HL Deb 05 March 1908 vol 185 cc821-6


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in asking your Lordships to read this Bill a second time, I need only detain you a very few minutes. The subject is a familar one to your Lordships, because a very similar Bill was passed through this House in the session before last. Last year a similar Bill was introduced in another place, but I think it was only introduced and was not read a second time.

As regards the present Bill, I need only remind your Lordships that its first clause deals with some additions which are considered necessary to the schedule of poisons. The second clause, which is an important one from an agricultural and horticultural point of view, enables certain poisonous substances used for sheep dips and other purposes to be sold by dealers who are not chemists, where the need arises, owing to the absence of qualified sellers. The third clause is also an important, but not a controversial one. It provides that where a chemist carries on business at more than one shop there shall be a qualified chemist in charge of each place of business. The fourth clause deals with some amendments to the Pharmaceutical Society's examination, and the fifth clause has to do with the further safeguarding of the sale of certain poisonous substances in common use for household and other purposes.

But, my Lords, this Bill differs from the previous Bill in that it omits to touch on two subjects about which some controversy took place on the former occasion. There was some question whether or not the Bill should apply to Ireland. I do not propose to trouble your Lordships with the arguments pro et con on that subject, and I will state the reason in a moment. The other controversial point related to what should be the powers of limited companies trading as chemists as regards the titles which they could use—ought they to be allowed, or ought they not to be allowed, to describe themselves as chemists and druggists, and use similar titles of that kind. Considerable controversy arose on both those points and we have not included them in the Bill for this reason. There is a sharp demarcation of feeling upon both of them, exhibited, I think, even more strongly in another place than here. We therefore propose that this Bill should be referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses, in order that they may take some further evidence, if they so desire, upon those two points, and make a recommendation upon them to Parliament. We think that time will certainly be saved by the adoption of that course, and I hope that the Bill will come back from the Joint Committee in sufficient time to enable those very valuable un-controversial clauses to become part of the law of the land, with such additions on the two disputed points as Parliament may think fit to make after hearing the views of the Joint Committee.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Earl of Crewe.)


My Lords, the subject dealt with in this Bill is one of the greatest importance, and it involves considerations which require the most careful attention before legislation is passed. I therefore think the course suggested by the noble Earl the Lord President of the Council is a convenient one. It is possible that the matters to which the noble Earl referred in the earlier part of his remarks, though they may not be controversial, may still be open to criticism and difference of opinion, and therefore I assume that what will be referred to the Joint Committee will be the whole Bill.


Hear, hear.


And the Joint Committee, I understand, will be able to make such suggestions as they may think right in reference to the clauses in the Bill, and to new clauses which they may think it important should be introduced. The reading of the Bill indicates that, although the subject is susceptible of the clear and simple statement that has been made by the noble Earl, it is one upon which there may be certain misunderstanding. The very definition and ascertainment of what are poisons is a matter open to difference of opinion. The first clause sweeps away the schedule to the Pharmacy Act of 1868. That was in itself a long schedule in two parts, specifying the articles to be deemed poisons within the meaning of that Act. It is, however, to be repealed, and Clause? substitutes for it a very much longer schedule. The Act of 1868 when applied to Ireland in the year 1870 had a very substantial addition made to its schedule, and I have no doubt that at the present moment no one could off-hand, without being an expert, say exactly which schedule in reference to both countries could be regarded as at all perfect. The power of addition must always be given in such legislation. You can never stereotype a schedule of poisons at any particular moment; the growth of scientific knowledge may require additions, and I have no doubt that the schedule to the Act of 1868 has been added to by Orders just as the schedule to the Act of 1870 relating to Ireland has been added to by Orders issued by the proper authority there. It is obviously desirable to have a schedule which is intelligible. But in this Bill there are two or three methods of treatment. That may be necessary in view of the difficulty and complexity of the subject. The schedule to this Bill is divided into two parts. In reference to the first part, any chemist selling the poison must know the purchaser or have the purchaser introduced to him; but the remainder of the schedule is not open to that provision. Clause 5 enables regulations to be made in order to safeguard the sale and distribution of certain poisons commonly employed for domestic and industrial purposes, and the clause contains a brand new definition. Why these poisons are not left to be dealt with by existing schedules I do not know, but I am quite sure there is some valid reason worthy of attention. In regard to Clause 2, to which the noble Earl rightly directed attention, I think there is considerable ambiguity as to the class of poisonous substances introduced. They are not called poisons but poisonous substances, and I think it is right to treat them differently, as they are intended for agricultural purposes. But they should be marked. If a person is permitted to sell them he should be bound to put some mark to indicate that, though not exactly poisons, they are poisonous substances. It will be found, on reference to the Bill, that there is this restriction in regard to the sale of poisonous substances for the purpose of sheep dips. That is intelligible. But should not similar cautionary measures be applied to the other poisonous substances sold for agricultural purposes? That is, however, a matter of detail. I only mention it now to indicate the necessity of enabling purchasers to see that they are dealing with something which may be detrimental to health and may kill. That is a matter which should not be lost sight of in examining this Bill. The noble Earl mentioned—and I do not dissent from what he said—that it is wise and reasonable to enable local authorities to grant licences for the sale of sheep dips, weed killers, and other poisonous substances for use in connection with agriculture and horticulture in places where the reasonable requirements of the public are not now met. I think it is very desirable, indeed, that some change in this respect should be made. I have known hard cases in Ireland where highly respectable country shopkeepers have innocently sold poisonous matters for agricultural purposes, to discover afterwards that they had by so doing violated the law. Therefore I think it is desirable that this should be remedied. Towards the end of his remarks the noble Earl referred to two controversial matters, one of which affected Ireland. The question of Irish legislation cannot be left out of view here. We are fairly intelligent people in Ireland, and very advanced in our civilisation, but very few of us wish to be poisoned, and therefore we should like to see the subject of poisons dealt with in some clear and intelligible way; and if there is to be an improvement in the law in England we should like to have it extended to Ireland. I do not press the case to any extreme point. I am quite ready to recognise that there may possibly be some difference of opinion; but, if it is not found convenient or desirable to apply the whole Bill, I can see no possible objection to saying that the same schedule of poisons which science has found to be necessary for England should be extended to Ireland. We are on what should be common ground in this matter, and I do not see why there should be any difficulty in applying the revised schedule to Ireland. I am glad the Bill is to be considered by a Joint Committee, and I have no doubt that the matters to which I have referred, and other points, will receive full consideration.

On Question, Bill read 2a


My Lords, I now beg to move, "That it is desirable that the Poisons and Pharmacy Bill be referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament."

Moved, "That it is desirable that the Poisons and Pharmacy Bill be referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament."—(The Earl of Crewe.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.