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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. Before I call the next speaker, I must point out that a number of hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, and that time is getting increasingly limited. If Members could make reasonably brief contributions, everyone could well get in; otherwise, I am afraid that some people will be disappointed.
Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): The Minister painted a rosy picture of the Government's approach, and of what they have done so far. She talked about companies that favour the regulations and about spreading the liberal culture. She said that nothing would be banned, and mentioned all-party support. I have to say to her that her approach is totally at variance with what is going on in the real world.
I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), who asked why the Government did not get stuck in. Perhaps I can answer that question by relaying the Minister's reply to the parliamentary question that I tabled two weeks ago about whether the Government would use the UK's presidency of the European Union to renegotiate the food supplements directive. She replied:
That is the kind of funk attitude that has brought us to this sorry pass. The Government's approach has been more akin to a moth being attracted to a flame, in that they hovered round the issue for a long time without getting close and, when they did get close, they got burned because they were badly prepared,. That is the truth of the situation.
The regime in this country has always been less restrictive than that in Europe. What we are supposed to have, through the directive, is a form of harmonisation, not destruction of the playing field as we understand it. For example, we are not expecting to see the destruction of many of the minor manufacturers in the market. When the Minister said that major manufacturers were on side, she neglected to say that many minor manufacturers will simply go out of business and were that will involve the loss of thousands of supplements. The point made by the hon. Member for Vauxhall about potassium is real: although there may be potassium
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products on the positive list, the fact is that many supplements that are now compounds or part of products and preparations that people in this country have used effectively and safely for many decades will be taken off the market, so people will have to buy a new product that they do not understand. That goes to the heart of the problem.
As I said in a brief intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), the Government's record in dealing with this issue is poor and borders on negligent. With my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) and one or two others, I took a delegation to the Department of back in 2002. We struggled to get that meeting. Representatives of the manufacturing industry needed to see the Government about the issue, but the only reason why we got the meeting was that Ministers were being held to account the next day, when they were to come before European Standing Committee C. That was on a measure dealing with the authorisation of human and veterinary medicines, and the two Ministers present were obviously not well prepared. I suggest that a much simpler solution for the Government would have been improved labelling.
The positive list has attracted much comment. In defence of the Government's position, the Minister has tried to persuade the House this afternoon that most of the products that are on the market will be included on the positive list. To return to the point that I made about the remarks of the hon. Member for Vauxhall, the positive list as constituted will not be able to include all the products that are on the market now. Estimates of the number of products that will be taken from the shelves range from 800 upwards. The point made by several colleagues about the costs of that positive list have been ignored by the Minister. The cost of putting in dossiers is astronomical and completely beyond the scope of minor manufacturers. The market will therefore contract. Will the measure benefit larger manufacturers in the drugs industry? Yes, it will, because many of the drug companies have shares in or control the larger suppliers of vitamin supplements, so we will see a reduction in choice and the eradication of smaller companiesand, of course, the consumer will suffer.
It is amazing that some so-called controversial compounds such as sodium chloride, which is used to kill pests, and caustic soda, which is used to clean drains, are on the positive list, while scores of safe, non-toxic ingredients believed to benefit health are excluded. We have already heard about silicon and boron, which will be banned entirely. Naturally occurring folic acid found in spinach will also be banned, while the form sold by pharmaceutical companies will be allowed. That answers the question about whether major pharmaceutical companies will benefit.
On the issue of upper safe levels, the Minister has been in danger of misleading the House. I choose my words carefully, because when she said that the European authority responsible for setting those levels had not determined what they should be, she neglected to say that across Europe, excluding the United Kingdom, the policy normally adopted is to have so-called recommended daily allowances. They tend to be lower dosages and are historically set as a result of the influence of the Americans in Europe at the end of the
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second world war, when the American system was largely brought into Europe. In Britain, we have always worked on the basis of maximum permitted levels. Nutritionists in the field who really know the subject, such as Patrick Holford, will say that those levels are vital for the treatment of certain conditions. The hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) nods in agreement.
If the Minister accepts recommended daily allowances that will, probably, be forced on her, that will not be in the interests of people in this country and it will be against our tradition. That is why I say to the Minister that I believe she has been tempted into misleading us.
Miss Melanie Johnson: We are arguing very much on the basis of work by the expert group and we are arguing for a UK-formulated response that will consider safety rather than, as it were, daily needs. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we have the best evidence base offered to the EFSA on this subject.
The problem is that we are being asked to believe the Government when the record is really poor. As I have said, it took appearances by Ministers before Select Committees for there to be any interest at all. When my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) chaired the Select Committee on Agriculturewith great distinctionit had to deal with the vitamin B6 issue. The recommendation from the committee chaired by Lady Daltonnot the Select committee, but a committee that dealt with vitamin B6was comprehensively rejected in the end, and the
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idea that we should have low levels of the vitamin was thrown out.
The hon. Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt) said there was no problem with high levels of vitamin B6, because it could always be passed out of the bodybut the input, not the output, is what we should worry about. Less well-off people have to buy many more vitamin supplements, so they represent a tax on poorer people. Of course, they can buy them through the internet now.
The Government also failed on MLX 249, a document that proposed banning many popular and safe supplements and granting much more authority to the Medicines Control Agency. It proposed that the MCA should act as judge and jury. The hon. Member for Bolton, South-East and I attended a rally in Trafalgar square where thousands of people opposed those proposals. We could hear them chanting "Tony, we want the right to choose." That was in 1999, so the issue has been running for a long time.
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