HC Deb 09 December 1970 vol 808 cc609-26
Mr. Blenkinsop

I beg to move Amendment No. 26 in page 31, line 18, at end insert 'barbiturates'.

I move the Amendment only in order to get a further statement from the Minister, as he offered when we discussed this matter in Committee.

Earlier, the House was greatly concerned with the whole problem of barbiturates and the fact that they were not included in the Bill, for the sound and proper reason that the matter was being invesigated by the Advisory Council. In Committee the Minister gave us the Council's interim report and made it clear that he thought it unlikely that an Amendment would be made in this connection, because there would have to be considerable consultation with the medical profession and others before any decision could be made.

I merely take this opportunity to ask him if he can say whether any discussions have yet been set on foot, what the progress is likely to be, and whether his view is still as it was when he said during the Committee stage that it was unlikely that the Bill would be amended in another place in order to take account of this point. He may think that fairly lengthy consultations would be required, and I should merely like to ask him what the situation is.

Mr. Raison

I appreciate that the object of the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) is, as it were, to probe on the subject of barbiturates, but I should be very worried at this stage if there were any serious thought of adding barbiturates to the list. If these drugs were not prescribed, the effect would be that they would become illegal and anyone possessing them would be liable to heavy sentences; up to 12 months or £400 on summary conviction, and seven years or a fine on indictment. But I accept that we are not expecting this to be added to the list at the moment.

We know that barbiturates are used in a horrible way, and that a small number of people are abusing them in a way which is bound to be terrifying. On the other hand, there is a point which we have to bear in mind. Barbiturates are accepted by the medical profession as a necessary drug, and there is a risk that at times, in our determination to stamp out misuse or abuse by a very small number of people, we may make life pretty difficult for the very large number of people who use those drugs perfectly legitimately. Many people get a great deal of relief from them, and I hope that we shall not find it necessary to bring them into the penal arena. It would be ridiculous if a wife gave her husband a barbiturate pill and was thereby committing what is, on the face of it, a fairly serious offence.

So let us remember that there is a good side to these drugs as well as a bad side, and let us not try to rush in to legislate when we do not have to. Finally, let us remember that, once again, the essence of what has to be done lies with the medical profession; that it is up to them in their prescribing practice to cope with this problem. Undoubtedly, there has been over-prescribing, and there is a great need for doctors not to over-prescribe. In that way they can do a great deal to restrict this problem.

Mr. Sharples

The few words uttered by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) have illustrated some of the difficulties of this problem, and one of the reasons for not reaching over-hasty decisions on what is a very major subject indeed. As regards the point raised by the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop), I am afraid that at this stage I can add very little to what I said in Standing Committee. At that time I made a fairly full statement, both about the letter which was addressed to Ministers, and also about the Government's immediate reaction to it.

I can tell the House that interdepartmental consideration of the letter is proceeding at the present time, and it is hoped to initiate discussions shortly with medical and other outside interests. I very much doubt that any decision will be reached before this Bill has completed all its stages in both places. If a decision were made to bring barbiturates within the scope of the Bill, it would be perfectly possible to do so by Order under Clause 2(2) of the Bill.

Mr. Blenkinsop

In view of that statement, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen's Consent, on behalf of Crown, signified]

1.10 a.m.

Mr. Sharples

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I thank all hon. Members for the helpful way in which the Bill has been considered. Every suggestion has been put forward in a constructive spirit. I particularly thank the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Elystan Morgan), who did a great deal of the initial work on this Bill when it was originally presented to the House. I am sure that the House would wish to express appreciation for the considerable support and assistance given in the development of the Bill by the medical profession, the industry, the Pharmaceutical Society, the Magistrates' Association and others.

We have been realistic in our discussions about the possibilities in the Bill and the limitations inherent in the law. It has been the concern of us all to make as good a base as possible for social as well as penal provisions, for community measures and a wider effort by all the organisations and services with a part to play. This modest objective has been largely secured.

