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House of Lords

Tuesday, 28th March 1995.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Worcester.

Lord Hope of Craighead

The Right Honourable James Arthur David Hope, Lord Justice General of Scotland and Lord President of the Court of Session, having been created Baron Hope of Craighead, of Bamff in the District of Perth and Kinross, for life—Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Keith of Kinkel and Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle.

Generic Drugs: Veterinary Use

The Earl of Onslow asked Her Majesty's Government:

    To what extent they encourage the use of generic drugs to treat human beings and discourage their use by veterinary surgeons on animals.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Howe): My Lords, we encourage the use of medicinal products, including generics where they exist, which have been authorised for use in the species being treated whether human or animal.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, in asking the Question, I must declare an interest in that my own vet's bill is enormous. Is my noble friend aware that veterinary licensed drugs are no longer used in some cases because of unwanted side effects but the veterinarians are then banned from going back to a well tried drug, which has been used up to now, on account of present regulations?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I do not think my noble friend is correct. For food animals veterinary surgeons may only prescribe treatments whose residues implications have been assessed, and that really could not be otherwise. However, that constraint does not apply to companion animals and I am aware of no circumstance in which the regulations would prohibit a veterinarian from prescribing a treatment considered necessary for clinical reasons.

Lord Carter: My Lords, is the Minister aware that only this morning a vet gave me a list of no fewer than 14 traditional remedies which range from aspirin to zinc sulphate which the vets now fear could render them liable to prosecution if they were administered? A number of these products can be bought across the counter for human use. In the past I have used almost all of them on animals with no obvious danger to man

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or beast. Is the Minister aware that most people thought that deregulation was supposed to bring this sort of nonsense to an end?

Earl Howe: My Lords, as I have just said, I am aware of no circumstances in which the regulations as they are now framed—they transpose precisely into UK law what the directive says—would prohibit a vet from prescribing a treatment that he or she considers is necessary for clinical reasons. In the end, it is up to the vet to exercise his or her professional judgment.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that I have had correspondence with a vet and clearly many people in the profession have the impression that EEC directive 90/676 precludes the use of certain generic drugs in non-food animals? Is he aware that while it is appreciated that one has to be careful about residues in food animals, such considerations do not exist, and need not apply, in the case of non-food animals? Will he go further on this?

Earl Howe: My Lords, a guidance note on the interpretation of the regulations is available to anyone who wants it. In fact, a copy has been placed in the Library of your Lordships' House. However, the fact is that no vet has identified a case where the regulations would prevent the use in companion animals of a treatment that was considered essential on clinical grounds. That is the key point. There is nothing in the regulations to prevent a vet from exercising his or her professional expertise and judgment.

Lord Aldington: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that his reply will give a great deal of comfort to my dog-loving and cat-loving friends, who have been extremely worried by what they have read in veterinary journals and in the newspapers? Will he do all that he can to publicise his welcome reply?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend. I too have seen some newspaper coverage of this subject, which has not presented a fair picture. That is why I commend to my noble friend the guidance to which I have just referred.

Baroness Wharton: My Lords, is there any way in which the Government could encourage pharmaceutical companies at least to listen to the anxieties expressed by the veterinary community and find a way whereby the companies can obtain a licence less cheaply?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I think the noble Baroness means more cheaply.

Baroness Wharton: Yes, my Lords.

Earl Howe: My Lords, I take the noble Baroness's point entirely. Pharmaceutical companies are encouraged to apply for veterinary licences in respect of existing licensed human medicines. That need not involve a particularly onerous cost or procedure. Often little development work is required, and the application procedure is quite simple.

Viscount Allenby of Megiddo: My Lords, I welcome the Minister's response. However, does he agree that farmers in many other European countries are allowed

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to use these new products, including those used for human treatment, and obtain new products well ahead of our farmers because they do not abide by the legislation?

Earl Howe: My Lords, so far as we know other member states have, like the UK, made national regulations incorporating the provisions of the directive into national law. We have no reason to believe that a stricter approach to enforcement is being taken in one member state than in another.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, the House will be very interested in the Minister's distinction between companion animals and food animals. Can the Minister advise the House which statute defines such animals and what the penalties are for eating a companion animal and for treating as a companion an animal which is a food animal?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I am not sure what sort of household the noble Lord has in mind. The distinction is well defined and is well understood by vets. That is the key point. If a vet has reason to believe that an animal under his care will end up in the human food chain, clearly his choice of veterinary medicines is rather different from that which would apply if it was clearly a companion animal.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that a letter was published in the Veterinary Record from at least 12 veterinary practices which take a different view from that expressed by my noble friend? Furthermore, is he aware of the case of an Irish setter which has fits and needs an annual course of phenobarbitone costing £45 a year, but which will be illegal from 1st April? That animal will have to be prescribed a much more expensive drug which has unattractive side effects.

Earl Howe: My Lords, I heard of that particular case, which was reported recently in the press. There is nothing in the regulations which requires a veterinary surgeon to change an established treatment for a particular animal if in his or her professional and clinical judgment such a change could be detrimental to the animal concerned. That rule applies particularly to chronic conditions.

Armed Forces: Trained Personnel

2.51 p.m.

Viscount Allenby of Megiddo asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the predicted shortfall of trained officers and servicemen in the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force at the end of the current financial year.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Henley): My Lords, there will be surpluses in the trained strengths of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force at the end of this financial year, although they will have small deficits in some

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specialisations and there will be overall a small deficit in the trained strength of the Army at the end of this financial year.

Lord Allenby of Megiddo: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very honest reply. Will the Minister confirm whether, because of the reduction in manpower ceilings as a result of earlier cuts in defence spending, there are now insufficient established posts in Royal Naval ships at sea and in the Army for tasks in Northern Ireland and Bosnia which continue to lead to overstretch and frustration? What action do the Government propose to reduce that shortfall?

Lord Henley: My Lords, as I made clear, there are surpluses in the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force and there is a small overall deficit in the Army. I can also confirm that no unit of any of the three services currently deployed on an operational task is below strength for that particular task. However, as I made clear, there is an overall deficit of some 67 soldiers in the Army. I appreciate that that is a net figure, and the numbers are somewhat higher for soldiers than for officers, where there is a surplus rather than a deficit. Obviously, we shall take measures to combat any particular problems in recruitment and will certainly keep all measures for assisting retention under review.

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