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Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, perhaps an Essex nationalist may intervene in this parochial debate. Can the Minister explain why, if it was outwith the original terms of reference of the Ordnance Survey, it was deemed necessary for such a long time to include county boundaries? As they were included for such a long time, what has changed now to make it necessary to exclude them?
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, my recollection is that the government of the party of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, radically changed the boundaries. The Royal County of Berkshire, for example, no longer exists for administrative purposes. That is why the noble Lords, Lord Taylor of Blackburn and Lord McNally, among others, have raised concerns. However, the administrative boundaries were changed because of what happened. Far be it from me, on this day of all others, to argue in a hostile way with Essex man.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, although I come from Barnet and definitely not from Lancashire, I am delighted to see that the noble Baroness is answering this Question. Perhaps I may press her on what she said about the "modern equivalents" of the county boundaries on the Ordnance Survey maps. Will
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, is fully aware of the fact that the Government have made it quite clear that it is not our intention to impose the existing regional boundaries for the voluntary regional assemblies of local authorities as the model for the regions in the future. To answer the first question from the noble Baroness, the changes are not being made arbitrarily, but to depict the actual tiers of local government and the boundaries which cover them as that is of value to people.
Earl Baldwin of Bewdley: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply so far as it goes. Does he recognise that there is a lot of concern among users and manufacturers about the impending European directive on dietary supplements, since there is pressure, particularly from big commercial interests here and abroad, to have anything above a minimal dosage of vitamins and minerals classified as a medicine, which I am sure he would agree is not in the best interests either of users or of the National Health Service?
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, the European Union is considering the subject. It has carried out a consultation exercise. We are not aware of any immediate intention to issue a directive. As the noble Earl states, there is a problem within the European Union in that countries take a different view of vitamin and mineral supplements. Some have tough legislation, as in Germany, licensing most as medicines. We take a more liberal view and where such supplements fall under the heading of "food", our view is that they can be sold, subject to safety. In so far as the moves towards harmonisation in the European Union are concerned, we shall argue strongly that it should be harmonisation on our liberal basis.
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, the setting up of the committee was announced in December. I believe that it has not had its first meeting, although that is imminent. One of the main reasons for that relates to the amendments to the membership. Originally, it was proposed that the committee should be composed of members of four existing advisory committees, but there was a great deal of pressure from the public, consumer groups, the industry and particularly from the Select Committee, that the membership should be widened. We have been involved in widening that. There are now four observers from the consumer side and the industry. We have added two further expert advisers, nominated from outside the industry, and from consumer groups. It is now a much more wide-ranging group. I believe that most people will accept that that is better and is an acceptable reason for delay.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it must be very tempting for the huge pharmaceutical companies to use their influence to load unbearable costs onto food supplements and herbal medicines, which a growing number of people are finding very much more helpful than expensive drugs, including even antibiotics, which are now rightly under the microscope?
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I cannot answer for the heads of the large pharmaceutical groups. Our attitude is one of tolerance towards supplements. Provided that they do not come under the Medicines Act 1968--that is, that they do not claim to have curative effects and do not have an observable impact on physiology--we accept them as food supplements and, provided they are safe, they are on sale.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many of us are encouraged to hear that he and the Government take a liberal view on this matter? However, in the end, will the question be decided by qualified majority voting, or can it be dealt with under the subsidiarity rules of the Maastricht Treaty?
Lord Thurlow: My Lords, I am sure that all sides of the House will welcome the Minister's indication that we are to bat firmly on for our liberal interests in Brussels. However, is he aware that the Minister for Food Safety, speaking in evidence to the House of Commons Agriculture Committee in the summer, said that in his view supplements were foods masquerading as medicines? I am not sure that he did not mean it
The ministerial team in MAFF are united on this subject. We take a liberal position. I believe that my honourable friend in another place was referring to the difficult grey area between foods and medicines, especially when dealing with herbs and vitamins. Herbs have medicinal qualities but are often exempt. Therefore they often seem to be either foods appearing as medicines or medicines appearing as foods. I totally defend my honourable friend's comment. But it does not represent any change in our liberal approach to this issue.
Lord McNair: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the international pharmaceutical industry met in 1995 under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation and the German Government, and came up with a campaign which they called "Codex alimentarius"? Its purpose was to reverse the defeat that the industry had received in the United States. Is the Minister further aware that, according to a recent article in the Daily Express, attempts such as the recent one to deprive British citizens of their access to vitamin B6 are the result of the inordinate influence that the pharmaceutical industry has on the British and other governments?
Lord Donoughue: My Lords, we take decisions based on our own judgment and on the basis of independent scientific advice, and we shall continue to do so. As we have announced, the expert committee has been set up and will report on vitamin B6 within the next 18 months. Then we shall announce our conclusions.
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