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5 Feb 2003 : Column 294continued
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.
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. 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"
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 officeto methat 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,
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. 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 forthcomingwith damaging consequences for traffic congestion, air quality, school provision, medical facilities and so ondo 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
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.
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 boyit is overwhelmingly boys who are affectedtied 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!
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 citratedescribed as an "acidity regulator". It also contains carboxy methyl celluloseI have been practising saying that all morning; it is a bit of a mouthful, but probably does not taste so goodbetanin, 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:
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
When we got home, I looked up hyperactivity in various books, and discovered that one of the common triggers was sodium benzoate. He had been drinking a lot of squash whilst on holiday which contained sodium benzoate. I eliminated sodium benzoate from his diet . . . These days he is a different child. He had always come out of nursery at a run, with his head down, and head butted me by way of greeting. Now when he comes out of school, I get a cuddle!"
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 bombssimply 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:
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.