HL Deb 10 November 1987 vol 489 cc1344-8

7.1 p.m.

The Earl of Arran rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 27th October be approved. [4th Report from the Joint Committee]

The noble Earl said: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale I beg to move that the draft order be approved.

This Order in Council is intended to make those changes to existing legislation which are necessary in order to implement the directive of the Council of the European Communities concerning the mutual recognition of pharmaceutical qualifications. The statutory power for making the order is contained in Section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972. We have adopted the affirmative resolution procedure since we anticipate that Parliament will continue to wish to debate matters relating to the manner in which Community obligations involving changes in United Kingdom legislation are proposed to be met.

The pharmaceutical qualification recognition directive is similar in form and content to those relating to doctors, nurses and dentists which have already been implemented in the United Kingdom. Its objective is to require member states to permit the practice of pharmacy by nationals of other member states if their qualifications and experience meet specified standards.

Not all the provisions of the directive require legislation. This order deals with those that do. I should perhaps add at this point that parallel provisions to this order are being made separately for Northern Ireland. I turn now to the content of the draft order. Article 1 cites the title of the order and specifies 28th December as the date on which it comes into operation.

Article 2 provides for amendments to the Pharmacy Act 1954. Three of these are minor and consequential, but there are two substantial amendments to which I wish to draw the attention of your Lordships. The first of these is in paragraph 4 of Article 2, which inserts a new Section 4A into the Pharmacy Act. This new section is the heart of the order in that it gives effect to the main objective of the directive. It provides that EC nationals who hold one of the qualifying European diplomas in pharmacy listed in the new Schedule IA to the Act (paragraph 7 of Article 2 of the order) are entitled to registration as a pharmaceutical chemist and thereby entitled to practise pharmacy in Great Britain.

The new Section 4A also provides that during the period of Greek derogation from the requirement of recognising the pharmacy qualifications of nationals of other member states, Greek pharmacists can only obtain provisional registration in Great Britain. This means that they can be employed on pharmaceutical work but cannot, for instance, become the proprietor of a community pharmacy.

In subsection 6 of the new Section 4A a number of pertinent definitions are listed. I will make specific mention of two in passing: first, the "competent authority". The "competent authority" for the United Kingdom will be designated as the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain and the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland.

It is clearly most important to prevent an incompetent pharmacist who is disqualified outside these shores from damaging the high standards of our pharmaceutical services. This is achieved by the second substantial amendment introduced by Article 2 which is in paragraph 6. This provides that the Statutory Committee of the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, when exercising its disciplinary powers, can take account of disqualifications to practise incurred in another member state.

Article 3 amends the Medicines Act 1968 to impose a condition that a pharmacy which has been registered for less than three years should not be under the personal control of a pharmacist who qualified in another member state. This condition was provided for in the directive since it was considered premature to provide that the recognition of qualifications acquired in other member states must also extend to the pursuit of the activities of a pharmacist as the controller of a pharmacy open to the public for less than three years.

Finally, Article 4, which amends the National Health Service Act 1977, and Article 5, which amends the National Health Service (Scotland) Act 1978, can be considered together. They are both concerned with the linguistic ability of persons registered as pharmacists. As in the case of doctors and dentists, it is envisaged that the statutory bodies will be responsible for making arrangements to ascertain that a practitioner has sufficient knowledge of English. This means that family practitioner committees in England and Wales and health boards in Scotland have to satisfy themselves regarding the linguistic competence of applicants for NHS pharmaceutical contracts.

The provisions of this draft order constitute no departure in principle from those contained in the existing orders relating to doctors, nurses and dentists. Furthermore, the drafting of the EC directives and amendments in 1981 to 1985, and more recently, the means of implementing them, has been the subject of close consultation with the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain on which will fall the duty of registering EC pharmacists who wish to work here. The society is in the middle of the process of amending its by-laws, with Privy Council approval, to take account of the provisions of the EC recognition directive.

This order is not directly concerned with the recognition and acceptance of our own pharmacists in other member states, but our own pharmacists are assured of corresponding benefits when other member states implement similar measures, which the directive requires them to do. The amendment of our legislation by means of The Pharmaceutical Qualifications (EC Recognition) Order 1987 is therefore an act of mutual co-operation.

