HC Deb 02 July 1851 vol 118 cc111-8

Order for Second Reading read.


, after presenting several petitions in favour of this Bill, moved, that it be now read a Second Time. The hon. Member said, that the object of the measure was, to improve the qualifications of pharmaceutical chemists, and to establish the principle, that all those who were to compound the prescriptions of physicians and surgeons ought to receive a certain amount of education, and pass an examination, as a test of their fitness for the performance of their important and responsible duties. If it were necessary for surgeons and physicians to pass a preliminary examination, surely it was equally important that the persons who prepared their prescriptions should be also competent to discharge such an onerous duty. The principle of the Bill was not a new one. It was recognised more than 200 years ago, and laws had been since enacted for the purpose of providing for the establishment of that principle, and of protecting the public against the mistakes of ignorant practitioners. In the year 1617, the first incorporation of apothecaries took place. The apothecaries at that time occupied the place now filled by the pharmaceutical chemists, and 114 of them were incorporated together, whose numbers afterwards increased. In 1699, apothecaries were exempted from serving on juries, and from other parochial engagements. In 1748, the body obtained a new charter of incorporation, by which they were invested with new powers. In 1794, an association of apothecaries was formed, which was called "The Pharmaceutical Association," and from that year down to 1815, no further important change took place. For three years previous to 1815, considerable agitation prevailed among the apothecaries in consequence of an attempt that was made to insist upon a certain qualification for the sale of medicines; and in that year an Act was passed, called "The Apothecaries' Act," which, to a certain extent, answered its purpose, and made provision for establishing a test of qualification; but it was accompanied with particular exemptions, which contributed to defeat its object. Amongst these exemptions was one for chemists and druggists, who were at that time so powerful a body, that it was found impossible to carry the Bill in face of their opposition, and so a compromise was made, and they were exempted from the operation of the Act. The examination of the Apothecaries' Company was a general one, and comprehended medical practice in all its branches. From 1815 up to the present time, apothecaries, who have now assumed the name of general practitioners, had been gradually receding from pharmacy, and identifying themselves with medicine and surgery, and, at the same time, chemists and druggists had taken the place which had been left vacant by the apothecaries. If, therefore, it was found necessary in 1748, and at other periods, to introduce laws for the regulation of apothecaries, because they were dispensers of medicine, was it not necessary now, when the system they administered had come into other hands, that similar regulations should be made in the case of chemists and druggists? In 1834, a Parliamentary Committee was appointed, for the purpose of taking into consideration the laws relating to the medical profession. The proceedings of the Committee were going on for several years, and since the date of its appointment no less than nine Bills were introduced for the regulation of the medical profession. Amongst these, four, at least, professed to apply to chemists and druggists, the object being to provide an examination for the dispensers of medicine as a test of qualification. To these measures the most determined opposition was brought to bear by the chemists and druggists themselves, and it was founded upon this reason—in all the Bills that were introduced it was proposed to put the chemists and druggists under the Apothecaries' Company, for the purpose of examination; and it could not be supposed that the chemists and druggists should submit to such a provision. Accordingly, they strongly opposed those Bills which would have referred them for their diplomas to the Apothecaries' Hall. They had no objection to the improvement of the education of the body, but they opposed the Bills that referred them to the Apothecaries' Hall for their diplomas. In the case of one of the Bills, which was introduced by the hon. Member for Kinsale (Mr. Hawes), the remonstrances of the chemists and druggists were so far attended to, that their name was withdrawn from the Bill. But they considered that this course was the worst of all, and that it added insult to injury, as it deprived them of an advantage which was being conferred on others. After a time the leading members of the body assembled together, and agreed upon a plan for the organisation of themselves into a