HC Deb 26 January 1956 vol 548 cc369-71

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:

67. Lieut.-Colonel LIPTON

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will introduce legislation to ban the manufacture of heroin.


TO ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has now decided to introduce legislation in the current Session to legalise the banning of the manufacture of heroin.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Major Gwilym Lloyd-George)

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to answer these two Questions.

The Government's aim in deciding to ban the manufacture of heroin was to co-operate in a widespread international effort, to which more than fifty-countries have subscribed, to help to eliminate the abuse of the drug in various parts of the world. Before reaching the decision the Government had taken the advice of the statutory advisory bodies, namely, the standing Medical Advisory Committees in England and Wales and in Scotland.

The Government have, however, been advised that it is not possible under the present law of this country to prohibit the manufacture of heroin. There is no similar legal obstacle in the way of prohibiting the export and import of heroin, and the Government have accordingly decided to prohibit entirely as from 1st January, 1956, exports of this drug to countries outside the British islands, except for such small amounts as may be necessary for scientific purposes only, and all imports.

As regards manufacture, the Government have decided to restrict the manufacture of heroin in this country to the quantities actually required for home medical consumption and scientific use.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is this a permanent decision about manufacture? Was not a statement made by the Government before the Christmas Recess that they proposed to allow manufacture, though not export, for twelve months? Does this latest decision mean that manufacture is to be permanently permitted?

Major Lloyd-George

As the right hon. Gentleman probably knows, the term of the licence is for twelve months in every instance, although there is a clause which enables it to be cut short. Twelve months is the normal period of the licence. The Government will not at present go beyond this period as the licence itself is valid for twelve months. We are in touch with the Medical Research Council to ascertain the feasibility of developing the other substitutes.

Lieut-Colonel Lipton

Does the Home Secretary's answer mean that the Government have now abandoned the intention of introducing legislation to ban the manufacture of heroin altogether? Does it not appear as if the Government have allowed themselves to be stampeded by the efforts of a minority of medical men who have sought by every means at their disposal to sabotage the Government's original intentions in this matter?

Major Lloyd-George

The Government are quite satisfied at the moment that the prohibition of the export—particularly owing to the very strict control in this country, which allows of no illicit export whatever—will make a very great contribution to the world problem and falls in with the resolution of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, which calls upon countries to prohibit the export of heroin except in the small quantities needed for scientific purposes.

Mr. K. Robinson

Is the Home Secretary aware that some of us will be extremely disappointed that the Government have now caved in to what was an organised pressure campaign by a small section of the medical profession, aided by the Editor of The Times? Is he aware of the repercussions that will follow the Government's repudiation of the advice of their Standing Medical Advisory Committee?

Major Lloyd-George

I would not altogether accept that, because, as the hon. Member well knows, to put it mildly this is a slightly controversial matter. I am not anxious to arouse great controversy over a matter of this sort, which is a very difficult one. It would be better for us to proceed as we are doing now, hoping that as time goes on and the substitutes are more and better known, we shall contribute to this important world problem by the complete banning of the export of heroin under the strict control which obtains in this country.

Mr. Remnant

Will my right hon. and gallant Friend take comfort from the knowledge that a large number of members of the medical profession have found this drug quite indispensable in certain cases, and that his action will result in alleviation of pain which would not otherwise be relieved?

Dr. Summerskill

As it would be a quite simple proposition for somebody to carry a large quantity of heroin on his person, will the Minister's unfortunate compromise not introduce a black market into this country; and, therefore, will it not cost the Government a large amount to administer this new order?

Major Lloyd-George

I do not know exactly what the right hon. Lady means by enabling people to carry large quantities of heroin on their person. I do not know where they will get the large quantities in the first instance. Everybody who has to provide heroin is registered and the quantities that such a person disposes of are known. That is one of the things which makes this control one of the strictest in the world and has made it so successful. Therefore, I have no fears at all about a black market arising, because the source of heroin and its disposal are completely controlled at every stage.