HC Deb 18 June 1956 vol 554 cc1032-9
20. Mr. Dodds

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is aware of the concern arising from the Cohen Report on bread; and why the Report has been accepted in face of the evidence of the Medical Research Council which was endorsed by the British Medical Association in favour of the National loaf and the repudiation of the recommendations in favour of the fortified white loaf.

23. Mr. Ledger

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in view of the evidence of the Medical Research Council, which has been endorsed by the British Medical Association, in favour of the National loaf and against the fortified white loaf, why he has accepted the recommendations of the Cohen Report in respect to the white loaf.

25. Mr. Allaun

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if, in view of the opposition of leading nutritionists and medical organisations to the recommendation in the Cohen Report respecting the fortified white loaf, he will reconsider the matter before making regulations.

26. Mr. Rankin

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food why he is giving effect to the recommendation of the Cohen Report in regard to the fortified white loaf in view of the opposition of leading medical bodies.

32. Mr. Owen

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is aware of the anxiety concerning the findings of the Cohen Committee Report on bread; and if he will make a statement.

35. Mr. Collins

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food why he accepted the Report of the Cohen Committee on bread despite the authoritative opinion of the Medical Research Council.

36. Mr. Lewis

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in view of the substantial medical testimony now available in respect of the merits of National bread and the limitations of the fortified white loaf, if he will, in the public interest, reconsider his acceptance of the recommendations of the Cohen Report for a white loaf fortified by three synthetic products of a chemical factory.

43. Mr. Wiley

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he will make a further statement on the fortified white loaf.

Mr. Amory

It was because of the conflict of scientific opinion regarding the nutritive value of flour of varying extraction rates that the Government in May of last year invited the President of the Royal Society to nominate a panel of independent persons of accepted authority representative of scientific and medical opinion. The panel had before it all the evidence to which the hon. Members refer.

Mr. Dodds

Is the Minister really saying that the finest medical experts are wrong in their opposition to the replace. ment of nature's gifts by synthetic products of the chemical factories? In view of the importance of the matter, will he reopen it, not only to deal with the allegations about pandering to vested interests, but also to give all the facts to the public so that housewives who still insist on purchasing the sham loaf will at least have been warned about the situation?

Mr. Amory

I should like to repeat that 18 or so months ago, before this panel was set up, there was, without any question whatever, a formidable conflict of medical and scientific opinion on this point. As regards the second part of the hon. Gentleman's Question, I should like it to be absolutely clear that we are not proposing to prohibit anybody from eating bread made with flour of any particular extraction rate at all. The only prohibition we are imposing is on the use of flour which does not contain a certain minimum quantity of these three token nutrients.

Mr. Collins

Will the Minister publish in the OFFICIAL REPORT the reasons which prompted him to favour one section of expert and medical opinion against another? Is he not aware that there is the feeling that the extra profit which is made out of the all-white loaf has had something to do with the decision which has been arrived at?

Mr. Amory

I should like it to be perfectly clear that it is the very reverse of the real situation to say that I have favoured one medical opinion against another. The whole object of what the Government did was to enable the Government to remain perfectly neutral in this matter as between two strongly expressed medical points of view. The Government could not, I think, have shown their neutrality more than by asking the President of the Royal Society to appoint a panel of neutral but eminent scientists and doctors to decide this problem.

Mr. Wiley

Whilst recognising the right hon. Gentleman's endeavours to resolve this conflict, may I ask him whether he will not admit that he has failed? Has he seen the opinions recently expressed in medical journals, and is he aware that it appears that the weight of medical evidence is against him? In view of this, would he at any rate look at the matter again?

Mr. Amory

I think this may well be one of the controversies which will continue until the end of time. In the meantime, the consumer will in the future be able to choose the kind of loaf he or she wishes to eat. I feel that the Government are not entitled to prevent the consumer from exercising such choice, unless there is incontrovertible evidence that it would be to the detriment of his or her health.

Mr. Thornton-Kemsley

Would my right hon. Friend agree that, since the Cohen Panel recommended white bread as an excellent food, and since the Medical Research Council's own researches have shown enriched bread to be equal in every way to other types, including wholemeal or brown bread, it would be an excellent idea to give the consumer freedom of choice to eat the kind of bread which he prefers?

Mr. Allaun

Is the Minister aware that the removal of the remaining Government subsidy, plus the substitution of white for National bread, will, in September, raise the price of the 1¾ lb. loaf by 4d. in many cases? In view of the effect of this on old-age pensioners and large families, would he consider scrapping both measures?

Mr. Amory

I do not think I can accept quite the hon. Gentleman's conputations of future increases in the price of bread. Whether the price of 70 per cent. extraction flour or 80 per cent, extraction flour is the lower depends upon a great number of factors, including the price of miller's offal.

Dr. Summerskill

In view of the fact that the Government should concern themselves more closely with the nutritional needs of the poorest section of the community rather than any other—I am sure the Minister would agree—and in view of the fact that the poorest section of the community eats a disproportionate amount of bread, should not the Minister consider the matter very carefully before he rejects the findings of the Medical Research Council and the British Medical Association?

Mr. Amory

The reasons the right hon. Lady has adduced were some of the reasons which led the Government to believe that the course they followed in putting this very important question to arbitration, before the best body possible, was the right way of tackling it. The Government had in mind precisely those points.

