“(o) the origin and treatment of human organs used in the process of developing or manufacturing medicines”.
This amendment empowers the appropriate authority to make provisions on the process of developing or manufacturing medicines in relation to the origin and treatment of human organs.
It is a pleasure to serve in Committee under your chairmanship, Mr Davies.
The purpose of the amendment is to empower the Government to make regulations providing for the treatment of human organs in the development of the manufacturing of medicines. This is necessary due to the actions of the Chinese Government in Beijing.
The China tribunal launched the first independent legal analysis of all evidence related to organ harvesting in China. The tribunal is headed by Sir Geoffrey Nice, QC, who served as the lead prosecutor of Slobodan Milošević. It stated:
“Forced organ harvesting has been committed for years throughout China on a significant scale”.
I have forwarded copies of this document to all members of the Committee. I am trying to be as transparent as possible—this is not about trying to kid or trick on our commitment. I am sure that people in the country would agree. All members have copies, which I sent out over the weekend. I have given a short version of what the independent public tribunal said. Clearly, on the second page, it stated:
“Forced organ harvesting has been committed for years throughout China on a significant scale and that Falun Gong practitioners have been one—and probably the main—source of organ supply. The concerted persecution and medical testing of the Uyghurs is more recent, and it may be that evidence of forced organ harvesting of this group may emerge in due course.
The Tribunal has had no evidence that the significant infrastructure associated with China’s transplantation industry has been dismantled and absent a satisfactory explanation as to the source of readily available organs concludes that forced organ harvesting continues till today.”
There is therefore clear evidence that China is conducting medical testing on organs forcibly harvested from Uighurs, the Falun Gong, conscientious objectors and political prisoners. Indeed, a study by medical journal The BMJ raised ethical issues about more than 400 Chinese medical studies. The harvesting of organs from those people not only is an abhorrent act in and of itself, but often involves forced brain damage and vegetation of the person involved, of course leading to their eventual death.
Those papers that I sent to all Committee members refer to a debate in the House of Lords on
“organised butchery of living people compares to ‘the worst atrocities committed in conflicts of the 20th century’, including the gassing of Jews by the Nazis and the Khmer Rouge massacres in Cambodia”.
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office informed the UK House of Lords that the World Health Organisation, which previously advised that China’s transplant system is ethical, responded:
“The evidence that it uses is based on the self-assessment made by the country that is a signatory, and in this case that is China.”
That comes from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The British Medical Association calls on the Government to reconsider their position on this issue in the light of the findings of the tribunal, and to use their influence with the international community to ensure that a full, proper investigation takes place.
We therefore need to take the necessary steps to protect the United Kingdom’s healthcare system from being morally compromised through an injection of Chinese medicines developed in a way that breaches some of the most basic human rights. This amendment does not aim to shut down trade in medicines between the United Kingdom and China. Leaps in progress made for preserving human rights should be readily shared and traded across the globe. However, these leaps in progress should not come at the expense of innocent human lives, and we must do all that we can to ensure that this practice cannot be profited from.
By passing this amendment, the Government will be empowered to make regulations ensuring that medicines supplied in the United Kingdom meet basic human rights standards with regard to how organs have been obtained in their development and manufacture. Any medicines that meet these standards and any other standards set by the Government will, of course, be welcomed into the United Kingdom.
This amendment does not force the Government to implement these regulations now; it merely empowers the Government and the relevant authorities to take the necessary steps to regulate around this issue when they are prepared to do so. I can therefore see no moral or practical reason why members of the Committee would not wish to see this amendment added to this Bill, and urge the Committee to consider it.
I thank the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston for raising this issue and the pack that she so diligently sent to us all over the weekend, which I read with great interest. I know she holds this issue dear to her heart and she is passionate about it. I fully understand the intention behind the amendment. It is absolutely right that medicines that enter the UK supply must not have been manufactured or developed to using organs or human tissues that do not come from authorised sources.
I can assure the hon. Lady that safeguards are in place to provide surety on these issues. The requirements around the donation, procurement, testing, processing, storage and distribution of organs, tissues and cells intended for human application are set out in the Human Tissue (Quality and Safety for Human Application) Regulations 2007 and the Human Tissue Act 2004, which are separate from measures on medicines manufacture.
