Drinks industry toasts Commons health select committee’s defeat

March 19, 2010

Audible sighs of relief are rippling through the Advertising Association and drinks trade body The Portman Group now that the Government has summarily kicked into touch some of the sillier proposals recommended by the House of Commons health select committee last January.

Especially retrograde was the suggestion of a 9pm watershed for drinks ad, which was last howled down in 2006. And even more worrying, the naive recommendations that could have hamstrung major sponsored events. But the wooden spoon for unworldliness must surely go to recommendation 18 (if you can bear to read the detail here it is), that proposed the drinks industry be monitored by an independent statutory watchdog modelled on the  – er – Financial Services Authority, which has done such sterling service in the name of bank regulation. Haven’t these MPs come across the new cross-party mantra of “partnering” with industry yet?

Professor Hastings: Unacknowledged legislator?

Not that anyone will want to gloat in public about this, but I suspect  a great deal of private glee is also to be had from the knowledge that some of these shelved proposals seemed ghost-written into the report by Professor Gerard Hastings, the bête noire of free-market regulators.

One other thing. The Government’s robust defence of the existing self-regulatory mechanism and rejection of many of the health committee’s findings provide crushing evidence of how feeble these select committees are (with the exception of the public accounts committee – a very different specimen). But beware. Cross-party-endorsed reform may be on the way, emasculating the whips’ current power over committee selection. Meaning it won’t be so easy for HMG to ride roughshod over any findings with which it does not agree. Good for democracy perhaps, but not so good for the UK drinks industry.

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