§ Order for Second Beading read.
§ 1.0 p.m.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
In commending this Bill for Second Reading to the House, I should like to begin by putting before hon. Members 1563 the present position and the regulations in force for the control of the sale of mineralised methylated spirits. I also submit that in the opinion of many people there is in the present position grave danger and many anomalies. Many hon. Members will agree with me that to-day we are living in an age of restrictions. The restrictions have been applied with great caution and very fairly, but in some cases carelessly. Hon. Members will realise that more and more because of the legislation that has been put on the Statute Book, the public in Britain are being led to expect that anything that is harmful will be labelled for them, and that anything that is likely to prove disadvantageous to their health will be controlled. Even tins of milk are labelled "not fit for infants." Many times we have tonics at the order of the doctor, and we pour them from bottles looking somewhat sinister and labelled "poison". Licensing legislation and regulations are discussed in this House each year, it is argued that these regulations cause a great deal of inconvenience to many people.
But in bringing forward this Bill I would point out that it is not a temperance measure. Already the Government and all right-thinking people have realised that it is bad for health to drink mineralised methylated spirits, and they wish to have that stopped. The present regulations are under the Spirit Act of 1880, amended by the Revenue Act of 1886, and there are certain regulations in methylated spirits orders. Section 130 (a) of the 1880 Act makes it an offence to prepare or attempt to prepare any methylated spirits for use as or for a beverage or as a mixture with a beverage; and Section 130 (b) makes it an offence to sell any methylated spirits whether so prepared or not for a beverage or mixed with a beverage. On certain occasions there have been cases taken under those Acts, and those who object to the regulations in this Bill will no doubt inform us of the advantages of those regulations, if they have proved successful, and if the majority of people who retail methylated spirits are in favour of the law as it is. These restrictions not having proved sufficient and the number of convictions for drinking methylated spirits having increased, a new formula was included in 1924 which included a 1564 certain amount of pyridine. In the figures of convictions for the year after there was a distinct fall. I am told that many people believed that what had been added was poison and that people went more carefully because of it, but since that time there has been a steady increase.
I take the figures for the last 10 years. Previous to 1923 the figures had been increasing. In 1924 they were 696 convictions. Pyridine was introduced, and the next year the convictions fell to 441, and to 389 in the following year, but since that time they have gone up steadily. I have examined the licensing statistics for 1932 to find out if drunkenness due to the drinking of methylated spirits is found in any district, necessarily in the poorest districts, or in different parts of the country. Hon. Members may find an extremely interesting study in the document of licensing statistics for 1932, table 6. We find that in Chester out of a total of 18 men convicted for drunkenness five were convicted for being drunk on methylated spirit. In Plymouth out of 39 men convicted of being drunk the drunkenness in 10 cases was due to methylated spirit. In Liverpool the increase of convictions for methylated spirit drunkenness was among women. Forty-seven women out of 433 convicted for drunkenness were convicted for being drunk on methylated spirit. In the counties we find that the convictions for drunkenness due to the drinking of methylated spirit were, in Hampshire, 10 men out of a total of 94 general convictions; in the West division of Sussex 12 men out of 70; in Cardiff, 22 men out of 76, and five women out of 14; in Carnarvon 10 men out of 46 and three women put of nine. I think these figures give sufficient proof that the evil is widespread. It is not necessarily found only in the poor districts of big towns but there is a definite evil at the present time.
When there are convictions for drunkenness due to the drinking of methylated spirit it must be remembered that those convictions cannot be so declared unless there is absolute proof. In most cases the only real proof is that the person convicted is found in possession of methylated spirit or of a methylated spirit bottle. There is no doubt that the figures I have quoted are the minimum convictions and that there may be many 1565 more included in the general statistics. In Scotland the figures are a great deal higher. I have the figures of convictions for drunkenness during the last 10 years. There is a very marked decrease in convictions generally for drunkenness. In 1924 the general convictions for drunkenness totalled 14,051, but in 1932, I am thankful to say, the figure went down to 9,000. In spite of the fact that there has been a regular and sustained decrease in the number of general convictions for drunkenness the number of convictions for drunkenness due to methylated spirit drinking has not decreased to any extent. In Scotland the figures are not prepared nor are they obtainable so clearly as in England. They give us the figures for the six of the largest burghs, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Perth, Inverness and Stirling, and the total number of convictions for this offence remains round about 1,000. I have been at pains to get figures from some of the other burghs regarding the convictions for drunkenness due to methylated spirit drinking. Why they are not given in the ordinary statistics I do not know. In Kirkcaldy, where in his last report the chief constable again drew attention to what he called the fashion of methylated spirit drinking, there were 54 convictions for drunkenness due to methylated spirit out of 161 general convictions for drunkenness. In Aberdeen in one year there were 52 convictions for drunkenness due to methylated spirit drinking and in the next year 38. In Falkirk the proportion of convictions for drunkenness caused by the drinking of methylated spirit compared with the convictions for general drunkenness were 41 out of 156; in Paisley 31 out of 205, and in Stirling there were 100 convictions last year for this offence.
I have, sometimes, been told that in the majority of these cases the people are addicts and are brought before the court again and again for being drunk on methylated spirit. I heard of one case of a person being brought before the court 51 times. It is, however, appalling to learn of the number of people who come before the court for the first time charged with this offence. In Glasgow, of the 553 people apprehended last year for this offence 337 were before the court for the first time. In Paisley, of the 35 persons brought up for drunkenness due to the drinking of methylated spirit, 15 came to 1566 the court for the first time, and in Stirling, of the 100 persons convicted 19 were before the court for the first time. In Inverness the proportion was very high. Forty-two out of 74 cases of drunkenness were in one year and 20 out of 38 in the next year were methylated drinkers. There I find that 23 out of 42 were before the court for the first time in 1932 and 9 out of 20 were before the court for the first time in the next year.
Therefore, if we are to use these figures of convictions in any way as an index of what is going on I cannot think that we can be satisfied to fall back upon the argument that has been put to me by some people that this particular vice of drinking methylated spirit is only the vice of a few, that it is not spreading, as many people believe, and that no restriction would be of any avail. The point that I want to make about the drinking of methylated spirit is that it is very bad for the health. I shall be interested to hear if any hon. Member can bring before the House anything to show that ordinary medical opinion in this country declares that there is no harm in the drinking of mineralised methylated spirit and the concoction that is being sold so freely to-day. While we have stringent regulations on most alcoholic beverages which the majority of people consume, which are not harmful in themselves but only when used to excess, we find that there is sale over the counter of these methylated spirit concoctions at 8d. and sometimes 10d. a quart. Alcoholic concoctions, including "Red Biddy" although not sold ready mixed can, with the greatest of ease, be mixed by the people themselves. Methylated spirit 60 above proof at 8d. a quart mixed with water and tasting of pyridine I am told is not obnoxious when flavoured perhaps with peppermint or with ground ginger. If the person who wishes to drink methylated spirit finds the taste of pyridine distasteful, there are many ways—which I do not want to publish—of treating the spirit so that the pyridine can be removed.
In this Bill there is no restriction on surgical spirit or spirit for perfume, for the reason that when pyridine was added to methylated spirit in 1924 it was found that it would not be able to be used for applications such as many people use it, for rubbing on amputated limbs and so 1567 on, because the pyridine would be harmful to the skin. Therefore permission was given for industrial spirit to be used for these purposes under a certain formula. Although castor oil and other ingredients were added to methylated spirit, it was still quite a favourite drink in many places because there was not much difficulty in making it palatable. Here I can speak freely. Add a little milk to surgical spirit, shake it up, allow the cream to come to the top and also the castor oil and other ingredients, and you got consumable alcohol. Instead of buying a bottle of whiskey at 12s. 6d. you could buy alcohol for 2d. and get what I am told many people are asking for, namely, a drink with a kick in it. I can speak freely of surgical spirit because the formulae for that spirit as we have known it in the past were withdrawn last week by the Customs and Excise and new formulae were substituted as from the 15th March. That fact proves that the authorities realise what has been going on. I hope that if the new formulae are not found to be sufficiently noxious and the spirit can still be drunk or treated to be made drinkable, we shall see an entire removal of the permit for surgical spirits. With regard to perfume there is sufficient power for the Commissioners of Customs and Excise to deal with the matter. A few years ago industrial spirit was allowed free of duty for the making of perfume, but the formulae have to be passed by the Customs authorities. The formulae should be again examined by the Commissioners of Customs, and, if it can be proved—I think we have already sufficient proof—that these cheap perfumes are being drunk, I ask that the formulae should be changed so that these perfumes should include a larger percentage of the essential oil. I have here the details of a particular perfume sold in well-known stores for sixpence, in which there is 77 per cent. of alcohol, one per cent. of essential oil and the rest water. I would urge that this matter should be looked into in order that there should be a smaller quantity of alcohol and a larger percentage of the essential oil.
I come to the question as to whether or not the drinking of methylated spirit is a real danger to the health of the people. I have made, as far as I am able, the most exhaustive inquiries. I have communicated with medical officers 1568 of health, police surgeons, professors, doctors of hospitals and I have never yet had from any of them the suggestion that the consumption of methylated spirit in its present form is not injurious. Professor Sidney Smith, Professor of Medicine at Edinburgh University says:It is much more toxic than ordinary alcohol owing to the fact that it takes much longer to be destroyed in the tissues and the effect of one dose may last for several days. One of the most disastrous effects is connected with disorders of vision. In the last year or two there have been treated in the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary about 30 cases of definite methylated spirit poisoning and two of these cases proved fatal. Coupled with toxic poisoning is the poisonous effect on the central nervous system.Medical officers of health and police surgeons have written to me by the score since the Bill was introduced telling me thatit saps the moral strength and leads to more depravity than ordinary alcoholic beverages. It causes acute gastritis, and in chronic drinkers leads to mental confusion. A methylated drinker does not realise that failing eyesight, poor hearing, indigestion, colic and increasing heart weakness are all the direct results of the choice of his drink.It is clear that much harm is being done. The regulations in our licensing laws give many people very little choice in their drink. There are people to-day, I know them, who do not realise the harm there is in the drinking of methylated spirit. We have labels for our poisons and restrictions for spirits, but in this case there is no label on the bottle, and with perhaps only a perfunctory inquiry, in many cases without any inquiry at all, this is handed out to the people of this country. Ginger beer when treated with methylated spirit is, I am told, a most excellent drink. Many people perhaps are not aware of the pleasure of drinking what is called "Yellow Jane"—lemonade with a kick—or "Red Biddy," that is red wine which is often fortified with methylated spirit. The danger is known to social workers in England and Scotland. "King Fergus," which is a term given to methylated spirit added to kola, makes a red drink which is most invigorating, but after 12 hours produces sleep and coma.
