Exemption in respect of medical courier vehicles

Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 16th June 2020.

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Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury) 11:00 am, 16th June 2020

I beg to move amendment 12, in clause 85, page 72, line 33, after “supplies” insert “, including human breastmilk”.

This amendment would ensure that vehicles carrying human breastmilk would benefit from the exemption from Vehicle Excise Duty.

I am delighted to continue my personal journey to ensure that breastfeeding is mentioned in every possible place in this House. I am chair of the all-party group on infant feeding and inequalities, so I declare that interest up front.

The measure I seek to add to the Bill would cost the Government very little, if anything at all, but would send a very strong signal that the Government support and recognise breast milk banks across the UK. Sub-paragraph 2(b) of proposed new paragraph 6A to schedule 2 to the Vehicle Excise and Registration Act 1994 refers to

“medicines and other medical supplies”.

I am not quite sure whether that would capture breast milk. I seek clarification from the Minister on that, because I do not think it is clear enough, which was why I tabled the amendment.

Human breast milk banks exist across the UK. Some do not exist quite to the size and scale that we would like, so the amendment would help to encourage them that there is Government support for what they are doing. I mention the Human Milk Foundation, the Northwest Human Milk Bank, Hearts Milk Bank and Milk Bank Scotland, which is based in Glasgow and the one that I know best. Having spoken to Debbie Barnett, its donor milk bank co-ordinator, I know that Milk Bank Scotland does not have its own vehicles at the moment, but relies on the Glasgow Children’s Hospital Charity volunteers, who transport the milk, after picking it up from donors, and take it out to those who need it. Having its own vehicles would be something for a future point, but the amendment would certainly support the milk bank, and others across the UK, in doing that.

Like blood, breast milk has to be properly processed, and there are procedures in place for doing so. Like blood, it needs special carriage to take it from donors to the milk banks for processing, and back out again. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guideline 93 on donor breast milk banks says that, when transporting milk to the milk bank, critical conditions for transport include

“temperature and time limit, to ensure that donor milk remains frozen during transport.”

The guideline also states that donor milk should be transported

“in secure, tamper-evident containers and packaging” and that a range of procedures are in place for achieving that.

In chapter 33 of its guide to the quality and safety of tissues and cells for human application, on the distribution of and transport conditions for human milk, the European directorate for the quality of medicines states:

“During transport, milk should remain frozen and dry ice may be used for this purpose.

The use of validated, easily cleaned, insulated transport containers is recommended.

The transport procedure should be validated, and the temperature of the transport container monitored during transportation.”

All those measures are relatively similar to how blood and other blood products are transported around the UK, and would fit quite well with the medical courier vehicles exemption set out in the Bill. Many of these organisations are charities, and they would very much appreciate support in moving milk around the country.

I appeal to the Government to accept the amendment, which is uncontentious—and indisputable, really. Doing so would send a good signal that the UK Government support milk banks, the people across the UK who wish to use them, and the science behind them. They are particularly important in supporting premature babies in their earliest days. The World Health Organisation recently indicated the significance of breast milk during coronavirus, and that women should be supported whenever possible to feed their babies with human breast milk. Covid-19 is not present in breast milk, and the milk is therefore of huge benefit in supporting babies in their earliest days. I encourage Ministers to take on the amendment, if they can take on anything at all, and to show support for milk banks across the UK.

Photo of Kemi Badenoch Kemi Badenoch The Exchequer Secretary

Amendment 12 would extend the exemption so that it applied to people carrying human breast milk. I do not think that any of us would disagree with that, but clause 85 already covers the transportation of human breast milk. The purpose-built vehicles used by medical courier charities, which are exempted from VED by the measure, transport not just blood, but a wide range of medical products, including X-rays, MRI scans, plasma and human breast milk.

The inclusion of the amendment in the Bill would make things more difficult. Its wording is quite vague, it does not clearly define the vehicles that it is trying to capture, and it would create the risk of abuse. We believe that the matter is already covered by clause 85. Although the Government fully support the sentiment of the amendment, as breast milk is already captured under the clause, I ask the Committee to reject the it.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

I would like to press the amendment to a vote, to add to the clarity of the clause.

Amendment 12 negatived.

Clause 85 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(David Rutley.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.