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Community Pharmacies

Volume 408: debated on Thursday 3 July 2003

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When she expects to bring forward proposals in response to the Office of Fair Trading report on community pharmacies; and if she will make a statement. [123221]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
(Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe)

First, I wish you, Mr. Speaker, and my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Pound), a happy birthday.

In respect of the OFT report as it relates to England, the Government have stated clearly that we will introduce a balanced package of proposals before the summer recess that will promote change to open up the market and improve quality and access without diminishing the crucial role that pharmacies play, especially in poorer and rural areas. In coming to conclusions, we are considering not only consumer and competition issues in pharmacy but wider health policy objectives, such as the role of pharmacists in delivering NHS objectives, and how we can improve access for patients to high-quality pharmaceutical services.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new position. It gives me great pleasure, as I consider him a decent, honourable and thoughtful man. We had many dealings together as Treasury Whips, and I hope that the same spirit of cordiality will characterise our exchange today—but I have two words of advice for him as a new Minister. First, he should take his time. These petitions that we are all getting—such as the ones from the Moss pharmacy in Droitwich and Badhams pharmacy in Evesham—show how seriously the general public take this matter. Secondly, he should be wary of full-blooded competition. I bear the scars of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report on the supply of beer from when I was a special adviser at the Department of Trade and Industry. Be very, very wary.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. As I have emerged from the dark arts of the Whips Office, I pay tribute to the wonderful job that Whips of all parties do in the House. I know where my bread is buttered.

We have had the opportunity to debate all the issues openly. Nobody is attacking the work of community pharmacies, which do a tremendous amount for our constituencies, but the OFT report has shown that there may be some gaps. Our response will be measured and sensitive to all the issues that have been raised, not only in petitions but in all the correspondence that the Department has received. This is a cross-departmental matter, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and others will appreciate our response when we publish it.

I echo the congratulations to the Minister, as well as the urging of caution in responding to the OFT report. In particular, has he given attention to the fact that the report did not examine the competition that exists between community pharmacies in the additional services that they provide, especially for nursing homes, such as prescription audits, prescription packs for the homes' residents, and home delivery services?

I thank my hon. Friend for her welcome. She raises an interesting point that will be taken into consideration in our deliberations. I do not want to be drawn too far on this question, because the process is still going on, but we will make the announcement before the summer recess.

I, too, welcome the Minister to his post and wish him well in it. He will be aware of the great worry and uncertainty among pensioners. I received a petition the other days from Stockleys pharmacy, signed by 500 people in my constituency. Can he guarantee that there will be an oral statement before the recess, and will he take the opportunity to make it clear today that he will not give in to the wishes of the large retailers—many of which fund the Labour party—but stand up as a champion of small businesses?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. Clearly, we do not want the community pharmacies, which we acknowledge are doing a wonderful job, to be threatened by any outside sources. We will ensure that we have a balanced and sensitive package that meets everybody's needs.

The hon. Gentleman's remarks about organisations that support the Labour party, however, do not become him. The format of the announcement is still under consideration and we will inform him in due course.

What weight does my hon. Friend—my good friend—give to the very persuasive Health Committee report, which suggests that if the OFT recommendations are accepted there is a great likelihood of closures, and that little in the way of savings would be made to the public purse?

I thank my hon. Friend for that. We are looking at all aspects of the situation, and the Health Committee report was very helpful in that regard. It expressed some concern about the OFT report, but it did accept the need for some competition in the marketplace. The points that he raised will be considered, as will the Health Committee report.