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Volume 655: debated on Monday 5 March 1962

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asked the Minister of Health what action he is taking to ensure that all new drugs are submitted to immediate, independent and reliable scrutiny before use in the National Health Service.

Is the Minister aware that there is considerable medical and public concern about the number of drugs which recently have been shown to have very dangerous side effects, particularly the 40 abnormal births which are now believed to have been due to the taking of one particular sedative by expectant mothers? I know that this is a recurring problem, but when it comes to a child being born without limbs because the mother took a sedative during pregnancy, should the Minister not consult the Home Secretary to see if some machinery can be set up to screen drugs before they are made available for public use.

Where side effects are concerned, and that is what the hon. Lady has in mind, the mere scrutiny of a drug would not be enough. What is necessary are clinical tests, and the terms of reference of the Cohen Committee were recently revised to enable it to recommend that there should be clinical tests in cases where it thinks advisable.

Can my right hon. Friend say whether, following the Report of the Cohen Committee and its recommendations, there has been a reduction in the amount of drugs being prescribed outside the British Pharmacopoeia list?


asked the Minister of Health what has been the total amount of drugs purchased from foreign sources since he became Minister of Health; what was their total cost; whether similar drugs are available which are manufactured in this country; and what is the actual difference in cost between the home-produced articles and those imported.

In the absence of information but from his general knowledge of the subject, will not the Minister agree that a large volume of drugs is imported into this country and this is having a detrimental effect on the manufacturing industry here? If the reason for importing drugs from abroad is that they are cheaper, will he take into account the effect on the drug manufacturing industry in this country and the possibility of unemployment?

I should be loth to agree to any proposition in the absence of information. The major fact is that this country is a very big net exporter of drugs.

Is it not possible for the right hon. Gentleman to obtain information about the importation of drugs? Will he consult his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade who, presumably, has statistics about imports? This information ought to be available.

The right hon. Gentleman's question might have referred to the National Health Service, and, as it was addressed to me, that was how I took it. If he wants the total figures, perhaps he will put a question down to my right hon. Friend.

Is it not a fact that the freer importation of drugs from abroad has helped to keep down the cost of our domestic products, some of which were sold at exorbitant prices in the past?

I cannot believe that it would be practicable for this country, a major exporter of drugs, to prohibit imports.