HC Deb 20 June 1968 vol 766 cc1390-8


  1. (1) The restrictions imposed by sections 7 and 8 of this Act do not apply to the sale, supply, manufacture or assembly of any herbal remedy in the course of a business where—
    1. (a) the remedy is manufactured or assembled on premises of which the person carrying on the business is the occupier and which he is able to close so as to exclude the public, and
    2. (b) the person carrying on the business sells or supplies the remedy for administration to a particular person after being requested by or on behalf of that person and in that person's presence to use his own judgment as to the treatment required.
  2. (2) Those restrictions also do not apply to the sale, supply, manufacture or assembly of any herbal remedy where the process to 1391 which the plant or plants are subjected in producing the remedy consists only of drying, crushing or comminuting, and the remedy is, or is to be, sold or supplied—
    1. (a) under a designation which only specifies the plant or plants and the process and does not apply any other name to the remedy, and
    2. (b) without any written recommendation (whether by means of a labelled container or package or a leaflet or in any other way) as to the use of the remedy.—[Mr. Snow.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Julian Snow)

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

The new Clause, together with Amendment No. 16 and Amendment No. 105, replaces Clause 12. Subsection (1) of the present Clause is restated and expanded in the proposed new Clause, and subsection (2) of the present Clause 12, which is a definition of " herbal remedy ", is transferred to the general interpretation Clause, Clause 117. Clause 12 in its present form accordingly disappears. The Amendment to Clause 48, which is Amendment No. 63, is largely consequential to the proposed new Clause.

These Amendments are tabled after consideration of criticisms expressed in Standing Committee of the provisions of Clauses 12 and 48—formerly Clause 47—and in the light of discussions held since then with representatives of the British Herbal Medicines Association, the National Institute of Medical Herbalists and the General Council and Register of Consultant Herbalists.

One of the criticisms levelled against the exemptions in respect of herbal remedies as they at present appear in the Bill was that the wider exemptions for extemporaneous remedies allowed in Clause 12(1) and Clause 48(2) were available only when the individual attended personally at the herbalist's premises and the medicine was delivered on those premises.

Another criticism was that as those wider exemptions were drafted the herbalist consulted by an individual was limited to the use of a product manufactured on his premises and could not supply a product which had been manufactured elsewhere unless it was both in pre-packed form and was either a product on the general sales list or one within the limited category described in Clause 48(1). In Committee we had undertaken to consider whether " assembly " could be added, provided that licensed ingredients were used. It seems reasonable, therefore, that where a herbalist has personally seen an individual and has been requested to use his judgment as to the treatment required, the limitations now in the Bill as to the place of consultation, place of delivery, and place of manufacture of the herbal remedy supplied are not essential. Subsection (1) of the new Clause accordingly extends the exemption at present provided in Clause 12(1) by removing the restrictions to which I have referred in so far as they are related to licensing requirements. In so far as retail sale and supply requirements are concerned, these restrictions are removed by the Amendment to Clause 48.

The general effect of subsection (1 of the new Clause and of the Amendment to Clause 48 will be, therefore, that where a herbalist has seen an individual and has been asked to use his judgment as to the treatment required, he may prepare or assemble and sell or supply any herbal remedy which at the moment is not within a category restricted under Clause 43(3). In effect, the herbalist in these circumstances will be able to dispense either, first, a remedy which he has manufactured himself, or alternatively or, secondly, one which he has obtained in bulk from another manufacturer, or thirdly one which he has obtained elsewhere in prepacked form.

Subsection (2) of the new Clause deals with a point which was not mentioned in the Committee stage, but arose from discussions with herbal interests to which I have referred. This new subsection relieves from licensing the processing, packaging and sale or supply of herbal products like fennel, raspberry leaves or ground ginger root where they are to be sold or supplied simply as much, that is purely by the botanical name, with a reference to the process used in manufacture but without any written therapeutic recommendation. The exemption is limited to the processes mentioned— drying, crushing and comminuting—and is not affected by a purely oral recommendation. In other words, a herbalist can say " In your case, you should have this, that, or the other " and it would not be contrary to these provisions.

