The Government is to go ahead with a clampdown on advertising by
drug companies despite strong opposition from the ad industry.
New curbs proposed by the Medicines Control Agency could take effect as
early as 5 April. The Advertising Association, which believed the threat
of statutory rules had receded, has accused the MCA of failing to honour
its pledge to consult the industry.
This week the Tory Opposition launched a last-ditch attempt to block the
move when William Hague tabled a Commons motion against the
He hopes this will force a Parliamentary debate and that the Government
will think again.
The MCA, which has revived proposals it first mooted in 1997, argues
that the changes are needed because of ’routine misinterpretation’ of
the existing rules by drugs companies. Under the proposals, the agency
would have the power to suspend or ban ads, and anyone breaching such an
order would face a fine of up to pounds 5,000 or two years in
The AA attacked the proposals as ’draconian, unjustified,
unconstitutional and of dubious legality’. Its leaders claimed the MCA
had postponed three meetings at which the curbs were due to be
discussed. ’They are an unwarranted extension of the MCA’s powers,’ an
AA spokesperson said.
The association warned that the MCA would be acting as ’judge, jury and
prosecutor’ because it would have the power to approve an ad and then
consider a complaint about it. There would be no mechanism to avoid
inconsistency between the agency and other regulatory bodies, such as
the Advertising Standards Authority.
The AA has received legal advice that the proposals could be challenged
under the Human Rights Act, which incorporates the European convention
into British law.
Welcoming the Tory move, the AA said: ’The MCA must be called to justify
these proposals and explain how they will be amended to ensure that the
rights of natural justice are not undermined. If they cannot, then the
regulations must not be passed.’