The government has distanced itself from a call by the Department of Health's chief whip to introduce a pre-9pm ban on the advertising of junk food.

In a House of Lords debate on obesity, Baroness Royall of Blaisdon was asked by crossbench life peer Baroness Howe if she was satisfied that existing Ofcom restrictions on advertising high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) foods were sufficient.

"No, my Lords, I am not satisfied," said Baroness Royall. "The rules on advertising to children have got a lot better. From January, adverts during television programmes of particular appeal to children under 16 will not be allowed.

"However, we must move forward and we need a ban on all HFSS foods before the 9pm watershed."

A Department of Health spokeswoman has now insisted Baroness Royall's statement did not reflect the government line on advertising to children.

"We're not going to go as far as that," said the spokeswoman. "The government has a lot of work to do to tackle obesity and while advertising is a priority we need to wait to see how everything beds down before we consider any further moves. We have better things to do first."

Another indication that Baroness Royall's views were not in line with the government's came from comments made at a Westminster Hall debate by Gerry Sutcliffe, parliamentary under-secretary at the Department for Culture, Media & Sport .

When asked about the ban on advertising , he said the government was aware it had to tread carefully. "We must suggest realistic ways of combating obesity while recognising the impact on industry and the commercial world," he said. "We are committed to doing that."

The first reading of the Promotion of Food to Children Bill also took place this week (5 December). The Private Members' Bill, introduced by Labour MP Nigel Griffiths, proposes a 9pm watershed on the TV advertising of HFSS food as well as restrictions on non-broadcast marketing.

It is due to be debated at its second reading on 25 April next year. Griffiths has also tabled an Early Day Motion, signed by 25 MPs.

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