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5 Feb 2003 : Column 294—continued

The Deputy Prime Minister: My experience with Liverpool over many years is that one should not put a foot in the water without knowing what one is talking about. I readily accept that my hon. Friend may be offering a fair interpretation of what the council is doing, but I do not know enough to say whether it is right or wrong. We must look at the whole question of finance and housing credits, to which my hon. Friend referred. We might be able to get more money for developments in areas such as his than we do at present. We are actively involved in discussing a number of such ideas with the Treasury.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I have let the statement run for an hour and 10 minutes. I have to move on.

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Points of Order

1.41 pm

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I realise that you are enjoined to confine statements to one hour, and that you ran the statement that has just ended for an hour and 10 minutes. However, my constituency is one of the growth areas that the Deputy Prime Minister described, as are the constituencies of my hon. Friends the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink), for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) and for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow). I seek protection for Back-Bench Members like us, who had no opportunity to ask questions on the statement. Indeed, the first Back Bencher was able to ask a question only 40 minutes after the commencement of the statement. What can you do to assist those—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I shall have to cut the hon. Gentleman short. I ran the statement for 10 minutes over the hour to try to allow every hon. Member wanting to speak a chance to get in. However, I cannot get every hon. Member in: it is as simple as that.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: I hope that it is not the same point of order.

Mr. Francois: No, it is different. The Deputy Prime Minister assured the House that this afternoon's statement had not been leaked in advance to the media. However, a quick check reveals that The Sunday Times of 2 February carried an article entitled "Prescott Fires Up Southeast Building Boom"—

The Deputy Prime Minister: I do not speak to The Sunday Times.

Mr. Francois: Well, the article was written by the ironically named Jonathan Leake, the newspaper's environment editor.

Mr. Speaker: Order. I do not want to go through the article. I heard the Deputy Prime Minister say that he does not speak to The Sunday Times. [Interruption.] This is a serious matter. The Deputy Prime Minister gave an assurance to the House, and privately sent word to my office—to me—that the matter was not leaked. I take the Deputy Prime Minister's word on that, as I would take the word of every hon. Gentleman. I shall not pursue the matter further.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise a point of the greatest seriousness. I believe that the House has been misled on a matter of prime importance. You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that on 24 September we were presented with a dossier, at three hours' notice, containing claims against the behaviour of Iraq. On page 34, the dossier stated that, before 1998,

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A lot of faith was put in that statement, which seemed to prove that the Iraqi regime had behaved in bad faith. Yesterday, the Foreign Office answered a question of mine by saying that UNSCOM inspectors did have access to the presidential sites, and UNSCOM has confirmed that it visited eight of the sites before 1998. The rest of the dossier is full of statements that have proved to be misleading or, in many cases, completely untrue. As we are going to make the most serious decisions on the basis of military intelligence and dossiers from the Government, is not it crucial that someone comes to the House to correct the gross errors in the dossier before we use such information to send our soldiers to Iraq, where they will kill and be killed?

Mr. Speaker: That is not a matter for the Chair. It is a matter for debate.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I know that you are not responsible for answers given by the Prime Minister to oral questions, but in the past I have heard you chide him for straying into presenting Conservative policy as part of an answer. When he replied earlier today to a question about the change in policy on House of Lords reform after the 2001 election, the Prime Minister clearly told the House that the Conservative party sought to establish an all-party committee to decide the matter. I was shadow Leader of the House in the year prior to the 2001 election, and I was actively engaged in discussions about setting up such a committee with the then Leader of the House and the leaders of the other two parties in the Lords. That was a year before the 2001 election. The matter was not taken forward because the Government refused to allow the committee to discuss the composition of the House of Lords. That is an important point to make in response to the Prime Minister's answer.

