HC Deb 22 June 1964 vol 697 cc165-85

10.9 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Robinson (St. Pancras, North)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 5, after "exemptions" to insert "or conditions".

The purpose of the Amendment is twofold. Perhaps I may deal with our secondary motive first. In the Second Reading debate I made some observations about negotiations which had been in progress with the manufacturers of drinamyl tablets following upon a' suggestion made, I think, first by the Pharmaceutical Society, that the manufacturers might with advantage change the appearance of these tablets. The point was also made by my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin).

At that time I understood, and I believe that this was the case, that negotiations had been unsuccessful, and up to that time, and indeed up to the Committee stage, when I repeated these strictures, the firm had been unwilling to change the appearance of these tablets. Many of us thought that to some extent it was the appearance of the tablets that constituted a danger. To give the Home Secretary the power to require a manufacturer to make a change of this kind, if he felt it was in the public interest and the manufacturer was unwilling to do it, I gave notice in Committee that we might move an Amendment of this nature.

I understand that negotiations have now been brought to a successful conclusion. When he replies to the debate, perhaps the Joint Under-Secretary to the Home Department may be able to confirm that and tell us a little more. It would be undesirable, for obvious reasons, to go into too much detail about the changes that are proposed to be made, but I am glad that, perhaps a little tardily and possibly for good reasons, the manufacturers have now agreed to make this change.

This, however, raises the wider issue of whether, on a future occasion, there might be a similar deadlock in connection with a manufacturer who, perhaps, was not so amenable. It might be as well for the Home Secretary to have these powers, and not only to make exemptions. When, for example, registering a company manufacturing or distributing the kinds of drugs specified in the Schedule, he should be able to impose conditions on the issue of such a licence or agreement to register.

It may be that the hon. Gentleman will say that the Amendment is not the appropriate way of doing it in the Bill. If he were to say that, I would not argue with him very furiously, but there is something to be said for giving this power to the Home' Secretary in case we have a recurrence without a happy conclusion of the sort of difficulties that we have had in the past few months. I know that, normally, Secretaries of State are not unwilling to assume powers which the House presses upon them, but in this case there is something to be said for giving the right hon. Gentleman the power and I should be glad to hear the hon. Gentleman's reaction.

Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)

I was a member of the Standing Committee on the Bill, but I must have missed this point. I appreciate the point that these tablets constitute a danger when they have the appearance of the old-fashioned cachou, but I do not think that appearance weighs very much with those who want to take handfuls of them. I pay tribute to the manufacturers of this drug for their action, for they must be sacrificing something in the impact of their advertisements. It must not be forgotten that these tablets were evolved for legitimate purposes by the manufacturers, who built up a strong public name for them in their original appearance.

I am surprised that it should be considered a possibility that the Home Secretary should have power to lay down conditions, if not in this case then in future cases, as to the appearance of a particular drug within the ambit of the Schedule. Surely, in dealing with "purple hearts", we would cause considerable difficulty to officers in recognising them if these tablets took on a different appearance or colour. After all, we want the police to be able to spot them easily and, therefore, they should remain in their present appearance.

Secondly, the Amendment would charge my right hon. Friend with the duty of laying down and changing from time to time what should be the appearance of proprietary articles. That would be an extraordinary power. Where would the process stop?

Mr. K. Robinson

There is no question of imposing a duty on the Home Secretary. This would merely give him a reserve power to use in extreme circumstances.

Mr. Cole

I have great respect for the views of the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) on this. He has been a tower of strength throughout the Bill. But surely the Home Secretary would only be wishing to exercise these powers in cases comparable with that of "purple hearts," recognisable by all and sundry. Let us confine our thoughts to the recognisable case we have at the moment.

Surely, if these tablets are recognisable, that is half the battle in suppressing their wrong use. I hope that my hon. Friend will think about this very carefully. Let us not have the Secretary of State accepting powers which he does not expect to use most of the time and about which he would be doubtful if he did use them. I was not aware of what was intended by this Amendment until the hon. Member moved it. I reserve my position about it.

10.15 p.m.

