Committee (4th Day)
Relevant documents: 19th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, and 10th Report from the Constitution Committee
A participants list for today’s proceedings has been published by the Government Whips Office, as have lists of Members who have put their name down to the amendments or expressed an interest on each group. I will call Members to speak in the order listed, but ask noble Lords to note that both the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, have had to withdraw. Members are not permitted to intervene spontaneously. The Chair calls each speaker. Interventions before speeches or “Before the noble Lord sits down” are not permitted.
During the debate on each group, I will invite Members, including Members in the Grand Committee Room, to email the clerk if they wish to speak after the Minister, using the Grand Committee address. I will call Members to speak in order of request and will call the Minister to reply each time. Groupings are binding, and it will not be possible to degroup or amend for separate debate. A Member intending to move formally an amendment already debated should have given notice in the debate. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. When putting the question, I will collect voices in the Grand Committee Room only.
I remind Members that Divisions cannot take place in Grand Committee. It takes unanimity to amend the Bill, so if a single voice says “Not content”, an Amendment is negatived, and if a single voice says “Content”, a clause stands part. If a Member taking part remotely intends to oppose an amendment expected to be agreed to, they should make this clear when speaking on the group. The proceeding today will cease at 4.30 pm, earlier than originally planned. We will now resume debate on Amendment 27.
Debate on Amendment 27 resumed.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their patience in waiting a full week to hear the response to what was a very useful and detailed debate. By way of compensation, I hope my response today reassures them that my time has been put to good effect: I am sure they will let me know if that is not the case.
Amendment 27 was tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Patel and Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. I reassure both noble Lords that the Government and the MHRA remain committed to ongoing international collaboration for the benefit of patients and the life sciences sector in the UK. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, set out some of the work the MHRA is doing to deliver on this commitment after the end of the transition period in his opening remarks on this group. I am pleased that noble Lords had the opportunity to hear from and question the MHRA directly on this and other issues this week. The Government heard the request from noble Lords to ensure that this is part of an ongoing dialogue with the regulator and parliamentarians.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I am reluctant to revisit the debate on alignment with the EU, which we have already had in this Committee, as well as in many previous debates. However, I reassure him that the UK is seeking mutual recognition with the EU on a number of areas, including batch testing, good manufacturing practice and continuing co-operation on pharmacovigilance. Certain aspects of medicine regulations are also harmonised at an international level and we are committed to those international standards in all areas. Indeed, to further support the aim of continued international collaboration, we have tabled Amendment 48, which I will come to shortly.
Turning to Amendment 118, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, I reassure her that this amendment is unnecessary. The MHRA and the VMD are both recognised globally as leading regulators and will retain their regulatory sovereignty regardless of any trade deals agreed. This will include the MHRA’s duty to consider the safety and efficacy of human medicines placed on the UK market. We will ensure that our new FTAs provide flexibility for the Government to protect legitimate domestic priorities; we have made this clear in our published approach to trade negotiations with specific trading partners.
On the price the NHS pays for medicines, the Government have made clear that this is not on the table for negotiations. The prices of branded medicines will continue to be controlled through the 2019 voluntary scheme for branded medicines pricing and access—VPAS. To be absolutely clear, the powers in the Bill do not enable regulations to be made that relate to the pricing of medicines or medical devices. In relation to data, the UK has a strong system to protect health and care data, as set out in the Data Protection Act 2018 and covered by the common law duty of confidentiality. Our objectives for trade negotiations are explicit that we will maintain the UK’s high standards of data protection. Again, to be absolutely clear, it would not be within the scope of the powers in the Bill under Clauses 1, 8 and 12 to create exceptions to or modify the provisions of our data protection legislation.
I heard in last week’s debate that questions of safeguards and data protection were at the heart of noble Lords’ concerns about the government amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Bethell, to which I will now turn. These amendments would allow us to share information regarding these areas with international regulators or networks where this is required to give effect to international agreements or arrangements. I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and others about the motivation behind these amendments, which have been identified as necessary as part of the work to support the future relationship with the European Union, and to protect and preserve existing work that the MHRA does. On his question about source codes and algorithms in medical devices, I make two points. The UK-Japan trade deal, as with the EU-Japan trade deal that came before it, provides for safeguards against IP infringement on the question of source code and algorithms. However, to protect patient safety, and for effective regulation, there remains provision for a regulator or conformity assessment body to request source code and algorithms as part of their regulatory responsibilities.
The MHRA and the VMD presently share and receive intelligence from their counterparts through our membership of the European Union, which will come to an end. The MHRA and the VMD will be the UK’s independent, standalone regulators and require appropriate legal powers for their own reciprocal information-sharing arrangements with other nations and forums. Without this, the UK may not be able to comply with its information-sharing obligations under international agreements; nor would it be able to participate in international arrangements facilitating the mutual exchange of intelligence regarding medicines and medical devices. These exchanges of information are of vital interest to UK patient safety. For example, intelligence sourced from international regulators through the EU has ensured access to life-saving medical devices for UK patients during Covid and has enabled the MHRA to trace suppliers of non-compliant testing kits. This is vital and will continue to be so going forward.
Future reciprocal information-sharing agreements with international regulators will help the MHRA and VMD to take swift regulatory action on medicines and medical devices that pose a risk, removing them from the marketplace if necessary. I reassure noble Lords that this data is limited to the data that the MHRA holds. The MHRA will always anonymise patient data before it is shared internationally, under the powers in the Bill. For the purpose of pharmacovigilance, for example, the MHRA might need to share information received through adverse incident reports. However, the information would always be anonymised and is usually kept at a high level—for example, description of the safety signal, or a trend report to identify whether another country has also identified an issue with a particular product or manufacturer.
I appreciate that there has been some concern over the use of the word “person” in the drafting of the amendment. We used that word, rather than specifying particular organisations, because we anticipate that international agreements will require the UK to share information not only with overseas regulators but with other bodies, such as overseas Governments, international organisations such as the World Health Organization, and international networks such as the International Medical Device Regulators Forum.
The wording is necessary because it provides the breadth, for example, to share data with international networks that might not be formalised. If we were to list all the organisations, networks and relationships that might be involved, it would simply not be possible to keep that list live on the face of legislation. Debate has been categorical that the MHRA needs to be a front-footed international regulator, and to limit it to the relationships it has now, rather than being flexible with regard to new regulatory forums or relationships, would restrict that aim.
The noble Lord, Lord Patel, asked pertinent questions about the data protection provisions in the new clauses. I have to admit to noble Lords that I had the same reaction about their potentially circular nature when I first read them, and I hope that I shall be able to unpack their effect here. The GDPR sets out seven key principles for processing personal data, the first of which involves “lawfulness, fairness and transparency”. We are providing a lawful basis for processing personal data by inserting these powers. That does not remove the other protections under the Data Protection Act that apply to the sharing of information under these clauses.
Where personal data are sensitive personal data, which are now called special category data, the GDPR requires further conditions, under Article 9, to be met for the processing to be lawful. Patient health data are a type of special category data. Relevant conditions under the GDPR, of which there are 10 that could be relied on to disclose patient data under the clause, would include “explicit consent”, reasons of “substantial public interest”, health or social care reasons, or public health reasons.
The GDPR also sets out further requirements where personal data are to be shared internationally. There must be an adequacy decision in place confirming that the third country or international organisation ensures an adequate level of data protection. In the absence of an adequacy decision, appropriate safeguards must be put in place that provide enforceable data subject rights and effective legal remedies, which can take the form of a legally binding agreement or contracts between parties. In the absence of an appropriate safeguard, data could be transferred only if it were
“necessary in order to protect the vital interests of the data subject or another natural person where the data subject is … incapable of giving consent.”
