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17 Jun 2003 : Column 287

Community Pharmacies

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): We now come to the debate on community pharmacies. I should inform the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

4.41 pm

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk): I beg to move,

I hoped that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry would be in her place. Is she on her way here?

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Phil Woolas): Yes.

Mr. Yeo: Good. I shall not make my remarks about her until she arrives. [Interruption.] I welcome the Secretary of State to the Chamber. I begin by offering you my commiserations because your hopes of promotion were not fulfilled.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I had none, and I got none. I believe that the hon. Gentleman intended to refer to the right hon. Lady.

Mr. Yeo: I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I offer the Secretary of State my commiserations because her hopes of promotion were not fulfilled. It must be galling not to be considering pharmacies from the point of view of the newly appointed Secretary of State for Health—doubly so when one has been passed over in favour of a Scottish Member of Parliament who has no influence on health matters in Scotland, but whose talents, in the Prime Minister's eyes, are superior to those of every single English colleague.

The debate has two purposes. First, it gives hon. Members the chance to express their support for community pharmacies and warn against unnecessary or harmful changes to the current structure. Secondly, it enables hon. Members of all parties to show whether early-day motions have any meaning. The motion's wording is the same as that of early-day motion 815. The Opposition are doing the House a service by giving up half their day to allow hon. Members to debate a motion that, I suspect, the Government would prefer us not to consider or vote on.

By last night, early-day motion 815 had attracted approximately 200 signatures, of which 64 were those of Labour Members of Parliament. I hope that every hon. Member who signed it will vote in favour of the motion at the end of the debate. Last Wednesday, a worrying precedent was set when hon. Members debated early-day motion 572 on post offices and cash payments of benefit to recipients. More than 350 hon. Members from all parties supported the early-day motion. When the Division was called at the end of the debate, however, 128 Labour Members who had signed the early-day

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motion voted against the motion. I am sure that my hon. Friends will agree that the stench of hypocrisy is overwhelming. Those 128 Labour Members had told their constituents that they supported the early-day motion, and had expressed their concern at the plight of post offices in their constituencies and at the difficulties that elderly and vulnerable benefit claimants will face in receiving cash.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes): Does not this show either that early-day motions are a total waste of time—which they probably are—or that Labour Members will just sign anything, and vote in any way, rather than in support of the views that they have expressed on the Order Paper?

Mr. Yeo: It certainly shows that early-day motions might be a total waste of time, so far as Labour Members are concerned. I believe, however, that every single Conservative Member who signed that early-day motion also voted in favour of it in the Division last Wednesday, just as every Member who has signed early-day motion 815 will vote with us in the Lobby tonight.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk): A possible explanation for what happened last week that my hon. Friend might not have thought of is that last week's debate took place just before the reshuffle. [Hon. Members: "Ah!"] If we were to be generous to Labour Members, we might say that many of them were driven by the hope that their talents might be recognised by the Prime Minister. Now that the reshuffle is over and those hopes—including those of the Secretary of State—have been brutally dashed, perhaps they will feel that their shackles have been removed. Perhaps they will now be willing to vote with the Opposition on this issue.

Mr. Yeo: My hon. Friend advances an ingenious explanation for the absence of so many Labour MPs from the Division Lobby in support of early-day motion 572. When I tell him that they included the hon. Members for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), for West Ham (Mr. Banks), and for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), the Father of the House—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I think that I ought to persuade the hon. Gentleman to deal with the motion before the House, rather than concentrating too much on last week's motion.

Mr. Yeo: I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) will now have drawn his own conclusion as to the improbability of hope in certain breasts being the determining factor in the way in which those hon. Members cast their votes.

My concern is that the value of early-day motions is being undermined, that the integrity of Parliament has been threatened, and that some hon. Members are attempting to deceive their electorate. Tonight, however, we have a chance to put that right. Tonight's motion has the very same wording as early-day motion 815, which has the support of 64 Labour Back Benchers.

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There are, therefore, 64 Labour Members who have the chance at least partially to restore the integrity of the Order Paper and the system of early-day motions.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Does my hon. Friend agree that the probable reason that so many Labour MPs have signed this early-day motion is that, like me, they have had upwards of 1,000 people either writing to them individually or signing petitions expressing their grave concern about the threat to community pharmacies? The 1,000 people in my constituency came from Hythe, Brockenhurst and Totton—just three locations—and there could have been many more, had similar petitions been organised elsewhere.

Mr. Yeo: My hon. Friend's constituents are fortunate indeed in their parliamentary representative. He takes up their cause and champions it through his eloquence on the Floor of the House; he will also vote in favour of the motion tonight. We shall see, in the course of the next two hours and 10 minutes, whether the 64 Labour Members are willing to follow his fine example. I hope that they do, because, if they do, they might start to restore the integrity of the early-day motion process. If they fail to do so, the message will go out loud and clear that the signature of a Labour Member of Parliament on an early-day motion is not worth the paper that it is printed on.

Andy Burnham (Leigh): Will the hon. Gentleman tell us precisely when the Conservative party ditched the philosophy that free, unregulated markets had all the answers?

Mr. Yeo: I shall come to the substance of the argument in a moment, and I shall deal with the hon. Gentleman's point with relish. It exposes the fact that, like the authors of the Office of Fair Trading report, he does not understand the difference between community pharmacies and the rest of the retail sector.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): There is a case in point in the Chamber today. The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) was one of those who signed the early-day motion on post offices but then voted against last week's motion. I do not know whether he signed early-day motion 815 on pharmacies, but if he did I hope that he will vote with the Opposition this evening.

Mr. Yeo: My hon. Friend makes a telling point. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will make his position clear presently. I have a list of the 64 Members who signed the early-day motion, and I will welcome any interventions that they may choose to make.

We called this debate because the Government are about to publish their response to the OFT's report on pharmacy services. I hope that the Secretary of State will tell us what they think of the report. There is a contrast between the swift and decisive response in Scotland and Wales, where the OFT's recommendations have already been rejected, and the uncertainty caused by the lack of any decision by the Government here in London—uncertainty that is damaging to some community

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pharmacists. It is also puzzling, in view of the large number of Members—again, in all parts of the House—who want the present structure to be broadly preserved, if the views that they have expressed by signing early-day motions can be relied on.

The key recommendation in the OFT report is that the control of entry regulations for community pharmacies should be ended. The Conservative party believes that accepting that recommendation would damage the existing network of community pharmacies, and would harm the interests of the communities that they serve. We question the need for changes in the present structure, and we are doubtful about the benefits that the advocates of change claim would result from ending the regulations.

The central flaw in the report, and the flaw in what was said by the hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), is the failure to recognise clearly enough that community pharmacies are not just another part of the retail sector. They cannot be treated in the same way as retailers of food and other consumer products. Community pharmacists are qualified professionals with a specialised and important role to play in the delivery of primary health care.

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