Medicines legislation already ensures that human tissues and cells used in the manufacture of medicinal products must meet those requirements. Safeguards are in place in those Acts to ensure that the appropriate quality, safety and origin of human tissue is known—for example, consent and traceability requirements apply to any human tissue or cell component imported into the United Kingdom and used as a material in the manufacture of a medicinal product. Importantly, a researcher is not able to conduct research on human tissue in the UK if they cannot provide evidence that it has been obtained ethically and in accordance with legal requirements. The Government will ensure that, under the new deemed consent arrangements for organ donations, donations of cells for advanced therapy and medicinal products cannot happen without expressed consent.
The Bill is designed to ensure that we can update legislation to maintain an effective regulatory regime for medicines, clinical trials and devices. I want to assure hon. Members that the Bill as drafted includes a power in relation to the requirement that must be met in the manufacture of medicines under clause 2(1)(b), and in relation to clinical trials for the development of human medicines under clause 4. Such powers will enable us to update, as needed, the regulatory requirements in these areas to protect patient safety and to ensure the UK complies with international good clinical practice standards, including ethical considerations as set out in clause 4(1)(b). However, I am happy to commit to write to the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston on the reviewing of the FCO position, to which she alluded during her speech.
I trust that hon. Members agree that the amendment is not appropriate for the Bill— however well meaning—and that it is unnecessary, given the way in which medicines and medical devices are regulated. To that end, I respectfully ask the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston to withdraw the amendment.
I am sorry about this—really sorry—because I understood that being a Minister was about co-operation, patience and morals. I do not disbelieve what the Minister says. However, there has been a public and independent inquiry, which found beyond all reasonable doubt. Those running the inquiry were people of stature and good regard, with a history of working for human rights.
I cannot withdraw the amendment. I ask that, at the very least, the Committee considers meeting Sir Geoffrey Nice and a Chinese surgeon who was forced to carry out the removal of organs in China, and who is now a taxi driver in London. They could meet somehow—I am sure we could do it on Teams or something like that. Before we get to Report, I urge the Committee to agree to such a meeting or to listen to and read the evidence. I cannot in all conscience accept that the learned people who sat on the China tribunal would have not researched and challenged—people such as Lord Alton, Lord Hunt and others in the House of Lords. Indeed, many hon. Members spoke about China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims in a Westminster Hall debate that was led by a Conservative Member on
I will not and cannot withdraw the amendment, but I urge the Committee to have neutrality and meet the relevant people so that we can check. I would certainly have to check with learned people before I can begin to consider withdrawing the amendment. I cannot accept that the learned people who have engaged with this issue for so long—we have worked on it for nearly two years and, coincidentally, the Bill came along. I have tried to get a private Member’s Bill but have not succeeded. I have tried every nook and cranny to do anything I can to stop this practice. I do not want to risk our health service or our country’s reputation, which could be tarnished by being involved. I have dear friends who are Chinese, but I do not trust the Chinese Government in any way. I urge the Minister please at least to let us meet and consider this issue before Report. I have not sat on a Bill Committee before, Mr Davies, so I am not sure of procedure and, as you know, I am profoundly deaf. I urge the Minister please not to throw out amendment 1 without us doing that and rechecking every nook and cranny.
I understand the hon. Member’s passion for this area. As she said, she has tried to find every nook and cranny. I gently repeat that the Bill is not the right place for amendment 1, but I commit to writing to my Foreign and Commonwealth Office counterpart on this point and to exploring it further, if that would be of assistance to her. However, I say again that the Bill is not the vehicle for the amendment and I ask her to withdraw it.
I welcome the Minister’s offer to write to the Foreign Office, and I commend in particular my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston for what she said. I have worked on human rights issues for other at-risk groups and there is a sense of concern about the position we may inadvertently find ourselves in. Will the Minister, in addition to writing to the Foreign Office, commit to ensuring that there is a review within Government to ensure that our safeguards are up to date? While I accept that the legislation is there, some gaps may need to be addressed and, if they cannot be addressed by the Bill, we need to find a way to assure ourselves that we have all the right safeguards in place. That will require a Health Department lead working with the Foreign Office and others.
Yes, of course, I will be happy to inform the Committee when I write to the Minister for Asia and the Pacific, if hon. Members would find that helpful. We heard from the hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston, and I am sure we all read the pack she sent at the weekend about the trade in human organs, which is truly heinous.
The hon. Member for St Helens South and Whiston said she was inexperienced in Bill Committees. I can happily tell her that at this moment in time she is in charge and it is entirely down to her whether she wishes to press her amendment to a Division or to withdraw it. It is for her to indicate which of those options she would prefer.