Equivalent safeguards for personal data and commercially sensitive information are already in place in Clause 35 for information relating to medical devices. This is solely to facilitate the appropriate sharing of information to give effect to international agreements and arrangements. They are critical to ensuring we can regulate effectively and uphold high standards of patient safety and access.
Amendment 45, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, seeks to achieve what is already standard and long-standing practice. Existing arrangements already ensure that timeliness, openness and transparency are key to the fees regime, and they are published online and available on GOV.UK. We will ensure that the industry and any other interested stakeholders know about any future fee changes in good time. We have laid statutory instruments to implement changes at the end of the transition period, as the cost of providing some regulatory services has fallen, so the fees charged will need to be reduced.
On the basis of the reassurances I have provided on Amendments 27, 45 and 118, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Patel, feels able to withdraw Amendment 27, and that the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, is similarly assured and will not move her amendment.
I have received a request to speak after the Minister from the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton.
I gave the Minister notice last week that I might well want to speak after her, and I am doing that, for two reasons. One is to remind the Committee that, although we will allow the government amendments to go through without any objection, we do not agree with them, and will probably seek to amend them at a later stage.
The second point is to do with the word “person”. I thank the Minister for going into some detail, but frankly, that alarmed me more than reassured me, so I think we may have to engage with this, and discuss how to remove that word. It would be much too dangerous and risky to have such an amorphous expression in the Bill. Perhaps the Bill team could find some expression that, although it does not list all the different things that the person is supposed to be, provides some protection to cover the range of bodies that need to be consulted. I accept that we do not want long definitions in the Bill, but I am concerned about our having such an open definition, and we may discuss this again at a later stage.
To reassure the noble Baroness, I can tell her that the Opposition’s position on the government amendments is well noted. We will take away and reconsider the use of the term “person”, but there is a view that the safeguards that the noble Baroness is talking about are built in elsewhere, in how the clause would take effect. That does not mean, however, that we would not be happy to go away and look at those exact concerns, and see whether we can provide further reassurance. I am not a lawyer drafting the Bill, but that would be about looking at the terminology as well.
My Lords, I thank the Minister most sincerely for her full and comprehensive—I might even say persuasive—response. She is right to say that it has been a week since we debated this group, and even I had forgotten some things. Certainly, the venom certainly seems to have gone out of our debate.
The Minister reminded us what our anxieties were. She is right to point out that I referred to the word “person” in the government amendment, and also to the GDPR. I am pleased to hear that, on reflection, she, too, had realised why we were concerned about the use of data that might not be protected through the GDPR. Some questions remain.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, has raised some important points, and I am glad that we may debate this subject again. It would be useful to have a discussion beforehand, if possible, because the word “person” is too amorphous—unless the definition could be confined as to what kind of person is meant. In her response, the Minister mostly covered organisations that might be involved in the regulation of medicines or in recommendations regarding medicines and devices, but the proposal as drafted goes much wider than that and would go beyond that. I will not say any more about that now.
The meeting that the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, arranged with the MHRA was useful, and it would have been better if we had had some of the information earlier. The information that I gave with regard to my Amendment 27 I had acquired from the industry. Of course, we got the same information from the chief executive of the MHRA. It would have been better if we had had that earlier—but that is water under the bridge. We know that there will be new ways of keeping us informed, and that will be good. At this point, I thank the Minister sincerely for her response, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 27 withdrawn.
Clause 2 agreed.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 28. I remind noble Lords that anybody wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate.
28: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Innovative Medicines Fund
In section 261 of the National Health Service Act 2006, after subsection (9) insert—“(9A) The Secretary of State must make a scheme to promote the availability of innovative medicines for human use within the National Health Service and must provide monies paid to him or her under subsection (9) for the benefit of that scheme to be known as the “Innovative Medicines Fund”.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would require the Secretary of State to establish the Innovative Medicines Fund, as foreshadowed in the Conservative 2019 Manifesto; and provides that it is funded from rebates paid to the Government under the terms of the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme.
My Lords, this amendment was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, who unfortunately is not able to attend today. My name is on the amendment and I am very pleased to move it in his name.
This is an amendment that normally one would have thought the Government would have no difficulty in accepting, because it was in the Conservative manifesto at the time of the election. So if you are going to choose an amendment, choose the one that they cannot turn down. I am in the good position of making two speeches, one in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and one in my own name. It will be interesting to see which one the Minister accepts, because I am not going to tell her which one is which—I may as well enjoy this while I can.
Patients in the UK often face delays in accessing breakthrough innovations due to the NICE technology appraisal process. This is particularly true of treatments for smaller patient populations, such as patients with rare diseases, where there is greater uncertainty around effectiveness due to the challenges of collecting sufficient data to satisfy NICE’s requirements. To overcome similar challenges and enable access to the latest cancer treatments, in 2016 changes were made to the Cancer Drugs Fund, to increase NICE’s flexibility in decision-making. Between July 2016 and November 2019, approximately 41,000 patients were registered to access 79 drugs, used to treat 160 different cancer conditions. Despite the clear benefits to patients, similar flexibilities have not been extended to other areas such as gene therapy and gene silencing—treatments for rare diseases where there is not much treatment available.
Amendment 28, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, would add a clause to the Bill that would require the Secretary of State to establish the innovative medicines fund. This fund was promised in the 2019 Conservative manifesto. Like the Cancer Drugs Fund, its purpose would be to bring innovative medicines into use in the NHS. It would give NHS patients in England access to the latest new medicines, as advised by clinicians, and would give the NHS and NICE valuable data on their effectiveness, often adding information about drugs being used in clinical practice which is not normally available through clinical trials alone. There is an increasing need to extend these access schemes to disease groups beyond cancer, including neurodegenerative conditions such as motor neurone disease and Parkinson’s, as well as haemophilia, cystic fibrosis and sickle cell disease. These are diseases with a high unmet need for treatment, but also with real hopes for new treatment options, including gene therapy and gene silencing, as I have already mentioned.
This amendment would amend Section 261 of the NHS Act, which provides powers for the pharmaceutical voluntary price and access schemes, often known as VPAS, as amended by the Health Service Medical Supplies (Costs) Act 2017. An essential part of VPAS is to improve access to innovative medicines. The new fund would help to deliver this, alongside the MHRA Early Access to Medicines Scheme that we have already heard about. The predecessor to VPAS was the Pharmaceutical Pricing Regulation System. However, over the years, lack of access to innovative medicines has been a source of angst in the industry about the scheme and, for many of us, is part of a system that fails patients. It was not only industry that did not like the scheme; it was denying treatments to patients. We should not have a stand-off between the NHS and drugs companies, with patients losing out in the process. We should have a scheme that adequately rewards the value that is inherent in medicines and also ensures that the NHS is able to provide the treatments that patients need.
The current VPAS sets a budget limit on the NHS drugs bill. If it is exceeded, the industry will provide a rebate. In the past, the NHS has seen rising drug costs but has not seen the rebate—so the NHS took the rebate but did not reinvest it in other innovative medicines. By way of the Innovative Medicines Fund, the NHS, the life sciences sector and patients would all see the benefit of the rebate. The proposed new clause would require the rebate to be made available to the fund, and it is that rebate which will provide the money for the fund. I hope—and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, will agree—that it will be open to Ministers to take advantage of these powers to provide additional resources to the fund, according to its needs. The clause will provide the means by which the Government can deliver on their manifesto pledge and, in doing so, deliver to patients, some of whom are in great need.
I do not see how the Government can resist Amendment 28; they can only improve on it. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am glad to support the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and I have a great deal of sympathy with this amendment. Of course, I speak as one of a long line of former Ministers who have wrestled with the tension between a cash-restrained NHS and the imperative to invest in new medicines and devices. I have come to the conclusion that we are not going to see the investment we want to see in these new medicines without a radical change of approach.
