Regulations and Orders

Orders of the Day — Misuse of Drugs Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th December 1970.

Alert me about debates like this

Before making any regulations under this Act and before making any order under this Act (except an order made in any provision of this Act under which, in case of urgency, an order can be made with immediate effect) the Minister proposing to make the regulation or order shall consult such organisations as appear to be representative of interests likely to be substantially affected by the regulation or order.—[Mr. Ogden.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Mr Eric Ogden Mr Eric Ogden , Liverpool, West Derby

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

The progress of the Bill through Parliament is getting almost as long as the "Forsyte Saga". I remind the House, however, that the original Bill, introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) when he was Home Secretary, included in its major provisions the establishment of an Advisory Council and an expert committee. The present Bill, introduced by my right hon. Friend's successor, the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling), omitted any proposals for an expert committee. This point was considered and discussed in Committee. The Minister explained that there were reasons for it, but no consultations took place between the Department and outside interests about the decision to exclude any provision for an expert committee.

In later proceedings, because consultation with outside interests was an integral part of the discussion on the Bill in Committee, particularly on 5th November, the Minister of State gave firm unequivocal assurances that it was the intention of his Department, in the drawing up of rules or regulations, that full consultation would take place all along the line. The Minister said: In reply to the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden), I repeat the assurance given by myself and that given previously by the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Elystan Morgan) that affected interests will be fully consulted whenever the basic powers of control under the Bill are invoked. That is an assurance that runs right the way through and in particular, in relation to these very wide powers taken under Clause 10.I also take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Dr. Stuttaford) that it is very much wider than simply consulting professional bodies. There are a wide range of interests that need to be consulted on this point."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 5th November, 1970; c. 105–6.] Those assurances were certainly accepted, and they are embodied in the new Clause. There is no doubt that the Minister's assurances will be carried through, but I see no reason for not strengthening them, because Ministers change and policies perhaps may change.

Because of the wide range of interests concerned—professional, social, and all the way along the line—I hope that the Minister will accept—of course, this in no way casts aspersions on his integrity or the assurances which he has given—that it would be a good thing to write into the Bill, which provides for a whole range of regulations and orders, that, before such regulations or orders are made, the Secretary of State will consult the interests which are likely to be affected.

Photo of Mr Nigel Fisher Mr Nigel Fisher , Surbiton

As a director of a group of pharmaceutical companies—I declare that interest at the outset—I should like to support what has been said by the hon. Member for Liverpool, west Derby (Mr. Ogden). There should be adequate consultation with the industry before regulations or orders are made under the Act. I understand that my hon. Friend acknowledges that.

I did not serve on the Standing Committee, but I believe that that assurance was given on many occasions upstairs. If that is the Government's intention, if they accept, as they do, the validity of the hon. Gentleman's point, why not write it into the Bill? It is not a new suggestion. I served on the Standing Committee on the Medicines Bill in 1968. It was written into that Bill in almost precisely the same words as appear in the new Clause. So there is a respectable precedent. It is not breaking new ground. I cannot see why it should not also be written into this Bill.

I hope that my hon. Friend will accept the logic of doing in fact what he has already accepted that he ought to do in principle.

11.15 p.m.

Photo of Mr Richard Sharples Mr Richard Sharples , Sutton and Cheam

I willingly reiterate the undertaking that I gave, and which has been quoted by the hon. Gentleman, about consultation. I do not think that there is any need for me to do more than say that my right hon. Friend and I stand fully behind what was said at that time. In view of that, I suggest to the House that the new Clause is unnecessary. There is the Advisory Council, which there is not in the case of the Medicines Act, on which there will be experts from all the various interests concerned, or the vast majority of interests concerned, and this is the primary body for consultation.

There are real difficulties about writing into an Act of Parliament a compulsion upon a Minister to undertake consultations. There is always the danger that some body with virtually no interest in the subject will feel that it should have been consulted. If compulsion is written into an Act of Parliament, there is always the danger that necessary action can be delayed because of the need to consult in that way.

We considered this very carefully in Committee. We spent a great deal of time debating the whole question of consultation. I gave the Committee an undertaking, I reiterate it now, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel that it is not necessary to press the new Clause to a Division.

Photo of Mr Eric Ogden Mr Eric Ogden , Liverpool, West Derby

I am grateful to the Minister for his reply, but I warn him that he is beginning to act like my hon. Friend the Member far Cardigan (Mr. Elystan Morgan) when he was a Minister in that Department. It may be that the advice is coming from the same quarter, from those whom we know are there but we cannot see.

The Minister was able to take the points made in Committee, or afterwards. There is still another place that will have to consider the Bill, and it may be that if the Ministers bears in mind the comments of his hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Nigel Fisher), and some of the other comments that have been made, he will yet be able to suggest some form of words that will be acceptable and, I think, welcome. I appreciate the consideration which the Minister has given to this matter. I hope that he will bear in mind the danger that I mentioned of accepting advice too readily from time to time.

In view of the Minister's assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave withdrawn.