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5 May 2009 : Column 50WH—continued

The Government of Guernsey now have to bring forward secondary legislation to implement fully the EU medicines directive. That must be an absolute priority, and should take place as soon as possible. Only when Guernsey has fully implemented the directive will it be able to prohibit and allow enforcement action to be taken when food supplements are marketed with medicinal claims. I am keen to hear the Minister’s view on what kind of assistance is provided to the Government of Guernsey in that respect. Is there a time scale for Guernsey to bring forward such secondary legislation? Guernsey has not made any firm commitment to a timetable for bringing forward other legislation, including the food supplements directive and the nutrition and health claims regulation. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that that happens?

Let me turn to Jersey. Although Jersey has some basic medicine law in place, as is the case in Guernsey, it does not meet the obligations set out by the EU medicines directive. I understand that discussions on the implementation of the EU medicines directive with the officials in Jersey are only beginning. I am keen to know what discussions have already taken place on that issue in Jersey and whether any further meetings are planned for the near future. Will my hon. Friend say what resources are provided to the Government of Jersey to assist them in implementing the EU medicines directive?

Encouragingly, Jersey has made a commitment to implement the food supplements directive and the Nutrition and Health Claims (England) Regulations 2007 as part of the major update of food safety legislation that is under way there. I am aware that my hon. Friend’s colleague from the Ministry of Justice, Lord Bach, visited Jersey on 17 April this year. Based on the feedback from that visit, this debate is extremely timely. Is the Minister aware whether there is an agreed time scale for when the Government of Jersey will bring forward such legislation?

In terms of drafting legislation, I appreciate that there are limited resources available to Crown dependencies, but I am anxious to be reassured that our Government are doing everything in their power to encourage the Channel Island authorities to meet their obligations and implement these regulations effectively and without any further delay. I am also anxious to be reassured that our Government and their officials in the relevant institutions will work with other UK authorities and businesses, including the postal authorities, advertising regulators, periodical publishers, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and others, to ensure that every avenue is explored to protect UK consumers and the responsible UK health food businesses.

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I am keen to know what discussions the Minister or his colleagues have had on the issue with any of the authorities I have just mentioned. Dealing with this matter is not just about implementing the legislation; it is about effective enforcement. I would like to press the Government and the relevant authorities to provide the necessary assistance to the Crown dependencies to enable them to enforce legislation to protect UK consumers. There is a pressing urgency about the matter because the European Commission is about to introduce maximum permitted levels for vitamins and minerals under the provisions of article 5 of the food supplements directive, which may limit the potency—and hence the attractiveness—of products in the UK market. That would obviously give the Channel Islands’ suppliers yet another potential advantage over the UK market.

The nutrition and health claims regulations threaten to restrict even further the ability of responsible mainland suppliers to make a range of currently acceptable modest and accurate claims about their products. That will give companies operating in the Channel Islands yet another advantage over UK-based suppliers. By 2011, the issue will have got worse because, when the directive on traditional herbal medicinal products is fully implemented, herbal suppliers on the mainland will be unable to compete in that business area with their competitors in the Channel Islands. So, urgent action is overdue, and I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to give me an assurance today that there will be no further intolerable and unjustifiable delays in requiring our Crown dependencies to address these matters by replacing the earlier promises that they have given, which have not entirely been maintained, with legislation.

I should add that the current economic recession is making it even harder for UK companies to stay in business, especially when faced with such aggressive and unfair competition. What is more, it is a constitutional quirk that, if the European Commission becomes aware of the failure to enact and implement appropriate legislation in the Crown dependencies, it is not the authorities of the Crown dependencies but the British Government who would face enforcement action. I am sure that the Government wish to avoid that.

I am grateful that my hon. Friend the Minister is present this morning. I fully understand that the Minister of State, Department of Health, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South, cannot be here because she is dealing with the swine flu outbreak. I look forward to my hon. Friend’s response.

1.14 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Phil Hope): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) on taking up the issue, on obtaining the debate and on putting the case so strongly—he has done so not only today but on previous occasions. He has a long track record on pursuing these issues, and rightly so. I hope that I can give him the reassurances that he has sought. Before I turn to the main focus of the debate, which is the importation of health food products from the Channel Islands, it might be useful, because my hon. Friend raised the matter, to set out the constitutional position of the Crown
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dependencies—not just on this issue, but generally. That is the backcloth to which the strictures he gave at the end of his remarks relate.

Protocol 3 to the treaty of accession to the European Community governs the relationship between the Crown dependencies—the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man—and the European Union. It does not govern the relationship between the UK and the Crown dependencies, or between the UK and the European Commission. The term “Crown dependencies” is unique to the relationship that the UK has with those three territories.