When we debated access in Grand Committee a couple of meetings ago, the Minister used words to the effect that he would not go anywhere near reimbursement. That is at one with the way the NHS regards drug costs: as a price and a cost to be pared down rather than as an investment in patient care. The unwillingness of Ministers to tackle the issue of reimbursement to the industry in a way that incentivises the use of new medicines is, I think, very disappointing. I do not think that there is any way around this, unless we top-slice some of the resource for the NHS and distribute it separately for investment in new medicines.
The noble Lord, Lord Patel, referred to current and previous agreements with the industry. I want to go back to the 2014 PPRS agreement, which does I think provide a model for us. It provided assurance on almost all of the branded medicines bill for the NHS, so the bill stayed flat for the first two years of the scheme and grew slowly after that. The industry made quarterly payments to the Department of Health when NHS spending on branded medicines exceeded the allowed growth rate. The quarterly payments that the industry made could have been used to fund new medicines—but, as the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, mentioned last week, it is very hard to explain what exactly happened. With a cap in place and with reimbursements being made by the industry, the NHS proceeded to try to ration drug costs at local level. So, instead of having a virtuous circle where essentially the industry guaranteed the cap on drug costs in order to allow for investment in new medicines, we had a double whammy. The industry price was pared down and the NHS continued in its bad old ways of trying to prevent new medicines being accessed by patients.
We have a new scheme—the voluntary scheme for branded medicines pricing and access—that came into force in January 2019. It has two parts. First, it sets out a range of measures to support innovation and better patient outcomes through improved access. It then sets out a UK-wide affordability mechanism under which scheme members make a financial contribution to the department for sales of branded health service medicines above the agreed allowable growth rate. It is very much built on the foundations of the 2014 agreement. The big question is this: where does the rebate go to? Is it recycled back to the NHS through the kind of mechanism that the noble Lord, Lord Patel, mentioned, or is it simply an in-year addition to the DHSC to help it balance its books? Is it discounted in advance by the Treasury, which, in a sense, keeps the proceeds?
I will be very interested in the Minister’s response. The one thing for sure is that, unless we change the dynamics, we are going to starve a fantastically important industry in this country, NHS patients will not get access to new medicines and we will all be the loser.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Patel, for moving this amendment. I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Lansley for laying the amendment and for creating the template for the innovative medicines fund—the Cancer Drugs Fund—in the first place. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, described the tens of thousands of patients who have benefited from that scheme. It has been a fantastic innovation and something I am sure we all want to build on.
It also seems entirely appropriate that I am following the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who gave a powerful speech. When I was a Minister, he was unrelenting in pointing out the weaknesses in the PPRS when it came to supporting innovation. He was right then and he is right now. That is why I needed no persuading to support this idea and this amendment. It was something that I tried and failed to introduce in the VPAS when I was a Minister, but perhaps a seed was planted then. It was fantastic to see the commitment made in the Conservative party manifesto in 2019 to create an innovative medicines fund.
As the noble Lord, Lord Patel, said, there are many areas, particularly, but not exclusively, rare diseases—and I have a daughter with a rare genetic condition—where experimental drugs seem to offer great hope, whether that is cannabinoids for epilepsy in children, or gene therapies for children with spinal muscular atrophy, or the many other conditions where the promise seems huge but the data does not yet convince. It feels to me that if we accept circumstances in which it is right to give cancer patients access to those kinds of therapies, it should also be right to give all other patients access to those kinds of therapies too. That is really what the innovative medicines fund is about.
I think that we have seen the shape of the future innovative medicines fund and what it would look like. The VPAS allows for confidential, complex deals for the first time. We have seen CAR-T therapies come through that route. We have also seen a deal signed for Inclisiran—originally from the Medicines Company, now Novartis—with testing of that in a real-world situation following a very successful large-scale clinical trial that was largely focused in the UK. This provides a template for how we might go about doing business for common conditions, as well as for rare ones.
I am sure my noble friend the Minister will agree with everything she has heard today, so I want to ask her what the timetable is for introducing the scheme. Questions have been raised by the BIA and ABPI and others, and I very much agree with them that an ambitious definition of innovation is required. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, made an excellent point when he forcefully said that we must make sure that the rebate is recycled into innovative medicines, rather than just going back to the Treasury—there does not need to be an additional expenditure control mechanism. I will be grateful for my noble friend’s guidance on that.
One other thing that has come up in our debate in Committee so far—and of course this is more difficult because it takes it outside medicines and into other areas—is the exciting potential in devices, digital and diagnostics. There is no rebate scheme or automatic source of third-party funding that could provide for that. Is the Minister prepared to entertain exploring the potential for expanding the innovative medicines fund into something broader, and beyond medicines, perhaps not in its first iteration but in the future? I look forward to hearing what she has to say.
I call the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff. Lady Finlay? I think we had better move on and we can come back. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly.
My Lords, this amendment would require the Secretary of State to establish the innovative medicines fund, as promised in the Conservative’s 2019 manifesto. It provides that it is funded from rebates paid to the Government under the terms of the pharmaceutical price regulation scheme.
The Cancer Drugs Fund was a Cameron initiative from the general election of 2010, and the 2019 general election saw a Johnson extension: the innovative medicines fund. He promised that
“doctors can use the most advanced, life-saving treatments for conditions such as cancer or autoimmune disease, or for children with other rare diseases.”
The promise was to increase the funding to £0.5 billion. Can the Minister confirm the figure and clarify how “innovative” will be defined? Importantly, how will the fund address the UK issue of combination pricing, where some new cancer treatments are not cost effective, even when the price is nothing?
There are questions about what drugs outside of cancer drugs could qualify to go into the new fund. Can the Minister help with a response here? There might be candidates from medicines selected for the early access to medicines fund, a pre-licensing indicator of promising innovation given by the MHRA. This would allow them to be funded while further evidence is generated. Given the focus on innovation and the very reason for EAMS to designate a drug as a promising innovative medicine, which is a prerequisite for any drug to get a full, positive EAMS designation, there looks to be a good fit, and we support it.
My Lords, I support this amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Patel. It is very much the ambition to ensure access for UK patients to the latest and most innovative treatments. This is reflected in many of our amendments to this Bill, relating to attractiveness, clinical trials and regulatory alignment with the European Medicines Agency.
We fully support the Government’s commitment to extend the Cancer Drugs Fund into a £0.5 billion innovative medicines fund to be used for
“the most advanced, life-saving treatments for conditions such as cancer or autoimmune disease, or for children with other rare diseases”.
If, at last, the principle of using the rebates from the pharmaceutical rebates scheme could be achieved so that they are used for the benefit of the NHS and patients, then this will represent progress indeed, particularly ensuring that the money is used as an additional source of income and revenue for the NHS and is not part of expected and planned funding.
Like other noble Lords, we are very much looking forward to hearing from the Government the detail of their proposals, when they intend to commence the promised consultation and the proposed timetable for implementation.
We heard in previous debates important questions as to how the new fund will relate to the current NICE process for reviewing new cancer drugs, particularly those to treat rare cancers, and, more broadly, around what drugs will qualify, outside of cancer, to be covered by the new fund. For example, there may be candidates from medicines selected for the early access to medicines fund, the MHRA’s pre-licensing indicator of promising innovation, allowing them to be funded while further evidence is generated. Given the focus on innovation and the very reason for EAMS to designate a drug as a promising innovative medicine, a prerequisite for any drug to get a full, positive EAMS designation, what consideration have the Government given to this?
Detail, too, is needed, as we have heard, on the criteria that will apply to any prospective drug for the fund. I certainly endorse the comments of the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, on needing to have an ambitious definition of innovation. Will the criteria mirror the current processes that the NICE committee considers for funding under the CDF, or will it be widened to reflect and include some of the criteria for highly specialised technologies, where NICE takes a different approach to treatments for some of the rarest conditions?