Sir Hugh Linstead (Putney)

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole) has raised this point and I am sure that the solution he is content with is the right one—namely, that, in this particular case, a decision of the manufacturer should be accepted in preference to putting some power into the hands of the Home Secretary to be used in extreme cases if other manufacturers should prove intransigent. It is only one example of the extremely difficult problem of how we are to identify, by physical means, the many thousands of tablets of different kinds which are used in medicine for legitimate purposes, but sometimes for illegitimate purposes. The trouble is that there are not enough colours or shapes to go round.

It is a problem which has exercised the manufacturing industry and professional pharmacy for many years. I do not think that anyone could claim that they have yet found a solution. I do not think that we can be content simply to leave the problem there and I am sure that further inquiry and investigation as to the possibility of finding physical means of identification of tablets will be extremely important.

Mr. Cole

Surely, in these circumstances, to change, where possible, the appearance of tablets of which we wished to keep cognisance would be the wrong way to effect the objective. We want them to keep the same picture.

Sir H. Linstead

I would not disagree. What is needed is some attempt at standardisation so that we do not have two tablets of the same colour and shape but of very different composition being easily mistaken one for the other simply because the physical characteristics happen to be the same. We should regard the Bill as a satisfactory temporary solution for our purpose, but it is an indication of the need for a very much wider recasting of the law in relation to medicine.

I hope that this recasting will come in the next Parliament. I know that, in the Ministry of Health, considerable study is being given to the possibility and it may be that an appropriate body, set up under a new Statute, could work at the whole problem with a view to laying down basic principles upon which colours, shapes, and so on, could be used for the purpose of identification. In the absence of that, it is probably unwise for statutory powers to be taken and if, in these circumstances, some agreement has been reached with the manufacturers, I am sure that that is probably the best temporary solution.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. C. M. Woodhouse)

The hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) gave notice in Committee, as he has said, of his intention to table an Amendment to this effect in certain circumstances. As he has very handsomely acknowledged this evening, those circumstances no longer obtain. I can confirm, as he and other hon. Members have asked me to do, that the negotiations with the manufacturers of the so-called "purple hearts" have reached a successful conclusion. For reasons to which he alluded, the exact character of the successful conclusion, though we all accept it as satisfactory, is one which is probably best not canvassed in detail in public.

The hon. Member has acknowledged, and I should like to endorse, the propriety and sense of responsibility which the firm concerned has exercised. Nevertheless, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Sir H. Linstead) that it is very useful to have the opportunity of this Amendment to discuss the general question in case any similar circumstances in future might seem to necessitate, or to persuade some people that it is desirable to have, some similar intervention by the Secretary of State backed by statutory powers.

In Committee, the hon. Member adduced another reason why it might be desirable to invest the Secretary of State with some additional power, namely, that an Amendment on these lines would make it possible for the Secretary of State to attach to the registration of a manufacturer a further condition that the manufacturer or wholesaler should make his records of transactions in drugs controlled under the Bill available for inspection.

After giving very careful thought to the hon. Member's arguments, our own view has been that if there were to be a power to attach conditions to registration for either of these two purposes, it would probably be preferable that the purposes in question should be specifically named in the Bill rather than that there should be a general power to attach unspecified conditions to registration. In that light we carefully 'considered whether an Amendment should be made to meet the hon. Member's point about inspection of records by giving the Secretary of State a detailed power to attach such a condition to registration.

However, we concluded that, as such a power would be extremely seldom used, and as the police say that they have no difficulty about getting access to records when making investigations, the power was unnecessary. It also seemed to be unnecessary to have a statutory power to require manufacturers either to use or not to use particular shapes or colours, which was the hon. Member's other purpose in moving the Amendment. As he said himself in Committee, we would hope for the co-operation of the manufacturers if difficulties arose over a particular type of drug, as in the case of the drinamyl tablet, and we feel—and this particular case has amply reinforced that feeling—that we are getting all the cooperation that we can ask for or need.

It has to be recognised, as was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Putney, who has great experience in these matters, that a decision of this kind is not easy to take. There can be no guarantee that a change in the colour or shape of the tablets will have the desired effect of lessening the illicit demand for them. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole) adduced some arguments on the opposite side. None the less, we have found manufacturers very willing to consider in a responsible way suggestions made to them for dealing with the problem of a particularly attractive combination of shape and colour.

