Supply of Relevant Veterinary Medicinal Products Order 2005

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:16 pm on 18 November 2005.

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Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Spokespersons In the Lords, Environment, Food & Rural Affairs 3:16, 18 November 2005

My Lords, it only shows how diverse this topic is that we now have a change of batting order on the Government Benches because, instead of being a Defra veterinary problem, it now becomes a Defra/Department of Trade and Industry problem. I welcome the noble Lord and am grateful that he will respond to the debate.

Again, I am raising this issue because the Merits Committee brought it to the attention of the House. Its summary stated:

"This order contains DTI's proposals for increasing competition in the market for the supply of prescription-only medicines for veterinary use. The proposals have been subject to consultation with interested parties, but controversy continues to surround certain elements of them, not least because of concerns expressed by a large number of veterinary surgeons".

As the noble Lord was in his place while we debated the previous order, I shall not go on at great length about the financial implications, because that is one of the major problems, of which I am sure he is well aware.

The Explanatory Memorandum states that the order prohibits veterinary surgeons from charging a fee for the issuing of prescriptions for a period of three years. I direct the Minister's attention to paragraph 15 of the Merits Committee report. It states:

"DTI carried out a consultation process on its proposals from February of this year. The EM states that there were 105 responses, of which the majority (75) came from individual veterinary surgeons. In general, veterinary surgeons and some manufacturers opposed the proposals, while those consumer groups who responded were in broad support".

Of those 105 responses, 75 were from vets. How many were manufacturers and how many individuals or consumer groups made up the bulk?

I understand from paragraph 16 of the report that there has been no meeting of minds between the DTI and the veterinary surgeons on the issue. So we know where we stand from the very start. I should like to share with noble Lords the British Veterinary Association's position, on which it has sent us a brief, in case noble Lords have not received it. Veterinary practices have traditionally subsidised the cost of their consultation fees with the income that they receive from the sales of veterinary medicines. If the legislative changes are successful in opening up the market for POMs, it is likely that that practice will have to cease. Inevitably, if that occurs, veterinary surgeons will naturally seek to maintain the same level of income by increasing some of their consultation fees—the Minister is nodding; he must be well aware of that—which will have to be borne by the consumer at the end of the day.

The veterinary profession feels that there is a lack of transparency in the cost of prescriptions to clients that the new order promotes. The Competition Commission was highly critical of the profession for failing to provide itemised invoices to clients. The profession has risen to that challenge, yet its members now find themselves actively encouraged by the Government to hide those very costs of providing a prescription in their overall consultation fees. We seem to be going round in a rather funny circle. The frustration that that has engendered has been further enhanced by the fact that the cost of providing a prescription will have to be borne by all clients, irrespective of whether they require a prescription or indeed veterinary medicine.

My concern, as I explained earlier, is obviously for the health and welfare of animals. If, as a result, we see a fall in medicine sales and fewer consultations, that will have the same effect on farm visits as I described. Any reduction in the number of veterinary surgeons with expertise and experience in farm animal medicine could have serious consequences for the biosecurity of the UK's food production in animals. I wish to reply to the Government's original response to the consultation. I quote:

"The Government also remarks, 'We are sorry that veterinary surgeons see this [measure] as an attack on their professional status, as neither the Competition Commission nor the Government intended it this way'. However"— this is the Government's comment—

"the profession might be forgiven for feeling a little hunted given the way its legitimate concerns have been ignored".

I am very grateful that the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, is still here. She will be able to share her thoughts with the Minister because the two departments overlap so clearly. The briefing goes on:

"Perhaps one of the most revealing comments is made near the beginning of the response where the Government notes that 'the Competition Commission [was asked to look] at the market for veterinary medicines rather than veterinary services'. Throughout, the Government has failed to take account of the wider picture and that, coupled with its seemingly blind adherence to market dogma, has characterised the whole sorry saga from the start".

I need not add to that, as it is self-explanatory. I beg to move.

Moved, That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Order, laid before the House on 7th October, be annulled (S.I. 2005/2751) [11th Report from the Merits Committee].—(Baroness Byford.)