For the purposes of this debate, key points about the status of the Crown dependencies need to be made. Unlike the overseas territories, the Crown dependencies are not part of our colonial past and they have no representation to Government at Westminster. They are not part of the UK; they are self-governing dependencies and they have their own directly elected legislative assemblies, their own fiscal and legal systems and, indeed, their own courts of law.

We are constitutionally responsible for their defence, international representation and good governance. The Crown dependencies are not part of the European Union, but they have a relationship with it. As my hon. Friend said, protocol 3 defines the extent to which the three islands are part of the European Union. Under that agreement, the Channel Islands are part of the customs territory of the Community and they are part of common customs tariffs, levies and agricultural import measures, which apply to trade between the Channel Islands and non-member countries, so although there is free movement of goods and trade between the islands and member countries, other Community rules do not generally apply. I have set out that relationship to emphasise the constitutional position and thus who is responsible for the enforcement of directives.

Let me turn specifically to the importation of health food products from the Channel Islands. We are talking not about commercial imports, but about personal imports for use by individual consumers. It is important to be clear that businesses importing products for marketing in the UK from the Channel Islands must comply with the relevant UK law. The Ministry of Justice provides the official channel of communication between the UK and the Channel Islands. As my hon. Friend mentioned, Lord Bach, the Minister responsible for the Crown dependencies, visited Guernsey in February 2009 and Jersey only last month—nice work if you can get it, if you do not mind my saying so, Mr. Wilshire. While Lord Bach was there, he discussed the implementation of the food supplements directive and the nutrition and health claims regulations during meetings with the authorities.

The Food Standards Agency is the Government organisation responsible for the legislation that governs health food products—namely the food supplements directive and the nutritional health claims regulations. The Food Standards Agency has received representations from the UK supplements industry in relation to their concern that large volumes of food supplements, which would be regarded as illegal in the UK, are being sold to UK consumers by companies based in Jersey and Guernsey. Those concerns relate particularly to the use of medicinal claims for unlicensed supplements.

The agency’s legal advice is that because the aim of the food supplements directive is the free movement of goods within the European Community, the Crown
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dependencies will have to implement the provisions of the directive and ensure that food supplements produced in and supplied from those territories are compliant with the directive. That advice also applies to the nutritional and health claims regulations.

The FSA has collaborated effectively and engaged productively on matters relating to the Channel Islands with a range of stakeholders, including the food supplements industry in the UK, the Ministry of Justice, the Treasury, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and, of course, the Governments of Jersey and Guernsey.

A meeting was held between the agency and officials from Jersey and Guernsey to discuss matters face to face in April 2008, at which representatives of the Jersey Government indicated that they were in the process of implementing food safety legislation that will include the provisions of the food supplements directive and the nutrition and health claims regulations. Guernsey Government officials were considering implementation of national legislation to enact the provisions of the directive and the regulations.

Jersey and Guernsey also agreed to work with companies based on the islands to prevent the sale of food supplements that are illegal in the UK. In January this year, the FSA was advised by the Government of Jersey that work is still progressing under its programme to update Jersey’s food safety legislation. Jersey is also working with Customs to identify importers and exporters of health foods in order to investigate their products. The Jersey Government are working with trading standards to prevent Jersey businesses making inappropriate health claims, and with the Jersey Economic Development Department on the possibility of revoking the licences of food business operators who may damage the reputation of the island.

The Government of Guernsey advised the FSA that discussions at official level on implementing the food supplements directive and the nutrition and health claims regulations are ongoing, but that priority is being given to drafting the secondary legislation that is necessary to ensure that the EC medicines directive, which prohibits marketing food supplements with medicinal claims and which allows enforcement action to be taken, is fully implemented. I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that the timetable is for that legislation to be implemented this summer. That is a positive move, the outcome of which will address some of the key concerns raised by the supplements industry and by him.

A request for more drafting time will be put forward for consideration by the Jersey Government’s Council of Ministers as part of its 2010 legislative programme. I am able to report that further progress to my hon. Friend. There will be further dialogue in 2009 with the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency to resolve outstanding technical issues.

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In April, officials from Guernsey informed the Ministry of Justice that a detailed analysis of the implementation of the legislation is under way so that the board at the Health and Social Services Department can decide on the appropriate way forward. The pace of progress in respect of food supplements will therefore begin to increase.

Apart from implementation of legislation, concerns have been raised by the supplements industry about products on sale in the Channel Islands that would be considered illegal in the UK. The FSA brought those concerns to the attention of officials in Jersey and Guernsey who have undertaken discussions with companies. They have made several visits to companies to ensure that they are fully aware of the concerns. FSA officials continue to liaise with officials in Jersey and Guernsey to keep abreast of developments and to direct action against companies that have been identified as marketing illegal products.