I ask the representative of the Government and those who are opposing this Bill to give me any real reason why we restrict all these other alcoholic beverages 1569 as to the hours in which they are sold and the methods under which the public can obtain them, and yet allow an unrestricted sale in many of our shops of this poisonous alcohol? Why should the Government frown on "Johnnie Walker" and give the glad eye to "Red Biddy"? Why is the tax so excessive on whisky when up and down the country social workers tell us that if only the methylated spirit drinker could get away from this poisonous spirit and get a taste for a decent spirit, there is some chance of him being cured of his appalling vice. I know that every retailer must have a licence to sell the spirit, but we are up against the difficulty of carrying out the regulations. There is an Act in force in Northern Ireland upon which the present Bill is based, although these restrictions are perhaps more stringent. I have been at some pains to find out officially and unofficially from the people of Northern Ireland how that Act is working. I am told that it has been successful and that the stamping out of the drinking of methylated spirit has gone forward in a most remarkable way, while at the same time there has not been any real restriction on the legitimate use of the spirit. I have also figures to show that the Act has not led to a vast number of convictions which some people feared would be the result.
I am aware that this subject was considered by the Royal Commission on Licensing and that they considered the drinking of methylated spirit to be an abnormal habit indulged in by abnormal people, with abnormal cravings. I wonder whether when those words were uttered it was realised what was going on? If hon. Members believe that it is entirely abnormal I would ask them to go into some of the districts of our cities and find out for themselves—the people will tell them—how they are using this spirit in certain things, and how gradually this vice has got such a hold upon them that they cannot do without it. They are mixing it less and less with water and taking it stronger and stronger. You have only to go into the lodging houses and hostels of some of our big cities and towns to see what is going on. There is a certain place in one of the towns in the North where there has been for years a drinking trough for horses. If hon. Members would only go there now 1570 they would find that very few of the horses will drink out of that trough. If they had accompanied me some time ago they would have found out the reason. Men and women go there with bottles of methylated spirit for which they have paid 8d. or 1s. and proceed to add water to it. That place is known to be a spot where these people congregate in order to mix this drink. This spirit does not need a label, there are no restrictions upon its sale; you cannot stop them.
There is one person who I should like to see restricted by this Measure, and that is the person who gets this spirit and sells it to other people. I have seen such a person going up a street with his bottle filling the small bottles of the wretched people who come out from the side streets. They have been refused in may places because they are known to be addicts. But this person gets the spirit and sells it to them at inordinate rates. He knows that as long as he can obtain it and as long as these people are eking out their miserable existence he will have customers and a big price for what he gets.
In this Bill I believe we shall have the minimum control that is necessary and the maximum freedom for the legitimate use of the spirit. The Bill lays down certain definite restrictions. Hon. Members are aware that under the Poisons and Pharmacy Act of last year, Part II, the local authority has to keep a list of certain retailers who may sell certain things that are to be classed as poison. I have already alluded to the fact that the retailers of mineralised methylated spirit have to obtain a licence yearly. It is suggested in the Bill that the licence should not be granted unless the retailer has a certificate from the local authority to say that he has been listed as a person who is suitable for the sale and whose premises are suitable. The Regulations in Clause 1 are that the sellers name is to be entered in his local authority's list, that the bottle or other vessel which contains the spirit shall be labelled, that the seller before handing over the methylated spirit to the purchaser shall have entered in a register the purpose for which the spirit is required, and that that register shall be signed by the purchaser. But in order that there may be the minimum of difficulty there is adopted in the Bill what 1571 was brought in as an Amendment to the Northern Ireland Act, that a signed order may be taken.
I would point out to those who think that the restrictions will be difficult to work and make it difficult for persons to buy methylated spirits for legitimate use, that all the purchaser has to do is to put his order in writing, to state for what purpose he wants it, to give his name and address, and then that order can be sent to the retailer, and there is no necessity for him to call and sign the book. It is also stated in Clause 1 that it is not lawful to retail methylated spirit to any person under the age of 14. When I first drafted the Bill and met representatives of the various trades, the enormous majority of whom are entirely in favour of the Bill, they pointed out to me that they would like included this particular proposal about sale to a child. Under the Northern Ireland Act no person under the age of 18 may purchase the spirit. In this Bill I have put the lowest possible age, the age of 14. But if hon. Members will again remember the alternative to signing, the sending of a signed order, I do not think this will be found to be an irksome restriction, and it is one which the retailers as a whole claim is a necessity.
The other Clauses deal with the list of the local authorities and the power of the police to examine the register. It may be said that we have not got the minimum of control, that the control is not sufficient, and that we shall go a very short way towards remedying what we wish to remedy. I would bring two facts to the notice of hon. Members. There is, I believe a very small percentage of retailers who are not taking precautions. But it ought to be remembered that theirs is a difficult task. It is an offence to sell methylated spirit knowingly for drink. In a great many cases inquiries are made. I recently spoke to one retailer who told me that a woman came into his shop and asked for methylated spirit. By her appearance he knew or suspected that she was an addict, a real drinker of methylated spirit, and he refused it. She went away and in a few moments a child came and asked for the spirit. After questioning the child he discovered that she had been sent in by the woman with an extra 1572 twopence. The child was sent away. Presently there came in a young man, who made the same demand and said that the spirit was wanted to be burned in a lamp. This particular chemist, being interested in the subject, brought out a paper and pencil and said to the young man, "You will write on this paper for me the purpose for which you want this spirit and the amount, and you can sign it and put down your address". The young man thereupon threw down the pencil and and said, "In that case she will not get her meth".
In one of the cities of the North there was an extraordinary increase in the number of convictions. Many people in that city suspected one particular retailer, an ironmonger, of selling methylated spirit knowingly to these unfortunate buyers. It took some time before anything definite could be done. I think the House will realise how difficult it has been to get a conviction even when case after case has been brought forward. In this particular instance the retailer was charged before the sheriff with contravention of Section 130 I (b) of the Spirit Act, 1880, as amended by the Revenue Act, 1888, with "selling in his shop by the hands of an assistant a gill or thereby of methylated spirit as or for a beverage; and, secondly, with contravention of Section 31 (3) of the Methylated Spirit Regulations". It was only because they could get those things together that they were able to get a conviction. The accused was fined five pounds, with the alternative of 20 days' imprisonment.
In that particular town, not a very large one, the convictions had gone up. They reached 37, 29 and 53 in consecutive years, but after this conviction they sank to eight and seven. I think the percentage is small of the retailers who either sell knowingly or do not take sufficient precautions. I have been told that many would welcome a provision that the onus of discovering the purpose for which the spirit is to be used shall be taken from them and put on the shoulders of the purchaser. The purchaser would state in writing the purpose for which he used the spirit, and he would put his name and address in writing, and the retailer would then be satisfied that if it was being used as a beverage he would not be responsible. I have here a letter from one of the leading firms which sell methylated 1573 spirit. The writer says he approves entirely of the restrictions proposed in the Billwhich we and all other reputable firms would be only too pleased to conform tothe suggested regulationsand it is only the residuum of the dealers, who are willing to sell to anyone and think only of the profit they can make, who will raise any objection.I have received a great many letters from retailers. I have not received a single letter from a retailer or dealer who objects. I was told that the Dry-salters' Association in Glasgow and the West of Scotland had objections. I met them in a conference in Glasgow and I found that their objections were because they had thought that the sale of the methylated spirit was to be restricted to chemists only. When they heard the terms of the Bill they assured me they were entirely in support of it. I have not received from any single seller of methylated spirit an objection to this scheme.
If the Bill becomes law, I think we can assume that a great many people will be warned for the first time how harmful it is to drink this spirit. I can assure hon. Members that there are to-day hundreds of people who are not aware of the danger. The ordinary addict will, of course, do everything that he or she can to get the spirit. I am not going to say that they will be entirely prevented. But we have to face this fact: those who have got the habit, those who have become, as I have seen them, absolute moral, mental and physical wrecks, thanks to the drinking of this spirit, are not going to be cured except by a miracle. I do not think that the age of miracles is past, but miracles are not worked by Acts of Parliament. I would urge hon. Members to examine for themselves the statistics and find out the truth. This vice is becoming a habit with younger people. A particular addict with whom I conversed about three weeks ago was aged 36. He began to drink three years ago. There were two friends of his, one of whom is now dead and the other in hospital, and this particular man himself I am told has probably not more than two months to live. We went carefully into the methods by which he obtained the spirit and he was willing to explain them. He said he hoped that something would be done so that younger men and women would not 1574 go through the hell which he had experienced. He told me that he gave me the information knowing that any regulations which might be made would be too late to affect him personally. I believe that some addicts might continue to be served with the spirit, by going from one district to another in the larger towns. But the retailers—most of whom are with us in trying to get rid of this evil—would be careful before serving any person who gave an address situated in another part of the town some distance away. They would be more particular in such a case to find out why a man who wanted methylated spirit for a lamp or for some such purpose, did not buy it nearer home and false addresses could soon be traced.
I have discussed this matter with the chief constables of many places in England and Scotland and with social workers, and they have told me that the effect of putting the onus on the purchaser in the way suggested, would be to check the evil. The enormous number of people who, at present, get this spirit in order to supply it to others, will be afraid to do so. I hope and trust that if this Bill becomes law, it will stop the activities of some of those sharks, for I can call them nothing else, who are making money out of this traffic. I have known of a man giving the whole of his weekly wages amounting to 37s. 6d. to one of these people on a Sunday for methylated spirit. In many cases, the police know the people who are engaged in this trade but have no power to deal with them. If retailers were warned by the police that certain people were buying spirit for that purpose and if a retailer continued to supply such people, the local authority at the end of the year could refuse that retailer the certificate without which he could not get his licence.
