HC Deb 23 July 1962 vol 663 cc943-4
31. Mr. Edelman

asked the Minister of Health whether he will now take the necessary powers to set up a statutory authority, comparable with the food and drugs administration in the United States, to supervise the clinical trials of new drugs and to authorise their marketing and prescription.

36. Mr. K. Robinson

asked the Minister of Health if he will set up a committee to consider the avoidable risks attendant on the introduction of new drugs within the National Health Service, the desirability of establishing standards for, and independent assessment or control of, clinical trials, and to make recommendations.

38. Sir B. Janner

asked the Minister of Health whether he is aware of the dangers to health which have been experienced by the use of some new drugs; and what precautions he is taking to ensure that no new drugs shall be used without adequate research into their potential danger.

Mr. Powell

I am seeking advice through my Standing Medical Advisory Committee on the question of the testing of new drugs generally.

Mr. Edelman

I welcome the fact that the Minister is at last going to take some action, but will he bear in mind that the essentials for an authority of this kind is that it should be independent, impartial and free from undue commercial or even professional pressure? In these circumstances, will he bear in mind that the United States Food and Drugs Authority has a long and efficient experience of acting as a supervisory body over the marketing and prescription of drugs and was thus able to avoid the tragedy which has recently taken place from the use of thalidomide?

Mr. Powell

I would not accept the inference in the hon. Gentleman's last words, but I would agree that American experience is a very useful and interesting fact in what is a very big subject. Nevertheless, I think it is right to put on record that both the profession and the manufacturers have exercised their responsibilities to the full.

Mr. K. Robinson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, in view of the very serious public concern about recent tragic events, his announcement today will be very welcome? Is he further aware that it is very important if a committee of this kind is set up, which we hope it will be, that it shall be an official committee with public accountability to the House and it will not be sufficient to leave the assessment of clinical tests and control of new drugs either to the medical profession or the pharmaceutical industry, or both?

Mr. Powell

It would obviously be premature for me to comment on that until I have received the advice that I mentioned I am seeking.

Sir B. Janner

I appreciate the very important statement the Minister has made. Has he any idea how long it will be before such a committee is set up, in view of the very serious position with regard to some drugs and the consequences which have ensued? As there was no supervision, in the sense of a committee of this sort investigating the drugs, what is he prepared to do about the tragic results which have flowed from the use of drugs which have not been examined in this way? Will he arrange for compensation to be paid to these people?

Mr. Powell

That is an entirely separate question which the hon. Gentleman must table. I cannot give any time for the receipt of the advice which I have mentioned I intend to call for. I again emphasise that there is no reason to suppose that either the manufacturers or the profession are not fulfilling their responsibilities absolutely fully.

Mr. J. Howard

Before my hon. Friend sets up a committee on the wider powers, will he bear in mind that the processes of the courts can be used to discourage incidents of this sort, and will he allow the normal processes of the law to act as a safeguard?

Mr. Powell

I have not taken the decision that my hon. Friend refers to. I think I must await advice on this whole question.

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