HL Deb 26 March 1931 vol 80 cc578-85

Constitution of Poisons Hoard.

1. The Board shall consist of fourteen members:

Provided that the Secretary of State may from time to time if be thinks fit appoint additional members of the Board, not exceeding four in all.

2. The Board shall be composed of the following persons, namely:—

Two persons appointed by the Minister for Health;

Five persons appointed by the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, of whom one shall be a person engaged in the manufacture for sale by way of wholesale dealing of pharmaceutical preparations;

One person appointed by the Royal College of Physicians of London;

The additional members, if any, appointed by the Secretary of State.

THE EARL OF HALSBURY moved to omit paragraph 1. The noble Earl said: This raises a point of very considerable importance. It has become more important than ever because of the view your Lordships have taken with regard to the final powers of the Secretary of State. This Amendment and those in my name on the First Schedule which follow it, broadly speaking, challenge the constitution of the Board as drafted in the Bill. The effect that I have tried to get is to put a certain number of experts on the Poisons Board with a certain number of people appointed by the various Secretaries of State and heads of Departments, but to keep the whole balance such that the majority vote lies with the experts and does not lie with Whitehall officials. That is the object. I am in no way wedded to the particular form of my suggestion so long as the balance can be kept in favour of the experts and not of the Whitehall people.

Your Lordships have given complete and absolute control to the Secretary of State. Why not at least let us have a Board that is controlled by experts who really know? Take the point quoted, I think, by Lord Dawson of Penn the other day. Whether he quoted or not, it is a well-established fact that there is a particular firm at present in Constantinople using nothing but research chemists in order to see whether they can get some veronal-medinal group, which we all know, is a very dangerous one. The Departmental Committee, having first of all said that they were not going to determine what a poison was because it was not within their scope, actually went out of their way to say something about the veronal-medinal group. These people have a very large number of research chemists who are watching for something that has the same effect as veronal. For lack of chemical advice it may be that whatever they find will not be on the Poisons List. Then there will be a long delay before the Poisons Board deal with it, and at the end these people will have something else up their sleeve which they can put on the market straight away; and so it goes on.

For that reason I urge that we ought to have on the Board somebody representing not only the Pharmaceutical Society, not only the medical profession but also the Chemical Society, who can advise as to whether this ill thing that has come on the market is something that, from a chemical point of view, can be considered as equivalent to the other, and at once put it on the Poisons Schedule. As I say, I am not in the least wedded to the particular suggestions that I have put down. I will sum them up. What they come to is—and I have put them down as a possible means of arriving at some agreement—that there should be somebody appointed by the Home Office, somebody from Scotland, one from the Ministry of Health and one from the Ministry of Agriculture. Those four would be from Whitehall, and the rest would consist of five representatives of the Pharmaceutical Society, five of the Royal College of Physicians, two of the General Medical Council and two of the Chemical Society. That is the gist of my Amendments. Without them one could almost say that the technical work will be left in the hands of Whitehall. After your Lordships have given the overriding and final word in these matters to the Secretary of State, you surely ought to give him a Board to advise him on which the preponderance of advice comes from real experts.

Amendment moved— Page 23, leave out lines 4 to 7.—(The Earl of Halsbury.)


In order to save further Amendments I will put it that the words "The Board shall consist of" stand part of the Schedule.


The point which the noble Earl has raised in regard to the constitution of the Committee is a very important one, but in the opposition which is offered to the home Secretary's discretion in these matters it almost seems to be suggested that the Home Secretary is going to act foolishly. Whatever political Party he may belong to, I think he may be trusted in these matters to act with the greatest care. He is going to be responsible for four additional representatives on this Board. It is not likely that any Home Secretary, considering the work that this Board has to execute, would appoint Tom, Dick or Harry to the Board. He would take the greatest care to see that the best possible experts were put there, for he has to bear full responsibility and meet any blame that may arise in consequence of trouble.