The only complaints which I have had in the mass of information which has reached me and the hundreds of letters which I have had from all parts of the country, come from people who do not, I think, realise either what is going on or the fact that restrictions already exist. They do not seem to realise that it has already been put to the country in general that methylated spirit should not be used as a drink. They tell me that it would be an inconvenience to have to sign an order or to sign in the shop. I do not think that if hon. Members 1575 realised the truth of the situation, they would consider their own convenience in this matter. The majority of citizens would, I believe, on all occasions help their weaker brethen if they realised the need. The majority of people who complain that we are going in some way to inconvenience them by this Bill, ought to go into some of the places which I have visited and see this evil for themselves. I ask them, would they rather sign an order or sign the death warrants of these people? Do they want to see fresh cases year after year in our courts arising from this cause? Do they want to hear of more and more men and women drinking this stuff, ruining their health, perhaps beginning to suffer blindness, and sinking down into a state of degradation such as is brought about by no other alcoholic beverage?
If the facts were known, I think all these objections would vanish, and I believe that the restrictions which we propose will not be found to militate against the legitimate use of the spirit. I believe there is only one adequate answer to the demand which we are making and that is to do away with all restrictions, to take off all licensing legislation, to remove from a list a great many of the ingredients which now rank as poisons. Do away with all and leave to the ordinary British citizen the right and the responsibility of deciding for himself or herself what is right and wrong in these matters and what they may eat or drink without harm to themselves. But, if you are to have restrictions at all, then I beg of the House to see to it that the things which are restricted are the most harmful things. To-day we know there are people who are moral, mental and physical wrecks, some of them partly insane, as a result of this evil. We can at least warn the rising generation and endeavour to save them from that fate. It is, I am certain the fate of more people than many hon. Members realise all over this country, and for those reasons I ask the House to give a Second Reading to the Bill.
§ 1.40 p.m.
§ Mr. HERBERT WILLIAMS
I beg to second the Motion.
In the first place, may I pay a tribute in which I am sure the whole House will join to the force, eloquence and ability 1576 with which the hon. Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh) has presented the case and also to the enormous trouble which I know she has taken to find out the facts with regard to what appears to be a definite evil. I, with a great many other Members of this House, have been opposed to restrictive legislation and it may be that I put myself in a somewhat anomalous position by seconding a Bill which frankly adds to existing restrictions. But the problem exists and we cannot close our eyes to it. It has existed for a long time. Parliament has already attempted to deal with it—I forget whether by Act of Parliament or by administrative action—by trying to make methylated spirits so unpleasant to drink that people would not drink it. That attempt had a certain measure of success but in the end it has failed, and the evil still exists. As Parliament's first attempt has failed, I think Parliament must make another attempt.
The hon. Lady said with great truth that this problem is largely the child of other restrictions. I think if we had cheaper gin and whiskey a good deal of this problem would vanish. I say so frankly. There is not one of us who does not deplore drunkenness whatever the cause, but most of us in this House are consumers of alcohol in one form or another. Most of us know that the very high prices of what is sometimes called "hard liquor," compels some people to try to find the satisfaction which they would otherwise get from drinking "hard liquor," in drinking these poisonous stuffs like methylated spirit. This problem is not dissimilar from the problem which existed in the United States when they had in operation there what they were pleased to call "prohibition." There, all kinds of inferior intoxicants were produced with deplorable results. I have only been in that great country once, but during two or three days that I was in New York I read of 18 persons being found in the streets suffering from acute poisoning due to drinking deleterious forms of alcohol.
We all know that whiskey has to be matured for a substantial period, because there is in whisky, when first made, certain deleterious substances which are gradually got rid of while it is maturing. A great deal of harm which has arisen in the past from the drinking of alcohol has not been from the alcohol, but from 1577 the impurities. If people are going to drink, and most people will continue to do so, let us make it easy for them to drink the most wholesome stuff they can get. I am inclined to believe that it is the Chancellor of the Exchequer and nobody else who will probably remedy this problem and remedy it in a way that will not be so disadvantageous to the revenue as might appear at first sight. The other is for the chemists to make another effort. They have had one try and have failed. They may be able to suggest another solution. Actually, I suppose, the best solution would be the introduction of an emetic into methylated spirit, if it is possible to introduce an emetic without destroying the value of the spirit for the purpose for which it is normally obtained. After all, it is regarded as an essential in most households. It is used for certain cleaning and heating purposes, and it is found in every household. That fact, of course, makes any policy of restriction a difficult one.
Nevertheless, apparently it is the case that the addicts are the people who reveal the fact that they are addicts, and therefore, if we can make it difficult for the addict to buy, and if we make it la crime for anyone who is not a registered retailer to sell, we may achieve the object which my hon. Friend has in introducing the Bill. If it has a Second Reading, we shall want to examine with the greatest care the provisions of Clause 1 and Clause 5, which represent the more important parts of the Bill. On more detailed examination in Committee it may be possible—I hope, although I am seconding the Motion, the promoter will not mind my saying so—to some extent to modify some of the restrictions which would cause irritation. Nevertheless, if we cannot deal with this grave social problem in any other way, the House is in duty bound to experiment with this method, much as I dislike it in substance and principle for reasons I have given in connection with other Bills, and I accordingly second the Motion with much pleasure.
§ 1.48 p.m.
§ Sir WILFRID SUGDEN
I beg to move to leave out "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add "upon this day six months."
I want to pay my tribute to the admirable and sensible fashion in which the 1578 Bill was introduced by the hon. lady the Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh). It did credit to her heart, and it was a method of presentation of which those who have had the privilege of listening to her on previous occasions knew that she was capable. When that has been said, it is essential that we should examine this instrument for remedying an evil—
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being present—
§ Sir W. SUGDEN
I was stating that, while I pay my tribute in full to the admirable fashion in which the introducer of this Measure did her task, and while I admit the problem that the Bill is introduced to solve, I want to suggest that the Measure will make even more acute the terrible and drastic malady which it is designed to cure. What are the facts in respect of the use of methylated spirits? It is an article in use in almost every industry. It is an article which my hon. Friend who will speak from the medical standpoint will slay from his expert knowledge is essential in the medical profession. It is essential in the dental profession and in the lady's boudoir. If one scrutinises the purchasers and the usages of this dangerous liquid, one notes its use to a remarkable extent in beauty parlours not only in the Metropolis, but in the great working-class districts of our towns. There is hardly an article of furniture in a working man's home which does not necessitate the use of this liquid. Anyone dealing with the great engineering trade knows that it is a vital essential.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
In dealing with the large interests in the engineering trade, does the hon. Member wish to suggest that those people buy by retail in less than four gallons from the ordinary small retailer?
§ Sir W. SUGDEN
I shall be happy to deal with the whole position, and I hope to present the problem and a suggestion as to its proper solution. I will deal with the point which the hon. Lady raises in its proper order. The engineering trades are compelled to use this commodity in various ways, and, if time permitted, I could go through the main industries of the country to make my first point, 1579 namely, that it is a liquid, whether of industrial type or of the type that is used for the human body and in veterinary work, of supreme importance The question arises, how can this substance be marketed so that it shall be obtained with the greatest facility by those who require it for use legitimately for industrial purposes, for use in a beauty parlour, or for medicinal purposes under the direction of a medical man, and, indeed, for use in the humble spirit lamp in a cottage home? How can we best supply all these necessary and legitimate wants?
The House will be interested to know that from 1679 legislation has been frequently passed dealing with the use of spirit, in which, of course, must be included methylated spirit, both for industrial and household purposes and for human use, and as I closely scrutinised the 76 Acts of Parliament dealing with this substance I did indeed wonder whether the hon. Lady had at last succeeded in achieving her object where others had so often failed. I wish to pay my tribute to the Customs and Excise authorities for the careful and painstaking work they have done in this matter. Our Customs and Excise authorities are second to none in the world in respect to their public spirit and their care and thought for the well-being of the British people, and they have been at no small pains, after research in the laboratories and in consultation with the highest medical and other scientific authorities, to perfect a system which could be embodied in a statutory enactment and would provide for the legitimate use of methylated spirit while at the same time eliminating the foul canker of the illegitimate use of this fearful liquid for human consumption. The hon. Lady paid them a very great compliment when she told us that none of the retailers objected to theirs or any system which would eradicate the terible ills which this Bill seeks to remedy, but she was very careful not to say that they had expressed the view that her Bill would have that effect.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
I am sorry I did not make that point clear. There was a conference in Glasgow and all present there were clearly in favour of the Bill. The Bill itself has been circulated and I have not had one objection. An objection 1580 was put forward by Glasgow drysalters, but that was before the Bill had been printed, and it was due to a misapprehension on their part that the sale of methylated spirit was to be limited to chemists only.
§ Sir W. SUGDEN
I have no doubt that the drysalters of Glasgow are practical people who understand their job, but I am not sure whether they understand the drafting of Measures suitable for even their own trade. No doubt if they went to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) they would be able to get a set of words which would meet their case. The second point I wish to make is that the House and the public as a whole are agreed about the terrible evil of the consumption of methylated spirit, and want something done, and done quickly, to remedy the evil, but what I and those who support me feel is that this Measure will make the evil greater even than it is at present. The case I am going to make is that whilst we accept the fact that the evil exists and regret the extent of it, and whilst we are determined that it shall be eliminated, we say that this must be done primarily with the guidance of the greatest experts in the country on the subject, and they are the officers of Customs and Excise, secondly in collaboration with the leaders of organised industry and the trade unions, thirdly in consultation with the leading associations in medicine and dentistry, and fourthly in consultation with veterinary surgeons. We should confer with them on what is the best way of preventing the human consumption of methylated spirit without hampering too much its use for industrial purposes by enactments which would still further handicap the industrial efficiency of our manufacturers.
I wish to examine this Bill Clause by Clause and sub-section by sub-section. The hon. Lady devoted only about three minutes of her excellent speech to an examination of her Bill, the rest being devoted to explaining what was the problem. I want to spend a little more time on the Bill itself. Sub-sections (1) and (3) of Clause 1 state that a record is to be kept of the sales of methylated spirit and that record is to include a statement as to the purpose for which the purchaser stated it was required. I want to 1581 know how that will prevent anyone obtaining this liquor and using it in the wicked fashion in which some of these poor addicts do use it? Nowhere does this Bill show how a fictitious name can be prevented from being given when a name is required from the purchaser. Nowhere in the Bill is any test provided that the name may not be forged. Tom Brown from a little hamlet seven miles away may come and give the respectable name of Ian Macgregor who lives somewhere else in the city and the poor retailer will not know whether that man is Ian Macgregor, Tom Brown, or William Jones.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
May I interrupt the hon. Member to ask if he is not aware that that is already provided for by legislation?