New clause 2—Report on medicines under development—
‘On the date on which this Act is passed, and once every twelve months thereafter, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report detailing what medicines the UK Government are developing.’.
This new clause requires the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament a report covering medicines that the UK Government are developing.
New clause 4—Antimicrobial Resistance—
‘(1) The Secretary of State must regard antimicrobial resistance a priority in the development of new medicines.
(2) The Secretary of State must, within 12 months of this Act receiving Royal Assent, lay an updated report before Parliament setting out a UK-wide strategy for tackling antimicrobial resistance.’.
This new clause requires the Government to prioritise tackling antimicrobial resistance and produce an updated report setting out how it shall do so.
The clause allows for changes to be made to the law relating to the manufacturing, marketing and supply of human medicines. It provides an exhaustive list of matters on which amendments can be made by regulation, giving clarity and limits on what may be done by secondary legislation. I will take each subsection in turn as these are important areas for the Committee’s consideration.
Subsection (1)(a) provides that changes may be made to update regulations in relation to manufacturing to reflect advances and innovation in the way in which medicines are prepared. That will enable us to take a revised approach to regulation, ensuring that regulations do not become barriers to patient access and to medicines manufactured in new ways while maintaining high regulatory standards to protect patient safety.
Subsection (1)(b) allows for changes to be made to the law governing the import of human medicines. It will support the continued ability to ensure that imported medicines are safe. We also want to be able to ensure that no unnecessary additional burden is placed on companies so that the UK remains an attractive place to supply medicines while protecting patients.
Subsection (1)(c) allows for changes to be made to the law governing the distribution of medicinal products by way of wholesale dealing. A wholesale dealing authorisation is required to supply or sell human medicines to anyone other than the patient using the medicine. In the light of any emerging safety concerns or innovative new techniques or technologies, changes may be required to maintain the quality of, and ensure proper distribution of, medicinal products. That could include such matters as providing and maintaining staff, premises equipment and facilities for the handling, storage and distribution of medicinal products under a wholesale dealer’s licence as are necessary.
Subsection (1)(d) provides that changes may be made to the law relating to marketing authorisations for human medicines. We want to ensure that UK patients have access to high-quality medicines and new treatments, so we need a regulatory system that maintains and enhances the UK’s attractiveness as a place to market novel and generic medicines while ensuring that medicines are safe and efficacious. We could, for example, amend the current regulations to offer additional statutory rewards or incentives for a certain type of application for a marketing authorisation, which would encourage new medicines to continue to come to the UK in a timely fashion.
Subsection (1)(e) allows for changes to be made to the law governing the manufacture, import or distribution of active substances. An active substance is an ingredient used to make a finished medicinal product and gives medicine its therapeutic effect. The ability to amend and update regulations in relation to active substances is necessary to protect public health, because if there is not adequate control of an active substance, contamination can carry over to the finished medicinal product. The ability to change the rules governing active substances means that we can update the UK regulations to react in response to emerging public health risks resulting from issues relating to active substances and ensure continued supply.
Subsection 1(f) allows for changes to be made to the law governing the brokering of human medicines. The brokering of medicinal products consists of negotiating independently and on behalf of another person in relation to the sale or purchase of medicinal products. We need to be able to amend the rules governing brokering in response to any new industry practices that arise and risk infiltration of the supply chain with falsified medicines. We could use this provision to restrict such activities, thereby securing the medicine supply chain and reducing the risk to patient safety.
Subsection (1)(g) enables regulations to be made to amend the requirements on the registration of the premises of pharmacy businesses. While separate provisions cover the regulation of other parts of the supply chain, such as manufacturing and wholesaling, this provision would enable us to amend requirements regulating retailers, mainly retail pharmacy businesses and pharmacy premises, which goes back to the point made by the hon. Member for Nottingham North in the discussions about clause 1. This is necessary to maintain coherent regulation of the whole supply chain for human medicines, but also ensures that the UK has the power to keep the regulation of pharmacies up to date.
Subsection (1)(h) enables regulations to amend or supply the requirement around recording information about the supply of human medicines, ensuring the UK has the ability to amend existing record-keeping requirements. That is hugely important for the interest of patient safety as future models of supply evolve.
Subsection (1)(i) provides that amendment can be made to the law that governs the requirements for reporting safety data about medicines on the UK market. This will support continued improvement of pharmaco-vigilance in the UK to protect patient safety.
