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David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/ Co-op): Many people will be reassured to some extent by my hon. Friend's remarks. However, even if certain supplements may not be banned, is it not the case that later this year the maximum permitted level of certain vitamin and mineral supplements will be set at levels that are significantly lower than those that have become habitual in UK health foods?

Mr. O'Brien: If my hon. Friend, who is another neighbour of mine, had been here earlier he would have heard my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Health deal with that very point. We are adopting an evidence-based approach whereby the United Kingdom is submitting evidence to the European Food Safety
 
25 Jan 2005 : Column 265
 
Agency to consider the issue of maximum dosage. There are no current proposals that that dosage should be reduced. Provisions in the directive allow it to be raised at a later stage, but the straight answer to my hon. Friend is that there is currently no such plan. The Germans have proposed a lower dosage; we are proposing a higher one. We will have to see how that discussion develops in future.

Rob Marris : Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. O'Brien: I will give way once more, and then I must make progress.

Rob Marris: Is not the problem with the Conservatives, as typified by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), that they completely reject the spirit of scientific inquiry? He asserted that these substances are harmless, but does not wish to engage in a process to get the evidence to find out whether that be the case. The directive will enable us to get that evidence.

Mr. O'Brien: My hon. Friend is right. This is to do with the extent to which we develop consumer protection. We want to do that in a sensible way that not only allows people to have a wide choice in the supplements that they use but reassures them that those products are safe. In respect of products that might fall outside one of the prescribed lists, there is a procedure that can prevent that from happening, at least until 2009, and in many cases, indefinitely.

We need more facts and less alarmist rhetoric. There are problems with the directive—we have always been clear about that. It was the result of a hard-fought negotiation in which other member states sought a much more restrictive regime but did not get it. We got much of what the industry asked us to get. That is why, when we signed up to the directive, the various trade associations in the vitamins and minerals industry supported our doing so. Their views may have changed since in some cases, but they supported us then.

Chris Grayling rose—

Mr. O'Brien: I give way for the last time, as I must make some progress.

Chris Grayling: If the industry supports the directive, why is it spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on challenging it in the European Court as we speak?

Mr. O'Brien: The hon. Gentleman was not listening to me. I just said that the views of those in the industry may have changed since the directive was signed—that is a matter for them—but at the time they supported the Government's signing the directive and wanted us to do it. The Government acted in a bona fide way, and we want to continue to work with them to ensure that they can produce the products that their customers want.

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): Will the Minister give way on that point?

Mr. O'Brien: No, I want to make progress.
 
25 Jan 2005 : Column 266
 

In the negotiations, we got much of what the industry requested. The directive is sufficiently flexible to ensure that no vitamin or mineral that is currently on sale in British shops must cease to be sold after 1 August. Either the ingredients are on one of the two prescribed lists or a dossier can be submitted that enables them to be assessed as safe by the European Food Safety Agency, in which case they can continue to be on sale until 2009. Provided that they are found to be safe, they can continue to be on sale indefinitely.

I shall consider the best approach for the industry and consumers shortly. First, let me deal with Conservative claims that we can reopen negotiations or revoke the directive. Conservative Members offer revocation as a false panacea, although I noticed that, when repeatedly pressed by the hon. Member for Stone to commit to revoking the directive, the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) wriggled and writhed out of promising consumers that they would do that. They propose revocation in the motion but failed to say that they would do it when asked by the hon. Member for Stone.

I invite the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell to intervene and say what he failed to say when he was repeatedly asked to do so earlier. I offer him the opportunity. He will not take it. Why has he tabled a motion that he is not prepared to defend? The answer is cynicism. It may serve the short-term purposes of the Eurosceptic Tory party in the run-up to a general election but it will cost the taxpayer and the consumer dear.

