HL Deb 11 June 1928 vol 71 cc399-404

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the object of this Bill is to consolidate various enactments relating to the sale of food and drugs, which extend over a period of some fifty years. They include the Sale of Food and Drugs Acts, 1875, 1879, 1899 and 1927, and various other Acts. This is one of a series of consolidation measures undertaken by my right honourable friend the Minister of Health, and as it includes no new measures or reform in the law dealing with this subject, but is merely a consolidation measure, I do not think it, necessary to say anything further. In the event of your Lordships giving a Second Reading to this Bill, it will naturally be referred to the Select Committee on Consolidation Bills.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Gage.)


My Lords, this is, as the noble Viscount has said, a Consolidation Bill, and of course it follows that we must accept or reject it en bloc. But I do not think it is out of place for me to call your Lordships' attention to the fact that one of the matters dealt with in this Bill is a question that was raised nine years ago, when Lord Sandhurst promised that there should be a special and careful inquiry made by the Local Government Board for the purpose of seeing if further steps could not be taken to control the sale of proprietary medicines. This Bill as it stands provides that— No person shall sell to the prejudice of the purchaser any article of food or any drug which is not of the nature, or not of the substance, or not of the quality, of the article demanded by the purchaser. But this provision expressly exempts a food or drug that is— a proprietary medicine, or is the subject of a patent in force. It will not, I think, be waste of time if I ask your Lordships' attention for a few moments to the position with regard to these patent medicines. They were the subject of an elaborate investigation by a Select Committee that was set up in 1912 and reported in 1914.

Their Report was one of the most formidable condemnations of the whole traffic in these articles that it is possible to imagine. They found that many of the goods were distinctly fraudulent and that many of the medicines were being sold under false names for the special purpose of producing abortion. They found that it was almost impossible to get the matter properly and publicly discussed in the Courts, because the amount of money spent by these people in advertisements was so great that you could not possibly get any investigation or disclosure reported in the Press. They referred to a case where one of the commonest of all these remedies was declared to be grossly fraudulent, and the matter went by without being noticed at all. The noble Lord, Lord Bledisloe, and I were very much concerned about this, and on a former opportunity we called the attention of the Government to the fact that in the public interest these proprietary medicines, above all other things, needed control. This is one of the few countries where they are not controlled. In France no person can sell a proprietary medicine without having every one of the ingredients plainly stated upon the face of the bottle or box. Here there is nothing of the kind. What happens, of course, is that these medicines are sold to poor, ignorant persons by statements that are often deliberately false, and frequently the drug sold is itself positively deleterious and dangerous and ought not to be taken. There is no protection whatever.

When we turn to this Bill, we find that we are positively to exempt these medicines from penalties applicable to anything else, and I think it is time to call the Government's attention to the fact that nine years ago it was promised that this matter should be looked into, and that nothing has been done. I should like to quote what was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Sandhurst, on the Committee stage of the Ministry of Health Bill in this House on May 8, 1919, and also by Lord Bledisloe, who, as your Lordships will all agree, is not in the habit of using violent, extravagant or (I had almost said) exciting language. Lord Bledisloe said on that occasion:— This Report is the most damning Report ever made by any Select Committee of either House. It discloses a network of fraud and deliberate crime against the physical well-being of the nation which in my judgment is unparalleled in any other civilised country. After having listened to the evidence brought from other countries, Lord Bledisloe thought fit to make these remarks. I am at a loss to think what kind of language I should have used if I had been describing the same thing.

Those are the moderate terms that he used, and this is what Lord Sandhurst said in reply:— Perhaps I may, on behalf of the President of the Local Government Board, give this pledge and undertaking, that the President will, in view of the Report from which the quotations have been made, consider without delay the whole problem; and, secondly, that he will also as soon as possible make proposals to Parliament for whatever new powers are needed to bring about the necessary action. Your Lordships will not think it surprising that, when I find that nine years have gone by and nothing has been done and when, on the face of a Bill that we must pass as a Consolidation Bill, I find the preservation of special privileges in favour of the very thing that it was promised to investigate and which, in the interests of the national health, ought to be carefully investigated, I should think fit to call your Lordships' attention to this point and to ask the noble Marquess to use his very great influence to secure that at last we may do something to remove what, in my humble judgment, is both a public danger and a public disgrace.


My Lords, I do not, of course, make any complaint whatever of the noble and learned Lord having taken this perfectly fair opportunity of calling attention to the subject to which he has referred. I do not pretend for a moment that I know anything at all about the point to which he has called attention, except that the matter was attempted to be dealt with during these long years but that, for some reason or other, the attempt broke down in the course of the passage through Parliament of a measure which, I believe, was called the Proprietary Medicines Bill. I know nothing more about it. If the noble and learned Lord is accurate in what he said, and I am quite certain that he intends to be accurate, he has doubtless made out a very strong case for something being done. But he has reminded your Lordships, and I should like to emphasise the point again, that it would be entirely contrary to the practice of the House to put an Amendment into a Consolidation Bill. Our practice is, I believe, much more rigid than that which prevails in another place. We have established it over a long course of years, with absolutely no exception that, when we are passing a Consolidation Bill we do not amend the law. If we once begin to amend the law, the process of consolidation is thrown over and we can discuss every one of the issues raised, making it perfectly impossible to pass such Bills into law.

Consequently we pursue one uniform practice: we carry the Second Reading, and we refer the Consolidation Bill to the Committee presided over by my noble friend opposite (Lord Muir Mackenzie). The Committee goes through the Bill in order to see that it is what it purports to be—namely, nothing but a Consolidation Bill—and if it prove to be so, they report accordingly to the House and the Bill goes through as an uncontroversial measure. I am sure that your Lordships and the noble and learned Lord himself would not wish to vary this practice, which is very important from the point of view of legislation. As for the specific matter to which he has taken this opportunity of drawing attention, I am quite certain that my noble friend who represents the Ministry of Health in this House will report what has passed to his chief. I make no promise, but if it prove that the attitude taken by the noble and learned Lord is justified and that there is a great mischief—whether it is nine years old or nine months old makes very little difference—of course the Government will consider what can be done to remedy it.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills.

House adjourned at ten minutes past six o'clock.