My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 27th October be approved. [4th Report from the Joint Committee.]—(The Earl of Arran.)

Lord Ennals

My Lords, I welcome the order which is before the House and I am grateful to the noble Earl for his explanation of it. It is a necessary order. I have taken the opportunity of discussing it with the pharmaceutical society, which is totally satisfied with it.

I greatly welcome the announcement by the Minister that he was taking this, at the wish of the House, on the affirmative procedure. I hope that, while it is not a precedent, that procedure will be continued, because your Lordships are concerned with these matters.

Perhaps I may put three very quick questions to elucidate information for myself and for your Lordships' House. First, I should be very interested to know how many qualified pharmacists from other parts of Europe are now practising in Britain. Secondly, how many UK pharmacists are employed in other EC countries? Lastly, perhaps the Minister can say just a little more about the Greek derogation. Has he any idea how long it is likely to be in force and can he say why there is derogation at this stage?

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, from these Benches I thank the noble Earl for his very succinct explanation of the order. In principle we have nothing against it because it seeks to implement the original intention of the European Community which is to have a free market in goods, capital and labour. We are hardly there with goods yet, but it is good to know that we are making progress in other fields.

I too have two or three minor questions to ask the noble Earl. I was glad to hear that he had been in full consultation with the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain about this. I wonder if there are any arrangements to monitor real reciprocity. The noble Earl said, and I think these were his words, that pharmacists were assured of corresponding benefits. Are there any arrangements to see whether reciprocity is, in fact, realised?

I echo the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, and ask the noble Earl if he could possibly clear up the Greek question. As I understand it, so long as the period of Greek derogation lasts people with Greek qualifications will only be able to act in an employed capacity in a pharmacy. However, the amendment to the Medicines Act gave me to understand that that would also apply to members of other Community countries; that is, if they qualify under this order they will not be able to act as managers, owners or partners. Can the Minister clarity that? Perhaps I have misunderstood the intentions of the order.

The final and probably most important point relates to the English language: that the relevant committee satisfies itself fully that any pharmacist admitted to an active role in a British pharmacy is fully conversant with the English language, not only for technical reasons but from the point of view of anybody who comes into the shop. Am I right in thinking that the body which will satisfy itself on that point is the pharmaceutical sub-committee of the family practitioner Committee? I am not clear which body would be in charge of that aspect. With those few queries, in general we are happy to welcome the order.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I am grateful for the comments of the two noble Lords on this directive. I take, first, the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ennals. The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, was courteous enough to warn me that he was going to ask about the number of pharmacists practising abroad, and vice versa. In spite of his warning, I have not been able to find out the exact and accurate answer. In those circumstances, perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to write to him.

As regards the Greek derogation, to which both the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, and Lord Kilmarnock referred, the answer is that special arrangements surrounded the accession of Greece to the European Community. Greece has until 1997 to submit proposals for the mutual recognition of pharmaceutical diplomas. They may submit proposals before then. However, until they do Greek pharmacists can only function as employed persons in the pharmacy profession of a member state. For example, they cannot become proprietors of a UK community pharmacy. Similarly, British pharmacists, along with pharmacists of other member states, can only function as employed persons in the pharmacy profession in Greece. These rules are set out in Article 3 of the directive. The order deals only with recognition of Greek qualifications in this country.

As regards one of the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, concerning linguistic problems, he is right that the statutory authorities for doctors and dentists are responsible for satisfying themselves regarding the linguistic competence of nationals from other member states. The onus is on the applicant to furnish the necessary evidence and if any language test is taken it is up to the applicant to arrange and pay for it. It is proposed that a similar arrangement will exist whereby the statutory authority—that is, the family practitioner committee in England and Wales and the health boards in Scotland—will satisfy themselves regarding the linguistic ability of community pharmacists.

As regards the final question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, I shall have to write to him on that particular point.

To summarise, pharmacy is the only major profession in the health care field not to enjoy freedom of movement within the European Community. The passage through Parliament of the order before us tonight meets our legal obligation, as a member state of the European community, to implement the directive which we agreed in 1985. We will have done our part in enabling the pharmacist to enjoy that freedom of movement while protecting, as we are entitled to do under the directive, the legitimate interests of British pharmacists.

On Question, Motion agreed to.