HL Deb 13 May 1942 vol 122 cc1018-20

My Lords, I beg to ask the first question standing on the Paper in my name.

[The question was as follows:

To ask His Majesty's Government, what steps are being taken to trace and punish those manufacturing and selling wood alcohol under the guise of whisky.]


My Lords, my noble friend's question rather suggests that wood alcohol is being or has been manufactured for sale as whisky. My information is that neither wood alcohol nor its modern synthetic equivalent, methanol, is being manufactured for sale for drinking purposes. The position is being very carefully watched, and vigilance is being exercised by the Board of Customs and Excise and by the Police. Such reports as have reached them about the drinking of wood alcohol or methanol suggest that the very small quantities which are known to have been consumed were legitimately manufactured for commercial or chemical purposes and were obtained by theft. To theft the ordinary criminal law applies and there are also penalties in respect of offences against the Spirits Act, 1880, and the Food and Drugs Act, 1938. My right honourable friend will take steps to investigate every case which is brought to his notice.


My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the answer which he has given. Arising out of that answer, I would like to stress what, apparently—in view of what he has said—does not seem to be appreciated, and that is that all over the country, even in some of the best hotels in London, wood alcohol in the guise of whisky is poisoning people. To my certain knowledge friends of mine in a very eminent hotel in London have just escaped death through very abstemious drinking. I hope that my noble friend will take steps to find out who is making this stuff, and punish them with the utmost rigour of the law.


With your Lordships' permission, may I again say that my noble friend's information does not quite agree with mine. My information is that there have been recently two cases of deaths due to the consumption of methyl alcohol or methanol. In the one case two seamen in London purchased from a dock worker a quantity of home-made wine which he represented that he had made himself, and which he had, actually, fortified with methanol which he had stolen from the docks. The seamen died and the dock worker was duly convicted and sentenced to a term of imprisonment. He is in prison now. The other case was a case of theft in the Glasgow docks by dockers, and some dozen persons died from the effects of drinking stolen spirit. My right honourable friend tells me that he will investigate every case that is brought to his notice. I should say that he has certainly not heard of the matters to which my noble friend Lord Teviot alludes, and if my noble friend will supply the necessary details I am sure that this will be thoroughly looked into.


With the permission of the House, may I say that I will certainly give to my noble friend particulars of the cases which I have in mind?