HC Deb 16 February 1959 vol 600 cc21-2
58. Mr. E. Fletcher

asked the Minister of Health on what grounds he has satisfied himself that prices for corticosteroids which operated until July, 1958, at which period identical prices had been submitted to his Department for almost all items in this group during the previous two years, were fair and reasonable, in view of the drop from £56 to £12 per 1,000 tablets for one item of prednisteroids during the four months period subsequent to July, 1958; whether he is aware that this price reduction was by stages which were all observed contemporaneously by the leading American-owned or American-licensed companies in the United Kingdom; and whether he will reconsider his decision not to hold an inquiry.

Mr. Walker-Smith

Progress of manufacture has been closely watched with a view to securing reductions in price where possible, but initial costs were very high and no substantial reductions could be anticipated until economic production had been obtained. As regards the period to July, 1958, I would refer the hon. Member to my reply on 9th February to the hon. Member for Coventry, North (Mr. Edelman). I am informed that, since then, uniform prices have not obtained. I see no need for an inquiry.

Mr. Fletcher

Is the Minister aware that his continual refusal to hold an inquiry is causing very great disquiet?

Mr. Walker-Smith

No, Sir, I am not aware of any disquiet in this context. I am aware of gratification that the prices have come down.

Dr. Summerskill

Is the Minister aware that on many occasions in this House I have drawn to the attention of previous Ministers of Health the gross overcharging by certain American firms making proprietary drugs? These facts have never been disputed by the firms. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) has now drawn another case to the Minister's attention, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not dispute. Why does he refuse to make inquiries into something amounting to an exploitation of the National Health Service?

Mr. Walker-Smith

There is no exploitation in this regard. Initially prices of these drugs tend to be high because of the natural desire—and entitlement—of the manufacturers to get back the amount spent on research, not only on these particular drugs but over the whole field of drugs, many of which may not come into economic production at all.

Colonel Beamish

Why does the right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) find it impossible to understand that drug prices in this country are lower than those in any other country in the world?

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