HL Deb 07 March 1933 vol 86 cc1036-41

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the Bill to which I am asking your Lordships to give a Second Reading to-day will be familiar to your Lordships as it is almost identical with the Bill which was passed in your Lordships' House in 1931 and sent to the Commons. It did not get beyond First. Reading there owing to the Dissolution in the autumn of that year. That Bill was intended to give effect to the recommendations of a Departmental Committee set up by the then Lord President of the Council, the late Lord Balfour, in 1926 to examine into the law as regards poisons. The Bill met with a, considerable amount of opposition both in Committee and on the Report stage, but I believe that when it left this House it commanded your Lordships' approval.

I have looked at the OFFICIAL REPORT Of the Committee and the Report stages of that Bill in your Lordships' House in 1931 and I notice that, among other noble Lords, my noble friend Viscount Bertie put down a considerable number of Amendments. They occupied several pages of the Amendment Paper. I find, however, that he nearly always ended by thanking the noble Lord in charge of the Bill, and so I think it is only fair to assume that my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition, who was then in charge of the Bi:1, treated his Amendments kindly and sympathetically. I believe he was moving Amendments on behalf of the Pharmaceutical Society which was then opposed to the Bill. That society now, I understand, is in favour of the Bill and, indeed, presses for it to be passed into law. My noble friend Lord Dawson of Penn also took exception to the Bill as it was introduced in 1931 on the ground that the medical authorities had not been sufficiently consulted. However, the noble Lord in charge of the Bill assembled conferences between the representatives of the Government Department and representatives of the medical societies, with the result that all their objections, I understand, were overcome and a representative of the British Medical Association was added to the Poisons Board.

The present Bill is practically an agreed measure. It is urgently required in order to bring the law relating to pharmacy and the sale of poisons up to date. The existing law relating to poisons consists of three Acts of Parliament passed in 1852, 1868 and 1908. All those Statutes were subjected to thorough investigation by the Departmental Committee and His Majesty's Government, as did the last Government, accept the Report of that Committee and consider that its proposals should be given statutory force as soon as possible. The enforcement of the law and the control of the sale of poisons was originally, and still is, in the hands of the Pharmaceutical Society, but it was felt that a non-official association with insufficient resources was not the right body to regulate matters affecting large sections of the public and matters immediately bound up with the health and safety of the public. It was felt that the decision as to what substances should be treated as poisons, and 'also methods of control, should be in the hands of a Minister responsible to Parliament, acting on the best scientific and medical advice available. The duty of determining what are poisons and of administering the law is therefore transferred by this Bill to the Home Secretary, who will be assisted by a Poisons Board, the constitution of which your Lordships will see set out in the Second Schedule to the Bill. The Board will comprise representatives of medicine and pharmacy, technical experts and representatives of the Government Departments concerned.

While this Bill is similar to the measure of 1931 it alters the procedure as regards the sale of poisons by establishing a new Poisons List. That list is divided into two parts. Part I consists of those substances the retail sale of which the Poisons Board consider should be confined to registered pharmacists, and Part II of those substances for which more extended distribution may he thought desirable, and the retail sale of those substances will be permitted to persons or firms registered with the local authority. This division of the Poisons List is intended to meet the views of the agricultural and horticultural communities. It is contemplated that the poisons in Part II of the list will be sold only in sealed containers bearing appropriate words and that they shall consist of substances required for general use for sanitary, industrial, domestic, agricultural or horticultural purposes or as vermin killers.

Part I of the Bill deals with pharmacy, and is intended to strengthen the position of the Pharmaceutical Society and its representative character. It makes every registered pharmacist a member of the society and it also provides for a Statutory Committee, to be appointed by the Council of the Pharma- ceutical Society, who will consider the case of any pharmacist alleged to be guilty of a criminal offence or of conduct which renders him unfit to be on the register. As this Committee will exercise a judicial function it is required that the chairman, who will be appointed by the Privy Council, shall be of legal experience. I have only given your Lordships a very brief account of the provisions of this Bill as in its present form it is substantially, and in the matter of principle is exactly, the same measure as the Bill which your Lordships passed in 1931.

I will not weary you with any more details, but I will only say that the alterations made in this Bill as compared with the measure of 1931 are, firstly, that the membership of the Statutory Committee has been increased from five to six; and secondly, that the conditions required to be fulfilled before an authorised seller of poisons can be removed from the register have been more closely defined and now include a body corporate as well as an individual pharmacist. Guidance is given as to the considerations to be taken into account in determining the distribution of poisons as between Parts I and II of the Poisons List, and a further alteration is that the sale of poisons in automatic machines is prohibited. I may add that all the alterations have been made either at the request of or in consultation with the Pharmaceutical Society, who approve them. The Bill, as I have said, is practically an agreed measure and I hope that your Lordships will pass it so that it may be assured of becoming law during the present Session. I beg to move.

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


My Lords, it is satisfactory to learn from the noble Earl that this is practically an agreed Bill. It is a Bill of very great importance and of a far-reaching character and it may be only the forerunner of other Bills which will come before your Lordships' House. In 1931, in conjunction with my noble friends the Lord Chairman of Committees, Lord Phillimore and Lord Cozens Hardy, I took considerable trouble over the Bill which passed through your Lordships' House that year but was not proceeded with in another place. Now it would appear that agreement has been reached between the Pharmaceutical Society and the Home Office and also, apparently, with those industries which raised objections in 1931. In 1931 there was considerable objection from the owners of private patent medicines and some of the heavy chemical industries and also as to the method by which poisons should be dealt with. Now this Bill establishes on a solid basis the Pharmaceutical Society and this Poisons Board. It goes without saying that this is a matter of great importance. Scarcely a day passes when you cannot pick up a newspaper and see some case of real or alleged poisoning. If some control can be exercised so as to reduce the number of poison cases, and the danger that may exist to so many members of the public, everyone ought to be grateful to those who have been able to come to an agreement and bring this Bill before your Lordships' House.


My Lords, I only wish to say in a few words that I hope you will give this Bill a Second Reading. I well remember the passage of the Bill through your Lordships' House in 1931. While there was then a good deal of discussion and criticism, I must say that on the whole I was very much assisted by the various suggestions of noble Lords in getting the Bill into a really businesslike shape. Knowing how urgent is the need for this Bill I hope very much that its passage through your Lordships' House now will also lead to its passage in another place. I notice that the noble Earl in moving the Second Reading told us something of additions and slight alterations that have been made, but I gather from what he said that, as compared with the Bill of 1931, they were improvements which would further add to the utility of the Bill. I hope there is nothing inherent in a Poisons Bill which leads to a Parliamentary Dissolution, but should that occur again I do not know that I should object.


My Lords, in regard to the Bill of 1931 I was closely associated with the Pharmaceutical Society and it was on what I learned from them that I spoke on many occasions during the passage of that Bill. I think I was also present at all the dis- cussions mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Askwith. While accepting at once the noble Earl's view that the Pharmaceutical Society, so far as he knows, are in entire agreement with the Bill in its present form, I rise to say, though of course entirely approving the Second Reading, that if the Pharmaceutical Society should bring to my notice something that ought to be altered—I hope that will not be the case—I hold myself open to bring forward an Amendment in Committee.


My Lords, I received a letter from the Pharmaceutical Society stating that they had many amendments put into the Bill and were now in full. accord with it. My noble friend seemed to be apprehensive that I might be troublesome in Committee, but I shall not detain him for more than a few moments and that will only be to correct a grammatical inconsistency.

On Question, Bill read 2,a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.