HL Deb 23 November 1950 vol 169 cc471-4

4.6 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, may I move that this Bill be read a second time? It will be noted that it is a very short one and makes provision for only one thing which we are certain will prove to be non-contentious. What I intend to do in moving the Second Reading, therefore, is to make a short descriptive statement on the Bill and leave it at that. The Penicillin Act of 1947 in its operation is creating a certain difficulty in the Mercantile Marine, or at any rate in that part of the Mercantile Marine where no medical man is included in the complement of the respective ships. The Penicillin Act pro-vided, and does now provide, that penicillin or similar substances defined by regulation may not be sold, supplied or administered except by a doctor, a dentist, a veterinary surgeon, or someone acting under their direction.

It will therefore be appreciated that if a ship carries no doctor or other person of the description I have mentioned, penicillin cannot be used aboard that ship. The men on such ships can suffer severely from this prohibition, since penicillin has now become an essential treatment for a number of conditions, including, for example, infected wounds which, when affecting the hands, often lead to permanent disablement unless they are treated with penicillin. The restrictions contained in the Penicillin Act were promoted to guard against the emergence of a resistant strain of bacteria or the possible masking of disease by an indiscriminate use of penicillin. The difficulties have been borne in upon the Government. Consultations have been held and medical advice of the first order has been taken; and is felt that the slight relaxation proposed in this Bill will not lead to any great danger arising from the two points that I have just mentioned.

There are certain precautions which will naturally be taken. The captain or master of every merchant ship carries with him a book known as The Captain's Medical Guide, and the practice of the use of penicillin upon patients on board ship will have to be carried out in accordance with the directions given in the book. It is quite true that the book in use at present contains no reference to penicillin, but a revised edition is now being pre-pared by the Ministry of Transport and if this Bill is passed into an Act will be issued at an early date. Furthermore, a record must be kept on every ship about the administration of medicine and the treatment that is given to patients, and this record, as always, will be open to medical inspection by the authorities ashore should that be necessary. The Bill enables penicillin to be bought without risk of undesirable consequences to a number of people who have hitherto been deprived of its benefits. For that reason alone, we hope that your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Shepherd.)

4.10 p.m.


My Lords, I have been in touch with the National Union of Seamen about this Bill and they say that it is obviously a necessary measure. They ask me to seek information, however, as to whether it is certain that proper instruction will be given for the use of penicillin, without waiting for the book of instructions to be revised and issued. In other words, why wait for the revised version containing the instruction about penicillin? Why not issue a separate pamphlet upon its use? The other point that occurs to me is this: What is the position regarding the other substances and preparations—for example, streptomycin? Perhaps my noble friend can explain.


My Lords, may I be permitted to express the hope that special precautions will be taken to ensure that the penicillin kept in the medical lockers of merchant ships is of a sufficiently recent manufacture to ensure that it is up to full strength and effective-ness? Unless particular care is taken, I can see a grave danger that tubes of penicillin will be left in ships' lockers unused for many years, and then, when a crisis arises needing their employment, they will be found to be hopelessly below strength.


My Lords, I will undertake to convey the points made by the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, to my right honourable friend, but I should imagine that one of the first things that the Ministry of Transport would have to do would be to ensure that the supplies were kept fresh and up-to-date. In my reply to my noble friend, Lord Strabolgi, I would say that the new book of which he has spoken only awaits the passing of this Act in order to be published. It is in an advanced state of preparation. Should there be any delay, I will see that proper attention is given to the point. As I am advised, there will be no difficulty in issuing the special information separately, if that be necessary. I cannot give a definite reply to my noble friend's request about streptomycin. All I can say is that the items to be supplied in that way are laid down by regulation, and undoubtedly the Ministry will take care that everything is in proper order.

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