Parliament & politics: Health: Ministers `duped' on vitamin B6 sales ban

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MINISTERS WERE duped by officials into banning over-the-counter sales of large doses of vitamin B6, a former Tory agriculture minister alleged yesterday.

Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) told the Commons that while she was in office, Department of Health officials tried to convince her to introduce such a change. But at the time she rejected the suggestions, asking for more scientific evidence to back up the contention. "Frankly, you were set up," she told Jeff Rooker, Minister of State for Agriculture.

The decision to make 10mg or more doses of B6 only available by prescription was taken following the advice of two independent committees after studying the effects of the drug.

MPs echoed the criticism of Tuesday's select committee report which condemned the Government for accepting flawed advice. They also criticised its handling of the affair.

Mr Rooker should not have opted to use the "legislative sledgehammer," in preference to warning the public of the potential danger, said Keith Simpson (Con, Mid Norfolk), who opened the debate. Comparing the situation to the beef-on-the-bone affair, Mr Simpson said the evidence on which the decision was based was "scientifically unjustifiable".

He added: "I have to say the minister is rapidly becoming the biggest nanny of them all and symbolises for consumers throughout the country that he represents the ultimate nanny state."

Brian Iddon (Lab, Bolton SE), who has a doctorate in chemistry, came out strongly against the move, saying: "Such a high safety figure has never been involved in anything that is taken orally and described as a foodstuff. If applied to beer we would only be recommended one teaspoonful of beer every day - which is ridiculous."

David Tredinnick (Con, Bosworth) accused the Department of Health of being out of touch with public opinion. "I am surprised your party has got itself into such a tangle. You want not just to lengthen life in this country, but to lengthen the quality of life," he said.

However Mr Rooker's actions were defended by Austin Mitchell (Lab, Great Grimsby), a member of the agriculture committee.

"What is a responsible minister to do in that situation - ignore it, gloss it over, or do what the minister in fact did, which is propose a regulation and put it out to consultation?" he asked.