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Baroness Byford: My Lords, I almost feel tempted to put the matter to a vote, but I will not do that—the noble Baroness's eyes just hit the deck. Quite clearly, there is a problem. Our party of all parties has always been keen on competition, so this Motion must seem slightly strange—the Minister did not draw that to my attention, so I draw it to his. But the whole question is
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that I do not know whether we are necessarily comparing like with like—and I shall return to that point.

The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, about his concerns that treatment might be put off is very valid. I accept that vets are "piggy in the middle" in that regard; I am more than happy with that.

The noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, touched on several very important issues and particularly referred to the work of RUMA. I should like to return to that because, in human health—as we all know when we are suffering from a cold—one does not get a prescription for an antibiotic very easily at all these days from our doctor; indeed, it is the same with vets. There is a real issue about prescribing drugs too freely, that then animals whether human, bovine or of whatever sort, builds up a resistance. That is a worrying problem. I know that it is only a trial, but it is something that the Government should keep well in mind when it goes ahead, because it is a very valid point.

The point that my noble friend made that you can get prescriptions, or will be able to get them, from anywhere, and particularly from the Internet, is something else that the Government should bear in mind. Some Internet sales on other products—although I am not suggesting that it is the case with the products that we are discussing—have been quite questionable. The need to ensure that the product being sold is the product that is supposed to be sold and that it is up to the standard that should be sold is something that the Government should be aware of—and I hope that they are.

The noble Lord, Lord Kimball, raised an important issue. Having had horses—and my last one unfortunately ended up on Bute—I know that it is easy to go across the water and come back with cheaper prescriptions over there. In fact, the use is more extravagant perhaps than if the drugs were prescribed and the animals were looked after by a veterinary surgeon. That is another important issue that the Government need to address.

On the breakdown of my questions earlier, if the Minister could tell me specifically who responded—the person and the name of the group—I would be grateful. The Minister alluded to the fact that he felt that the measures should reduce the question of the price overall. Yes, I believe that in pure commercial terms, he is right that it will; but I suspect that for the consumer who normally uses a veterinary practice, it may well not do so, because prices will have to be raised in other ways, be it through consultation or whatever, to maintain their practice.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, if one component of the charge goes up but another
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component of the cost of medicines goes down, especially if it goes down at ex-factory level, does that not support the view that overall consumers are likely to be better, not worse off?

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I am no expert, and I think I shall wait and see. I accept the noble Lord's logic, but in practice I am not sure necessarily that that logic will prove him right. I hope that it does, because we are here for the interests of everybody.

Finally, I turn to a couple of things that the Minister said. He said that the Competition Commission was asked to look at the matter and quoted figures that in England the costs of medicines are much higher, but did the Competition Commission take the same relevant brief of charges that were made in practices overseas, or was it just of the medicines themselves? The Minister need not answer that now; I am quite happy for him to write to me, because he may want to seek advice on that. In other words, are we comparing like with like, or are we comparing the costs of medicine rather than of the overall service?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, it is not going to be helpful to have a dialogue over this, and I shall write and confirm, but my understanding is that the reference was to the medicines. The purpose of the exercise was to discover just in relation to those products how we compared internationally.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, if that is the case, there may not be a fair pro quo; that is what I am trying to suggest. I do not expect the Minister to tell me today, but if he could write and confirm that and perhaps to give examples of how the costing goes overseas compared with how our costing has gone in this country, with regard to what we are talking about, that would be enormously helpful. I am sure that the BVA and the RCVS would be pleased to have it.

The Minister also said that not many veterinary practices shop around. I am not a veterinary practising person, but I am surprised, as I would have thought that they did shop around and try to get good prices for the products that they use—but I shall not take him to task on that. However, tempted though I am, bearing in mind the time, I must thank all noble Lords who have taken part in today's important debate. It reflects the intricacies between the various aspects of providing important healthcare for animals, and also that I still believe there is a slight jeopardy of some of those standards slipping because of the steps that have been taken with these statutory instruments. I thank both the Ministers who responded today, and beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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