Commander Donaldson

Is it not true to say that the panel set up was a panel of experts, long overdue, to consider this matter, and should not its conclusions be respected? Why should we resist the conclusions which were reached in this independent, full and complete inquiry?

Mr. Amory

I am quite sure that no hon. Gentleman would wish to question the competence of this panel, either collectively or individually.

Mr. Dodds

On a point of order. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the answer, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment, with your help, Mr. Speaker.

22. Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what action he is taking to prevent inferior bread from replacing the National loaf when the bread subsidy ends.

Mr. Amory

The composition of flour will be governed by Regulations to be made under the Food and Drugs Acts.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, unless he introduces really stringent regulations, it is quite likely that before the end of the year most of the bread consumed in this country will be hardly more nutritious or digestible than steamed cotton-wool? In those circumstances, will he not reconsider the decision to allow the multiple bakers, who do not bake bread but merely steam it, a free hand to sell whatever kind of bread, doped with chemicals, they are willing to sell?

Mr. Amory

I could not accept the conclusions which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has drawn; they are, I think, quite unnecessarily depressing. I am, however, going to invite the Food Standards Committee to recommend whether any further regulations are required, other than the regulations we propose to ensure that all flour shall contain a minimum of three token nutrients.

Mr. D. Jones

In view of the fact that the Minister challenged my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) on his suggestion that the price is likely to go up by 4d., will he say by what the price will be increased?

Mr. Amory

No, I am not going to say that, but I challenge the computations in detail which the hon. Gentleman implied there, because I think it is at this stage quite impossible to say what is going to happen.

Mr. R. Bell

Why should there be any prescription at all once the subsidy has gone? Will my right hon. Friend assure us that anyone wishing to buy low extraction white flour, unadulterated by well-meaning people, will be able to do so?

Mr. Amory

I have said that our regulations will require that all flour must contain a certain proportion of these three token nutrients, whether in the form of the natural element in the flour or, in the case of low extraction rate flour, by the addition of nutrients.

37. Mr. Hastings

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether, in view of the rise in price of many foods and the large amount of bread eaten by the children of the less well-paid workers, he will take steps to ensure that all bread sold contains an adequate amount of essential nutrients in addition to iron. vitamin BI, and nicotinic acid.

Mr. Amory

In the opinion of the panel on the composition and nutritive value of flour, no case has been made out for the addition of other nutrients to flour.

Mr. Hastings

Does the right hon. Gentleman not appreciate that the panel recommended that these changes were possible provided there was a good mixed diet also, but that many children of the working classes are not getting this decent mixed diet as well and, therefore, there are many deficiencies in their diet, which could be put right by wholemeal bread but cannot be put right by this doctored stuff which is being supplied?

Mr. Amory

The panel considered very carefully the probable effects on all sections of the community, including the section to which the hon. Member refers, and came to the conclusion that the essential nutrients, even in the case of that section of the community, would be adequately supplied by the rest of the diet. As regards wholemeal bread, of course, everybody will be entirely free to buy it—[An HON. MEMBER: "If they can afford it."]—and I shall be among them.

38. Mr. Hastings

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what method he is adopting to ascertain that the fortified flour used for making white bread is of not less than 70 per cent. extraction, and contains an adequate amount of protein and other essential nutrients.

Mr. Amory

In view of its higher cost, it is unlikely that any significant quantity of bread will be made from speciality flour of less than 70 per cent. extraction. 'The Food Standards Committee, however, as already announced, will be invited to consider whether any more extensive Regulations governing the composition of flour and bread are needed to protect the consumer.

Mr. Hastings

Is the Minister not aware that these three token nutrients are not the only important ones in bread, but that there are many others? How will he determine that these other nutrients, which, I think he would agree, are of equal importance, are present in bread? How will he be sure that it is a 70 per cent. extraction and not, perhaps, a 65 per cent. or similar extraction? It may be suggested that it is not at the moment to the advantage of millers further to reduce the extraction, but a time may come when it will be to their advantage.

Mr. Amory

Again, I should like to make clear that no limit is being imposed to the extraction rate of flour. All we are proposing to say is that all flour, of whatever extraction rate, shall contain, whether in its natural state or added, a certain proportion of these three essential nutrients.

Dr. Summerskill

While the Minister says that he believes people should have freedom of choice, does he not feel that he has a duty to the poorest in the community. who understand nothing about extraction rates, as we do in this House, and that it is his duty to see that they get, and he helps them to buy, what is best for the nutrition of the family?

Mr. Amory

Again, that is precisely why the Government decided to ask this panel of distinguished scientists and medical experts to resolve the conflict of evidence.

39. Mr. Hastings

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he is aware that a conference appointed by the Medical Research Council reported that the consumption of a 70 per cent. extraction flour, even if partially fortified, would lead to a reduced intake of some nutrients; and whether he will now consult both the Medical Research Council and the Cohen Committee as to how such danger to the nutrition of the nation can be avoided.

Mr. Amory

The evidence of the Medical Research Council was taken fully into account by the panel before reaching its conclusions.

Mr. Hastings

Does the Minister not consider that, when eminent scientists differ on an important question like this, he would be much wiser to take the course of least resistance and not risk the national nutrition merely at the desire of the millers?

Dr. Summerskill

Hear, hear.

Mr. Amory

I am always being pressed not to take the course of least resistance.