HL Deb 04 June 1858 vol 150 cc1507-10

in moving the second reading of the Sale of Poisons, &c., Bill, said that it was intended to carry into effect that which had been the object of both Houses of Parliament for some time, and to inquire into the best mode of obtaining which their Lordships appointed a select Committee in the last Session of Parliament. That Committee had gone very carefully into the consideration of the whole question, and had made a Report. The Bill was founded on that Report with some alterations, which had been made in the following manner: He took the Bill as it came out from the Select Committee of last year, and referred it to the Pharmaceutical Society for their observations and suggestions with respect to it. They sent back the draft amended as they proposed. He then sent both the first draft and the amended draft to the College of Physicians, and where he found that the suggestions made by the College of Physicians and the Pharmaceutical Society concurred he adopted the amendments which they considered desirable. Where he found those bodies differed, he adhered to the original draft of the Bill. The object of the Bill was to guard against three inconveniences, to say the least, which resulted from the present system. The first object was to increase the difficulty of obtaining poisons for criminal purposes, and to give facilities for conviction by enabling proof to be given of the delivery of those poisons. The other objects were to prevent, as far as possible, the occurrence of those lamentable accidents which partly arose from the ignorance, and from the carelessness of those who exercised the business of selling drugs and poisons. With regard to the first object, there was a clause in the Bill containing stringent provisions as to the manner in which certain poisons specified in the schedule to the Bill were to be sold. They were not to be sold to any person unknown to the seller, except in the presence of a witness of adult age, known to the seller; and to whom the purchaser is known, and who should sign an acknowledgment to his having witnessed the sale. No such poisons were to be sold to any other than a person of adult age, except on the presentation of a certificate signed by a householder known to the seller; and all these circumstances were to be entered in a book by the person selling the poisonous drug. These stringent provisions were applied to a considerable number of poi- sonous substances enumerated in the schedule to the Bill. There were other substances equally poisonous, but the sale of which could not be subjected to the stringent provisions contained in the first clause without destroying trade and preventing the transaction of legitimate business. Amongst these were opium, laudanum, tartar emetic and chloroform. The sale of these substances was, however, subjected to some restrictions, principally directed to prevent their sale in a careless manner or by incompetent persons. Evidence had been adduced to an immense extent before the Committee of last year, that the sale of poisons was carried on by persons who had not the slightest knowledge of the properties and dangerous quality of these poisons, and who were utterly unfit by education and training to deal with such dangerous materials. A provision had been introduced into the Bill to provide for the future a remedy sanctioned by the Committee of last year. It was proposed to be enacted that for the future—and saving the right of those persons who might prove that they had been in the habit of selling poisons—no person, after the passing of this Bill, should be permitted to sell any poisons, either of the first or of the second class. without having a licence, which licence should only be granted on an examination by a properly qualified board of examiners, consisting of three examiners, one selected by the Pharmaceutical Society, another by the College of Physicians, and the third by the Society of Apothecaries. Those persons who were engaged in the sale of poisons before the passing of the Act were to have a licence to carry on their business for five years; but, after the expiration of that time no licence was to be renewed without examination. There remained the evil of carelessness, on the part either of the buyer or of the seller, to be dealt with. To meet this the Bill required that all poisons of whatever description should be labelled and distinctly marked with the word "poison," should be kept separate and distinct from all other drugs, and that the examiners, or persons nominated by them, should be permitted at all reasonable times to enter and search the places where drugs were kept for sale, in order to ascertain that the provisions of this part of the Act were complied with. Pecuniary penalties, increasing with the repetition of the offence, were imposed for this breach of the provisions of the Bill; and it had been considered absolutely necessary to provide that if a penalty were in- curred by any servant or apprentice of a chemist or druggist the employer should be responsible. There was also a special provision with respect to arsenic, providing that it should be kept mixed with soot or indigo, excepting in cases where it could be proved that the purposes to which it was intended to be applied would be defeated by such mixture. Some persons might desire some more stringent provisions than these which were contained in the present Bill; but in his opinion it was better for the Legislature in a matter of this kind to carry with them the general feeling of the country, and not, in endeavouring to obtain a more perfect security against evils against which they could not obtain an absolute security, run the risk of exciting public opinion against the Bill; but on the contrary, by acting in accordance with the views of the medical profession to ensure that willing co-operation which was necessary to carry the measure into beneficial operation. He should propose, if the House assented to the second reading, to go into Committee pro formâ on Monday, in order to have the Bill reprinted with some Amendments.


said, that no doubt the difficulties of the question were great. H thought the noble Earl had taken a judicious course in consulting both the Pharmaceutical Society and the College of Physicians, and he should not be disposed to dissent from their suggestions when they concurred. He thought it would be desirable to enact the provisions with respect to the mixture of arsenic with colouring matter in regard also to other colourless poisons. And he also doubted whether it would not be desirable that the Crown should have the power to appoint one at least of the examiners, who would be free of the peculiar interests which might to some extent influence the two medical societies. He thought that a very few alterations in the present Bill would make it at all events a great step towards the solution of the problem with which it dealt.


expressed his approval of the Bill, stating that in his opinion it would not be desirable at the present time to attempt to pass a more stringent measure.

After a few words from the EARL OF HARDWICKE and LORD AVELAND, who were understood to support the Bill,

Bill read 2a (according to Order), and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday next.

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