Madam Speaker, it is a great pleasure to rise and take part in this debate today. I also want to start off in the same spirit that my colleague was just expressing, which is to say that this is actually an example of Parliament working and of all parliamentarians working together. I thought it was an excellent process at committee in terms of ensuring that this bill moved forward.
I want to make a few general comments about the bill and then address specifically some of the amendments put forward.
I want to reiterate that we in the Conservative Party have supported the intent of this legislation from day one. Back in the fall when this idea was first being talked about, the member for Peace River and I publicly endorsed the initiative. When the legislation came out, five of our critics publicly expressed support for the bill in and of itself.
When we saw the legislation in November, we actually came out and said that we thought it was such a good initiative. We knew that Parliament was going to dissolve fairly quickly so we offered to have it passed in one day. In hindsight, it is probably a good thing that it was not, in the sense that there were some things we had to get done right. I think we have addressed all of those concerns.
Obviously this bill deals with getting cheaper medicines into least developed and developing nations to address what has become an epidemic, really, and a situation that we here in Canada frankly can only think of and sympathize with. Therefore, we do really applaud the government for bringing this forward in the sense of being the first nation to offer real template legislation so that other nations hopefully will follow our lead. Whether or not we in Canada actually produce a lot of the generic medicines, I think it was important to take the first step in introducing legislation of this type.
I do want to talk about what happened at committee with respect to some of the amendments, those we will be supporting and those we will not be supporting.
For the most part, we are supporting the amendments put forward by the government with respect to adding medicines. We believe this actually demonstrates that the committee altered the bill so that it is easier to add medicines to the list. I know that there was a lot of concern by people about eliminating the list entirely. We in this party agreed that there was a need for a list, and we simplified the manner in which we could add medicines to the list.
Frankly, our view in this party is that we should not determine which medicines are added. Our view is that we should rely on the sound advice of bureaucrats at Health Canada. I think they have done an excellent job over the past number of weeks in briefing us and informing us on which medicines should and should not be on the list, really focusing on the diseases of HIV-AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. I think that is essential for us to do.
In our view in terms of the NGOs, the bill and the work done at committee do increase the involvement of NGOs. The previous member spoke about the importance of NGOs in this initiative. We certainly recognize that groups like Médecins sans frontières are excellent groups and we very much want them to be a part of this initiative.
We did amend the right of first refusal. That was the biggest concern of not all but certainly the majority of the people who appeared before committee. We think we have simplified the process. Here I think we should acknowledge submissions by both brands and generics, but I would like to acknowledge a submission by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network because I think that in the end it had a sort of middle role that perhaps we most touched on. That was to try to get the brands and generics to agree up front to establish a voluntary licence and to get the Commissioner of Patents to decide the issue if there is not a voluntary licence granted or if there is a disagreement over the percentage of the royalty rate. We thought that was a way of simplifying, of removing and of amending the right of first refusal in a positive way.
In terms of the lists and schedules with respect to nations, we should commend the committee members from the Bloc and the NDP for putting forward nations such as East Timor and others that should be on the list. Again, I think this shows that the government is willing to listen in terms of adding countries.
I want to speak briefly to one aspect of the bill with which we are uncomfortable. We in this party have tried to be constructive, helpful and assisting throughout the process. However we are concerned about naming a bill after a particular person.
I will be the first to stand in the House and credit the former prime minister for introducing this initiative. However to name a bill after an individual sets a precedent that I do not think is a good precedent because, as we know, governments change from time to time and some day the Conservative Party will be on that side of the House and we may be naming bills after members. I do not think that is a good thing overall. I think it was a member from the Bloc who actually pointed that out and said that it was not a good precedent to set, and we are disappointed in that.
Second, to name it a pledge to Africa act is actually not an accurate description of what is in the bill itself. It was ironic that we were debating whether to add East Timor to the pledge to Africa act. This is not just a pledge to Africa. It is a pledge largely to the epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa, that is true, but there are many other nations in the developing world that are on these lists for good reason and we should not exclude them from the title and intent of the bill. We think the title is a mistake and that is why we voted against it at committee. Unfortunately, the government members voted it through it is now part of the bill.
I appreciate and thank all members of the committee for agreeing to pass three amendments from our party. With respect to a lot of the concerns that the NGOs and others had, a couple of our amendments addressed them, such as allowing for a review after two years instead of three years. If in fact the bill is not as successful as it could be in terms of getting medicines to the developing world, then hopefully a review after two years will show that instead of a review after three years.
I hope I will be addressing the bill tomorrow at third reading.
In conclusion I want to thank all those members of Parliament, all the witnesses and all the stakeholders who came forward for their excellent work. We should also thank, as Conservatives, especially in this case, the members of the Industry Canada and Health Canada who sat with us for hours and really went through the bill in detail, the medicines and other things. They briefed us very well.
This is an initiative that actually shows Parliament and our nation at its best and we should all be very proud of it.