Mr. Speaker: It could be that the Prime Minister will read the hon. Lady's remarks in Hansard.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance. Given that the Milton Keynes and south midlands study envisages another 59,000 homes for the Aylesbury vale district area by 2031, and that there is a pervasive concern that the £8.5 million of infrastructure investment that is required will not be forthcoming—with damaging consequences for traffic congestion, air quality, school provision, medical facilities and so on—do you think that the Deputy Prime Minister will have taken account of the level of grievance felt by Opposition Members? Should not another statement, providing a further opportunity for detailed scrutiny, be provided in the near future?

Mr. Speaker: It sounds as though the hon. Gentleman is putting to me the question that he would have asked had I called him during the statement. Perhaps he can put it to the Deputy Prime Minister sometime.

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your advice. You may be aware that the elected Australian Senate has passed a vote of no confidence in the Australian Government's

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line on Iraq. Can you advise humble Back-Bench Members on how they may be able to effect a debate to the same end in this House?

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is a very experienced and long-serving Member of Parliament. There were times when I used to go to him for advice and I am sure that he could tell me how to go about securing the debate that he wants.

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Food Colourings and Additives

1.48 pm

Mr. Charles Hendry (Wealden): I beg to move,

The food that we give our children is becoming an ever more topical issue. Only last week, Jamie Oliver, who appears to be the Government's new school food tsar, said:

I regret to say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that he then used a word that I should not be allowed to use in this place.

The reality, however, is that the problem is not only school food, but the food that children eat at home or buy from the local shop on their way there. I am introducing the Bill, which I am delighted has cross-party support, because like many colleagues I have been profoundly concerned by the problems facing hyperactive children and their parents.

Hyperactivity is a biological not a psychological condition. Children who suffer from it are often very difficult at home, at school and in their relationships with others. They are always restless, fidgeting and impulsive. Often uncontrollable, they can pose a serious danger to other children.

In one case in my constituency, a young boy—it is overwhelmingly boys who are affected—tied his younger sister to a fence with a rope around her neck. In another case, a young boy went on the rampage with a kitchen knife. The families of such children live in constant fear, not knowing how they are going to react at any particular moment. What often makes matters even worse for the parents is to be berated by others for being "bad parents" because they cannot control their children.

From our constituencies, we know, too, of the disruption that hyperactive children can all too often cause at school, making life difficult, sometimes impossible, for other students and for teachers. The tragedy is that often their actions are genuinely beyond their control, precisely because the cause of their hyperactivity is biological in nature. Hyperactive children are more likely than other children to be excluded from school, and as a result they are more likely to drift to the margins of society and into crime.

In trying to help those constituency cases, it seemed at first that almost every door was closed. But then came one bright beacon of light, when I found the Hyperactive Children's Support Group in Chichester, run on a shoestring for 25 years by Sally Bunday and her family, which has proved a lifeline to families who were absolutely at their wits' end. The group has helped to identify the link between children's behaviour and the food that they eat.

We all know that there has been a massive increase in the number of hyperactive children over the past 20 years. What has changed most in that time is the food that our children are given. Highly processed foods contain less than one fifth of the nutrients than similar foods a generation ago. Indeed, some food seems to contain almost no food at all!

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Mr. Deputy Speaker, you may not be familiar with raspberry-flavoured trifle. It may not be something that is often served in your home, but if it is, I suggest that one evening, you creep into the kitchen, open the cupboard and read the list of ingredients on the packet.

Apart from a small amount of powdered egg, the product appears to contain no food whatever. That is worrying enough, but the problem is caused not just by the nutrients that have been taken out, but by what is added. The packaging tells us that the trifle contains: sugar, carrageenan, dipotassium phosphate, potassium chloride, adiptic acid, trisodium citrate—described as an "acidity regulator". It also contains carboxy methyl cellulose—I have been practising saying that all morning; it is a bit of a mouthful, but probably does not taste so good—betanin, annatto, hydrogenated vegetable oil, propane-based emulsifiers, milk protein, beta-carotene and fat-reduced cocoa among other ingredients.

