Power to make regulations about veterinary medicines

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 12, in clause 8, page 5, line 17, at end insert “services.”

This amendment broadens the range of issues that the Secretary of State must consider to include access to the relevant services to dispense veterinary medicines.

I did not want us to miss out the veterinary medicines part of the Bill, because it is important. We are a nation of animal lovers and we are keen that the laws we make are sympathetic to all living beings. The issue was also raised on Second Reading, because it has an impact on the food chain, so we must be mindful of setting an effective regime, as I know the Government are keen to do.

The amendment is simple. Again, I hope that it is redundant, but I want to test that with the Minister. There is a clear read-across between parts 1 and 2 of the Bill, which is that the powers being reserved for human medicines are largely the same as those being reserved for veterinary medicines. The word that I would like to be added in clause 8(2)(b) after

“the availability of veterinary medicines” is “services”, because one way in which veterinary medicine differs from human medicine is that we do not have a universal service, so that access point is an important consideration for the Secretary of State.

I have not drafted the amendment elegantly enough. When we get to amendment 13, we will discuss something called the cascade, which was new to me until a couple of weeks ago. The principle of the cascade is that, whereas in human medicine we have expectations that certain medicines will be used to treat certain conditions and doctors do not have a massive amount of latitude to go outside that, in veterinary medicine, if such a thing is not available, the veterinarian can fall down the chain and use a different painkiller—perhaps a human painkiller. That is obviously important.

I wonder—and this is what I am testing with the amendment—whether that creates a possible inequity. If there is better access to veterinary medicines or supplies in certain communities, perhaps rural versus urban, that could create not a two-tier service, but a slightly different service from the one we want. It would therefore be useful for the Secretary of State to have regard to the services, as well as the physical ability to get pills, potions or whatever. That is all the amendment seeks to test and I am interested to hear what the Minister says.

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

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the important issue of the availability of veterinary medicines. The intention is clear: to ensure continued access to veterinary medicine equitably for all the nations’ animals.

The Bill provides the power to amend or supplement the Veterinary Medicines Regulations 2013, which cover the full supply chain of veterinary medicines from development to supply. The requirement for the appropriate authority to have regard to the availability of veterinary medicines, as set out in clause 8, therefore ensures that when making regulations under the clause, the availability of veterinary medicines throughout the supply chain is considered.

Although the intended effect of amendment 12 is to expand on those factors, the actual effect would be to inadvertently narrow their scope to focus only on the availability of veterinary medicines services, such as the dispensing of veterinary medicines, rather than the availability of veterinary medicines more widely and more equitably. Veterinary medicines services alone are not the determining factor in the availability of veterinary medicines.

Clause 8, as drafted, ensures that the appropriate authority must have regard to the availability of veterinary medicines throughout the supply chain, so that the rural versus urban comparison the hon. Gentleman used would not be a comparator and medicines would be equally available. I therefore ask him to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 5—Capacity of the veterinary industry—

“(1) The Secretary of State must, within 12 months of making regulations under section 8(1), lay a report before Parliament setting out an assessment of the capacity of the veterinary industry, relative to the requirements of those regulations.”

This new clause requires the Government to make an assessment of the capacity of the veterinary industry.

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

Clause 8 provides the power to amend or supplement the Veterinary Medicines Regulations 2013. Subsection (1) gives the appropriate authority a power, by regulation, to make amending or supplementing provision within the scope of the matters set out in clauses 9 and 10. The appropriate authority may use this power only to build on—in other words, amend and supplement —the current regulatory framework for veterinary medicines. Clauses 9 and 10 set out an exhaustive list of matters about which regulations could be made on veterinary medicines. An in-depth explanation of those clauses will be shared with the Committee throughout the course of these sittings.

Subsection (2) sets out three matters to which the appropriate authority must have regard when making regulations under clause 8: the safety of veterinary medicines in relation to animals, humans—including consumers of produce from treated animals—and the environment; the availability of veterinary medicines; and the attractiveness of the relevant part of the UK to industry for developing or supplying veterinary medicines. Subsection (3) explains that

“the relevant part of the UK” depends on where the UK regulations will apply. The environmental safety aspects could include considering the potential impact of veterinary medicines on terrestrial and aquatic eco-systems and their flora and fauna—for example, the environment can also be affected by slurry application and excretion by grazing animals.

Subsection (4) sets out the appropriate authority for the purposes of regulations made under clause 8(1). The appropriate authority able to exercise this delegated power for England, Scotland and Wales is the Secretary of State. For Northern Ireland, the appropriate authority is either the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland acting alone, or the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland Office acting jointly. This means that the powers can be exercised on their own, as well as jointly on a UK-wide basis.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

I will speak briefly to new clause 5. I was happy to withdraw amendment 12, but the principle was about trying to ensure that there is equitable access to services, because that is how veterinary medicine differs from human medicine. New clause 5 follows that principle through to its logical conclusion. This may have been done; I have been looking but have been unable to find it. I am sure the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has seen hundreds and hundreds of health equity audits: how are things in Nottingham different from in Shipley, and how does that impact on health outcomes? For all the reasons I mentioned at the beginning, I wonder whether it is the same in the veterinary industry and whether there are regional, rural-urban and north-south disparities that mean access is different. The potential fall-outs from that are worth considering.

The new clause is intended to probe and to see whether the Government have that sort of information. If so, maybe they could let us see it—either shortly or during the rest of the proceedings on the Bill.

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

I am grateful to the hon. Member for raising the matter of capacity within the veterinary industry as it stands, in order to provide equity throughout. I recognise that he has given us examples of north-south disparities and so on, and I recognise the good intentions behind the new clause and his desire to ensure that the veterinary industry is working to full capacity and in unanimity across the piece. We agree that vets are an essential part of our animals’ lives and a key component of the UK system of protecting food safety, providing international assurance and upholding standards in welfare.

The Government are already working with various veterinary sector stakeholders, including the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and the British Veterinary Association, to understand the UK’s veterinary resourcing needs and ensure that there are adequate numbers of vets in the short and long term. We are working with a variety of initiatives to build a sustainable, diverse and modernised UK veterinary infrastructure to ensure that we maintain access to the right people, with the right skills and knowledge, supporting food safety and animal health and welfare, as well as trade. DEFRA has successfully secured a place for the veterinary profession on the Home Office shortage occupation list, and we are grateful to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and British Veterinary Association for their work on the issue. It makes it easier for veterinary employers to gain visas.

To turn to specifics, as Members will know, the Bill introduces a statutory duty to consult before making changes to the Veterinary Medicines Regulations 2013. That consultation duty, in clause 40, requires that the appropriate authority must, before making regulations, consult those it considers appropriate. That is the most suitable route for ensuring that all those in the veterinary industry who need to be consulted are included. We are working across Government and with the veterinary profession to help to develop a flexible, skilled workforce that meets UK needs and irons out disparity of service. I want to assure the hon. Member for Nottingham North that it is a key priority to enable an innovative, productive and competitive veterinary medicine sector that invests in its people and skills. To help to achieve that, we shall ensure that there is access to sufficient appropriately skilled labour to drive continued industry growth and productivity, while ensuring that the environment for humans and animals is safe.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

I appreciate that answer, and the detail in it. I guess the only way in which I would supplement my questions is to ask that, once the fruits of the work with the relevant stakeholder bodies are available, they should be shared. That would be of great interest to Members on both sides of the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 8 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.