HL Deb 30 June 1966 vol 275 cc813-37

5.3 p.m.

VISCOUNT AMORY rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps are being taken or are under consideration to counter the apparent growth of the habit of drug-taking by a minority of young people, a trend which is causing much public concern.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I should like to make it clear to the noble Lord who will reply that I have put down this Question with an exploratory aim. I have no direct or first-hand knowledge of this subject. One must have run across youngsters who take drugs, but I am not conscious of having done so in this country, although I was recently asked in quite a respectable café whether I should like to buy some pills. I did not buy them.

It is not my aim to describe or to uncover any sensational developments, or to paint a picture of an appalling situation in the United Kingdom. I simply do not know what the facts are, and I very much doubt whether the knowledge is available in a handy form. My worry derives principally from three facts which I believe to be true. The first is that over recent years there has been a substantial increase in the taking of pills by youngsters of both sexes. Secondly, in some cases I understand that the habituation with mild kinds of pills does lead on to the use of more potent and more destructive drugs. The third fact is that in some other countries, and notably, I think, in parts of the United States of America, drug-taking by the young has assumed proportions which almost amount to a national calamity.

I recently visited the United States as a member of the now abolished Royal Commission on the Penal System, and we visited a variety of penal institutions there. We had the advantage of some discussions with American penal administrators of undoubted dedication and competence, and we talked with quite a number of inmates. I came back appalled at what we were told, and, indeed, at what we found evidence of there. How close the connection is between drug-taking and delinquency I would not attempt to say: it is a subject on which the results of research are still rather scanty. But that there is a connection, that drug-taking is an aggravating factor in delinquency, is something of which there can be no doubt. Nor, I imagine, can there be the smallest doubt that drugs demoralise: they destroy self-respect; they destroy the power of resistance, and ultimately they destroy personality itself.

Some of the experienced American administrators we met told us that if the problem had been tackled there earlier the current level of damage might well have been avoided. In some areas and in some social categories, they told us, the problem was almost out of control. I came home with my feeling confirmed that the habit of drug-taking is one of those self-inflicting wounds that could, unless checked, prove almost mortal to a modern society. As a layman I would venture to hazard the opinion (although the noble Lord may be able to "shoot me down" on this) that the use even of drugs authorised by medical practitioners may, in some cases, add up to quite an insidious influence tending to weaken personal responsibility.

I said just now that it is not my aim to build up an alarmist picture of the situation in the United Kingdom to-day. I believe that we simply do not know the statistical facts. My aim is to urge that, although this habit seems to be on the increase, there is still time to tackle the problem in an effective way in this country. And my real purpose in asking this Question is to try to satisfy myself, from what the noble Lord says in reply, that we are taking steps—and effective steps—before this trouble develops into something really serious from the national point of view. I think that was the substance of some remarks made by my noble friend Lord Derwent quite recently in this House. I must express serious doubt whether what we are doing, in the case of the young, is anything like what is required by the urgency of the situation. I would also say, with all the force I can, that if, through complacency or drift, we were to allow this corrupting cancer to spread, we should never forgive ourselves; and I am sure that we should never be forgiven by those who come after.

I have mentioned a connection between unauthorised drug-taking and delinquency. I read an interesting article written by a psychiatrist, Dr. P. D. Scott, and a pathologist, Dr. D. R. Wilcox, published in 1964, and entitled "Delinquency and the Amphetamines". Those two distinguished people mentioned that entrants to two remand homes in London had been examined, and of the admissions there was proof that 16 to 18 per cent. had taken unauthorised drugs—rather a higher percentage in the case of girls than boys; and they thought that in fact the percentage was considerably higher.


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Viscount, actually it was a rather lower percentage in girls than in boys. The figures were 18 per cent. in girls and 20 percent in boys.


I am sorry; I apologise to the noble Lord. I had it exactly the other way round. I think I will change my ground and say there does not seem a very great deal of difference between boys and girls.




It is not essential to my argument to prove that fact. I thought I was just giving some useful information. I think the noble Lord has scored once, and if there is any other case where I am wrong I hope he will not hesitate to tell me. I am greatly relieved to see there are no further statistics in what I am going to say.