We must also recognise that opinion is divided, not only between my hon. Friends the Members for Putney and Bedfordshire, South, but also, and in particular, in the medical profession about the desirability of pills of various kinds being given distinctive shapes and colours or being uniformly anonymous. Our feeling is that before the Government stepped in with statutory powers to issue directives to manufacturers we should want to have the fullest consultation with representatives of the pharmaceutical industry and the professions of medicine and pharmacy. Given, as we fortunately have in this country, a highly reputable industry and professions, after such consultation it is extremely unlikely that any directive would have to be issued.

It is a matter which can be more appropriately considered—and will have to be considered—in connection with amending legislation concerning medicines which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health has announced that he is preparing. I think that it would be more appropriate to leave this matter to be dealt with, as my hon. Friend the Member for Putney suggested, in that legislation so far as it may be necessary.

Mr. Cole

When the Bill becomes law a constable who is not satisfied with the bona fides of a person in possession of "purple hearts" can arrest him. I do not wish to be given any private information, but can my hon. Friend tell me how the constable will recognise the tablets?

Mr. Woodhouse

My hon. Friend must recognise that the provisions in the Bill are not confined to "purple hearts" which, incidentally, are neither purple in colour nor heart-shaped. They are designed to deal generally with substances of the kind defined in the Schedule. The so-called "purple hearts" happen to be one peculiarly identifiable at this moment. That may not always be so. Other substances which it is equally desirable to control may become similarly identifiable and one must look at the whole range of these tablets, not merely at a particular specimen.

I was saying that this is a problem which may be looked at again in connection with the legislation which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health is preparing for later consideration. That, as my hon. Friend the Member for Putney suggested, seems a most appropriate context in which to look at the problem, because it can be examined against the whole field of medicines and not purely in connection with the relatively narrow sector represented by these drugs. For these reasons I will forbear to add any of the usual remarks about "defective Amendments". Addressing the matter in principle, I hope that the hon. Gentleman may feel disposed not to press his Amendment.

Mr. K. Robinson

Clearly, there are difficulties about doing what is sought to be done by the Amendment. It may prove that nothing of the kind is necessary. I hope that the confidence of the hon. Gentleman in the industry proves to be well-founded and that if a similar situation arises it will meet with a similar and perhaps an even quicker response than over drinamyl.

On balance, I am inclined to agree with the hon. Member that it would be better to consider the whole matter in the context of the very comprehensive Bill which must come before the House during the course of the next Parliament. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10.30 p.m.

Mr. Woodhouse

I beg to move, in page 1, line 23, after "liable", to insert "(i)".

Perhaps it would be convenient to take, at the same time, the Amendment in line 25, at the end to insert: (ii) on conviction on indictment, to a fine or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or to both. The Amendment is put forward in fulfilment of an undertaking given by my right hon. Friend in Standing Committee. Clause 1 makes unauthorised possession of substances subject to the provisions of the Bill an offence and provides that anyone contravening the Clause shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £200 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to both. Needless to say, at the time that the Bill was being drafted this was felt to be a suitable penalty, bearing in mind that the offence in question is that of unauthorised possession and not of trafficking, and that unauthorised possession can be and often will be of a comparatively minor character. The maximum of six months' imprisonment was also decided upon in this conext, bearing in mind that it was the usual maximum term which can be awarded on summary conviction.

However, on Second Reading a number of hon. Members seemed to feel that heavier penalties ought to be available for dealing with offenders who were trafficking in amphetamine type drugs and making large profits out of doing so. It was suggested that such traffickers would not be deterred by fines of £200 or even four months' imprisonment which, allowing for remission, is what it would amount to. In view of that feeling, my right hon. Friend suggested in Committee that consideration might be given to having penalties on summary conviction comparable to those at present in the Bill and to inserting, in addition, substantially heavier penalties for conviction on indictment.

It will be seen from the Amendments that we are enacting a hybrid provision of a similar kind to that which is to be found in Section 15(2)—the penalty provisions —of the Dangerous Drugs Act. This suggestion was discussed at some length in Standing Committee and was generally welcomed, although it was seen that there were some difficulties in it. Fairly close consideration was given to other possible alternatives. I will not weary the House at this late hour by rehearsing the difficulties which confronted us in considering other alternatives, one of which was to have different penalties for those who become habituate in the drugs and those who traffic in them. Another was to have different penalties for people of different ages and another was simply to have a higher maximum penalty even on summary conviction. For various reasons none of these seemed to be desirable or workable.