Apart from the four additional members appointed by the Home Secretary, the official members are already in a minority on the Board as the Bill now stands. Of course those four additional members will not be officials. There are two officials from the Ministry of Health, and they are there because this Bill touches the work of the Ministry in two respects: on the medical side and on the local authorities' side. With regard to the medical profession, the matter was discussed with them at the conference, held at the Home Office, and it was agreed that there should be an additional representative of the medical profession. An agreement has been reached giving the British Medical Association the right to nominate one member. I really think that the constitution of the Board as it now stands in the Bill is satisfactory and would meet what I am sure the noble Earl feels to be necessary.


The noble Lord opposite has said that the Minister is always supposed to act unreasonably, but is not he expecting this Board of experts to act unreasonably by the mere fact of giving the Minister the power that he is to have?


I cannot see that the noble Lord in charge of the Bill has given any intimation whatever, why the four additional members are wanted, nor do I find anything in the Bill which says that they are to be experts. They may be Departmental people whom he wants to put in for reasons concerning the better working of the Department, thus giving the Board a majority of people who are not experts. There is nothing in the Bill to say that they must he experts. If it is desired that they should be, why does it not say so? I should have thought it obvious that the Secretary of State, as the Bill is now drawn, can swamp the experts by appointing four additional members.

If you are going to draft the Bill in that way, there is a very much simpler way of doing it—naraely, to have a short clause with two subsections, the first of which says that the Secretary of State for Home Affairs shall never be a fool, and the second that he may appoint such people to advise him as he thinks fit. We all know that one of the best forms of government is a benevolent dictatorship, but here you are going to allow the Secretary of State at his own sweet will to appoint any four people in the country to swamp the majority of experts on the Board. I cannot accept that. Further, I cannot accept the lack of due representation of chemistry on this Board, to make it a live Board in regard to the modern discoveries that are taking place. If the noble Lord opposite will say that he will give consideration to the points that I have put before the next stage, I will not press this Amendment at present, but if, on the other hand, he says that he will never consent to deviate from the present provisions, I am afraid I shall have to take your Lordships' opinion.


I do not really desire to be unreasonable about this. I think I have done my best on most points to meet noble Lords opposite, but I cannot help thinking that the noble Earl is rather unreasonable in this respect. If the Home Secretary has to set up a Board of this sort, to advise him on this very difficult, scientific, expert question of poisons, is it likely that he would ask opera singers and green- grocers, and people not connected with the business, to help him? We must really give him credit for wanting to have the very best assistance, and I think it is unreasonable that we should question his discretion on a point of this sort. I cannot give the noble Earl any hope of changing.


I do not know whether the noble Lord is able to help me on one point. This is a matter which is thought strongly about by Lord Dawson of Penn. Can the noble Lord give any indication of when the next stage of the Bill is likely to be taken? If I felt that Lord Dawson of Penn would then be present to make his point—he Is now abroad—it would be more satisfactory to your Lordships and I should certainly not move to-night, if the Report stage were not to be taken too soon.


There is no chance of the Report stage being taken until towards the end of next month.


I feel your Lordships would be very well advised to have Lord Dawson of Penn's opinion before there is any Division. Therefore, by the leave of the House, I will withdraw my Amendment. That also includes all the Amendments I have put down to the First Schedule.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE moved, in paragraph 1, to leave out "fourteen" and insert "fifteen" and to leave out "four" and insert. "three." The noble Lord said: This gives effect to an agreement come to with the Medical profession, that one representative shall be appointed by the British Medical Association.

Amendment moved— Page 23, line 4, leave out ("fourteen") and insert ("fifteen") Page 23, line 7, leave out ("four") and insert ("three").—(Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede.)

Amendments moved— Page 23, line 14, leave out ("for") and insert ("of") Page 23, line 20, after ("the") insert ("Council of the").—(Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede.)