Subsection (1)(j) provides that amendments can be made to the law governing the labelling and packaging of medicines, and the information that must accompany them. This will enable innovation in the way in which information is provided alongside medicine. Patients may find digital routes to packaging information more accessible than paper copies. This subsection could enable us to require both paper and digital versions to be available. We have published an illustrative SI to show how this amendment could be made in regulations.
Subsection (1)(k) provides that amendments can be made to the law relating to the advertising of human medicines. Having the ability to make changes to the regulation of the advertising of medicines would enable the Government to ensure that advertising requirements can be updated to reflect developments in areas such as digital communication channels, while ensuring that patients and healthcare professionals continue to receive good information about the medicines they may use or prescribe. This would help ensure that the UK remains an attractive place to market such medicines.
Subsection (1)(l) relates to the supply of medicines online and would enable the UK to introduce and amend a bespoke national registration scheme for online sellers of medicines, and replace the EU distance-selling logo that is currently used. We have published an illustrative SI to show how the provision for a national scheme could be made. It is essential that there are appropriate protections in place to ensure the safety of supply of medicines online.
Subsection (1)(m) outlines the regulatory provision that may be made in relation to the requirements that need to be met for a prescription to be valid. For example, this might be used to update the particulars that must be included in a prescription or the types of products for which electronic prescriptions are valid.
Subsection (1)(n) deals with amendments made to the provisions that govern who can supply or prescribe human medicines. The provisions referred to are set out in subsection (2). The power gives the Government the ability to amend the rules around who can supply, administer and prescribe medicine in line with healthcare needs, where it is safe and appropriate to do so. The most recent change to prescribing responsibilities was in 2018, when legislation was amended to allow trained paramedics to act as independent prescribers. We have published an illustrative SI showing how the provision can be made to permit dental hygienists to supply and administer certain medicinal products in the course of their professional practice.
I am conscious that our carriage will turn into a pumpkin shortly, so I will move with some tempo.
New clause 2 is the Porton Down clause, and the world has changed greatly in the last few months. We now know, in a way we could never have grasped before, how an air-borne virus can lock us up in our homes for months on end, and even longer for many. We also know that what happens on the other side of the world can be with us quickly, and that at times, as with the current coronavirus, there is not much we can do about that.
We ought to reflect on what we are doing at home. We have reached a point where we could have a greater public understanding and scrutiny of the sorts of things being developed in our name by our Government. Porton Down is a world class facility full of incredibly talented people serving our national interest, but we do not know what they do. We get snippets. We know that in the past decade they have experimented on 52,00 animals, which is six times the rate of any other UK lab. I have absolutely no idea whether that is too high, too low, or just right, because we do not know. I am trying to probe the ways in which we can get greater transparency about what potentially life-saving or possibly life-ending products are being developed on our doorstep. If the Minister thinks there are better ways to do that, I am happy to consider those. The drafting does not refer to everything developed in the UK, but things developed by the Government. It is behind closed doors, very secretive, and potentially quite dangerous, so I am keen to know how we might get greater scrutiny.
New clause 4 on antimicrobial resistance is a passion of my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West. It is topical now as we wrestle with a horrendous virus, and I express my solidarity with the Minister and her colleagues on their efforts in doing so. Clearly, microbial organisms can adapt and have an incredible impact, as we are seeing. They can also disrupt much more conventional matters such as the antibiotics that are crucial for transplants and chemotherapy. It is laudable that the Government have a 20-year vision for this, although I hate long strategies. What is done in year one is much more important than what is done in year 20. I know there is a five-year plan sitting behind that, but even that feels too long a time. The new clause gives the opportunity instead for an annual report, which would be an improvement. If that is not the right vehicle, how might we be able to play our role in the conversation around antimicrobial resistance, and how do we get an appropriate period in which to hold the Government to account to ensure that we make progress?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the development of new medicines in new clause 2, which are important in new clause 3 as well. Antimicrobial resistance, as he has mentioned, is an absolutely critical issue of today. I will first set out what we are doing in that area. The development of medicines is an integral part of the UK life sciences sector, and we are committed to making sure that we can develop such medicines. The Bill gives us powers to maintain an effective system for regulating, including with respect to clinical trials. New clause 4 allows us to adapt the regulatory framework around them in a way that best suits the industry. The development of medicines is the role of the pharmaceutical industries and researchers, and we want to support them fully. The Government are committed to supporting a thriving sector, investing more than £1 billion a year in health research through the National Institute for Health Research, which is committed to openness and transparency about where the funds go. It ensures that all trials publicly register before any patient intervention, and key trial outcomes are made publicly available. However, the arrangements for Government support and funding through trials is not within the Bill.
