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Mr. Cash: My hon. Friend knows a great deal about this matter. Is he worried about the way in which decisions are reached in the context of the EFSA? It is a scientific body, yet—despite what the Minister just said—it appears that the bottom line is that it is not necessarily possible for the views of the United Kingdom to produce the right results in a body composed of so many different countries.

Mr. Tredinnick: That is the worry about the new European agency: that it will, if I may use an old hunting term, "roll the lady over". [Laughter.] I will withdraw that remark, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That makes two. I was trying to say—[Laughter.] I see that I am getting into a little difficulty. Perhaps I should move on.

Following my own mistake, I shall consider a classic one that the Government made concerning kava-kava. They decided to ban it, which was an astonishing decision. All manner of arguments were advanced in Standing Committee as to why it was so dangerous and I had to respond by pointing out that it is the national drink of Tonga. Yet even though it is a nation's national drink, the Government saw fit to ban it.

In a sense, this debate is academic, because people can now buy what they want over the internet. If our national law is at variance with what people want, they will buy what they want through that method. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) wrote to me the other day about a company that will go out of business because it will be unable to make such products. He also cited the example of a company that is operating from the Isle of Man through the internet and e-mail, and which will be able to sell products that the Government have banned.

The Government have been slack, tardy and misguided in their approach to this issue. It is wrong for them to come to this House and claim that everything is rosy, because most people know that a lot of products will soon be removed from the shelves, and that it is all this Government's fault.

5.56 pm

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): I am very glad to have the opportunity to speak in support of this measured and
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modest motion. Of the many issues that we will debate this week and in the weeks to come, this one gives the most cause for public concern, particularly on the part of those who perhaps do not take much interest in formal party politics. I congratulate the supporters of this motion on enabling the House to debate an issue that the public genuinely want debated.

Ministers need to remember that one of the phenomena of the past decade has been the appearance on the political agenda of health, nutrition and food issues. Indeed, I cannot remember a time when the public were more concerned about such issues. Those of us who are parents—and who perhaps have poor diets ourselves—take a particular interest in nutrition, the amount of preservatives in food and the amount of processed food available, as well as in the lack of access for our poorest communities to fresh, unadulterated food. Such concerns have led to the emergence of an interest in vitamins, minerals and other dietary supplements.

In the past few months, I have received more letters, e-mails and other communications from the public about this issue than I have about many others. Ministers said that certain Members were spreading concern about it, but in fact the pressure is coming from our constituents, which is why it is important that we have this debate today. It is difficult to explain to them that they face having limited or no access to the vitamins, minerals and supplements on which they depend, when at the same time the Government are trying to introduce 24-hour drinking, despite the well known health effects of alcohol. How can we say that our only concern is to protect health when we are legislating to allow people to drink themselves into a stupor 24 hours a day?

One consequence of the directive will be to force people to purchase such products on the internet, where there are far fewer controls, inspections and guarantees of product safety. This measure is being advanced more in an effort to satisfy the interests of pharmaceutical companies than to satisfy our constituents' need and desire for access to a wide range of vitamins, minerals and other supplements. I should also point out that people have been taking such products for many years, with no report of ill effects.

Although I do not share the passionate anti-European views of many Conservative—and, indeed, Labour—Members, I consider myself mildly Eurosceptic. Ministers must consider why public opinion has moved away from Europe since 1997. It is because of matters such as this, which seem minor to Ministers but adversely affect millions of people. The public are aware that Europe intervened in this matter, but it is not clear that Ministers stood up for our people's interests.

This matter is very important to my constituents and I have heard from many of them in recent weeks and months. The motion is a modest one and I hope that, even at this late stage, the Government will reconsider their position and withdraw their amendment.
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6 pm

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and want to carry on in the same vein. This is not a party political debate. I do not want to score Tory points, or any other points. I am here to speak for my constituents, hundreds—if not thousands—of whom use herbal food shops in my area. They buy products that they and their families have used for many years, as the hon. Lady described.

I intervened on the Minister to suggest that she risked being disingenuous by saying that there was no danger that products would be banned. She seemed to hint that I did not understand the difference between a product and an ingredient, which is like saying that I do not see the difference between an egg and an omelette. One needs ingredients to make a product. Removing access to the ingredients effectively removes access to the product. That is what will happen, although the Minister does not seem to want to understand that.

