Fees, offences, powers of inspectors

Medicines and Medical Devices Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 8 June 2020.

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Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care) 3:30, 8 June 2020

I beg to move amendment 11, in clause 5, page 3, line 39, at end insert—

“(1A) The Secretary of State must publish a fees regime within three months of the date on which this Act receives Royal Assent.”

This amendment requires the Secretary of State to publish their proposed list of fees in respect of human medicines.

It is a pleasure to resume serving under your chairship, Mr Davies. We move to the rapid-fire round, which will almost inevitably lead to me at some point giving a speech to a previous or future amendment—I am sure colleagues will be gentle and generous with me when I do so. This short probing amendment relates to fees in the discharge of the human medicines sphere. The principle is that, in the exercising of clause 1(1) it is conceivable that the Secretary of State, the Department and the Government in general will incur costs, so clause 5(1)(a) allows for provision to be made to exercise a function to charge for that, which makes perfect sense.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency has previously worked on a cost recovery basis, which makes a lot of sense, but the amendment is designed to test whether it would not be better to have a comprehensive, clear and consistent fees regime. The MHRA and the Government in general have a tough job against a potential occasional big foe in the pharmaceutical industry—or big partner to work with, at least. I assume, but would like to hear from the Minister on the record, that the expectation is that there will be equal pay for an equal job, so a bigger firm that is better equipped to lobby would not end up paying smaller fees than a smaller firm, simply because that firm was better at arguing or making its case. Is cost recovery still in general the preferred option? If so, might it not strengthen the Secretary of State’s hand if that were put in the Bill?

Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

It is a pleasure to be back this afternoon. I am grateful to the hon. Member for raising the important issue of fees in his amendment, and I recognise the intent of that probe. I am sure we agree that it is important that all new fees for human medicines are set in an open, fair and transparent way. I want to reassure him that what the amendment seeks to achieve is already standard practice and is happening. I will rapidly set out the steps already in place to ensure the fairness, openness and transparency that underpin the fees regime for human medicines.

The current fees have been subject to consultation and are provided for in legislation. They are published online and publicly available at gov.uk. All of that is supported by a formal and standardised process for reviewing existing fees and for the introduction of new fees for human medicines. The standard approach for setting statutory fees is full cost recovery, as the hon. Member alluded to, which means that fees must be set at a cost that reflects the activity involved in carrying out such a specific regulatory function.

The full cost recovery approach is set out by Her Majesty’s Treasury in its “Managing public money” guidance, which ensures that the Government neither profit at the expense of consumers nor make a loss for taxpayers to subsidise. Therefore, fees cannot be set arbitrarily, and the fee must reflect the cost of the regulatory work carried out. I think that goes some way to addressing the hon. Member’s probe on size.

Existing fees for human medicines are kept under active review by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. The amendment is specifically concerned with new fees that might be introduced under the powers in the Bill. It is already a requirement that new fee proposals are subject to consultation, and that duty continues for fee proposals under the Bill. We will publish impact assessments with the new proposals, which will set out the effects of any changes to fees in the UK on Government, industry or the general public. Her Majesty’s Treasury will be engaged throughout the fee proposal process, and any proposals for new fees will be subject to approval from HMT. It is also standard practice for the MHRA to engage with industry and trade bodies through regular meetings to discuss any new fee proposals that might be coming up.

I trust my explanation has reassured the hon. Member for Nottingham North that the requirements are and will continue to be in place so that fees for human medicines are fair, open and transparent. I therefore ask him to withdraw his amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

Photo of Jo Churchill Jo Churchill The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

Clause 5 provides that changes can be made to the law relating to human medicines with respect to fees, criminal offences and the powers of inspectors. Regulations made under clause 1(1) allow us to change the UK’s regulatory framework for human medicines as science, technology and clinical needs evolve. When the regulatory regime is updated, it is important that the regulator—in this case, the MHRA—can continue to regulate effectively and maintain compliance with all elements of the regime. To ensure this, it may be necessary to make provision about charging fees, creating criminal offences, and updating inspectors’ powers when making changes to the regulatory regime. Regulations made under clause 1 and relying on clause 5 will enable us to do this. We will consult before making any of those changes.

Clause 5(1)(a) allows us to make provision about the charging of fees. The regulator is self-funding for the purposes of medicines regulation. This work includes assessment for marketing authorisations and clinical trials of human medicines and inspections. It is funded by fees payable by the pharmaceutical industry in relation to the services and regulatory work provided. The current fees are set out in the Medicines (Products for Human Use) (Fees) Regulations 2016 and vary according to the specific areas of work.

It is important that existing fees can be amended, or fees can be introduced in connection with the MHRA exercising functions conferred by human medicines provisions as they evolve. Any proposal to introduce new fees is subject to consultation. The impacts on industry, Government and the general public would be evaluated through the usual process of an impact assessment. As part of its regulation of human medicines, the MHRA is able to impose criminal sanctions for certain regulatory breaches. As the regulatory regime is updated in future, it is important that we have the ability to also update the corresponding list of offences against which the MHRA can take action.

Clause 5(1)(b) allows us to create criminal offences with a maximum of two years’ imprisonment to cover updated requirements to supplement the evolution of the regulatory regime. MHRA inspectors play a critical role in ensuring compliance so that medicines are safe and effective for patients, and so that manufacture, research and surveillance processes are carried out to recognised standards. Inspectors already have all the powers to enter premises at any reasonable time to determine whether there has been a contravention of medicines regulations. For example, they may take samples or copies of documents if it is suspected that an offence has been committed. We have published two illustrative statutory instruments to demonstrate how provision can be made in regulations, relying on clause 5(1)(b) in combination with subsections of clause 2, to create a criminal offence for failing to comply with the new requirement set out in the regulations.

Clause 5(1)(c) allows us to update the relevant powers of entry and other powers of inspectors to align with new elements of the regulatory regime as it evolves. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 5 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 6 and 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.