Closely coupled with the new Clause and the Amendments to Clauses 12, 48 and 117, is a further Amendment which we propose to arrange to be put down as soon as possible in another place. The effect of this Amendment will be to put manufactured herbal ingredients not already covered by Clause 116(1)(b) for use in the preparation of herbal remedies in the same position as the ingredients for use in pharmacies, hospitals, or by practitioners, all referred to in Clause I16(l)(b). The intention is that licensing control could be applied to bulk extracts —solid or fluid—tinctures and other substances, some of them very potent, used by the herbalist in the extemporaneous preparation of herbal remedies for the treatment of individuals who have consulted him.

Having regard to the consultations that have taken place since the discussion in Standing Committee and in the light of views then expressed by hon. Members, I would have hoped that the House might feel that this was a reasonable clause that meets all reasonable requirements such as have been posed to us.

Dr. M. P. Winstanley (Cheadle)

I welcome this new Clause and I feel the Government have done the right thing in introducing it. As a doctor and a Member of Parliament I would not wish to do anything, either here or outside, to encourage the practice of self-medication, which I regard as unfortunate, and sometimes dangerous. Nor would I wish to encourage the practice of self-diagnosis which I regard as even more unfortunate and dangerous. On the other hand, however, if one places impediments and obstacles in the way of people operating a choice which they are entitled to make one creates a situation which is worse than that about which one was originally worried.

I regret that some people sometimes seek—and I am not here commenting on all herbal remedies—remedies which are useless. I regret, too, that sometimes people rely on the kind of reassurance and advice: which I personally would regard as useless. At the same time we, in this House, ought to defend their right to do so. If we do not defend that right we may cast doubt even on the validity of the more orthodox methods of treatment which I, and I hope all responsible people, would wish to encourage. In this particular group of substances we are, on the whole, dealing with substances which I freely acknowledge are sometimes helpful and not with dangerous substances which, as the Minister has made clear, naturally must be dealt with in another way. Had he not done so I could not have supported him, because I believe that while the public are entitled to freedom of choice to consult anyone they wish they are also entitled to protection insofar as dangerous substances should not be offered for sale.

At the same time, we are right in allowing this freedom and relaxing what is a rather strict control. In the White Paper it was made clear that there was no wish to place obstacles in the way of people seeking such remedies. But, at the same time, we must make clear that treatment should be sought from a professional source. Self-diagnosis can be desperately dangerous. Some who seek herbal remedies are able to seek them for conditions the diagnosis of which they know. But it would be dangerous to encourage people to seek remedies for conditions which have not been diagnosed.

I believe the Minister has been right to introduce this Clause. I speak not only as a Member of the House but as a doctor. But, having said that I regret, frankly, that this kind of Clause should be so necessary and I hope the public will heed certain of the warnings that have been given.

Mr. Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)

I have not contributed to earlier debates on the Bill because, unfortunately, I was not in the House when it went through its previous stage. I must declare an interest in that I hold office in a leading pharmaceutical company, but I want to mention a particular point which has no connection with the pharmaceutical industry with which I am connected. I would like to congratulate the lobbyists on behalf of herbal remedies. Since I have been back in Parliament, I have had more letters on this subject than any other, save those which were occasioned by the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) in an entirely different connection.

Like the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley), I would not advocate people going in for self-remedy; and he has far more experience of the problems of self-medication than I have. Undoubtedly, a large number of people believe in self-medication, and this has been very obvious from the weight of the lobby which hon. Members on both sides of the House have experienced. From the way that it put its case it went a long way towards convincing me that it was right to give it special consideration. It underlines the power and value of the Parliamentary lobby; that when people feel strongly enough they can press us and we can press the Government to try to put the Bill right. In those circumstances, I am grateful that the Government have decided to take action on this and I congratulate them on bringing forward this new Clause.

7.30 p.m.

Mrs. Joyce Butler (Wood Green)

I tabled Amendments Nos. 16, 17, 64 and 65 before the new Clause had appeared. It seems to go a long way, if not all the way, to meet the needs of medical herbalists and to enable them to continue their practice and to use herbal preparations which they had done hitherto. I am tempted to follow the hon. Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley) into his discourse about always consulting a registered medical practitioner, but will not do so because it is not the subject of this new Clause. I assure him that there is provision in the Bill for a herbal poisons list, and this provision, which is a fairly important one, has been universally accepted as a necessary precaution. I thank my hon. and right hon. Friends for having gone so far to meet the difficulties of herbal practitioners, and because of the new Clause I would not wish to press my own Amendments.

Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)

The House is considering very ancient and cherished rights which many people have represented to us, and the House is rightly grateful to the Minister for having tabled the new Clause. I must ask for his patience in that I am not absolutely certain that I have rightly understood what the Parliamentary Secretary has said. My own inquiries from herbalists who have been in touch with me in my constituency suggests that there is something not quite satisfactory in the new Clause, and I thought from what the Parliamentary Secretary said that this was to be put right in another Amendment.

I gather that the trouble with the new Clause is that it does not remove the restrictions from the herbal remedy where the process went a little further than drying, crushing or comminuting—where the herbal remedy was in the form of a liquid extract, a tincture or substance reduced to powder and a solid extract of the kind bought from a qualified supplier and made by a qualified chemist in his employ. I thought I heard the Parliamentary Secretary say that this was covered by another Amendment to a later Clause. Perhaps when he replies he can explain whether this point is covered. If so, it will go a long way to satisfy the doubts expressed, which are not set at rest by the new Clause as it stands.

Mr. Paul Dean (Somerset, North)

We welcome this new Clause and the consequential Amendments. In Committee, it was felt that before the new Clause was introduced the Bill was unduly restrictive on herbalists and those who took herbal remedies. It is very satisfactory that the Parliamentary Secretary has been able to deal with most of the points raised. I am particularly glad to see that he has dealt in subsection (l)(b) with the point emphasised very strongly in Committee, about a person who, through infirmity or for some other reason, could not get to the herbalist's house or consulting rooms. The herbalist can now take the preparation to the person in their homes. It is highly desirable that this should be so.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) referred to herbal remedies not covered by subsection (2), that is where there is something more than drying, crushing or comminuting involved. I thought that I understood the Parliamentary Secretary to say that it was the Government's intention to move an Amendment in another place to cover certain manufactured herbal ingredients, and put them in the same category as the exemptions which apply in the Clauses of the Bill as it stands.

Another point concerns the health food stores. We covered this aspect in Committee, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman would confirm that these stores are within the definition of herbalists who can sell herbal remedies over the counter. In Committee he said that he was advised that this was the case and, perhaps following consultations he has had with the herbalist representatives, he can clarify this point. He assured the House that there had been consultations with all the main herbalist bodies but he did not say whether they were satisfied with those consultations and the new Clause. Perhaps he could tell us now.

Mr. Snow

On the last point, I can assure the hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean) that to the best of our knowledge we believe that this new Clause meets the requirements of the herbalists. As to the point raised by the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger), what I said was that it is the intention that licensing control could apply to bulk extracts, solid or fluid, tinctures or other substances used by the herbalist in extemporaneous preparation of herbal remedies. It has been pointed out to me that there are a number of ointment bases which are not of herbal origin but which are traditionally used by herbalists.

My right hon. Friend is prepared to consider whether anything needs to be done so that the use of such substances is not excluded. We are anxious to help this traditional profession as far as we can, and it does not seem that this would prove difficult if we find that the other provisions of the Bill do not cover this point. I was tempted, but decided to resist the temptation, after listening to the speech of the hon. Member for Cheadle (Dr. Winstanley), to refer to traditional attitudes that are not peculiar to herbalists. I am glad that he welcomes the fact that we are extending as far as we can within the bounds of safety the freedom to the particular form of medicine which is the subject of the new Clause. In those circumstances I hope that the House will agree to accept the new Clause.

Mr. Iremonger

When the hon. Gentleman referred to bulk extracts, does he mean stuff we buy in a bottle and pour out a few drops for the customer from time to time as required; preparations ready-made and dispensed little by little?

Mr. Snow

That is so. A herbalist who has a large trade would not buy 6d. bottles of tinctures. He can buy in bulk provided that he is adequately covered by licensing control when considerations of safety are involved.

I forgot to mention that health food stores are in exactly the same position as any other retail outlets dealing in herbal remedies.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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