It was claimed earlier that vitamin A can kill, and that is true, but so can tea. Tea is a herbal infusion but, like almost anything else taken through the mouth, it can kill if consumed to excess. One would have to drink a heck of a lot of it, but the medical records suggest that people have died from drinking too much tea. Coffee can kill too, as can all sorts of things that we consume. So far, the Minister—or the Government, or Europe—has offered no evidence to suggest that the proscribed list under discussion this evening has ever killed anyone.

No scientific evidence has been offered to support the Government's ludicrous argument that people will buy products that harm them. The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) said that she had one product that will be banned in her pocket. As a mature adult, she is entitled to choose to use it. The Government's response to the directive is an example of the nanny state rolling over with its paws in the air and allowing its tummy to be rubbed by the nanny superstate.

In whose interests is the Government's response? The Minister for Public Health said that the directive had been adopted in the interests of public health and safety, but she did not say why the public would be in any way unsafe. It is possible that some of the products used by me, my wife, my family and other hon. Members, for example, do us no good. We may waste lots of money on them, but that is our choice. The products have not killed me and do not appear to have done me any harm.

Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): Not physically.

Mr. Gale: I believe that some of them do me good, but the hon. Gentleman may need the sort of product that will soon be available at a bar 24 hours a day. That may give him more comfort than my speech.

One hon. Member with a scientific qualification made the valid point earlier that all these products will be available on the internet. Is it better for me or my constituents to go into Holland and Barrett or Juliet Seeley's emporium in Broadstairs and receive excellent advice from knowledgeable people who understand the range of products that they are selling—in the same way as the Minister and her family would go into a chemist's and take advice on over-the-counter prescription
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medicines—or to buy on the internet? If the Minister cannot answer that one simple question, she has to concede that there is no benefit in the regulation that she seems hellbent on supporting. It will do more harm than good, and she should be fighting it.

6.5 pm

Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): Before I commence my remarks, the House may wish to know that I am a biology graduate who taught for 20 years. I regularly taught food and nutrition, and I also have in my constituency a company called Nutri which produces supplements of, I am sure, a high standard and markets them honestly to many people. Like many hon. Members, I was contacted by several hundred constituents the last time this issue arose to express their concerns. By half-past 3 this afternoon, four had chosen to remind me of those concerns prior to this debate.

I have another admission to make, which is that I do not often read Opposition motions all the way through—but this one was short and stood some consideration. It talks about the importance of a satisfactory compromise—not language that one often hears from the Opposition. The early-day motion that preceded the motion had a degree of cross-party support, and the motion mentions a desire

That is a creditable aim. However, I do not believe that the unilateral repeal of the regulations is possible. The Government motion explains why renegotiation could be dangerous and produce a less satisfactory outcome.

Moreover, the Opposition motion and the comments from Opposition Members have been ridden with the Euroscepticism that pervades that party. The hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) talked about a directive from the "ludicrous" European Union and the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) has been delightfully predictable all afternoon in his comments. However, Conservative Members should remember that we are in this situation because of single market regulations approved by this House under a Conservative Government. That is not meant as a political point, but Conservative Members should bear that in mind, because it could be regarded as the source of their problem.

The negotiations in which representatives of the British Government were involved for many months were long and complex. They involved bringing together 15 nations—at that time—with different rules, regulations, backgrounds and experiences. There was probably less commonality between their experiences on the issue than on many others. They were dedicated to putting a high priority on safety, and the result is pro-choice. However, it is pro informed choice, and that is the important point. As other hon. Members have said, the directive will provide great opportunities for trade in the commodities in question, given the single market experience, for companies such as that based in my constituency.

It bears repeating that the outcome of the negotiations was welcomed at the time by the Consumers Association, the Health Food Manufacturers Association and others. We are now talking about the implementation of the decisions. Every vitamin that was on sale in this country
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in 2002 will continue to be on sale. Every mineral for which there is no evidence of harm—evidence of safety can be produced in the next few months—will be on sale until at least 2009. Although a dossier has to be produced, we have heard today that it can be a slim one produced by any company or group of companies in any of the 25 states of the European Union. It is not necessary for every single product produced by every single manufacturer to be represented separately. Every licensed medicinal product is unaffected by the regulations.

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