HL Deb 13 March 1851 vol 114 cc1300-1

, in moving the Second Reading of the Sale of Arsenic Regulation Bill, observed that the subject to which it related was one that it might be easy to enlarge upon in order to show the necessity for such a measure, and that the Motion could readily have been prefaced with some striking details founded on recent occurrences with respect to the commission of the crime of poisoning; but, he felt that there was a degree of mysterious horror attached to the use of poison, which seemed to attract and fascinate a certain class of minds more than any other kind of crime, and he therefore thought it would be better to say nothing more than that it was a crime which the Legislature was called on to check as promptly as possible. In doing so, it was important to take care that any provisions of a Bill for the purpose should be made as easy of execution as possible, and afford very little opportunity of evasion, and should at the same time interpose no unnecessary obstruction to those who bought arsenic for a legitimate purpose. The provisions of the Bill before their Lordships were extremely simple. In effect the Bill enacted that no person should sell any arsenic without entering in a book to be kept for the purpose a full statement of such sale—the quantity sold, the purpose for which it was stated to be required, and the name of the purchaser, thus fixing instantly the identity and residence of the person who bought it, and the purposes for which it was said to be purchased. There were two points which might be regarded as deficiencies in the Bill. The first was, that the provisions of the Bill were limited to the sale of arsenic alone, whereas it was obvious there were many other kinds of poison which might be used by those who were so inclined to take away life; but it happened that arsenic, from the comparative absence of taste and colour, afforded great facilities for the commission of the crime of poisoning; and he had been told by those who were conversant with the history of our criminal judicature, that, among those classes where the crime was rife, "arsenic" and "poison" were looked on as synonimous. We could not debar the use of poison from those whose knowledge, opportunity, or instruction might indicate to them other poisons for their purpose besides arsenic, but we could debar the ignorant from the use of arsenic. It would be very difficult to draw up a schedule of poisonous substances used to take away life, or capable of doing so; but, even if it was possible, it would not be desirable, for it would not be by any means advisable to advertise, as it were, what poisons were not to be used, and thus show those who might wish to have recourse to them all the substances destructive to life. The other point was, the propriety of enacting a minimum amount of arsenic which should be allowed to be sold, suggestions to that effect having been made to Government. He was satisfied such a provision would, on the whole, give a tendency contrary to that desired. For instance, arsenic was used for certain diseases in sheep; and, if persons were obliged to purchase more than they wanted, they would leave it lying about as soon as they had taken what they required, and those who wished to make use of it would have less difficulty in getting at it. The Bill did not profess to deal with every sort of substance used as poison, but with a substance which experience taught them might be used for the purposes of crime with fatal facility. He had only, in conclusion, to observe, that he had hoped that this species of crime was not familiar to our age or country: but he was sorry to say that experience proved the contrary, and he thought that, however legislation might attempt to deal with the evil, it could only be successfully combated by teaching our people the true spirit of Christianity.


regretted the Bill was confined to the sale of arsenic, and did not extend to other poisonous articles—prussic acid, for instance. He thought they ought to follow the example of France in this matter, and not allow any one to obtain it except on an order from a medical man. After the noble Lord's statement of its provisions, he doubted very much if it would have the effect expected.

Bill read 2a.

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