§ Sir W. SUGDEN
I shall have to deal with quite a number of Acts of Parliament. The hon. and learned Member is not altogether accurate in his suggestion in regard to the using of a fictitious name and of testing whether the spoken and written name is the same as that of a person who gives it. I challenge him to instance, at a later time, any legislation covering the point which I now raise. I challenge him to produce it. There is nothing in the Bill to prevent a fictitious name being given or forged by the person who is making the application. I am willing to accept and would welcome a method or a system that would prevent the drinking of this spirit, but the hon. Lady did not produce any evidence of one. She said that certain police officers in Scotland had said that the Bill might be useful, but while they are experts in certain directions, I do not think that even police constables are such excellent lawmakers or word-scanners in respect of legislation as to be able to give an expert opinion on this subject. I shall ask the hon. Lady and the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten), who supports her, to give us proof that Clauses 1, 2, and 3 will have the effect of lessening the drinking of this liquid. Clause 1, 1, IV contains these words:is reasonably satisfiedas to the purpose for which the methylated spirits are required. The seller has to be reasonably satisfied. I looked for a Clause dealing with definitions. There 1582 is a little one, Clause 7, detailing some, but nowhere is it shown what is the test of being "reasonably satisfied." How and in what form is a seller—a hardware seller or some other sort—to know what is his legal position and what is the exact test of reasonability in regard to satisfaction. The Bill does not show how the seller is to know whether an order is one which he may properly fulfil without fear of the visiting policeman. In Subsection (2) of the Clause we find the words:It shall not be lawful to sell by retail methylated spirits to any person under the age of fourteen.The hon. Lady properly said that in the 1923 and 1927 Acts the Northern Ireland Government had dealt with this matter, but they dealt with it under an age limit of 18 years. I am sorry that the hon. Lady has lowered that age. Children should not he used as a vehicle or method of conveyance in this connection where addicts are concerned. I have carefully studied the Bill and the two Acts of Parliament passed by the Northern Ireland Government, and I find that the present Bill is not legally adaptable, because it will cut right across those two Acts and that a further amending Clause will be required to make it apply. Northern Ireland comes within the purview of the enactments of this country. Unless a new Clause in some other form of words is added, the Bill cannot legally stand as it is drafted, and I suggest to the hon. Lady that something should be done in the matter to make it properly effective.
Clause 2, Sub-section (1) says:Every local authority shall keep for the purposes of this Act a list containing the names of persons who are to be entitled (subject to the possession of the necessary excise licence), to sell methylated spirits by retail.Every such register and record is at the present time in the hands of the Customs and Exercise authority. The Bill is therefore duplicating work. If it is suggested that the Customs and Excise authorities are not doing their duty as it should be done, let the hon. Lady put down a vote of censure against the Minister who represents that Department in this House, and let the matter be dealt with. In these days of the overlapping of duties and when every penny of public money should be closely and carefully scrutinised, the duplicating of expenses 1583 is not an admirable or a useful thing, but if I thought that it would prevent the creation of any system of methylated spirit drinking and would save one addict from the drinking of this spirit, I would accept it, although it does duplicate work. I cannot, however, see that any argument has been produced by the hon. Lady or by the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams), whose attitude to-day is a complete volte face compared with the viewpoint which he expressed in his Motion in this House last week. I was a little interested to read that he spoke aboutfussy restrictions and regulations not calculated to serve any useful purpose.I hope that be has digested his own pronouncement. If this would do a single thing to save any of the poor folk—it is among the poor folk that such addiction exists—I would be the first to accept it, but it has not been shown that that would be the case. Clause 2, (1), also says:Provided that the local authority may refuse to enter in, or may remove from, the list the name of any person who fails to pay the prescribed fees, or who in the opinion of the authority is, for any sufficient reason, not fit to be in the list.That is a dangerous power. The colour of a man's hair, his political viewpoint, his personal thought or his energetic influence in local affairs might be considered, by a not altogether efficiently legally educated local authority, to be a sufficient reason for taking the bread and butter away from a retailer who had been doing that work. I say that that, again, is a set of words which is not helpful for the purpose of the Bill. There can be, and there might be, an illegitimate use of a prejudice, a bias or a political association in respect to what a local authority might say as to what are sufficient reasons for witholding a selling right from one group and giving it to another group. I am sorry, again, that that does not help us in respect to this problem, but I want to remind the hon. Lady that that power which she outlined can at present be exercised fully by the Excise authorities. I shall go through the 1880 Act, and quote it Section by Section, where relevant, and, if that be not sufficient, I have some other Acts here as well as the Regulations with which I hope to be able to persuade the hon. Lady that I am correct in my view.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
Would the hon. Gentleman be persuaded if he were told by the Customs and Excise authorities, with whom perhaps he is already in close touch, that it is impossible for them to carry out the powers they have?
§ Sir W. SUGDEN
All I have is a general knowledge of the way in which the Customs authorities do their work. The Minister who represents them in this House, has been bombarded continually and consistently, has never failed to make his case that they are doing there work efficiently and properly.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
If the hon. Member should be assured by them that they do not consider this to be their work, would he then be convinced?
§ Sir W. SUGDEN
If such evidence of the experts, the Customs and Excise authorities, were forthcoming. I would accept it.
§ Sir W. SUGDEN
But I have no proof at the moment that this Bill is their considered and accepted view-point. The Bill proposes to solve the problem of mineralised methylated spirit-drinking, and I have no doubt that with her eloquence the hon. Lady would be able to persuade the Customs and Excise authorities to a greater extent than I would be able to do it, but we have no documentary evidence that they are prepared to accept this Bill as the last word on a problem which has been running since 1679.
Then I want to ask the hon. Lady and those who are supporting her, why it is, if the ordinary, plain ironmonger, the hardware people whom she has quoted with such enthusiasm and fairness, and others are so legitimate in respect of their duty, so careful land painstaking in seeing that the goods they sell are sold legitimately, she wants to subject them to police inspection? Clause 4 says:Any police officer shall have power at all reasonable times to enter any premises in which he has reason to believe methylated spirits are sold or exposed for sale by retail and to inspect any book required by section one of this Act to be kept.I have in my constituency one or two shops—the one-man, or, shall I say, the one-widow shop—where, if a police officer were to march in—and sometimes they do their duty thoroughly well and with 1585 care—the mere fact of his coming in in uniform is sufficient to cause much trouble and uncertainty to some of these shopkeepers. The Customs and Excise officers now can go into any shop, take all particulars, and inspect any books. Is it right that the poor little hardware man, the poor little ironmonger, the poor little drysalter, those people who live in Glasgow, to whom the hon. Lady referred, are to be the first in the country, except the public house, to have police officers marching in to see if the writing is the same or not of the customer. If the hon. Lady had said that the police officer should go to the person who had deliberately and without thought broken the law, should trace the person who had done this by wickedly giving a fictitious name, I might consider that there was some useful purpose here, because if the problem is to be solved the breaker of the law requires a great deal more legal consideration than the seller of the article. The user, to my mind, should have greater consideration in respect to how this matter should be dealt with. As long as the Customs authorities have this right and power, and, as the hon. Lady has truly said, exercised it, land done their duty in a proper fashion, why should it be necessary for a police officer to march into la shop and do this work?
I regret that I am not able to support the Bill, because, like the hon. Lady and every Member in this House—without exception I believe—I want to deal with this terrible drug habit, a habit which has, shall I say, morally defacing elements which many drugs have not. We all want to do it, but I cannot see how this problem will be dealt with in her Bill. It would be well if we really used the powers which the law now enables us to use. I should like hon. Members to compare some of the provisions of this Measure in an unbiased way, putting on one side the witchery of the hon. Lady's oratory—taking into view the whole Bill rather than her oratory, and comparing this Measure with the 1880 Act, and then asking themselves whether this Measure is better than the Act plus the 1930 regulations, which I shall now enumerate to solve this great problem?
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
Will the hon. Member be so kind, when enumerating the 1586 points, to tell us whether convictions have been obtained?
§ Sir W. SUGDEN
If I were dealing with the conduct of the Excise and Customs officers, I should have been prepared with the information, but I prepared myself with material to show what is the best way of stamping out the drinking of mineralised methylated spirits, and I should not like to incur Mr. Deputy-Speaker's ruling that I was out of Order, because, as he knows, I always endeavour to keep in perfect accord with the Rules he so admirably administers. I will take, first of all, Section 130 (1, a) of the Spirits Act, 1880, and I would ask the hon. Lady to note it carefully while I read it:If any person prepares or attempts to prepare any methylated spirits for use as or for a beverage, or as a mixture with a beverage, or sells any methylated spirits, whether they are so prepared or not, as or for a beverage or mixed with a beverage, or uses any methylated spirits or any derivative thereof in the preparation of any article capable of being used wholly or partially as a beverage or internally as a medicine, or sells or has in his possession any such article in the preparation of which methylated spirits or any derivative thereof has been used, he shall for each offence incur a fine of one hundred pounds, and the spirits with respect to which the offence is committed shall be forfeited.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
Can my hon. Friend tell me of any convictions that have taken place under that Section?
