Committee (1st Day)
Relevant documents: 19th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 10th Report from the Constitution Committee
Clause 1: Power to make regulations about human medicines
1: Page 1, line 6, at end insert “for a period of three years beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides a sunset provision for Part 1 of the Bill requiring the Government to return with primary legislation.
My Lords, at last we begin the scrutiny of this important Bill.
Although we have been keen to make progress with the MMD Bill, if I might call it that, it is not at the expense of proper debate, and I am afraid we feel that some of the amendments before us today will not benefit from the contributions they deserve because of the clash with the Second Reading of the Internal Market Bill and the rules of the hybrid House, which seem to mean we lose the contributions of at least four, five or possibly six noble Lords who have either put their names to amendments or are keen to take part in our discussions today.
The procedure, if the House were sitting normally, is that noble Lords would “Box and Cox” between the Chamber and the Grand Committee. As it is, they are not allowed to do so and I put on record that either scheduling or rules need to ensure this does not happen again. I would be very grateful if the Minister and his colleagues ensured that the usual channels are aware of this. This clash will not deter those who are absent, I am sure, from making their contribution either later in Committee or on Report.
The group of amendments right at the beginning of this Bill concerns sunset provision, a time limit on delegated powers and draft consolidated legislation. As my honourable friend Alex Norris MP said at the beginning of the Committee session in the Commons,
“we should not just wave … off to secondary legislation without understanding what that might mean and whether there might be a better way to do it … The proposed arrangements allow the Secretary of State and his successors to make hundreds or more individual decisions to change our current regulatory regime into a markedly different one, one statutory instrument at a time, which I do not think is desirable.”—[Official Report, Commons, Medicines and Medical Devices Bill Committee, 8/6/20; col. 4.]
I agree with my honourable friend.
This is a skeleton Bill. Its aim is to provide the Government with powers to regulate on critical, life-and-death matters involving medicines, devices, humans and animals. It is at risk of inadequate scrutiny; it has an overreliance on delegated powers; it gives rise to potential regulatory divergence in Northern Ireland; it has a need for streamlined primary legislation, not statutory instruments; and it gives rise to concerns regarding patient and user safety.
It has to be said that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and the Constitution Committee agreed with my honourable friend and us at Second Reading, and were particularly unimpressed by the delegated powers memorandum the department produced. It said:
“This is a skeleton bill containing extensive delegated powers, covering a range of significant policy matters, with few constraints on the extent of the regulatory changes that could be made using the powers. The Government has not provided the exceptional justification required for this skeleton approach. We accept that regulatory regimes in policy areas such as these require frequent adjustment, and so need to be flexible, but the Government has not made a persuasive case for conferring largely unrestricted delegated powers that can be used to rewrite the existing regulatory framework. We recognise that the existing powers to amend these complex regulatory regimes will cease to have effect on 31 December 2020 and that alternative arrangements are required. If the Government is unable to specify the principles according to which it intends to amend and supplement the existing law, the delegated powers in the Bill should be subject to sunset clauses. This would allow Parliament to scrutinise a new bill which provides sufficient detail on the policy it is being asked to approve.”
This Bill gives Ministers very broad powers indeed. We acknowledge this and are seeking full justification for them. Those are just the opening remarks from both those committees, which agreed that Clauses 1, 8 and 12 contain inappropriate delegations of power and that the Government have failed to provide sufficient justification for this part of the Bill, adopting a skeleton Bill approach, with Ministers given very wide powers indeed.
Instead of seeking to justify such powers, the Government have downplayed them by suggesting that they are like-for-like replacements for the existing powers in Section 2(2) of the 1972 Act. The delegated legislation committee found this not to be the case. The Section 2(2) power is subject to a very significant built-in constraint; it is a mechanism for transposing into UK law EU rules on medicines and medical devices that the UK is required to follow. The new powers are subject to no such constraint; they would give Ministers free rein to legislate in those areas. The Government claim that the new powers are constrained in significant ways, but the reasons found for those constraints were described as “more apparent than real”.
I suggest that over the next few weeks we need to make those constraints real, democratic and accountable, and at the same time support medicine and devices safety and supply, and promote and protect innovation and research. Given the threatening no-deal scenario which seems to be looming, it becomes even more urgent that the issues dealt with in this legislation are clear and that the routes to ensuring medicine supply, safety, research and innovation are also clear and protected, in the interests of the NHS and patients, through parliamentary accountability.
This suite of amendments aims to open that discussion. Amendment 1 in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Hunt provides a sunset clause for Part 1 of the Bill, requiring the Government to return with primary legislation. We need this to happen because it is not satisfactory or democratic to run such an important part of public policy through regulation alone. We feel that three years is a generous, sensible and reasonable amount of time. It allows for a settling in of the new regime following Brexit and time for new legislation to be framed.
Our Amendment 140 follows the advice of the two committees and ensures that there is a time limit on delegated powers.
My Amendment 116 inserts a new clause which requires the Secretary of State to publish draft consolidated legislation within two years to streamline the existing regulatory framework. It offers the Secretary of State two years of that considerable power, but asks him—it might be “her” at some point—to return in two years’ time with a comprehensive set of regulations across medicines for humans and animals, medical devices and, critically, the proposed new regime surrounding the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.
This would provide a chance for proper consultation across the sector, including with patient groups, industry bodies and interested companies, as well as more parliamentary scrutiny to set up the regime that we all want—a safe one, an effective one and a world-class one. It would also give us two years of life outside the European Union and would really help us to land in that place and find out how different we intend to be, certainly in this sector. I beg to move.
My Lords, as I had four minutes to speak on Second Reading, it is inevitable that it will take me longer to speak to my amendments in Committee. I refer to Amendments 50, 67 and 115 in my name, and am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, for his support.
Amendment 50 requires consolidated legislation for medicines, veterinary medicines and medical devices. Together with Amendments 67 and 115, it creates the same obligation in respect of veterinary medicine and medical devices and intends to complement a later amendment calling for the powers of this Bill to be time-limited to three years. The Bill confers an extensive range of delegated powers in relation to medicines, veterinary medicines and medical devices. The Government state that they intend the Bill to be the primary legislation in this area while providing no substantive content to the law.
The powers granted in this Bill go far beyond what is necessary or prudent. The existing regulatory regime for medicines is complex and unwieldy, running to more than four pieces of primary and secondary legislation implementing several EU directives in preparing for Brexit. This complexity is mirrored in respect of medical devices as the Bill merely grants powers to create future regulation through such statutory instruments. It does not provide a clear picture of the future shape of regulations that can be scrutinised. This adds to the existing regulatory complexity.
The lack of detail in the Bill in its current form could lead to uncertainty among stakeholders as to their obligations. There is a need for clarity, for regulatory bodies, manufacturers, patients and other end-users, which makes the case for more streamlined primary legislation. The lack of detail in the current Bill, the broad delegation of powers with no indication of the substantive content of future regulation created by them provides no clear or certain path ahead for medicines and medical devices that can be scrutinised or relied on by stakeholders. For this reason, this amendment, together with similar amendments for veterinary medicines and medical devices, requires that the Government return with consolidated legislation in due course.
I refer briefly to Amendment 115, which relates to medical devices. As with medicines, the regulation relating to medical devices is complex and unwieldy. Currently, it consists of the Medical Devices Regulations 2002, which implement three different EU directives and the Medical Devices (Amendment etc) (EU Exit) Regulations) 2019, which came into force at the end of the EU exit implementation period and runs to over 200 pages of detailed amendments. The 2019 regulations were intended to ensure that the existing medical devices regulations continue to operate correctly, once we had left the EU, but they also mirror and implement key aspects of EU regulation on medical devices, Regulation (EU) 2017/745 MDR.
The regulations were due to be implemented this year, but following the European Union withdrawal agreement, they will come into effect at the end of the transition period. The MDR was also due to be implemented during the transition period. Had it done so, it would have automatically become part of UK law. However, due to the disruptions of Covid-19, the implementation date of MDR was postponed by a year. The situation is complicated further by the ambiguous operation of the 2019 regulations in light of the postponement until the end of the transition period, much like the MDR. The 2019 regulations contain clauses which set specific dates and periods of transition between the implementation of different provisions and considerations.
I hope I have made the point that there is a need to have consolidated legislation. The current Bill will simply add to the existing body of regulations without consolidating or clarifying any of these issues. This demonstrates the need to time-limit these delegated powers and ensure that consolidation primary legislation is introduced to Parliament after three years, in order to subject any policy changes to adequate scrutiny.
I turn to my Amendment 141, also in this group, which I am obliged to speak to now, as I am allowed to speak only once. It is supported by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. I am sorry that they are unable to speak today, as they may have made more important legal points.
As touched on in previous statements, these delegated powers conferred on the Secretary of State make provisions amending or supplementing the existing law on medicines and medical devices, in effect to grant powers to amend substantive areas of public policy and law without the scrutiny afforded by primary legislation. Delegated powers may be needed to enable responsiveness through the uncertainty caused by Brexit and potentially rapid technological changes, but they should not be used indefinitely or relied on to implement matters of policy.
Previously, the power to create relevant secondary legislation in the UK derived from the European Communities Act 1972. Those delegated powers were simply to allow the implementation of law in the UK that had already been consulted on, debated and scrutinised at both EU level and by our committees. The powers in the current Bill are such that areas of policy that would previously be subject to greater scrutiny at EU level may now be amended without similar layers of scrutiny by the United Kingdom Parliament. They do not represent, as the Government have argued, an equivalent conferring of power to the legislature, seen under the previous regulatory arrangement, as I have just pointed out.
This point was highlighted by the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution in the delegated powers report. It recommended that while delegated powers are appropriate to make provision for minor and technical matters, it is essential that primary legislation is used to legislate for policy and other major objectives.
This amendment does not set out to sunset the entire Bill. While this might make some sense, a number of provisions, including those relating to consolidation and the amendment of enforcement powers, can appropriately be scrutinised in the present. These provisions set out substantive law and do not grant further delegated powers in and of themselves and as such are the proper subject of parliamentary scrutiny now.
If, as was agreed earlier, the Government return with streamlined and consolidated legislation for medicines and medical devices, those provisions might be subsumed within such legislation anyway. This amendment instead sets out a sunset clause on Clauses 1, 8 and 12, which grant the broad delegated powers and essentially serve to circumvent proper parliamentary scrutiny.
The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, wants me to say that, had he been here, he would go back to the report of the Constitution Committee of 29 July. At paragraph 9 the report concluded:
“This is a skeleton bill containing extensive delegated powers, covering a range of significant policy matters, with few constraints on the extent of the regulatory changes that could be made using these powers. Government has not provided any justification required for this skeleton approach”.
Concerns about the Government’s use of skeleton Bills, including this Bill, were expressed in a long letter to the Cabinet Secretary from the chairs of the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, the Constitution Committee and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. They have found the Government’s use of skeleton Bills containing broad delegated powers to be inappropriate.
The Government’s amendments, referred to in a letter dated 13 October from the Minister, do not in my view address the substance of the concerns. It is all very well to alter the safeguards that apply to the making of delegated legislation, moving away from the negative resolution procedure, defining the purpose of regulations, requiring consultations and imposing a reporting requirement, as the Minister set out in his letter, but none of this addresses a fundamental concern, which is that Ministers should not have the discretion to decide on primary policy choices. That should be a matter for full parliamentary debate. Regulations that might be debated for 90 minutes, where there is no power to amend, are a totally inadequate substitute. The powers granted in this Bill will be a gross act of legislative and executive overreach, hence the need for a time limit on certain parts of the Bill through a sunset clause.
My Lords, given that we are in Committee, I will not be making lengthy speeches, but I will raise what I think are the key issues in each of the groups. The amendments to the Bill relate to some of the constitutional issues. As a general rule, noble Lords do not much care for delegated powers because it is not considered good practice or procedure to give a Secretary of State carte blanche in any area. There are some areas in this Bill where the Secretary of State is being given powers that we would rather that he or she did not have.
As the Bill is skeletal and consists mostly of delegated powers, it is important and a good idea to ensure that appropriate steps are taken to set an end date on these, so sunset powers are being proposed. The noble Lords, Lord Lansley and Lord Kakkar, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, have requested the Secretary of State to publish draft legislation to consolidate the legislation relating to human and veterinary medicine within three years of the Bill being enacted.
My noble friend Lord Sharkey and I have put our names to several amendments in this group. My noble friend calls for the super-affirmative procedure so that all powers given in the Bill will elapse after three years. I confess that this is the first time that I have seen that being used. The super-affirmative procedure involves an additional stage of scrutiny where Parliament considers a proposal for a statutory instrument before it is formally laid. This procedure is used for those instruments that are considered to need a particularly high level of scrutiny, which I think is certainly the case with this Bill.
Some of the amendments call for consolidation within three years, but in general what we are saying to the Minister is that there are not enough checks and balances. Please use the time between now and Report stage to look again, speak to Members of the Committee and bring forward government amendments—otherwise, I suspect that we may be voting on Report.
My Lords, I have added my name to Amendments 1 and 140 tabled in the name of my noble friend Lady Thornton. As we are at the start of the Committee stage, perhaps I may remind the House of my membership of the board of the General Medical Council and my role as president of GS1 and the Health Care Supply Association.
I agree with my noble friend Lady Thornton about the clash between the first day of the Committee stage of this Bill and the Second Reading of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill in the main Chamber. Today we are dealing with some of the most important debates in the whole Bill and when we come back on Report there will be a need to give more time to allow those people who could not be present today to make a full contribution to these debates. I hope that the usual channels will take that away. I am not quite sure about the procedure in these unusual circumstances, but in normal times I would have asked that the Committee stage procedure be used for these introductory debates on Report in order to allow for interventions. However, since interventions are now limited, that may not run well, although I think that noble Lords will understand what I am getting at.
This is an important Bill on patient safety and the health of our life sciences sector. It is striking in its brevity and in the extensive powers to be given to Ministers. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, has spelled out the wide range of delegated powers contained in the Bill, while a pungent analysis by my local university, the University of Birmingham, points out that, while delegated powers may be needed to ensure responsiveness in the EU exit transition period and to meet the challenges of technological change, they should not be used indefinitely or relied on to implement matters of policy. I am not going to repeat what the Delegated Powers Committee or the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution have said, but it is rare for two Select Committees to comment at the same time and in such a critical way about the skeletal nature of a Bill. It is to be hoped that the Government will listen carefully to what is being said.
At Second Reading, the Minister suggested that the sunset clause as proposed by my noble friend would emasculate legislation
“meant to give regulators the powers to be effective and to future-proof medical regulation in a fast-changing industry for many years to come. We must understand the impact on an industry that needs regulatory certainty or else, as many noble Lords have noted, will move elsewhere.”—[Official Report, 2/9/20; col. 433.]
I have to say to the Minister that most of the regulatory uncertainty has been caused by the Government’s failure to be clear about what regulatory regime they want for medicines and medical devices. They have now had four years to think about this and we are still nowhere near knowing what regulatory system they want to put in place. Are they going to go for alignment with the European Medicines Agency or do they want to strike out on their own? Do they want to ally with the US FDA? What on earth are the Government’s aims? The industry is at risk because of this huge uncertainty. The idea that we should allow the Government willy-nilly to get this Bill through and make whatever changes they want without the House treating it as primary legislation simply will not wash. I am absolutely convinced that the long-term regulatory system must be subject to detailed primary legislation. As far as I can see, the amendment to bring in a sunset clause is probably the most appropriate vehicle to ensure that that happens.
My Lords, in contributing to the first day in Committee on this Bill, I draw the attention of noble Lords to my registered interests, in particular to those as a professor of surgery at University College London and as the chairman of UCLPartners.
I support Amendments 50, 67 and 115 tabled in the name of my noble friend Lord Patel, to which I have added my name. The point has been well made by my noble friend that the ecosystem for the delivery of healthcare in our country and therefore the use of medicinal products, medical devices and veterinary medicines is a complex one that is attended by substantial legislation, much of which has been brought into force as a result of the European Communities Act 1972. It is therefore absolutely right, to echo a point made previously by the Minister, that there is a need for this Bill to ensure that such regulation can continue, so that we can continue to have a safe and effective healthcare system and take advantage of the essential requirement to avail ourselves of medicinal products and medical devices.
There is surely also an absolute obligation to ensure that regulation should avoid adding to the complexity that already exists. For those who have to labour under these regulations and ensure that they can present innovation and advances to benefit our fellow citizens within the context of the regulations, we should always be working to simplify them.
In this regard, we are all conscious of the fact that many different types of regulations touch on the healthcare system. There are those that pertain to ethics, and those that deal with the function and delivery of ethics committees and the evaluation of intervention at a local and national level. We have regulations that deal with the adoption and evaluation of innovation within the context of the MHRA, and with the evaluation of intervention and innovation pertaining to NICE. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Patel, about the medical device regulations enacted in 2002, which codify and implement various EU directives in this matter, and the substantial amendment attending medical device regulations in terms of the legislation passed as part of EU exit regulations in 2019.
The reality is that these complex regulations are dependent upon each other. For any individual wishing to course this landscape, they will have to be able to read different regulations with regard to each other because each ultimately relies upon and refers to other elements of the regulatory framework. Therefore, it seems intuitive that at this time, when we are forced to look at the landscape of regulation for medicinal products for human use, for medical devices and for veterinary medicinal products, we take the opportunity to properly consolidate regulation. In that way, we can have a contemporary, well-designed framework of regulation for medicines and medical devices which is thought through, builds upon what we have established over the past 40 years, deals with inconsistencies and allows us to come together with a framework that is meaningful and protective of public health and the safety of patients—providing the opportunity for those wishing to bring innovation to our country to do so understanding the regulatory obligations clearly—and that ensures that members of the public can understand the legislation that is in place to protect them and their interests.