We must not forget that the Bill is before Parliament at a time when we may not have seen anything like the worst of this social problem. The flexibility of the Bill, the margins in penalties, the extended powers for regulations, are all a measure of insurance against a problem the full extent of which we do not yet know. I pay tribute to the help which this Government and the previous one received from the Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence and express our gratitude to Sir Edward Wayne and his colleagues for the useful Report which they produced. Their thorough probing into contemporary problems and their balanced conclusions have shown clearly how much we can expect to gain from the Committee, whose activities will hold the key to the success of the new legislation.

I have tried to deal, with the help of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, with the various points raised but I appreciate that there are certain points with which we have not yet dealt. There is the point raised by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) about Clause 17 and his suggestion that the provisions in the Clause should be extended to manufacturers and wholesalers. As he knows, there are difficulties about this, but we have not lost hope of being able to bring forward a proposal to meet his point later.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) asked whether we had made a sensible classification of cannabis and its active principles. This is a very complex question to which we need to give further thought. Fortunately, the Bill allows for changes in the Schedule should this seem right.

Turning to barbiturates, as I have said I do not think that it will be possible to reach a final decision before the Bill becomes law. I want to leave no doubt in the minds of hon. Members about the Government's attitude to two points. First we want the Advisory Committee to be a properly balanced and effective group of professional and lay experts. We shall bear in mind all the suggestions that have been made about the kinds of expertise to be included. We intend to see that the Committee receives every support from the Department.

Second, the Government are entirely committed to exercising the powers provided by the Bill in the fullest consultation with all the interests affected. I know from our debates that this is a matter of keen concern to the medical profession and other organisations whose interests can be vitally affected. I assure the House that we recognise that there can be no effective exploitation of the Bill without their advice and co-operation. This means that, in the interests of us all, there should be continuing and full consultation.

I hope that what I have said at this stage of the Bill's progress will be a reassurance to those who are directly concerned, and I have much pleasure in commending the Bill to the House.

1.16 a.m.

Mr. Ogden

Hon. Members will have noted that both today and for several days past there has appeared on the Order Paper the Motion, On Third Reading of the Misuse of Drugs Bill … That the Question be not put forthwith ". This was not just a device to ensure that hon. and right hon. Members opposite had to stay at the House until some ungodly hour of the morning to make certain that we on this side did not get up to mischief. It was a precaution in case there might still be important things to be done or said at this stage.

May I take this opportunity, speaking from the back benches on this side, to say how much the whole House has appreciated the presence during the greater part of our proceedings after ten o'clock—indeed, until a few moments ago—of the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling). The Bill will give the Home Secretary tremendous powers and great responsibilities. I think it right to say that we are glad that he has been able to come along. I offered him an invitation in Committee on 5th November, and on 9th December he has accepted it. So that is fair enough.

A few minutes ago, outside the Chamber, I told the right hon. Gentleman that he had been very well served by the Minister of State at the Home Office and by the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security. I hope that that does not cause them any embarrassment, coming from this side. On Second Reading, in Committee, and in today's proceedings, they have been extremely helpful, co-operative and informative. On occasion, perhaps, they have known a little more than we might have wanted them to know, because they were able to defeat some of our suggestions.

At what, I feel, has been an unhappy time in Parliament, when there have been deep party-political divisions, our work on this Bill, both in Committee and in the House, has brought together people from many walks of life and professions, all using their endeavours for the common good. The Bill will not solve all the problems of misuse of drugs overnight, but it will do some good. It will lessen present dangers, and it will lessen future dangers. It is a good Bill, and I wish it good health and good fortune in its further progress.

1.18 a.m.

Mr. Deedes

We have done our work on the Bill expeditiously, and, in some ways, I think it rather hard that we should be required to take the concluding stages at this hour of the morning. We are engaged on a valuable and important debate, and I think that it might have been more profitably held at some other time of day. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] That protest being made, however—I hope that it has support on the other side of the House as well as on this—the sooner we send the Bill to its next stage, the better.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State was wise to say that there remain matters with which we have not been able to deal. There remain areas of doubt. Each of us has his own areas of doubt. There is the question of compulsion. There is the question of education, about which I feel strongly. There is the question of the social programmes. In parenthesis, may I say that I think one weakness remaining is that we have not got the social involvement which some of us hoped that a new Measure would produce. There is the question of the barbiturates, and, finally, there is the question of the future of the Council. I still think that the Council will be landed with more work than, perhaps, my hon. Friend realises. I hope that he finds a team willing to undertake it.

