HL Deb 11 May 1857 vol 145 cc102-4

said, he wished to ask his noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor, whether the Government intended to introduce any measure to pre- vent the indiscriminate sale of poisons? The Secretary of State for the Home Department, he believed, had actively employed himself in gaining information on the subject, and had obtained a great deal of valuable information; and he (Lord Campbell) hoped some measure would be founded on it. He was happy to say that he believed the administration of poison by design had received a check. But, from a trial which had taken place before him on Saturday, he had learned with horror and alarm that a sale of poison more deadly than prussic acid, strichnine, or arsenic—the sale of obscene publications and indecent books—was openly going on. It was not alone indecent books of a high price, which was a sort of check, that were sold, but periodical papers of the most licentious and disgusting description were coming out week by week, and sold to any person who asked for them, and in any numbers. This was a matter which required, in his opinion, the immediate consideration of the Government. He had ever been an enemy to ex officio informations for libel, and during the seven years that he had held the office of Attorney General he never advised a single information for libel, except one, that was against Mr. Fergus O'Connor, for exciting the people to sedition; and even in that case, he told the jury not to convict, unless they were satisfied that that was the intention of Mr. O'Connor's publication. He trusted that immediate steps would be taken for stopping the sale of publications of so pestilential a character.


said, that not having read the newspapers of that day he was not aware of the trial which had taken place, and to which his noble and learned Friend referred. But if his noble and learned Friend was right—and he had no doubt he was—in saying that there were places of that depraved character, which gave vent and circulation to publications of that sort, it was quite fitting that the strong arm of the law should be put in motion, and that Government should take steps for that purpose. But he was sure his noble and learned Friend would agree with him that no legislation was necessary, as the law as it stood was quite sufficient to put down publications of that nature; and it was for the Attorney General to enforce that law as he thought fit. It would not be becoming in him to say more on the matter, which was now brought to his attention for the first time. With regard to the sale of poisons, he could assure his noble and learned Friend that the subject had received not only the most careful investigation from his right hon. Friend (Sir G. Grey), but that a Bill had actually been prepared, and would, he believed, in a few days be introduced in the other House, for the purpose of putting down that offence. His noble and learned Friend must be well aware that the difficulties of that subject were very great. However extensive might be the enumeration of poisons, the ingenuity of chemists would speedily introduce others. Then the line which separated poisons from medicines was extremely difficult to define. The whole subject was one of extreme difficulty. The Bill to be brought in would guard not only against the evil of selling poison to persons who intended to make a bad use of them, but there was also a clause guarding, as far as possible, against the sale of poisons incautiously. If the Bill was not likely to remove altogether, he hoped it would materially mitigate, the evil to which his noble and learned Friend referred.