One of the key concerns in earlier discussions in Committee was the need for reassurances about NICE’s work to support innovation and to ensure that the current NICE review of its methods and processes is open and transparent and delivers real and effective change. As was made clear, it is important that we learn lessons from both the strengths and criticisms of the CDF, and that we ensure speedy access to new medicines going forward. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
I thank the Committee for allowing me to come in a bit late; I apologise for that.
Noble Lords have made the main points that I would have made but I simply add this. A large number of molecules are held by pharma, often with a good scientific rationale, for use in a rare condition, and we have drugs that are licensed for other uses that could be reused or repurposed. If we can speed up all these processes, and provide an incentive for medicines development, those with rare conditions—who are often absolutely desperate to try something new and very keen to be part of a monitored development—could access medicines. That would put the UK in a stronger position in the long term.
In addition, the concept of this seems so sensible that I have also put down an amendment, later in the Bill, to try to replicate it for innovative devices. We have complex situations where medical engineers may come with up a device, but we will deal with that the next time round.
In the meantime, I am most grateful to all noble Lords for the important points they have made. I await the Minister’s reply with interest.
My Lords, this debate has once again focused the Committee’s mind on the importance of innovation and the way in which it can have a transformative impact on patients’ lives.
As noble Lords have spoken of, the success of the Cancer Drugs Fund in providing interim funding means faster access to cancer drugs, saving valuable time—up to eight months in some cases—for patients accessing those drugs. Patients are now able to access cancer drugs that have received a draft NICE recommendation from the point of marketing authorisation. As noble Lords have noted, this provides the template for the innovative medicines fund.
The success over the lifetime of the Cancer Drugs Fund to date did not need legislation. It was a response to the immediate need to target access to cancer drugs. In expanding the fund to become the innovative medicines fund, I do not think legislation would advance the fund’s purpose, capacity or delivery in any material way. It will be a managed access scheme delivered by NHSEI and NICE to expand the range of medicines that could be supported by that funding.
I understand that my noble friend Lord O’Shaughnessy and other noble Lords would like this debate to cover an update on progress towards delivering that fund. I assure noble Lords that proposals for the innovative medicines fund are in development as we speak. We know that patients will be keen to understand the impact on them, as well as pharmaceutical companies and the NHS. It is our intention that NHSEI and NICE will lead an engagement exercise in the first quarter of 2021 to get the fund established.
I am glad that the fund is a Cameron-Johnson initiative that the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, can support. She asked many good questions on the operation of the fund, many of which will be covered by the engagement exercise that NHSEI will carry out next year.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, asked a question on the operation of the fund. We expect it to mirror that of the CDF, with entry and exit points agreed by NICE. The noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, asked about the level of the fund. Again, that will be covered by the engagement exercise.
Noble Lords may ask why we have not made further progress since the manifesto commitment last year. Unfortunately, the impact of Covid-19 on business-as-usual activity has delayed a lot of what we would have liked to achieve this year. I am sure noble Lords will agree that, at a time when the pharmaceutical sector has been most concerned with ensuring the continued supply of medicines, and the NHS with the protection of patients, a delay to the formal establishment of the scheme is necessary, if not ideal.
I hope noble Lords are reassured on the timing of the engagement exercise—to be undertaken in the first quarter of next year, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Patel, feels able to withdraw the amendment.
I have received a request to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt.
My Lords, before the noble Lord winds up, I want to thank the Minister. Clearly, the fund is welcome, but it will cover only a limited number of medicines. The debate goes wider than that.
I want to ask the Minister about the financial contribution that her department receives under the current voluntary agreement with pharma for sales of branded health service medicines. Does she not agree that it is a strange position we have reached where, if the cost to the NHS of those branded medicines goes above the agreed rate, her department receives a rebate? That is excellent, but why then does the NHS continue to treat drug costs almost as a pariah and hold down its investment in new medicines? Why cannot that rebate be used as a way to incentivise a switch by the NHS to new medicine?
I have debated this with the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, and his predecessor. It is a real issue. The NHS itself believes drug costs to be a major problem, but the department has essentially solved the problem at a national level through the rebate scheme. Somehow, instead of a virtuous circle, we have got the very opposite.
The noble Lord speaks with great passion. He is right that the debate goes wider than the innovative medicines fund, but it might also go somewhat wider than the scope of the Bill. I am, however, happy to write to him on the points that he raises.
I have also received a request to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy.
I apologise for my email ineptitude.
I am grateful to my noble friend for her response. I was not planning to do so, but I have to again underline the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. We have trapped ourselves in a vicious, rather than a virtuous, circle that could well be undone. That may not be a discussion for now, but I want to underline its importance.
I want to ask my noble friend a very practical question. What did she mean by engagement? That could mean anything; it could mean pre-consultation discussion or a formal consultation. She will have garnered the strength of feeling on the topic, even in this small debate, and I am sure that will not dissipate as move forward to Report. The more detail and specificity she can give us on that process, the better.
I am reminded that my noble friend Lord Lansley referred to the collective noun for former Health Ministers as a “frustration” of former Health Ministers. I can tell my noble friend that the engagement exercise will involve the pharmaceutical industry, the NHS and associated bodies and patient groups. That is the level of detail that I can give to him today. I was very pleased with being able to say “quarter 1” next year; it felt to me like a very specific timeframe for when that engagement exercise would be undertaken.
Thank you, my Lords. I apologise to the Chair for jumping in. I forget that, in the new world, I do not speak unless instructed to do so.
I thank the Minister enormously for her response. She mentioned the frustrations of the former Ministers. If she thinks that former Ministers get frustrated, think about us lesser mortals who have suffered the former Ministers when they have not listened to our arguments. Maybe that should be taken into account, too.
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part. They have spoken with passion and commitment. This has been referred to by several people, but I do so again. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, has been pursuing this passionately and eloquently for a very long time. He has made an important point: if the medicines are available and people are suffering, why do we keep arguing about health and drug budgets and how to deliver it? The principle should be how we can get those drugs to the patients who might be suffering. He is right. If a rebate is available, where did the money go? The rebate was a drug fund rebate to be reinvested, you would have thought, in people getting the medicines.
No doubt the Minister is aware that there seems to be complete consensus around this amendment. I hope that it does not need to go to Report but, if it does, Ministers will be aware that there will be complete consensus. I hope that the Minister makes rapid progress with sorting this out. In the meantime, I thank all noble Lords and the Minister most sincerely for taking part. In begging leave to withdraw the amendment, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, will feel that we gave it enough airtime and passion.
Amendment 28 withdrawn.
Amendment 29 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 30. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate.
Clause 3: Falsified medicines
30: Clause 3, page 2, line 39, leave out “, for any purpose to do with human medicines,”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment tightens the provisions to avoid unintended consequences of data being used for purposes other than to ensure that medicines are safe.
This clause deals with falsified medicines and is a very important clause, and it is important therefore that we get this right. Amendment 30 would tighten the provisions to avoid unintended consequences of data being used for purposes other than to ensure that medicines are safe, and Amendment 33 would place a duty on the Secretary of State to act with a view to, rather than having regard to, the importance of ensuring that information is retained securely when exercising powers. The amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, whom I thank for supporting mine, are similarly concerned with the safety of information and accountability.
The MHRA said that the Falsified Medicines Directive will cease to apply in the case of a no-deal Brexit, because UK pharmacies will no longer have access to the database that holds false medicines data under the FMD. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, during Second Reading described the measures as “legislative creep” with regard to how any data could be used. He said that the clause
“considerably broadens the original data-collection provisions of the Falsified Medicines Directive”.—[Official Report, 2/9/20; col. 391.]
That is the whole point of these amendments. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, also said at Second Reading that the Company Chemists’ Association had raised concerns around the clause. Malcolm Harrison, the chief executive of the CCA, said he had grave concerns about the wording of Clause 3(1)(b), which relates to the development of a UK system to prevent the supply of falsified medicines. Jerome Bertin, general manager of SecurMed UK, said
“it is hard to determine if this would broaden the rights of access to such data, but the use of ‘for any purpose’ might suggest wider access rights, though for which stakeholders or regulators is unclear”.