society, as a stepping-stone towards the regulation of the entire body of chemists and druggists. In 1843 they obtained a Royal Charter of incorporation, and had since been in active operation, carrying out the best means of improvement that suggested themselves. It would be admitted by the whole medical profession, that great improvements had taken place in this body during the last eight years. The pharmaceutical bodies in France and Germany had been also improving, and they had been looking to England with some degree of curiosity to see the results of this movement. He knew that it must be admitted that the chemists and druggists in this country were far behind the pharmaceutical bodies in other countries; but if the Bill which he had now the honour of submitting to the House should pass into a law, there was no reason to doubt that, in the course of ten or twenty years from the present time, the pharmaceutical body in England would be equal, if not superior, to that of any country in Europe. According to the present arrangements, the examination of candidates by the Society was a voluntary matter; and accordingly, if a person presented himself for examination, and he was found to be incompetent, and unfit to receive a certificate, he might commence business without one, ignorant though he were, and could snap his fingers at the examiners. In 1846, the late Sir Astley Cooper, when examined before the Parliamentary Committee, said it was necessary to enforce examinations, and that, if they were not enforced, the profession would never be one of much usefulness to the public. It was the object of the Pharmaceutical Society, in introducing the Bill, to make the examination obligatory, to avoid the error into which the Apothecaries' Company had fallen, namely, that of giving a medical character to their examinations, and to make the body strictly pharmaceutical. He had not heard of any serious objections to this Bill, for, though medical men did not pledge themselves to all its details, they were generally favourable to its principle; and all the suggestions that they had made would be carefully considered. The hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) objected to the Bill on the ground that it would be injurious to individuals who had a vested interest in the trade of drugs; but the Bill was not so strict as any pharmaceutical Bill hitherto introduced. It did not impose a penalty upon persons for merely selling Epsom salts; it simply imposed a penalty upon persons who assumed a name to which they were not entitled. It would, indeed, be an injustice, if, after a man had commenced business in any particular department, the law were to step in, and prevent him from obtaining his daily bread by it; consequently, any improvement which must take place amongst the chemists and druggists in this respect must be of a very gradual nature. All that they could do was to prevent the evil spreading any further than it had done; and as each individual who was now employed in the trade went off the stage, his place must be supplied by a person who had received a competent education. He believed that in the course of ten or twenty years—for it was not for 1851, but for 1870 that they were now to legislate—the advantages of the proposed system would become apparent. The entire subject before them was one of great difficulty and complexity; and it was only by a union between that House and the parties concerned, that they could meet the emergencies of the case, and effect the desired object. It had been said that there was no chance of carrying the Bill, because it was connected with the intricate and various interests of the medical profession, and because the condition of that entire profession ought to be legislated for in one measure. But great care had been taken to keep it separate from medical interests, and not to interfere with them in the least. Upon this account he saw no reason why the Bill should not be passed without difficulty, and that, too, in the course of this Session; for if there were no serious objections to it, there would be no benefit from keeping the question open and undecided for six or eight months longer, while infinite mischief might arise from the adoption of that course. It might be said that a Bill of this nature should have emanated from the Home Office, and ought not to be brought forward by a private Member of that House. On this point he would only say, that he would not have introduced the measure if he could possibly have induced the Ministry to undertake it; and even now he should be very happy, if the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary so desired, to hand over the Bill to him, and he (Mr. Bell) would lend his best assistance towards the passing of a measure which was, in his opinion, calculated to confer so great a service upon the public.


