The Conservative Party is to consider whether or not more curbs are needed on advertising that is aimed at children in another sign political opinion is hardening against such ads.
David Cameron has set up an inquiry on "the quality of childhood" in Britain. Its terms of reference include: "Advertising to children - how can society protect children better from the commercialisation of childhood?" It will look at whether or not marketing aimed at children encourages them to behave like adults prematurely, as well as other areas of concern such as junk-food commercials.
Tory officials said the move should not be seen as a sign that the party would demand statutory controls over ads. They added that Cameron's instincts were for tighter voluntary codes, rather than more government regulations, in line with his keynote theme of "social responsibility" in which businesses and individuals should recognise they have a duty to society.
The Tory leader said: "I want every manufacturer, promoter and retailer to ask themselves: 'Am I acting responsibly by designing, building, promoting and selling this stuff to our children?' The same goes for clothes and accessories that seem to treat young children as fully sexualised adults."
Hinting at a voluntary approach, Cameron added: "The law can't go here and somehow outlaw clothes that sexualise children. But parents, the media, politicians and others shouldn't be frightened to speak out."
The Tory inquiry, chaired by David Willetts, the shadow education secretary, will report in the autumn. It raises the prospect that children's advertising could be an issue at the next general election.