HC Deb 24 June 1968 vol 767 cc52-9


4.11 p.m.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan (Farnham)

I beg to move Amendment No. 59, in page 39, line 20, leave out subsection (4).

In moving the Amendment I am seeking the Minister's answer to a particular question and also trying to ensure that some of the things which we fear may be possible under the Clause as worded are made impossible. An idea has grown up in some quarters that the sale of medicines and medicinal products should be completely restricted to pharmacists. As far as I know, it is not the intention of the Bill to make that restriction. It has further been put forward that should a general sale list be accepted—and that is the purpose of the Clause—all non-pharmaceutical outlets in which general sale lists products are offered for sale should be registered.

The Minister has already stated that he would be opposed to such a procedure; indeed, it would be a very laborious and difficult one to carry out. Nevertheless, subsection (4) enables him to do precisely that. It is difficult to understand any other purpose of the subsection. Clause 58 enables the Minister to prescribe additional regulations, including any additional requirements that he may feel necessary to make quite sure that the conditions for selling medicinal products are proper for their safety and for the retention of their quality.

We all understand that places where medicines and medicinal products— however common household remedies they may be—are sold must conform to standards of sanitation and care and that medicines must be properly safeguarded in the shop which sells them. But subsection (4) gives the Minister precisely those powers which he has said he does not require. I therefore suggest that medicines on the general sale list should be allowed to be sold on terms which are generally possible and within the easy competence of the village shop— because that is the real importance of a general sale list—and that what we might call household remedies should be freely available to the public in such a shop, and that the restrictions which apply to the sale of medicines on prescription should not apply to these household remedies and that the places where they are sold should not be subject to licence or registration.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Kenneth Robinson)

The power which the Amendment would remove from the Bill is not one of which I foresee extensive use being made in the immediate future. There an;, however, possibilities which we must take into account. A regulation prohibiting a drug store from acting as a collecting point for prescriptions is something we shall have to consider, if only because a similar prohibition already exists in Section 1 of the Pharmacy and Medicines Act, 1941.

Although, for the present, I have rejected as unjustified any idea of the registration of premises selling general sale list products we cannot rule it out entirely as a future possibility, since there might be some point in requiring the occupier of such premises to notify some appropriate authority that he is selling general sale list drugs. This would be simply for the purpose of knowing where enforcement may be needed, and not to introduce any form of permission to sell general sale list products. A lot will depend on our experience and how extensive the general sale list turns out to be.

Furthermore, special conditions might be found desirable in relation to the sale of veterinary medicinal products at stalls, vans, and places other than premises.

Although we have no immediate proposal to make use of subsection (4) it is an integral part of the general scheme of the Bill for the public's protection and also for the protection of the responsible trader against the less responsible.

For those reasons, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press the Amendment.

Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

The question of consumers' interests and convenience is involved here. The Minister is well aware of this, and of the grave concern that many of us feel on this point. In Committee, it was said that until the publication of the general sale list we could not be sure what would or would not be barred from sale in the local corner shop or village shop and so could not be sure how greatly incommoded the consumer would be. This is true, but it does not allay our fears.

It is very convenient for busy women to be able to buy their brand of cough medicine, indigestion tablets, and so on, at their local shop. They would be greatly concerned if they were suddenly to find that because of the provisions of the Bill they could obtain these products only from a chemist's shop. In many areas chemists' shops are few and far between. I know that a system operates which allows chemists' shops to be open late at night, but they are not open as late as are many useful corner shops which serve the public very well.

Nothing that the Minister has yet said has allayed the fears of some people that consumers will be incommoded by the Bill. I strongly support the Amendment.

Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Derbyshire, West)

I have no idea—and I do not think that the Minister has—how many veterinary products will be included in the general sale list. Subsection (2) excludes all veterinary drugs from the restrictions imposed in respect of the general sale list. I ask the Minister once again to look at the way in which the Bill is drafted and to consider whether, in another place, a new subsection can be inserted laying down broad controls of the type needed for the sale of veterinary drugs in respect of their sale from the backs of cars, lorries or on market stalls, and so on. They should be allowed to be sold in comparative freedom. There is a need for some control, but the best way is not regulations under this subsection. It would be much better for the veterinary and agricultural industries if they knew much more clearly under what regulations these drugs could be sold.

I will ask the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider this point from the veterinary side.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

I was not on the Committee when this point was considered, but I am surprised that it is still before the House. I spoke against this provision on Second Reading. The Minister has told us that it is, to use my description, an open-ended Clause so that he can decide later whether he needs to invoke it. I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) said, that, despite the need to protect the individual against indiscriminate purchases of relatively harmless drugs, it is wrong for the Government to impose restrictions on such things as aspirin and cough mixture, other than those already protected which contain poisonous elements.

