LDA funding agreement with the British Fashion Council

MQT on 2008-09-10
Session date: 
September 10, 2008
Question By: 
Dee Doocey
Liberal Democrats
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


One of the key recommendations of Baroness Kingsmill's Model Health Inquiry was that: 'From September 2008 models participating in London Fashion Week should provide a medical certificate attesting their good health from doctors with expertise in recognising eating disorders.' The British Fashion Council has now decided not to implement this recommendation. In view of this, will you instruct the LDA to cease funding the British Fashion Council?


Answer for LDA funding agreement with the British Fashion Council

Answer for LDA funding agreement with the British Fashion Council

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Dee's question, for the benefit of international viewers, relates to the British Fashion Council and Baroness Kingsmill's Model Health Inquiry which concluded that from September 2008 models participating in London Fashion Week should provide a medical certificate attesting their good health from doctors with expertise in recognised eating disorders and, because the British Fashion Council has decided not to implement this recommendation, you are asking me whether I will instruct the LDA to cease funding the British Fashion Council and my answer is no. Do you want the reason?

Dee Doocey (AM): Yes, it might be helpful.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): The reason is that I do think that significant progress has been made on this issue. I do not minimise the importance of it. There has been an agreement drawn up between the LDA and the British Fashion Council for a number of practical measures, including banning under 16s from the catwalk, improving conditions backstage, including contractual obligations to provide food for models - if not actually making them eat it - organising spot checks for drugs, working with Equity to establish the first union representation for models in this country and supporting model sanctuaries. Cacophonous laughter. These are sanctuaries for models rather than model sanctuaries.

I do think that is a package of measures which goes a long way to meeting the concerns of Baroness Kingsmill and her inquiry but does not impose on models coming to London Fashion Week - which generates about £22.5 million in spending on fashion in London - the obligation to go to a doctor and get an intrusive certificate of health, which is particularly burdensome when you consider that 85% of these models come from abroad. I think we would be needlessly hampering London Fashion Week and the London fashion industry, so that is why I am not going to do as I think you want me to do.

Dee Doocey (AM): Right. Well, I would like to try to persuade you otherwise. To say that providing food backstage and doing spot checks for drugs goes someway to alleviate the concern of Baroness Kingsmill I think is an insult to the experts that sat on her panel for six months and took evidence from over 200 people and organisations.

This is a very serious issue. I find it regrettable that there has been laughter from the other side of the Chamber when over one million people suffer from eating disorders and 1 in 40 -

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I fully understand the seriousness of the issue, Dee, I just think that the -

Dee Doocey (AM): Sorry, could I just continue?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Yes, of course, yes.

Dee Doocey (AM): I find the whole thing quite extraordinary. I did not say willy nilly, 'Will you stop funding?' Let us put it in context; there is an agreement between the LDA and the British Fashion Council that sets out terms for the funding; £4.2 million over three years. One of the milestones they had to reach was to make sure that one of the key recommendations of Baroness Kingsmill's inquiry - that models should have health certificates - was implemented, and at the first hurdle they have not done that. Now their excuse for not doing it is that they spoke to model agents, casting agents and show producers and that these people within the industry were not keen. Well they would not be; their job is to provide what designers want. Turkeys do not vote for Christmas! It is, quite frankly, an insult to say that because this body of people have the opinion that they were not a good idea that they should not do it.

You also talk about putting off international models from coming here but Milan has already introduced health certificates in Milan and, as far as I am aware, their fashion capital has not collapsed. Madrid banned models with a body mass index (BMI) of under 18 and they have not had any adverse effects.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Have they got the certificates there as well?

Dee Doocey (AM): Not certificates; they have just banned people with BMI of under 18, which is a similar sort of thing; perhaps a bit more draconian than the certificates.

What really bothers me, yet again, is the British Fashion Council put out comments of concern, they are really concerned about these vulnerable young girls - and it tends to be girls although 10% are boys, with these eating disorders - who are looking at these stick thin models on fashion catwalks and thinking that that is how they should be. So when their bodies are developing they are trying to stop them.

You as the Mayor have a duty for the health of Londoners and you really should take it seriously. This is a very serious issue --

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I do take it seriously, Dee. I am very interested in what you say.

Dee Doocey (AM): You cannot say that your LDA has got a funding agreement with the British Fashion Council and as soon as the British Fashion Council decide that they do not like the six month outcome of an expert panel chaired by Baroness Kingsmill, who is a perfectly capable woman, you are going to roll over and let the British Fashion Council once again put profit ahead of the health of our children. I think, frankly, you really need to reconsider.

Brian Coleman (AM): Sanctimonious claptrap.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I really think this is the kind of issue where we can have a bit more light than heat. I am interested in what you say. I am particularly interested in what you say about the effect of these certificates in Milan and the effect of the very draconian measures in Spain. Let me look into it, Dee.

I have a briefing that seems to me, superficially, to be persuasive that if we introduced certificates they would be burdensome and they would be detrimental to the interests of the London fashion industry, about which also I have to have a concern as Mayor. I have to think about the economic importance of that industry to London, our leading role in the world, and I have to balance that against any benefits in health that we might achieve by these certificates.

Now, if you can persuade me that these certificates really are going to protect models from harm and they really are going to protect the health of young women who are in this industry then, OK, I will have a look at it. However, I have to say at the moment, the balance of the argument seems to be in favour of the less regulatory but quite substantial series of steps that have already been negotiated.

Dee Doocey (AM): There are two very small points that I want to make. First of all, you cannot have a situation that you have a funding agreement between the LDA and anyone else that says that funding is conditional upon milestones being met and if those milestones are not met and it says in the agreement - I have got it here and I will make sure you have a copy of it because you obviously have not read it - that funding can be withdrawn then, when the milestones are not met, say it does not matter and there are all sorts of other reasons, because those should have been taken into account.