Professor Erik Millstone at the university of Sussex has done wonderful work analysing the studies from throughout the world to establish what connection exists between children's behaviour and the food additives and colourings they consume. For example, in the United States in the 1970s, Feingold found that between 30 and 50 per cent. of hyperactive children experienced a dramatic improvement in their behaviour if they avoided certain food additives and natural salicitates.

A decade ago, one UK study, undertaken through the Institute for Child Health, looked at 78 children referred to the institute because of their hyperactive behaviour. The behaviour of 59 of those 78 children improved when certain additives were removed from their diet. For 50 of them, additives were then re-introduced and 47 of them relapsed.

More recently, St. Barnabas Church of England first and middle school in Worcestershire removed 27 artificial colourings and preservatives from its school menu. After only two weeks, one third of parents said that their children were better behaved and one fifth said that their children were sleeping better. Teachers found that pupils who had trouble concentrating were calmer and applied themselves better to their work.

In Cornwall, Gordon Walker, head teacher of Tywardreath primary school, asked parents to give their children a diet free of 23 specific additives for just one week, and found children were calmer, less argumentative and more able to concentrate. As Mr Walker said:

Other evidence from the Hyperactive Children's Support Group, in a study by Dr. Neil Ward from the university of Surrey, showed that as many as 87 per cent. of hyperactive children react to artificial colourings and that 72 per cent. react to preservatives.

The Food Standards Agency is also now taking seriously the idea that food additives have an adverse effect on the behaviour of children and, at the end of last year, it set up a panel of experts to examine in more detail the findings of Professor Stephenson in his study

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of children in the Isle of Wight aged three to five. The Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment has also accepted the likelihood of a link. Indeed, few people now dispute that such a link exists. Those who do so should talk to a few of the parents of the children who are affected.

The Food Commission has set up a parents' jury. Reading some of the feedback from those parents is extremely traumatic. When asked about the effect of food additives, one parent said:

That describes in human terms the transformation that can take place.

The number of additives is truly mind-boggling. There are 400 E numbers and more than 4,000 different flavourings. According to the Food Commission, 40 per cent. of children's food and drink contains additives. The commission has found more than 100 food products targeted at children which contain the main additives that it has identified as likely to cause behavioural change. They are tartrazine, sunset yellow, carmoisine, ponceau 4R and the preservative, sodium benzoate, which is even found in flavoured bottled water. We should certainly be in no doubt that those products are targeted at children, as we can see from the use of children's favourite television and film characters in marketing to promote them.

The evidence is clear. Part of the cause of hyperactivity is the presence of certain additives and colourings in food specifically targeted at children. It is not the only cause, it may not even be the main cause; but it is a contributory factor whose importance has been overlooked and ignored for far too long. As a result, parents, doing their absolute best to look after their children, unwittingly buy products that turn them into little time bombs—simply because they do not have the information to tell them whether the additives and colourings in a food product could change their child's behaviour. Even children's vitamins sometimes contain colourings, so, unknowingly, little Jimmy goes off to school ready to explode.

I hope that the food industry will itself help to deal with the problem. Some companies deserve specific praise, such as Sainsbury, whose Blue Parrot Cafe range tries to reduce or eliminate additives in products targeted at children. However, we cannot rely on voluntary action alone. That is why the Bill is important. Its aims are simple. It would require food containing specified additives and colourings to be labelled with the words:

It would not state that the product would do that in every case or that all children would be affected; it would simply help people to know what to avoid. The Bill would set up a panel reporting to the chief medical

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officer, which would advise on which additives and colouring should carry such a label, as that decision is not one that should be taken by politicians.

A hyperactive child, for reasons beyond his control, can cause danger to his family and disruption at school. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Charles Hendry, Mrs. Angela Browning, Mr. Vernon Coaker, Valerie Davey, Matthew Green, Miss Julie Kirkbride, Mrs. Eleanor Laing, Tim Loughton, Mr. Andrew Robathan, Alan Simpson, Dr. Howard Stoate and Mr. David Tredinnick.

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