Laxatives, aspirin, indigestion tablets and cough mixture are a help to the Health Service and the busy doctor, since they can be sold at at least 100,000 places, and if they were restricted only to pharmacists, of whom there are only 16,000, people's ability to seek a remedy without bothering the doctor or being a cost to the nation would be greatly limited.

I feel as strongly about this now as I did some months ago and I am surprised that the Government are leaving in this open-ended Clause. I hope that our speeches will be taken as serious representation, since this would be a contribution to the health of the nation and to the individual's opportunity to cure himself.

Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)

I wonder how often the Minister will be asked to give the assurance that he has no intention of restricting the sale of medicines to pharmacists. Most of us were members of the Committee and know that then, on Second Reading and at other times, my right hon. Friend has repeated that he has no intention of abolishing the general sale list. I have yet to hear any hon. Member asking for such restrictions or any responsible person asking for a total ban on the sale of medicines outside pharmacists.

I have always claimed, however, that medicines should be treated differently from most other products, since, although a packet of aspirins costs much the same as a packet of starch, they are not the same. Medicines should be treated with respect. No doubt my right hon. Friend will give this assurance, but I hope that it will be for the last time. My right hon. Friend has given as a reason for this power the fact that it might be useful for a local authority to know the shops in its area where products on the general sale list are being sold. There have been many examples of something which was thought to be safe proving unsafe and it has been necessary to regulate them, in which case the normal procedure is through the trade registers. But as commerce gets more complicated, products may pass not just from manufacturer to wholesaler to retailer but through more than a dozen hands.

This would be a safe and clear way of ensuring that, if this happened, registration would be a useful way of getting the product off of the market as soon as possible. For that reason alone, I am glad that this Clause is retained as a reserve power.

Mr. Tim Fortescue (Liverpool, Garston)

In the village shop, the business, to use the words of the subsection, so far as concerns the sale or supply of medicinal products … ", is inextricably entwined with the rest. Aspirins and indigestion tablets are sold along with apples and newspapers, and any regulations—at least this is our fear —might apply to the whole of that business, thereby making it the easy way out for the shopkeeper to stop selling medicinal products altogether.

This point was made in Committee, but was not answered, and I should be grateful if the Minister would look at the subsection again.

Mr. Laurence Pavitt (Willesden, West)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) on saying that this assurance has been given time and time again. I realise as much as anyone the difficult task which my right hon. Friend has. The pressures about the Clause and this Amendment are part of the pressure for the maximum freedom, and he must consider, as well as people's ability to get family remedies, also a safeguard against too much self-medication.

The Clause is drawn with these difficult considerations in mind. The availability of these remedies and the necessity for safety and for ensuring that someone who needs an early diagnosis should not seek out these remedies shows that the Clause has been drawn rightly and I hope that my right hon. Friend will resist the Amendment.

Mr. K. Robinson

The hon. Lady the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) talked about these anxieties which she has talked about before. I wonder whether anyone feels them as well; certainly, she has done her best to stimulate them elsewhere—

Mr. Crouch

I feel them.

Mr. Robinson

I will come to the hon. Gentleman later, because he totally misunderstood the Clause and the Amendment.

If it is necessary for me to repeat what my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) and Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt) have said on my behalf, the whole existence of the general sale list should be proof that we intend that there shall be such a list. I would say to the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) that all that the Clause does is give the Minister power, if at some date it seemed necessary and expedient, in the interests of the public safety to lay down conditions about the conduct of the business of such a general store insofar as it sold medicinal productions.

To the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Fortescue), I repeat that it is largely as a result of similar arguments to those which he put forward that I said that we have no intention at present of prescribing regulations, but we think that there should be a possibility of doing so later should that be thought desirable. One possibility which I set out in reply to the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Maurice Macmillan) dealt with the point that there might be a case in future for requiring such premises to notify their names to some central authority, perhaps a local authority, simply so that someone will know where inspection might take place. But, as I say, this is a possibility for the future which would not exist if we were to accept the Amendment. I hope, therefore, that the House will agree to keep the subsection in the Bill.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

Since the Minister's explanation seems to be that he requires the provision for administrative convenience in case he, or a successor, wishes to interfere at some time in future, and since it still appears to us that Clause 58 provides him with all the possible powers he could need to deal with the conduct of such a business, I must ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to support the Amendment in the Division Lobby.

Question put, That the Amendment be made: —

The House divided: Ayes 112, Noes 159.