I think I can persuade you. You talked about quotes but I would like to give you one quote which is not changed in any way and I am not using it. Baroness Kingsmill said, 'During the investigation evidence of the vulnerability of women in the modelling profession was startling and models are at high risk of eating disorders'. So with that ringing in your ears, I would like, off line, to spend quite a bit of time trying to persuade you that your decision earlier today was the wrong one. I definitely welcome the fact that you are going to look at it again.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I certainly have an open mind about this.

Dee Doocey (AM): Good.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I want to protect the health of everybody in London, obviously, but I do not want to introduce something that is going to turn into another example of a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check; something that actually does not turn out to be of [benefit]. Not all CRB checks, by the way, I think are wholly necessary. There is a horrifying admission! I think that, on the whole, we should err in favour of a less regulatory approach where we can, but if you can satisfy me that these certificates would actually do some good and actually stop some young girls from suffering terrible anorexia then, yes, of course, I will look at it.

Dee Doocey (AM): OK.

Joanne McCartney (AM): I want to follow up because on this side we agree wholeheartedly with Dee's view on this and it was certainly something that the previous Mayor accepted, hence the agreement that we have with the LDA and London Fashion Week.

Earlier on you talked about your drive with regards to young people and attainment, and you must recognise that part of young people's attainment and satisfaction in life and ability to get on in life is about their culture, their attitude and having good role models, which you have spoken about as well. We have your youth programme, what you want to do with youth, about sport, about health, funded primarily by the LDA, taking that forward in one branch of the LDA, yet in another branch of the LDA you are funding something that totally negates that work that we are doing in another sphere so all -

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): You mean in terms of supporting a London fashion industry that you think is imperilling the health of young female -

Joanne McCartney (AM): Indeed. There is evidence to show that young girls' self confidence and their motivation is predicated on how they look and how they feel. So it seems to me that if you want to succeed in your aims about changing the culture of young people and having them to aspire, this is one of the ways that you can meet that objective.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Joanne, just spell that out a little bit more. How do you change young girls' role models by -

Jennette Arnold (Chair): No, Mr Mayor, it is for Joanne to ask you the question.

Joanne McCartney (AM): I will send you some evidence. I think it is your LDA, you are funding young people's programmes that you say are about aspiration and confidence and we know that young women's confidence and aspiration, in part, is predicated on how they feel and their own self confidence. Part of Dee's argument certainly is that by supporting these stick thin models -

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Stick thin?

Joanne McCartney (AM): Stick thin models. You are, in effect, giving bad role models to young girls. I can send you evidence about this.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): OK. If I may, Jennette, that is the point I wanted to tease out. Are you saying that the size of the models, the stick thin nature of the models, is a bad example for girls in London and that should be discouraged?

Joanne McCartney (AM): Yes. It was the evidence that was given to the inquiry by Baroness Kingsmill as well.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): OK. So you would like to see heavier models? I just want to be absolutely clear about what we are saying.

Dee Doocey (AM): We do not want to see size zero.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Let's not pussyfoot around; let's have what the argument is.

Jennette Arnold (Chair): Mr Mayor, if Members are going to be making comments and putting in their research then it is a different forum that we are going to have. It is better - our training tells us - that we need to put questions here. So I think that we have covered this item as you have agreed to accept evidence from Dee Doocey about this matter and agreed that the discussions about this issue will carry on.

Andrew Boff (AM): Bearing in mind that Dee Doocey is now saying that she does not believe that in view of all this will you instruct the LDA to cease funding the British Fashion Council, I am surprised she actually put in the question to you, because that kind of message sent out to the fashion industry - which is particularly important to East London may I say - is the kind of destructive move for the sake of a bit of showboating that I have ever seen.

What would be a more constructive question - and perhaps what Dee Doocey wanted to ask - is would this Assembly perhaps like to ask the Mayor to assist in the international negotiations with the fashion industry worldwide, in places like Milan and in places like Paris, to ensure that those medical certificates are something which can be generally consented to. It is an international trade. We cannot do it on our own and, if we were to do it on our own, we would damage it for the sake of that woman's conscience.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): That is a powerful point and an interesting point. I am amazed there is not some European Union (EU) directive on the appropriate weight and girth of models. I would be very surprised if there were not homologation requirements for models. It may be that there is already some international - Dee [Doocey], you probably know whether there is or not. I think Andrew [Boff] makes, superficially, quite a powerful point; that the way forward might be to try to do this on an international level.

Dee Doocey (AM): Unlike Andrew, unfortunately I do not have the amount of time to get involved in the debate.

Jennette Arnold (Chair): Mr Mayor, can I just say, in your answer and in the questioning, what we have picked up here is an important and serious issue -

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I agree.

Jennette Arnold (Chair): - it is not just about modelling. It seems to me that this discussion is about an issue that impacts on a number of our young people who are dying from the condition of anorexia and how this activity might well be related to that. So can I ask you to make a final statement in confirming that you will be meeting up with Dee Doocey, who is Chair of the Committee that has this work on their agenda -- I believe? Or not?

Dee Doocey (AM): No, no.

Jennette Arnold (Chair): Can we bring a resolution to this so we can move on to the next question of strategic relevance about affordable housing.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Yes. OK. Just on that, I want to repeat, Dee, what I said earlier on to you that of course I am willing to listen to these arguments, I am willing to listen to the case for a certificate and for us in London taking more extreme action if that really will preserve the health of young people in the fashion industry. I am certainly willing to listen to those arguments.