In mentioning the subject of education, I think it appropriate to pay a tribute to the Women's Royal Voluntary Service. In a room upstairs yesterday, some of us were able to hear Stella Lady Reading and her allies present the lady who, I understand, is to speak with 40 colleagues in the primary schools. One hundred and fifty of these ladies will be available from Easter onwards. This voluntary movement has supplied a need about which we were extremely critical in Committee—I make no remarks about the Department of Education and Science. These women have stepped in and are doing an urgently needed job. We might pay a passing tribute to them. It would be silly to expect too much of the Bill; it cannot cover every contingency.

Finally, I will mention—at this hour briefly and tactfully, which was not any original intention—one anxiety which remains in my mind about what the Bill may or may not cover. Will my hon. Friend bear closely in mind the problem of the slimming clinic, a subject which has not been raised before? I ask him to be watchful; I will not spell out the details. There are a number of these fashionable establishments attracting a wide range of clientele, including young people, who want to lose weight—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)

The right hon. Gentleman is straying a little wide. The Third Reading of the Bill is very tight.

Mr. Deedes

I will be very careful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Slimming involves the use of amphetamines, and with amphetamines all sorts of funny things can happen. The Bill refers to gross over-prescribing, which we are endeavouring to prevent, particularly of amphetamines and barbiturates. It is with that in mind—and particularly the gross over-prescribing of amphetamines—that I ask my hon. Friend to bear very closely in mind what I say. There are profits to be made here, and possible perils for the future. I say no more than that. Whether or not the Bill bites here—and I hope it does—my hon. Friend has cause to be vigilant.

I wish to thank my hon. Friend very warmly for the way in which he has met in a very good spirit a number of suggestions and criticisms we have made. I hope that the Bill, since it has now had a second round, will soon find its way on to the Statute Book.

Mr. Clinton Davis

I hesitate to become contentious at this hour, and I will keep my remarks as brief as possible, but I have always been concerned that the main purpose of the Bill is to increase the penal sanctions, which I do not think is the answer. The experience that we can glean from the United States is that, although increased penalties have been imposed in a number of States, this has not had the desired effect of abating drug addiction and drug abuse.

As a corollary to the Bill the Government must undertake an intensive research programme. They must undertake a programme of drug education so that authentic information can be brought to the ears of young people, who are particularly vulnerable. That means that the Government must produce substantial financial aid. If they do not do so, the whole purpose of the Bill and its more positive aspects will be defeated.

As I said in Committee—and the Minister supported this view—the courts must keep fully apprised of changing knowledge about drugs, and this particularly applies to magistrates, many of whom are not aware of all the aspects of this problem. It is essential that they should be fully aware of the changing scene. This applies equally to the higher courts. The Minister said that every possible assistance would be given to the judiciary on this aspect, and I am especially grateful to him for that.

Although the Minister did not agree with me on certain matters, and particularly on search and arrest, I thank him for the courteous way in which he dealt with the long and useful debate on that subject. Many of us are concerned that there may be an invasion of civil liberties. This is an emotive issue, on which we tend to lose sight of individual liberties.

I can only hope that my fears will be proved to be groundless. I hope that the Minister will be proved to be right about that but, as I have indicated before, I have grave doubts about it and I see no reason for withdrawing my remarks about that now. Having said that and having been a little contentious, at twenty-five minutes past one I had better sit down.

1.25 a.m.

Mr. Crowder

I hope to detain the House for only a short time. In particular, I am delighted to see my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General with us. In speaking on Third Reading, I hope that I shall not be out of order if I say that the liberty of the subject, which has been referred to from the Government Front Bench, runs the whole way through the Bill and, in particular, is epitomised in Clause 28(2). I do not know how many hon. Members have the Bill before them, but this is important concerning the criminal law, because it affects it and, indeed, it affects the liberty of the subject.