Therefore, I strongly urge Her Majesty’s Government to consider these amendments seriously. A three-year timeframe seems a perfectly reasonable one in which to move towards consolidated legislation. In addition to all the benefits that I have already laid out, there is an additional benefit: ultimately, this Parliament should be working towards improving legislation and the context in which it is presented to our fellow citizens. This is an ideal opportunity to address a vital area that touches on the lives of every citizen and to deal effectively with matters that have built up over a long period and do not necessarily sit well together, through the opportunities presented to us by coming out of the European Union and, therefore, the terms of the European Communities Act and all that has been enacted and codified as a result.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this group of amendments. May I, however, begin by seeking clarity about the grouping of the amendments? Amendment 116 is also to be found in the eighth group and is more appropriately to be found there. It is my amendment; I know where it should sit properly. It does not belong in this group and is not relevant to this subject. However, I think the Marshalled List should list Amendment 116 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, who raises what is effectively the sunset issue in that amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, who I always think of as a friend, referred to his Amendment 141, which is not listed in the grouping but should be here; Amendment 142 is listed in group five and also should be here. With those two changes, I think that we are talking about the right group.
I could stop now, but I will be quick and refer to just two things. First, as a former Leader of the House of Commons, responsible for the legislative programme, I view with deep unhappiness the idea of attaching three-year sunset clauses to all the legislation we put through the House. If we start down that path, we will never introduce new legislation but will constantly be revisiting old legislation and trying to renew it. There is an argument about the nature of this Bill but it is an argument I am proposing to have when we debate the next group of amendments. It is skeletal, and there are things we can do to make the power not only clearer in its purposes but much more accountable if used. So, I am against the sunset clause.
My other point relates to Amendments 50, 67 and 115 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Patel and Lord Kakkar. I have great sympathy with these. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Patel, who referred to the consolidation of human medicines regulations in 2011 or 2012. There is a great deal to be said for the regular consolidation of legislation to make it more accessible. I do not regard consolidation as a purely technical legal exercise; it should always be used as an opportunity to simplify and clarify. It is not, in my view, sufficient to say, as I think Ministers might well reasonably do, “We consolidated human medicines legislation and we will continue to keep the regulations in as clear a form as we can”. From time to time, there is a purpose in coming back to primary legislation and looking for clarity and consolidation. That is often what we use the Law Commission to do, because it has particular expertise in this area. It may be inappropriate to do so at this stage for human medicines because of the necessity of making the regulations and of transposing former EU regulations and directives into UK law. It is perfectly reasonable for that to happen over some period of time, but I hope that Ministers will consider that.
Where medical devices are concerned, there may be a better argument. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, was quite right—navigating medical devices legislation is, if anything, harder than navigating human or veterinary medicines legislation. There is a lot to be said for finding the consolidation instrument for medical devices regulation, once we know what it looks like and we have brought it into force. My friends the noble Lords, Lord Patel and Kakkar, are on to something; I just do not think that new primary legislation within three years is the route. However, for Ministers to recognise the value of consolidating instruments including, from time to time, consolidating primary legislation is certainly desirable.
My Lords, I support the attempts in this group to put a sunset clause into the Bill. I have a great deal of sympathy with the demands of the noble Lord, Lord Patel, for consolidation. It is vital that through these amendments and others to later clauses, we are able to review the use of the Bill’s powers by this failed Government, who have made so many mistakes. A Government who cannot even secure the free trade agreement that was supposed to be the easiest thing ever, who disastrously and expensively have not produced the promised world-beating test and trace system and who have presided over one of the worst rate of Covid-19 deaths in Europe due to their dithering and failure to put health first, must have their powers fettered. But, as has been said, this is a skeleton Bill and gives the Government extensive powers with little ability for Parliament to intervene.
A lot is changing. The Brexit transition phase is coming to an end in a couple of months. We have learned many lessons from Covid-19, which should be implemented. The NICE review is coming up, and every month new medicines and therapies are coming on to the market. It would be folly not to have a sunset clause in the Bill. I therefore support what was said by my noble friends Lady Jolly and Lady Thornton, and urge the Government to consider, in all humility, that in two or three years’ time they may not be in power, and the whole landscape will have changed. It is therefore essential that we have an opportunity to review how the powers in the Bill have been used to change things, especially if all has not gone well.
My Lords, I point out to noble Lords my interests as set out in the register. On Second Reading, when taking a somewhat unfashionable stance in defence of the delegated powers, I said that I was not going to die on that hill again—but, to mix my metaphors, I have been drawn, like a moth to a flame, back into this argument.
I want to make two brief points. The first has been perfectly well made already by my noble friend Lord Lansley, and is about the sheer impracticality of sunsetting legislation. Committing to an arbitrary deadline of that kind is not something that any Government could responsibly do, particularly at this time, and given the uncertainty that has already been discussed.
The second point is that many of the criticisms raised by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and by the Constitution Committee have been dealt with, to some extent, by changes that the Minister, my noble friend Lord Bethell, has proposed to the affirmative procedure, which we are not discussing today. It is therefore worth recognising the progress that the Government have already made to try to meet those concerns, which were set out so well by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and others, about the powers being given to the Government.
Again echoing my noble friend Lord Lansley, I would say that if we were to go down that route, the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Patel, represent the right approach, which is to commit not to a sunset clause, with all the cliff edges that that would involve, but to providing draft consolidated legislation. There is a good case in its own right for doing that, particularly in the circumstances. Like my noble friend Lord Lansley, I encourage my noble friend the Minister to look seriously at that idea.
My Lords, we have Amendment 139 in this group. It would require all the delegated powers in the Bill to expire on the third anniversary of its passing. We chose the three-year time limit because that had been discussed in the Commons. But, having heard what other noble Lords have said on the issue of expiry, I am persuaded that two years may be more appropriate, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, has argued, given the wide-ranging and carte-blanche nature of the delegated powers. I am also persuaded that a sunset provision is absolutely necessary.
As many noble Lords noted on Second Reading, this is a skeleton Bill. It contains no, or very little, policy, and allows policy to be made by secondary legislation. This clearly avoids meaningful parliamentary scrutiny, and is a direct and flagrant abuse of the delegated powers system.
In its 16th report of the 2017-19 Session, The Legislative Process: The Delegation of Powers, our Constitution Committee noted that the Government had designated
“functions for which delegated powers may be appropriate”.
“providing for the technical implementation of a policy; filling in detail that may need to be updated frequently or is otherwise subject to change; and accommodating cases where the detailed policy has to work differently in different circumstances. Such purposes constitute reasonable uses of delegated powers.”
The Constitution Committee’s view of all this was clear. It considered the use of delegated legislation to formulate policy, or to create new criminal offences or public bodies, to be “constitutionally unacceptable.”
The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, in its recent report on the Bill, points out that the Government say nothing about why it would not be appropriate to have aspects of the regulatory regimes which are not detailed or technical on the face of the Bill, combined with more focused delegated powers to fill in the detail. This is still the case.
I raised this issue in meetings and in correspondence with the Minister, looking to draw a distinction between policy changes and technical or detailed amendments or updates. In his letter to me of 2 August, the Minister said:
“You expressed some concern that this way of regulating the sector meant that Parliament would not be able to scrutinise the powers in the Bill if we did not provide further clarity about the policy changes we intended to make through the delegated powers. I have asked my officials to think further about the extent to which we can provide Parliament greater information to aid its scrutiny.”
A month or so later, on Second Reading, I asked whether there had been any progress in this further thinking. The Minister did not respond then, and he has not responded directly since. I note that the proposals contained in his recent amendments and outlined in his letter to us of last week allow for Parliament to receive information about, for example, the outcomes of the consultations. That may be an aid to discussion, but it is not an aid to scrutiny. Parliament will still be unable to make changes.
It is bad enough that the Government should completely ignore the real functions and purpose of secondary legislation and effectively put policy beyond parliamentary scrutiny. It is worse when those delegated powers endure, so that the Executive may change, without real scrutiny, the regimes that govern our human and veterinary medicines and medical devices, without limit in time.
It is bad enough that this is a skeleton Bill. The root of the problem is the Government’s desire to take powers to make policy before they have decided what that policy is. We should make sure that the powers in the Bill to act without proper parliamentary scrutiny expire as soon as enough time has passed to allow them to be replaced by primary legislation, subject to proper parliamentary scrutiny. I hope the Minister can agree. If not, I expect us to return to the issue on Report.
My Lords, I thank all those involved in this first group; indeed, they are the team who, I feel, are likely to be walking with us through a great many groups of amendments. I enormously regret the fact that some noble Lords are unable to make this session, but I thank the usual channels for their efforts in the challenging process of trying to programme the hybrid House, and for finding time for this session, and for the Bill, in a packed programme.
We are starting with one of the most important groups of amendments, which address the principles behind the Bill. I believe that is the purpose of Amendment 1, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and also her Amendment 140, Amendment 139, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, and Amendments 50, 67, 115 and 141, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Patel.
Although there is some variation in the specific effects of the amendments—such as which clauses they amend and which clauses come under their scope—they all look ahead towards drawing a line under the Bill, whether that be through a sunset clause or by asking the Government to return with consolidated legislation.
I emphatically believe in the Bill. I have listened to the criticisms of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, and noted the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and the noble Lord, Lord Patel. Those points have been powerfully made in the report, on Second Reading and here today.
I know that the report may have inspired some of these amendments, because the committee considered sunsetting the Bill to be an appropriate response—but only if the Bill had remained as previously drafted. However, as your Lordships know, I have engaged extensively with noble Lords on these matters, and have tabled many amendments to address the specific concerns that we are debating today.
A sunset clause, reviewing these matters again in two or three years’ time, will not change the very good reasons why delegated powers are necessary. It would be an unhelpful precedent, which could lead to a rolling review of all legislation. My noble friend Lord Lansley, a former Leader of the House of Commons, and my predecessor, my noble friend Lord O’Shaughnessy, both made that point very powerfully.
The noble Lord, Lord Patel, is right to say that clarity is important, but that will come through consultation. As I respond to this point, and to my noble friend Lord O’Shaughnessy and to the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, it is worth remembering that we have published six illustrative SIs—so it is not true that we have provided no examples of how the powers could be used. I want to ponder on this well-made thought, and give further thought to how we might go further. It is hard to see how sunsetting the whole Bill would bring additional clarity to the situation.
Returning to first principles, particularly patient safety, we need to react quickly and effectively to harm. Taking swift action, such as making changes to how medicines can be administered in the community—as we are doing in relation to the Covid vaccine—is absolutely necessary when the situation requires it. So sunsetting Clauses 1 and 12 would mean also sunsetting Clauses 6 and 15. We would have no emergency provision at all until that could be replaced—a regulatory cliff edge that I would find difficult to explain to patients who needed that flexibility to get the necessary treatment.
Harm can be also significant and require more fundamental regulatory change. The report of the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, suggests that the system has been slow to move and respond, and that patients have not been heard. We cannot predict or pre-empt every risk of patient harm that will emerge. Patient safety cannot wait for primary legislation. When new measures have been introduced—such as databases of medical devices under Clause 16—I cannot think why we would want to go backwards. Saying that we should no longer be able to track and trace patients, nor be able to update the data types that should be recorded to protect patients, does not make sense. Using measures in the Bill such as the information system in Clause 16, we will do better for UK patients. This is not only what the Government want but what patients want. I hope that such a system will mean that the Government will know which patients have been affected by which specific device so that they can avert problems in future.
Secondly, the changes range on a scale from significant to relatively minor, for which primary legislation would be inappropriate. For instance, changing labelling to include pictograms is not a matter that needs to wait for a future Bill.
Thirdly, this is a modern and fast-changing industry, as the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Kakkar, put it so well. In two or three years’ time, we may still need to preserve our ability to amend and update regulations. We will need to provide confidence to businesses, patients and other parties that the statute book will keep pace with change. While much will be said on the attractiveness of the UK, this is a very real issue.
In response to the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, on the benefits of a new round of consultation, perhaps even more serious is the fact that two or three years is simply not enough time for all the regulatory changes to take place—especially when we are obligated to consult all the people that noble Lords will identify when we come to that debate. Bills take time. This Bill was announced last year and was introduced in February. We are not there yet. We simply did not have enough time to judge its efficacy before we had to write it again.
On noble Lords’ amendments seeking to consolidate the legislation made in under three years, I say this: the Human Medicines Regulations were the consequence of a consolidation exercise. The Medicines Act 1968 was originally the method for regulating the way in which medicines were licensed for use in the UK. However, a number of changes were made over the years through regulations, which Parliament approved, to regulate medicines under that Act better. As such, the Human Medicines Regulations were meant to provide exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Patel, asked for: streamlined legislation that places regulatory matters in a single set of regulations.
Nor was there a lack of consultation on this approach. At the time, the MHRA took action to draw on stakeholder views and a formal consultation was run in late 2010. Parliament considered it appropriate to redirect into secondary legislation regulatory matters that required frequent changes to respond to potential safety concerns or changes in how medicines might be produced. The MHRA indicated that, should further consolidation be needed, this could be revisited. The noble Lord asked me whether there are ways of considering consolidation in the future. I must listen to him but, again, I say that three years is not a very long time at all for regulatory changes.
We recently published guidance for businesses that sets out the expected arrangements for the end of the transition period, in order to provide enough time to bring forward a standalone regulatory system and give businesses time to comply. That period of standstill will run for two and a half years; in that context, it is unlikely that, in the space of two years, there will be regulatory change that is so significant that it requires consolidation.
If your Lordships seek assurance on the visibility of how the Government will make regulations, or if your Lordships are asking me to specify our plans for how quickly we might move to the current regulations inherited from the EU, let me say this: we do not intend to make changes for the sake of it. We will do what is in the UK’s best interests. Whether our choices mean that our regulatory framework is similar to or different from regulations made by the EU does not change that approach. Regulations, rather than primary legislation, are the appropriate vehicle to protect patients best. Changes will be made subject to public consultation, and the amendment that I have tabled—on reporting obligations—will enable Parliament to consider and reflect on the Government’s use of powers in plans.
I am listening. I have proposed changes to improve the Bill—we will come to those later, having reflected on the debate—but I will face a real challenge in the new year as a result of the gap that will open up at the beginning of January if this Bill is not finished by then. I would not want to put in my place another Minister for Innovation who might also need swift regulatory change for UK patients, whether that is getting medicines approved quickly or changing who can administer them.
I hope that the noble Baroness has heard enough to reassure her and that she feels able to withdraw Amendment 1. I hope that other noble Lords with amendments in this group do not feel the need to move them.
I have received a request to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Patel.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his response and, to a degree, his assurance that he is at least prepared to look at ways to consolidate the legislation. I do not accept his point about time. We are not asking that this Bill be held up; we are asking that the Government consider over the next three years bringing in legislation to consolidate the current legislation.
I am also grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Lansley and Lord O’Shaughnessy—both of whom are experienced in dealing with matters related to medicine in their own right—for their comments and support. I hope that, in the debate on the next group of amendments, the Minister will confirm in a more tangible way how he will address this issue because when we discuss those amendments, we will have an opportunity to come back to what he has said about the government amendments.
My Lords, I hear the noble Lord, Lord Patel, very clearly. The arguments that he made during our conversations and engagement earlier were powerful. The comments made by my noble friends Lord Lansley and Lord O’Shaughnessy, one of whom is my predecessor and one of whom is a former Health Secretary, were also extremely persuasive.
The Government do not think that putting consolidation in the Bill is wise, but we hear the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Patel, loud and clear. We would definitely consider this matter at a future date if the arguments made were persuasive and agreeable.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who took part in this preliminary and important debate on the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Patel, made an important point concerning primary legislation after three years. The Minister seemed to suggest that three years is not long enough. That cannot be right; three years is certainly long enough. Without the principles and policy that my noble friend Lord Hunt spoke about, rule by regulation is not only inadequate but probably quite dangerous. That lies at the heart of this group of amendments.
The noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, made the important point that we have a well-designed regulatory framework in the UK; this amendment is not about disrupting that. He also said that the Bill should be about improving the framework; that is exactly right.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, for ordering the amendments in the correct way. I think he is right—it is a case of us not looking carefully enough. I say to him and the Minister that they seem to disregard the fact that we have had two very pungent reports from our two committees that look at legislation and upon which we depend. They have been very clear about the things they thought needed to be improved in this legislation.
This is a preliminary skirmish around this issue. I am very grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, who probably bears the scars of ignoring these committees most recently. It is very nice to see him realise that parliamentary scrutiny is important.
I am slightly disconcerted by the Minister saying that he has engaged extensively on this issue because I do not feel convinced by that; however, I am very happy that we will engage extensively because we will need to. We certainly welcome any discussions that the Minister and Bill team wish to have with us.
I would like the Minister to think carefully about the lack of policy in this area. What is going to happen at the end of this month is not news to anybody—we have known about it for a very long time. In return, I will certainly look more carefully at the Bill and see whether we need to be more pointed about which areas we particularly want to sunset, if that is possible.
I think we have made some progress with this debate. We have certainly laid out the landscape which we have to navigate over the next few weeks, and on that basis I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
My Lords, a short adjournment has been requested by the Government. The Committee will adjourn for 15 minutes.
My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 2. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during debate.
2: Page 1, line 6, at end insert—
“(1A) The appropriate authority may only make regulations under subsection (1) if satisfied that they would promote the health and safety of the public.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides that the appropriate authority may only make regulations under subsection (1) of Clause 1 if satisfied that they would promote the health and safety of the public.
My Lords, Amendments 2, 7, 51, 54, 56, 68 and 72 are a package intended to respond to the comments made at Second Reading and the consideration of the Bill by your Lordships’ Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and the Constitution Committee.
