Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Chris Grayling: The hon. Gentleman has, of course, been a vociferous opponent of the directive in the past. I would say to him that we should not pursue the interests of big business at the expense of the small manufacturers and retailers that stand to lose out, or at the expense of the consumers who stand to lose the products that they have used for so long.

What are those products? Why is this issue so important? On 1 August, about 270 ingredients—nutrient sources—that are currently used in vitamin tablets in this country will become illegal. They have been excluded from an official approved list set out by the EU in the directive. As a result, a substantial proportion of the multivitamin tablets on sale in this country will have to be reformulated by 1 August or disappear thereafter. Some products will disappear altogether: for example, boron, which is believed by many people to be good for their bones, and vanadium, which is a product used by people with diabetes. Both
25 Jan 2005 : Column 225
are entirely excluded from the approved list. Other products such as selenium, which is widely used for women's health issues, will disappear in most of its current forms, and ironically, most of its natural current forms.

The Government will say to us that the disappearance of those products is not inevitable, and that their manufacturers can submit a dossier that, if approved by the European authorities, will allow them back on to the approved list. The Minister will no doubt also tell us that the Government have secured a derogation until 2009, to give manufacturers the chance to put together dossiers. What they will not tell us is that they have already started to gold-plate that process. Nor will they tell us that the cost of putting together those dossiers amounts to tens of thousands of pounds each, and possibly hundreds of thousands of pounds—not in total but for each one of the 277 missing ingredients—which means a total cost of tens of millions of pounds to an industry made up largely of small businesses. I also suspect that they will not admit that the industry says that producing such dossiers is economically viable in only a handful of cases. For millions of vitamin users, 1 August is the day when their choice, along with the products that they currently choose, disappears.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): Is not there a certain historical echo with the time when Lord Rooker, who then had responsibility for this matter, banned vitamin B6 as a result of some committee of wiseacres suggesting that he should? The outcry from millions of people, foreshadowed by several Members on both sides of the House, made the Government finally reverse that ban, as that vitamin is essential to many people's health.

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend is right. He highlights the fact that good information for consumers is highly desirable, but draconian decisions by Government are definitely not.

We will therefore end up with a position in this country whereby it will be legal for a teenager to go out and buy a packet of cigarettes, which cause cancer, and yet it will be illegal for an adult to go out and buy vitamin tablets. That is completely and utterly absurd. The Government claim that all that is being done in the name of consumer safety. Again, I invite the Minister to stand up in the Chamber today and name any one of those 277 nutrient sources that is dangerous and should not be on the market.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Miss Melanie Johnson): I am happy to respond to that. I would like to throw a challenge back. Can the hon. Gentleman tell us what evidence there is that many of these things are safe?

Chris Grayling: As expected, there is no answer to my question. The Government are doing what the directive does—contravening the principles of justice in this country. In this country, traditionally, one has been innocent until proven guilty. The Government are saying to consumers and manufacturers of such products that they are guilty until proven innocent, which is not good enough.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): It may help my hon. Friend in formulating an answer to the
25 Jan 2005 : Column 226
Minister to tell him that more people die of the effects of aspirin every year than ever do from vitamin supplements?

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If we consider causes of death, prescription drugs have terrible side effects, as well as bringing substantial benefits to our society. There is no evidence that vitamin tablets cause adverse health effects to anything like that extent.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): Given the Minister's response to my hon. Friend's invitation to her to stand up and demonstrate her knowledge on the subject, is he as alarmed as I am that she indicates that she does not know, as she asks the Opposition to provide such information, but she is quite prepared to trust the Brussels machine, with its lack of knowledge?

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Government's position is completely untenable on this matter, but they continue to pursue it, to the fury of consumers around this country.

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): Given that there are 277 nutrients on the excluded list, presumably a fair number are approved. Perhaps my hon. Friend will ask the Minister whether full tests have been applied to the many hundreds of thousands of nutrients currently on the approved lists—or is it that, as my hon. Friend suggested, we have simply given in, cravenly, to the power of the EU and one or two large commercial organisations in other EU countries which are trying to drive this agenda forward?

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend is right. It is not entirely clear how the line was drawn between approved and unapproved: certainly there are no scientific documents to back up the decisions that were made. It has been a bizarre process, illogical and unsubstantiated—but the line has been drawn, and those products that are on the wrong side of it are banned. That is simply not acceptable.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): Do not even the exchanges that have taken place so far make it clear that there is a fundamental difference between the two sides of the House? We are prepared to make a commitment. Not only would we want to renegotiate the directive, but if those in Europe did not listen to us or refused to take account of our views, we would legislate on our own account in line with our ability to enact any legislation that is expressly and unambiguously inconsistent with European legislation if we so wish, as an act of political will and to underline the sovereignty of this House.

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The text of the motion is clear and unambiguous. It seeks renegotiation, because renegotiation is the right option. We do not want confrontation with our European partners. We simply want to go back and say "This is not right for us." My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), the Opposition spokesman on deregulation, has made it absolutely clear that our policy is to renegotiate,
25 Jan 2005 : Column 227
challenge and seek to reverse the directive. We will go into the forthcoming general election wholeheartedly with that policy, and I hope Members in all parts of the House will do the same. I hope that they will demonstrate their commitment to getting this measure reversed.

Mr. Cash: My hon. Friend did not quite answer my point. Is he giving a commitment that we will legislate ourselves if we have the opportunity to do so as a result of winning the general election, so that we can rectify the legislation on our own terms, unilaterally, if we have to?

Chris Grayling: I do not expect us to fail in our negotiation as and when we take office. We will succeed. Let us go back to Brussels, let us tell Brussels what works for this country, and let us demonstrate the sort of political leadership that has been woefully absent among Ministers in the past couple of years.

It does not end there, though. The directive does not just set out an approved list of nutritional sources that can be used in vitamin products, it paves the way for the introduction of what are called maximum permitted levels for vitamin tablets. Members who have followed the debate know what a threat to consumers that represents.

The rules on maximum permitted levels will limit the strength of vitamin tablets in this country. There are issues connected with the strength of vitamin tablets, and if we could be certain that the decision would be based purely on safety grounds, Conservative Members—indeed, probably all Members—would accept it, but we know that that may well not be the case. We have a very different tradition in this country. Our vitamin tablets have always contained a much higher dosage than those in many other European countries, where the dosage may be a tiny fraction of ours. Italy and Greece, for instance, have entirely different interests when it comes to deciding vitamin levels.

I have here a tube of typical fizzy vitamin C tablets that might be taken for a cold during the winter. In this country they tend to contain 1 g of vitamin C, as these do, but in another European country the level might be a tiny fraction of that. If this measure does what it seems it will do, this tablet that I am dropping into a glass of water will become illegal in 12 to 18 months. That is madness: it cannot be right for consumers in this country.

The Commission wants common standards across Europe. What it actually wants is Euro-vitamin pills, available for sale throughout the single market. It intends to set out by 2006 the rules that member states will have to apply. I have been to Brussels, and have discussed with officials what is likely to happen. They say that they hope safety will be the guiding principle, but they also recognise that the challenge is rather more complex, because the issues are very different in other countries. In terms of what will happen next, Members do not need much imagination to guess where the smart money lies. The provision has to go to a committee and be agreed by countries such as France and Germany. The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment is already saying that it wants vitamin C doses to be
25 Jan 2005 : Column 228
limited to 225 mg—less than a quarter of the strength of a typical tablet in this country. It wants to cut the content of zinc tablets to one tenth the level that our own Food Standards Agency says is acceptable.

Next Section IndexHome Page