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Speech in the debate on the Soft Drinks Industry Levy

Mike Kane MP, Shadow Minister for Schools:


The hon. Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley) reminded us about the importance of outdoor recreation, so I rise to my feet very tenderly, having just participated with the MP parliamentary football team for 90 minutes over in Chelsea. We played the press lobby. It was a one-all draw, and there was no love lost between the two teams when we came off the pitch.

It is a pleasure, as ever, to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) on securing the debate. Why he is not in Government, I do not know. I thought that he did an extraordinarily good job with disability confidence in the last Parliament. I was pleased to support that with my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), in putting on one of the biggest events in the north of England, and I hope that impetus carries on even ​though he is no longer at the Department for Work and Pensions. The hon. Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) has already laid out the facts, and I congratulate her on her chairmanship of the all-party parliamentary group on adult and childhood obesity.

One in five children are overweight or obese before they start primary school, and the figure rises to one in three by the time they leave year 6. That puts children at serious risk of developing serious conditions such as heart and liver disease, cancer, related mental health problems—I think that the hon. Member for Macclesfield is the only Member who has mentioned mental health today—and diabetes.

Let me make an observation about health in my constituency, where I have the world-class Wythenshawe hospital, run by the University Hospital of South Manchester NHS Foundation Trust. Its outcomes are unbelievable, but I say to consultants that my constituency has one of the worst levels of public health outcomes in England and Wales, and what we are really doing is triage in the trenches. My population is ravaged by hyper-tension—I am looking to the doctors in the Chamber to help me out here—chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and, in particular, type 2 diabetes, which is having all sorts of impacts on NHS costs—somebody has already pointed out the £6 billion cost to the NHS.

I am starting schemes in all those three areas and, as the hon. Member for North Swindon said, using civil society as best as I can to tackle them. With the British Heart Foundation’s work on hypertension, Diabetes UK’s diabetes groups and the British Lung Foundation’s Breathe Easy campaign, we know that we can keep people out of our A&Es, which is a huge issue this week, whichever side of the political fence hon. Members are on. People can self-help and self-medicate, which is important because by the time they go to A&E or to their doctor or health professional, it is almost too late.

I concur with what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) and by the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), who chairs the Health Committee: some areas do not have such a strong civil society and they need a leg-up from Government through the hypothecation of taxes. We have seen a link between the scale of poverty and obesity in children, in particular. The Government recognise that but have taken away the targets along with the unit that looks at child poverty, which is rocketing, and not just under this Government—it was going up previously because of the economic and financial crisis.

In 2016 the Government introduced a new levy on soft drinks through the sugar tax. In England the new levy revenue will be invested in programmes to support physical activity and balanced diets in school-aged children. I want to talk for a moment from my personal experience as a primary school teacher for 10 years. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field), who is not currently in his place, pointed out that children go to school for only 40 weeks a year. It is important for politicians to remember that, because I used to get frustrated at this place when I was a teacher in the classroom. We all think that we can change society by changing our schools, but it is only a small, if important, bit of how we change society.

I used to eat with the children before and after the Jamie Oliver meals came in. I patrolled the free school meals kids in particular, not because I was the sugar ​police—although, we did had very firm policies in my 500-place primary school about what they could have in those packages—but because I knew what the afternoon would be like if they had had a can of Coke, a load of chocolate and a packet of crisps. It is almost impossible to get really extraordinary teaching and learning going on with poor diets. Everybody in the Chamber has made the link between good food and good mental health in children.

There is a clear link between sugar intake and childhood obesity, as illustrated by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition’s 2015 report on carbohydrates and health. With 30% of the sugar in children’s diets coming from sugary drinks—the point has been made that children are consuming a bathtub of these drinks annually—action is clearly needed. The levy is expected to raise more than £500 million in the first year. It is a good policy. I will come back to why I disagree with the hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince) in a second, but I thought that the hon. Member for Falkirk (John Mc Nally) articulated well why it is a good policy and why we should support it. The amount raised is likely to fall over time as manufacturers remove sugar from their products and the consumption of sugary drinks falls.