I have said at both the Dispatch Box on Second Reading and in meetings with a number of noble Lords that I am listening and ready to make improvements to the Bill where they are necessary. I am ready to provide reassurance about how the powers are intended to be exercised. Amendments 2 and 68 would require that regulations may be made only if the appropriate authority is satisfied that the regulations promote the health and safety of the public. A number of noble Lords spoke in favour of clarity regarding how the considerations applied in making regulations and whether the first consideration—that of safety—had primacy. This was a point made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Barker, Lady Andrews and Lady Walmsley, and by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. Their remarks on how the Government could improve the nature of the framework Bill were ones that I paid particularly close attention to. In making legislation, there is a delicate balance between making it absolutely clear that regulatory change will not be made that is contrary to promoting the health of the public and not binding the Government so completely that necessary regulatory change that is not explicitly for the purpose of promoting the health of the public is not possible. This amendment seeks to provide that comfort: that the Government’s making of regulations must satisfy that obligation.
Amendment 51, on veterinary medicines, is drafted differently to reflect the specific circumstances of how veterinary medicines are made. For example, a medicine that might be suited to the health of an animal might unhelpfully contribute to antimicrobial resistance in humans. An overarching requirement to be satisfied that regulatory change promotes the safety of animals, without reflecting that we must also consider the safety of animals as food products in the food chain, would have inadvertent consequences. Amendments 7, 54, 56 and 72 are consequential to these.
I have considered carefully the alternative constructions tabled by your Lordships. I wanted to demonstrate our absolute commitment to patients’ health and safety that is at the heart of this Bill. My noble friend Lady Cumberlege’s report has highlighted the importance of this.
My amendments do not fetter our ability to make good regulations that will enable the development of new medicines and devices in the UK and ensure the availability of those medicines. But, in doing so, the requirement to be satisfied will protect against the inadvertent impact on the health of the public. This will answer the requirement to make it clear how the Bill is a framework Bill, as opposed to a skeleton Bill, providing that test against which regulations can be measured.
I hope that these amendments provide assurance not only to those in this House who sit on the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and the Constitution Committee but to others who are keen to see the Government reflect my noble friend’s recommendation that patient safety be put first. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am glad to have this opportunity to speak to my Amendment 5 and to Amendments 70 and 76 in this group. I am particularly grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, for putting their names to Amendment 5. As the Minister rightly said, he set out to respond in government Amendment 2 to the remarks of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and the Constitution Committee. We discussed this a lot at Second Reading. The essence of the argument that I among other noble Lords made was that the Bill was a skeleton, the skeleton approach was criticised by the Delegated Powers Committee and we needed to move it from a skeleton to a framework by making it clear that the power to make regulations is for a purpose. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and I set out to do that in our amendment: to express a purpose rather than have a power that essentially had no test other than whether the Secretary of State had had regard to certain factors—there was no objective test that could be examined, because it is very easy for Ministers to say that they have had regard to something.
Why did we have the objective of safeguarding public health? The relevant EU regulation, which is the EU human medicines directive 2001/83/EC, as amended, says at what is essentially its first article:
“The essential aim of any rules governing the production, distribution and use of medicinal products must be to safeguard public health.”
Therefore, rather than invent our own purpose, we thought that the starting point for the legislation should be to reflect the same objective as incorporated into the regulation-making power up to now. The Minister may well say, “But the EU regulation is not only based on the public health treaty objective but on the internal market objective”. However, Article 3 of the EU regulation, which follows that, is quite clear:
“However, this objective must be attained by means which will not hinder the development of the pharmaceutical industry or trade in medicinal products within the Community.”
Therefore, the other legal bases, if anything, tend to act alongside and be balanced with the original treaty objective, which is to safeguard public health. It seems that there is therefore nothing inherently wrong in our own power to set out the objective, which is to safeguard public health, and then to set alongside it in the subsequent subsection the other considerations to which the Secretary of State must have regard. We will go on to discuss those, but they include the safety of human medicines, the attractiveness of the UK as a place to conduct clinical trials, and so on.
This is the test: why are we moving from the current legislative basis to a new one? What is inherently better in saying that Ministers must be satisfied that they will promote the health and safety of the people and in what sense is that different from safeguarding public health? Noble Lords might well say, “You have won—you put your amendment down and the Minister has put government Amendment 2 down, and they say more or less the same thing”. We submit that they do not quite say the same thing, since the government amendment’s construction is that the Secretary of State “must be satisfied that”. Our construction is that it
“must have the objective of”.
I am not qualified to say any more about this matter; I will leave that to my noble friend in this regard, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. An objective test should be expressed in the legislation in objective terms, not in subjective terms of whether the Secretary of State is satisfied.
Amendment 70 does a similar thing in relation to medical devices. Amendment 76 begs the question: is the safety of a medical device to be assessed in the absence of knowing its therapeutic use? It may well be that the answer is that assessing the safety of a medical device must necessarily consist not only of the approval process but of understanding its use in therapeutic settings. If the answer is that that will necessarily be the case and if Clause 12 of the Bill means that anyway, I am perfectly happy to accept that. However, I am looking for an assurance from the Minister that that is what Clause 7 means: safety of a medical device is not simply through its approval processes but through understanding in the approval process how it will be used in therapeutic practice.
In conclusion, from what I have said we do not think that government Amendment 2 is better than our Amendment 5. However, government Amendment 2 is clearly better than what is in the Bill at the moment, because it gives us a purpose for which the regulation-making power is to be used. I make a plea to noble Lords. At this stage, in Committee, I would far rather change the Bill by accepting the government amendment and its sequelae, as we would say, and therefore send the Bill to Report in at least a form that one Front Bench agrees with than not change the Bill and have to have this same debate all over again on Report. We might have the same debate, but it would clarify for the benefit of noble Lords on Report if at least the Bill has moved from where it has been to show how the Government are seeking to meet the objectives set out at Second Reading and by the Delegated Powers Committee so that we can look at it again properly on Report. I of course reserve my position and that of my noble friends whose names are attached to this amendment, as we might well want to come back to the issue on Report and say that our formulation with an objective test is better than the subjective test that government Amendment 2 implies.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, for setting out the position we are in with such clarity. I will add just a few words to explain my involvement. It has already been pointed out that not many of my legal friends who I would expect to be concerned about this are present in Committee today. I am sure that the ones who one thinks of are busily engaged in the Chamber over a different piece of legislation which is causing them greater concern than the proposal here, although I believe that they would not disagree with my comments.
In this House, we naturally think as parliamentarians and are concerned about our process of scrutinising legislation, but bad legislation all too frequently ends up not being disputed in this House. That is not the end of the matter, however: the difficulties it creates then have subsequently to be sorted out, which is frequently done by judicial review in the courts. What the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, has said so well is very relevant to judicial review, and that is an area where I feel that, just as the doctors can comment about this Bill with a certain background of knowledge, I should refer to my entries in the register, which, at least with regard to judicial review, are quite important.
If the courts are to provide scrutiny at a later stage, they must know the purpose of the legislation. That is why what the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, has already said is so important. With blank cheques, the danger is that they can be used for all sorts of purposes. I have been trying, under the leadership of the noble Lord, to ensure that the blank cheques given by this legislation are as restricted as they can practically be, bearing in mind the situation in which we find ourselves.
I agree with what the noble Lord said about the amendments with regard to the present proposals. On the one hand, there is the proposal put forward by the Government; on the other is the proposal that the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and I have suggested might be appropriate. My view, for the reason he indicated, is that our proposal is better, but, above all, I am attracted by the fact that what the Government are proposing is much better than what was there before. On that basis, with a degree of reluctance, I would be capable of being persuaded that we should accept what the Government offer, whereas I am quite satisfied that we should not have accepted what was there before.
Leaving the matter in that way, I hope that the further discussion which will no doubt take place will enable agreement to be reached on an amendment which achieves what is needed for the purposes I have indicated.
My Lords, I am glad that the Minister said that he was listening, and his amendments are important, particularly the one that makes the principle of the health and safety of the public the key consideration when making regulations under the parts of the Bill relating to human medicines and medical devices. He will be aware that concern was expressed by patient groups, in particular, about the Bill as originally drafted and the implication of the attractiveness provision. That concern takes us back to our first debate on “whither regulation in future”.
If we are not going to be aligned to the European Medicines Agency and are to plough it alone, the UK pharma industry will be at a huge disadvantage unless the Government offer an incentive. It may be a bung—the debate about state aid is very relevant to that—or much faster regulation. Otherwise, it is very difficult to see why the industry would continue to invest in R&D in this country. Its position could be as vulnerable as is the motor car industry as a result of the bumbling ineptitude of the Government in their Brexit so-called negotiation.
It is not far-fetched, it is a legitimate question to ask what on earth the Government really want from medicines and medical devices regulation. They may have issued all sorts of draft regulations, but we are clueless about what they are actually seeking to do. The MHRA is clearly not allowed to talk to anybody about this. I remember when the MHRA would talk to politicians and debate these things. It has clearly been given an instruction not to talk to anyone. We are absolutely clueless about the future direction of regulation. None the less, the amendments are clearly helpful, and no doubt we will consider them between Committee and Report.
I would, however, like to ask the Minister about Amendment 2 and its relevance to Northern Ireland. I understand that, exceptionally, it will be moved in Grand Committee because legislative consent takes three months to get through, which impacts on the Bill’s process. I understand that, but, as Parts 1 and 2 of the Bill affect Northern Ireland, does that similarly affect any amendment to Part 1 or 2 passed on Report? What is then the impact on Northern Ireland legislation?
Overall, however, most of the amendments are a constructive improvement, but we will obviously consider them further between now and Report.
My Lords, we must consider the whole Bill as building the foundations for the future of the medicines and pharmaceutical industry in this country. We do so in the knowledge that we have had a perhaps pre-eminent role in the world in pharmaceutical development because of the coming together of a number of factors—the European medicines regulations and all the conventions to which we are party, plus the existence of the NHS and the potential it offers for clinical research and our long tradition of working in the life sciences and biosciences sector.
The Minister definitely listened at Second Reading to the many voices of concern that perceived the Bill as it came to us as a weakening of the many factors that underpin our success in this area. He understood entirely, I think, that if we were to take away the pre-eminence of the health and safety of the industry, we would fatally undermine the whole basis of the construction of this very important sector for our economy.
The Minister has listened but not quite hard enough. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, that Amendment 2 is an improvement, but it still leaves the decision-making on whether something promotes health and safety to the Secretary of State. I much prefer the construction in Amendment 5, to which my noble friend Lady Jolly has added her name.
My main concern in this group is with Amendment 51 on regulation for veterinary medicines. In his introduction, the Minister pointed to the fact that medicines for animals can work back into the food chain and to humans. I understand the interplay between taking into account things that are done to improve human well-being, animal well-being and the environment, but he will understand that, when people see the amendments, it will not be immediately apparent to them that human welfare is pre-eminent in the list. It says that the regulations must promote “one or more” of the three. I agree that the Minister has moved on the first set of amendments, but he has not gone anywhere near far enough on the regulations on veterinary medicines, so we may well need to come back to that at a later stage.
My Lords, before I start, I should point out that someone is typing with their microphone on, which interferes with the sound, so would they mind turning it off?
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, said that other legal Members of your Lordships’ House were not able to be present today. That is a pity, because I thought that I had amassed a good legal team in the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble and learned Lords, Lord Mackay of Clashfern and Lord Judge, to support some of my amendments. I wonder what comments they might have made on what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, said.
I find myself in support of what the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s response to the question whether market approval of a device also means that it has therapeutic approval. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, has an amendment on the therapeutic values of devices.
I do not find myself in total agreement with what the Government have produced and I do not think that Amendment 2 is satisfactory. Let me try to explain and we will see what the comments are. The amendments are about promoting public safety and insert into Clauses 1, 8 and 12 a new subsection (1A), so that the Secretary of State may only make regulations under those clauses where
“satisfied that they would promote the health and safety of the public.”
However, this is coupled with the insertion of the words “considering whether they would” to replace the start of subsection (2) in each clause. That means that, in the decision on whether the regulations would promote the health and safety of the public, the appropriate authority must have regard to the safety of medicines—or veterinary medicines or medical devices—their availability and the
“attractiveness of the relevant part of the UK as a place”
to conduct clinical trials or supply medicines, or develop or supply veterinary medicines or medical devices. That would be the effect of the amendments. That construction is open to the interpretation that the “attractiveness” of the UK is to be treated as part of what promotes public safety; the Minister might want to comment on that. If so, the amendment would not address the concern—indeed, it would appear to prevent the argument being made—that attractiveness and the safety of medicines and medical devices can sometimes be in conflict and that considerations of attractiveness undermine considerations of safety. This is in line with the Government’s repeated assertion that attractiveness cannot be in conflict with safety. In essence, the amendment appears to make little substantive change.
My Lords, my only intention in speaking on this group is to ask a question. Given the flag raised by my noble friend Lord Lansley in his Amendment 76, I am glad that I am not the only one with the question, which is whether the concept of medical devices inherently includes their therapeutic usage. My understanding is that they are regulated as medical devices, not simply devices, and therefore the way in which we regulate and risk-stratify them as we regulate them inherently includes therapeutic use. The fact that my noble friend raised the question in his amendment made me slightly worried, so I seek the Minister’s reassurance on that point.
I have also become aware during this discussion of another issue worth considering. There has been some debate about the appropriateness of government amendments being approved in Committee. I concur with the view of my noble friend Lord Lansley that a Bill on which only half the Front Benchers agree is better than one on which none agree. I have been in my noble friend’s shoes and have been frustrated, as I know noble Lords opposite have been, by the need to stick to concession strategies, holding back concessions and amendments until Report. I do not agree with that approach. My noble friend has done absolutely the right thing in bringing forward amendments at the earliest possible opportunity, however imperfect they are. The problem with leaving everything to Report is that it is an all-or-nothing approach, as we do not tend to amend at Third Reading, whereas this potentially leaves open the iterative approach that I would like to see more of. Maybe my noble friend has even set a precedent, heaven forbid, in doing this. We would all welcome it as giving more than one opportunity to improve legislation, on Report. I hope that we can agree the government amendments because, as everyone has said, they are an improvement on where we were and we would have another opportunity, if the House felt it necessary, to improve them further on Report.
My Lords, I support Amendment 5, which would insert the words
“objective of safeguarding public health by promoting the availability and supply of human medicines”.
While the purpose of the Bill is to bring some sort of order out of the chaos of Brexit, it is vital that we put those words up front. In the first words on page 1, before Clause 1, the purpose of the Bill is described as
“the protection of health and safety, in relation to medical devices”.
Why does it not say, “in relation to medicines and medical devices”? That is why we need Amendment 5.
Government Amendments 2 and 7 are weak, in my view. For example, the words “promote health and safety” in Amendment 2 and “considering whether they would” in Amendments 7 and 72 are well meaning and better than the original but, I dare to say, legally useless.
The word “promote” also appears in government Amendment 68. In contrast, the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, use the much stronger word “safeguard” in their Amendment 70, which I support. I also support their probing amendment for clarification in Amendment 76 that therapeutic practice is also included. I will be interested to hear whether the Minister can explain whether this is needed or, perhaps, not.
My Lords, I support Amendments 5 and 70 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. I seek further clarification on the Government’s purpose regarding the amendments proposed by the Minister.
First, what is the rationale for moving away from the current basis on which regulations in this regard exist, which states the purpose of safeguarding public health? Why do the Government not think that appropriate as the basis for legislation for medicines and medical devices? It has been the basis on which regulations have previously existed in domestic legislation and it seems counterintuitive to move away from that purpose, as so clearly explained by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley.
Secondly, there is this question of whether there should be an objective or a subjective test attending the purpose of legislation, all parties having agreed that it is of benefit to move away from simply having a power to clearly defining a purpose. There has been considerable debate and discussion about what is considered the frequent use of judicial review now and how in some way it undermines the position of Parliament and is less than helpful more generally in our country. It seems therefore intuitive for a Government who have concerns about what is sometimes considered excessive use of judicial review to try to provide legislation that would make it less necessary and less frequently turned to.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, made the point that clarity is essential. Surely an element of clarity would be to have in place an objective test—to safeguard public health—rather than, as currently, merely being “satisfied”. The need that the Secretary of State can make regulations if he is satisfied, as we have heard in this debate, is much more subjective and therefore must be open to much more frequent challenge.
My Lords, I have only just learned that if we do not pass the government amendments in this group, we put at risk the required legislative consent order for Northern Ireland. I had intended to oppose Amendments 2, 7 and 14; I did not understand why Amendment 2 was necessary or had any real force or meaning—in any case, I much preferred Amendment 5 —and Amendment 7 seemed downright confusing, since its net effect is to impose an obligation on the Minister to have regard to certain things when considering making regulations but no obligation to consider the specified things when actually making these regulations.
I have spoken to the Minister and will now not oppose the government amendments. However, I feel that we have been bounced. I first realised the Government’s intention to move when I read today’s Chair’s guidance and I understood that there was a Northern Ireland problem when I was given, about 40 minutes ago, a copy of the note from the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, to the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, from yesterday. We were not copied in on that note. I strongly feel that this is all very unsatisfactory.
The Minister has not really answered the question that I asked him in our impromptu interval of why we need to rush. Could he explain why delaying the start of the legislative consent order process until Report would be a problem? It is still not clear to me. I trust the Minister’s assessment but I do not understand how he arrived at it. In his note to the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, he says, for example, that the delay would mean that we could not meet some unspecified timing objective but he prays in aid the notion that the minimum interval between Committee and Report is a contributing factor. We can change that interval; we could choose. Could the Minister explain again why it is necessary to do this today?
My Lords, this has been a useful debate on health and safety when making regs. The Government have tried to strengthen this with their amendments in this group. My noble friend Lord Sharkey just spoke about that; I too will look at them in the light of Committee and determine what to come back with on Report.