Clearly, there needs not to be any ambiguity in this Bill. The wording of the clause therefore needs to be adjusted to ensure that there is no confusion and that there is a clear direction that data should not be used for any other purpose than ensuring that medicines are safe. Jerome Bertin also said that the Bill
“does not go anywhere near the detail of the EU directives (2001/83/EC superseded by 2011/62/EU) so it is hard to assess whether the FMD style protections would be diluted in a UK-only falsified medicines regulation”.
That is a legitimate question that needs to be answered.
There is no mention of this clause or this issue in the Explanatory Notes or the impact assessment for the Bill. With such a big issue regarding extremely sensitive data, there should be a more clearly outlined direction and a better thought-out way of introducing this clause for falsified medicines that also protects the extremely sensitive data that comes with it.
These amendments aim to ensure that data is protected and will not be used for any other purpose other than to ensure that medicines are safe. It is crucial that we get this right to avoid any unintended consequences, which could have grave repercussions. I beg to move.
I very much support my noble friend in these amendments. As they have with her, a number of organisations have raised with me their concerns. The clause refers to the
“use, retention and disclosure, for any purpose to do with human medicines”,
which is very open-ended. In relation to information collected by such a system, it considerably broadens the original data-collection provisions of the Falsified Medicines Directive. Yet the Explanatory Notes make no mention of this. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, is not with us today but, when we debated it earlier, he referred to it as “legislative creep”—and, I must say, I agree with him.
In the Commons, the Health Minister Jo Churchill said in Committee:
“The Bill, in the main, does not deliver any immediate change to the regulation of medicines and medical devices.”—[Official Report, Commons, Medicines and Medical Devices Bill Committee, 8/6/20; col. 7.]
So it is very surprising to see this clause as currently drafted.
We have had briefings from the Company Chemists’ Association and ABPI, in addition to the ones that my noble friend mentioned. Because of the issue of commercially sensitive data, Article 54a, regarding the protection of personal information or information of a commercially confidential nature generated by the use of the safety features, was inserted into the preamble of the Falsified Medicines Directive. The principle of “whoever generates the data owns the data” was enshrined in Article 38 of the associated delegated regulation of 2016, which followed the Falsified Medicines Directive.
The Minister’s department already has access to a wide range of data on medicines’ sales and use in the UK under the Health Services Products (Provision and Disclosure of Information) Regulations, which we debated at some length a little while ago in your Lordships’ House. Of course, Ministers can request more detailed information if required. Given this access and the known sensitivities around falsified medicines data in general, it is unclear why the department wants to extend the purposes for which data is collected under a future UK system and why this has not been discussed with stakeholders in the existing Falsified Medicines Directive scheme. Why was such little reference made to it in the Explanatory Notes?
It is not unreasonable to ensure that the Bill is amended to enshrine at least a duty of full consultation with stakeholders before it goes through your Lordships’ House.
The noble Lords, Lord O’Shaughnessy and Lord Clement-Jones, have withdrawn. I therefore call the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly.
I should apologise to noble Lords: my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones is unable to be part of today’s Committee, so I will be speaking on his behalf—at some length but without, I suspect, his bravura.
Amendment 30 seeks to tighten the provisions in Clause 3 to avoid the unintended consequences of data being used for purposes other than to ensure that medicines are safe. Amendment 31 also seeks to do this, by requiring a framework for data to be used as agreed in consultation with the pharmaceutical industry, and Amendment 33 places a duty on the Secretary of State to
“act with a view to”,
“have regard to the importance of”,
ensuring that information is retained securely when exercising powers.
There is no doubt that the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones are travelling down the same road, and I have very similar concerns. That is why we signed Amendment 30, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for his support for the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones.
As explained at Second Reading, there are grave concerns about the wording of Clause 3(1)(b), relating to the development of a UK system to prevent the supply of falsified medicines. The clause refers to
“the use, retention and disclosure, for any purpose to do with human medicines, of information collected”
by such a system. This is an attempt to unreasonably broaden the original data-collection provisions of the Falsified Medicines Directive after the transition period.
The background to the current legislation is very clear. By the early 2000s, pharmaceutical companies were concerned about falsified, counterfeit products entering the legitimate medicines supply chain—especially high-value items such as Viagra. At that time, this was the only real way to distribute such products at scale. Schemes involving pack serialisation were proposed to reduce the risk of reputational and trading losses from counterfeit and falsified medicines entering the supply chain, and to reduce the potential risk of harm to patients.
A stakeholder model was established which is governed by the main groups in the supply chain and funded mainly by manufacturers—branded, generic and parallel trade—with smaller contributions to costs from wholesalers and pharmacies. These proposals became the EU Falsified Medicines Directive 2011/62/EU. In the meantime, the issue of falsified medicines had moved largely to the internet, where they are sold from trading platforms and/or unlicensed pharmacies.
So why is data use so important? As the Company Chemists’ Association has pointed out, data is a very sensitive commercial currency. All parts of the medicines supply chain need access to broad patterns of medicines usage for the purpose of planning or adjusting manufacturing, marketing, prescribing, buying and stock control. But access to pack information—who is handling which packs—could highlight purchasing decisions, the margins being made and those trading for import/export purposes.
So the principle of “Whoever generates the data owns the data” was enshrined in Article 38 of the associated delegated regulation of 2016. As a result, general access to FMD data is restricted to pack information—name, batch, expiry, serial number—and active/inactive status, with some exceptions for investigating incidents and national competent authority use for reports, reimbursement, and pharmacovigilance and pharmacoepidemiology research.
The Department of Health and Social Care already has access to a very wide range of data on the sales of medicines, and their use in the UK, under the Health Service Products (Provision and Disclosure of Information) Regulations 2018. These require manufacturers, wholesalers and pharmacies to provide summaries of products sold and prices paid. Ministers can request more detailed information if required.
Given both this access and the known sensitivities around FMD data, it is unclear why the department has included the sweeping provision of Clause 3(1)(b) on the use, retention and disclosure for any purpose of data collected under a falsified medicines system, and why this has not been discussed with stakeholders in the existing Falsified Medicines Directive scheme.
The pharmacy community has concerns not just that the department might accidentally release commercially sensitive data—this is covered by Clause 3(3)—but that it might use such data to gain unfair advantage by abusing its monopoly position as the main purchaser of medicines in the UK. Pharmacies wish to see data use under any future system being part of an agreement that has been subject to discussion with stakeholders and approved by Parliament. My noble friend understands that the department has said that the details of any proposed use under a new falsified medicines system would be contained in a statutory instrument by the affirmative procedure.
My Lords, I understand that the intention of Amendment 30, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, is to prevent the use of data for any purpose other than preventing the supply of falsified human medicines. The noble Baroness raises an important question. Let me reassure her that we have thought very carefully about these powers. There is an important precedent already for using the data held in the current EU Falsified Medicines Directive “safety features” system for wider purposes. For instance, as well as using the data to investigate instances of falsified medicines, data on the EU system can be used for the purposes of reimbursement, pharmacovigilance and pharmacoepidemiology. The effect of this amendment would be a step backwards on what any potential falsified medicines scheme introduced under Clause 3 could deliver.
We know from implementation of the EU system that the checks involved could generate a rich source of data, and that there may be circumstances where we would want to be able to use that data to support the safe and effective use of medicines. For example, information in a future falsified medicines scheme could be useful in the event of a product recall to help quickly identify individually affected packs. I recognise that information about the supply of medicines through the supply chain can be commercially sensitive—the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, made this point very well. That is why Clause 3 ensures that, in making regulations under this power, the appropriate authority must ensure that information is retained securely. Information will be subject to strict controls set out in regulations, including what purposes the data could be used for, who would have access to or use it, and under what conditions.
