HC Deb 20 June 1968 vol 766 cc1408-17


Mr. Dean

I beg to move Amendment No. 113, in page 5, line 8, after 'function ', insert: 'related to the safety, efficacy or quality of medicinal products'. This matter was discussed in Committee, and it is one to which we attach great importance. The Clause as it stands gives the Minister power to confer on the Commission by Order any new function. It does not specify to what the new function is to refer. It just says any new function which can be specified by Order, without any new resolution coming before the House. This power is far too extensive. It is a blank cheque to the Minister and could be used to alter the Bill's character. I do not suggest that this is his intention, but we are concerned not with his intentions but with what is written into the Bill.

This is a clear phrase, the power to confer on the Commission "any new functions". This type of very extensive power is virtually without precedent. A number of Acts recently have set up various committees and boards and in no case has power been given to confer new functions on the bodies concerned. For example, the Land Commission Act contains no power to confer new functions on the Land Commission. Similarly with the Act which set up the National Board for Prices and Incomes, and the Race Relations Act 1965, which set up the Race Relations Board. These are just three examples of bodies similar to the Medicines Commission, and on none is a similar power conferred.

The Minister said in Committee that he had no additional functions in mind, but he also said, trying to meet the points put, … I will consider the possibility of adding some words to subsection (4, c) "— what is now subsection (4)(b)— to confine the scope of any additional functions that might be conferred on the Commission."—[OFFICAL REPORT, Standing Committee D; 21st March 1968, c. 149.] That is all that we are asking. The Amendment does not rule out any new functions, but only provides that they should be directly relevant to the Bill and its main objects. We have tried to meet the Minister's points by suggesting that the new functions will be acceptable through an affirmative Order so long as it is clear that they relate to the Bill's main objects. I therefore hope that the Minister will accept the Amendment.

Mr. K. Robinson

It is correct that, in a discussion in Committee on an Amendment designed to preclude the making of Orders conferring any new functions on the Commission, which was defeated on a Division, I undertook to consider the possibility of finding some words to confine possible additional functions. We have considered that possibility since, but I am afraid that—since the only change which could reasonably be made in this provision is to insert some general words indicative of matters relating to the purposes of the Bill, and I am advised that, in any event, this power must be exercised within the ambit of the Bill—I have concluded that it is better to leave the wording as it is. New functions would have to relate to medicinal productions and to connected matters and purposes. I am advised clearly on that point. The hon. Gentleman skated over the fact that the affirmative procedure is required should any new function be added by the Government, and this is a valuable safeguard.

8.15 p.m.

To limit the new functions, as the Amendment proposes, to functions related to the safety, efficacy or quality of medicinal products would be far too narrow. There is a number of areas in the Bill which go beyond this. For example, there are matters of consumer protection. I can only repeat what I said in Committee—that we have no proposals in view for extending the functions. If I had had, I would have included them in the Bill in the first place, and I can see no advantage in confining the ambit of any potential Order in the way that the Amendment proposes.

As we have the affirmative procedure, that should be a perfectly adequate safeguard, and there is the additional accepted doctrine that any accepted func-tion must be within the ambit of the Bill as it stands. So we would achieve nothing by merely adding general words which repeated the long Title of the Bill, and I suggest that it is right to leave the wording as it is.

Mr. Tim Fortescue (Liverpool, Garston)

I would like some more explanation about two points in the right hon. Gentleman's speech. The main tenor of his argument was that any functions must be within the general ambit of the Bill and that he is advised to that effect, but he did not tell us why. He did not say by what say-so these functions have to be confined. Is this a general legal doctrine? The Bill does not say so. Would he explain that a little more?

Second, when challenged as to why the new functions must not be confined to safety, efficacy and quality, which are the three pillars of the Bill, he gave, as an example of an exception, consumer protection. But surely consumer protection is a matter of either safety or quality. Any other off the cuff, ad hoc, example of powers which the Commission should properly have would be connected with one of these three matters. There is nothing else in the Bill.

The right hon. Gentleman thought of another example in Committee, when he talked about the possibility that the Commission might want to run drug test laboratories, but that would surely be connected with the safety or quality of drugs. He will find that every example comes back to these three matters, which are the heart and soul of the Bill. I hope that he can reconsider this before Report.