On government Amendments 2, 7 and 68, we should have these regulations only if we are absolutely satisfied that they would promote health and safety. Government amendments 51, 54 and 56 are all about the promotion of one or more of health and welfare of animals, health and safety of the public, and the environment. There is a clear connection with animals and the environment; has the Minister spoken to Defra and BEIS about these amendments?
I also wonder that we are not discussing those medical devices that are joint veterinary and medical devices. As I said at Second Reading, veterinary medicine is becoming much more sophisticated and slightly less agricultural—that is not the right way to describe it, but it is now very high-tech in certain areas. Could the Minister outline the legal situation here, as, when we are discussing medical devices, veterinary devices are not included? Clearly this should fall within the scope of the Bill but, as I see it, there are no amendments covering that.
Moving to the amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, I supported Amendment 5. We have left the EU, but I see no reason why we cannot use its regulation if we think it cannot be improved on. I was happy to put my name to this amendment and agree that subjective measures are nowhere near as effective as objective ones. This is an area where objectivity is much more important than subjectivity.
The amendment elegantly reflects the objective of safeguarding the public health element in EU regulations. A Secretary of State has a duty to maximise the public health of our English population. I am sure it is not written down anywhere, but that is absolutely what he or she is responsible for doing. As such, I firmly believe that this amendment belongs in the Bill. My noble friend Lady Walmsley spoke powerfully about Amendment 5; we should really consider her arguments when we determine what we will do on Report.
My final point is on the objective of Amendment 70 to
“safeguard public health through the supply of medical devices.”
This amendment elegantly reflects the objective of safeguarding public health in EU regulations. There is much to look at in this group. I am sure that we will determine what comes back on Report later in the day.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, I shall have a minor moan. It is normal practice to give fellow Peers sight of government amendments at least on the day are put down, so even though the Bill team had not managed to discuss their intention with Opposition parties and other noble Lords involved in Committee, we received the letter from the Minister explaining the amendments on Thursday. I hope the Minister and the Bill team will not continue to leave things so late. I remind the Minister that he has a whole Bill team and a department at his disposal. Other noble Lords write their own speeches, do their own research and need more time to give amendments due consideration. I am fortunate to have some excellent support and we work very hard on our side to get our amendments down as early as possible to give other noble Lords the opportunity to consider them and discuss them with us. The Government should always bear in mind the unequal nature of resourcing in this place.
We need to see these amendments for what they are. Of course, they are mostly worthy and we welcome the improvement, but essentially, to echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Patel, they are there to placate and circumvent. We are late in the day in beginning to understand the nature of these amendments and we now understand the urgency of them as a result of our earlier discussions, for which I thank the Minister and his team. We are waiting for reassurance from the Minister about what happens at the next stage.
The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, made some very important and pertinent points, particularly about the difference between the objective test and the subjective test. It is clever and very important. He is on the side of objectivity and the Government’s amendments are definitely on the side of subjectivity. I agree with him that Amendment 2 is not as good as his Amendment 5. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, also said something very pertinent and quite correct about not giving blank cheques. He accepts what the Government are offering, but made the point that further discussions are needed and an amendment might be needed as we move forward.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, that I do not have a principled objection to government amendments coming forward; it is just that we need to know the context for them. The noble Lords, Lord Lansley and Lord Kakkar, and others, including the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, made a very important point about safeguarding public health, and I hope the Minister will be able to address it. I can probably feel an amendment coming on on that one.
My Lords, I am enormously grateful to my noble friend Lord Lansley and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, for Amendments 5 and 70. I greatly appreciate their scrutiny and contribution on the way in which regulations under the Bill might be made. I am grateful to my noble friend for his constructive dialogue with my officials. His experience and expertise in making legislation on health matters is a real benefit to all of us.
My noble friend and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, have drawn on the framework of legislation in the EU context. I am grateful for their explanatory statement on the basis of the amendment. My noble friend knows that I pressed very hard to see whether this is something we could accept. The challenge your Lordships have set me is why, if this framework exists in EU legislation, is it too constricting for the Bill? The answer is that examples of significant recent EU legislation in relation to human medicines, clinical trials and medical devices include: directive 2001/83/EC, regulation 726/2004, regulation 536/2014, and regulation 2017/745. In other words, while citing the aim of safeguarding public health in Article 168, on public health, of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, these pieces of legislation were also made in reliance upon Article 114 of the treaty, being measures for the approximation of laws which have as their objective the establishment and functioning of the internal market. To make that point again, safeguarding public health is not the only objective of the EU legislation in relation to medicinal products and medical devices. That is why we have a challenge in this area and why we have posited our amendment.
I shall say something about the other government amendments, specifically replying to the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Sharkey, and other noble Lords who commented on them. The overall timing of the Bill means that currently, it cannot reach Report any earlier than mid-November. If we start the consent process with Northern Ireland then, it will add a minimum of two months past the end of the Bill’s timeline. To explain to the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, we need to start the consent process now in order to make further changes. The Government need to demonstrate that this is a policy they wish to make in order for Northern Ireland to get that process properly under way. We have written to Northern Ireland seeking consent to make changes. Parts 1 and 2 of the Bill are transferred to Northern Ireland. I sought consent from Northern Ireland on the Bill as a whole when the Bill was introduced, and again after the change made on Report to Clause 16.
We sought to make government amendments at the earliest opportunity to respond to the DPRRC, partly to demonstrate how significantly we take that report and partly to start this process. That process has now started, but it has not concluded. It does not preclude noble Lords from further consideration and, as my noble friend Lord Lansley, indicated, the Bill has moved. The process of consent is unavoidably three months long in order for the Northern Ireland Assembly to conduct its work. That is why we have had to start now. In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I can supplement the legislative consent Motion at a later date.
I will listen. I understand and acknowledge that the noble Baroness sees this as the beginning, not the end, and I acknowledge that she will return to the issue on Report. Accepting these amendments today does not prevent her doing so, and I will continue to listen.
I completely hear what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, says about engagement with the MHRA. I would be glad to arrange a suitable engagement with June Raine from the MHRA and parliamentarians to discuss these points.
To the noble Lord, Lord Patel, I confirm that the efficacy of a medical device is assessed as part of the process of obtaining a CE certificate. The therapeutic value of a device is not part of the CE certificate assessment; that is a function carried out by NICE. On the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, on the food chain, I would be glad to arrange a follow-up discussion on the veterinary medicines directorate with the relevant Defra Minister. To the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, Defra and BEIS are content with this amendment. To the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, the medical devices section of the overarching bit at the beginning of the Bill is a carry-on from the sentencing enforcement, and in Part 3 enforcement is in relation to medical devices only. I do not think these are reasons to rewrite the purpose.
I obviously hope to win the argument on some of this, but that will come from extensive engagement and thorough communication going forward, for which I thank noble Lords. I therefore hope that the noble Baroness feels able to accept these reassurances, and I am grateful that my noble friend considers this sufficient reassurance not to move his amendments.
I have received a request to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy.
I thank my noble friend for addressing the point about therapeutic use, but I think I am slightly more confused now than I was before. He talked about NICE, but of course, NICE does not assess every medical device and assesses from a health economics perspective, as opposed to a purely regulatory, safety and efficacy perspective. It is not something that need detain us, but perhaps he could follow up afterwards with a bit more detail.
Amendment 2 agreed.
3: Page 1, line 6, at end insert—
“( ) In making regulations under subsection (1), the appropriate authority must have regard to the desirability of—
(a) regulatory alignment with the European Medicines Agency’s medicines regulation;
(b) regulatory alignment with EU clinical trials regulations;
(c) recognition of and participation in the European Medicines Agency’s medicines licensing processes.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment requires the appropriate authority to have regard to the desirability of regulatory alignment with EU regulations.
My Lords, in many ways this group of amendments is at the heart of the Bill. The Minister will know that there is real anxiety among stakeholders, be they large or small pharma, researchers or patient groups, particularly now that we might face a no-deal exit at the end of this year. Life sciences companies have concerns about the administrative and cost implications of having to file for marketing authorisation with a separate national licensing authority after Brexit. It will be important to consult closely with the industry—industry groups, but also individual companies that have specific expertise in high tech areas—to ensure that the regulatory regime is robust, internationally competitive and fit for future scientific breakthroughs.
The amendments in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Hunt require the appropriate authority to have regard to the desirability and necessity of regulatory alignment with EU regulations. The amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Patel, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly and the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, in this group have similar objectives.
The UK via the MHRA plays a leading role in developing the clinical trials regulation, which came into force in 2014. Due to the length of the implementation period of the regulation, the UK is not currently committed to implementing it in full following the end of the transition period. Failing to implement this longstanding legislative proposal would create significant uncertainty for life science companies.
I am grateful for all the briefing we have received over the last few months from organisations and companies which have a great deal of interest at stake in the Bill. For example, Silence Therapeutics wants to make ground-breaking treatments available to patients in the UK as quickly as possible and to conduct clinical trials in the UK. In order to ensure that the UK remains a competitive and attractive destination for clinical trials, it thinks the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill should provide for continuing alignment with EU clinical trials regulations—the UK was involved in the development of that—and, in the immediate term, ensure harmonisation of clinical trial and medicines regulatory processes, while enabling international collaboration for the benefit of patients, at the end of the transition period. It also thinks the Bill should adopt an approach to clinical trials that will allow the UK to lead the world in innovation while assuring patient safety standards. These seem to me to be reasonable tests of this legislation and indicate the challenge it faces.
The danger is that the European Medicines Agency covers 25% of global pharmaceutical sales and the UK on its own makes up only 3%. The odds are that companies will want to submit applications for new drugs to the EMA before the MHRA, meaning that the UK will lose its advantage and UK patients will risk getting slower access to the latest medicines. While the Bill could help maintain patient access to new medicines and UK access to pan-European clinical trials, its capacity to achieve this will be subject to the shape of the future relationship between the UK and the EU.
On medicine access, will the Bill allow the Government to establish new regulations on marketing authorisations for new medicines? If so, how and when? Does a no-deal outcome mean an independent UK marketing authorisation process, along the lines set out in the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency’s plans for a no-deal outcome which came out in 2018 and 2019 and which some of us lived through. Is this what might be used? Alternatively, could the UK choose unilaterally to continue to recognise a new European marketing authorisation as valid? Has that been considered? Depending on the outcome of UK-EU negotiations, what will happen if the MHRA is unable to participate and contribute its expertise in the European Medicines Agency’s marketing authorisation process?
On clinical trials, will the Government replicate the EU’s clinical trial application system, thereby reducing the administrative burden on UK-EU collaboration? This would be necessary if the MHRA had to develop a separate clinical trial application system that would operate in parallel to the EU’s. Is this the case?
Given the influence that the UK-EU future relationship will have on how the Bill’s powers can be used, will the Minister guarantee to encourage, update and consult the medical research sector as negotiations progress? Are the Government doing so already? Perhaps the Minister can give some positive reassurance by describing some of the recent discussions and negotiations. I am aware that this is in line with the ethos of Clause 40, which requires the Government to consult relevant people and organisations when proposing regulatory changes.
Treatments that utilise innovative techniques such as gene silencing are often used to treat rare diseases. These affect limited numbers of people and are often used in areas of unmet need, where no effective treatment options are available. The number of patients with a rare disease in an individual country, such as the UK, is likely to be low by definition, but for clinical trials to work—the House has discussed this many times—they require a large number of patients to take part. As a result, these trials are conducted across multiple countries.
Unified and streamlined international processes are essential to ensure that the application and authorisation processes for these clinical trials can continue to work effectively and at pace. By implementing the clinical trials regulation, the UK can remain eligible for access to the central EU portals and processes for clinical trials, which ensure that they can recruit enough patients from different countries to be successful. These processes include clinical trial submissions, reporting and authorisation requirements and, particularly importantly, inclusion in patient registries.
The UK should also seek to maintain alignment with patient safety and pharmacovigilance standards, to give patients and clinicians confidence in trials that are conducted in the UK and to help support the UK’s ability to host trials that need to take place in multiple countries. Without this level of alignment, it is likely that clinical trials, particularly for innovative treatments such as gene silencing, will not be able to go ahead in the UK, denying UK patients access to new treatment options at an early stage.
The stakes are very high. Innovation will demonstrate the UK’s leadership role. The MHRA is a world-leading national regulatory body. While it will no longer have a seat at the table within the EU after the end of the transition period, introducing innovative ways of working to enhance our existing risk-based approach to trials regulation will allow the MHRA to continue to be influential in the development of regulatory policy around the world. Maintaining alignment with pharmacovigilance standards will also help the UK to maintain influence at an international level. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the two amendments in the name of my noble friend Lady Thornton. I have also put my name to Amendment 22 from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay—she is currently in the internal markets Bill Second Reading debate—which links this to a definition of attractiveness, and to Amendment 39 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Patel, which focuses on clinical trials for rare diseases and the importance of alignment with the European Medicines Agency.
At the end of this debate, I hope we will have a better idea of the Government’s approach to the regulation of medicines and medical devices. I do not want to repeat myself, but, as my noble friend said, the big question seems to be that at the moment the EMA covers 25% of global pharmaceutical sales and the UK on its own makes up 3%. We know that the NHS is a very poor customer in terms of adopting new medicines. The UK market is pretty hopeless for pharma. If we are not going to be aligned to the EMA, what will this mean for UK pharma in terms of future investment? My guess is that it will snap off that investment.
This is the big issue, which we do not yet understand. What is the Government’s aim? Is it the idea that a no-deal Brexit is a good thing and UK pharma will survive with a hopeless home market and all the problems of dealing with Europe? Countries will clearly not come to the UK first when they have the EMA next door, unless we offer fast-track licensing, which brings us back to patient safety, which is why the two link so much together.
I hope that this time the Minister will give us some idea of what the Government are aiming for. The same applies to medical devices, although there are some specific opportunities, because at the moment the MHRA has no involvement in the pre-market phase of medical device development. Is the intention that the UK develops a proactive regulatory role for devices that is more akin to the licensing of medicines? If so, what will be the implications for industry and patient safety? Clearly, there have been many issues about medical devices in the past which have not gone through such a robust regulatory regime. Is it the intention that the UK goes through a more extensive regime in the future under its own steam? What will the general implications be?
Again, we know that Covid-19 is having an impact on clinical trials, a significant number of which have been paused. It is my understanding that only 45% of studies are currently open to recruitment and only 36% of them have successfully recruited patients since 1 June. The ABHI has highlighted the need for a sustainable plan and aims to return clinical research to pre-pandemic levels by spring next year.
This is important because, despite the size and growth of the global market for clinical research, the UK’s share of clinical trial applications and patient recruits has fallen since 2016. The UK is now falling behind the US, Germany and Spain for phase 3 commercial clinical trials. What is to be done about that? What is the Government’s approach? Again, how does this relate to the future regulation of clinical trials?
I hope that the Government’s intention is to stimulate the UK’s clinical research environment, but part of that must be enabling multi-state UK-EU trials to continue. The idea that we can have multi-state trials that do not involve some agreement with the EU seems fanciful in the extreme. Again, at this stage, we are entitled to know from the Government exactly what they intend.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey.
Could the noble Lord please unmute his microphone?
Can you hear me now? Yes? Good. Noble Lords will be relieved to hear that I will not start again. I will speak to Amendments 34, 36 and 37.
Clause 4 deals with clinical trials, which delivered £1.5 billion in GVA and £335 million to the NHS in 2018-19. They are an absolutely critical part of UK life sciences and part of what makes the UK a global leader in medical research. Anything that reduces the number or share of clinical trials in the UK weakens that leadership and could delay access to new drugs or treatments.
In its briefing, the APBI points out that our share of clinical trial applications and patient recruits has fallen since 2016. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said, we now rank behind the US, Germany and Spain for phase 3 trials—and Covid has had a dramatic effect. The University of Southampton has published research showing that 1,500 clinical trials of new drugs and treatments for cancers, heart disease and other serious illnesses have been permanently closed down in Britain, with a further 9,000 suspended.
The Government know all this and acknowledge the importance of clinical trials. Given that, Clause 4 is a surprisingly weak response. It does not require the Government to do anything at all. It simply says that they may regulate—it does not say how they may regulate—and lists the areas in which they may regulate. This is another example of the abuse of secondary legislation. It gives unspecified policy-changing powers to Ministers without saying what these policies might be, except that they should do no harm—not a very demanding qualification.
When questioned about this and asked which bits of the CTR they will carry across, the Government’s response is, “The elements that are in the UK’s best interests.” These best interests are to be identified after consultation with interested parties. This all seems unnecessarily feeble. Researchers, commercial and academic, need certainty and stability as soon as possible. Ideally, they would like the provisions of the new UK regime to incorporate all possible provisions of the CTR as they come into force. We know what these provisions are. We know all the thinking behind them. The UK played a central part in their construction in the first place. Our amendments try to give some clarity and certainty to the situation.
Amendment 34 would replace “may” with “must”. It would oblige the Government to do something and does not just give them the power to do something if they feel like it. Substituting “must” for “may” would mean that the Government must make provision corresponding or similar to provision in the CTR.
Amendment 36 would modify this requirement slightly to acknowledge that we cannot adopt certain provisions of the CTR. These are the provisions that relate to the EU clinical trials information system and the assessment model involving co-ordinated decision-making on multi-state trials. Amendment 36 would add “where possible” to the requirement to make provision corresponding to or similar to provision in the CTR to allow for this.