All of them have been carefully examined again, but we finally came to the conclusion that the proposal to have a hybrid provision of the kind contained in the Dangerous Drugs Act, and embodied in the two Amendments, was the most acceptable suggestion. Some concern was expressed during the debate that comparatively innocuous persons, teenagers seeking for kicks, who might be found in possession of a small number of pills, would be liable to the full penalties prescribed for conviction on indictment. My right hon. Friend thought it right to warn the Standing Committee that the effect of these Amendments would be that, according to the letter of the law, they would be so liable.

Much of the discussion in Committee was directed towards protecting such persons from the possibility of long sentences of imprisonment. Although these severer penalties could be applied to anyone changed under the new provisions, I think it right to remind the House that the law already provides substantial protection for young persons from being sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. There are such safeguards in the Criminal Justice Acts of 1948 and 1961, and there are also provisions enabling the courts to deal with suitable cases by way of probation order, with a condition for medical treatment under Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1948, or by an order under the Mental Health Act, 1959, or the Scottish Act of 1960 in cases where that might be appropriate.

In the circumstances, therefore, it has not seemed necessary to make any further special protective provision on behalf of the relatively minor offenders who might be charged with being in possession of a few pills. It seems preferable to leave these matters to the discretion of the court, which has, as I have said, a fairly wide range of alternatives open to it. I hope, therefore, that the House will be disposed to accept these Amendments, which are put down in fulfilment of my right hon. Friend's undertaking.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

The Minister has explained the circumstances in which the Government have put down these two Amendments, the substance of them being contained in the second one. Considerable concern was expressed both in the Committee and on Second Reading at the fact that, as the Bill stands, no attempt is made to distinguish between the offence, if any, committed by somebody who is an addict, perhaps a teen-ager found in possession of some "purple hearts", on the one hand, and the person who exploits the desire of young people for these drugs, on the other, the person who traffics in them on a large scale for the purpose of gain.

The offence under Clause 1 is having one of these substances in one's possession, and this offence, under the Bill as it stands, is committed equally by the person who has one or two for the purpose of taking them and by the person who has several thousands for the purpose of peddling them and exploiting the desires of those who want them.

It was felt on both sides that, unless something were done in the penalty provision, we should not be attacking the main evil at which the Bill was directed. As the Minister said, we canvassed the possibility of distinguishing in terms between the offence of those who engage in this racket for selfish gain and of those who are the victims of the racketeers. I was conscious of the difficulties of drawing a distinction, one of them being that sometimes an addict has 10, 20, perhaps more, of these for retailing on a small scale. Therefore, there are people who are both addicts and who could be said sometimes to be trafficking in them to a small extent.

Thus, although the solution found by the Home Secretary is not ideal, it is probably the best which can be devised in the circumstances. The Amendment provides that the courts will have power to inflict much more severe sentences on those nefarious persons at whom the Bill is mainly aimed. As the Minister said, by adopting this solution it also exposes the addict, the teen-ager, to the heavier punishment which is in itself undesirable; and one must hope that there will be wise exercise of discretion, not only by the courts but by the police in dealing with offenders coming under the Bill.

I am sure that the Home Secretary, in so far as it lies within his province, will see that those responsible for administering the law draw the clearest distinction between racketeers, the traffickers, in "purple hearts" and the unfortunate people who become addicts to them.

Mr. Cole

I agree with everything that has been said in support of the Amendment, including the remarks of the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher). One point bothers me, and perhaps those in the legal profession will be able to explain this. We find in the Clause that, with the insertion of the Amendment, we have the words: …(i) on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding £200 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or to both". We then find the words: (ii) on conviction on indictment, to a fine or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or to both". Considering the lengthy discussion that we had on conviction on indictment and summary conviction, I am wondering why, in (i), we specify a fine and imprisonment or both, while in (ii) we specify a term not exceeding two years but the sum is not defined. In other words, why do we not specify an amount of the fine in (ii)?

Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)

Nobody wants to delay for a moment the progress of the Bill to another place, least of all I. Nobody wants to divide against this Amendment tonight, although those who have wrestled with this subject much more closely than we in this House will be the first to admit that to find the final solution is an intractable problem indeed.

