HC Deb 14 May 1996 vol 277 cc751-2
3. Ms Quin

To ask the Secretary of State for Health when he last met his EU counterparts to discuss health aspects of diet. [27983]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. John Bowis)

I last did so on 30 November at the Council of Health Ministers and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State met them this morning.

Ms Quin

Are the Minister and the Secretary of State for Health among those who favour retaliation against the European Union because of the beef ban? Given that some countries have banned British beef for far longer than the European Union, can the Minister explain why Tory Euro-sceptics are not urging retaliation against those countries? Will the Minister tell us what specific proposals he and the Secretary of State have to get those other countries to lift their bans?

Mr. Bowis

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had a successful meeting with our European colleagues at the Council of Health Ministers this morning. They agreed with him that it is important to seek the facts and to base our decisions on those facts and the evidence, and that we should work together to improve understanding of the evidence. I think that the House would unite around that, and I hope that the hon. Lady will join us. We can then say clearly, in this country and elsewhere, that British beef is safe and British beef is best. Effective safeguards are in place and it is a pity that some of the hon. Lady's colleagues seem determined to undermine that confidence.

Dame Angela Rumbold

Does my hon. Friend agree that, far from encouraging our European partners to enter into discussions about diet, it would be much more profitable if some members of the press, the popular press and others who write articles about diet and encourage people to go on foolish diets, were to be co-ordinated and given better direction so that some of our young people do not embark on diets after dangerous dietary advice?

Mr. Bowis

My right hon. Friend is right. Within a domestic and European context we are seeking to encourage the fact that the right sort of diet is a balanced diet, preferably accompanied by adequate and moderate levels of exercise. That is something behind which the European Council of Health Ministers has united as we look for our health promotion programme, which exchanges evidence and information about good practice. We all need a sensible diet, not a faddy one.

Mr. Sheerman

Do we not have a lot to learn from our European counterparts about good and healthy diets? Even though the Secretary of State helped destabilise the market in beef, was not the response in Europe, America, Australia and elsewhere to draw their own conclusions and act along those lines very sensibly?

Mr. Bowis

There we go again. There goes a Labour Member doing precisely what the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) did when the problem started. In the House, she said that public confidence was "hanging by a thread", and she has since done nothing but try to cut that thread. The hon. Gentleman is doing the same. Happily, we are backed in our belief by the European Commissioner, by experts in this country, by our chief medical officer and by the facts and the evidence. If the hon. Gentleman looked at the facts and the evidence, he would be on our side on this issue and not with the hon. Member for Peckham.