Amendment 37 specifies two features of the CTR that the Government must incorporate. These are specified because they are new and very important, and for the avoidance of doubt about the meaning of “corresponding to” or “similar”. The two new features are the new definition of clinical trials and the allowing of co-sponsorship. In its briefing, CRUK notes that the MHRA has had considerable input in the new definition of clinical trials. It notes in particular that the new definition expands the scope of low-risk trials and excludes altogether some studies, such as pure pharmacology studies that are focused on how medicines work rather than on the extent to which they do. The CTR also defines and allows co-sponsorship, where two or more sponsors across multiple countries may share responsibilities. CRUK regards this as a very positive move, allowing for more flexibility in trial set-up and helping to foster collaboration. We helped to design both these new features. We should ensure that they are incorporated into our new regulatory regime.
My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, because he made some important points and it saves me having to make the same points less well.
The purpose of Amendment 35—in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar—is precisely to explore the issues that the noble Lords, Lord Sharkey and Lord Hunt, raised. I am concerned that, as it stands, the provision may mean that we do not align sufficiently with the clinical trials regulations as they exist in the European Union. That is a great pity because we have gone to an enormous amount of trouble to try to improve the clinical trials regulations in the European Union; indeed, we arrived at a point where they were significantly better than the previous regulations. To depart from them now seems a retrograde step.
We cannot be sure that we will stay aligned with those regulations for ever but having the objective of seeking to have our clinical trials regulations correspond to those in the European Union opens the option for us to be in the clinical trials information system. If we start to diverge from the EU clinical trials regulations, I am not sure how we can then be incorporated into that system. That automatically means significant difficulties in trying to manage multi-state clinical trials in Europe with a view to an authorisation process through the European Medicines Agency because the information system will, I think, be an essential pre-condition for marketing authorisation applications to the EMA. The purpose of Amendment 35 is precisely to explore this issue. What do the Government mean by “or similar”? Do they intend to diverge or not? If they intend not to diverge and to retain corresponding regulations, that is excellent. If they intend to do otherwise, that is not so good.
I do not intend to enter into the argument about aligning with the European Medicines Agency for the simple reason that we have been here before. We legislated in the Trade Bill in the last Session to align ourselves with the agency and to participate in its processes. Unfortunately, I do not think that that is going to be available to us, so legislating for it in the United Kingdom will be, I am afraid, without effect. I will focus on the Clinical Trials Information System because there is likely to be a willingness and interest on the part of our European partners to retain the United Kingdom in this process. I hope that is so, that we might be able to attain that, and that that will be the Government’s objective.
My Lords, I shall speak in support of the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, to which I have added my name. Important arguments have been made with regard to the need to ensure that we can move away from the clinical trials directive which is currently the basis for such legislation in our country, and to adopt the clinical trials regulation to which our regulatory authorities have made such an important contribution over recent years.
On previous occasions Her Majesty’s Government, with specific regard to the 2018 EU withdrawal agreement Bill and the 2018 Trade Bill, made clear commitments that we should implement the clinical trials regulation in full as part of a negotiated agreement incorporating its legislative and non-legislative provisions; or, in the event that no agreement can be reached, that an element of the regulation would be adopted to the greatest extent possible on a unilateral basis in domestic legislation. We have received further reassurances in terms of the withdrawal agreement Act that the Government would give priority to taking the necessary steps to bring into UK law without delay all the relevant parts of the EU clinical trials regulation that were within the control of the United Kingdom. With regard to the Trade Bill, in September 2018, the House was reassured in the strongest possible terms by Her Majesty’s Government that a commitment was being made to implementing the regulation. However, when the Bill before us was considered in the other place, no such commitment was made and therefore, this probing amendment is vital.
I know that arguments have been made that not all the elements of the regulation are within the power of Her Majesty’s Government to implement, but as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, there is the opportunity to deal with the clinical trials portal and information system in a different way and to design, as other amendments propose, a system that might be agreeable. Arguments have also been made that the clinical trials regulation itself, although a substantial improvement on the current directive, is not perfect, and that the GCP and ICH guidance to which the clinical trials regulation makes reference need themselves to be advanced. Work is being undertaken in that regard.
The European clinical trials regulation provides for referring to guidance on the operational delivery of clinical trials or other guidance, so that should not be seen as an impediment. The real concern here is that while, unfortunately, impediments and hurdles to the adoption of the clinical trials regulation may be identified, that would be the wrong thing to do. The regulation is important. The current clinical research legislation under which we labour in our country is not ideal, which is why we have this regulation. On many occasions, Her Majesty’s Government have committed to the adoption of the regulation, so can the Minister indicate why the opportunity provided by this Bill should not be taken to fulfil those undertakings and thus provide us with the greatest possible certainty regarding the conduct of clinical research in our country? This is vitally important to patients, to the economy and to sustaining a viable life sciences ecosystem.
My Lords, I support Amendment 38, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, to which I have added my name. I shall also speak to Amendment 39. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who has already spoken, for lending his support. I have listened carefully, and I support what has been said about the issues raised, particularly about whether we remain aligned with the EU trials mechanism or whether we are to be part of that mechanism.
During the EU withdrawal debate this issue was discussed at length. In fact, there was an earlier opportunity for the amendment to be put—as noble Lords may remember, it was widely supported—but I withdrew it, because the then Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, said that at an appropriate time, when legislation was brought in, the Government would address the issue. By that I supposed he meant that they would address the issue of remaining part of the EU clinical trials regime—but this Bill does not do that.
What options are available to the United Kingdom? One of them, of course, is to remain and participate in the EU clinical trials regime, if that is possible. An alternative is silent participation, as in the EEA model. That would mean that we could not vote, we could not lead projects and we could not raise objections. The third option is to be independent and aligned. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, referred to that, and I agree with him that the important part of the EU clinical trials regime is its portal—a portal that the UK played a major part in developing—through which companies can apply for clinical trials.
The fourth option is to be independent and divergent: the UK would create a new clinical trials system. There is no time to do that by the end of 2020, but over time the UK could create a new system and build alliances. However, the risks need to be clearly understood, and balanced. Where will the companies go? Will they go where they have a bigger market, and a bigger opportunity, with larger numbers of patients for the trials, or will they conduct their trials in the United Kingdom?
There might be novel ways to approach this, and I understand that the MRHA is discussing and trying to develop a novel way of conducting clinical trials, which might be more attractive to companies. But of course, as we do not know what those are and we are not being told what they are, we cannot comment on them.
Currently, what looks like the best option is to be part of the EU clinical trials mechanism. With clinical trials for rare diseases, it is even more important for the UK to remain aligned with, or to be part of, the EU processes for rare diseases in relation to trials, to the data that will be available, and to medicines—for example, treatments developed for muscular dystrophy and metabolic disorders.
About 3.5 million people in the UK suffer at some point from one of the 7,000 or so rare diseases. The number for which treatment is available is small; hence the great need for collaborative research, data collection and the development of medicines, because a larger population is needed for clinical trials. Companies such as Silence Therapeutics, which the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, mentioned, use gene silencing technologies for developing novel therapies for rare diseases. Others, such as Sarepta, use gene therapy for developing medicines. Companies such as Gilead Sciences are developing CAR T therapy; it was the first to introduce CAR T therapy for cancers in the United Kingdom. All those companies have said that they would wish to remain in the United Kingdom to do their trials, if the environment was right.
The treatments that will utilise innovative techniques, such as gene silencing, are often used to treat rare diseases that affect a limited number of people, as I said. The number of patients with a rare disease in an individual country such as the UK is likely to be low by definition. However, for clinical trials to work, they require large numbers. Unified and streamlined international processes are essential to ensure that the application authorisation processes of these clinical trials can continue to work both effectively and at pace.
By implementing the clinical trials regulation, the UK can remain eligible for access to the central EU portals and processes for clinical trials, which ensure that clinical trials can recruit enough patients for rare diseases and include submissions, reporting and authorisation requirements and, particularly importantly, inclusion in patient registries. Those were developed as part of the EU-wide MHRA initiative to develop registries for rare diseases.
The UK should also seek to maintain alignment with patient safety and pharmacovigilance standards, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, to give patients and clinicians confidence in trials that are conducted in the UK and to support the UK’s ability to host trials that need to take place in multiple countries. Without this level of alignment, it is likely that clinical trials, particularly for innovative treatments such as gene silencing, will not be able to go ahead in the United Kingdom, denying UK patients access to new treatment options at an early stage.
I will end by saying a few words in support of Amendment 125 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly. Given the global nature of the Human Medicines Regulations, the UK should be a member of the ICH—the International Council for Harmonisation of Technical Requirements for Pharmaceuticals for Human Use. Having recently joined as an observer on Project Orbis and the Access Consortium, the UK can work towards providing a leadership role on global regulatory standards, and it is more likely to do that if it is part of the EU clinical trials mechanism.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, succinctly set out what we all know: post Brexit, the UK as a market will be significantly less attractive than it was as part of a single regulatory system for the development of medicines and clinical trials. The economics of that are inescapable. However, it is also true, as the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said, that however much some of us may wish that we continued to be aligned with what will inevitably be a developing clinical trials basis in Europe, it may not be within our gift to do so. However, what we can do, and what all the amendments in this group attempt to do, is encourage the Government to come clean about the extent to which they will seek in future to maintain an ongoing alignment with those clinical trials regulations in Europe.
The noble Lord, Lord Patel, mentioned—as I intend to—the announcement last week of the UK participation in the Orbis trials, which are the new mechanism for fast-tracking cancer treatments, with players from the US, Canada and Australia. I still think that, given the history of this country as a leading player in the life sciences and biosciences fields, and given the amount of investment in research that we have traditionally had and which we must seek to maintain in the NHS and within our universities, if we do not signal at this stage a willingness to keep the regulations in place and ensure that we remain aligned with the European system, we stand to lose a great deal—not least involvement in the clinical trials information system. The Government would be well advised to take some, if not all, of these amendments, which all seek to do the same thing.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, got to the heart of this when she said that these discussions are central to our debate on the Bill and its purpose.
I preface my comments on the amendments by drawing on my experience as a Minister with responsibility for preparing the health and social care sector for Brexit and for medicine regulation. During that time, I spent hours and hours—days and days—of time with pharma and medical device companies, patients and others. There was a consistent message from almost all of them about the desirability of remaining part of the EU family if possible and the importance of the MHRA and our notified bodies as regulators within that regime. I, together with others, worked extremely hard to make sure that that was recognised in the withdrawal agreement that was agreed at the time. We managed to create a special category of safety products. For those who remember back two or three years, there were chemicals, pharmaceuticals and medical devices in the withdrawal agreement and, indeed, the political declaration. I worked very hard to achieve that position and supported it.
It might also be worth reminding noble Lords that Parliament passed up the opportunity to agree that withdrawal agreement. It did not succeed. That has led to a different Government with a different agenda and with a majority, which might be something for us all to reflect on.
I make those points only so that noble Lords will understand that my concerns with the amendments on aligning with the EMA and European regulation in general are not ideological but practical. Actually, this is a very heterogenous group of amendments: it ranges from alignment through to collaboration to similarity where possible. When considering the issues around this, we need to tread very carefully as to what we commit ourselves to. The fact is that, as negotiations have progressed, it has become completely clear that the European Commission will not tolerate any meaningful associate membership: you are either in or you are out, and there is no possibility of the UK participating in making the rules that bind it. Clearly, being in is not compatible with leaving the European Union, so the question that falls to us is what we do when we are out. What should we do as a sovereign regulator that is not part of the EMA?
This is where I disagree with those amendments that seek to align us with the EMA. The truth is that we cannot have the best of both worlds; we cannot—as the Prime Minister might put it—have our cake and eat it. We cannot be in and take advantage of the opportunities that being out gives us. Tying ourselves in advance and in perpetuity to EU regulation over which we have no control or, critically, judgment of quality, would be a big mistake.
It is quite right that we should seek to mitigate the negative impacts of leaving the EMA family. I have never sought to sugar-coat those—I do not take a Panglossian view of the consequences—but tying ourselves in such a way is not the way to do it. Multiple stringent regulators in the world do just as good a job, if not better, as our MHRA—in Japan, Switzerland, Canada, Singapore and bits of the EFTA. We should as a nation be seeking to accept licensing applications and modelling our regulatory structures on all and any of those that we think are the best. That is the way to take advantage of our freedoms and give us the best possible opportunity of getting innovative medicines and products as they come on to market in any market in the world.
We do not need, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and others, said, to create our own bespoke, novel, difficult regulatory system that puts up more barriers to innovation; nor should we tie ourselves to one other regulatory regime. I use just one example to exemplify why I think that is true. It is a well-worn example but is worth rehearsing: the introduction of the HPV vaccine. That was something that most regulators in the EMA family did not want to proceed with. The MHRA provided a very compelling case for us to do so. European countries did so. The effect of that in England alone has been to reduce HPV infections among 16 to 21 year-old women—the figures are a couple of years out of date but are probably still accurate—by 86%. Bear in mind that HPV causes 80% of cervical cancers among women. We might be tying ourselves to things that we regret and which cause harm; I know that that is not something that anyone would want to do.
I note from the ABPI’s briefing—obviously, I have worked closely with it—that it does not call for alignment with the EMA. It calls for making sure that
“the information or data required by the EU regulator is consistent with other leading regulators around the world and benchmarked against them for speed and approval.”
It also calls for the UK to apply for full membership of the ICH, as the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, calls for—I quite agree with that—and generally to look to provide leadership on developing global regulatory standards in human medicines.
I utterly understand the impulse. The Government have partly got themselves into this difficult situation by creating a vacuum into which people are seeking to put policy. That is completely understandable but it would be a mistake to tie ourselves to one particular regulator. It may not be quite as true of clinical trials—I defer to the expertise of others—although I note that the ABPI briefing paper does not talk about the clinical trials directive; instead, it uses a much broader palette and says that future clinical trials and regulations in the UK should both support and enable international collaboration.
I know that that is not the only position and that people take a different view, but as we move forward, we will want to tread carefully over which regulators we seek to collaborate with, emulate and draw on, rather than tying ourselves to an in-perpetuity relationship that we may come to regret on occasion.
My Lords, Amendment 3 makes clear the desirability of alignment with the EMA and the EU clinical trials regulations. It sets out early in the Bill the store for those of us who feel that the advantages we have gained from such alignment must not be sacrificed on the altar of some mistaken ideology of this failed Government. I point out to the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, that we managed to introduce the HPV vaccine before we left the European Union.
Amendment 22 attempts to define the rather vague expression “attractiveness”. We have other definitions in later clauses; we certainly need to choose one of them but I will leave my preference for a later debate.
I support Amendments 34 to 39 to Clause 4 on clinical trials. As my noble friend Lord Sharkey pointed out, they tighten up the wording in the Bill to emphasise the benefits and avoid the damage of diversion from EU clinical trials regulations. British patients benefit from alignment, British bioscience research and development benefits, and the whole system is worth millions of pounds to the Exchequer. I and other noble Lords have received briefings from a number of organisations working on behalf of patients, such as the British Heart Foundation, emphasising that any diversion from these regulations will affect the rapid availability of new medicines and treatments to British patients. They are also concerned to protect the large amount of EU research funding that they currently receive. Diversion could also affect, to use the Government’s favourite word, the attractiveness of the UK as a place to conduct clinical trials. The problem is that the Government have not told us what they might want to change unilaterally in future, as a number of noble Lords have pointed out. I invite the Minister to tell us now.
Amendment 39 asks the Government to establish a clinical trials portal that aligns us with the EMA regulations for medicines for rare diseases. This is particularly important if we are independent from the EU as our population of 68 million is so much smaller than the EU population of more than 400 million, which would make it harder to find a big enough cohort of people with rare diseases for a clinical trial. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, pointed that out.
The EU clinical trials portal, which will come into play with the new and improved EU clinical trials regulations in 2022, was to a great extent designed by British participants. This shows how important it is considered to be by British scientists because it makes applications for clinical trials so much easier and less time-consuming. In its previous inquiry, the Science and Technology Committee heard from a number of witnesses about the issues with the current system, which wastes a lot of their time. So, like the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, I feel sad to know that we will be out of the system by the time the improvements are put in place.
Our current alignment also encourages British scientists to go abroad to broaden their expertise and EU scientists to come here and become part of our very successful research teams. I know the Government are in favour of that because I heard Amanda Solloway, the Science Minister in BEIS, say so last week to your Lordships’ Science and Technology Select Committee. I hope, therefore, the Minister will be minded to accept the amendment.
My Lords, I support this group of amendments, especially Amendment 22, but I first congratulate the Minister on his stamina and enthusiasm at this incredibly difficult time. I hope he will be able to answer some of our questions.
I spoke at Second Reading of the need to provide an attractive life science environment for researchers coming from abroad. If we are to recruit the brightest and the best to work in research and clinical trials with the highest standards, we must improve. How will this be achieved? Should they not feel welcome and needed?
Can the Minister assure your Lordships that there will be no barriers to access to medicines for UK citizens?
How can we still have a regulatory leadership role following the UK’s exit from the European Union and the European Medicines Agency? We must not become isolated. I hope we will still collaborate with the EMA and other international regulators. We desperately need new medicines for the very rare diseases. There is nothing more frustrating than other countries having medicines which are denied to people living in England.
I hope the Government will accept the need to incorporate these points, which have been expressed today, to make the Bill clearer and more positive and will put their own amendments down on Report to further improve it.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 125 in the name of my noble friend Lady Jolly. Like other amendments, it aims to probe the Government on their plans for future regulatory alignment with the European Union following Brexit. It also seeks to ensure that we seek full membership of any bodies or agencies that help safeguard regulatory alignment and standards in medicines and medical devices.
The EU and UK markets for medicines and medical devices are closely linked. According to the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, at least 45 million packs of medicines are exported monthly from the UK to the EU, and 37 million packs come the other way. The UK also relies heavily on the EU for its supply of medical devices, with more than half of its 5 billion imported medical technology originating in the EU.
