HC Deb 31 May 1965 vol 713 cc1168-70
23 and 25. Mr. Walden

asked the Minister of Health (1) what action he is considering as a result of the report on cheap drugs written by Mr. F. G. Stock, the City Analyst of Birmingham, a copy of which has been sent to him; and

(2) if he will now take steps to set up a central testing unit to test all drugs after manufacture.

29. Mrs. Joyce Butler

asked the Minister of Health, in view of public concern about the danger from sub-standard imported drugs, as revealed by the recent report of the City of Birmingham Analytical Laboratories, a copy of which has been sent to him, what action he proposes to take to establish an adequate system of control.

38. Dr. Summerskill

asked the Minister of Health if, while awaiting the findings of the inquiry into the drug industry, he will introduce regulations governing the manufacture, testing and sale of drugs.

64. Dr. Wyndham Davies

asked the Minister of Health if, in view of the reports of the City Analyst of Birmingham and the subsequent report in the medical press of increased toxic reactions with foreign-manufactured antibiotics, he will now take steps to supervise the activities of small mushroom firms attempting to take advantage of Sections 41 and 46 of the Patents Act, 1949, and lacking the facilities or pharmaceutical experience of established companies.

Mr. K. Robinson

In the course of the current review of medicines legislation I am considering what measures are necessary to secure that checks on the safety, quality and efficacy of drugs used in this country meet present-day requirements.

Mr. Walden

Is my right hon. Friend aware that that reply will give a great deal of satisfaction? Will he bear two other points in mind? First, will he not agree that Mr. Stock, the Birmingham City Analyst, of whom we are all proud in Birmingham, in his analysis of tetracycline paediatric drops performed a national service? Will he accept that although many people see the need for importing cheap foreign drugs, they are extremely concerned that the tests on such drugs should be thorough and exacting?

Mr. Robinson

We are grateful for the discovery which Mr. Stock made. Certificates of analysis in respect of drugs imported by my Department under Section 46(1) are supplied by the overseas manufacturer for each batch of drugs imported for hospital use. We are aware that the present legislation is not sufficient on this matter because, except for a limited range of substances such as sera-vaccines and injectible antibiotics, the law as it stands provides no direct means of requiring manufacturers to incorporate adequate quality controls in the process of production.

Mrs. Butler

Can my right hon. Friend give any indication whether it will be possible to bring forward his comprehensive legislation to an early date in view of the great need for adequate quality in both home and imported drugs? In the meantime, is there any means by which he could insist on the quality control procedures of manufacturers and importers being published and being made available?

Mr. Robinson

I think that in the interim we probably must rely on the powers which the food and drugs authorities already have, limited though they are. I am anxious that there should be no avoidable delay in introducing this legislation, but my hon. Friend knows that it is not for me to decide the time of the introduction of the Bill.

Dr. Summerskill

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that there is indiscriminate distribution of inadequately tested drugs by unscrupulous firms which are acting from a profit motive? Would not it be possible, while this is going on, to institute a Government testing and licensing agency straight away, because the public is in some danger from these drugs?

Mr. Robinson

I assure my hon. Friend that the quantity of what are called cheap drugs imported from foreign sources by importers for profit is a very small proportion of the total consumption of drugs in this country. I am not satisfied that a central testing unit is necessarily the most effective provision, but, even so, I do not think that we could implement this or the other suggestion of my hon. Friend without legislation.

Mr. Wood

Would the right hon. Gentleman mention to his right hon. Friends that legislation on this subject is likely to be more acceptable to the Opposition than some of the other proposals that they have in mind?

Mr. Braine

Will the right hon. Gentleman take note that, important as this question of drug testing is, it is only one aspect of the necessary reforms in medicines legislation? Would he also take note that I am sure that hon. Members on both sides feel that there is a degree of urgency about the need for reform? Could he urge his colleagues to bring forward comprehensive legislation on this matter as soon as possible?

Mr. Robinson

I have already assured the House that I want to bring it forward as soon as I can. We have not quite finished the necessary consultations, but certainly the Measure will be ready for presentation before very long. The hon. Gentleman need have no doubt that it will be a thoroughly comprehensive Bill when it is introduced.