not have a financial interest in this particular debate, as well as—[Interruption.]

Fabian Hamilton (in the Chair): Order.

Mark Field: A significant number of health charities also have a big financial interest in this debate, and it is right that that interest should be balanced against those with clear financial interests in the industry.

Fabian Hamilton (in the Chair): Order.

Dr Wollaston: I thank my right hon. Friend, and I should say for the record that I have no financial interest in any of this whatsoever.