The European Medicines Agency provides a centralised approval procedure for licensing to allow pharmaceutical companies to submit a single marketing authorisation which, once granted, is valid across the EU and EEA. Given its role in harmonising the regulation of clinical trials, about which we have heard much during this debate, it is clear that divergence would have a major impact on people in the UK and the EU. With respect to medicines, should the UK develop a significantly different regulatory process to the EMA for medicines regulation, the increased regulatory burden on pharmaceutical companies could lead them to prioritise the much larger EEA market over the UK’s. This could cause delays in new drugs being made available for patients in the UK and vice versa. What is the Government’s analysis of potential delays? Is it in the order of 12 to 24 months, as some have said?
Turning to medical devices, establishing a separate system for their accreditation in the UK would be likely to lead to delays in devices developed in other countries reaching the UK market and vice versa. In the case of medical devices, this would be particularly detrimental to the UK as most are imported. The Government have not been clear about their position on the regulatory alignment between the UK and the EU. Given the huge implications for patients in diverging from the EMA, it is vital to get a commitment to ensuring patient safety. I hope that the Minister will give us a clearer indication of which direction the Government aim to go there.
As a number of noble Lords have mentioned, a number of international organisations are key to ensuring harmonisation and regulatory alignment. It is important that we seek full membership of these organisations post Brexit. Have the Government considered that point? The ABPI has recommended that we seek full membership of, for example, the International Council for Harmonisation of Technical Requirements for Pharmaceuticals for Human Use and the International Organization for Standardization, although the latter is outside the scope of the Bill. I hope to hear from the Minister in some detail.
It was almost inevitable, looking at the amendments that were coming up and knowing the people who would be discussing them in Committee, that this was going to be one of the most interesting debates. It has been fascinating and well informed. The amendments relate to our future relationship with the EMA and other international organisations after Brexit. My Amendment 125 in this group is on future regulatory alignment; I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Sheehan for her contribution.
The Government have not been forthcoming on whether they will pursue regulatory alignment and, more importantly, what the implications of not doing so would be. I would be grateful if the Minister clarified that second point. Our clinical trials are hugely important and widely respected. The clinical trials information system is critically important; the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, made that vital point. What aspect of the role of the EMA are we trying to replace? It has four parts: to facilitate development and access to medicines; to evaluate applications for marketing authorisations; to monitor the safety of medicines across their life cycle; and to provide information to healthcare professionals and patients. We need urgent clarification on how the future information system will work, who will host it, how it will be staffed and how we will share our research.
As the noble Lord, Lord Patel, said, we do not have a large enough population for significant research without partners. Are we clear that we could work with the FDA in the US—or, indeed, with the TGA in Australia? Would that give us a sufficient body of people from which to take on our research? Perhaps. Are there any moves to seek full membership of the International Council for Harmonisation of Technical Requirements for Pharmaceuticals for Human Use? I am sure that the Minister will have the answers but the regulations must have regard to the desirability of alignment, somehow or other, with the rest of the world. We cannot work as a small unit—perfectly formed, maybe, but we are small compared with the US, Europe and other groupings.
How is this going to be measured and monitored? The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, spoke about the fast-track licensing of medicines and devices. The point he made so clearly is that public safety has to be paramount so we cannot rush this sort of thing. We have to get it right; if people have to wait, so be it. It has been interesting to hear the reflections of the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, because he was sitting in the hot seat of the department. I wonder whether he is glad that he is not there now.
The other interesting amendment concerns the definition of attractiveness, which included collaboration with the EMA. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, attempted a definition. I am sure that if we were all given a piece of paper and asked to write down our definition of attractiveness, there would probably be as many answers as there are people in the debate today. I would like a definition from the Minister: how is this to be measured and by which body?
Without a doubt, under the provisions of Amendment 34, regulations must be made, while under Amendments 35 and 36, they should correspond with the EU clinical trials regulations. Amendment 38 provides that we must continue our collaboration with the EU in whatever form we can manage between us. We also need to look hard at clinical trials portals, not only with the EU but with our other partners in future.
My Lords, as the Minister for Innovation, I am very keen on the UK’s continued leadership in this area; I have made it something of a personal cause. I am very proud of the fact that the MHRA approves around 950 medicinal trials a year, over half of which are multinational.
We know that once an early phase trial is established in this country, the industry is more likely to keep its later phase multi-country trials here. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and others who have questioned this point, that I can confirm that the purpose of the measures in this Bill are absolutely to build on our established strengths so that the UK has the opportunity to anchor international drug development in this country and grow that capability. I am committed to international standards, international partnerships and multi-country clinical trials. It is of course important that we work with our international partners both within the EU and globally to the benefit of patients. I assure noble Lords emphatically that we are committed to international co-operation.
However, I do not agree that our future relationships will be furthered by mandating the consideration of alignment with EU regulations and the European Medicines Agency. The UK has a long track record of jointly tackling global challenges with strong international links already in place between research and innovation communities. The UK works closely with many other regulators; those relationships are underpinned by many shared international standards. The EU bases its regulations on exactly those standards, as do we, and we will continue to do this going forward.
As a number of noble Lords have noted, we have the opportunity to create a better regulatory framework. The feedback from the industry is that an agile, proportionate UK system with familiar data submission requirements would increase the UK’s attractiveness as a place to conduct multinational studies, even if we are operating outside the EU’s network. My noble friend Lord O’Shaughnessy’s quote from the ABPI made this point. The powers in the Bill as it stands will allow us to develop exactly that kind of system.
Progress is already happening. The MHRA and the Health Research Authority are already taking steps to streamline the approvals process for UK clinical trials and are currently piloting a new process that has been shown to reduce overall approval times by more than 30%. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, that this change does not rule out co-operation. Data generated in a UK clinical trial will continue to be admissible to support regulatory activity in the EU—and, indeed, globally. We can also look at how we can go further in making clinical trials and their results transparent and visible to the public. Co-operation does not require alignment.
Amendment 3 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, also suggests considering alignment with EU licensing processes. In the short term, the MHRA has already taken steps to recognise for two years future EMA decisions for medicine licences approved through the centralised authorisation procedure from January 2021. In the long term, there are opportunities to establish new UK routes to market, such as a new expedited pathway for innovative products, and to establish shorter assessment timeframes.
We have the ability to make corresponding or similar provisions to the EU CTR, but Amendment 38 would oblige us to align. Amendment 35, in the name of my noble friend Lord Lansley, does something similar. My noble friend makes the point that we have the opportunity to do better than the EU CTR, and that is very much our intention. That regulation replaces current separate regulatory authority and ethics approvals with a single national decision for a trial. The UK could adopt a similar methodology and associated data requirements for approvals, but in a much quicker timeframe. We have already introduced the combined ways for a working pilot to streamline approvals by the MHRA and ethics committees, and industry has told us that our scheme is one of the most appealing among the various pilot schemes in the EU, leading to a reported 30% reduction in timelines. The UK may wish to go further and develop our existing national system to further adapt requirements according to risk so as to reduce unnecessary burdens, such as academic trials involving a marketed product already in common usage.
In his Amendment 49, the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, suggests that there would be benefits in adopting certain definitions in the EU CTR. These include the EU’s revised definition of a clinical trial and co-sponsorship set out in the EU clinical trials regulations. Under the EU CTR, this new definition of clinical trials is an attempt to avoid current variation in interpretations in different member states. Whether this will have the intended effect remains to be seen. EU legislation already includes a definition of a clinical trial, and the MHRA offers trial sponsors free advice on whether their study meets that definition, to ensure a consistent interpretation. If we wished to amend our definition of a clinical trial corresponding to that in the EU CTR, the Bill as drafted would enable that.
My noble friend Lord Lansley is right that the EU CTR introduces a single submission portal and co-assessment model, but I confirm that member states involved still have to individually authorise the trial, and therefore one or more member states could refuse authorisation. The portal is an IT system, the method of delivery. This does not mean centralised EU approval of a trial. Where a member state has national restrictions that require separate approvals outside the scope of the EU CTR, the sponsor would still have to seek the approval separately of the individual member state, in addition to the processes for seeking authorisation for the trial through the EU portal under the EU CTR. Industry has told us that if the UK has a rapid approval system, the lack of access to the EU portal is not a particular issue.
Amendment 52 introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Patel, suggests provision to develop a clinical trials portal that aligns with the European Medicines Agency for medicines for rare diseases. The EMA’s IT system does not address complex trial designs, such as umbrella, basket and platform trials that involve the use of master protocols. These are the very trial designs that have delivered the UK’s successes in Covid-19 research. On the EU portal, it is also extremely unlikely that the EU would agree to UK involvement, even if one were to request it, given that it is for EU member states and EEA countries. There are many other reasons why the UK is such an attractive place to run global rare disease trials: our world-class research infrastructure and centres for excellence, and so on and so forth.
Amendment 22, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, specifies a number of components that the term is to cover, including the way in which we work internationally for the future, such as establishing and forging international regulatory standards. Noble Lords touched on a number of points. We intend to have international relations in our own right going forward, as in Amendment 125 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, which requires the Government to seek full membership of the International Council for Harmonisation of Technical Requirements for Pharmaceuticals for Human Use. The MHRA has already submitted its application to the ICH, and we expect to hear the outcome of the application following the ICH assembly’s meeting in November. The MHRA has a longstanding history of demonstrated commitment to the ICH as part of the EU’s delegation and we remain committed to making a significant contribution in the future as a stand-alone regulator. However, there are other partnerships in the future. From 2021, the MHRA will take part in Project Orbis, an international consortium led by the US FDA, with regulators working together on the review and authorisation of cancer medicines.
The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, also touches on the importance of getting medicines when they are developed by referring both to the importance of reimbursement in parallel with the granting of marketing authorisations and facilitating prompt access through new approaches to reinvestment. I reassure the noble Lord that NICE and the MHRA are already working to ensure that marketing authorisation procedures in health technology assessment timings are aligned as much as possible to ensure that new medicines are available to patients earlier. However, the subject of reimbursement is outside the scope of the Bill’s remit.
Excellent clinical trials are run here now, and that will continue in the future. While we make changes where they are seen to be needed or helpful to facilitate clinical trials, we will work with partners, establish relationships, and continue to set international standards as part of the framework for clinical trials.
I hope that the noble Baroness has heard enough to feel able to withdraw Amendment 3 and that other noble Lords with amendments in the group will not press theirs.
I have received a request to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Patel.
My Lords, the Minister referred to the large number of trials that are started in the United Kingdom. Can he say how many phase 3 trials have been started here? He also referred to the platform that the MHRA has developed with regard to Covid that accelerated the delivery of drugs, which is correct. However, that is not the same as a platform for rare diseases.
I agree that the licensing that was done at speed, within six months, would normally have taken two years: for instance, the licensing of the use of Remdesivir, produced by Gilead Sciences for the treatment of Covid-19. However, that is not the same as the noble Lord’s implication that it could be used for rare diseases. Those require a larger database, which Covid had, because there is no shortage of Covid data. Furthermore, he said that the EU portal means that individual countries have to approve. That is correct, but the approval is a speedier process because it has gone through the portal, unlike before.
My Lords, I will be happy to write to the noble Lord with the precise figures for phase 3 trials. However, he is right that they are incredibly important. The Bill must defend our position on phase 3 trials, which are very much the sharp end of the clinical trials process.
The learning from RECOVERY is that it is not a direct read-across to rare diseases. The noble Lord is right that in rare disease trials, we are often trying to drill down into very small communities, whereas 113,000 signed up for RECOVERY, and tens of thousands took some of the drugs that went through the trial process. However, it is the general capability of being able to run significant platforms, manage ethics at speed, get regulatory sign-off for these trials, and have a clinical trials regime which suits many different purposes. That is our objective, that is why we are putting through these reforms, and that is why we believe that the Bill can support a modernisation of our clinical trials regime.
On the European trials process, the noble Lord is entirely right that the portal contributes to speedy processes. However, it is not the only way of having a speedy sign-off of trials through Europe; we believe there are other ways of doing that.
Responding to the very last thing that the Minister said, he will have to tell us what those other ways are during the course of this discussion.
This has been a well-informed debate, as I assumed it would be. I think I was right in saying that this issue is at the heart of the Bill and how we move forward. My noble friend Lord Hunt—I thank him for his support —was quite right that this is the big issue. As the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, said, this is the start of the discussion that we are going to have about attractiveness and where that lies and how it can express itself.
The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, put his finger on various important issues to do with clinical trials. He asked the key question, which I do not think the Minister answered. It is: if we diverge, what will that mean and how will it happen? I did not hear an answer to that question. The answer will determine what some of us do next as we move forward with this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, was completely correct when he said that it is vital that we get this right for the future of life sciences in the UK.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Patel, for his support for our amendments. He reminded us that we had this discussion during the passage of the main Brexit legislation, when we were told that it was not the appropriate place to such a discussion so the amendment was withdrawn. Now, at the last minute, this must be the place where we have these discussions and come to some conclusion on them.
The noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, is right. As we strike out on our own as a country, we will need new relationships and we will need to take advantage of what is on offer in the rest of the world. The transition will be very important because what happens in the meantime is vital. We will also need to ensure patient safety in this laissez-faire world, as the noble Lord explained, for example, if we decide to ignore the portal and strike out without it.
I do not doubt for a moment the Minister’s emphatic commitment to making this a success, but as we move forward, this Committee will need to understand much more than what the Minister has told us so far on the risks and opportunities. My final request to the Minister is that we will need a cross-party meeting of some depth—possibly more than one—to discuss this matter with his Bill team and the MHRA. We had such a meeting. It feels as if it was aeons ago, but I think that it was in February, perhaps March. Anyway, it was before we went into lockdown. We absolutely will need meetings and discussions before we move on to the next stage of the Bill. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 4. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the course of the debate.
4: Page 1, line 6, at end insert—
“( ) The power under subsection (1) may not be exercised to—
(a) create a criminal offence of failing to comply with a provision made in regulations; or
(b) modify penalties for existing criminal offences.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This probing amendment would remove provisions for criminal offences to be created by delegated legislation. The DPRRC considered this an inappropriate delegation of power.
I have added my name to Amendments 4, 52 and 69, which would remove the provision for criminal offences to be created by delegated legislation.
The Government are developing a reputation for riding roughshod over the law, personal liberties and the role of lawyers. Indeed, the Internal Market Bill, debate on which is taking place in the Chamber today, is a reflection of that.
I am afraid that this Bill continues that trend, as indicated by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in its very direct criticism of the criminal offence provisions. The committee drew attention to provisions in the Bill which give Ministers powers to create and modify imprisonable offences by statutory instrument. Thus regulations under Clauses 1 and 8 may create a criminal offence of failing to comply with provision made in such regulations that is punishable by imprisonment up to two years. Regulations under Clauses 1 and 8 may also amend the dozens of offence-creating provisions in the existing regulations. Regulations under Clause 12 may create new criminal offences relating to medical devices that are punishable by imprisonment for up to one year. Schedule 2 inserts a new regulation 60A and a new schedule into the 2002 regulations which make it a criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment for up to one year, to breach any of the provisions in the 2002 regulations that are listed in the new schedule. It goes on: Clause 14(1)(d) provides that regulations under Clause 12 may amend the new Schedule 30.
The powers conferred in all these provisions give rise to two concerns. As the Select Committee reported, it has previously expressed the view that it expects a compelling justification for the ingredients of a criminal offence to be set by delegated legislation. The powers in Clauses 1, 8 and 12 would allow Ministers to create completely new criminal offences and make changes to the ingredients of existing offences, yet the memorandum does not appear to contain any justification at all for this. The committee also points out that it has also said that where the penalty for a criminal offence may be set by delegated legislation, it would expect the maximum penalty to be included in the Bill, save in exceptional circumstances.
While the Bill limits the maximum penalty for offences created by regulations under Clauses 1 and 8, it is unclear whether this limit also applies to the many existing medicines offences which could be modified by regulations under Clause 1 or Clause 8. Again, the memorandum does not appear to shed any light on this. The Minister in his Amendments 43, 44, 64 and 65 has attempted to soften the pill by ensuring that regulations under Clause 1 (1) and Clause 8 (1) may not provide for an offence to be punishable with a sentence of more than two years. That is obviously welcome, but I do not think it goes far enough. From my reading of the amendments—no doubt we will hear about them later—they do not deal with the other substantial concern of the committee that the powers in Clauses 1, 8 and 12 would allow Ministers to create completely new criminal offences and make changes to the ingredients of existing offences. Given that, I do not think we can allow these delegated powers to be retained in the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 42 and 63, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, to which I added my name and to which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, has just alluded. I also have my name to Amendment 92 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and the noble and learned Lords, Lord Mackay of Clashfern and Lord Judge. Noble Lords can immediately tell that I must be the tenth reserve speaking on this important amendment, but the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, has laid out very clearly the problems with the government amendments that were brought in and the powers they seek.
I shall be brief on this as the Constitution Committee report spelled it out in its last line:
“The delegated powers to create and adjust criminal offences in this Bill are constitutionally unacceptable.”
It was making a constitutional point.
As the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, who is a member of the Constitution Committee, cannot be here, I shall speak on his behalf. Paragraph 21 of the Constitution Committee’s report states:
“We have concluded previously that ‘the creation of criminal offences through delegated powers is constitutionally unacceptable’, save for exceptional circumstances. The delegated powers to create and adjust criminal offences in this Bill are constitutionally unacceptable.”
The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, went on to say that the response of the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bethel, that regulations cannot be used to provide for an offence to be punishable with a sentence of imprisonment of more than two years is not satisfactory. A sentence of imprisonment of up to two years is a very serious matter. Parliament, not Ministers, should decide when such a potential sentence should be available to the courts.
My Lords, we strongly support Amendments 4, 42, 52 and 92 in this group.
