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Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry) (Con): I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way; I appreciate that he is short of time. Will he share with the House his appreciation of the likely loss of employment both to my constituents and others from what is being done, which is so ill defined and difficult to justify?
What discussions took place between the Department of Health and the Commission as to the level of supposed risk and whether a full ban is appropriate for this country? How many of the 533,527 people who died in the UK in 2002, as is catalogued on the Department of Health website, died as a result of having too much Solgar's pre-natal nutrient or popping too many folic acid pills? What recorded side effects result from direct consumption of various cocktails or quantities of any of the threatened supplements? The Minister could name none. What risk assessments have been carried out, compared with the benefits that many users, such as my sportsman constituents claim to get? What are the precedents for using the positive lists on which nutrients and nutrient sources must now feature before being permissible? When did we concede the principle that all supplements are guilty until proven innocent?
The fact is that there is no evidence for this move and no proven danger in a harmless lifestyle choice in which millions of our constituents have opted to indulge for many years, unfettered by Government and allowed the freedom to make their own choices.
The same applied to the kava kava regulations to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth referred. In Committee, we heard that that product was banned on the basis of seven cases over the past 10 or 12 years across the entire world. Not one single liver biopsy could be produced in evidence and the prime suspect was an 86-year-old who died in his sleep and had apparently taken a kava kava pill at some time in the past.
Consumers are being denied their right to take responsibility for their health by using safe and popular specialist supplements of their choice. The Government have been wholly disingenuous. When the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety was an Under-Secretary of State for Health, she said:
"We must get the right balance between consumers having freedom of choice and access to a wide range of safe supplements, while making sure, crucially, that we protect public health."[Official Report, 20 January 2003; Vol. 398, c. 100.]
Where is the choice in this blanket ban? What is the evidence of danger to public health? What is proposed is grossly disproportionate. As the Leader of the House put it, the proposed ban is "unnecessary interference". As Sue Croft, director of Consumers for Health Choice, put it:
The Government are being wholly duplicitous. They have the power at least to delay implementation in the UK, or they could use the UK's presidency of the EU to renegotiate the directive, as our motion states, but they refuse to do either of those things.
Whom does the directive benefit? It does not benefit the 21 million adult users or the supplement industry, which is worth £335 million. What about the big drug companies, which are lining up in favour of the directive as they muscle out the smaller players? As today's Daily Mail puts it:
The directive panders to this Government's increasing nanny state tendenciesif you can't control it, ban it; if big business does not like it, restrict it; and if Europe does not want it, do not resist and complyfast.
The real fear is what comes next. The Government's own submission for today's case in the European Court totally reverses the UK Government's position and states that the directive is both "proportionate" and a "good starting point". Spinach contains high levels of naturally occurring folic acid. Surely there is a danger of overdosing on spinach, so the spinach roulade had better come off the new Labour menu. Too many Rice Krispies, which contain extra niacin, vitamin B6 and riboflavin, will make you go snap, crackle and popsurely Rice Krispies should be for the chop.
Apart from all the problems with imports and the internet, how will the directive be enforced? Can we look forward to a network of secret cells of pregnant women who get together in the dead of night to feed their now illicit habit of popping Solgar pre-natal nutrient tablets? They will have to masquerade as the modern-day equivalent of the now-defunct Tupperware party to foil the possibility of police raidsMrs. Smith from No. 31 stands guard as Mrs. Miggins from No. 57 smuggles in a false-bottomed Ovaltine jar containing Solgar pills, secreted in the lining of her Liberty-print maternity dress. Will we see special flying squads of supplement-busting police lining up alongside police traffic patrols to blood-test drivers for suspiciously high levels of boron in the bloodstream? Will border patrols be stepped up, with cannabis-sniffing dogs retrained to detect traces of evening primrose oil smuggled in illicitly from countries outside the EU?
The trouble is that the police are too busy preparing to chase people in pink coats on horseback, knocking on doors demanding to search for red marks on children's backsides and arresting dutiful husbands who change a plug socket in their kitchen at the infinitesimal risk of harming themselves. The whole prospect is absurd nonsense, and it would be laughable if the regulations that we are debating today were anything other than a real and imminent threat to the liberty of responsible grown-ups who have chosen to supplement their diets with vitamins and other non-prescription medications, because they believe that those products do more good than harmif people believed otherwise, they would not buy such products.
There is no problem here that cannot be addressed by better labelling, information about nutrient contents, recommended daily doses and warnings about possible
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health risks. The directive is a solution looking for a problem, but the problem exists only in the petty, nannying, bureaucratic, Euro-subservient minds of Ministers, who are out of touch with their constituents and what ordinary people choose to do with their own lives, and out of credibility when they discuss freedom and choice. This is dodgy science from a dodgy Government; hon. Members should have none of it and vote for the cross-party motion.
The Minister for Energy and E-Commerce (Mr. Mike O'Brien): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. [Interruption.] A Conservative Front Bencher says, "Answer that," but I am not sure whether the previous speech contained anything of substance worth answering.
The debate has been interesting, with strong contributions from hon. Members on both sides of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt) gave us the benefit of his knowledge of biology and nutrition, which derives from his being a teacher. My hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Dr. Stoate) is a practising GP, and he set out his concerns. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) took a different view, but he does not support the Opposition motion.
My hon. Friends the Members for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) also took a different view. Some hon. Members on the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative party contributed, in particular the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash), who made an elegant legal argumentas usual. My neighbour, the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick), who has a long interest in the issue, made a strong contribution.
This is a serious subject for those of us who recognise the importance of issues to do with vitamins and food supplements, and it is sad that the Conservatives are using it as fodder for a cheap party political, pre-election bit of knockabout. Scare stories are being run whereby vulnerable people who rely on various supplements are being told by Conservative political opportunistsand, let me add, by some decent and well-meaning people toothat their vitamin or food supplements will be banned on 1 August, yet for the most part that is not true. In fact, the Conservatives were quite careful in their choice of wordsthey said that these products "could" or "may" be banned, raising fears without actually saying that they will be banned.
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