If we did as the motion suggests, we would be in serious breach of obligations under the European Communities treaties and the Single European Act, to which past Conservative Governments signed up. We would attract infraction proceedings from the European Commission and taxpayers would be likely to be hit by heavy fines. Other member states could also initiate action under article 227 and, ultimately, the UK would be obliged to enforce the directive or take the route that the hon. Member for Stone offers: withdrawal from Europe. Revocation would leave us in a weaker position because we would be unlikely to have submitted the important dossiers to keep the products on the market. Clearly, that would damage the industry in the long term.

Let me consider the idea of renegotiating the directive. To do that, we would need a qualified majority of member states. The only likely qualified majority at the moment is for a more restrictive directive. The trade associations urged the UK Government to support the directive at the conclusion of the negotiations three years ago because it was clear that we had got as many concessions as we were likely to get. If we pushed any further, things would become much more restrictive.

The only two countries with a similar market to that of the UK for vitamins and minerals are Ireland and Holland. Neither country has asked to reopen negotiations on the directive. Even if they were reopened, we would be faced with a vast majority of member states that sought a more restrictive outcome, not the more liberal result that the Conservatives promise. We got several concessions in the initial
 
25 Jan 2005 : Column 267
 
negotiation and Conservatives' proposals would put them at risk. Consumers who rely on the supplements would be at risk because of Conservative policy.

The concessions include time scales for implementation, the ability to keep products on the market until the EFSA had ruled on them, and the guarantee that the dossier presented by 12 July need not be exhaustive. We also got a substantial lead-in time to enable our industry to present its arguments on vitamins and minerals.

On the presidency, the Conservatives have left it a bit late to make their requests. The law is effective from 1 August, a month after the start of the UK presidency. The idea that we could renegotiate a complex directive, especially when most member states would want to be more restrictive, in the suggested time scale, is nonsense. The Conservatives are leading the consumer groups, the industry and the electorate up the garden path. That is why I reject the scare stories that Conservatives peddle to appease their Eurosceptic wing. Their motion does not even reflect their policy, for which they are not prepared to stand up.

Our aim is to ensure that the directive is implemented in a way that allows consumers to continue to use the products that they use now. By contrast, the Conservatives are offering renegotiation with no realistic prospect of success, or the prospect of unilateral revocation, which would be illegal and result in the taxpayer paying fines—

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con) rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 189, Noes 283.