Clause 28(2) states: '"Subject to subsection (3) below, in any proceedings for an offence to which this section applies it shall be a defence for the accused to prove that he neither knew of nor suspected nor had reason to suspect the existence of some fact alleged by the prosecution which it is necessary for the prosecution to prove if he is to be convicted of the offence charged. The words which worry me are "had reason to suspect".

Does that mean that a person can, in effect, be convicted of negligence? Suppose that a mini-skirted hippy comes into a house with a long cigarette holder. Is that to be held in law to be a "reason to suspect", which really means a reason to inquire? I concede at once that, on the next page of the Bill, subsection (3)(b) of Clause 28 states that the accused shall be acquitted thereof … if he proves that he neither believed nor suspected nor had reason to suspect". —we find those words again— that the substance or product in question was a controlled drug ". I raise the matter for this reason. Many hon. Members will probably know of a leading and interesting case in this matter, Warner v. Metropolitan Police Commissioners, reported in 1969 Appeal Cases, Volume 2, at page 256. If the House will forgive me for another two minutes, I should like to explain that the appellant was charged with having drugs in his possession without being duly authorised. There was evidence that a police officer had stopped the appellant, who was driving a van, in the back of which were found three cases, one of which contained scent bottles, and a plastic bag containing a certain amount of drugs. The appellant had been to a cafe, where he was accustomed to collect scent from a Mr. B. He was told by the proprietor that a parcel from B was under the counter and had found two parcels there, namely, the one containing scent and the other which was found to contain drugs. He said that he had assumed that both contained scent.

On the question of possession, the chairman directed the jury that if he had control of the box which turned out to be full of drugs, the offence was committed and it was only mitigation that he did not know the contents. It was held and found by the House of Lords that he was guilty of the offence because it was absolute. I do not know what hon. Members on both sides think, but obviously that situation must be remedied, because the whole essence of the criminal law is surely that a man must have a guilty mind.

Looking closely at Clause 28, it seems that not only is the onus of proof being placed on a defendant in an issue which could have the gravest consequences, but it is putting him in the position that if he is civilly negligent he would or could of necessity, in law, be found guilty of a criminal offence.

I think that the Bar Council has made strong representations to the Government about Clause 28(2), the effect of which seems to be that a defendant who proves that he neither knew nor suspected that he was in possession of prohibited drugs can face imprisonment for up to 10 years unless he also proves that he did not have reason to suspect.

I realise that these are legalistic matters and that it is a question whether or not negligence can be found, but I put this point to the Solicitor-General. Supposing that a man is found guilty under Clause 28, how is the judge to know, unless he asks for a special verdict, which has been frowned upon time and again by the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal, whether the jury either took the view that the man should have known or knew perfectly well that it was merely a matter of inadvertence or negligence on his part?

I had hoped that the injustice of the case which I quoted would be met by the Bill. I ask the Government to have another look at that point.

1.32 a.m.

Mr. Blenkinsop

I am glad that the Minister, in inviting us to give the Bill a Third Reading, made modest claims for it. The hon. Gentleman was right to do so. It would be highly dangerous to think that there was an answer to the drug problem by means of this kind. This may be necessary—indeed, I am sure that it is—but it does not solve the problem, which, as we all know, is largely of a social and welfare nature, and to which we must devote most of our attention.

I want to take this opportunity to comment upon three areas about which some of us are still very much concerned. The first concerns a matter not now in the Bill. Some hon. Members are still doubtful whether it was wise to drop the expert committee for which provision was made in earlier legislation. No doubt we shall learn from experience, but some hon. Members are not fully satisfied that the job which is being given to the new Advisory Council can adequately be covered by that body as it is to be constituted. However, we shall see.