The proposal in the Bill to create new criminal offences by statutory instrument is completely unacceptable. It is a matter of basic principle that the creation of new criminal offences requires proper parliamentary scrutiny. The delegated powers affirmative procedure does not provide this or anything like it. This ought not to be controversial. The Government’s own list of the areas in which it is appropriate to use delegated legislation does not include the creation of criminal offences.
Our Constitution Committee has made its position very clear. It considers the use of delegated legislation to formulate policy or create new criminal offences or public bodies constitutionally unacceptable. The Government propose to do the first two of those things in this Bill; it is dismaying that they should so directly and bluntly ignore the conclusion of the Constitution Committee.
The Government appear, however, to have felt the need to modify their initial position somewhat. Their amendments in this group preserve the power to create new criminal offences by statutory instrument, but now cap any sentence for breach at two years. That is a category error. Our objection is to the creation of criminal offences by delegated powers. The length of the sentence attached is completely irrelevant and I am amazed that the Government think that capping the sentence might make the creation of criminal offences proposal more acceptable.
There is an obvious and fundamental principle at stake here. Criminal offences, no matter what penalties are attached, should not be created without full parliamentary scrutiny. They should not be created by the use of delegated powers. I urge the Minister to think again and to remove the offending provisions from the Bill. If he is disinclined to do that, I hope that the House will insist on Report.
My Lords, I very much support what the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, has just said. In so doing, I support Amendments 4, 42, 52, 63, 69 and 92 in this group.
It seems counterintuitive at the very least for a Government to come forward with proposals to give a Minister powers using a delegated provision to create new criminal offences and, when challenged, to justify the position by saying, “Well, we will limit the sanction to two years’ imprisonment.” This completely misses the point, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey. There is a clear principle at stake here, which has been well described by the Constitution Committee in its report on this legislation. Very simply, it offends liberty and the functioning of our democracy that a Government can propose to create criminal offences that would deny a citizen their liberty for one day, let alone a maximum of two years, and feel that there should not be proper parliamentary scrutiny in the accepted fashion for the creation of criminal offences. Her Majesty’s Government should think very carefully about what they propose to do here and bring their own amendments beyond the government amendments suggested in this group.
My Lords, I just want to add to what my noble friend Lord Sharkey said. This is a matter of principle; from the two reports by the two committees that have been cited and from the Second Reading debate, the Government can be in no doubt about the strength of feeling on it. In the light of those, the Government’s response in the government amendments in this group is, frankly, rather pathetic and not at all acceptable.
The Bill represents an enormous upheaval for one of the critical areas of our industry. The pharmaceutical industry is of immense importance to this country. Apart from anything else, to add criminal offences created through delegated powers by means of a Bill that is so spare and lacking in detail does a huge disservice to people who want to continue to pursue not just high-quality but ethical production of badly needed medicines in this country and within international frameworks. If the best the Government can do is to table the amendments in this group, they do the industry a great disservice.
I do not think that I need to say much in response to the remarks that were, I think, unanimous in their support for my amendment and the other amendments in the group. The cap on the sentence is not a good enough response by the Government. Earlier in our debates, I made a remark about amendments designed to circumvent; I am afraid that the government amendments before us are exactly that kind of amendment. They will not serve, I am afraid.
Unless the Government are prepared, as I hope they are, to table amendments that actually solve the problems and address the issues raised by the Constitution Committee and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee—they could not have been clearer on this issue: in this country, we do not set up criminal offences and their sentences by delegated legislation—there is nothing more for me to say, other than that I hope the Government will think again.
My Lords, it is perhaps appropriate if I begin by speaking to the government amendments—Amendments 43, 44, 64 and 65 in the name of my noble friend Lord Bethell —in this group. In doing so, I thank my noble friend Lord Blencathra for his committee’s report. As previously noted, we have listened to that report, and the changes that we propose through these amendments are intended to address the specific concern in that report regarding penalties for existing criminal offences.
As drafted, Clause 5(1)(b) already provides a restriction limiting the maximum penalty to imprisonment for two years when creating a criminal offence. The DPRRC asked us to explain whether the penalties for existing offences could be amended when there was no maximum specified in the Bill. I want to be clear that we do not intend to increase the penalties for existing offences.
Amendments 43 and 44 would work together to amend Clause 5. They make it clear that, under Clause 1, we may not make regulations that provide for a criminal offence to be punishable by more than two years’ imprisonment. This will apply to both new and existing criminal offences. For veterinary medicines, Amendments 64 and 65 seek to achieve the same by amending Clause 10.
The government amendments will, I hope, remove any concern that powers in Clauses 1 or 8 could be used to make regulations extending sentences for existing offences beyond two years’ imprisonment.
I now turn to Amendment 4 and the other amendments in this group to which noble Lords have spoken. The ability to enforce breaches of the regime governing medicines is a power originally conferred on the Secretary of State in the interest of protecting public health. This was introduced by the Medicines Act 1968 and provisions around offences are found throughout the Human Medicines Regulations 2012. They are also contained in the Veterinary Medicines Regulations 2013.
Offences deter potentially harmful activity and make it possible to take punitive measures against those whose actions put people, animals and the environment at risk. As we make necessary updates to the regulatory requirements, we must be able to remain consistent with the current enforcement regime, which already imposes criminal sanctions. It would not be right that a person may face a criminal sanction for breaching current requirements but not for breaching new regulatory requirements, for example relating to novel technologies and medicines. As with other changes to provisions, making changes to offences will be subject to the draft affirmative procedure, and we will make offences proportionate and necessary. It is imperative that we are able to balance novel regulation with enforcement of that regulation.
It cannot be ignored that crime involving medicines is increasing. Furthermore, criminal activities adapt to new environments and technology. In recent months we have seen opportunistic criminals selling online unauthorised and unapproved medicines and devices for the treatment, prevention or diagnosis of Covid-19, including antimalarials, self-testing kits, “miracle cures” and “antiviral misting sprays”, which could cause harm and unnecessary stress to patients. Enforcement capabilities must be able to keep pace with criminal exploitation. Delegated powers afford us our continued ability to enforce the regulatory requirements for medicines and devices for public protection. To be effective, they must be enforceable.
The Veterinary Medicines Regulations 2013 contain numerous criminal offences for breaches of the regulations; again, this is for the purposes of enforcement. The Veterinary Medicines Directorate’s enforcement strategy is risk-based; it focuses on proportionality, consistency, transparency and targeting. The VMD works with businesses and individuals to assist them in complying with the legislation through the provision of advice and guidance. However, where necessary the VMD will use more formal means of enforcement to secure compliance. It is critical that we have the delegated powers to enforce this.
We have always been clear that we are trying to provide greater clarity on how to enforce the regulations on medical devices. The regulator’s ability to have teeth when we are looking to raise medical device safety standards in future is essential. The report from my noble friend Lady Cumberlege tells us that.
The Bill is also clear on the maximum time limit for imprisonment, which applies to any new criminal offence introduced. This limit matches the current system for devices, where criminal offences for medical devices are already punishable for up to six months. The devices regulations are in place to protect public health; breaches of those regulations put people at risk and can cause significant harm. It is only appropriate that there is a clear consequence for any such actions, including potential criminal prosecutions. We will of course have regulations subject to the duty to consult at Clause 41, which will mean the public have the opportunity to comment on the necessity and proportionality of the approach.
I hope the necessity of enforcing the new regulations, and the safeguards the government amendments have provided, persuade the noble Lord to withdraw his Amendment 4 and others not to move theirs.
I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, to respond to the debate on his amendment.
I first thank my noble friend Lady Thornton for her words in support of the amendment and the noble Lord, Lord Patel, who was hoping to field an impressive cast list in this debate. I thought he did very well; I have always thought he would make a first-class lawyer—he should take that as a compliment.
At the heart of it, as he and the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, said, this is a constitutional point: the advice we have had from a House of Lords Select Committee is that what the Government are proposing is constitutionally unacceptable. While the Minister’s amendments are always welcome, the fact remains that the Bill, after the Government’s amendments, would allow Ministers to create completely new criminal offences and make changes to existing offences. The Minister kindly explained this, but here we get to the heart of this Bill and the problem that many of us have with it. She talked about novel regulation and the need to keep pace with developments. I understand that.
The problem is that what the Government want is carte blanche to change regulation in this field via the use of regulation. In effect it is Executive diktat. They can at any time come along and change the regulatory framework through regulations, and they want the offences regime to match it. I understand that, and it brings us back to our fundamental objection to the Bill and why we will come back to the sunset clause. This is not acceptable. We cannot have a situation where the Government can make major changes in a regulatory regime simply through regulation that Parliament has no ability to do anything about in practice. The Government add to the problem by then saying, “And we can make changes to the offences as well, subject to the provisions about the cap the Government have brought in”. That is why this is so important. We have had a short debate. It would have been longer. I think it will be on Report. The Government should be in no doubt that this causes a great deal of anxiety and that ultimately, I do not think we accept the basic premise on which the Bill is being brought forward. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 4 withdrawn.
Amendment 5 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 6. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate.
6: Page 1, line 6, at end insert—
“( ) Regulations made under subsection (1) are subject, in relation to regulations made by the Secretary of State, to the super-affirmative procedure set out in section (Super-affirmative procedure), in relation to regulations made by a Northern Ireland department, to section (Super-affirmative procedure: Northern Ireland), and, in relation to regulations of the Secretary of State and a Northern Ireland department acting jointly, to both.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment, and the amendments to page 5 line 12, page 7 line 22 and page 9 line 27 in the name of Lord Sharkey, replace the existing affirmative procedure with a super-affirmative procedure in order to increase parliamentary scrutiny.
My Lords, Amendment 6 deals with human medicines. Amendments 53, 71 and 98 in the group make the same provisions as Amendment 6 but for veterinary medicines, medical devices and information systems. I will also speak to Amendments 143 and 144, which deal with the mechanisms that make Amendments 6, 53, 71 and 98 work. Our Amendments 135, 136 and 142 would replace the negative procedure in cases of urgency with the “made affirmative” procedure. I shall not speak to these because the Minister has more or less conceded the point in his new amendments.
Amendment 6 is in my name and those of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. I am immensely grateful for their support and regret that they cannot be present today because they are all speaking at the internal market Bill Second Reading in the Chamber. It is extremely unhelpful that the Government have scheduled two significant Bills for the same time slots. They should be decoupled to prevent future clashes.
Amendment 6 and its equivalents deal with the non-urgent scrutiny procedures currently set out in the Bill. They replace, in Parts 1, 2 and 3, the affirmative procedure for delegated powers with the super-affirmative procedure set out in Amendments 143 and 144 later in the Bill. The purpose of these amendments, taken as a whole, is to restore an element of parliamentary scrutiny to a Bill which so conspicuously lacks it.
This is a skeleton Bill. Parts 1, 2 and 3 contain no policy detail but give the Minister effective carte blanche. The Minister is given almost unfettered power to remake our human medicines, our veterinary medicines and our medical devices regimes. The reports of the DPRR Committee and the Constitution Committee were highly critical of this approach. At Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, chair of the DPRRC and speaking for it, said that
“the structure of the Bill is absolutely atrocious and an affront to parliamentary democracy.”
He went on to say that his committee was
“deeply concerned not only by the Government’s failure to provide sufficient justification for the adoption of a ‘skeleton bill’ approach—which would give Ministers sweeping powers to almost completely re-write the existing regulatory regimes … but also by their failure to acknowledge the breadth of the powers that the Bill would confer.”
“Parliament is effectively bypassed; that is a sick joke of good law.”—[Official Report, 2/9/20; cols. 415-16.]
Despite all this, it is likely that the Minister will choose to represent the proposed use of the affirmative procedure in this Bill as meaningful parliamentary scrutiny, but it is emphatically not that. Parliament cannot amend SIs and this House has voted down affirmative SIs just four times in the past 70 years. The Constitution Committee in its 2018 report The Legislative Process: the Delegation of Powers noted:
“Without a genuine risk of defeat, and no amendment possible, Parliament is doing little more than rubber-stamping the Government’s secondary legislation. This is constitutionally unacceptable.”
Affirmative SIs do not constitute meaningful parliamentary scrutiny, and the Government’s promise of wide, but unspecified, consultation on the powers in the Bill does not somehow magically restore parliamentary scrutiny. Parliament is still bypassed.
There is a delegated legislation procedure that allows for significant parliamentary scrutiny. This procedure, which comes in several flavours, is known to the Government as “exceptional procedures” and to Erskine May, in Part 4 Chapter 31.14, as the “super-affirmative procedure”. This is what our amendments propose should replace the existing affirmative procedures written into Parts 1, 2 and 3. Erskine May characterises the super-affirmative procedure as follows:
“The super affirmative procedure provides both Houses with opportunities to comment on proposals for secondary legislation and to recommend amendments before orders for affirmative approval are brought forward in their final form.”
It notes that
“the power to amend the proposed instrument remains with the Minister: the two Houses and their committees can only recommend changes, not make them.”
Our amendments follow this pattern and are more generally based on the variant of the procedure used in the Public Bodies Act 2011. Amendments 143 and 144 set out the details and the stages. First, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a draft of the proposed regulations and a document explaining them; secondly, he or she must request a committee of either House whose remit includes health, science or technology to report on the draft regulations within 30 days; and thirdly, in proposing a draft statutory instrument containing the regulations, the Secretary of State must take account of any representations, any resolution of either House and any recommendations of the committee to which the draft was referred. After the expiry of the 30-day period, the Secretary of State may lay before Parliament regulations in terms of the original or a revised draft. The Secretary of State must also state what representations, recommendations or resolutions were made in the 30-day period and give details of any such. He or she must also explain any changes made in a revised draft. After that, the normal affirmative procedure continues.
The Library records that the last insertion in a Bill of the super-affirmative procedure was by the Government themselves in October 2017 in the Financial Claims and Guidance Bill. When they are not doing it themselves, the Government traditionally put forward any of or all three routine objections to the use of super-affirmatives. The first is that it is unnecessary because the use of the affirmative procedure provides sufficient parliamentary scrutiny. Sometimes, this objection is elaborated by praying in aid extensive consultation. I remind the Minister of the DPRRC’s remarks in paragraph 45 of its report on the Bill where it says that
“we are concerned at consultation being presented as a substitute for Parliamentary scrutiny.”
It is quite obviously untrue that the affirmative procedure allows any kind of effective scrutiny.
The second routine objection is that the super-affirmative procedure is cumbersome. I take this to mean only that this procedure is more elaborate than the affirmative procedure, which is, of course, the whole point. It is necessarily more elaborate because it provides for actual scrutiny where the affirmative procedure does not. The third routine objection is that it all takes too long. This has force only if there is some imminent deadline. The Minister may argue that there is such a deadline at midnight on 31 December. At this point, the Government lose the powers conferred by Section 2(2) of the European Communities Act to modify the regimes, but does this really present a deadline? I leave aside here the issue of whether this Bill will have been passed by then, given its very slow progress and the sparse future scheduling.
The impact assessment helpfully sets out, in Annexe B, the number of times the Section 2(2) powers have been used. Between 2013 and 2019 they generated a total of 11 SIs. In each of the last four years they have generated just one SI. This is not an avalanche. Nothing in these figures shows urgency. Nothing suggests we need to rush regime changes by excluding scrutiny provisions from the Bill. Nothing suggests that using the super-affirmative procedure would cause significant delay or disadvantage.
The impact assessment notes explicitly, on page 5:
“policy development is at an early stage”.
This was in June. If policy development has made progress since then, perhaps the Minister can now tell the Committee what policy changes he intends to propose, using the delegated powers in Parts 1, 2 and 3.
If policy development has not made progress, it is vital that when it does, and sees daylight in SIs, those SIs are scrutinised as fully as possible, as the super-affirmative procedure permits. In the event that a policy or technical change is required urgently, the provisions of this Bill, with the latest Government amendment, should allow the use of the “made affirmative” procedure.
This is a skeleton Bill. It is an attempt to bypass Parliamentary scrutiny. It contains no policy details and has no special claim to urgency as a reason for limiting scrutiny. The affirmative procedure is not meaningful scrutiny, as our Constitution Committee has pointed out—but the super-affirmative procedure is. That is what these amendments propose. Parliament should not be bypassed. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, and everything he has said in moving Amendment 6. These are clear matters of principle, and although one must accept that government Amendment 133 is an attempt to provide concessions on them, the noble Lord has set out clearly why adoption of even the affirmative procedure will not provide sufficient scope for appropriate scrutiny of what may turn out to be exceedingly important regulations.
The argument for adoption of the super-affirmative procedure has been well made, and I shall not repeat all the noble Lord’s arguments, save to say that in moving his amendment he also dealt with all the potential arguments that could be put against what is proposed in the amendments. In those circumstances, bearing in mind the importance of the issues that the legislation will cover, and the deep anxieties already expressed in Committee about the nature of the Bill, both in practical terms and in terms of its constitutional implications, Her Majesty’s Government should seriously consider accepting these important amendments.
My Lords, Amendments 137 and 138 in this group are in my name. They have partly been answered by government Amendment 133, and I shall speak about all three. My amendments are probing amendments, which would prevent regulation exercise in respect of Clauses 6 and 15 in relation to the disapplication of certain provisions in the medicines and medical devices regulations where there is a serious risk to public health. The reasons for this are the same as those set out earlier on the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.
The Government do not require the negative procedure to intervene swiftly in emergency scenarios, as the affirmative procedure is available, and safeguards parliamentary scrutiny. That is what the amendment is about. The Government have tried to respond to it, to some extent, through their Amendment 133, which removes subsections (3) to (9) of Clause 42 and inserts instead many new subsections, including a table detailing which specific provisions will be subject to the negative procedure, the “made affirmative” procedure and the draft affirmative procedure.