I come to the questions I want to ask the noble Lord, and I hope he will get his pen out and jot them down. The first is: What information is available as to how widespread among youngsters the habit of taking the milder forms of pills such as purple hearts is, and are there any particular categories of young people that seem particularly prone to this habit, such as, for instance, inadequates? The second question I should like to ask is how frequently the use of the milder forms of pills seem to lead to the taking of the more serious types of drug? The third question, which I think is a difficult one, is: What are the main sources through which youngsters are believed to obtain their supplies? The fourth is: Is there one authority which is charged with the responsibility of keeping this evil under study? Is there some body whose duty it is to inform themselves as well as they can of what is going on, so that they can call the attention of the appropriate authorities, educational, social, medical or police, to any untoward developments so that action can be taken? I fear the answer the noble Lord may give is that there is not one particular authority, but I should like to wait and hear what he has to say on that.

Having asked those questions, I should like to stick my neck out a little bit and hazard two opinions. The first is that I think there are grounds for thinking that it is still far too easy to obtain quite serious drugs in dangerous quantities through authorised medical channels. The second is that one understands that there are many all-night clubs, clubs that stay open all night, in Sotho and similar districts in other cities where, one is told, young teenage lay-abouts of both sexes are to be seen openly taking and distributing pills and equally openly suffering from the effects of them. I do suggest that there is at any rate a prima facie case for thinking that these places ought to be subject to far closer inspection and supervision than they are at the present time.

The third and last opinion I should like to express personally is that I think peddling dangerous drugs to young people should be regarded by society as an offence second only in gravity to murder, if I may put it in as extreme a form as that. I really do believe we have not much time to waste or to lose in this matter. I cannot feel sure that we are yet treating this dangerous evil with the gravity that it calls for. I am not necessarily calling for maximum publicity in this matter. I am not sure it is through that that the answer will be got, because sometimes, particularly with the young, maximum publicity can be counter productive. I would say that, if publicity is going to be used, it must be used very carefully and discriminatingly in the case of the young. I would ask the noble Lord to urge his colleagues in the Government as a matter of urgency to ensure that, if there is not already, there should be one national body charged with the responsibility as far as possible of exorcising this lethal, corruptive force at any cost from our social system.

I said I was going to put this Question interrogatively; and I have spoken mainly in that sense. I would think perhaps it might be worth our while at some convenient time having a debate in a rather broader way and going in rather greater depth into what I believe is a very serious problem. I hope that that suggestion may appeal to your Lordships, and perhaps in a few months' time we may hold such a debate. I think the last one we had was about two years ago on the occasion of the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Bill, in which my noble friend Lord Derwent took a prominent part. We are rightly devoting great national resources to education and the development of a sense of responsibility and character and individual personality. Let us beware that that effort is not undermined and frustrated by an insidious and deadly influence, to which I think there is some evidence that modern society may be particularly prone.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, I think we all ought to be very grateful to my noble friend for raising this Subject, because although in fact we are all on the same side in this, it ought to be raised at fairly frequent intervals to find out exactly what is going on and indeed that in fact something is going on. I am quite certain that the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, although it gives him extra work, is probably of that view too. I am not going to cover the ground that my noble friend covered, because he covered it better than I can and he has put many of the questions that I should like answers to. I, too, when in America recently was appalled at what is going on there. It has, I think, got out of hand. Since I got back I put down a Question on one aspect of this, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, misunderstood me somewhat, because he kept on stressing that it had not yet got out of hand here in this country. I never suggested it had. But it is of the utmost importance that we see that it cannot get out of hand here, and it is this that I want to talk about.

I got worried even when I was at the Home Office, and I have been getting more worried ever since, whether in fact our drug legislation is entirely adequate, in particular—and I raised this in May—in dealing with new drugs which come, if we may so call it, on the market which are particularly attractive to the young, which are not on any poison schedule as yet, and about which very little seems to be done until the new drug becomes something of a scandal. I referred in particular to the drug the young seem to be taking to in the United States, LSD.25. A good deal is known about it, but not everything. When I raised this question on May 11 the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, in answering me, said: The Poison Board has recommended that the supply of LSD.25 should be restricted to duly qualified medical practitioners, and effect will be given to this recommendation in…consolidated Poison Rules which my right honourable friend expects to make shortly."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 274 (No. 11) Col. 661; 11/5/66.] My first question is whether in this short time anything further has happened about this.