§ Sir W. SUGDEN
As I said a moment ago, my purpose is to discuss what is the best way of dealing with this drug habit, and the method by which the Bill proposes to deal with it. I would ask the hon. Lady, or those who will follow her, whether they can tell me of any provision in the Bill which would be so efficient and effective as the very useful combination of words which I have read in dealing with the malpractice of demoralising a fellow-citizen—it may be a neighbour, or it may be someone from another village who has given a fictitious name? What is there in the Bill that is preferable to the Section which I have read? Let me read another Section—Section 126, Subsection 1, paragraphs a to h,A retailer of methylated spirits must make entry with the Commissioners of each room or office where he intends to keep and sell the spirits, and must not keep or sell the spirits in any place which is not so entered, and must not receive or have in his possession at any time a greater quan- 1587 tity of methylated spirits than fifty gallons, and must not receive methylated spirits except from an authorised methylater or retailer of methylated spirits, and must not receive methylated spirits of sell to or for the use of any person more than one gallon of methylated spirits at a time, and must on request at all reasonable times produce his stock of methylated spirits for examination by an officer, and must keep an account in the prescribed form of his stock of methylated spirits and of the sale thereof.I have looked at one of these stock accounts. I am only an ordinary plain lawyer; I am not a chartered accountant; but I can assure hon. Members that, if they really want an object-lesson in account keeping and of checking sales they have only to look at the account of a methylated spirit keeper, which must be available and shown to those who in the Customs and Excise have the great responsibility of the oversight of this matter. The Section goes on:If a retailer of methylated spirits contravenes this section, he shall for each offence incur a fine of fifty pounds, and the spirits with respect of which the offence is committed shall he forfeited.Again I would ask where in this Bill is there any provision for oversight, for discipline, for the prevention of the consumption of this article, that is preferable to that which is to be found in Section 126? Let me now turn to Section 132, which is a very short section, as I am sure hon. Members will be glad to know. It says this:The commissioners may suspend any licence to methylate, authority, or approval granted under this part of the Act.The Commissioners have the power to do that. Now let us look at the regulations—there is never any shortage of regulations about this product or its sale. When we return to Section 159, we see yet another disciplinary provision which is very useful:The commissioners and the commissioners of Customs respectively shall prescribe such regulations as they may from time to time think necessary for carrying into execution the provisions of this Act.As the hon. Lady very properly says, they are experts. They are people who have been trained; they have the researches of science and the researches of all the great professions at their disposal; and they are given this power. While it may be that this evil is not yet cured, the figures which have been given to us show that it is being cured, that the cases are not so numerous this year as they were 1588 last year. I agree, as every Member of the House must agree, that we cannot rest satisfied until it is entirely stamped out, but, comparing the provisions of Section 159 of the Act of 1880 with the provisions of the present Bill, I think many hon. Members will agree with me that Section 159 is preferable. As to the use of the product, I would refer to Section 120, which reads as follows:The commissioners may if they think fit authorise any person to receive methylated spirits from an authorised methylator for use in any art or manufacture carried on by him. The authority shall not be granted until the applicant has given the prescribed security that he will use the methylated spirits in the art or manufacture and for no other purpose, and that he will observe the provisions of this Act and the prescribed regulations.It may be suggested that that relates purely to trade methylated spirit—industrial methylated spirit. I could, if time permitted, deal with the uses of various types of spirit, both mineralised and industrial methylated spirit, in order to show that in certain trades—French polishing, for example—it is not possible to differentiate so exactly and perfectly as to ensure that not one drop of methylated spirit shall be sold to these unfortunate addicts, and that after the French polishing job, say, is finished, a little overplus might not be passed along to them. The job may be, let us say, in a row of offices. How can the storekeeper measure to a pint or a gill the quantity of spirit that may be required? There may be little left over. How is the Bill which has been presented to us to-day to prevent a leakage of spirit in some such way as I have suggested? There is another interesting Section. It is Section 127, which says this:An officer may in the day time enter and inspect the premises of an authorised methylater.It does not say a police officer, but a nice, kind, courteous gentlemanly officer of the Customs and Excise.or a retailer of methylated spirits or any premises of a person authorised to receive methylated spirits and inspect, examine and take samples of any methylated spirits therein, paying a reasonable price for such samples.There again is the inspecting power of the gentlemen of the Customs and Excise. Why is it necessary to use the police? Section 128 deals with unlawful supply.If any person supplies, removes or receives methylated spirits in contravention 1589 of this Act, he shall for each offence incur a fine of £50, and the spirits in respect of which the offence is committed shall be forfeited.There again is a protective influence. How can a poor drug addict be protected by the Bill better than by that Section? Section 129 says that, if a methylater is in unlawful possession, he is subject to £100 fine. Of course, the methylater is the manufacturer, and the Bill will not deal particularly with that. If, then, there is any illegitimate leakage in respect of the proper and right sale of the liquid, there is the opportunity. The Act of 1880 is full of useful protective influence which the Customs and Excise officers apply to the best of their ability. Drug addicts should have consideration and sympathy. Some of them have developed this unfortunate habit by reason of unemployment and absence of opportunity of education and training. I should be prepared to support a Bill which would help to cure this fearful blemish on our civilisation.
There is one feature of the Bill which I am sorry the hon. Lady did not deal with. It is drafted on the assumption that the retailer can receive and sell only mineralised methylated spirits, but under Section 42 of the Statutory Rules and Orders, 1930, a retailer can also stock industrialised methylated spirit. Where is the protection as between leakage in the sale of mineralised or industrial methylated spirit and that which comes under the type of spirit that may not be sold? The Section says:A retailer of methylated spirit shall not receive for sale under his licence to retail any methylated spirit other than mineralised methylated spirit. Nothing in this regulation shall prevent a wholesale chemist or a dispensing chemist authorised as provided by Regulation 50 or Regulation 51 from receiving and selling industrial methylated spirit in accordance with these regulations.In the chronological table and index of Statutes for 1932 there are about 36 Acts of Parliament dealing in some way or other with methylated spirits. I am no less sympathetic and desirous of dealing with the matter than others. I am always sympathetic to those moral issues which are designed for the uplift of one's fellow men and women. I give place not even to the hon. Lady who has introduced this very difficult and unworkable Bill. I do not give way an inch to her in respect of my sympathy for the poor methylated spirit addicts. The Bill, in my opinion, 1590 will not protect or cure a single addict, and I shall be compelled therefore to go into the Division Lobby against it.
§ 2.46 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel APPLIN
I beg to second the Amendment.
My reasons for so doing are that the Bill has already been covered over and over again, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Leyton (Sir W. Sugden) has so eloquently shown, by other Acts which are still in force. It would simply be adding one more to a very long list of Acts and would do no good whatever. I pay my tribute to the hon. Lady the Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh), who so eloquently introduced the Bill, and who I know in her heart means to do what she can for the people of Dundee. But I have always associated Dundee with the estimable comestible we usually have for breakfast, and I had no idea that there was any connection between Dundee and what she called "Red Biddy."
This particular commodity of methylated spirits is one of the commonest things of domestic use we have in the country. Everybody practically uses methylated spirits for one purpose or another, and the Bill, if it ever became law, would render it impossible for the humble cottagers to purchase, as they do now through the length and breadth of the land, their three or four pennyworth of methylated spirits from the hawker or the oilman's cart which goes round from village to village selling groceries and other things. It would absolutely debar them. If the Bill passed, the man would not go through all the details required by the Measure. What are those details? In the first place the seller's name has to be entered in the local authority's list kept for the purpose, and secondly, the spirit must be retailed in a bottle or other vessel in which methylated spirits are sold, bearing a label specifying the name of the seller and the premises on which they are sold.
Usually methylated spirits which are hawked round the country, or sold in the ordinary small shops, out of a can and placed in a can, bottle or receptacle brought by the customer. To cause a small shopkeeper to produce a bottle and a label with his name and address upon it in respect of the sale of two or three pennyworth of methylated spirits re- 1591 quired for domestic purposes is ridiculous. It will hamper the ordinary life of the citizens of this country. An entry must be made in a book to be kept for the purpose, statingthe date of the sale, the name and address of the purchaser, the quantity of the methylated spirits sold and the purpose for which they are stated to be required.I cannot imagine a dear old lady keeping one of these little shops selling all sorts of small details, and keeping perhaps a quart or so of methylated spirits, asking all these questions and entering particulars concerning the purchase of three pennyworth of methylated spirits. It is perfectly ridiculous. The purchaser has to affix his signature to the aforesaid entry. If a person sends for methylated spirits he has to write a note stating for what purpose he requires the spirits and has to sign the order. I wonder what the local store would say if I sent for some methylated spirits and said that I required them for "hardening the epidermis of my pedal appendages" because I wanted to harden my feet before going walking by bathing them with cold water and methylated spirits? Thousands of hikers all over the country use methylated spirits for this purpose, and it is ridiculous that they should have to write a statement that they were going to bathe their feet with methylated spirits.
It would render the whole thing a farce. The hon. Lady actually spoilt her case by the quotation she made; she showed the reason why the public would never stand for an Act of Parliament of this kind. The hon. Lady said that a certain young man went into a shop and asked for methylated spirits and was asked to write down the purpose for which he required it and to sign his name, and he said "for that reason I won't bother about it," and dashed out of the shop. That is just what the average English man and woman would do who wanted a few pennyworth of methylated spirits for a legitimate purpose. If they were asked to sign a book and to state why they wanted it and give their name and address and all the rest of it, they would not buy it at all. Those details are wholly unnecessary and cannot in the least degree prevent any person who desires to drink methylated spirits or desires to obtain it for the purpose of 1592 handing it to somebody else to drink or for any wrong purpose from getting it. A person could go into a shop or a chemists and say he wanted it for this, that and the other purpose and he could sign his own or anybody else's name in a book and take the spirits away and from that moment no one would know what happened. If the Bill were passed, it would do what the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams), who is not now in his place, stated about another Bill, when he said that it had good intentions but proposed a mass of needless and fussy restrictions and regulations not calculated to serve any useful purpose.
I am a little astonished that the hon. Member for South Croydon should have seconded this Bill in those circumstances as it does not seem to be in accordance with his usual consistency. The only deduction that I can draw is that "Red Biddy" has descended from Dundee upon South Croydon. I can see no object in the hon. Member going back upon all his principles by seconding a Bill of this kind. I should like to draw the attention of the House to what this Bill can do to prevent the improper use of methylated spirits. We have to remember the vast number of various uses to which methylated spirits are put. I would remind the House that the principal use of this spirit as far as the man in the street is concerned, you and I, is the fact that it is in common use in households mainly for heating purposes, for the boiling of a kettle in the morning, and in respect of such minor details of household work. It would be a very great hardship, and I can see no reason for it that a child of 14 or 12 should not be permitted to go and fetch this perfectly harmless thing. There is no danger about it; it does not blow up. It has an extraordinarily unpleasant smell and still more unpleasant taste, and I cannot see anything immoral or dangerous in a child running out for mother and fetching methylated spirits. Under this Bill the child has to be more than 14 years of age. It seems to me that the ordinary shop assistant, even the dear old lady in the village shop, will have a good deal of difficulty in adjusting her glasses and examining the child to see whether it is under or over 14, and so whether it is of sufficient age to be worthy of carrying a small can of methylated spirits back to its mother. 1593 That will be another cause of worry and trouble resulting from this Bill.