LORD HENLEY moved to insert: "One person appointed by the Institute of Chemistry of Great Britain and Ireland." The noble Lord said: In moving this Amendment I would like to say that I fully concur in what Lord Halsbury has said, about it being suitable that there should be a representative of the Chemical society on the Poisons Board. I would also like to say that I am not in opposition to the Chemical Society in moving this Amendment, because I feel that the Institute of Chemistry is a body which should be represented on this Board. In the first place, it includes many highly competent chemists directly engaged in the control of the manufacture of pharmaceutical preparations containing poisons, and I would draw your Lordship's attention to the fact that the manufacturers of these substances have only one representative, who is to be appointed by the Pharmaceutical Society, on the Board. The second reason is that nearly all public analysts under the Sale of Food and Drugs Acts are members of the Institute of Chemistry. About 90 per cent. of those in England and Wales, and I think 100 per cent. of those in Scotland, are members of Institute and upon them falls the duty of analysing drugs and poisons compounded by pharmacists, when any question arises about their composition. For these reasons I move this Amendment.

Amendment moved— Page 23, line 28, at end insert ("One person appointed by the Institute of Chemistry of Great Britain and Ireland;").—(Lord Henley.)


The point raised by the noble Lord is quite an important one, and there is no doubt that a highly qualified expert chemist will be needed, and perhaps more than one, on the Board. I would, however, draw his attention to the fact that the Government Chemist, or his deputy, will be on the Board, and that amongst the four additional members to be appointed by the Secretary of State, he would no doubt choose a distinguished member of the Institute of Chemistry; but the Government are of opinion that it is perhaps a mistake to single out any particular organisation for representation, and they would prefer that it should be left to the discretion of the Home Secretary in appointing the Board.


I would like to point out to the noble Lord, who says the Government do not wish to single out institutions specially for representation, that the present Schedule mentions representatives appointed by the Royal College of Physicians, the General Medical Council, and other bodies. I do not see why we should stop at that.


I think the point is a strong one, and I would like to take it into account before the Report stage.


I very much hope it will be seriously considered, because it seems to me it would be an excellent arrangement, and also give that balance of power which has been desired by noble Lords behind me. It would give a balance, of one, I think, to the non-official members. In view of the fact that we have the over-riding power of the Secretary of State, I think that would give the sense of impartiality for which many of your Lordships this afternoon have expressed a desire.


I would like to press the Amendment, because. I think it is really important.


I would like to say one word in support of the Amendment. It seems to me that having allowed an additional representative of the medical profession you have left the balance a little unscientific, and the mere fact that you have admitted another representative of the medical profession makes it imperative that you should admit a representative of research chemistry who can take a thoroughly enlightened scientific view of the question.


As I have heard the argument, I am prepared to accept the Amendment.

Amendment moved— Page 23, line 28, at end insert ("One person appointed by the British Medical Association").—(Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede.)

VISCOUNT BERTIE OF THAME moved, after paragraph (4) to insert the following new subsection:— (5) In the case of the absence of the Chairman from any meeting, the Board shall elect some other member to act as Chairman for the purposes of that meeting, and in the case of the absence of any other member of the Board from any meeting the person or body by whom such member was appointed may appoint a deputy for the purposes of that meeting. The noble Viscount said: I think there is a similar provision for appointing a Chairman, in the absence of the real Chairman, in the Coal Mines Bill, and while on the subject, may I draw the noble Lord's attention to the fact that there is no means of getting rid of any members of the Board on the ground of inability or misconduct? Whenever I have moved Amendments to that effect, noble Lords in charge of Bills generally say I wish to insult members of Boards, which is, of course, the last thing I wish to do. Therefore I leave it to the noble Lord in charge of the Bill to put in some clause on the next stage, if he thinks fit so to do. It does seem to me that there should be power to dismiss a member of the Board for misconduct or inability.

Amendment move— Page 23, at end, insert the said new subsection.—(Viscount Bertie of Thame.)


I will look into that point.


But will the noble Lord accept this proposal?


No. I prefer not to accept the Amendment at this stage.


Very well, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

First Schedule, as amended, agreed to.

LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE moved, after the First Schedule, to insert the following Schedule:—