MPs have approved wide-ranging new powers for the body that
regulates drugs advertising, ending the industry’s self-regulatory
The Government’s Medicines Control Agency will have the power to vet
ads, ban misleading ones and impose fines of up to pounds 5,000, or two
years imprisonment, on advertisers who defy its rulings.
A Commons committee approved the shake-up by nine votes to six, despite
strong criticism by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, who
backed the Advertising Association’s view that the changes were not
Philip Hammond, a Conservative health spokesman, said: ’The MCA, acting
in the name of ministers, is being given the power to be police,
prosecutor, judge and jury in its own case.’
Under the present system, the MCA was required to seek a court
injunction to ban drugs ads, but had not needed to do so in the past
five years, he said. Under the new scheme, ads would be withdrawn before
a decision was made on their legality, and there would be no
compensation if the MCA’s decision was overturned by a judicial
’The case for greater regulation is not proven. There is no evidence of
a need for greater powers,’ Hammond said. ’To put it bluntly, the whole
But Tessa Jowell, the Public Health Minister, insisted the
self-regulatory system was being ’strengthened’ to protect consumers
from misleading advertising.
Jowell said there had been ’clear breaches’ of the existing rules by a
minority of drugs companies, with 135 breaches in 1998-99.
’Self-regulation has therefore not achieved the desired result,’ she
said. ’Nothing in the regulations will impair the opportunity for the
sort of creative advertising already used by companies,’ she added.
Jowell rejected a claim by the Labour MP, Austin Mitchell, that the new
rules could breach the European Convention on Human Rights.