Secondly, some hon. Members still have severe reservations about the provision for search and arrest. Some of us voted on it in Committee, and we still retain our dislike of the provision as it stands. We fear that it may help to maintain suspicion between young people and the police, amongst other matters. We hope not, but we fear that this may be so. We shall certainly want to see how this works in practice and to know a good deal about its operation.

Thirdly, I am still unhappy about some of the penalties provided for the possession and use of cannabis, in particular, and the possibility which still remains—I put it no stronger—that a first offender found with a small amount of cannabis in his or her possession can be committed to prison. Although the Minister properly called our attention in Committee to the way in which the attitude of the courts had changed in recent years, and we all welcome that, nevertheless the possibility remains, and it must be still a matter of continuing anxiety, while accepting that courts need to have freedom of action about the particular circumstances of the individual case.

Against that there is no doubt that the Bill provides a more flexible approach to the whole issue, and this we welcome very much indeed, because there is only one thing that is certain about this whole question of drugs, and it is that it is continuously changing and that what one says about the problem one week may prove to be inaccurate the next. It is with that kind of humility that we need to aproach the whole subject, and this emphasises the vital necessity of further continuing research and further realisation that in the end the answers come from our social work rather than from any penal action that we may take.

1.36 a.m.

The Solicitor-General

I want to tell my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) that I am not winding up this short debate on the Third Reading and that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will do that. I intervene only to reply to the important point raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Crowder), bearing on Clause 28, but I do not want to do so in more detail than is proper at this stage.

There is certainly no need for any hon. Member, at any hour of the day or night, to apologise for raising a point of this kind which bears on the liberty of the subject. It is right that it should be raised, and it is also right, so that the matter may be considered in another place if necessary, that I should say something by way of comment on what my hon and learned Friend said.

The position is that under the previous legislation, which was considered in another place in the case to which my hon. and learned Friend referred, it was an absolute offence to be in possession of drugs of this kind and, indeed, to deal with them in other ways. It was recognised at the time of those cases, and subsequently, that this went further in principle than was desirable. The matter was referred by the previous Government to the Law Commission for consideration, and the formulation which appears in the Bill is that approved and recommended by the Law Commission. The House has great respect for the Law Commission, but the Law Commission would not claim to usurp the functions of Parliament and it is right, therefore, that the House should consider the matter.

The view taken was that although it would be wrong to maintain an absolute offence, to put the burden of proving guilty knowledge in respect of all these offences on the prosecution would be to put too high a burden on it in respect of matters which are a cause of such concern and which need stringent measures to control and regulate them.

A middle position has been arrived at. Under Clause 8, for example, which is being knowingly concerned with the management of premises, it is for the prosecution to establish that the person accused was knowingly concerned, so that in the example given by my hon. and learned Friend of the mini-skirted hippy entering premises it probably would not be sufficient to establish knowledge, unless there were other, more remarkable, features about the young lady. In the other cases dealt with in Clause 28, it does not seem unreasonable to put the matter in this way; that, primarily, possession is an offence, but the accused has the means of establishing his defence.

When I looked at the provision and saw that it was necessary for the defendant to show that he neither knew nor suspected nor had any reason to suspect it seemed to me that three cumulative offences were being piled on each other in what might strike the House as a novel fashion. However, if one looks at the speech of Lord Reid in the case to which attention has been drawn, one finds that this is, in fact, the formulation which he and, in a different sense Lord Pearce advanced. Lord Reid said: In a case like this Parliament, if consulted, might think it right to transfer the onus of proof so that an accused would have to prove that he neither knew nor had any reason to suspect that he had a prohibited drug in his possession; I am unable to find sufficient grounds for imputing to Parliament an intention to deprive the accused of all rights to show that he had no knowledge or reason to suspect that any prohibited drug was on his premises or in a container which was in his possession. So the test here suggested—of knowledge, suspicion or reason to suspect—is one that has been suggested in another place in the previous consideration of this point. It is not a wholly unfamiliar test. There are other statutory provisions, one at least in the Sexual Offences Act, where when a person is charged with having sexual intercourse with a mentally defective, this test arises.