Division No. 229.] AYES [4.31p.m.
Balniel, Lord Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.) Hutchison, Michael Clark
Batsford, Brian Emery, Peter Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Eyre, Reginald Jennings, J. C. (Burton)
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos, & Fhm) Fisher, Nigel Kerby, Capt. Henry
Biggs-Davison, John Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Kershaw, Anthony
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.) Fortescue, Tim Knight, Mrs. Jill
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward Foster, Sir John Lane, David
Braine, Bernard Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B. Langford-Holt, Sir John
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Goodhew, Victor Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Grant, Anthony Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn) Gurden, Harold Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Selwyn (Wirral)
Campbell, B. (Oldham, W.) Hall, John (Wycombe) Loveys, W. H.
Channon, H. P. G. Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.) Lubbock, Eric
Clark, Henry Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) McAdden, Sir Stephen
Cooper-Key, Sir Neill Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere Macleod, Rt. Hn. lain
Cordle, John Hawkins, Paul McMaster, Stanley
Crosthwaite-Eyre, Sir Oliver Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham)
Crouch, David Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward Marten, Neil
Dance, James Hill, J. E. B. Maude, Angus
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Holland, Philip, Mawby, Ray
Dean, Paul (Somerset, N.) Hordern, Peter Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.
Dodds-Parker, Douglas Hornby, Richard Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.
Doughty, Charles Hunt, John Mills, Peter (Torrington)
Monro, Hector Pym, Francis van Straubenzee, W. R.
More, Jasper Rees-Davies, W. R. Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey) Walker, Peter (Worcester)
Murton, Oscar Royle, Anthony Walters, Dennis
Nabarro, Sir Gerald Scott, Nicholas Ward, Dame Irene
Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael Scott-Hopkins, James Weatherill, Bernard
Nott, John Silvester, Frederick Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Onslow, Cranley Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington) Williams, Donald (Dudley)
Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth) Smith, John (London & W'minster) Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Page, Graham (Crosby) Speed, Keith Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe) Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M. (Ripon)
Peel, John Tapsell, Peter TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Pink, R. Bonner Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart) Mr. Timothy Kitson and
Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret Mr. Humphrey Atkins.
Price, David (Eastleigh) Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Heffer, Eric S. Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)
Alldritt, Walter Henig, Stanley Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)
Allen, Scholefield Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E.
Armstrong, Ernest Horner, John Price, Thomas (Westhoughton)
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.) Probert, Arthur
Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice Hoy, James Randail, Harry
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.) Rankni, John
Beaney, Alan Hunter, Adam Reynolds, Rt. Hn. C. W.
Binns, John Hynd, John Richard, Ivor
Blackburn, F. Irvine, Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh) Roberts, Gwilym (B'edfordshire, S.)
Bradley, Tom Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak) Robinson, Rt. Hn. Kenneth (St.P'c'as)
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Robinson, W. 0. J. (Walth'stow, E.)
Brown, Rt. Hn. George (Belper) Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Roebuck, Roy
Brown, Hugn D. (G'gow, Provan) Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)
Buchan, Norman Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West) Ross, Rt. Hn. William
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Judd, Frank Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Kenyon, Clifford Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)
Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham) Short, Mrs. Renée (W hampton, N. E.)
Carmichael, Neil Kerr, Russell (Fettham) Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Lawson, George Silverman, Julius
Chapman, Donald Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton) Skeffington, Arthur
Coe, Denis Lee, John (Reading) Slater, Joseph
Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Lestor, Miss Joan Small, William
Snow, Julian
Dalyell, Tarn Lipton, Marcus Spriggs, Leslie
Darling, Rt. Hn. George Lomas, Kenneth Steele, Thomas (Dunbartonshire, W.)
Dell, Edmund Loughlin, Charles Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Dickens, James McCann, John Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Dobson, Ray MacDermot, Niall Swain, Thomas
Doig, Peter Mackie, John Symonds J B
Driberg, Tom Maclennan, Robert Thomas Rt Hn George
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) MacPherson, Malcolm Tinn, James
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Manuel, Archie Tuck, Raphael
Eadie, Alex Mendelson, J. J. Urwin, T. W.
Ellis, John Millan, Bruce Varley, Eric G.
English, Michael Miller, Dr. M. S. Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Ensor, David Milne, Edward (Blyth) Wallace, George
Evans, loan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley) Moonman, Eric Watkins, David (Consett)
Fernyhough, E. Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Weitzman David
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Whitaker, Ben
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Moyle, Roland White, Mrs. Eirene
Ford, Ben Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick Wilkins W. A.
Fowler, Gerry Murray, Albert Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Garrett, W. E. Newens, Stan Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) Ogden, Eric Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Gregory, Arnold O'Malley, Brian Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Grey, Charles (Durham) Orme, Stanley Willis, Rt. Hn. George
Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly) Oswald, Thomas Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Griffiths, Will (Exchange) Paget, R. T. Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles Woof, Robert
Harming, William Park, Trevor
Hannan, William Parker, John (Dagenham) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Harper, Joseph Pavitt, Laurence Mr. Walter Harrison and
Haseldine, Norman Pentland, Norman Mr. Neil McBride.
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