Since some progress has been made, we can hope that further thought may be given to the presentation of a further Amendment in another place; and that is what I am asking tonight. We are grateful for the effort which has been made to meet the criticisms and for this Amendment, but I must continue to ask two questions, bearing in mind the lines of the Bill and its punishment for persons found in possession of this substance. At whom is it aimed? Is this an adequate weapon to place in the hands of the police, who, we know, will be anxious to have greater powers? Can we, as it were, send them off on the duty of cleaning up this racket? On both of these points there are some doubts.

The first doubt we should clear out of the way is the fact that the problem is not yet solved. How, for example, do we get at the beneficial owner, the person who has in his possession this substance? Does he have a building in his possession—a club, a registration certificate of a company, or a list of stocks belonging to a club? If we are to get at that man we must say that, in the circumstances, no penalty less than those available under the dangerous drugs legislation would be entirely adequate.

10.45 p.m.

Now we have had a good deal of debate about the difficulties of naming the beneficial owner of the club concerned. We have had a good deal of debate on a particular club I named, when I said that the owner would be able to prove that he did not own it. That has caused some talk, and some lawyers to say that what I have said is outrageous, and challenge me to say it again outside the House. I hope that they will not object if I go outside and quote their letters from their company office.

One says: Our letter of the 28th November was written on behalf of Mrs. Rachman, in whom the lease of this property is now vested. Another, dated 21st May, 1964, says: We enclose herewith our cheque for £1,500, being the three quarters' outstanding rent from Mrs. Rachman. Mr. Roland Nash, whom I have named before, came to be mentioned, although he would be able to say that he did not own the club, because the beneficial interest is in Albert Grew. He came to see me and say that he had had no business connections with Mrs. Rachman for years, that Mr. Rachman had died a pauper, and was living in poverty. Since then we now know that Mrs. Rachman was living in a flat in Regent's Park, costing £2,000.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Robert Grimston)

The hon. Member is going wide of the Amendment.

Mr. Parkin

I am establishing the fact that the further we look into this the clearer the picture becomes. As we have examined this problem of who is behind the drug racket in Soho we find, bit by bit, the emergence of a group of people and names which repeat themselves again and again. I want to know why the Government do not feel able to consider again whether there ought not to be an investigation of the scandals connected with the Rachman estate, since these names are cropping up again and again in connection with this particular drug.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

We are really not connected, in this Amendment, with the question of an investigation. I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman is going beyond the Amendment.

Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)

I think that my hon. Friend was drawing the attention of the House to the fact that the two Amendments before the Committee are not sufficiently strong to control the activities of these people who are making drugs available to young people in the London area. He was proposing that this should be looked at in another place so that stronger penalties and periods of imprisonment could be brought in.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member is entitled to say that, but he cannot develop the case for investigation in great detail in making the case that this Amendment does not go far enough.

Mr. Parkin

My case that it does not go far enough is linked with the problem we have had before us before now—what goes on behind the front men. Every time we find a pusher we find someone else behind him. We find a club; behind that we find a limited company; behind that a transfer of shares, and the beneficial ownership of the club lies in the owner of the lease.

Surely the Minister must be impressed by the mounting evidence. I can find these things out. Why cannot the Government? If two hard-working journalists like Ronnie Maxwell and Lynn Lewis, of the Sunday Mirror, can ask a simple question that I myself overlooked asking, why cannot the Government?

The Bill has been drafted by the Home Office, and this Amendment is in the Home Secretary's name. He made a most unfortunate remark last year, with the best of intentions, when he said, "Let us put this filth into oblivion behind us." That is not the way to find out the truth of what is happening—to turn one's back on a problem and forget it. It is, to say the least, unfortunate that the investigation was not made at the time, because the results would have been available and the Government could have claimed the credit for starting it off. We shall get to a final conclusion when they find the way to tackle this problem.

I leave this argument—I have made it before—but it cannot be stifled. The information will come in steadily, and pile up, until this or the next Government set up the necessary machinery for inquiring into this sort of trickery, which goes on behind most of the rackets in this country.