The real trouble seems to me that the control of drugs comes under two Acts. The first one is the Dangerous Drugs Act 1965. It is virtually impossible, as I understand it—I think I was confirmed in this view by the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, last time—to get any new drug put on the Schedule of this Act in a hurry because the Schedule is governed by international agreement. This is not an easy way of getting an Act altered. I think I am right in saying that it has to go to the United Nations Committee. There are years of discussion before you can add a new drug. All this does not seem a satisfactory way of putting a new drug such as the young are using, on a poisons Schedule. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, can tell us a little more—I fully understand that he may not be able to—about any discussions that may be going on about this at the United Nations. I do not think the matter will have got much further than when we last spoke.

The next question I want to ask the noble Lord is about the Drugs (Prevention and Misuse) Act 1964, which I had the honour of helping to pilot through your Lordships' House. This Act does not go so far as the Dangerous Drugs Act. It is a much smaller Act. First of all, it makes it an offence to be in possession of unauthorised drugs—that is, drugs which are not authorised under the Act. The penalties are quite severe. For being in possession, on summary conviction there is a fine not exceeding £200, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or both. On conviction on indictment, there is a fine, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or both. The penalties are quite strong. Apart from unauthorised possession, all importers in this country of drugs on the list have to be licensed. That did away with a few, though not many, importers who were really not responsible or respectable people. Manufacturers have to be registered, so we know who makes the drugs, or we hope we do; and wholesale dealers have to be registered. That is a fairly strict control, although it is not as strong as I should like.

But the great advantage of this Act is contained in Section 6, which says that the Minister may by Order add new drugs to the Schedule. The Order has to appear before the House, but it does get the Act used. I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, whether we are using the Act sufficiently. As the noble Lord knows, I am rather fond of this Act. I have a feeling that perhaps we are not using it, and I want it to be used. First of all, drugs that present a danger, even if the danger is not actually proved, may in many cases be put on the Schedule to this Act. This can be done before we are in a position to prove or disprove that they are likely to corrupt young people. I see no reason why we should not do this.

That is the point I want to make to-day. It may be that we need still further legislation, but this is such a serious matter, when one considers what has happened in the United States, that it is no good for anybody to say that the matter is not yet out of control here. We want to control it before the danger arises. That is the point I want to stress to-day.

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, I shall detain your Lordships for but a few minutes. I have not had a great deal of experience of drug addiction in this country, but I did some work on this problem for the World Health Organisation in Switzerland. I think that here there is an interesting comparison. Switzerland has many problems connected with this matter. One of them is that in certain cantons, such as Geneva, you can go into a chemist's and buy any drug you wish. Drugs are also peddled throughout most of Switzerland. If a person takes to drugs, unless he seeks medical guidance it is difficult for anything to be done about it.

The extent of drug addiction in this country is fairly small. Of the known addicts, an independent committee report says that those who take morphia numbered 204; those taking cocaine some 30, and those taking pethidine about 116. These were known cases of addiction. The trouble is in regard to those people who are taking drugs and who are not known to be so doing. The same comparison can be drawn in dealing with the question of drink: a person may be a heavy drinker, but you cannot persuade him that he is an alcoholic. A person may be in a serious condition through taking drugs, but may not want to seek guidance; and, until he chooses to control it, a doctor has to persuade him that he is a drug addict. It is a big psychological problem to get him to accept this fact.

We have heard a certain amount to-day about drugs taken in the field of psychiatry. I think that most of the drugs that are now coming on to the market and are being prescribed by the psychiatrists are not addiction drugs. There may be some trouble in regard to a certain number of tranquillisers but, on the whole, I do not think that this takes the form of addiction; although where young people are concerned this certainly is a problem. It always has to be watched. I saw this in psychiatric hospitals in Switzerland, where, before the latest developments on the new psychiatric drugs had emerged, there were cases where young people who had gone to doctors for a cure for certain problems had been given drugs and had then become addicted. This in itself starts a new cycle of events, which is most serious.