I have listened to my hon. Friend’s contribution and I will draw the points that he made to the attention of ministerial colleagues in the Ministry of Justice, because there are important matters that they need to be aware of and take forward. I reassure my hon. Friend that the Government recognise the concerns of the supplements industry that he raised today. I emphasise my thanks to him for bringing them forward in a variety of ways, including today’s debate, particularly given the forthcoming setting of maximum levels for vitamins and minerals, and the finalisation of the positive lists of vitamin and mineral sources in the food supplements directive.

We recognise the risk that further market share could be opened up for companies trading in the Channel Islands if legislation is not fully implemented, and recognising that risk drives us all to ensure that we get the job done as soon as possible. The FSA has regular meetings with the supplements industry to maintain an open dialogue on supplements and health claims, and I urge it to do so on the issue being debated today as well. I have also asked the FSA to obtain a timetable for completion of the work in Jersey and an update on Guernsey’s intentions in this regard, and I will forward that information to my hon. Friend as soon as it is available.

My hon. Friend wanted reassurance that we are aware both of our responsibilities and of the need for action on this matter. I give him that assurance today, and I hope that we will be able to take forward the action that he requires at the earliest opportunity.

1.27 pm

Sitting suspended.

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Bus Regulation

1.30 pm

Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD): Good afternoon, Mr. Wilshire. I am grateful for the chance to raise an issue that has been something of a perennial for me in the 12 years that I have been a Member of Parliament, although it is particularly timely in view of what is happening in my area at the moment, following a local development on bus services which I will describe to the Minister.

I want to flag up a question and I should be grateful for a response from the Minister. Flagging it at the start may give him the opportunity to seek inspiration, as it were, as I progress. I want to know whether bus companies can subsidise less profitable routes with more profitable ones. The local company, First bus, has withdrawn a service on the grounds that it was not making enough money. My constituents wrote to First, asking, “Why don’t you subsidise this service with one of your city centre routes on which you make a lot of money?” and it replied:

It would be helpful if the Minister commented on that response by the bus company and said whether its understanding of the law in this regard is correct, because I think the situation may be slightly more subtle than it says.

Stepping back to give the context for this debate, I represent a part of south Gloucestershire with many small towns and villages where there is heavy car usage and bus services are, on the whole, pretty poor. If people live on one of the main arterial routes into the centre of Bristol, they stand the best chance of getting a bus service, but if they live in a village or if they need to travel in the evening, on a Sunday or out of hours to get to a hospital appointment, for example, they have serious problems.

One local service, which was an express, or X, service—the X27—went down the M32 motorway from Yate in my constituency, past a village called Iron Acton, through Winterbourne and into the city centre. That was a popular local route. Bus changes were announced by First not many months ago. It originally proposed withdrawing its fast bus services down the motorway, but we all thought that that was ludicrous. There has been talk of bus lanes and special methods of getting buses into the city centre quickly, but here the bus was planning to take some of its express routes off the motorway. We fought a campaign and there was an extensive period of public consultation, and, to be fair to First, it revised its plans in light of that consultation and campaign, and we were able to keep some of the express motorway services going.

Given that experience not many months ago, we were all horrified to get a letter in March, telling us that in eight weeks First would stop running the X27 service. There was no consultation and minimal warning. The local authority found out about it pretty much at the same time as the rest of us. The bus company just said, “Things have turned down; we’re not making the money we want to on this route. We’re pulling out.” An awful lot of people were unhappy about that. This company does not have the best local reputation. We ran an
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online petition and many of my constituents made comments, saying, for example:


the managing director—

The Bristol Evening Post regularly gets a front-page story from the latest outrage perpetrated by First bus on the benighted residents of Bristol and south Gloucestershire.

There is a history of poor service and people are unhappy about a lot of things, but First took its performance to a new level by announcing with the minimum possible notice that the X27 route would be taken away. That impacted on a range of people. In the context of social exclusion, some of the comments from my constituents are germane. One lady wrote:

The elderly, who are heavily dependent on this service, were disappointed. Somebody said:

Older people were particularly affected by all this, but they were not the only ones. Young people were also affected. One young student responded to a survey we did via Facebook, saying, “I’m doing my A-levels and you’re going to cut the bus on 10 May. How do you expect me to get to my exams?” Nobody had thought about that. First just said, “We’re not making money. We’re pulling the plug in eight weeks.”

I am worried about the structure of our bus services. It is fine to say, “Well, they’re just in it to make money. They make money and we subsidise the rest.” But unless there is long-term stability planning—for example, in this case people know that a service can be cut with eight weeks’ notice—how will there ever be long-term growth in bus usage? People plan their jobs, their studies and their lives around transport arrangements. If bus companies can just pull the plug with eight weeks’ notice, that will not give anybody confidence to plan their lives around public transport, and yet another person will assume that the only thing they can do is use the car. If we had not been able to do something about the X27, the young woman doing her A-levels said that she would have had to move out of her home for the period of her exams because there was no other way for her to get to her studies.

One woman wrote:

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