The Off-Patent Drug Bill

Yesterday was truly an awful day at Westminster. I decided to sleep on it before posting.

The Westminster government had the opportunity to pass the ‘off-patent drugs bill’ to the committee stage. This action had cross party support including Labour, Conservative, Plaid Cymru and SNP. Had the bill been allowed to go to a vote then it would have passed. To stop this happening, the government extended the first debate of the day to consume far more time than was required and so shortened the time for the ‘off-patent drugs bill’.

There were two private member bills yesterday. The first was regarding charitable trusts and the NHS. It was completely non contentious and could have been completed in 30 minutes. Instead the government dragged in speakers and, with no time limit on the speakers, they extended the debate to nearly 4 hours.
A great deal of this was just like the day to day nonsense that goes on. An MP wants to speak on a topic so they can say to their constituents and media ” I have spoken on this most important matter”. They are quite within their rights to do so but it doesn’t and shouldn’t take 30 minutes and the speaker should have imposed a time limit of a maximum of 5 minutes.

The second debate was regarding the off patent drug bill. This involves Scotland because the licensing of drugs happens at a UK level.

The debate started around 13:10 and the house rises (close of business) at 14:30 on a Friday. I was annoyed at this as a number of my constituents had asked me to attend, vote and speak if appropriate. Everyone that spoke was in favour of voting aye to progress the bill. I chatted to the labour member who had brought it to the floor, colleagues talked to conservative members who were clearly in favour. Despite our initial concerns it was looking good, we could sense no hostility towards the bill progressing to the committee stage. Then the government minister stood to talk. Normally he would talk and allow time for the member who brought the bill to wrap up, followed by a vote. Unbelievably the minister announced he would speak until 14:30 and therefore there would be no summary and crucially no vote.

We tried twice for a closure motion which would have stopped the minister talking out the bill and twice the speaker denied us. The speaker does not explain or give reasons for such an action.

So amidst much anger and extreme disappointment the government for the second week in a row talked out a private members bill.

This bill was designed to allow doctors to prescribe cheap drugs that have been identified as useful in treating illness or disease that they were not originally licensed for. Simvastatin is one such example. It was licensed for treating high cholesterol but can be helpful in treating Multiple Sclerosis but currently doctors can’t prescribe it to you unless you have high cholesterol . Other drugs have been identified that can help with Parkinson’s disease, brain tumours and breast cancer.

Removing this opportunity is a cruel and heartless action and one that the Westminster government should be held to account for.

The government were cold and calculating in using parliamentary procedure to ensure this bill fell. We tried everything we could to thwart them but in the end we had nowhere to turn.