I think that one of the other problems connected with addiction is the question of the medical profession itself. There are no people for whom I am more sorry than doctors who are in the unfortunate position of having access to drugs; and in this connection I include also the anesthetists. After all, anesthetists have to work enormously long hours in hospitals and in theatres, and if they take to addiction with anesthetics, it becomes a problem of the highest order.

Here I would make one point which I think has already been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Derwent—it is the question of the LSD. Certainly no drug has been produced which has caused greater trouble in this world than LSD. It was discovered by the Swiss. When I was in Switzerland, it was certainly being used continually by doctors on out-patients. They were given this drug and for two or three hours were in an hallucinatory state. Then they were given an antidote to it, and were sent out again into perfectly normal life. One now hears that this drug is in some extraordinary way being manufactured by young people. I do not know whether any of your Lordships have seen anybody under the effects of this drug. I have. If some of the young people could see their condition after taking this drug, they would never touch it again.

I should like to end by saying that, basically, this whole problem is a psychiatric one. Partly I think the question is that more staff are needed to be able to help out in psychiatric hospitals. The other thing (I know that it is an "old chestnut". and is always a difficult matter to deal with) is, that without any doubt, more money is seriously needed for mental health research. This covers the whole of this problem, and I think that more research could be made into the reasons why certain groups of young people are susceptible to addiction. One knows that it is probably due to character defects, but it is a subject which needs a great deal of experiment and research.

5.30 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure the whole House will be deeply grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, for raising this vital topic this afternoon. There is not very much to be said about it. The only reason I have risen to my feet to-day is that it so happens that recently, by chance, I was brought into pretty close contact with the drug department of Scotland Yard. I will mention no names, but I had a long and interesting conversation with the inspector in charge of it (who, incidentally, is a good Scotsman).

He told me two things that alarmed me. He said that in regard to the young population of this country, particularly in London and the great provincial centres, the problem was gradually getting out of control. He said that "purple hearts" led on to marihuana and ultimately could lead to heroin. He said another thing that was extremely interesting. We are all alarmed about the situation in the United States with all the heroin-addiction there, but the inspector said that the heroin in this country is about three times more powerful than in the United States. The reason is that in the United States, in order to make money, they heavily dilute the heroin with sugar and water. He thought that in the next five years this would prove to be one of the gravest problems confronting us; the young were in great danger, and he said that his department had enormous difficulty in catching up with the problem.

I think that is all I have to say. There is little more to be said. The Government are doing what they can; Scotland Yard is doing what it can; and gradually we are becoming aware of the extent and magnitude of the problem, for, as I have said, this could be an enormous problem over the next five years. I would say to my noble friend Lord Stoneham that if it ever seems to Her Majesty's Government to become necessary to take far more extensive powers to control these drugs and to stop their sale, they should not hesitate to take them.

5.33 p.m.


My Lords, I do not wish to detain your Lordships to any great extent, but there are one or two random observations I wish to make at this stage. This is a most important subject which the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, has raised, and really deserves a full-scale debate, preferably one based on the very exhaustive report of the noble Lord, Lord Brain, on the subject. Unfortunately, the wording of the Question is rather wide. I should have preferred this afternoon's discussion to be confined to the amphetamine group of drugs, the use of which is increasing on a vast scale. I do not subscribe to the view which the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, has just put forward that the position is out of control.


My Lords, I said that it was getting out of control.


I should like to insist that the means and the machinery for controlling this problem is available and is being adequately used. It is important that a distinction should be drawn between the group of dangerous drugs such as heroin, morphine, cocaine and so on, and the group of lesser drugs to which addiction is much more prevalent and in much vaster quantities in the amphetamine group. I believe that the control of dangerous drugs such as heroin, morphine, cocaine, et cetera, is at present fairly strict, but I am equally convinced that some further degree of restriction is advisable in relation to the present widespread use of the amphetamine drugs.

I have always been absolutely opposed to the complete prohibition of heroin, and your Lordships will remember that an attempt at this was made not many years ago: there is a recognised and definite use for heroin prescription. But what I should have liked to see is an absolute prohibition on all doctors to prescribe heroin for any new patients, because there is available a whole range of substitute drugs, though perhaps not as efficacious or as immediate in their effect. Nevertheless, I should have liked to see incorporated in legislation that no new patient should be prescribed heroin on any account.