Division No. 45
[6.59 pm


AYES

Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)
Allan, Richard
Amess, David
Ancram, rh Michael
Arbuthnot, rh James
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Bacon, Richard
Baker, Norman
Barker, Gregory
Beggs, Roy (E Antrim)
Beith, rh A. J.
Bellingham, Henry
Beresford, Sir Paul
Blunt, Crispin
Boswell, Tim
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Bottomley, rh Virginia (SW Surrey)
Brazier, Julian
Breed, Colin
Browning, Mrs Angela
Burns, Simon
Butterfill, Sir John
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Cameron, David
Campbell, Gregory (E Lond'y)
Cash, William
Chope, Christopher
Clappison, James
Clarke, rh Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Collins, Tim
Colman, Tony
Conway, Derek
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cran, James (Beverley)
Curry, rh David
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli)
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice & Howden)
Djanogly, Jonathan
Dodds, Nigel
Dorrell, rh Stephen
Doughty, Sue
Duncan, Alan (Rutland)
Duncan Smith, rh Iain
Evans, Nigel
Ewing, Annabelle
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Michael
Field, rh Frank (Birkenhead)
Field, Mark (Cities of London & Westminster)
Flight, Howard
Flook, Adrian
Forth, rh Eric
Foster, Don (Bath)
Fox, Dr. Liam
Francois, Mark
Gale, Roger (N Thanet)
George, Andrew (St. Ives)
Gibb, Nick (Bognor Regis)
Gidley, Sandra
Gill, Parmjit Singh
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Goodman, Paul
Grayling, Chris
Green, Damian (Ashford)
Green, Matthew (Ludlow)
Greenway, John
Grieve, Dominic
Hague, rh William
Hammond, Philip
Harvey, Nick
Hawkins, Nick
Hayes, John (S Holland)
Heald, Oliver
Heath, David
Heathcoat-Amory, rh David
Hendry, Charles
Hermon, Lady
Hoban, Mark (Fareham)
Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall)
Hogg, rh Douglas
Holmes, Paul
Horam, John (Orpington)
Howard, rh Michael
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Hunter, Andrew
Jack, rh Michael
Jenkin, Bernard
Johnson, Boris (Henley)
Kennedy, rh Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness)
Key, Robert (Salisbury)
Knight, rh Greg (E Yorkshire)
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Lansley, Andrew
Laws, David (Yeovil)
Leigh, Edward
Letwin, rh Oliver
Lewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E)
Liddell-Grainger, Ian
Lidington, David
Llwyd, Elfyn
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter (M-Worcs)
Mackay, rh Andrew
Maclean, rh David
McLoughlin, Patrick
Malins, Humfrey
Maples, John
Mates, rh Michael
Maude, rh Francis
May, rh Mrs Theresa
Mercer, Patrick
Mitchell, Andrew (Sutton Coldfield)
Moore, Michael
Moss, Malcolm
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Norman, Archie
Oaten, Mark (Winchester)
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Öpik, Lembit
Osborne, George (Tatton)
Ottaway, Richard
Page, Richard
Paice, James
Paterson, Owen
Pickles, Eric
Price, Adam (E Carmarthen & Dinefwr)
Prisk, Mark (Hertford)
Pugh, Dr. John
Randall, John
Redwood, rh John
Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute)
Rendel, David
Robathan, Andrew
Robertson, Angus (Moray)
Robertson, Hugh (Faversham & M-Kent)
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Roe, Dame Marion
Ruffley, David
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Sanders, Adrian
Sayeed, Jonathan
Shephard, rh Mrs Gillian
Shepherd, Richard
Simmonds, Mark
Simpson, Keith (M-Norfolk)
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns & Kincardine)
Smyth, Rev. Martin (Belfast S)
Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob (Castle Point)
Steen, Anthony
Stunell, Andrew
Swayne, Desmond
Swire, Hugo (E Devon)
Syms, Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Taylor, John (Solihull)
Taylor, Dr. Richard (Wyre F)
Taylor, Sir Teddy
Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Thurso, John
Tonge, Dr. Jenny
Tredinnick, David
Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)
Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
Tyrie, Andrew
Waterson, Nigel
Watkinson, Angela
Webb, Steve (Northavon)
Weir, Michael
Whittingdale, John
Wiggin, Bill
Willetts, David
Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Willis, Phil
Winterton, Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Sir Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Wishart, Pete
Yeo, Tim (S Suffolk)
Young, rh Sir George
Younger-Ross, Richard


Tellers for the Ayes:

