HL Deb 17 June 1999 vol 602 cc467-9

53 Clause 30, page 31, line 38, leave out ("(5)") and insert ("(4)").

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 53. In moving that amendment, I shall speak also to Commons Amendments Nos. 54 to 62, 64 to 67, 69 and 92.

I wish to say at the outset that it is the intention of the Government to continue to work with the pharmaceutical industry through co-operation and voluntary agreement. The clauses in the Bill which relate to the control and prices of medicines supplied to the NHS and the profits made by companies from those sales have been drafted against that background. A new voluntary agreement is in the final stages of negotiation. It is our sincere hope that this new agreement will be sufficient to ensure that the NHS obtains its medicines on reasonable terms which recognise, among other things, the costs and value of research and development undertaken by the industry. It is also our hope that we shall not have to rely on any powers provided in these clauses in respect of a statutory scheme.

During their passage through another place these clauses were further amended by the Government in response to some remaining concerns of the pharmaceutical industry. First, I refer to the matter of scheme membership and Commons Amendments Nos. 53 to 57. We have changed the nature of the test for removing a company from the voluntary scheme. The subjective test was not intended to enable the Secretary of State to remove companies for flimsy reasons. Given the concerns raised, we are seeking to make the test an objective one.

Secondly, Commons Amendment No. 57 requires the Secretary of State to consult the industry body before he can exercise the power provided in Clause 30 to require information from scheme members.

Thirdly, the aim of Clauses 30 to 35 is to control prices and profits of medicines supplied to the health service. The Government have no interest in interfering with the prices charged for medicines supplied privately or through exports. Commons Amendments Nos. 59 to 61 and 64 to 67 add a further limit on the face of the Bill in the expression of that aim. The powers to control prices are only exercisable with a view to limiting prices which may be charged for the supply of health service medicines for the purposes of the health service. The power to limit profits is similarly restricted; that is, they may be exercised with a view to limiting profits arising from the supply of health service medicines for the purposes of the health service.

Finally, I turn to territorial issues. Commons Amendment No. 92 enables the Secretary of State to control the prices of medicines supplied to the health services in Great Britain by companies based in Northern Ireland. Commons Amendment No. 69 includes the health service in Northern Ireland in the definition of the health service within the Bill. There are advantages, if Northern Ireland agrees, for the Secretary of State to control prices for the whole of the United Kingdom. That would avoid placing an extra burden on the pharmaceutical industry, would avoid creating extra administration costs and would avoid different prices for the same medicines within the UK. Commons Amendment No. 69 therefore makes it possible to make regulations which cover sales of medicines to the health service in Northern Ireland if the regulations stipulate that they shall apply to Northern Ireland. It also becomes a simple matter to reverse their application to Northern Ireland by superseding those regulations with others which would apply only to Great Britain. We will not make regulations covering Northern Ireland unless the Assembly chooses to opt in.

We are aiming to deal with the United Kingdom as a whole through the voluntary scheme. Should the Northern Ireland Assembly choose to opt in then we would similarly have a statutory scheme with equal application. If the Assembly decides to make its own statutory provisions then the statutory scheme made under this Bill will revert to application in Great Britain and Northern Ireland and will be dealt with separately under statute made by the assembly. This arrangement is entirely consistent with the devolution settlement and has the support of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 53.—(Baroness Hayman.)

6.15 p.m.

Earl Howe

My Lords, this is a welcome group of amendments, covering as they do a series of issues of concern to the pharmaceutical industry, some of which we debated at earlier stages of the Bill.

The issue of how the Bill should define a health service medicine, which is covered by Commons Amendments Nos. 64 to 67, occupied us in Committee. I have no doubt that the Government's stated aim was no different from the aim that I endeavoured to express on that occasion. The amendments that I tabled were amendments to the definitions set out at the end of Clause 35 and were designed to ensure that the controls proposed in the Bill would apply to a medicine only when it was supplied to the NHS and not in other circumstances.

I note that the government amendments on that question adopt a somewhat different approach from the one that I tabled. I hope and trust that the amendments will achieve the same result, although I would point out that leaving the definition of health service medicine as it was appears to have an ambiguity about it which to my mind at least is unsatisfactory. However, I place my trust in the Minister and the department. I hope that no difficulties will emerge as a result of the government amendments to this part of the Bill.

On Question, Motion agreed to.