HC Deb 17 July 1925 vol 186 cc1778-82

Order for Second Beading read.

The MINISTER for HEALTH (Mr. Neville Chamberlain)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

I am very glad to have the opportunity of moving the Second Reading of this Bill, which, I believe, will have the general assent of all parties in the House, inasmuch as I think it will be no exaggeration to say that the lives of many people will benefit from its early passage into law. The Bill deals with the standardisation of the substances commonly known as vaccines, sera, toxins, antitoxins, antigens and insulin. These are substances which cannot be tested chemically. Practically all civilised countries have an official standardisation for these various substances, and as to their purity and potency—France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United States, Norway, Sweden. In these various countries, these substances are very closely examined and inspected. We have, unfortunately, no standardisation for our own manufacturers, and all these preparations which have failed to pass the test of the foreign countries are liable to be imported here.

Nearly all these substances are, or may be, highly poisonous, or dangerous to life if they are administered or injected in incorrect doses and if those who administer them do not know exactly what it is they are administering. Accordingly, we propose that no one shall be allowed to manufacture these substances without a licence. Further, it is highly important that those who administer them should know exactly what they are administering, and that imported substances should not be permitted except under proper standardisation, or compliance with the conditions laid down. We propose to set up a Joint Committee consisting of the Minister of Health, the Secretary for Scotland, and the Minister for Home Affairs for Northern Ireland, with power to make regulations, to prescribe standards and tests, and from time to time to make conditions. It is not intended to deal with veterinary substances in the list of substances which are subject to these provisions. We exclude veterinary substances except in so far as may be necessary in certain cases to secure proper labelling. I have very little doubt that this Bill will be received generously.

Major-General Sir RICHARD LUCE

I am glad we are carrying the matter one stage further. In doing so we have behind us medical and scientific opinion. The Minister of Health has explained the importance of these substances, but they are of great complexity. They are, medically, roughly of three kinds. First of all, there are those extremely difficult chemical compounds, such as salvarsan. Those who have read through the Schedule will see that it has a chemical name which contains no less than 17 syllables. It will be pretty obvious, therefore, that that is not an easy substance to standardise. The regulations which have been drawn up and are contained in this Bill will help to make quite certain that these substances do not get into the hands of people who are not qualified to deal with them. I have one small criticism to which I should like to refer briefly, but which will come up in Committee, and that is in regard to the constitution of the Advisory Committee. It consists of a considerable number of representatives of scientific and other bodies, but does not comprise anyone who is directly responsible for the use of this substance, that is to say, a representative of the body of general practitioners, and I hope in Committee it will be possible to add at least one representative of them, possibly to be nominated by the British Medical Association. One point we wish to be certain about is that the Bill will enable substances to be admitted into this country which are recognised in foreign countries as being of a proper standard without, necessarily, complicating the standards of these substances in this country. It may be a secret remedy which is recognised abroad, but of which the composition is rot known, and where we have to depend upon the bona fides of the manufacturer abroad.


This is one of the very few Measures introduced into this House which applies to Northern Ireland, and I should be glad to make a few observations upon it. There is no doubt that considerable harm has been done through the indiscriminate use of materials that have not been properly standardised. There was a time when the materials wore for the most part inorganic, and could be standardised by ordinary chemical tests, but we are getting right away from that now to the use of organic extracts, extracts from various glands in human beings or animals being substituted for ordinary drugs. Obviously these require to be subjected to physiological or bio-chemical tests, and it is very important that they should be subjected to these tests by recognised authorities. I will give an illustration to show the necessity for this legislation. Take, for example, the substance known as pituitrin, an extract from a small gland in the brain. This is a very potent substance, and is used for a variety of purposes, for example, to expedite labour. It is quite possible that practitioners using a particular brand of pituitrin may be quite accustomed to its effects, but in an emergency a man may be called upon to use a brand that has not been adequately standardised and may be five or 10 times as strong as the brand with which he is familiar, and where his intention has been to stimulate a womb sufficiently to secure contraction, the use of a drug of unknown strength may cause a fatal rupture of the womb from over-stimulation. It is desirable that standardisation should be undertaken by some recognised authority, and where possible there should also be inspection of the mode of manufacture. Another illustration is furnished by the valuable substance known as insulin, a very important drug in the treatment of diabetes. With a wider use of this drug other manufacturers of it will spring up, and their products may be of various standards. While the proper use of it in recognised doses is very helpful, it is clear that we might get preparations of it either inert altogether, or too strong for ordinary use. Thus, a useful preparation may, on occasion, become a dangerous or even fatal dose. For the sake of the health of the country, I think standardisation should be carried out by recognised authorities. I cordially support this Measure which the right hon. Gentleman has introduced, and I hope it will be speedily passed into law.


This is a Bill which is long overdue, and is a very necessary Measure, but I think there are several items in it which will require to be dealt with in Committee. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has referred to the standardisation of pituitrin and insulin. But I should like to refer to particular instances. First of all, in the case of a particular serum the regulations require that it shall be manufactured under a licence granted by the licencing authority in this country, although the serum may be produced abroad. It may be a special serum, and I have one in mind, which would not be allowed to come into this country if this Bill passed into law. I think certain alterations will require to be made so that a serum which may be produced abroad, and has certain special properties', should be allowed to be brought in under licence, but not with all the restrictions imposed by this Bill.

There is another remedy I know of which might be called a secret remedy, but which has been very largely used for asthma. I am told that it is almost impossible to analyse this remedy to the satisfaction of any chemist, and it is difficult to reproduce such a substance. From a medical point of view we do not recommend such substances, but we know that it is one of the best substances for the relief of asthmatical attacks. Under this Bill that substance would not be allowed to be brought into this country, and I think it would be wrong that a substance like this which has shown itself to be of very great value should be forbidden to enter this country.


Would it come within the Schedule?


I think so. I think the provisions of this Bill are essentially medical, but as it will have to be referred to a Committee, may I ask the Minister in charge if he would see that as many Members as possible of this House, who are medical men, should be put on the Committee to examine this Measure? It is essentially a medical question, and we have, I believe, about 12 medical men in this House. I hope the Minister of Health will see that the medical profession is very largely represented on the Committee which is going to deal with this question.


I only wish to say from these benches that we welcome this Bill and we are very glad that the Government have been able to find time to bring it forward. There are one or two small points which we may desire to deal with in Committee, but we shall do all we can to expedite its passage.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House for Monday next.— [Commander Eyres Monsell.]