I turn to the noble Baroness’s second amendment in this group, Amendment 33. While I understand the desire of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, to ensure that we have robust requirements around the safeguarding of information, this amendment would cause difficulty for the appropriate authority making regulations under the provision in Clause 3. This is because it would require action to secure retention of data even where the regulations themselves may not concern data—for example, provisions related to who may set up the infrastructure.
Amendments 31 and 32, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, would operate together to place an obligation on the Secretary of State to seek to agree and lay a framework on the use of information collected for the purpose of preventing the supply of falsified medicines. This would be done within six months of the Act coming into force.
We can all agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and others that close collaboration through consultation with stakeholders, including with pharmacists, is essential to getting something like this right, not least given the importance of data security. However, Amendments 31 and 32 would not create the right mechanism for providing this. I can reassure the noble Lord that we have planned fulsome engagement and consultation with a wide range of stakeholders. This can be achieved without this additional obligation, but I would be glad to commit to an engagement session with noble Lords and officials if noble Lords would find this helpful.
The Government have committed to exploring all options in regard to a falsified medicines scheme to ensure that patients continue to be protected from the public health threat posed by falsified medicines. As part of this, we will explore with stakeholders what information needs to be collected as part of any national scheme. Only once we have established how any scheme could work can we fully consider how the information that it collects could be used to deliver the most benefits for the UK and for patients. However, this amendment would force us to consult on an agreed framework outlining the use of information within six months of Royal Assent, without necessarily having the full picture of how a national scheme could work.
We also want to explore creative uses of information as long as they are for public interest purposes. Therefore, we do not want to constrain or limit options ahead of engagement with stakeholders.
I should make it very clear that the overarching principles of the Bill as set out in Clause 1 also apply to our powers here. The scope of the purposes mentioned is not unfettered. The appropriate authority must be satisfied that regulations dealing with anything under Clause 3—not just around how the information will be used—will promote the health and safety of the public. In making that assessment, the appropriate authority is required to have regard to the three considerations discussed previously in Committee.
I remind noble Lords that Amendment 126 in my name ensures that this will be a public consultation, while Amendment 131, also in my name, places an obligation on the Secretary of State to review regulatory changes made under Clause 1(1). The consultation will consider how the information collected as part of the scheme could be used, and any regulations providing for the use of information would be subject to parliamentary scrutiny under the affirmative procedure. In light of these reassurances, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, will feel able to withdraw her amendment and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, will be content not to press his.
I thank the Minister for his detailed response. I just have to wonder why the consultation did not take place before the Bill was drafted. You have to ask why stakeholders were not involved in the discussions prior to this happening and why they then felt the need to get in touch with those of us involved in this Committee to express their concerns. So I have to say to the Minister that I will certainly be discussing with stakeholders their reaction to what the Minister has said and whether that allays their frustrations and anxieties.
The process that the Minister described, which I shall read in detail and think carefully about, looked circular. It looked like a process that involves consultation, powers in the Bill that we have already questioned, and the affirmative procedure. All those things may not be satisfactory, so we will probably need to return to discuss this at a later stage of the Bill—or, preferably, before. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 30 withdrawn.
Amendments 31 to 33 not moved.
Clause 3 agreed.
Clause 4: Clinical trials
Amendments 34 to 39 not moved.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 40. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate.
40: Clause 4, page 3, line 25, at end insert—
“(f) about requirements to consider babies, children and young people in research about new medicines, in a manner similar to the EU Paediatric Regulation.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is to ensure that in the development of new medicines and clinical trials, data related to children is taken into consideration.
My Lords, I shall curtail my remarks, as time is limited and this is very much a probing amendment. It draws attention to the need to ensure that paediatric regulation-specific measures that preside over the licensing of medicines to better protect the health of children, are reflected in future legislation regarding clinical trials in the United Kingdom.
New medicines licensed in the EU are currently subject to an EU Parliament directive that requires research about new medicines to consider babies, children and young people. The directive means that standardised procedures are in place for sponsors to plan and conduct studies. To get new medicines intended for use by children licensed for marketing in the EU, sponsors must have in place a paediatric investigation plan that aims to ensure that the necessary data are obtained through studies in children. In short, new medicines applying to be licensed for use by children must be trialled by them. It is often the case that medicines trialled in adults are then given in lower doses to children.
New medicines trialled in the United Kingdom are currently subject to this regulation. Moving on, there are clear clinical reasons why it is important for babies, children and young people, as they may show differences from adults in their response to and tolerance of medicines. To ensure that new medicines are safe for their use, they must be involved in clinical trials. That is the important point of my modest amendment.
Furthermore, there is a commitment and a key pledge in the NHS long-term plan to raise to 50% by 2025 the involvement of children and young adults in clinical trials. If there is no regulation requiring that data be collected in clinical trials with children, we will not achieve this. So all I seek is an assurance from the Minister that the Government and the MHRA are well aware of this and that the paediatric regulation will be considered whenever the clinical trials regulations are drawn up by the MHRA. I beg to move.
My understanding is that the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly.
My Lords, since March 2011, the European Medicines Agency made available information on clinical trials in children via a public interface, the European Union Clinical Trials Register. The register is based on the information stored in EudraCT, a European database that contains information on all clinical trials with at least a site in the EEA. Can the Minister clarify whether this information will be available to researchers and paediatricians in the UK? Can he confirm whether this point has been part of EU negotiations? Can he further clarify whether there is any difference with data from joint research projects operating across the island of Ireland? Are all data equally accessible? We support the amendment.
My Lords, I will not add much more, as I am very interested to hear what the Minister has to say. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, has done the Committee a great service by tabling the amendment and asking this question. I was not aware that there was an issue here, which there clearly might be, and I will be interested to hear the answer. If this is an area that is covered by European Union regulation, and we are therefore creating a new regulatory framework for children’s data in clinical trials, it is important that we know that and how it might happen. I am very interested to hear what the Minister has to say.
My Lords, in response to the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, the noble Lord, Lord Patel, is right: paediatric trials are very important, and they have sometimes been overlooked. However, that does not detract from the fact that the UK has a strong international reputation for paediatric medicine research. The MHRA authorised 177 new clinical trials that included children in 2019—more than any other country in the EU. The Bill, in Clauses 4(1)(d) and (e), already enables us to make regulations about requirements to be met before the clinical trial may be carried out and on the conduct of the clinical trial. That can provide for a number of different options, including paediatric clinical trials. I reassure the noble Lord that the Human Medicines Regulations 2012 will include provisions equivalent to those of the EU paediatric regulations when amendments come into force at the end of this year. These include requirements for the review and approval of paediatric investigation plans. These plans are aimed at ensuring that the necessary data is obtained through studies in children.
I recognise that the EU regulations played an important role in promoting the development of paediatric medicines, so that children are not forgotten when adult needs drive drug innovation. I am happy to commit to write to the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, on her questions about EU statistics on that matter.
I understand that there is currently ongoing evaluation of the EU paediatric regulations and that this may bring about changes to the legislative landscape. This Bill will allow us to adapt the UK regulations based on patient needs and to keep pace with any changes in any other jurisdiction, including the EU. It gives us the opportunity to go even further to enhance the UK system and to encourage UK paediatric trials.
It is critical that the UK paediatric regulatory framework remains flexible, to adapt to emerging paediatric research challenges, and supports UK innovation, while also supporting global development plans. I reassure noble Lords that the MHRA has already published guidance on a new UK approach to paediatric investigation plans. This is part of the GOV.UK transition period guidance for businesses and citizens. The UK will simplify the PIP application process for applicants conducting paediatric research by offering an expedited assessment where possible and by mirroring the submission format and terminology of the EU PIP system. This approach ensures that the UK can continue to provide incentives and rewards to support innovation in paediatric drug development and to encourage manufacturers to bring medicines to the UK market.