Is this penalty adequate for those who are the professional pushers? At the beginning of our debates on the Bill I tried very hard not to glamourise this matter in the eyes of young people. It is most important, when dealing with teen-age addiction, that we should not represent it as an heroic defiance of society and authority, or let them think that they are doing something daring, as the gangsters do, and the "hard stuff" drug addicts.

I regret that as a result of my own investigations and meeting the sort of people I have met I find that there is a very close connection between what I might call the large-scale methods of distribution of these drugs and the methods of those who also traffic in heroin, "weed," and the other addictives. I hope that if such people are apprehended it will be possible to prove their connection with the D.D.A. offences. In all probability, if they can be dealt with under that heading or, perhaps, in a combination of the two, we might get at the people we want.

Is this an adequate weapon to put in the hands of the police? I hope that we shall face up to the problem of one aspect of the public's relations with the police. Discussions are going on, and there are improvements in organisation in every department, which we hope will come to useful conclusions, and we are convinced will come to useful conclusions, over the problem of the specific complaint by a specific citizen about the conduct of a specific policeman. But let us understand that the police are constantly embarrassed by the maintenance of the legend in places like Soho that one cannot go direct to the police but must go to the man with the policeman in his pocket.

We who raise these delicate and controversial topics in public, and from our privileged position on these benches, should face this, and ask: in whose interest is it that there should be any general second-hand accusation against particular officers or against the police force as a whole? Of course, it is in the interests of the group of people who want to hold their own employees by this tyranny of blackmail. To them, it is worth a small fortune to be seen walking along a street with a policeman known to be charged with the supervision of some of these very difficult problems.

Cheery greetings to a policeman can be intended to convey to someone else that there is a degree of intimacy that does not exist. It only needs a new man to be appointed and the stories will immediately be put about. His name will be recognised, and someone whose interest it is to pretend he can control the police will say, "I know that fellow very well indeed. I knew him when he was first on the beat. I had him in my pocket when he was a sergeant."

There is not a word of truth in it. We ought not to let the Bill pass unless we can face these longer-term problems, because it is unfair to put into the hands of the police a weapon which only enables them to apprehend those half way up the scale of crookedness and wickedness, enabling the so-called "greater" men to say, "You see, the policeman gets his promotion by" knocking off "the smaller offenders. The police never get the big chap. He is safe."

I hope that I have put that point fairly. It is one about which I feel very deeply. We ought to have a sense of responsibility and realise that it is not good enough for us to adopt a Bill of this kind and say, "Here is the book of words. Put it in the hands of the police and they will get to the truth of the matter." The relationship between gambling and "purple hearts" may not be evidence in the terms of the Bill, but, in practice, the relationship between those who traffic in the more dangerous drugs and those who carry out the protection rackets connected with gambling dens is perfectly well known. Once the addiction has taken hold of a miserable wretch, he will do literally anything—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman but I find it very difficult to connect this argument with the increase in the penalties provided by the Amendment.

Mr. Parkin

I find it very difficult to accept, even over the last six months, the relationship to which I have just referred. I am unwilling to accept this connection.

I started off by saying that this is a teen-age malaise, which affects school children. It is only when one actually does detailed research into these matters that one comes to these alarming conclusions. I do not want to develop them at great length, but in this last stage of the Bill I think that there is a point—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

This is not the last stage of the Bill. This is an Amendment to increase the penalties. I do wish the hon. Gentleman would pay some regard to what I have been saying.

Mr. Parkin

I accept your rebuke, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I meant, of course, the last stage at which one could suggest any Amendments to the Bill.

I am, therefore, taking this opportunity to make these few remarks, because cause I do not intend to worry the House at a later stage with general views on the Bill. I am taking this last opportunity, on this Amendment, to deal with the problem which echoes throughout every Clause of the Bill, to ask the House to think again on the arguments that I have put forward and to encourage everyone else to think again and to see whether the Bill can be improved still more when it reaches another place.

Mr. Manuel

I support what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin). When we are dealing with a matter which is possibly the greatest social menace facing our young people today, especially young people coming to London and into the larger aggregations of population, we should ask ourselves whether these suggested penalties are sufficient. When reading about this subject and recognising the great extent of this problem in other countries, especially America, I find it very difficult to believe that the suggested penalties in these two Amendments will be sufficient to stop this menace to young people.

11.0 p.m.