Then we have in this Bill the signature of the person who is buying the methylated spirits. I would like to point out that without actually committing forgery, or any crime, there is nothing to prevent any person signing any name. The Bill only applies to the cities and large towns. I never heard of any country village in Great Britain where the inhabitants drink methylated spirits. I do not believe there is any drinking of methylated spirits except in the cities and towns. In England we usually drink beer in preference to spirits, and I ask the Minister who represents the Home Office whether he would represent to the Chancellor of the Exchequer—if really there is any necessity for the Bill, and this habit is growing in the country and great harm is being done—that he should give some relief to the people who want to drink spirits by removing some of the tax on whisky and brandy, in order that people may not be tempted to drink this abominable stuff. I cannot understand anybody wanting to drink it, but if we have raised the price of spirits to such a height that it is impossible for the poor man to obtain them, it is surely better to reduce the price than let people poison themselves with this stuff.
I do not want to weary the House by going through the Acts relating to methylated spirits which my hon. Friend has failed to quote. In examining the various Acts and regulations it appears to me that we have over legislated already, and there is no reason whatever why we should pass a further Act. Nor do I believe that the passing even of a dozen Acts would assist in preventing these few men and women who are practically lunatics drinking methylated spirits. You cannot make people moral by Act of Parliament. The attempt has failed in America, where they have had prohibition against all spirits and alcoholic beverages except the thing called "near beer," which one American who was asked what it was described as being like kissing your own sister.
The House would be doing a very unwise thing to give this Bill a Second reading. It would be adding to the Statute Book regulations that could not be enforced. Any attempt to enforce them would render it impossible for the small shopkeeper and trader to carry on 1594 his business. You cannot imagine the small shopkeeper continuing to sell methylated spirits for the very small profit that they make if all these regulations were put in force. You can imagine someone going into a little shop and asking for methylated spirits and the shopkeeper throwing up his hands and saying, "Oh, there is a form to be filled up". Think of all the trouble. The book has to be brought down, the place has to be found, and they have to go through all this long business of cross-examination, putting down the name and address and what it is wanted for. When the purchaser says what it is wanted for the shop assistant may have to say, "Wait a minute, I must ask the old man, I am not sure whether we can sell it for that purpose". You will have all that interference, and presently you will have the shopkeepers saying, "Oh, hang it, I won't sell methylated spirits at all." We have Acts of Parliament enough. The country wants less legislation. Friday is an excellent day for Members, especially new Members, to come down and exercise their debating powers, but, if anybody takes this Bill seriously and proposes to make it law, I think the House will not only be wasteing its Friday, but also doing a very serious injury to the liberty of the people.
§ 3.2 p.m.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Douglas Hacking)
My hon. and gallant Friend has made an appeal to me. I always find it difficult to refuse his appeals. He asked me if I would go in deputation to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and ask him to reduce the existing duty on intoxicating liquor. I should have thought that he would have been aware of the fact that in those matters I am compelled to take up an attitude of strict impartiality. Although I would have been delighted to accompany him on any other mission, I fear on this occasion I shall be compelled to disappoint him. The hon. Member who introduced this Bill will, I know, take it as a compliment that it was the original intention that there should to-day be two speeches on this subject from the Government Front Bench. As the Bill deals with England and Wales on one hand and Scotland on the other, in different respects and varying degrees, it 1595 was thought wise that the Scottish opinion should be forthcoming from the lips of my hon. Friend the Under-secretary of State for Scotland. Unfortunately, my hon. Friend has been called away on very urgent business, and he is unable to express an opinion on behalf of the Department he represents. I am sure the House will sympathise with me in my natural desire not to allow even Scotland to interfere with my record as a Friday afternoon Government spokesman. My remarks will be confined to the subject matter of this Bill as it affects England and Wales alone, in which countries, I believe, the evils of methylated spirit drinking are much less evident than in certain parts of the country North of the Tweed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh)—I am sorry that she is not in her place to hear the Government reply—had a very great difficulty to make her speech effective without at the same time furnishing to the House and the country at large information which might be somewhat dangerous. She had in fact to give vertain recipes for delectable mixtures hitherto probably unknown to methylated spirit drinkers. She indicated that the nauseous taste of pyridine in methylated spirits could easily be got rid of not only by mixing with other liquids but by other methods also. In case prospective drinkers of methylated spirits are inclined to try those mixtures upon her recommendation, let me tell the House that her statement was not absolutely accurate, at any rate in the opinion of the Government Chemist. I should like to quote from a letter which was recently sent by the Government Laboratory to the Customs and Excise, which deals with this particular part of the problem. The letter is dated the 10th October of last year, and says:Dilution with water merely draws out the mineral naphtha from methylated spirits and one gets a milky liquid. If that is allowed to stand for some time some mineral naphtha may float on the top, with some clearing of the under layer, but the liquid should remain milky. If appreciable separation occurs it would not be a difficult matter to syphon off the lower layer or to soak up the oil on the top layer with blotting paper, but the lower layer would still contain the wood naphtha, pyridine and dye and would still retain a large measure of its nauseousness and the taste of mineral naphtha. Only people with degraded or 1596 vitiated palates would tolerate the product. Of course, the addition of flavouring might improve matters, but even so the flavoured and diluted product would not be acceptable to other than addicts.The letter also says:When the mineralised methylated spirits formula was amended we actually tried the stuff in wine and it was horrible.There is the opinion of the Government Chemist. Before I proceed to discuss the Bill, may I deal with the extent of the practice of drinking methylated spirits in England and Wales? The statistical information at one's disposal does not indicate that the problem is a very large one. In 1932, which was the last year for which we have complete statistics, the number of convictions for drunkenness reported to have been due to methylated spirits was 596. These convictions represent 2 per cent. of all the convictions for drunkenness in that year. The population for England and Wales in the mid-year of 1933 was 40,350,000. 596 convictions among that population gives a degree of .001 per cent. or one person convicted for methylated spirit drunkenness for every 68,000 of the population. That is the proportion on the assumption that the 596 convictions represented 596 different individuals, which is very unlikely. It is known quite positively that there are many who have been convicted on more than one occasion for this offence, and, in fact, the hon. Lady in her speech told us of an individual in Scotland who had been convicted on no less than 51 occasions. I maintain that it is a very moderate estimate to say that in 1933 there was not more than one conviction for every 75,000 of the population in England and Wales, and, I repeat, that the problem is not a large one so far as these two countries are concerned.
The hon. Lady gave a full explanation of her Bill in language which we all appreciate. She told us that under her Bill every retail seller of methylated spirit is to be registered with the local authority, but she did not tell us that the local authority, having collected the fee from the retailed seller, are to be given discretion to remove from the register any seller who is deemed to be unfit. The other restrictions, such as that the vendor shall keep a record of each sale, are to be found in Clause 1, and the other provisions regarding the payment of fees, in Clause 2. The 1597 proposals in the Bill are undoubtedly drastic and consequently a very strong case ought to be made out to justify such restrictions being placed upon the activities of purchasers and vendors of a commodity so commonly used as methylated spirit.
The hon. Lady told us what the Royal Commission on Licensing had to say on this subject. She did not give us a long quotation. I should like to read at greater length the statement made in Chapter 32, page 167, of their Report on the question of methylated spirit drinking. Having said that methylated spirit is widely required in industry and in the home they go on to say:To prevent such abuse, efforts have been made to render these spirits as unattractive as possible for drinking purposes. Beyond the ordinary methylation a further nauseating ingredient, pyridine, has been required to be added. We commend to the authorities concerned the desirability of discovering a denaturant which will be even more effective.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
Will the Under-secretary also read the statement where they say that if many of the things were added it would do away with the good properties of the spirit. I think the quotation is that they have considered these things and that there was a danger that in putting in these properties you would take away the real virtues of the spirit.
§ Mr. HACKING
That is true, but I have already made it clear that in the opinion of the Government chemist all these mixtures to which she referred, in her speech would not have the effect of making mineralised methylated spirit any more pleasant than at present and that at any rate is an answer to a very important statement which the hon. Member made in her speech. But let me continue with the last paragraph which the hon. Member herself quoted from the Royal Commission's Report:Generally, we are inclined to doubt whether much more can be done by way of legislative or administrative action to check the drinking of methylated spirits. It is essentially, we think, an abnormal habit indulged in by abnormal people with abnormal cravings.It will be noted that the Royal Commission do not favour legislation which, whilst being expensive and an annoyance to others, would not, I submit, be much of a guarantee that these abnormal 1598 people with these abnormal cravings would be compelled to lead a more normal life.
I hope that I have proved that the problem is not a very large one. But even if the evil was very much larger and much more widespread than we believe it to be the case in England and Wales—I can speak only for England and Wales, and once more apologise for the absence of my hon. Friend the Under-secretary of State for Scotland, who has been called away—we are bound to ask ourselves, whether or not the proposals contanied in this Bill would in fact solve the problem, however large it may be considered to be.
I have myself a great doubt as to the effectiveness of the provisions of the Bill. Methylated spirits are sold, as has been stated, by grocers, chemists, ironmongers, in dry stores, and other shops. I ask the House to think how many of these shops there must be in cities such as Manchester or Liverpool or Birmingham. It is clear that any person who is a confirmed and determined methylated spirit drinker would certainly, in order to gratify has cravings, spread his purchases over a very large number of authorised sellers, and when he had himself exhausted that stock he could probably get a friend to make the purchases for him. It is true that the Mover of the Second Reading said that he would have to sign his name and address for every purchase that he made. I believe that that would not be a very effective way of keeping any determined individual from getting it.
That is all I need say in connection with the Bill. So far as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department is concerned, the justification for such drastic restrictions as are contained in the Bill has not been sufficiently made out, and he doubts whether the proposals would in practice achieve the very desirable object which the promoter of the Bill has in mind. Whilst acknowledging that the hon Lady's intentions, as they always are, are absolutely sound, my right hon. Friend regrets that so far as England and Wales are concerned the Government can do no more than, as usual, leave complete freedom to the House to decide whether or not the Bill shall be read a Second time.