The MHRA will aim to continue to participate in paediatric scientific discussion among the global regulators at an early stage and during the conduct of clinical trials. This will facilitate the exchanging of emerging information during the studies to minimise the exposure of children to medicines that do not work or are unsafe, and we will aim to maintain a national position of influence, so that the final paediatric development aligns with, and supports, global regulators’ requirements.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Patel, has had sufficient reassurance that the amendment is unnecessary and feels able to withdraw Amendment 40.
Amendment 40 withdrawn.
Amendment 41 not moved.
Clause 4 agreed.
Clause 5: Fees, offences, powers of inspectors
Amendment 42 not moved.
Amendments 43 and 44
43: Clause 5, page 3, line 35, leave out from “regulations,” to “or” in line 36
Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanatory statement for the amendment in the Minister’s name inserting new subsection (1A) into Clause 5.
44: Clause 5, page 3, line 39, at end insert—
“(1A) Regulations under section 1(1) may not provide for an offence to be punishable with a sentence of imprisonment of more than two years.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment, and the other amendment to Clause 5 in the Minister’s name, ensures that regulations under Clause 1(1) may not provide for any offence to be punishable with a sentence of imprisonment of more than two years.
Amendments 43 and 44 agreed.
Amendment 45 not moved.
Clause 5, as amended, agreed.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 46, and I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate.
Clause 6: Emergencies
46: Clause 6, page 4, line 12, leave out paragraph (b)
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment removes provision for the disapplication of regulatory provisions in an emergency to be made subject to conditions set out in a protocol published by ministers, which is not subject to parliamentary scrutiny.
I am pleased to move Amendment 46 in the name of my noble friend Lady Thornton, which, alongside other amendments in this group, amends provisions in Clauses 6 and 15 and removes provisions for the disapplication of regulatory provisions in an emergency to be made subject to conditions set out in a protocol published by Ministers.
We understand why the Bill confers emergency powers on the Government to disapply existing health medicine regulations in circumstances which give rise to the need to protect the public from a serious risk to public health. However, we are concerned that the disapplication authorised in the regulations can be subject to conditions specified in the regulations, or conditions set out in a protocol published by the public authority. Furthermore, no formal requirements are set for the form, publication or dissemination of a protocol. It may simply be a document published on a website by the appropriate authority. This is completely inappropriate and unsatisfactory.
The Minister will be very aware that both the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and the Constitution Committee raised concerns about this provision. The Constitution Committee noted that:
“In other bills emergency powers are time-limited and there are often requirements for periodic reviews of their use”,
“No such constraints or safeguards exist in this Bill. These powers are subject only to the negative resolution procedure and can be adjusted by the amendment of a protocol which is not subject to parliamentary scrutiny”.
As the DPRRC commented at paragraphs 39 and 42:
“On a number of occasions, we have drawn the attention of the House to provision in Bills which enables Ministers to make what are, in effect, legally enforceable rules under the radar of the Parliamentary scrutiny that is afforded to primary and secondary legislation … Allowing regulations to make the disapplication of legislation subject to conditions set out in a ‘protocol’ is yet another example of ‘camouflaging legislation’ … we consider that, where those powers are to be used to provide for legislation to be disapplied in an emergency, any conditions to which disapplication is to be subject should be set out in the regulations themselves and not in a ‘protocol’ which is not subject to Parliamentary scrutiny.”
The Constitution Committee concurred and recommended that
“the use of these powers should be time bound, subject to periodic review and that any conditions on the disapplication of legal provisions should be set out in regulations.”
Although the Government have yet to publish their full response to those reports, as we know, the Minister has tabled, and indeed moved, a number of amendments in Grand Committee which are intended to address the concerns of the DPRRC and the Constitution Committee. This amendment provides an excellent opportunity for the Minister to explain to the Committee exactly why he has not therefore tabled an amendment ensuring that the disapplication of legal provisions is invariably set out in regulations, as recommended. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am very glad to support my noble friend Lady Wheeler. I will not repeat what she said, because I thought she put across the points very powerfully. She quoted extensively from the Delegated Powers Committee, which complains that no justification whatever has been given for what the Government seek to do.
It is worth saying that the committee has drawn the attention of the House to this kind of mechanism being adopted in a number of Bills over the past few years. I was very struck by the assurance it sought from the Government that they would not continue the practice of what it called “camouflaging legislation” as guidance. In response to the committee’s report on both the Ivory Bill and the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill, the Leader of the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Evans, wrote:
“As you will be aware, it is Government policy that guidance should not be used to circumvent the usual way of regulating a matter. If the policy is to create rules that must be followed, the Government accepts that this should be achieved using regulations subject to parliamentary scrutiny and not guidance”.
When you take that assurance given by the Leader of the House, and the concurrence of the Constitution Committee with the Delegated Powers Committee, the Minister at least has some questions to answer. For me, it takes us right back to our first debate on the proposal for a sunset clause. The Bill is riddled with executive powers under the guise that they need to have flexibility. Even if it is accepted that flexibility is needed in the short term, I do not believe that that justifies permanent legislation. I look forward to the Minister responding here, and no doubt on Report when we come back to the sunset clause.
My Lords, I support these amendments. They touch on the issues and arguments returned to in respect of amendments to Clauses 15 and 42, which set out the procedures to be followed in exercising these powers, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, its unjustified use of negative procedure and this case of protocols. Clauses 6 and 15 provide that the Secretary of State can disapply certain provisions of the medicines and medical devices regulations
“in circumstances which give rise to a need to protect the public from a risk of serious harm to health.”
Such provisions may be within the Human Medicines Regulations 2012, the Medicines for Human Use (Clinical Trials) Regulations 2004, and the Medical Devices Regulations 2002. However, they also may refer to those provisions that are still to be drafted at the current time and are thus unknown and not yet subject to scrutiny.
I recognise that it is necessary to be flexible in the face of an emergency situation as in the current pandemic. However, in its present form this is another example of broad-reaching powers falling outside of that which is reasonable and proportionate. While the disapplication of certain provisions using this power can be exercised to regulations under the affirmative procedure, they may also be passed in certain circumstances by the negative procedure, and, as in these amendments, by protocol. The use of a protocol, in particular, bypasses Parliament, and therefore is unnecessary. I support these amendments.
The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly.
My Lords, we support these amendments, which relate to the disapplication of regulatory provisions in an emergency. As the Bill stands, the Secretary of State may make regulations about these provisions. This can be subject either to
“conditions set out in the regulations”
“a protocol published by the appropriate authority.”
As the protocol is not subject to parliamentary scrutiny, the amendment in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and the noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and Lord Patel, would remove this provision from the Bill so that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, said, conditions would have to be set by regulations alone.
My Lords, the lockdown debate later this afternoon brings home the significance of an emergency like Covid. It requires swift, dramatic change to protect public health. Clauses 6 and 15 are essential. They would allow us to make provisions about the disapplication of a medicine or medical devices provision where there is a need to protect the public from a serious risk to health. We would need regulations to do this, because to act in breach of an otherwise applicable provision would be an offence.
Medicines is a highly regulated area. Regulations apply from development of medicines to delivery, right the way down to the pharmacy. It is a complex and overlapping system, designed to protect the end-user, the patient. But there are times when we need to switch off a circuit of the system to respond to an emergency. This is most vividly apparent when we speak of a Covid vaccine. This is end to end, from port arrival, to the logistics of its delivery, to who may administer it. We need to be able to pick this circuit out of the whole and isolate it. Otherwise, to disapply regulation without being highly specific is to disapply regulation not just from the vaccine but from other medicines as well.