Mr. Dudley Smith

The Minister said that he thought that the affirmative procedure was a valuable safeguard, but it is nothing like as good as the need to introduce new legislation if the case arose. This Government are very fond of this type of legislation, and it is to be deprecated. In the hands of a future illiberal Minister—I acquit the right hon. Gentleman in this connection—these powers could be far too wide. I cannot understand why he resists this. His explanations are usually lucid, but today his remarks were unconvincing. The whole basis of the Bill is concerned with safety, efficacy and quality. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Fortescue) said, if one takes into account many of the other aspects of the Measure, they, too, are caught by those words.

We can envisage a situation in years to come when a Minister might have a pathological hatred of the pharmaceutical industry and might use the Medicines Commission as a creature of his will to damage its institutions. I accept that there is a Parliamentary safeguard, but it is not strong enough.

I urge the right hon. Gentleman to think about the matter again. So far we have had much agreement on the Bill and the Government have been reasonably generous in introducing Amendments to make the Measure more workable. The Commission will get off to a better start if it has good terms of reference instead of the present woolly drafting, which gives carte blanche at any time to any future Minister to introduce whatever he likes.

Mr. Nigel Fisher (Surbiton)

I cannot understand why the Minister is making such heavy weather of this very reasonable and moderate Amendment. When we argued this matter in Committee on 19th March the Parliamentary Secretary said—and the right hon. Gentleman confirmed this tonight—that he had no additional functions in mind but that there must be flexibility. "Flexibility" is a vague word in this context and this is a vague and a very wide Clause. It is unnecessarily and dangerously wide and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean) has said, it could be used to alter the whole character of the Bill. It could also be used to prejudice the position of the medical profession and that of the pharmaceutical industry.

In Committee the Parliamentary Secretary said that he would look at this section again. The right hon. Gentleman said the same. The Parliamentary Secretary gave that promise in answer to comments made by his hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English), who was also anxious and critical about this aspect of the Bill. We are now told that, having considered the matter again, the Government are not prepared to accept this moderate Amendment. But we have been given only one reason, only one example, that of consumer protection, which the right hon. Gentleman considers is outside the scope of the Amendment. It was the weakest example he could have given because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Gars-ton (Mr. Fortescue) pointed out, it is impossible to say that consumer protection does not fall within the definition of "safety" or "quality".

I am not usually a suspicious person, but I cannot help wondering why more convincing reasons and examples have not been given for rejecting this Amendment. Why are these wide powers needed? I expected, following the assurances given in Committee, that the right hon. Gentleman would either have effectively studied the matter again and accepted our Amendment or, in view of the very long time that has elapsed between 19th March and today, that he would have done his homework and supplied us with more convincing reasons for not accepting the Amendment. Merely to advance the phrase ''consumer protection" is not enough. It is almost insulting to hon. Members:, who took a lot of trouble with the Bill in Committee and who went into the subject in depth, to be fobbed off with phrases like "consumer protection" and "flexibility" which, in this context, mean nothing and are totally unconvincing.

We are only asking that the right hon. Gentleman should confine the operation of the Bill to the subjects with which it now deals and the safeguards and purposes which it is designed to secure. Why does the right hon. Gentleman still insist on these wide powers which he has given no real reason for wanting and which any successor in his job could use to alter the whole Bill. It is really not right to asked Parliament to accept a clause drafted in this way and I hope my hon. Friends will press the Amendment to a division.

Mr. K, Robinson

It ill-becomes one of the sponsors of a starred Amendment to say that there has been a very long time since the end of the Committee stage.

Mr. Dean

We waited for the right hon. Gentleman until the last minute before taking action.

Mr. Robinson

I am prepared to accept that explanation. Nevertheless, there has not been a very long time since the close of the Committee stage.

I explained that I have given thought to the matter and I told the House of the conclusions I have reached. I was beginning to wonder what had happened to the power, which was so much displayed by hon. Gentlemen opposite in Committee, to conjure up bogeys. I was beginning to think that they had lost it, but I am almost happy to find that they are as good as ever. Again we have had expressed that terrible thought that in the back of the mind of some hypothetical Minister of Health of the future will be the wish to use the Medicines Commission to dish the pharmaceutical industry.

