Ministers 'tearing guts out of drugs Bill'

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Indy Politics
The Government was yesterday accused of attempting to 'tear the guts' out of a private member's Bill that would provide more information about drug safety - just a month after allowing it a Second Reading, writes Nicholas Timmins.

James Couchman, the Conservative MP for Gillingham, has tabled amendments deleting all the key clauses of the Medicines Information Bill, creating instead only an index of product licences.

Giles Radice, Labour MP for Durham North, the Bill's sponsor, said he believed the Government lay behind 'this squalid manoeuvre to stifle the Bill' whose committee stage starts today.

That came ill, he said, when William Waldegrave, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the minister responsible for open government, had indicated that Mark Fisher's Right to Know Bill, which provides for a Freedom of Information Act, would be allowed to proceed to committee stage at its second reading this Friday. Mr Couchman, a declared adviser to the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, made clear his opposition at the Bill's second reading, and said yesterday: 'If it looks like a destruction job, so be it. It is.'

He believed the Bill - backed by the British Medical Association, the Consumers' Association and the Campaign for the Freedom of Information - would do 'great damage' to the industry through its requirements to make public licensing information. Commercial information would be made available to unlicensed copyists, he said. He maintained that his amendments owed 'more to the interests of the industry than the Government'.

Mr Radice said the amendments 'tear the guts out of the Bill. A government which was serious about freedom of information would not be resorting to this kind of tactic'.