HC Deb 05 August 1966 vol 733 cc888-94

11.20 a.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Miss Alice Bacon)

I beg to move, That the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act 1964 Modification Order, 1966, a draft of which was laid before this House on 21st July, be approved. The purpose of this Order is to add certain drugs, all of which can cause hallucinations and including one normally known as LSD 25, to the Schedule to the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1964. Hon. Members will hardly need to be reminded that this drug has recently been much in the news both here and in America. Newspapers have given us reports of the sometimes quite startling effects that LSD can have on its users.

Only the other day we had the controversial B.B.C. television programme to which reference has already been made in this House. According to a certain report in a British newspaper a girl is seriously ill in hospital having fallen 50 feet from a bedroom window. She was reported to have said that she had been taking LSD and thought that she could fly. In another place yesterday my noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office said that he knew people who thought they could fly on four pints of beer. The difference between that and the effects of this drug is that while people may think that they can fly on four pints of beer, I have never known anyone who has actually attempted it.

Serious medical journals have reported equally disturbing examples of the effects of this drug. A learned paper in America has drawn attention to the case of a doctor who, having taken LSD as an experiment, developed an estatic state under a strong compulsion to jump into a lake, which very nearly resulted in his death from drowning. There are other reports of deaths, both suicide and murder, actually being caused by a person's actions while under the influence of this drug.

I shall not take up the time of the House with other examples, but there is no doubt that its effects can be very harmful indeed unless its use is most strictly controlled. I should remind the House of the existing controls. Since 1965 LSD has been included in the Fourth Schedule to the Poisons Rule which restricted its retail sale to sales on prescription from registered premises by or under the supervision of a qualified pharmacist. The drug came under even stricter control last month when effect was given to a recommedation by the Poisons Board that only qualified doctors or bona fide research workers should be allowed to obtain supplies.

This new rule came into operation on 6th July. The Order we are now debating gives effect to another recommendation of the Poisons Board made at the same time. That is that LSD and similar substances should also be controlled under the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1964. I should explain that the Home Secretary is required by the Act to consult the Board before modifying the Schedule. The effect of this new control will be that the manufacturers of the substances to be added to the Schedule and those who deal in them in bulk are required to be registered. The import of the substances will be prohibited except under licence and, what is more important, all persons unless they have professional needs to obtain the drug other than on prescription will be committing an offence.

Hon. Members will notice that this Order excludes from control living plants or plant seeds containing certain of the substances mentioned or their salts. It has been established that very small quantities of substances which are similar to LSD 25, although much less harmful in their effects, may be present in one of the particular species of "Morning Glory" seeds. That is the species ipomoea violacea, which is available in this country. However, there is a very strong consensus of expert opinion based on clinical research conducted in the United States that the risk arising from the misuse of these seeds is negligible.

So much for the background of the Order. For the record, and I hope for the convenience of the House and those who trade legitimately in these substances, I shall now describe briefly what the Order does. As I have said, it adds certain hallucigenic substances to the Schedule of the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act. At first sight the Order may seem rather complicated—it certainly seemed so to me. The Schedule to the Act, which has not so far been modified, was cast in a form to cover not only specific substances and compounds but also their salts and substances containing any proportion of the substances, compounds or salts. In order to add substances to the Schedule we therefore have to interpolate three paragraphs and to recast some of the existing ones. LSD25, or to give it its full name lysergic acid diethylamide, is the most potent substance which the Order will bring under the control of the Act. The substance is a modified alkaloid of ergot, which in extremely small doses produces profound effects upon mental functions, including changes in perception and visual hallucinations. It has been used in this country and elsewhere in the investigation of mental illness. Doctors are generally agreed that it can have very harmful effects when used without medical supervision. In America there has grown up something of a cult for psychodelic drugs of this kind and in recent months evidence of interest in these substances has been found among drug-takers here.

Hon. Members may have seen the thoughtful editorial in the British Medical Journal of 18th June which said: it would be prudent to deal with LSD forthwith on the same legal and administrative lines as we have found necessary for amphetamine. This is what this Order will ensure. In view of the concern expressed about this potent substance we are anxious to strengthen control over it as soon as practicable. In the view of the Poisons Board the new control should be applied by using a generic description to ensure that any new analogous compound may be automatically controlled. Among the more important of the existing analogous compounds are lysergic acid amide and isolysergic acid amide, which are about one-twentieth as powerful as LSD25. Psilocybin is another hallucinogenic drug capable of being misused and the generic description of this drug is given in paragraph 5(c). Mescaline, which is comparable in effect to LSD25 but much less potent, is controlled by paragraph 5(e) of the Schedule to the Order. There is a very restricted trade in the cactus from which this substance is derived and my right hon. Friend has been advised that no harm would be done by allowing this to continue. Provision is made for this by the exemption under paragraph 7(a).

I would stress that the Order will in no way interfere with the use of these substances by qualified psychiatrists, as an aid to psycho-therapy, or by research workers, but it will place them under stricter controls and, by making unauthorised possession an offence, will assist the police to combat misuse of these substances and the trafficking to which this may give rise.

I would warn of the consequences to those people who might in future, even with this Order, obtain some of these substances illegally. First of all, if it is found in their possession, they will be subject to prosecution. But the greatest danger to them would not be the prosecution but the tragic consequences of injury or death which could follow from taking this drug.

We had a debate on drugs as a whole on Wednesday night. As I said then, this problem cannot be dealt with by police action alone. We must all be very vigilant. Parents, doctors, social workers and the public must help play their part in checking drug abuse.

