HL Deb 16 July 1968 vol 295 cc243-6

5.48 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons Amendment made instead of one of the Lords Amendments, the Commons consequential Amendment, and the Commons Amendment to one of the Lords Amendments he now considered.

Moved, That the Commons Amendment made instead of one of the Lords Amendments, the Commons consequential Amendment, and the Commons Amendment to one of the Lords Amendments be now considered.—(Baroness Phillips.)


My Lords, with permission of the House, I should like to say a word or two on this Motion before we go on to the actual Amendments. We will, of course, accept this Motion in a moment and consider these Amendments, as we always try to help Her Majesty's Government with the passage of their business; but they do try us very sorely. Here we have a further example of what I can only describe as the mismanagement that has occurred over and over again on this particular Bill. In almost all respects it is a wholly admirable Bill, but there is one matter which has given us trouble right from the beginning.

We shall have an opportunity of discussing this on its merits when we discuss Amendment No. 2, printed under the heading, "After Clause 58", but I should like to spend a moment criticising the way in which this issue has been handled. It makes it very difficult for us to believe that the Government have been acting in good faith in this matter. The clause which has caused the trouble all along, and is still causing trouble, is the one dealing with drugs patents. There was nothing in the Bill about this when it was presented to the other place for Second Reading. Nothing was said about it in all of the 12 days in which it was in Committee in the other place. It was tabled for the first time in the other place over the week-end before the Monday on which it was actually discussed, and then it was forced through on a Division.

Here we made it clear on Second Reading how much we disliked this particular clause, and we went into consultation with the industry about it. At the last minute, just before our Committee stage, an entirely fresh clause was tabled by the Government. Lastly, in our Committee stage we had a confusing debate on the clause that had originally been tabled on Report stage in the other place, on an entirely fresh clause which we tabled after consultation with industry, a second Government clause tabled just before our Committee stage, and a proposal from the Liberal benches that all the clauses should be deleted. It was not, therefore, surprising that we did not have a very good debate in Committee. And on Report we deleted the clause. I am glad to say that that action has been accepted by the Government. But this last week Her Majesty's Government tabled yet another clause. It was dealt with early on Thursday morning of last week, and the first that we knew about its being considered in this House was when a Motion to debate it to-day appeared on the Order Paper yesterday. It appears that this was done without any consultation through the usual channels.

Unlike Members in the other place, here we are not full-time professionals, paid to be here all the time. It takes us a little time to arrange our other affairs, in which we are all engaged, and on this particular occasion my noble friend Lord Newton was unable to rearrange his affairs to be here. In any case, it has not been possible for any of us interested in this Bill to have any consultation with interests outside the House, who are very much concerned with this clause. And if that was not bad enough, we now know—which we did not know when we had this Bill before us on an earlier occasion—that the substance of this clause was never a product of deliberate Government decision, following consultation with industry. It was—and two honourable Members of the Party opposite confessed this quite blatantly on the Report stage (OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 10/7/68; col. 659)—inserted as a result of Party pressure on the Minister, to which he succumbed. I think your Lordships will agree to consider these Amendments now, but I hope your Lordships will agree, also, in the light of what I have said, that it was my first duty to protest.

5.54 p.m.


My Lords, I am sorry the noble Lord feels that this is the result of some deliberate machinations on the pan of Her Majesty's Government. The facts as he described them, of course, sound extraordinarily sinister, but I would point out that it is not unusual (I have checked this) for Bills to come here so quickly from another place, or indeed Amendments of this kind. I am empowered to make a very full apology for the fact that consultations did not take place through the usual channels.

So far as the question of the Committee stage in this House is concerned, I agree with the noble Lord that it was a complicated and confused debate. Quite frankly, I am not used to coping with introducing an Amendment and at the same time replying to an Amendment which leaves out the thing which you are trying to put in. I must repeat—and I think I said this on each stage of the Bill—that on Second Reading I mentioned that there 'was to be a new clause, and it is not quite true to say that it was an entirely different clause. The substance of this clause was not changed, and has not been changed throughout.

I am sorry that the noble Lord feels the way he does. I can only assure him that the Government feel that it had the opportunity of an airing in another place, although perhaps not as fully as on other occasions. I hope the noble Lord will accept my assurance that this is not a matter of great sinister content. I feel that much of this arises from the pressure of business, and, if I dare seek the sympathy of the noble Lord, this falls as hardly on junior Ministers as on anyone else.


[References are to Bill (93) as first printed for the Lords. Commons Amendments are printed in italics.]