HL Deb 27 April 1955 vol 192 cc595-7

2.46 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the first Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have imposed a ban on the import into the United Kingdom of heroin after the expiry of current licences; and, if so, (1) whether they will state their reasons for the ban; (2) whether, before imposing it, steps were taken to ascertain the views of the medical profession as a whole on the subject; (3) whether there has been any demand for such action on the part of the medical profession in the United Kingdom; and (4) what definite object is the ban intended to achieve.]


My Lords, except for small quantities for purely scientific purposes Her Majesty's Government have decided not to permit the manufacture and export of heroin after December 31, 1955. As adequate supplies have hitherto been manufactured in this country imports of heroin have not been authorised for many years: it is intended to maintain the prohibition on importation. Her Majesty's Government have taken this decision in order to give effect to a resolution adopted by the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations at its Eighteenth Session urging all Governments to prohibit the manufacture, export and import of this drug except for scientific purposes. Before the decision was reached the advice of the appropriate statutory advisory bodies was taken.


My Lords, I beg to thank the noble Lord for his answer. May I ask whether Her Majesty's Government are aware that Dr. Arthur Douthwaite, senior physician at Guy's Hospital, has stated in the British Medical Journal that the banning of this painkilling drug, heroin, is an astonishing move which will inflict much hardship upon a multitude of patients? May I further ask the noble Lord whether he is aware that one of the best-known physicians in Edinburgh, Dr. A. B. Flett, has written to me saying it is iniquitous that this most useful and often, in certain cases, really necessary drug should be banned?


My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are aware of the opinions with which the noble Viscount has just acquainted your Lordships. On the other hand, I understand that adequate supplies of a perfectly good substitute for this drug are now available. The purpose of the action which I have just described is, of course, to facilitate the world-wide banning of traffic in this extremely dangerous drug. Her Majesty's Government have, however, as I have informed your Lordships, taken the opinion of the statutory bodies which we are under obligation to consult, namely, the Central Health Services Council, the Standing Medical Advisory Committee and the appropriate bodies in Scotland and Northern Ireland. I do not think that Her Majesty's Government can do more than follow the technical advice and guidance given by those bodies.


I beg to thank the noble Lord again. May I ask him whether he is aware that it appears from information that comes to me that there is no satisfactory substitute for heroin?


My Lords, may I ask whether it is not a fact that the whole medical profession, so far at it is possible to ascertain, is behind this Order?


My Lords, the information available to me is the same as that available to the noble Lord, Lord Haden-Guest—namely, that the vast weight of the evidence is in favour of this move.