HL Deb 18 June 1868 vol 192 cc1744-8

Bill read 3a (according to Order).

LORD REDESDALE moved the introduction of a clause to secure for the protection of the public the use of one uniform bottle for holding poisons, to be called "the Poison Bottle." Its intro- duction might be gradual but in course of time it would come to be recognized by all. He had originally suggested on the Report the adoption of a bottle of a particular shape; but on reflection he had no objection to leave the matter to the decision of the Privy Council and of the Pharmaceutical Society. He believed that there was no objection to the introduction of this clause, which he felt confident would tend in practice to the prevention of very serious danger.

After Clause 17, movedto insert the following Clause:— From and after the Thirty-first Day of December One thousand eight hundred and sixty-eight it shall not be lawful to sell any Poison in a Bottle required to be labelled as aforesaid unless such Bottle shall be of a Shape and Character to be thenceforth known and described as a Poison Bottle; and it shall not be lawful to sell any Preparation not poisonous in any such Bottle; and any Person offending against either of the aforesaid Provisions shall be liable to the Penalties herein-before enacted for selling Poison not distinctly labelled. The Shape and Character to be prescribed by the Pharmaceutical Society, with the Consent of the Privy Council, within One Month after the passing of this Act, and advertised and published in such Manner as the Privy Council shall direct."—(The Chairman of Committees)


said, the noble Lord had failed to answer the objection raised on a former occasion by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, that many of the poisons which he proposed to put into these special bottles were poisons entering into the almost daily prescriptions of physicians.


said, the noble Marquess was mistaken. The only poison with regard to which his clause would enforce the use of a special bottle were those which by the previous clause were required to be labelled as poisons.


said, that one so well versed in the rules of the House as the noble Lord must see that there was great inconvenience in discussing a totally new provision of which no notice whatever had been given. The distinction taken by the noble Lord it would be seen on examination was not well founded; for the earlier clause provided that no person should sell any poison, wholesale or retail, unless in a wrapper distinctly labelled. A letter in The Timesrecently had given the names of some of the drugs in constant use, such as arsenic, prussic acid, strychnine, all poisonous vegetable alkalies and their salts, aconite, corrosive sublimate, belladonna, and cantharides. Every one of these drugs entered into the prescriptions of physicians, and were used sometimes in cases of great emergency. A physician in some urgent case might send to a chemist in whose possession he knew the particular drug to be; and yet that chemist, merely from the fact that his stock of this particular poison bottle happened to be exhausted, would be absolutely prevented from supplying the medicine. The bottle, of course, would be patented, being the invention of some particular person.


It is not a patent to begin with.


Well, then, it was to be defined and published.


said, he had already expressed his willingness to leave the shape of the bottle to be settled by the Privy Council and the Pharmaceutical Society.


But there was great inconvenience in introducing extensive additions of this kind upon the mere discussion of some particular clause of a Bill—and that, too, without Notice. Apart from the practical objection that a particular medicine sent for in great haste in the middle of the night might fail to be procured, in the absence of the poison bottle, he objected to the whole principle of the proposed legislation on this point. Hitherto we had proceeded upon the principle of protecting persons from wrongs or injuries wilfully wrought by others; but we had never acted upon the principle of protecting sensible people from possible dangers merely because foolish people might have it in their power to injure themselves. Because somebody might be foolish enough to get up in the middle of the night, and, without taking the trouble to strike a light, might drink off the contents of a bottle, therefore the noble Lord proposed to introduce entirely new restraints affecting a whole profession, This was a principle of legislation not unknown to foreign countries, where Governments were very fond of protecting people against the consequences of their own acts; but it was totally opposed to the habits of this country, its direct tendency being to hinder the general business of mankind. The principle was one that, if adopted in this country, would tend, he felt sure, to greater evils than those which it sought to prevent.


thought that the clause framed by the noble Lord might be modified with advantage before it was submitted to the House. On this subject he had received a letter from a gentleman of much practical experience; and read to the House the following extract:— I find that Lord Redesdale retains his faith in the poison bottle, and intends to propose it again on the third reading of the Pharmacy Bill, adopting that which I certainly believe to be by far the most distinctive bottle ever used. But the more I consider his Lordship's proposition, and the more I think of the value pertaining to special bottles of any shape, when used according to the discretion of dispensers who understand their business, the more impressed I become with the impolicy of specific enactments concerning them. I have already told your Lordship that most chemists in London use distinctive bottles for dangerous articles and external applications; they have done so for the last six or seven years, the practice gradually increasing. I have also said that the use of these bottles should be restricted to such articles. Now, I presume the words 'poison' and 'poisonous' in the proposed clause must be construed according to Clause 2. If so, we should be prohibited from using such bottles for every medicine not in the Schedule; and I need scarcely say the Schedule does not contain a sixth part of the dangerous preparations daily passing through our hands. I should not think now of selling laudanum in any other than a poison bottle. Laudanum is not in the Schedule; consequently I must, if the Amendment pass, discontinue that precaution. I know Lord Redesdale thinks it is the inconvenience of the compulsory enactment which actuates the Pharmaceutical Society in resisting his proposal; but I can assure you most honestly that they are anxious, both by example and recommendation, to promote his views, and really apprehensive that his Amendment would prevent their doing so. If the securities sought by the clause were not complete it would be worse than no precautions at all, and resemble that very dangerous gun invented some years ago, which was provided with a complicated contrivance to prevent its going off.


said, that although the clause had been greatly improved since last it was offered to the House he thought the disadvantages connected with the proposal outbalanced the advantages. The better course would be to leave it to the discretion of the Pharmaceutical Society and the Privy Council to take what precautions they thought necessary against the careless sale of poisons. If they thought it necessary to adopt a peculiar bottle they could do so; but such a course ought not to be imposed upon them by Act of Parliament The proposal of his noble Friend (Lord Redesdale) was defective, inasmuch as his Schedule of poisons for which the bottles were to be used omitted mention of many substances more harmful than those it contained; and the result would be that poisonous liquids would be placed in ordinary bottles, and comparatively harmless liquids in poison bottles. He recommended his noble Friend not to press the clause.


said, it was difficult to know what to do; but the arguments offered against his proposal seemed by no means conclusive. Respecting the statement of the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury) that it was contrary to English practice to make laws for the safety of those who were well able to take care of themselves, he reminded the House that many instances of such legislation already existed; persons were every day being punished for stepping from a train in motion, and it was held to be no excuse that they could do so without danger. He thought it would be better to insert the clause, that it might be fairly discussed in the Mouse of Commons.


said, chemists were of opinion that security would not be gained by insisting on the use of any particular bottle. Even if it were adopted there would be no security against mistaking medicines intended for outward application for medicines to be taken internally. An eminent chemist from whom he had received a letter suggested that a case might arise in which diluted prussic acid would be dispensed for internal doses of a spoonful each in company with a highly poisonous lotion of belladonna. Both would be dispensed in poison bottles, and no security would be had that the lotion would not be taken for the diluted acid. His correspondent hoped their Lordships would not adopt the clause unless they wished to be killed by Act of Parliament.

After a few words from the Earl of AIBLIE and Lord STANLEY of ALDERLEY,

On Question? their Lordships divided:—Contents 39; Not-Contents 45: Majority 6.

On Question, That the Bill do pass?


was understood to express a hope that the provisions of the Bill would eventually be extended to Ireland.

Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.