HL Deb 24 June 1898 vol 60 cc10-2

Order for Second Reading read.


The object of this Bill is to give to the public some protection against the indiscriminate sale of poisons beyond that which is already afforded by the Pharmacy Acts. These Acts deal with certain poisons which are included in the schedule. They impose certain restrictions as to labelling and in other respects on the sale of those poisons. But the principal restriction which the Pharmacy Acts impose is that the sale is limited to persons registered by the Pharmaceutical Society. The list of poisons in the schedule may be extended, on the recommendation of the Pharmaceutical Society, by the Privy Council, and repeated applications have been made to the Privy Council to include certain other articles enumerated in the schedule in this Bill under the Pharmacy Act. These articles include carbolic acid, which is largely used as a disinfectant, and is the principal one, and may be taken as an example. The Privy Council have always declined to include these articles in the schedule of the Pharmacy Acts upon two grounds: first, that of the inconvenience to which the public would be exposed if any additional difficulty were imposed in the way of obtaining these extremely necessary articles; and, secondly, the dislocation of trade which would be caused if the sale of these articles, which is very extensive indeed, were placed in the hands of what is virtually a great monopoly. On the other hand, the Privy Council have received very numerous representations from coroners' juries to the effect that some additional precautions ought to be taken against the indiscriminate sale of these articles. It is not contended that this legislation, or this Bill, or any other legislation, can very largely diminish the number of deaths which annually take place in consequence of the use of these articles. Out of 579 deaths which took place in the years 1895 and 1896, which are the most recent statistics available, out of 579 deaths caused by the use of articles in the schedule of this Bill, only 111 were due to accidental causes, 468 being cases of suicide. Of course, it is not contended that any restrictions we can impose will be effectual to prevent persons who are determined to take their own lives from doing so, but out of 111 cases of accidental death by the use of these poisons 29 were cases of children under 10 years of age, and I think your Lordships will agree that whatever precautions can be given ought to be given against such accidental use of these poisons. The present Bill is the result of these representations to which I have referred, and in regard to these articles it is confined to placing the sale of the substances included in the schedule of the Bill, which are not included in the schedule of the Pharmacy Acts, under certain restrictions as to labelling, and in the next place to give to the Privy Council the power of adding to or removing further articles from the list of substances so treated. The Bill also contains a certain Amendment of the Pharmacy Act itself. That Act has not been altogether effectual even in preventing accidental deaths from the use of poisons included in the schedule, for out of 786 deaths which took place in the years which I have referred to caused by the use of poisons included in the schedule of the Pharmacy Act, exactly half that number were cases of accident, the other half being cases of suicide. There were 393 cases of suicide by these poisons and 393 cases of accidental death. The Pharmaceutical Society have been frequently urged to make further regulations as to the use of these poisons, but for some reason or other up to the present time they have neglected to do so, and the second clause of this Bill provides that the Privy Council may make such regulations independently of the Pharmaceutical Society. These are the objects of this Bill. As I have said, we cannot hope that it will cause any very great diminution in the number of deaths which take place owing to the use of these poisons, but I think your Lordships will agree that, so far as the number of accidents are concerned, they ought to be diminished. I beg leave to move the Second Reading of this Bill.

Bill read the second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday next.