§ 3.20 p.m.
§ Sir ERNEST GRAHAM-LITTLE
The hon. Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh) said that she had not had any protests against this Measure. There is in this morning's issue of "The Chemist and Druggist" a very well reasoned article protesting against the Bill. The impression which I think she conveyed that there was a strong medical feeling in favour of the Bill is not in my opinion in any way to be confirmed. The medical press is usually almost too anxious to start hares as regards diseases and other matters affecting the community but the particular hare represented by this Bill has certainly not appeared in the medical press in the last ten years, the period during which this question has been regarded as of sufficient importance to attract general attention. The figures given by the Home Office demonstrate clearly how small is the mischief with which the Bill proposes to deal. In 1921 according to figures which I have just had from the Home Office there were 331 cases in the year. In the last year for which figures are available there were 596 convictions.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
Were those convictions for drunkenness or convictions for drinking methylated spirits?
§ Sir E. GRAHAM-LITTLE
They were convictions for drunkenness assumed to have been caused by methylated spirit drinking and they represent a very small percentage of the total number of convictions. Is it necessary or desirable to introduce legislation of so sweeping a character to deal with so comparatively small and negligible a mischief? I think the medical profession is, rightly, more concerned with more important poisons which are not restricted by legislation. We have seen in the last few months a controversy in the medical press as to possibility of legislation being required for the restriction of the barbituric group of narcotics. Surely legislation of that kind is much more important from the medical point of view than legislation to deal with the matter which we have had brought to our notice to-day in this Bill.
How very small, relatively, the mischief is may be gauged by a consideration of some other figures. In the report of the Commissioners of Customs and Excise for year ended 31st March last we are told that 2,611,601 gallons of mineralised 1600 methylated spirits were put upon the market and it is a conservative estimate to say that not 300 gallons of that quantity was consumed as drink. Are we to upset that very large industry in order to deal with such a small figure? The same report points out that mineralised methylated spirits can be sold to the general public by licensed retailers in quantities not exceeding four gallons to any one person at one time. The great bulk is sold for burning in spirit lamps for heating and domestic purposes generally, and much of it finds its way into the medical and scientific laboratories of this country.
Are we to have some more disturbance of the conditions under which we can obtain that valuable product? The great majority of the retailers of methylated spirits are chemists and druggists, and is it not unreasonable to suggest that a body of men so highly qualified should be subjected to visits by police inspectors to see if they have any methylated spirits upon their premises? It would be a monstrous infringement of the liberty of the subject for a very unworthy and perfectly unnecessary purpose. The composition of the product which is known as mineralised methylated spirits is 9½ per cent. of wood naphtha and anyone who knows that can hardly believe it possible that one would drink it even with ginger beer; it is also contaminated by the presence of one-half per cent. of crude petroleum and one-half per cent. of pyridine.
The objects which the hon. Lady has at heart may be attained more easily than in the way she suggests, and I am certain that she has taken unreasonable fright from cases that have occurred in her own experience. It is dangerous to be guided merely by one's own experience; one should be guided by further and more experienced observation. The observations of the Customs Office have very properly been praised this afternoon. It is significant that the Report of the Royal Commission was definite. The official witness of the Customs and Excise gave it as his definite opinion that the improper use of the spirit was confined to a comparatively small number of people. I think it is clear that the Commissioners of Customs and Excise are more capable of taking a general view of the position than any private Member of the House as to what 1601 actually happens, and they found no reason for adding any further to the restrictions on this material.
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I listened with interest to the evidence that was said to be given by the principal Excise Officer. He has a good salary, and no doubt he drinks good whisky. It is very unlikely that he drinks methylated spirits, and it is extremely unlikely that anybody who could afford to buy whisky would drink methylated spirits. No doubt the same applies to the hon. Member for London University (Sir E. Graham-Little), but everybody is not so refined as he is, and liquors which appeal to other people would not apeal to him or to me. The practice of drinking methylated spirits is the illegitimate child of the Whisky Duty. If that duty were not so high, this evil would never exist, but it does exist because the duty hits the poor at the expense of the rich, and nobody seems to care what happens to the poor—Rattle his bones over the stones, He's only a pauper whom nobody owns.Nobody seems to remember that a definite temptation is put in the way of the very poorest of the population. This Bill will prove to be a hindrance to the sale of this stuff. Of course it will not be an absolute hindrance to the addicts, because those desperate people will still find some way of getting hold of it, but there will be a hindrance such as we have put in the way of people buying poisons. If such legislation does not put a hindrance in their way, what is the use of having the Pharmacy and Poisons Act? That contains similar provisions, though, of course, this Measure does not restrict the sale to chemists' shops.
I was surprised to hear the hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill talking about hindrances to large industries. One would have thought that the people who run large industries are illiterate and cannot sign a form stating the purpose for whch they want this spirit. Besides, they do not buy it in quarts or pint bottles, they buy it by the gallon. Further, this Measure applies only to methylated spirit and not industrial alcohol. It applies to the ordinary methylated alcohol used for household purposes, for cleaning windows, cleaning silver and purposes of that kind. There 1602 is nothing to hinder the ordinary housewife going to buy it herself or sending a note saying, "please send me so much" and stating the quantity she wants and the purpose for which she is going to use it. It is said that a false name may be used. That may be so, for, of course, we can never altogether prevent forgery, but the people who did sign a false name would undoubtedly be liable to some form of prosecution for misrepresentation or obtaining this stuff falsely, and that would prove a deterrent to adopting a false name.
Methylated spirit drinking is a definite evil. It is no use telling us that the convictions of people for getting drunk on methylated spirit are infinitesimal in number. People do not get it in public houses. They buy a bottle of it and get a bottle of Spanish red wine, and in that way make their own "Red Biddy" and get intoxicated in their own homes, and as they do not venture out—because they are in a state of coma for twelve hours or so afterwards—the police do not find out. Besides, they are not committing any offence, because they are not drunk and disorderly in a public place or making themselves a public nuisance, although they are undoubtedly seriously damaging their health. There is one reason, perhaps, why this drink is popular in Scotland and still more so in Aberdeen. If you get intoxicated in the evening and twelve hours later, waking out of your state of coma, you take a drink of water, you get intoxicated again; and so you get two drinks for the price of one.
Generally I object to restrictions of all kinds. I believe that if we had perfect and absolute freedom in all matters the difficulties would soon solve themselves. The degenerates, the people who cannot control themselves, would all pass out, and we should be purged of them in a generation—a rather hectic generation, I admit. Look at the mass of restrictions against the drinking of wholesome whisky and wholesome beer. In Committee upstairs we have been considering whether a man's character would not be destroyed if the hours during which public houses are open and he can drink wholesome liquor were slightly increased; and yet here is a poisonous substance which the people are free to buy at any time of the day. No doubt it is a very disagreeable substance, according to the tastes of most people, but still those who 1603 have grown accustomed to it know that it produces the desired result. As to the fear of the Mover of the Amendment that visits from the police will terrify the old ladies who keep these shops, they are always glad to see the man in uniform. In any event the police would never go near them unless there were something in the nature of a scandal and it became notorious that people were resorting to these shops to buy methylated spirit for the purpose of drinking.
All the bogies raised by the mover of the Amendment simply do not exist, except in his own imagination, and I doubt if they exist even there. This Bill will apply the principles of the Pharmacy Act to a form of alcohol which is undoubtedly a slow poison. All alcohol is more or less a slow poison, but methylated spirit is a particularly vile form of it. I do not know what would be the opinion of the British Medical Association, but it is misleading to quote the number of convictions as an argument against the Bill. You might as well decide the quantity of drink consumed by the number of convictions, but if you go into countries such as Spain, Italy and France, where far more alcohol is drunk than in this prohibited island, you find far fewer convictions. You might, according to that argument, say that the people there drank less, whereas they drink more, but they drink constantly and it does them no harm. You must not use excesses in this way; you do not judge mankind by their aberrations but on a general view.
The drinking of methylated spirit is an evil, especially in the large towns, and the Bill will abate it very considerably without annoyance to anyone. A penny per bottle would be all the extra expense involved. The Bill gives to local authorities the very power as to refusal of licences as in the Poisons Act, which the Mover of the Amendment admits that they should have. They already have that power in regard to wholesome liquor; it is far more desirable that they should have it in regard to unwholesome liquor. The Bill should have a Second Reading and if any Clause gives trouble it can be dealt with in committee. I have great pleasure in supporting the Bill, but I would say that it lies in the hands of the 1604 Chancellor of the Exchequer to make the Bill unnecessary by the reduction of the whisky duty.
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ Mr. BURNETT
I support the Bill because I believe that methylated spirit drinking is a growing evil. Anyone who listened to the case which the hon. Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh) so carefully prepared and so eloquently stated, must agree that the figures which she gave justify repressive measures such as the Bill contains, and, I think, even more repressive measures. I took the opportunity of getting figures of convictions for drunkenness in Aberdeen. In Scotland, the drinking of methylated spirit is far more an evil than it is in England, perhaps because beer is more generally drunk in England and whisky which is more expensive in Scotland. Certainly, the local figures which I have obtained fully justify action in this matter.
I found that during 1933 there were 250 convictions for drunkenness in Aberdeen. Of those, 88 convictions, that is about one-third were in respect of the drinking of ordinary alcohol; 124, that is almost a half, in respect of red wine, and 38 in respect of methylated spirit unmixed.
§ Mr. BURNETT
Yes. "Red Biddy", either mixed or unmixed with methylated spirit. The convictions were 38 for methylated spirit alone. Those figures justify action being taken. I have spoken to the police about the matter, and I have seen a certain amount of it myself. I know that a great deal of drinking goes on among the men. Those men take out bottles with them and drink in the backyards. They go to the public lavatories and drink there. One lavatory had to be closed not so long ago on this account, and I understand that the question of closing another for the same reason has been raised. The chief drinking that goes on is drinking of this Red Biddy, cheap wine imported from abroad. It comes to this country and has to have spirit added to it, because otherwise it would become sour. They take this wine and mix methylated spirits with it, and it forms a drink which is highly intoxicating and poisonous.
