HC Deb 24 June 1968 vol 767 cc75-7


The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Mackie)

I beg to move Amendment No. 71, in page 50, line 31, leave out 'and liable' and insert: (3) Where a medicinal product is sold, supplied or imported in contravention of an order made under section 54 of this Act, any person who, otherwise than for the purpose of performing or exercising a duty or power imposed or conferred by or under this Act or any other enactment, is in possession of the medicinal product knowing or having reasonable cause to suspect that it was sold, supplied or imported in contravention of the order shall be guilty of an offence. (4) Any person guilty of an offence under subsection (2) or subsection (3) of this section shall be liable. I was well on the way to moving the Amendment when we were on an Amendment to Clause 39, but Mr. Speaker, ably assisted by the Opposition, pulled me up rather sharply.

The Amendment introduces a possession offence similar to that already made to Clause 39, but in relation to medicinal products sold, supplied or imported in contravention of an Order made under Clause 54, which deals with prohibition of sale, supply, and so on.

Officers of an enforcement authority, in the normal course of making their inspections, may find a product that does not comply with the requirements of an Order under Clause 54. If such a product has, for example, been illegally imported it is right that the enforcement authority should be able to take action by making possession of such a product an offence. This would be particularly important, for example, if there was a total ban on a product.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for moving the Amendment.

We do not need to go over the entire ground of the anxiety of Members on both sides of the House to see that the illegal import of drugs of low standard is stopped. It was clear from our debate on Thursday that policing will be very ineffective. As the hon. Gentleman said, it will be effective only if the improper drugs happen to be found on a farm, in the possession of a firm, or elsewhere being sold or stored. It would be purely fortuitous if this happened.

Much tighter control should be imposed by the Minister to stop the not inextensive trade which is going on at present, with importation not only from Eire and Northern Ireland but from Italy and elsewhere of sub-standard drugs. I know only of the veterinary drugs, but I believe that this happens on the human side as well.

I hope that the Minister will use his best endeavours to see that a much more effective method of policing this is set up within his Ministry and that of his right hon. Friend, using his own special branch investigators if need be. We must stop this trade as quickly as possible.

Mr. Ogden

Time and time again in his remarks during the past week on this and similar issues the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) has spoken about Eire and Northern Ireland and the importation of drugs.

In view of the way in which this is construed outside, and of my constituency interests in the city and Port of Liverpool, I should not like it to be thought that anything said last week or today suggested that Liverpool is now becoming a sort of Tangier of the North-West, and that we are having imports of hard drugs such as hashish, cannabis, and so on, simply because Eire and Northern Ireland have been mentioned.

Liverpool is the principal port for trade between them and this country, and I should like to make it clear that we are talking not about the Sunday newspaper kind of hard drugs, but medicinal products.

Mr. Dudley Smith

I can assure the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) that the trade is not purely with Eire. There are flourishing pirate pharmaceutical companies who import material from Italy and other parts of the Continent and also from behind the Iron Curtain. Much of this is sub-standard, and it causes a tremendous amount of worry to the reputable pharmaceutical industry, with which I am proud to be associated in a professional capacity. The pirate companies are very hard to catch.

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) in his plea for even stronger powers for the Ministry to do something about the pirate firms. At present, they are still marketing large amounts of pharmaceutical products which prove to be substandard when examined. I do not believe that the Bill will be strong enough to catch them and run them all out of business. It is very much in the interests of the public and reputable pharmaceutical industry that much more concerted attacks should be made on the pirate companies by the Ministry of Health. I hope that the Minister will address himself to this after the passage of the Bill.

Mr. John Mackie

I do not think that I should take part in the Derby County and Derby town quarrel about Liverpool. I appreciate the points made about substandard drugs coming in, but the Amendment is simply to deal with drugs found in the possession of a person, probably fortuitously found by an inspector on other duties, as the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) said.

The hon. Member for Warwick and Leamingon (Mr. Dudley Smith) does not think that the Bill as a whole is strong enough, but throughout the Bill there are powers to try to deal with this problem. Time will tell if it will. Hon. Members opposite put down an Amendment which would have stopped all drug imports, which we felt was overdoing it. But we take cognisance of the points made. One of the aims of the Bill is to stop trade in sub-standard or dangerous drugs.

Amendment agreed to.

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