said, that when the House had had before it for the last twenty years one Bill after another legislating for the medical profession, he had not much faith in the success of any measure professing to regulate that profession. This and preceding Governments had found difficulty enough in dealing with the three medical bodies already in existence—the College of Physicians, the College of Surgeons, and the Apothecaries' Company—and now it was proposed to add another incorporated body to the number. The chemists and druggists were exempted by their own request from the provisions of the Apothecaries' Act of 1815. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bell) said that the Apothecaries' Company had gone to another sphere, and that they had become medical practitioners. But in his opinion the duty proposed to be devolved upon this pharmaceutical body ought to be the duty of the Apothecaries' Company. He wished to know whether any inquiry had been made by the Government of the three established bodies to know whether the duties proposed to be given to the new body could or ought to be performed by any of them? It appeared to him that the addition of a fourth Parliamentary body of medical men, invested with a monopoly in its particular business, would only complicate the difficulties of the subject, and interfere with that general measure which it was so essential to have enacted for the regulation of the medical and surgical profession at large. The chemists and druggists were doubtless a very valuable set of men; but it was quite undesirable to remove them from the sphere to which they properly appertained, and in which their usefulness developed itself.


thought that his hon. Friend (Mr. Hume) had been inattentive to the progress which had taken place in public opinion on this subject during the last twenty years. Was he prepared to assert that all the different districts of Great Britain were in such a state of improvement with respect to chemical knowledge that any man might trust his own life and the lives of his family to the care of every person who stuck up the insignia of a druggist's trade over his door? Why, it was well known that the greatest ignorance prevailed amongst this class of men, and that some of them did not know the difference between oxalic acid and Epsom salts, or between iodine and aconite. At the same time, he was happy to say that there were persons who followed the profession of chemistry, who were so well acquainted with their business that they were able to exercise a wholesome vigilance over the prescriptions that were sent to them. Was his hon. Friend (Mr. Hume) aware of the beneficial proceedings of the Pharmaceutical Society, and that some of the best chemists in London were members of that society? All that the Bill proposed was, that a certain society, which was already incorporated, should have the power of examining parties and giving certificates, and without these certificates persons should not be allowed to enter the profession. The chemist belonged to one of the most important professions for the benefit and weal of the human race; and a man to whom so much was entrusted ought to be educated and well informed in his business. Up to the present moment the Bill had not received the slightest scintilla of opposition from the medical profession; and his hon. Friend (Mr. Bell) had promised to take into consideration in Committee any suggestions that might be offered. Believing that the Bill would prove highly beneficial to the public at large, he should be happy to give it his best support.


thought that the Bill was rather curiously drawn up. The mover of the Bill disclaimed any wish to turn chemists into apothecaries; but that examination to which he proposed to subject them was so large and comprehensive, that it was not easy to instruct them how the distinction was to be drawn after they had passed that examination. The hon. Member (Mr. Bell) had said be would be willing to make certain alterations in Committee; but he had not intimated to the House what those alterations were, or how he would define the parties he meant to deal with. There were four distinct classes of persons mentioned—namely, the pharmaceutical chemist, the chemist at large, the druggist at large, and the dispensing chemist. Now, he should be puzzled to describe, if asked to do so, precisely what the term "Pharmaceutical Chemist" meant. [Mr. J. BELL said they were all the same class under different names.] In that case the fourfold designation in the Bill only encum- bered it, and at all events there must he an interpretation clause. It would be most difficult to exclude from the penalties of the measure a useful class of general dealers in small towns, who sold salts, turpentine, saltpetre, &c. The real state of the ease was, that a society set up about seven years ago by Royal Charter, induced many chemists to pay two guineas a year for a fine label, which they put in their window, with the hard words "Pharmaceutical Chemists" upon it; but he believed the bubble bad burst, and that the same importance was not attached to the richly-framed label as the poor and ignorant were at first inclined to bestow. People now went for their drugs to some honest respectable tradesman whom they were accustomed to trust, and had lost all faith in these gaudy labels, which were nothing better than show advertisements. The hon. Member for Rochester (Mr. Bernal) said that no petitions had been presented against the Bill. That was the natural consequence of its provisions. Every party now in trade was protected by it. It did not pretend to interfere with patent or proprietary medicines, however injurious they might be. There was no evidence before the public with respect to the examination which parties claiming to be pharmaceutical chemists would have to undergo. He saw a great many difficulties in the way of that measure and its objects, and for the present he should oppose the second reading.


said, he thought what had taken place with regard to this Bill would convince the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bell) that he was rather too sanguine in supposing that the Bill would give general satisfaction. He had intimated to him privately that there was no chance of its passing at this advanced period of the Session. It was a Bill that ought to he before the public a considerable time before he could ask them to agree to it. He thought also this branch of the subject ought not to be considered except in connexion with the medical question generally; and he felt very strong objections to creating in this body a monopoly, giving them au exclusive right to determine who should, and who should not, be dispensing chemists. To the first part of the Bill he did not see any material objection. So far as power might be required for the purpose of appointing examiners, and granting certificates, he was not aware that there was any objection, if that were not followed by a monopoly. If, as he had learned, the hon. Gentleman proposed to make some extensive alterations in the Bill, he should have no objection to its being read a second time pro formâ, provided it was understood that it should not be proceeded with any further this Session,


approved of the Bill, but recommended the hon. Gentleman to assent to this arrangement, or to move for a Select Committee to investigate the subject.


understood the term "Pharmaceutical Chemist," which the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Henley) affected not to understand, to mean one who applied remedial measures for the cure of disease; and he begged to refer the hon. Gentleman to his Greek Lexicon if he were desirous of investigating the etymology of the word. There had of late years been a general resort to the examination of candidates on the part of the learned professions, and he considered the Bill before them to be a step in the right direction.


had great pleasure in accepting the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department, that the Bill should be read a second time pro formâ, in order that it should be printed with amendments, and circulated throughout the country.

Bill read 2°.