I cannot agree with the points raised as to these restrictions being excessive. 1605 We discussed a Measure a day or two ago in which there was a question of fining a skipper £250 for poaching some fish. Surely, it is not too much to fine a man £10 for wilfully selling this sort of poison to one who he knows is a methylated spirits addict. I received a pamphlet a day or two ago from a society which calls itself the Freedom Association. I would like to read an extract from it. The pamphlet referring to methylated spirit says:One will ask oneself whether it is worth while disturbing the freedom and convenience of the community at large in order that a comparatively few persons may be forcibly prevented from practising a nasty indulgence, which affects themselves rather than their neighbours.Further down it says:This unhappy form of dissipation appears, from the reports of the police, to be practically confined to the vagrant classes.Evidently the Fellowship which sent out this pamphlet does not agree with Burns' "Brithers a'," for it does not include all people within the scope of the Fellowship. Evidently it does not worry too much about the problem which Cain considered as to whether or not he was his brother's keeper. These people being only a few vagrants, if methylated spirits are sold to them in the view of the Fellowship they are finished off very quickly. The pamphlet says:That these unfortunates should seek such a disagreeable avenue of escape from the misery of their surroundings is confirmation (if it were needed)that the drink taxes should come down. It does not seem to affect the writers of this pamphlet any more than that.
I do hope that the figures have shown that this is a very real evil, and that the House will consider it as such support the hon. Member for Dundee and see that the Bill gets a Second Beading, because I think it would be a scandal if we did anything to allow the conditions which have been prevailing in certain of our big cities to go on. I hope that the House will consider this matter well and support the Bill. Any matters of detail which may come up in Committee will be then considered, and any Amendments which are necessary can be made.
§ 3.44 p.m.
§ Mr. DINGLE FOOT
I rise only to say that we on these Benches support the 1606 Bill, and also to make it clear that the Bill has the support of the representatives in this House of the City of Dundee. I do not invariably agree with my hon. Friend who shares with me the representation of that great city, but I should like, on this occasion, to extend to her my congratulations on the way she brought in this Bill. I listened very carefully to the arguments of the Under-secretary and the hon. Member for London University (Sir E. Graham-Little), and it seemed to me that only one substantial argument was advanced. They did not dispute the evil which arises from the drinking of methylated spirits, but they argued that it affected only a very tiny proportion of the population. I think the Under-Secretary said that the proportion was something like one in 75,000 of the population, and he asked, in effect, why should we inconvenience a large number of people simply to help this very small proportion of the population?
§ Mr. HACKING
I think I went further than that. I asked why we should inconvenience so many people in order to bring about a very doubtful cure of those people who are addicted to the consumption of this product. In other words, it is very doubtful whether this Bill would have the desired effect, and actually prevent those people from getting spirit for drinking purposes.
§ Mr. FOOT
I do not think I was misstating the argument. Precisely the same argument, however, could be used in regard to the sale of arsenic. It is not one in 70,000, but probably a very much smaller proportion, who misuse arsenic, but we impose restrictions in that case in order to prevent people's lives being taken. Might we not fitly impose similar restrictions in this case in order to prevent people's lives being wrecked?
§ 3.47 p.m.
§ Sir EDWARD CAMPBELL
I am very sorry, as a Scotsman, to oppose any Measure brought in by a Scotsman or a Scots lady. I am very much surprised that the hon. Lady has had the support of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten), who represents my own county, and who, if anyone, has always been an anti Dora-ite.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I should be prepared to agree that, as Burns said, freedom and whisky go together, but not freedom and methylated spirits.
§ Sir E. CAMPBELL
I am sure that free spirits would always go well in Scotland, whether they were methylated spirits or any other spirits, but, after the figures we have heard as to the number of people who have been convicted of drunkenness owing to drinking methylated spirit, it seems absurd, in 1934, to bring in a Bill which will penalise all of us merely for the sake of 596 convictions in 1933. I think the hon. Lady herself said that in many of these cases the same person was convicted several times, I understand that one person was convicted 51 times, or nearly once a week. As a drinker of whisky myself, I suppose I have at least one drink of whisky a week, but I have not been convicted. All the rest of the community, 40,000,000 people, are to suffer all sorts of restrictions. All householders, all the ladies who from time to time need methylated spirit for one thing or another in their household work, all the gardeners, all the various merchants who need such a commodity, are to undergo these wretched restrictions, as well as dentists, doctors, chemists and so on. In fact, I think the hon. Lady herself has probably enumerated all the people who will suffer, although she did not admit that they will suffer; and certainly the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment mentioned a great category of people who would suffer hardships by reason of the fact that some misguided lunatics are addicted to a habit which no sane man would contract. The Bill says:It shall not be lawful to sell by retail any methylated spirits unless—(i) the seller's name is entered in a local authority's list kept in pursuance of this Act…Every person who wants to buy a small quantity of methylated spirit once a month has to go to all the trouble—
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
Would it be any more trouble for the person who wishes to buy it to find out from the local 1608 authority's list who has a licence? People have to have a licence and they will not get it unless they are included in the list, so there is no difference in that.
§ Sir E. CAMPBELL
If I go in to buy methylated spirits because my motor car has gone wrong, I have to go to an immense amount of trouble. Why should I? I consider that, if I buy methylated spirits for a proper use, I should not be put to the trouble of signing papers in my own or someone else's name. That is a bad habit, but it has been done. The Bill says that the bottle shall bear a label specifying the name of the seller and the premises at which it was sold. Why should they be put to that inconvenience? There has to be an entry in a book stating the date of sale, the name and address of the purchaser, the quantity sold, and the purpose for which it is required. While all this is taking place there may be half-a-dozen people in the shop wanting to buy things that they need quickly, but they all have to wait while the papers are filled in. I suppose they will have to get a lawyer to witness their signature over a 5s. stamp. We are supposed to represent the ordinary person in the street. We are not supposed to represent people in lunatic asylums. They can find people to represent them without us doing it. The ordinary person in the street goes in calmly and quietly and innocently to make a purchase, forgetting that there is such an Act of Parliament, and is subjected to all these paper restrictions. Yet we read in most newspapers that there are far too many restrictions. I should like to see a Bill brought in which would give people a great deal more freedom to do things in their own way.
The hon. Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) is my Member and I am his, so if he does not vote for me at the next election I shall not vote for him. That he should support any Measure of re striction is surprising. I am afraid his sense of humour has failed him in this one and only instance. If restrictions were proposed which had anything to do with a better kind of spirit, he would be the very last person in the world to have anything to do with the Bill. I hope that the House will realise that we are to-day suggesting bringing in a Measure because there have been 596 convictions out of which number probably only some 1609 250 to 300 persons have been delinquents at all. We, and all the other people round about, 44,000,000 people, I believe, as far as the two countries are concerned, are going to have all this trouble—
§ Sir E. CAMPBELL
Exactly, we do not all have methylated spirits, but most of us have spirits, and they may at any moment become methylated spirits.
§ Sir E. CAMPBELL
If time permitted, and the matter came within the scope of this Bill, I should have been very pleased indeed to dilate, or dilute, upon it.
§ Mr. C. WILLIAMS
When an hon. Member makes use of an expression of that kind, which is almost unique in the annals of this House, surely, he should be disposed, even at this late hour, to give us some analytical exposition of what the term means. He says that he
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I cannot declare that the Motion has been decided in the affirmative, because the majority is not large enough under Standing Order No. 27.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ It being after Four of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.1610
§ comes from Argyle, and, although I do not know that there is any particular virtue in that, at any rate, will he explain what he means, as it is very essential that I should know?
§ Mr. LESLIE BOYCE
Will not the hon. Member explain to the House whether it is the fact that those who are addicted, if I may use the term, to "wetting their whistle" rather than their wit with methylated spirits are not confined to Dundee and to South Croydon?
§ Miss HORSBRUGH rose in her place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ Question put, "That the Question be now put."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 48; Noes, 28.1609
|Division No. 177.]||AYES.||[3.59 p.m.|
|Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.)||Graham, Sir F. Fergus (C'mb'rr'd. N.)||Penny, Sir George|
|Bernays, Robert||Groves, Thomas E.||Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)|
|Brown, Brig.-G en. H.C (Berks., Newb'y)||Hamilton, Sir R. W. (Orkney & Zetl'nd)||Reid, James S. C. (Stirling)|
|Burnett, John George||Haslam, Sir John (Bolton)||Samuel, Sir Arthur Michael (F'nham)|
|Caporn, Arthur Cecil||Hicks, Ernest George||Sinclair, Maj. Rt. Hn. Sir A. (C'thnese)|
|Clayton, Sir Christopher||Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries)||Sutcliffe, Harold|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Hurst, Sir Gerald B.||Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)|
|Courthope, Colonel Sir George L.||Lindsay, Kenneth (Kilmarnock)||Thomson, Sir Frederick Charles|
|Dickie, John P.||Little, Graham-, Sir Ernest||Touche, Gordon Cosmo|
|Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare)||McEntee, Valentine L.||Wedderburn, Henry James Scrymgeour.|
|Evans, David Owen (Cardigan)||Macquisten, Frederick Alexander||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univ.)||Maitland, Adam||Wilmot, John|
|Foot, Dingle (Dundee)||Moreing, Adrian C.||Wood, Sir Murdoch MeKenzie (Banff)|
|Ford, Sir Patrick J.||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univer'ties)||Young, Ernest J. (Middlesbrough, E.)|
|Galbralth, James Francis Wallace||Morrison, William Shepherd|
|George, Megan A. Lloyd (Anglesea)||Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Goff, Sir Park||Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)||Miss Horsbrugh and Mr. Herbert Williams.|
|Batey, Joseph||Hutchison, W. D. (Essex, Romf'd)||Rutherford, John (Edmonton)|
|Bossom, A. C.||Jackson, Sir Henry (Wandsworth, C.)||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Savery, Samuel Servington|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Margeesan, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R||Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.|
|Campbell, Sir Edward Taswell (Brmly)||Marsden, Commander Arthur||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Craddock, Sir Reginald Henry||Mayhew, Lieut-Colonel John||Tate, Mavis Constance|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Raikes, Henry V. A. M.||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Denman, Hon. R. D.||Ratcliffe, Arthur|
|Duggan, Hubert John||Ropner, Colonel L.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Runge, Norah Cecil||Sir Wilfrid Satfden and Lieut.|
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 2.
§ Adjourned at Seven Minutes after Four o'Clock, until Monday next, 26th March.