A vast amount of money is made by some people out of this very rich traffic. It is thousands of pounds; it must be hundreds of thousands of pounds. It is a terrible traffic, and it is terrible to think that money is being made from a traffic which is demoralising and destroying young life which otherwise would be wholesome. I lend my support to the strong plea made by my hon. Friend that the Joint Under-Secretary of State should convey to the Home Secretary what has been said in this debate—and convey it, too, to the Secretary of State for Scotland, whose name is appended to the Bill.

I do not see his name appended to these Amendments, but I take it that it is understood that he is in support of them. The Bill will apply to Scotland. Already, this social scourge has raised its head in Glasgow, our main city, and I certainly, representing a Scottish constituency, want to suggest that we need to make the penalties as strong as we can. I hope there will be another look at these Amendments to see whether they are really sufficient to help break the back of what is becoming a great social menace.

I hope that when the Bill reaches another place another look will be had at this part of the Clause to see whether a stronger deterrent can be found.

Mr. Woodhouse

I am grateful to the House for making it clear that there is no disposition to take these offences lightly or to allow the Bill to go through without adequate penalties attached to it, and I will certainly convey to both my right hon. Friends the points which have been made in the debate in case it should be considered that any further Amendment might be desirable to increase the penalties yet more severely at a later stage.

Nevertheless, I would remind the House that these are now, in terms of comparable legislation, very severe penalties. To answer the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole), it is customary in legislation now to leave a fine unlimited in amount in the case of charges on indictment which will be heard before the higher court, and that very fact in itself constitutes a very severe penalty.

To the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) I would say that there is inevitably a danger of some repetition. We discussed this matter fairly exhaustively both on Second Reading and in Standing Committee, and I do not believe that it would be helpful to the House, or, perhaps, even within the rules of order, for me to follow in detail all the points that he has made, though, once again, I will undertake to convey them not only to my right hon. Friend, but to other Ministers who may be concerned in them.

I have, of course, no ground for contradicting the statements that the hon. Member has made, but proof in a court of law is another matter, and, with all respect to the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel), what the hon. Member for Paddington, North was really asking for was neither new penalties nor new offences but some way of getting at people against whom, in present circumstances, there is not sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction.

Mr. Parkin

I shall not interrupt at any length, but is it possible to find a formula by which the word "possession" includes the person who is, in effect, the beneficial owner of a club through the ownership of its lease or through ownership of the shares in the company through a nominee?

Mr. Woodllouse

I am bound to tell the hon. Member, as I have told him before in Committee, that this would lie outside the scope of the Bill and indeed outside the functions of the Home Office, but I have undertaken before, and do so again, to transmit the arguments which he has been bringing forward to the proper quarter.

Mr. Manuel

Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to say that if an employee of a club is found in possession he is the person proceeded against and not the owner?

Mr. Woodhouse

The owner could be proceeded against under other provisions of the law if he knowingly allowed this kind of thing to take place on his premises. The possession is by the individual in whose possession the table was found, and nobody else can be charged with that particular offence.

Mr. Manuel

In Scotland, in connection with less serious offences, such as selling drink out of licensed hours, it is not the barman but the publican who has to stand the major penalty.

Mr. Woodhouse

I can see the hon. Member's point, but I was explaining that there are other provisions under which the person who allowed his premises to be used in this way could be charged. If he was not in possession of the tablets himself he could not be charged with possession, and unauthorised possession is the one new offence which the Bill creates.

The hon. Member for Paddington, North wished to be sure that an adequate weapon would be placed in the hands of the police. I am grateful to him for his remarks about the desirability of equipping the police with weapons which can be used to defeat this detestable traffic and also for what he said about the good name of the police' which is apt to be besmirched by the kind of accusations which may be made by the sort of people he was talking about. I warmly endorse everything that the hon. Member said on those subjects.

The police, who have been closely consulted at every stage of the preparation of the Bill, are satisfied that it will give them adequate power to deal with the people against whom it is directed. It is, perhaps, a little beside the point on the issue of the penalties which we are now discussing, but I have heard no reservations or misgivings on the part of the police about the weapon which we seek to put in their hands. I hope, therefore, that the Amendments will prove to be acceptable.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In line 25, at end insert: (ii) on conviction on indictment, to a fine or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or to both.—[Mr. Woodhouse.]