I cannot accept the Amendment, first in view of what I said earlier; that it is far too restrictive, and secondly because it is not true to say that consumer protection must include only safety, quality and efficacy. There is also the question of misrepresentation. If I could think of a valuable and useful function for the Commission to do at this moment, I would have included it in the Bill in the first place. It is no idle form of words to say that we need flexibility, because it is difficult to forecast the future.

It may be that some function would be appropriate to the Commission, which everyone would agree would be appropriate, but for which no Government would feel the necessity of bringing forward a whole new piece of legislation. It is all very well for hon. Gentlemen opposite to say that the present Government are fond of legislation of this kind. All Governments are fond of legislation which gives delegated powers.

Mr. Dudley Smith

This one especially.

Mr. Robinson

That is a matter of opinion, and possibly of opinion coloured by party political prejudice. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Fortescue) asked on what basis I was advised that any additional function would have to come within the ambit of the Bill. I am informed that there are decisions of the courts which make it abundantly clear that any exercise of statutory powers must be within the four corners of the Act conferring those powers.

I am prepared to have yet another look at this matter between now and the time when the Bill goes to another place, but even if I were able to find an appropriate form of words, it could be little more that a re-statement of the Long Title of the Bill. I will have another look to see whether something of this kind can be devised but, for the reasons I have given, I must ask the House to reject the Amendment.

8.30 p.m.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

Despite the right hon. Gentleman's willingness to have another look at this matter, I must ask the House to support the Amendment in the Division Lobby. I am still a little puzzled about the need for this refusal, because there seems so little difference between us when we think of what the Minister says that I am at a loss to see why he is reluctant to put this safeguard into the Bill. I always try to acquit him of having sinister designs and always very reluctantly become suspicious because of the explanations he gives for refusing to make Amendments of this sort.

The Minister asked what had happened to the bogeys. He has been sufficiently forthcoming about other new Clauses and Amendments to allay some of our suspicions. I wish that he had not aroused them by what he said on this Amendment. It is difficult to see what objection he can have, because what else is the Bill about except "safety, efficacy or quality". If he is denying the relevance of those words to this Clause, he is beginning to cast doubts on whether this is the sole purpose of the Bill and the sole function of the Commission. I am not concerned, as the Minister suggested, with safeguarding the pharmaceutical industry in this context, or particularly in any other. It is the doctors rather than the pharmaceutical industry, who are concerned here.

The Minister said that if he could think of any words which he could put into the Clause, they would be a repetition of the Long Title, and that the words we had suggested relating to "safety, efficacy or quality" do very much the same thing because they are concerned with the whole purpose of the Bill. He referred to medicinal matters and purposes connected therewith and quoted consumer protection. When challenged on consumer protection, he said that there was not only "safety, efficacy or quality" but the danger of misrepresentation. What could an advertisement or a statement about a medicinal product to misrepresent except "safety, efficacy or quality "? There is nothing else but the price.

With the wording of the Clause as it stands the Commission, or one of its committees, by an affirmative Order of this House could take over the present functions of the McGregor Committee and thereby give them statutory effect. This is not my only worry. The whole range of new functions which this Clause, unqualified, allows and which have proved unnecessary for the Prices and Incomes Board, the Land Commission and the Race Relations Board, should not be necessary except insofar as they are needed for "safety, efficacy or quality" by the Medicines Commission. For that reason I ask my hon. Friends, indeed the whole House, to support our Amendment in the Lobby.

Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)

I do not wish to raise the temperature of this discussion any higher than it has been raised by hon. Members opposite, but I was a little concerned at the efforts of my right hon. Friends to get this consensus between the two sides of the House. He gave an assurance to the Opposition that he would look at this matter again. He has proved his point and looked at the matter carefully between Committee and Report. He has given an assurance tonight—which, unfortunately, has been rejected—that he will see if a further Amendment can be made.

I ask whether, in the present situation between this House and another place, the other House will be able to look at any Amendments.

Question put, That the Amendment be made: —

The House divided: Ayes 97, Noes 120.

