NHS Reform and Health Care Professions Bill

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Mr. Heald: We are happy with the thought that these appeals should be dealt with at the lowest level of the higher courts, namely the High Court and the equivalent courts elsewhere in the United Kingdom. What are the implications for further appeals? Does this mean that a decision could be appealed on a point of law from the High Court to the House of Lords or the Court of Appeal? It may be that the clauses give the registrant another tier of appeal on an issue of law should they wish to avail themselves of it.

Mr. Hutton: The hon. Gentleman is probably right on that point, but given the small number of cases involved, this will not be a substantial issue. He must be right on the points of law, but the reforms are sensible. Perhaps he and I should correspond on the subject in future.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 28, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 29 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 30


Amendment made: No. 250, in page 36, line 43, at end add

    'in whose sheriffdom the address in the register or (as the case may be) the registered office is situated'.—[Mr. Hutton.]

Clause 30, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 31


Amendments made: No. 251, in page 37, line 17, leave out

    'in Scotland, the sheriff' and insert 'in the case of a person whose address in the register is in Scotland, the sheriff in whose sheriffdom the address is situated'.

No. 252, in page 37, line 43, leave out 'in Scotland, the sheriff' and insert

    'in the case of a person whose address in the register is (or if he were registered would be) in Scotland, the sheriff in whose sheriffdom the address is situated'.—[Mr. Hutton.]

Clause 31, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 32


Amendments made: No. 253, in page 38, line 46, leave out 'in Scotland, the sheriff' and insert

    'in the case of a person whose address in the register is in Scotland, the sheriff in whose sheriffdom the address is situated'.

No. 254, in page 39, line 26, leave out 'in Scotland, the sheriff' and insert

    'in the case of a person whose address in the register is (or if he were registered would be) in Scotland, the sheriff in whose sheriffdom the address is situated'.—[Mr. Hutton.]

Clause 32, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 33

Regulation of the profession of pharmacy

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

Mr. Heald: Will the Minister outline the purpose of clause 33?

Mr. Hutton: I would be happy to do that for the hon. Gentleman. The clause's purpose is to remove a limitation on the scope of section 60 of the Health Act 1999 that makes it potentially less useful and flexible for pharmacy than for the other regulated professions. I should emphasise to the Committee that this is an enabling measure and we do not have a specific immediate use in mind for the extended power. The clause will make a small but important change to the section 60 order-making power that will allow us to modify the regulation of the health care professions.

The section 60 power permits the creation, modification and amendment of legislation about the regulation of the health care professions to be done by order, which is subject to various limitations and procedural safeguards. We introduced the power in the Health Act 1999 to make it more efficient to keep the relevant legislation up to date without sacrificing appropriate and proper parliamentary scrutiny. The Government have had problems finding suitable legislative opportunities for professional regulation when there is queue of amendments that must be made.

Section 60 applies to all health care professions, but the legislation governing pharmacy is slightly unusual. For most professions there is one main Act—for example the Medical Act 1983 or the Opticians Act 1989—but the legislation dealing with pharmacy is split between the Pharmacy Act 1954 and the Medicines Act 1968. Most of the 1968 Act concerns the regulatory framework for the safe use of medicines. When we first took the section 60 power, we decided that it should be limited largely to the amendment of sections 80 to 83 of the 1968 Act, which, unlike the rest of that Act, concern the powers of the statutory committee of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society—the society's disciplinary tribunal—and its counterpart in Northern Ireland in relation to retail pharmacy businesses. Our discussions with the society have made it clear that there are other parts of the 1968 Act that may need to be amended as part of a package of possible future reforms to modernise the regulation of pharmacy that could cover section 79 about the use of certain titles, or even section 132 about the definition of pharmacists.

We do not intend to do either of those two things, but they are examples of areas in which we do not currently have section 60 order-making powers. If we were to leave section 60 as it is, we would be unable fully to utilise the benefits of the order-making process in that section in relation to pharmacy. Future reform of the pharmacy profession might have to be a mixture of section 60 orders and primary legislation, because that would be the only way in which we could modify the provisions outside sections 80 and 83.

That would be unhelpful, and would make reform subject to the vagaries of the parliamentary timetable, which would be a great shame. Pharmacy is a profession with an integral and growing role in this country's health care. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain has shown itself keen to bring its regulatory framework up to date and to work in collaboration with the Government and the other regulatory bodies. I am happy to say that that society has confirmed that it supports the clause.

It would be more effective to extend the scope of section 60 as a means of regulating the profession in the future so that it covers the whole of the Medicines Act 1968, but only in so far as that relates to the regulation of the pharmacy profession in Great Britain. That will bring the position for pharmacy more into line with that for the other professions, and mean that developments in the regulatory framework for pharmacy will not be unnecessarily held up, nor fall behind those of the other professions.

Mr. Heald: One has been reading up on public health because of this afternoon's Westminster Hall debate. I noticed that the Government, in their response to the Select Committee report on public health, talked about a widening role for community pharmacists. The possibility has been mentioned to me of community pharmacists supervising a group of individuals who would go into the homes of people suffering from, say, Alzheimer's disease, to give advice, for example on ways of remembering or ordering medicines so that there would be more security that the medicines were being taken when they should be.

Would such a role require amendment of the law, and is that the sort of amendment that could usefully be undertaken under section 60? Or could that be done anyway, and that is not part of the Government's planning for the future of the community pharmacy profession?

Mr. Hutton: To be honest, I am not sure whether we would have to make the changes that the hon. Gentleman suggests in future regulatory reform of pharmacy, or whether such changes could be undertaken outwith that framework of regulatory reform. I do not know the answer to that question, but I will try to furnish the hon. Gentleman with an answer as soon as I can.

I hope that I have made it clear that we do not have specific changes in mind in introducing the clause. We want to ensure that we have the greatest opportunity to use section 60 to make any necessary regulatory reforms called for in the future. It is worth bearing in mind—I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I labour the point—that we would not do that arbitrarily, on our own. Any future reforms in this area will be subject to intensive consultation with the profession. That is a requirement of the section 60 order-making process.

It is an essential prerequisite for future regulatory reform that it command the fullest possible support of the profession, and we are very much minded to ensure that it does. Any future changes will have to have the confidence of pharmacists generally if they are to be successful. I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman's specific question, and I will come back to him on it, but I would be surprised if the answer was that we would need regulatory reform to give pharmacists that particular role. I could be proven wrong, so I am hedging my bets furiously to avoid contradicting myself.

That is all that I want to say about pharmacy. This is largely a technical measure. It commands the support of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and is intended to give us maximum flexibility if at any future point we choose to make further reforms to the regulation of the pharmacy profession.

Mr. Heald: Obviously, we are perfectly happy with the idea that section 60 might be used in that narrow additional context.

We are dealing with three provisions in fairly short order. This one extends the use of section 60 to allow changes to be made by secondary legislation relating to pharmacists; clause 34 provides a Henry VIII clause as regards amendment of health service legislation in the context of a consolidation; clause 37 allows the Secretary of State to make consequential amendments as he considers necessary to implement the Act. Amendment No. 257 will mean that those supplementary, consequential and transitory provisions could apply to

    ''an Act passed in the same session as this Act''.

11 am

I wonder whether I am being overly sensitive in thinking that something is afoot. Is it thought that there will be great change to the structure and organisation of the health service that would require the three powers? Will an Act of this Session have a bearing on them, or do they pave the way for something?

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Prepared 13 December 2001