This accomplishes, in my view, mainly what the Minister set out in his letter, saving the negative procedure for the setting of fees and “supplementary” regulation relating to the new civil sanctions regime for medical devices. It also provides that the “made affirmative” procedure will be used for the disapplication of provisions under Clause 6 in cases of emergency. However, the wording of the table regarding Clause 6 is very specific and states that the “made affirmative” procedure will be used only where the relevant regulations
“contain a declaration that the person making them considers that they need to be made urgently to protect the public from an imminent risk of serious harm to health”.
Clause 6 itself already sets out that regulations made under it may be made where there is
“a risk of serious harm to health”.
The issue is that it is not clear how risk is being interpreted, and the judgment of what constitutes an urgent and
“imminent risk of serious harm to health”
is being left entirely to the person drafting the regulations.
Further, the amendment is not accompanied by amendments to Clause 6, which itself provides that regulations disapplying certain provisions of medicine and medical devices regulations can be subject to conditions to be set out in protocols. In my view, this circumvents parliamentary scrutiny. Overall, the amendment seems at least to address concerns relating to legislative procedure. However, none of the amendments includes a sunset clause, so they do not address the overarching concern that this skeleton Bill circumvents parliamentary scrutiny and adds to the complexity of existing regulations.
I speak in support of these amendments in the names of my noble friend Lord Sharkey and other eminent noble Lords. I confess that I had not heard of the super-affirmative procedure until my noble friend sat me down and talked me through it, and it struck me as being eminently sensible and doable, and this is exactly the right sort of Bill—or the regulations contained herein are exactly the right sort—for the super-affirmative procedure. I ask all noble Lords to support this amendment and those who support it.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, for his comprehensive introduction to this group of amendments, particularly those that he is supporting.
We are minus at least four noble Lords from this debate because of the clash with the other Bill. I have certainly made my view known to the usual channels in the next booth that we cannot continue to discuss this Bill in those circumstances because we will be missing too many people who have a stake in the Bill and amendments down. I cannot imagine what the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, is saying to his own Benches about this—actually, I probably can, and it will not be polite, I suspect. He put his name down to this amendment and, presumably, found out that he was not allowed to speak in both the Second Reading debate and in this Committee at the same time. I can see why that rule is there, but we are finding that this really does not work.
While the affirmative procedure offers nothing like the scrutiny given to a Bill, which typically goes through several substantive stages in each House and can be amended, we agree wholeheartedly with the DPRRC’s view that Clauses 1, 8 and 12 contain inappropriate delegations of power. We are where we are, and we therefore take the view that the affirmative procedure should apply. Amendment 134 provides for all regulations to be made subject to the draft affirmative procedure rather than the negative procedure and for urgent regulations to be subject to the made affirmative procedure rather than negative procedure.
Both the DPRR Committee and the Constitution Committee have expressed considerable concern at the inappropriate use of the negative procedure in this Bill. For example, Clause 2(1)(n) provides that regulations under Clause 1 may make provision about prohibitions relating to the supply of human medicines. Clause 42(9) provides for such regulations to be subject to the negative procedure. The explanation given for this in the memorandum, which I think I referred to in the very first debate in this Committee, is as follows:
“proposals to make changes to existing provisions, or to introduce new provisions enabling the supply, administration or prescribing of medicines are made to reflect shifts in best practice following extensive consideration and scrutiny by the relevant professional bodies.”
The DPRRC found this an unconvincing explanation. I probably do as well. It noted:
“It isn’t clear why consultation with relevant professional bodies lessens the requirement for scrutiny in Parliament. Indeed, if proposed changes are sufficiently important for there to be extensive consideration and scrutiny by professional bodies, this supports requiring the higher level of scrutiny in Parliament that the affirmative procedure affords. Furthermore, the prohibitions to which clause 2(1)(n) applies are sufficiently important that breach of them is a criminal offence (punishable, in the case of 4 of the 5 prohibitions, by imprisonment for up to two years). Even accepting the appropriateness of the delegation of powers in clause 1, we take the view that the affirmative procedure should apply. The consultation requirement imposed by clause 41 of the Bill is to be welcomed but we are concerned at consultation being presented as a substitute for Parliamentary scrutiny. On the contrary, if the exercise of the power is of sufficient importance to merit extensive consultation, it is of sufficient importance to warrant the higher level of Parliamentary scrutiny which the affirmative procedure affords.”
The committee also highlighted and raised concerns about Clause 9(1)(f), which provides that regulations under Clause 8 may make provision about the categories of person who may apply for veterinary medicines. The EM states:
“any proposals to make changes to existing powers or to introduce new powers for veterinary professionals to supply, administer or prescribe medicines will be subject to extensive consideration and scrutiny by professional bodies”.
Again, the committee found this unconvincing for the same reason, and took the view that the affirmative procedure still applies. I must say, I wholeheartedly agree with its assessment. As it says,
“if the exercise of the power is of sufficient importance to merit extensive consultation, it is of sufficient importance to warrant the higher level of Parliamentary scrutiny which the affirmative procedure affords.”
My amendment also addressed the egregious provisions of Clause 42 that provide that where any such regulation needs to be made urgently to protect the public from imminent risk of serious harm to health, the negative procedure applies instead. The Government’s justification for departing from the affirmative procedure was that:
“It is appropriate for regulations made in these circumstances to be subject to the negative resolution so that they can come into force immediately and provide an efficient means of addressing an imminent serious public health risk. We expect that such regulations would only need to be in place for a very short period of time, potentially shorter than it would take to schedule and hold debates”.
This is wholly inadequate.
The DPRRC stated:
“We are wholly dissatisfied by departments repeatedly arguing for powers otherwise subject to the affirmative procedure to be subject to the negative procedure where there is a need to act quickly, and seeking to justify this without acknowledging the existence of the made affirmative procedure … Even accepting the appropriateness of the delegation of powers in clauses 1 and 12, if the affirmative procedure provides the appropriate level of Parliamentary scrutiny for regulations made in reliance on clauses 6 or 15 in non-urgent cases then, in the absence of cogent reasons for the negative procedure to apply in urgent cases, we take the view that the made affirmative procedure should apply in urgent cases.”
The Constitution Committee concurred, recommending that
“the emergency powers in this Bill are subject to the made affirmative procedure, rather than the negative procedure, such that Parliament is required actively to approve them.”
The Minister will be well aware that regulations under the “made affirmative” procedure can be made and laid as expeditiously as can regulations subject to the negative procedure. They can also be laid during a parliamentary recess, unlike draft affirmative instruments. Quite frankly, it is insulting that the Government have the gall to argue for emergency powers to be subject to less scrutiny under the negative procedure, especially in the current climate when hundreds of emergency regulations have been introduced with considerable haste using the “made affirmative” procedure. Can the Minister say how this dereliction ever made it into the Bill, never mind through the Commons? I imagine that the Minister might be quite embarrassed to put her name to the Bill, which is perhaps why the Government have introduced Amendment 133 at the 11th hour.
I also speak in support of the super-affirmative amendments in the name of the Lord, Lord Sharkey. They are supported by Members across the House—including my noble friend Lady Andrews who is not here to give her support although she is extremely enthusiastic about this amendment.
Given that this is a skeleton Bill, the use of the super-affirmative procedure seems a sensible and proportionate mechanism. In this case, it would allow relevant parliamentary committees, in consultation with stakeholders, opportunities to comment on proposals for secondary legislation and to recommend amendments before orders for affirmative approval are brought forward in their final form. It has been used effectively by Governments of all colours, who recognise that it allows them flexibility when they need to bring forward regulations, while consultation and scrutiny happen before any amendments come to the House by affirmative resolution.
That is particularly important given that many areas in which we expect regulations to be laid, ranging from life sciences and clinical trials to hub and spoke pharmaceutical models, could make the contents of the SIs—and, in the absence of policy details in the Bill, even examples of draft regulation that have been published in respect of other Brexit legislation—controversial. I hope that the Minister recognises the merit of this proposal.
My Lords, I will begin by speaking to government Amendment 133 on behalf of my noble friend Lord Bethell. It provides significant changes that I know many will welcome. We have listened to the concerns raised about parliamentary scrutiny on emergency powers. I assure noble Lords that we have carefully considered their views and the different amendments that have been put forward on this topic.
As a result, government Amendment 133 would change applicable parliamentary procedure for reactive emergency regulations to the “made affirmative” procedure. It also provides that regulations about prescribing, advertising, packaging and labelling in relation to human and veterinary medicines will no longer be subject to the negative resolution procedure, but instead to the draft affirmative procedure. Using the “made affirmative” procedure when making regulations reactively in emergency situations affords the Government the required speed and flexibility to react to emergencies while providing that Parliament can scrutinise what has been done and why. When we make the regulations proactively, we must demonstrate the need to protect the public from the risk of serious harm; these regulations will be subject to the draft affirmative procedure.
It is important to acknowledge that the emergency powers are not intended to be used. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, said, we are in a situation where we are currently using emergency powers, so she is correct that the “made affirmative” procedure has been put to good effect during the current pandemic. None the less, these powers are a measure of last resort to protect the public from the risk of serious harm to health.
We want to avoid using the powers reactively where possible. It is already a condition in the regulations that the situation must be accompanied by a declaration of the urgent need to protect against the imminent risk of serious harm to health. I note the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Patel, about the definition of that statement. I will write to him further on that matter.
Coupled with the amendment that these regulations are now to be subject to the “made affirmative” procedure, I believe that we have achieved the correct balance. Other provisions in Parts 1, 2 and 3 that are not already subject to the draft affirmative procedure will now be. This means that going forward, provisions around prescribing, advertising, labelling and packaging human and veterinary medicines will be subject to the draft affirmative procedure. There are exceptions to this in relation to fees and supplementary regulations in the new devices civil sanctions regime.
Amendment 133 provides a significant lift in parliamentary scrutiny of the regulations made in relation to human and veterinary medicines in particular. Taken in conjunction with the other government amendments, the Government’s accountability to Parliament and the public in making regulatory change is very strong. Coupled with Amendment 131, Amendment 133 means that Parliament will have early sight of the Government’s thinking on future regulation, we will have public consultations to inform regulation, and will have the opportunity to scrutinise regulation under the draft or “made affirmative” procedures. This is a large package of reassurances. I therefore hope that government Amendment 133, which is tabled in the name of my noble friend Lord Bethell, satisfies the Committee that we have carefully considered the DPRRC report and taken onboard its views in considering which procedure should apply to the different regulation-making powers in the Bill.
Against that background, let me explain why I do not feel it appropriate to accept Amendments 6, 53, 71 and 98, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey. When taken with Amendments 143 and 144, they would provide that regulations made under these powers are subject to the super-affirmative procedure, which is a novel procedure for even some members of this Committee. As the noble Lord said, that procedure would require an initial draft of the regulations to be laid before Parliament alongside an explanatory statement and that a committee must be convened to report on those draft regulations within 30 days of publication. Only after a minimum of 30 days following the publication of the initial draft regulations may the Secretary of State lay regulations, accompanied by a further published statement on any changes to the regulations. They must then be debated as normal in both Houses and approved by resolution.
I recognise the importance of parliamentary debate; it is already provided for in government Amendments 131 and 133. Alongside any draft regulatory changes laid before Parliament we would expect to publish an impact assessment, an Explanatory Memorandum and a statement on why there are good reasons for amending secondary legislation made under Section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972. This would, of course, follow a period of consultation. Not only that, we would be obliged to lay a report before Parliament on regulations within a specified period and on the consultation that took place. As drafted, the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, would apply to the regulations needed reactively in emergencies. This would evidently impose a dangerous delay in our ability to act rapidly to keep people safe.
Of course we must be cognisant of the demands that the super-affirmative procedure would place on parliamentary time. There will undoubtedly be circumstances where the 30-day minimum period and the requirement for a committee report would place a disproportionate demand on parliamentary time. For instance, a small change to the Human Medicines Regulation 2012, such as updating the list of medicines which can be administered by these professionals by removing medicines which have become obsolete, would not warrant the quantity of parliamentary time which the super-affirmative procedure would require.
Amendment 134 deals with further changes to the negative procedure and provides for reactive regulations under Clauses 6 and 15 to be subject to the “made affirmative” procedure. Amendments 135, 136 and 142 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, would include Clauses 6 and 15 within the change to the “made affirmative” procedure. Amendments 137 and 138 in the name of the noble Lords, Lord Pannick, Lord Patel, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, would apply the draft affirmative procedure instead to those clauses.
We have made clear our commitment to ensuring that the regulations made under the Bill are subject to the appropriate levels of parliamentary scrutiny. I am pleased to see that we are at least partially aligned in our thinking with regard to the made affirmative procedure. It is right that in an emergency regulations can be made quickly, but, as I have explained, I believe there are still matters where it is not necessary for changes in regulations to be subject to the draft affirmative procedure.
The noble Lord, Lord Patel, has sought to make changes to Clauses 6 and 15 to apply the draft affirmative procedure to reactive emergencies as well as proactive emergency regulations. I believe that he explained that they were probing amendments. In respect of emergencies, the global risk landscape is perpetually changing, and having flexible response arrangements provides some degree of preparedness against unforeseen risk. We therefore need to be able to make changes to the regulatory regime in an emergency, both proactively and reactively.
An illustration of how our existing emergency powers can be used proactively is seen in the changes we made last week to the Human Medicines Regulations. That change, using Section 2(2) of the European Communities Act, allowed for preparations we can foresee being needed for the distribution of a Covid vaccine. It would enable a wider range of healthcare providers to deliver a vaccine. That is a change we can foresee, and it has been subject to the negative procedure as a consequence of the current primary legislative basis. In the new year, we may need to make further changes to respond to unforeseen and newly identified requirements. They may need to happen quickly, and that is also when reactive changes might be required, but the parliamentary scrutiny would be greater than that currently applied.
Unfortunately, the Government cannot plan for every possibility and lay this out in pre-emptive regulations. However, if reactive emergency regulations are needed, they must be accompanied by a declaration of why they are required. Any decision to relax a requirement would not be taken lightly and, although that may need to be implemented at pace, consideration would be given to the promotion of the health and safety of the public.
We have moved very close together in the changes the Government have made and those proposed here. I hope that that, in conjunction with the amendments about laying reports before Parliament, will enable the noble Lord to see his path open to withdraw Amendment 6, and that others will not wish to move their amendments.
My Lords, I have received one request to speak after the Minister. I call the noble Lord, Lord Patel.
I thank the Minister most sincerely for her extensive response. I understand some of the points she made. I am also grateful that she is going to write to me and other noble Lords about the definitions that I questioned in my speech.
I accept that at times the Government will need to have powers in emergencies, but some of the examples the Minister gave were not really emergencies. I made the point that in such situations government Amendment 133 and the table do not allow for parliamentary scrutiny. The fact that there is no sunset clause means that the Government will have power to make regulations under both the negative and the affirmative procedure for evermore. That cannot be right. Yes, there will be a learning process, but there should be more ability for Parliament to scrutinise.
I call the Minister to respond to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Patel.
My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord’s comments reflect the themes that we are discussing throughout our scrutiny of the Bill. I certainly take them on board with regard to this group of amendments, I believe that we have discussed them before and will discuss them again on other groups of amendments.
Finally, I call the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, to respond to the debate on his amendment.
I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Jolly and Lady Thornton, but I am disappointed that the Minister still seems to regard the affirmative procedure as constituting effective scrutiny. Let me briefly quote again the Constitution Committee, which says:
“Without a genuine risk of defeat, and no amendment possible, Parliament is doing little more than rubber-stamping the Government’s secondary legislation. This is constitutionally unacceptable.”
Neither the DPRRC nor the Constitution Committee agrees with the Government’s position on this, I think largely because it is obviously wrong. I am also disappointed that the Government seem to continue to believe that extensive consultation is equivalent to or a substitute for parliamentary scrutiny—another obviously wrong position, as the DPRRC makes clear.
As to the objection that the super-affirmative procedure is too cumbersome or lengthy, neither of these objections could have any weight unless there were some urgency. As I have explained, there is not; even if there were to be, the “made affirmative” procedure would kick in and take care of it.
As I remarked in the opening group this afternoon, at the root of all this is a desire by the Government to take powers to make policy before they have decided what that policy is. This is not only perverse but evades parliamentary scrutiny and bypasses Parliament. We will return to this issue on Report. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 6 withdrawn.
7: Page 1, line 7, leave out “making regulations under subsection (1)” and insert “considering whether they would”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment requires the appropriate authority to have regard to the factors mentioned in subsection (2)(a), (b) and (c) of Clause 1 in considering whether regulations made under subsection (1) would promote the health and safety of the public.
Amendment 7 agreed.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 8. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton.
May I ask for some clarification? Normally in Committee—under normal life, as it were—we would not start another group that would take at least three-quarters of an hour or so if we knew we were going to rise at a set time. I want some guidance as to why we will start this group now, when we know that we will not finish it within the time allowed. We might get through my speech and the next one, but that will be it. I am looking for guidance, Lord Chair.
Weighty matters of this nature are dealt with by the usual channels; the Government Whip will respond.
My Lords, I understand that the need to rise at a set time is part of the needs of the hybrid House. With other Grand Committees that have taken place in this circumstance, we have made progress on groups and had to adjourn mid-group. That is incredibly important in order to make progress on legislation when we are operating to time-constrained sessions.
I have to register my objection to that. If we want a proper debate, this is not just about people making timed speeches; it is about a debate. A debate should be a coherent whole, not one or two speeches and then continuing after maybe a week’s break. Would I be allowed to make my opening speech again when we go back on the second day of Committee?
That concludes the work of the Committee this afternoon. The Committee stands adjourned. I remind Members to sanitise their desks and chairs before leaving the Room.
Committee adjourned at 7.13 pm.