Division No. 226.] AYES [8.34 p.m.
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Chichester-Clark, R. Errington, Sir Eric
Bell, Ronald Clegg, Walter Farr, John
Biffen, John Cordle, John Fisher, Nigel
Biggs-Davison, John Corfield, F. V. Fletcher-Cooke, Charles
Black, Sir Cyril Costain, A. P. Fortescue, Tim
Blaker, Peter Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne) Foster, Sir John
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.) Crouch, David Gibson-Watt, David
Body, Richard Dean, Paul (Somerset, N.) Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)
Braine, Bernard Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford) Grant-Ferris, R.
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Dodds-Parker, Douglas Gresham Cooke, R.
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Doughty, Charles Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.
Buck, Antony (Colchester) Drayson, G. B. Hall, John (Wycombe)
Bullus, Sir Eric Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Hall-Davis, A. G. F.
Burden, F. A. Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.) Hawkins, Paul
Campbell, B. (Oldham, W.) Emery, Peter Hirst, Geoffrey
Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin More, Jasper Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Holland, Philip Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Silvester, Frederick
Hunt, John Murton, Oscar Sinclair, Sir George
Iremonger, T. L. Nabarro, Sir Gerald Smith, Dudley (W'w ck & L'mington)
Johnson Simth, G. (E. Grinstead) Onslow, Cranley Speed, Keith
Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Page, Graham (Crosby) Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Kaberry, Sir Donald Page, John (Harrow, W.) Walker, Peter (Worcester)
Kershaw, Anthony Pink, R. Bonner Ward, Dame Irene
Kimball, Marcus Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch Webster, David
Kirk, Peter Pym, Francis Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Lane, David Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James Williams, Donald (Dudley)
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Lubbock, Eric Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David Winstanley, Dr. M. P.
MacArthur, Ian Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Worsley, Marcus
McMaster, Stanley Ridsdale, Julian
Macmillar, Maurice (Farnham) Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Maude, Angus Russell, Sir Ronald Mr. Anthony Royle and
Maxwell-Hyslop, R.. J. Scott, Nicholas Mr. Hector Monro.
Miscampbell, Norman Scott-Hopkins, James
Anderson, Donald Horner, John Owen, Will (Morpeth)
Armstrong, Ernest Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough) Page, Derek (King's Lynn)
Barnes, Michael Howie, W. Palmer, Arthur
Beaney, Alan Hoy, James Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)
Bidwell, Sydney Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Perry, George H, (Nottingham, S.)
Blackburn, F. Hunter, Adam Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E.
Blenkinsop, Arthur Irvine, Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Prioe, Thomas (Westhoughton)
Booth, Albert Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak) Price, William (Rugby)
Boston, Terence Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Reynolds, Rt. Hn. G. W.
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Rhodee, Geoffrey
Bradley, Tom Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Richard, Ivor
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Judd, Frank Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Kelley, Richard Robinson, Rt. Hn. Kenneth(St..P'c'as)
Coleman, Donald Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham) Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Kerr, Russell (Feltham) Roebuck, Roy
Crawshaw, Richard Lawson, George Ross, Rt. Hn. William
Cronin, John Ledger, Ron Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.)
Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.) Ryan, John
Davies, Eclnyfed Hudson (Conway) Luard, Evan Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)
Dell, Edmund Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Short,Rt.Hn.Edward(N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Dewar, Donald Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N. E.)
Dickens, James McBride, Neil Silverman, Julius
Dobson, Ray MacColl, James Skeffington, Arthur
Doig, Peter Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen) Slater, Joseph
Driberg, Tom Mackie, John Small, William
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, c.) Snow, Julian
Eadie, Alex MacPherson, Malcolm Swlngler, Stephen
Ennals, David Marquand, David Thomas, Rt. Hn. George
Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy Rinn. James
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Mendelson, J. J. Ruck, Raphael
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Mikardo, Ian Urwin, T. W.
Forrester, John Millan, Bruce Varley, Eric G
Fowler, Gerry Milne, Edward (Blyth) Wqlden, Brian (All Saints)
Gourlay, Harry Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test) Watkins, David (Consett)
Gregory, Arnold Molly, William Welis, William (Walsall, N.)
Grey, Charles (Durham) Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly) Murray, Albert Winnick, David
Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Ogden, Eric
Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith O'Maltey, Brian TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hilton, W. S. Oram, Albert E. Mr.JosephHarper and
Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town) Oswald, Thomas Mr.Ioan L. Evans.
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