This is the point of conditions that go alongside the disapplication. Where we know what the conditions will be, of course it should be in the regulations. But often we cannot know what the specific conditions are. That is where the protocol comes in that the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, with her Amendments 46, 47, 93 and 94, would like to remove. I acknowledge that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee objected to the use of a protocol. I note that its condemnation was not limited to this Bill but was a broader point about other legislation as well. I hope that I can explain why such a protocol is necessary here.
Protocols are a last resort in any emergency that provides critical flexibility in highly regulated areas. They would be time limited to provide flexibility and administrative detail, tailored to the professional audience that requires it and in language which they are familiar with. A protocol will be used only where it is not be possible to determine all the necessary conditions of disapplication at the pace needed to deal with an urgent threat. The protocol allows for the finer details to be sketched in, while giving Parliament the structure of the regulations to consider. We can debate the principle of disapplying certain provisions of the regulations, without always having the specific names of medicines or vaccines in front of us.
There are existing provisions in the Human Medicines Regulations 2012 that allow for the disapplication of regulatory provisions on how prescription, pharmacy and over-the-counter medicines may lawfully be supplied. These are limited to circumstances in the event or anticipation of a pandemic disease. This formed part of the response to the swine flu pandemic in 2009. Six protocols were issued in relation to specific antivirals for the treatment of swine flu, enabling them to be supplied by authorised staff who would not normally be able to supply prescription-only medicines. This involved separate protocols for different strengths of oseltamivir, a demonstration of just how specific we would expect the protocols to be.
We have made an SI this month introducing provision for the use of protocols in relation to coronavirus and influenza vaccinations. That SI seeks to anticipate the certain flexibilities that might be needed but it is not possible to cover all eventualities. It anticipates the need for rapid supply and the potential mass administration of medicines, since the anticipated vaccine may be delivered by injection.
However, until we are presented with a vaccine, we cannot know how many injections are required, for example. That is a finer point of detail that has implications for the scale of operation required. The SI makes clear that the disapplication of existing regulatory provisions about supply and administration of medicines will be subject to conditions set out in the protocol. These conditions of disapplication will include specifics around the class of persons permitted to administer the vaccines, and the protocol would specify the process by which a person in that class is designated as a person authorised to do so. It will provide for supervision and recording requirements that must be met when the vaccine is administered. These requirements will change depending on the necessities of the specific vaccine. Parliament can debate the regulation, but until we know the detail of that vaccine, we simply cannot establish how this operation will run.
The emergency powers allow us to go broader in terms of disapplications than what is currently available, a reflection of the type of emergency we face. In the illustrative SI published on introduction we have provided some clarity on our intent. It gives an example of what might be needed to ensure the disapplication could be relied upon in response to other circumstances, including a spread of toxins, pathogenic agents, and so on, that give rise to the risk of serious harm to health. This too would operate alongside a protocol.
Amendments 93 and 97 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, relate to emergencies involving medical devices. Provisions already exist in the Medical Devices Regulations 2002. These provisions allow particular devices to be put into service without being subject to CE marking, following a duly justified request if the Secretary of State considers this to be in the interests of the protection of health.
The ventilator challenge allowed us to fulfil the clinical need for ventilators through a combination of CE-marked devices, and devices which were granted an exemption from the requirement. They were required to conform to bespoke technical specifications as a condition of the exemption being granted, and the technical specifications evolved as they needed to. That ensured that the only devices in service without a CE mark were those that met the highest possible standards.
Online publication will also support dissemination to the required audience, to whom it will be targeted, such as operators in the supply chain, enabling conditions to be quickly understood by those who must use them, referring to concepts, processes and so on that they are familiar with from their field.
Protocols are a last-resort power. Where we can anticipate what the conditions of disapplication will be, we will put these into regulations, but I cannot say now how many injections will be required for a Covid vaccine or how many staff will be needed to deliver it. Parliament has our intent, our plans and our proactive preparations now, but not technical specifications—nor do we. I commend the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and her team for all they do to hold us to account. It is right that they look at how we can write good legislation, although we need legislation that allows for practicality in a crisis. Therefore, I hope I have provided enough assurances for her to feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I have received a request to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Patel.
My Lords, I say respectfully to my friend the Minister that he is putting up smokescreens. As he mentioned, he already has the power under the 2012 Act to do much of what he wants to do. Furthermore, the arguments used all relate to the Covid emergency. He alluded to this afternoon’s debate and the measures that are about to be taken, but he already has those powers, otherwise he would not be able to do it. We have emergency legislation related to Covid, which includes immunisation through vaccines. By the way, how many doses would be required? It is not necessary to have that in legislation: it is a clinical decision based on the effectiveness of a vaccine. I do not require legislation to tell me how many tablets I should prescribe to my patients for any disease, so I fear that these are smokescreens. He already has powers of disapplication in an emergency, and I continue to support the amendment.
I welcome the challenge from the noble Lord, but the examples we have given are also more recent, from the 2009 swine flu attack. The protocols were also used in the Salisbury Novichok attack. I know from my own experience that public health disasters can throw up extremely unexpected hurdles and barriers to action, in the form of legislative surprises. Therefore, these powers are not considered to be frequently used. In fact, they are never used—noble Lords will all breathe a sigh of relief—but public health challenges are likely to be a feature of the future, and it is prudent to put in place the protections we need in order to provide for them.
I thank noble Lords for their contributions in supporting the amendment—the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, reinforced by the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly. I was particularly interested to hear the quote from the Leader of the House on this matter, and I am glad that that has now gone on record. I certainly echo the comments by the noble Lord, Lord Patel, about what he calls smokescreens, and his underlining of the powers the Government already have for dealing with such situations.
I thank the Minister for the very detailed explanation he offered on this issue, and for telling us why the Government feel that they do not need to address the DPRR Committee’s concern and table amendments. He also talked about protocols being a last resort, and I was grateful for that—and also for the fact that they would be time limited. I note those two things. This is a complex issue, not least for me. I need to look carefully at the Minister’s response, and, if necessary, come back to this issue on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 46 withdrawn.
Amendment 47 not moved.
Clause 6 agreed.
48: After Clause 6, insert the following new Clause—
“Disclosure of information in accordance with international agreements
(1) This section applies to information which a relevant authority holds in connection with human medicines.(2) The relevant authority may disclose information to a person outside the United Kingdom where required for the purpose of giving effect to an international agreement or arrangement concerning the regulation of human medicines. (3) The relevant authority may not disclose commercially sensitive information in reliance on subsection (2) unless the relevant authority—(a) considers that it is necessary to do so for the purpose mentioned in that subsection, and(b) is satisfied that the making of the disclosure is proportionate to what is sought to be achieved by it.(4) Except as provided by subsection (5), the disclosure of information in accordance with this section does not breach—(a) an obligation of confidence owed by the person making the disclosure, or(b) any other restriction on the disclosure of the information (however imposed).(5) Nothing in this section authorises a disclosure of information which—(a) contravenes the data protection legislation (but in determining whether a disclosure would do so, take into account the powers conferred by this section), or(b) is prohibited by any of Parts 1 to 7 or Chapter 1 of Part 9 of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016.(6) In this section—“commercially sensitive information” means commercial information whose disclosure the relevant authority thinks might significantly harm the legitimate business interests of the undertaking to which it relates;“relevant authority” means—(a) the Secretary of State, or(b) the Department of Health in Northern Ireland;“data protection legislation” has the meaning given by section 3(9) of the Data Protection Act 2018.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause makes clear that information held by the Secretary of State or the Department of Health in Northern Ireland in connection with human medicines can be disclosed, subject to certain restrictions, to persons outside the United Kingdom in order to give effect to a relevant international agreement or arrangement.
Amendment 48 agreed.
That concludes the work of the Committee this afternoon. I remind Members to sanitise their desks and chairs before leaving the Room.
Committee adjourned at 4.15 pm.