HC Deb 13 June 1955 vol 542 cc241-3
1. Mr. Hastings

asked the Minister of Health on what evidence his Department holds that an efficient substitute for heroin exists in the treatment of disease.

17. Mr. N. Macpherson

asked the Minister of Health whether he is aware that there is no satisfactory substitute for heroin in certain cases; what consultation he had with medical practitioners before deciding not to give or renew any licences for its manufacture except in small quantities for scientific purposes; and on what grounds he took this decision.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Iain Macleod)

The British Pharmacopoeia Commission was of the view in 1950 that suitable alternatives existed and deleted the monograph on the drug from the 1953 edition of the British Pharmacopoeia. My Standing Medical Advisory Committee was specially consulted and entirely endorsed this view. As a result, I advised my right hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department that there was no obstacle from my standpoint to his responding to the appeals of the World Health Assembly and Economic and Social Council to prohibit the manufacture of the drug.

Mr. Hastings

Is there any evidence of addiction to heroin in this country, and has the right hon. Gentleman ever had an intractable cough which nothing but heroin would relieve, as I have?

Mr. Macleod

I am happy to say that the answer to the second part of the question is "No." It is true that there are people who believe that for a limited range of inflictions there is no true substitute for heroin. The point is that we have to weigh that against the larger claim of playing our part in combating something which is a very substantial social evil all over the world, and although there may be very little evidence of addiction in this country, it is entirely desirable that, if we can get international agreement, we should prohibit the manufacture of the drug everywhere.

Dr. Summerskill

Is it not a fact that the substitute is as effective as, and much cheaper than, heroin?

Mr. Macleod

That really is a little in dispute, to be fair. I think that most people, but not everybody, would agree with the right hon. Lady.

Mr. Macpherson

Would it not be possible for my right hon. Friend to make supplies available to practitioners in cases where it can be shown that there is no adequate substitute? If I produce evidence for him of such cases, will he consider it?

Mr. Macleod

Yes, Sir, of course I will. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Home Secretary is to receive a deputation from the British Medical Association, and these matters will be gone into then.

Mr. Hale

As the right hon. Gentleman has decided to take heroin off the list, does he propose to continue making the hydrogen bomb?

Mr. Elliot

Apart from irrelevant flippancies, is it not a fact that the drug is really of great use in certain cases and cannot be dispensed with? Will my right hon. Friend bend his utmost efforts to ensuring that supplies are made available, as has been suggested, to reputable practitioners, as has previously been done with many drugs as dangerous as this one?

Mr. Macleod

I will gladly take that into account. My right hon. and gallant Friend must realise that all I can do is to take the very best advice that is available to me, which is that of my Standing Medical Advisory Committee, which includes the Presidents of all the Royal Colleges, the Chairman of the Council of the B.M.A., the President of the General Medical Council and many other people. Their view, as I have stated it in answer to the Question, is surely one to which we must give the greatest attention.

Sir R. Boothby

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend is now anticipating a reply which is later to be given by the Home Secretary to Question No. 39, which was transferred from my right hon. Friend to the Home Secretary.

Mr. Macleod

No, Sir, I am not anticipating in any way. Naturally, I am in close touch with the Home Secretary on these matters.