Mr. Jeffrey Thomas (Abertillery)

Would not the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the result of Clause 28 is to make confusion confounded? I have in mind, in particular, the situation in which judges will find themselves in trying to sum up complicated cases of this kind to a jury.

The Solicitor-General

I would not have thought so. It was clear that the summing up in the case which went to the House of Lords was defective because there was then no kind of definition of what had to be established, and their lordships expressed a test close to this one. But it had to be found by judge and by law—at this hour it would be disrespectful to say by guess and by God—and they were bringing Parliament's attention to bear on the subject. It should not, I submit, be difficult for this test to be presented to a jury in an understandable way.

One might think that one could dispense with one or other part of the test, but in the end the House may think that a reasonable attempt has been made, following the advice of the Law Commission, to make the law plain in a way consistent with the policy underlying the legislation. I hope that my explanation is sufficiently clear for the matter to be looked at in another place when the Bill reaches that stage.

Mr. Elystan Morgan

Does it mean that the categories covered are really these: the case of the person who had actual knowledge, the case of the person who had a high degree of suspicion, and the case of the person who had neither suspicion nor knowledge but who received the substance in, say, rather suspicious circumstances and who deliberately looked the other way so that there would be no question of his getting that knowledge?

The Solicitor-General

That is one of the situations. It is important—again, the House will be familiar with it in other cases—where somebody turns a blind eye to a guilt-imputing fact. That is not held to be sufficient when knowledge is part of the offence; and this provision makes it necessary for the accused to show that he had no reason to suspect. In other words, it would catch a man who turned a blind eye in the example which was given of the mini-skirted girl.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe)

I think that my hon. and learned Friend has covered the point that I intended to put to him. But he did not make clear whether the Government intended this part of the Bill to cover categories normally regarded as civil negligence. Do the Government envisage a situation in which mere negligence or want of reasonable care on the part of someone to make inquiries of a suspicious character could render him liable to criminal penalties? If that situation is envisaged, would it not be preferable to make it a different category of offence, so that a separate verdict could be reached on it and a separate penalty imposed?

The Solicitor-General

It is not intended to catch a merely negligent person. The intention would be to start by showing possession or production of the drug in question. If the person were not able to repel the reasonable suspicion that he knew what it was, I would not have thought that one could equate that with negligence. It is introducing the concept of a guilty mind.

The additional point that there are two possible categories of offence, namely the negligent possessor and the knowing, reckless, wilful possessor, raises a different question. I am unable to say whether the possibility of separating the offences in that way has been considered. There are other statutory provisions in which the difference between being in possession and being knowingly in possession is clearly brought out. It is in some parts of this Bill. But it would be difficult to go very much further, in the framework of the policy of this legislation, either in subdividing or extending the range of offence.

Again, the point is well raised, and no doubt it can be looked at 'twixt here and another place. I hesitate to go further in interpreting the intention of the legislation.

1.48 a.m.

Mr. Carol Mather (Esher)

I wish briefly to raise two matters. The first concerns films. During a recent visit to the United States, I saw some horrifying films which encourage drug taking. They were pornographic, certainly. At the same time, they encourage drug taking in that they show, in Technicolor and in close-up, the act of intravenous injection, which prompts some people to experiment. Does Clause 1 empower the Government to prevent this kind of film coming into the country? Can we impose a ban on such films?

My second point concerns university premises. Does Clause 8 make the position clear? The Select Committee which examined student relations said of university premises that the general position is that the police have no right to enter university or college premises unless invited by the lawful occupier or where the officers have reasonable grounds for suspecting persons on such premises of having committed or being about to commit an arrestable offence. If the police are not invited by university authorities, how do they know that this kind of activity is taking place, or even suspect it if they have no access to the premises?

1.50 a.m.

Mr. Elystan Morgan

I am grateful to the Minister of State for his generous remarks. As one who has spoken on two Second Readings of this Bill and who had the pleasure of having 1¾ runs over it in Committee, it would ill behove me at this early hour to speak at any great length. But, due to my early associations with the Bill, I was afflicted by the neurosis, after a change of Administration, of flying to the defence of every comma and syllable. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) was right, that there was some similarity between the clichés used by Ministers and those which I myself used in support of their aguments.