11.32 a.m.

Mr. Quintin Hogg (St. Marylebone)

The right hon. Lady has undoubtedly blinded us with science. I was not aware that, in addition to her other charms and qualifications, she had become such a qualified chemist. I can supplement her personal experience. I have known people who tried to fly without the use of this substance. There was a very famous member of the Acton family when I was an undergraduate who jumped out of a first-floor window. When asked why he had done this, he said that he wanted to find out what it was like to be a pigeon. We said that pigeons did not usually break their collarbones or make a large dent in the ground when they landed. Thus these are not the only substances which can have consequences of this kind.

There is little to be said about the Order. We support it. We have been pressing the Government for some time to take more effective measures for the control of drugs and I believe that this is their first modest step towards complying with our request. I have a question and a comment. My question is this. When the right hon. Lady's noble Friend last month was talking about drug taking and this particular substance, LSD25, in another place, he said: The position is that Section 12 of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1965 permits a substance to be scheduled only if the United Nations Narcotics Commission or the World Health Organisation decide or appear likely to decide that the substance should be controlled under a Single Convention."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 30th June 1966; Vol. 275, c. 836.] He said that this was very difficult, that international agreement had to be obtained and that the Convention was not designed to control drugs other than narcotics. He added, however, that he could add drugs to the Schedule of the 1964 Act, subject to consultation with the Poisons Board, as, apparently has now been done.

What chance, if any, is there of adding these substances to the international Convention? It would obviously assist any police measures which we take under the Orders if other countries would cooperate in controlling these substances, some of which have a false glamour because of the literary works of prominent authors. This is especially true of Mescaline, which has been praised by authors who should have known better.

This is a very modest step. We shall not get much further with the control of drugs until we legislate in order that we can apply enforcement to the places where they are peddled. This is very easily done, if only hon. Members opposite would put a due sense of social priority into their legislative programme.

11.35 a.m.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

I am glad that the right hon. Lady has brought this drug within the Schedule and I hope that she will bring further drugs within it. I became interested in the subject of drug peddling when I was Chairman of a Standing Committee dealing with the Manchester Corporation Bill. This introduced Clauses for the control of teen-age dance clubs and coffee bars in Manchester, which has been done to clear up the drug situation there. It has opened my eyes to what is going on. I had no idea then of the sort of things which happened in these clubs.

That led me to introduce a Bill called the Entertainment Clubs Bill, rather more than a year ago, which the Home Office said they could not take up because they were going to have discussions with the Chief Constables on the subject. However, I am glad to note that the Lord Chief Justice has now promoted almost the same Bill and that the Home Office are now paying attention to this. That only reinforces the old adage of Sir Winston Churchill, "It does not matter what you say, but it matters who says it."

I have had a great deal of information of all types on this subject, some from reliable sources. I have visited about half a dozen of these clubs in London, where it is said that drugs circulate. These clubs are rather dingy, disreputable places in cellars, some completely filled with teenagers dancing shoulder to shoulder. Others are more dreary and cater mainly for men——

Mr. Speaker

I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman's admirable remarks, but we are discussing a narrow Order which proposes to add certain drugs to a list. He must keep to the Order.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

I will try to keep to the Order, Mr. Speaker, but I want to explain where these things circulate.

They are hidden in lavatories in clubs, they are put into coat pockets in cloakrooms and so on. The weak link in the distribution of dangerous drugs is the warehouses, as anyone who has an account with a warehouse, even if he is not a chemist, can order drugs. We know that warehouses are full of dangerous drugs of various types. There was a theft last week, to which I drew the right hon. Lady's attention yesterday, in which 200,000 drugs, mainly amphetamines were stolen.

I suggest that the right hon. Lady gives further attention to the control of the circulation of drugs through the warehouses, which do not seem to be under the control which they should be——

Mr. Speaker

I must ask the hon. Gentleman to keep to the Order. This is not a debate on the wording of the Drugs Act.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

I will come to the Order. My main point is that the right hon. Lady has added five new substances to the Schedule. There are other substances which are dangerous and which lead often to young children being "hooked". I hope that she will add substances from time to time. I should like to see amphetamines brought into the Schedule and thereby brought under control.

Miss Bacon

If I may speak again, by leave of the House.

I take it that I would be out of order in replying to many of the points raised by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke), but in any case, we had an interesting debate in the House on Wednesday night on the Adjournment, on the whole of the drugs problem, when I dealt particularly with safety in warehouses. Perhaps he would read in HANSARD what I said then.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

I did read the right hon. Lady's remarks. I agree that security must be tightened up, but I am more concerned with bringing the warehouses under statutory control, which could be done under this Act.

Miss Bacon

I realise that. To answer the question about bringing amphetamines within the Schedule, this is an addition to the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1964, and that main Act deals with amphetamines. Amphetamines are, therefore, already in the Schedule. What we are doing this morning is to add LSD to amphetamines, so that we are now putting LSD on the same footing as amphetamines, which are controlled in the way we propose to control LSD.

I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his remarks und assure him that the question of the international control of LSD25 will be considered at a meeting of a special committee of the United Nations Narcotics Commission next week. The United Kingdom will be represented at that meeting, at which this and other matters will be discussed. I assure the House that we are anxious to control drugs as much as possible. If we find that any other drug is being used in the way that LSD is being used, we will immediately take the same kind of action as we are now taking over LSD.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act 1964 Modification Order, 1966, a draft of which was laid before this House on 21st July, be approved.