Andrew Selous and
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown


NOES

Adams, Irene (Paisley N)
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)
Alexander, Douglas
Allen, Graham
Anderson, rh Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale & Darwen)
Armstrong, rh Ms Hilary
Atkins, Charlotte
Bailey, Adrian
Baird, Vera
Barnes, Harry
Barron, rh Kevin
Battle, rh John
Beard, Nigel
Beckett, rh Margaret
Begg, Miss Anne
Bennett, Andrew
Benton, Joe (Bootle)
Berry, Roger
Betts, Clive
Blackman, Liz
Boateng, rh Paul
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Bradshaw, Ben
Brennan, Kevin
Browne, Desmond
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Burnham, Andy
Byers, rh Stephen
Byrne, Liam (B'ham Hodge H)
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Casale, Roger
Caton, Martin
Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)
Challen, Colin
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chaytor, David
Clapham, Michael
Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)
Clark, Dr. Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clelland, David
Coaker, Vernon
Coffey, Ms Ann
Connarty, Michael
Cook, rh Robin (Livingston)
Cooper, Yvette
Cousins, Jim
Cranston, Ross
Crausby, David
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Ann (Keighley)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cummings, John
Cunningham, rh Dr. Jack (Copeland)
Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Dalyell, Tam
Darling, rh Alistair
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
David, Wayne
Davidson, Ian
Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Mrs Janet
Denham, rh John
Dhanda, Parmjit
Dismore, Andrew
Dobson, rh Frank
Donohoe, Brian H.
Doran, Frank
Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W)
Drew, David (Stroud)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E)
Farrelly, Paul
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flint, Caroline
Follett, Barbara
Foster, rh Derek
Foster, Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye)
Gapes, Mike (Ilford S)
George, rh Bruce (Walsall S)
Gerrard, Neil
Gilroy, Linda
Godsiff, Roger
Goggins, Paul
Hain, rh Peter
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hamilton, David (Midlothian)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Hanson, David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)
Havard, Dai (MerthyrTydfil & Rhymney)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hendrick, Mark
Hepburn, Stephen
Heppell, John
Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia
Heyes, David
Hill, rh Keith (Streatham)
Hinchliffe, David
Hoon, rh Geoffrey
Hope, Phil (Corby)
Howarth, rh Alan (Newport E)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N & Sefton E)
Hughes, rh Beverley (Stretford & Urmston)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Humble, Mrs Joan
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Ingram, rh Adam
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Jamieson, David
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, rh Alan (Hull W)
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Jones, Kevan (N Durham)
Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Jowell, rh Tessa
Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W)
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keen, Alan (Feltham)
Keen, Ann (Brentford)
Kemp, Fraser
Khabra, Piara S.
Kidney, David
Kilfoyle, Peter
Knight, Jim (S Dorset)
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Laxton, Bob (Derby N)
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom (High Peak)
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Liddell, rh Mrs Helen
Linton, Martin
Love, Andrew
Lucas, Ian (Wrexham)
Lyons, John (Strathkelvin)
McAvoy, rh Thomas
McCabe, Stephen
McFall, rh John
McGuire, Mrs Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
Mackinlay, Andrew
McNulty, Tony
MacShane, Denis
Mactaggart, Fiona
McWilliam, John
Mahmood, Khalid
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Mallaber, Judy
Mann, John (Bassetlaw)
Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Martlew, Eric
Meacher, rh Michael
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Miliband, David
Miller, Andrew
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moonie, Dr. Lewis
Moran, Margaret
Morgan, Julie
Mountford, Kali
Mudie, George
Mullin, Chris
Munn, Ms Meg
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
O'Neill, Martin
Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)
Owen, Albert
Perham, Linda
Picking, Anne
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter (Burnley)
Plaskitt, James
Pope, Greg (Hyndburn)
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Ken
Quinn, Lawrie
Raynsford, rh Nick
Reed, Andy (Loughborough)
Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Rooney, Terry
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Ryan, Joan (Enfield N)
Salter, Martin
Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Shipley, Ms Debra
Short, rh Clare
Smith, rh Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, rh Chris (Islington S & Finsbury)
Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Smith, rh Jacqui (Redditch)
Soley, Clive
Southworth, Helen
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Steinberg, Gerry
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Tami, Mark (Alyn)
Taylor, rh Ann (Dewsbury)
Taylor, Dari (Stockton S)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Thomas, Gareth (Harrow W)
Timms, Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mark (S Derbyshire)
Touhig, Don (Islwyn)
Trickett, Jon
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton Kemptown)
Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Tynan, Bill (Hamilton S)
Vaz, Keith (Leicester E)
Walley, Ms Joan
Wareing, Robert N.
Watson, Tom
Watts, David
White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W)
Williams, Betty (Conwy)
Wills, Michael
Winnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Wood, Mike (Batley)
Woodward, Shaun
Wright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)
Wright, David (Telford)
Wright, Iain (Hartlepool)
Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Wyatt, Derek

Tellers for the Noes:

James Purnell and
Mr. Jim Murphy


Question accordingly negatived.


 
25 Jan 2005 : Column 271
 

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments:)—

The House divided: Ayes 279, Noes 172.


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