This Bill will not cure society from the maladies which stem from drugs, but it will enable us in some cases to contain them and in others perhaps to eliminate some of them. I believe that the Bill was greatly improved in a working committee, which had a splendid spirit of co-operation. I pay the highest tribute to the Minister of State and the Under-Secretary of State for their co-operation and chivalry. I am sure that the House is impressed by the thought and industry which they have dedicated to the Bill. We wish it well and hope that it will have an easy and speedy passage through its further stages in another place.

1.52 a.m.

Mr. Alison

I am obliged to the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Elystan Morgan) for the notes of bipartisan harmony which he sounded. I am almost tempted to remind him of the story of the two Welsh solicitors in the country town, but as I first heard it from him, I will not develop it: he gets the point.

I am obliged to my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) for making such a short and succinct speech after such a long wait. On the point he raised, I understand that university premises are covered by Clauses 8 and 23, under which entry may be gained but obviously by warrant. We also believe that his point about films is covered, by Clause 19(2), under which incitement to drug taking is a specified offence.

I am struck by the balance in the arguments for and against that we have heard. Misgivings were expressed whether we were imparting too great a penal flavour to the Bill, although the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) conceded that the Bill contained the flexibility which his hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central (Mr Clinton Davis) regarded as vital to keep abreast of changing developments in the drug scene.

I think that the Bill has the necessary flexibility. As to whether it has too penal a tone, I cannot help reflecting on the significance of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes). He cited a particular kind of hazard with which society is now faced, namely, these notorious obesity clinics. He did so very moderately. He knows my own deep concern about this subject and my sympathy with him for raising it. It shows the extent to which we have to impart this penal flavour to the Bill that my right hon. Friend should be so specifically concerned that obesity clinics might, even so, slip through some loophole. If this were the case, it would be very unsatisfactory.

I am hopeful and confident that obesity clinics of the kind that my right hon. Friend cited and those who practice in them will be susceptible to the penal flavour of the Bill, particularly Clause 13. It might well be the very essence of the concluding speeches on the Bill that we should remind the House that Clause 13 introduces a novel power to deal with those who administer or supply controlled drugs in an irresponsible manner". As my right hon. Friend knows, doctors who are involved in irresponsible prescribing can be referred to the tribunal for which the Bill makes provision. If the tribunal agrees, the Home Secretary can issue directions prohibiting such practitioners from prescribing, administering or supplying the relevant drugs—amphetamines or others. The refusal to obey such a direction is itself an offence under the Bill.

In addition, Clause 15 provides for more rapid machinery under which, subject to the agreement of a professional panel, the Secretary of State may give an interim direction temporarily prohibi- ting the provision of such specified drugs, again pending the tribunal's consideration.

The only qualification to which I would admit in my complete confidence that the Bill as drafted meets the case of the obesity clinic and other such marginal cases is that it is not possible to predict how a tribunal or panel will reach its conclusion—how the cat will jump. I regret that that is inherent in the type of provision we are making. This introduces the necessary degree of flexibility.

The best way of coping with this situation probably lies in our giving as rapid a Third Reading to the Bill as possible and getting it through another place and on to the Statute Book as soon as possible. However, there is bound to be some delay. If people have evidence that obesity clinics, even now under the existing state of the law, cause demonstrable hurt and harm to citizens old or young, I hope that they will come forward and present themselves to those who are in a position to take action, not least my right hon. Friend, with his considerable experience and well-known position. If such people come forward, and if we can demonstrate hurt or harm, I have no doubt that it will be possible under the law as it stands and under the facilities which the General Medical Council has to take early action; and we ought to warn those who are engaged in this type of practice that we have eagle eyes in this respect and are only waiting for an opportunity to be advised and informed about cases, such as those to which my right hon. Friend has referred, of hurt and harm.

On that note, I hope that, with the obvious need to get the penal provisions of this important Bill on to the Statute Book as soon as possible, it can be accorded a Third Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

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