Economy: Government Policies — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:33 pm on 24th March 2011.

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Photo of Lord Lyell Lord Lyell Conservative 2:33 pm, 24th March 2011

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Lawson for giving us a chance to discuss the economy. He may be startled, since normally in debates like this there is a welcome period of silence from me. However, today I humbly put my toe in the water and refer to one particular part of industry.

Thirty-three years ago, I was sitting roughly where the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, is sitting. Early in January 1977, I was suddenly advised that the Patents Bill was going to start in your Lordships' House. I was the junior member of the Front Bench, something in the nature of a reserve scrum-half at Murrayfield with Titans wishing to seize the ball from him. I was told that part of the law on patents was applicable directly to industry. Lord Belstead suggested to me that I should take consultations-take lessons, indeed-from the pharmaceutical industry. I thought that that was ripe stuff-certainly from him-to a Member of your Lordships' House with not one O-level in science, although it is fair enough that I did grind out the yardage as a chartered accountant. I went to speak to the pharmaceutical industry and through the years have followed everything that has gone in that industry. The last figures that I had were that the UK had a £7 billion balance in overseas trade in our favour from that industry. It is the best of nine major industries, which will bring a glow to the heart of my noble friend Lord Lawson, let alone the Minister.

Why is that the case? First, there is the excellence of the people and facilities in research and development in the industry. It is also an example of a tremendous partnership between the public and private sectors. Since 1948 and the institution of the National Health Service, the industry has worked well with it. I understand that there is something called the VPRS, the voluntary price restriction scheme; my noble friend Lady Hooper may be able to correct me. There is another, the PPRS; I do not think that is a reference to pill-poppers, but she might be able to advise me on that later. The schemes have been enormously successful in providing tremendous and outstanding service-one that is unique in the world-to the United Kingdom for health. They are clearly something in the nature of a ritual dance between the Department of Health and Ministers in your Lordships' House and the other place, let alone representatives of the industry either in your Lordships' House or outside. The schemes seem to be something like a bean-bag or a squeegee: the Government push them in one direction and the beans scoot out in another. However, there seems to be a unique relationship between the Government, the public sector and the area of the private sector connected with health and outstanding success in production and industry.

Your Lordships may not be surprised that I have a blue tie today; I am from Scotland. I understand that 11,000 people are directly employed in full-time high-quality jobs in the pharmaceutical industry and the health industry in Scotland. In the United Kingdom, 72,000 full-time jobs are applicable directly to the pharmaceuticalindustry, and 27,000 of those are highly qualified persons in research and development. It is a huge sector of our economy, and it has interests throughout the community. Two companies give all sorts of little advice on a very local level. Certainly in my area of Dundee, as well as elsewhere in Scotland, one can find enormous help from two companies-enormous health companies-that give advice to Girl Guides, Scouts and other voluntary organisations.

Time is limited and, above all, there are many more important speakers than myself on these massive macroeconomic details, so I shall return to what I call the retail or consumer side of health. I take medicines. I declare an interest, that I am no stranger to the hospital ward, mainly thanks to what is so well known to my noble friend Lord Hodgson: winter sports. I have spent a good time on the ward with broken legs-both-shoulders, hands and other things; I tell him that it has been due more to orthopaedics than to liver problems or overindulgence in Switzerland. One day in June 2006, I was looking forward to taking part in your Lordships' House and suddenly I was struck down with something called an ischemia-a light stroke. My noble friend Lady Hooper may be able to explain it, but not today. Within one month, I was back at home in Scotland watching the final of the football World Cup. That shows the enormous and matchless service that the health industry gives to everyone, and it gave it to me that month. It was perhaps luck on my part-I might even say divine intervention-since I do not know many Members of your Lordships' House who have taken what I did and have been back in your Lordships' House in eight weeks-perhaps your Lordships have mixed feelings on that.

I understand that the budget for the National Health Service is £120 billion each year. I believe that that is very well spent. Perhaps I may conclude by making a plea to the Minister. There is a very well known and widely respected worldwide company that has had some difficulties recently. He will know that it is in Sandwich in Kent. I am sure that he and his colleagues will attempt to alleviate the problem. Indeed, we found in yesterday's Budget-I am not too sure in which section; I know that it was on page 18 of the guidance-references to innovation parks and research. My noble friend Lord Northbrook referred to this, too. The Babraham Institute in Cambridge and Norwich Research Park will share in a £100 million boost for science research funding. Any help that the Minister can give to this particular firm would be gratefully received.

I conclude with two mottos, both of which will be familiar to my noble friend Lady Hooper. One is nil satis nisi optimum-only the best will do. That applies to the pharmaceutical industry, and I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to give enormous help to it. The second motto refers to pill-poppers such as me, retailers and consumers: every little helps. It is because of the eternal watchfulness of my noble friend the Minister and the Government that we have in the United Kingdom some of the cheapest but best-value medicines in the world. Your Lordships have been very kind. I am very grateful and in good health. I look forward to listening to what the Minister has to say. I am especially grateful, for once, to my noble friend Lord Lawson for this debate.