Clause 18 - Controlled drugs: power to enter and inspect

Health Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 20th December 2005.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of George Young George Young Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee, Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee 3:00 pm, 20th December 2005

The Committee should pause for 90 seconds—the length of time for which I propose to speak—before it confers on somebody other than a police officer the right to enter a citizen’s home against their wishes, which is what the clause does. From the definition of “any relevant premises” in subsection (7)   it seems that such premises could include the home of a pharmacist or GP. The powers to enter and inspect will not be confined to a police officer; they will be given to an authorised person who is defined in the clause.

If one considers subsection (2), which puts parameters around those powers, all one needs to do to exercise those powers is to turn up at a reasonable hour and produce the written authority of the person exercising them. The constraints seem rather flimsy on what could be a draconian power, particularly if one considers subsection (3)(b), when the person who has the power can take away relevant records kept on the premises. The least I should expect under subsection (2) is reasonable grounds for suspecting that an offence might have been committed, or, under the clause, guidelines about when the Government envisage the appropriate exercise of those powers. There is very little about that.

This is a potentially draconian power. It will be given to an authorised person, as defined in subsection (4), who can turn up any time before 9 o’clock at the home of a GP or a pharmacist and, with a letter, which is the written authority of the person exercising the power, demand to come in. We should pause for 90 seconds and press the Minister about exactly how those powers will be used.

The House has been sensitive about giving tax and VAT inspectors and Revenue and Customs employees the powers to enter peoples’ homes against their wishes. However, clause 18 extends that privilege with, as far as I can see, very little explanation about when the powers might be used.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Minister of State, Department of Health

I have thought long and hard about the matter, and I share some of the right hon. Gentleman’s concerns that we should not take those powers lightly, and nor have we. Physical inspections, the power to enter the premises and to inspect, and the general powers in the clause are only one aspect of the new monitoring and inspection arrangements. Persons exercising those powers would not be able to enter the home of a GP or a pharmacist unless that home was used for the provision of health care or for the supply or administration of a controlled drug. That is the proviso.

When an inspector turns up to carry out a routine inspection, there will be no problem and the inspection will be complied with. A number of people, including in the case of pharmacists, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, can do that. We anticipate that there may be occasions when objections will be made, but it is necessary to allow the inspectors the right to insist on being granted entry.

The intention is that routine inspections should normally be carried out by the accountable officers appointed under the clause that we have just debated. Inspections will be carried out also by regulated bodies that already have powers of entry. As the right hon. Gentleman rightly said, the powers may be used only at reasonable hours and with the production of written authority. The regulated bodies are not explicitly mentioned in the clause, as many already have powers   of entry to the relevant organisations. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has the power to enter community pharmacies and request records.

I appreciate the concerns that the right hon. Gentleman has raised. The provision is not as draconian as he fears it may be; it will be used only on rare occasions and probably when there are already concerns about the premises to be inspected. I hope that he will reflect on my comments as I shall reflect on his.

We have not taken the powers lightly; we have thought about them carefully. In the context of the other package of measures that we are putting forward, the provision is an important part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 18 ordered to stand part of the Bill.