I disagree with the hon. Member for Colchester because he has stated that this is a nanny state-type tax, but what we now have, particularly with school budgets, which I shall come to later, is a postcode lottery. For example, look at what Britvic is already doing to avoid the sugar tax. It is changing its behaviour and remodelling the formula so that it does not pay the tax. Surely that is a good thing. Surely that is how Governments should intervene to make the world a better place, particularly for children.

Will Quince
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mike Kane
I will, because I have attacked the hon. Gentleman twice now in this speech.

Will Quince
Not at all. I accept that point, but I think that the hon. Gentleman has reiterated what I was saying. We all accept that if the industry reacts and reformulates products, that will be a great thing. However, if it does so and takes the action we know it is taking over a shorter period of time, rather than a longer period, that will mean we have less money ultimately to spend on this programme.

Mike Kane
But over the longer term people will hopefully be consuming less sugar, which I think is the key objective. However, the hon. Gentleman is right; reformulation not only will reduce the tax take and therefore be a measure of the success of Government policy—we need measures relating to public policy—but will have an impact on reducing consumption, which is just as important. He also pointed out that it is important that the impact is comprehensively evaluated, so that it can be refined and adjusted continually to keep getting public health gains.

Let us move on to schools and sport, where I have a few things to say to the Minister. Doubling the PE and sport premium fund to £320 million a year from 2017 is good news and shows a commitment from the Government that this is important. The premium has shown that it ​can enhance the quality of PE teaching and increase pupil engagement and participation in sport. Continued investment in sport was also highlighted by school leaders as the most important factor in maintaining quality PE provision in a Youth Sport Trust survey published last year.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) on what she said about teachers. This is not just about civil society. Tens of thousands of selfless teachers give up their time after work to run such clubs—during a decade of primary school teaching, I ran the football club and the cross-country club—and all the other clubs that are part of what is expected of schools but are not in the job description. It is right that we praise the teachers up and down the land who do that.

However, as essential as all these things are, a legacy for school sport is about looking beyond primary-age provision and competitive sport initiatives. Everyone has talked about the daily mile, outdoor recreation, walking to school and our physical environment. Increasing the number of pupils of all ages who are participating in school sport—competitive or not—across all phases of education and the amount of time that they spend doing so should be fundamental to a comprehensive strategy, yet the Government have gone backwards on the issue.

Take, for example, what my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) said about the previous coalition Government’s decision to remove £162 million of funding from school sport partnerships. Those partnerships were terrific—there is no doubt about it. The Government are embarking on breaking up our estate by privatising and nationalising it, and there are a spread of school campuses across the country. What the partnerships did was link combinations of local primaries to their secondary school, which usually had the expertise, resource and field capacity to do really joined-up work and get a system going where those clusters could really begin to make a difference.

When the money went, there was a negative impact, as opportunities for young people to participate in more school sport decreased, as the Education Committee noted. As I said to the hon. Member for Colchester, that decision has created a postcode lottery relating to good provision, because we had a national system but we now have local systems in which local schools are trying to do their best to keep up good practice. It has been particularly evident in secondary schools that do not have ring-fenced budgets for sport.

We also know that, unsurprisingly, since this Government removed in 2010 the requirement for pupils to have at least two hours of sport a week, the number of pupils taking part in sport has collapsed. From personal experience, there is an over-expectation of sport in schools. A teacher who is timetabling two hours, as I used to have to do, must think about their relevance as a classroom teacher. Sometimes we in this place do not think about that. It can take 10 minutes to get the children changed and five minutes to get them to the playground or field—if the school is lucky enough to have one—or to the hall. The curriculum focuses mainly not on physical activity but on skills, and then the children need to be warmed down, get changed and go back. I saw teachers selflessly giving up their play times and breaks so that the children could get the best hour possible.​
The situation will be exacerbated by school budgets, which will be cut by £3 billion between now and 2020—an 8% cut in real terms. Schools are not the panacea for the policy.

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