I will address some of the work that the hon. Member for Nottingham North alluded to at Public Health England’s Porton Down campus, sometimes referred to in the context of medicine developments. The current PHE facilities at Porton Down do not develop medicines for Government, but engage in a range of scientific work for commercial and public sector customers. This includes the safety and efficacy of testing vaccines and therapeutics, and discovery work relating to novel and dangerous pathogens. Porton Down is also the site for work by Porton Biopharma Ltd, which is a public non-financial corporation and is outside central Government. Although PBL develops and manufactures biopharma products, this falls outside the Government and we are therefore not in a position to publish reports on the development of its work.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the important issue of AMR in new clause 4. I want to reassure the Committee that tackling AMR is a high priority for the Government and that its impact remains on the national risk register. The UK continues to lead the way on global action to tackle AMR, working alongside international partners, the most famous of whom is probably the most recent chief medical officer before Professor Sir Chris Whitty, Professor Dame Sally Davies, who has taken up her position as the special envoy for AMR. Her role will continue to underline the UK’s position as a world leader in developing and delivering international action in that space.
In January 2019, the UK Government published their vision to contain and control AMR by 2040. Achieving that is supported by the delivery of a five-year national action plan from 2019 to 2024. The delivery of the cross-Government commitments in the action plan is being overseen by a joint DHSC and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs-chaired programme board, established in October 2019. The commitments in the national action plan cover all sectors, including human health, animal health, food and the environment.
The UK has already made good progress in reducing its use of antibiotics in humans and animals, and we now have the fifth-lowest level of antibiotic consumption in food-producing animals out of 31 European countries. We have also seen unprecedented levels of investment in collaboration in research on AMR nationally and globally. The UK invests significantly in AMR through the Fleming Fund and the global AMR innovation fund.
The hon. Member for Nottingham North is correct that the Government should prioritise the development of new medicines to address antimicrobial resistance, including antibiotics. Indeed, we already do. Having a pipeline full of antimicrobial drugs is critical to our efforts to contain, control and mitigate AMR, as outlined in the strategy towards 2040.
In July 2019, the UK formally launched a project for developing and testing the world’s first subscription-style payment model for antibiotics. If successful, it would mean that pharmaceutical companies received payment up front for access to their antibiotic products, based on the products’ value to the NHS, as opposed to the volume used. We are the first country in the world to test such a model and more information will be published on it in due course.
Although we know how important new medicines are in tackling antimicrobial resistance, a strengthened focus on prevention and the control of infection will help to contain the emergence and spread of resistance to antibiotics. By limiting and reducing the need to use antibiotics in the first place, we are taking a zero-tolerance approach to avoiding infection in human healthcare settings, as set out in the action plan. Our plan will result in at least 15,000 fewer UK patients being affected by infections each year by 2024, and 5,000 fewer drug-resistant infections.
In parallel, we are focusing on reducing animal exposures and susceptibility to pathogens that could result in the need for treatment with antimicrobials. By working closely with the veterinary profession to implement those preventive measures, we will reduce the need for new antimicrobial medicines as we reduce them in the food chain.
I hope that hon. Members will agree that the UK Government are working hard to ensure that AMR is controlled and contained through the vision for 2040 and the five-year action plan. New clause 4 is not necessary for the Bill. If the hon. Member for Nottingham North has further specific questions in relation to either medicines by the Government or AMR, I would be happy for him to write to me and I will endeavour to answer those points in a closed format. On that basis, I ask him to withdraw the new clause.
I do not intend to press new clauses 2 and 4 to a Division. The Porton Down answer was helpful. In the terms of the amendment, it is not necessary, but I will have to work out how to get from accepting the principle about not developing medicines to accepting the next sentence about testing vaccines. That is a distinction without a difference, but I accept that it would not quite work in the Bill. The answer about the limited company does not hold either. As a wholly owned subsidiary of the UK Government, I think we could take an interest in that.
I was grateful for the detailed answer about AMR. I will take up the offer of engaging directly as and when. To be clear, we are keen to engage on that, because it is a significant issue and we want the Government to succeed at it. I hope that can be part of an ongoing conversation about it. On that basis, I will not press the new clause.