Power to make regulations about human medicines

Part of Medicines and Medical Devices Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:45 am ar 8 Mehefin 2020.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care) 11:45, 8 Mehefin 2020

Turning to clause 1, page 1, subsection 2, as we might have said at school—I think this is verbal reasoning, if my memory is good enough—one of these is not like the other. As the Minister said, and as I think every person in the room and indeed across the House would say, the most important thing is patient safety. The human medicines regime must be safe. There is no doubt about that, and I know that is a personal priority for the Minister and something that she works very hard on.

Similarly, availability is crucial. We all want everybody in this country to have access to the vital medicines and medical devices that can enable them to live full, happy lives. We know that is challenging. Since I am here, I might cover new clause 3, which is essentially the Orkambi clause. Hon. Members who were here in the previous Parliament will know what a difficult and perhaps even unedifying process it was to get a much-needed medicine on to the market to give relief to thousands of people in the UK, and how frustrating and ineffective it was— for whatever reasons people would think that was frustrating—over a number of years to get from the place of this thing existing and being available to some people in other parts of the world but not in the UK. What could be more frustrating?

For the aid of parliamentary scrutiny but also, dare I say it, for the ability to build support across this place for ensuring that people have access to the right drugs, new clause 3 merely asks the Government to publish the list of what sort of human medicines they think are out there that we cannot seem to get access to. That would be a useful jump-off not only for scrutiny, but hopefully for support, because we know that we want these things to be available to people in this country.

The third one is attractiveness. We have had safety, availability and now the attractiveness of the UK to research and manufacture. I get this; both the Minister and I attended the University of Nottingham, so we know that this is one of the great things that Nottingham is doing really well. It is one of the great success stories of the past 15 years. We used to go down a pit and make cigarettes, and now we are inventing ibuprofen and the magnetic resonance imaging machine.

We have an awful lot more to do there, but the life sciences sector is critical. It is an anchor sector for the UK economy, but for us in Nottingham and our regeneration it is crucial: not only good jobs today, but good jobs that will be here tomorrow, too—nearly 40,000 of them at the moment, contributing nearly £10 billion to the UK economy each year. Any Government would have a significant interest in protecting and developing that, as indeed would any Opposition, so I understand the position, but is it on the same statutory footing as safety and the availability of medicines? Attractiveness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder rather than the beheld. We are talking about massive multinational corporations, almost little countries in their own right, which we know to be litigious and exceptionally aggressive in their lobbying.

I will be willing to take the Minister’s reassurance on this, given that I know she will take significant legal advice on this, but does having this on the face of the Bill not create a set of circumstances where there will be lobbying or even legal pressure regarding attractiveness being on the same footing as patient safety? A Secretary of State’s decision might as a result be challenged for not giving the same regard to attractiveness as it did to safety. I do not think anybody would want that, so I hope the Minister will be able to outline her latest guidance on that, and perhaps on top of that either what the definition of attractiveness will be, or when we might know. I suspect that will possibly be in the regulations, but I am keen to know that, since it came up on Second Reading.

Turning to amendment 23, if amendment 22, which would take attractiveness out altogether, is not the way to do it, then perhaps we might do a little better to create a clear hierarchy. I do not think this would be a particularly revolutionary concept, as my hon. Friend Jonathan Ashworth said on Second Reading. Let us establish a hierarchy and say that we think patient safety is the most important of those three things—we want all three, but that is the most important.

Not only for hon. Members who were here in the previous Parliament, but for those here to this day, Primodos, sodium valproate and surgical mesh spring to mind. It is important at this point to pay tribute to campaigners such as Impact and the Association for Children Damaged by Hormone Pregnancy Tests, and I am grateful for their support in developing my remarks. We have the potential for a really big moment on patient safety, certainly on those issues.