My Lords, I hope the noble Lord, with his great know- ledge, will forgive me for interrupting him. Surely the noble Lord would say that in certain cases of cancer heroin is the only pain-killer?


No, my Lords, I would not. There is a very great difference of opinion among people more expert on this subject than the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, or I, who do not all take that view. There are a vast number of new drugs which have been placed on the market which are regarded as almost as efficacious as heroin: pethidine is one among many others. But this is a digression. I feel very strongly that there should always be placed on the doctor an obligation not to increase the quantities prescribed, but wherever possible to reduce them. Whenever a doctor feels himself bound, for whatever reason, to increase greatly the quantity of drugs prescribed, I feel that he should at the same time notify the Home Office of his intention to do so. One is completely against any question of registration, certainly of patients who are given the amphetamine groups. One is against any strong restriction, but I feel that it should be made obligatory on a doctor to have to notify this matter to the Home Office.

I feel that some tribute ought to be paid to the highly skilled and experienced officials, many of them police inspectors, of the dangerous drugs department of the Home Office. They bring an extraordinary degree of understanding in every case of drug addiction which they handle. To my mind no finer body of men exists in the public service to-day. I have been amazed at the detailed knowledge shown in their reports of these individual cases. This occasion ought not to pass without our paying due tribute to the skill and excellence of our Home Office dangerous drug inspectors.

Having said that, I feel that some drugs which are now known to be under a certain schedule are still prescribed in very large quantities by certain doctors and. as your Lordships know, in the case of prescription of vast quantities of heroin, morphia, and cocaine, for example, as a last resort the Home Secretary has the power to withdraw from the doctor the prescribing of any dangerous drug. I am not certain in my own mind, and I would ask my noble friend who is to reply, whether this same ultimate prohibition ought not to be extended in the case of doctors who prescribe excessive amounts of amphetamine drugs. I am not convinced in my own mind whether this is not a step which is long overdue, but on this matter I should very much like to hear the noble Lord's opinion. There is the further matter that a doctor who prescribes a highly dangerous drug is under an obligation progressively to reduce the dosage. If he is unable to do that, it is his duty to refer the patient to a consultant for treatment, if necessary for in-patient treatment.

I am beginning now to come round to the view that even addicts of the lesser group, of the amphetamine group, who need these drugs in large quantities ought at the same time also to be admitted to special homes for treatment of this particular addiction, in the same way as we have our homes for the treatment of cases of chronic alcoholism. Instances of the habit of taking the amphetamine group are very well known, I am sure, to all Members of this House. Your Lordships will recall that only recently a competitor in a Round Britain cycling race was disqualified when it was found that he had been taking large quantities of amphetamine. That we acknowledge is not a legitimate therapeutic use of this drug. Equally, I believe it is open to question whether the prescribing of amphetamine by some doctors in University towns, where students in their last year have to face the prolonged ordeal of going through their final examinations, is a legitimate use of this drug. Cases have certainly been known to occur where doctors have prescribed amphetamine to such students. I think this is a matter on which some sort of action ought to be advised by my noble friend, when he comes to reply.

Having said that, I think the time has now come when homes of some kind—which I prefer to hospitals—or hostels, if you like, should be started in various parts of the country, preferably run by voluntary effort, in the same way as many of our homes for alcoholics are run. But, certainly, this is a new field in which I believe the Home Office ought now to take some action.

5.42 p.m.


My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are very grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, for giving the House an opportunity to explore this very serious social problem, and I personally am grateful to him for the incisive, restrained and exploratory way in which he introduced the subject. I am also grateful to other noble Lords who have spoken, and who have shown great knowledge of the subject, as well as intense feeling and concern. I am only sorry that other engagements have made it impossible for the noble Lord, Lord Brain, the noble Lord, Lord Cohen of Birkenhead, and my noble friend Lord Taylor to speak in the debate, as I know that they wished to do so.

No one who has seen drug addicts shivering and sneezing outside all-night pharmacies in the West End, waiting to get their "fix" and barely waiting to get outside before relieving their distress, can be in any doubt about the appalling consequences of living in what Sir William Connor, "Cassandra" of the Daily Mirror, described recently in newspaper articles as the appalling "paradise of heroin addiction". No one can be indifferent to the consequences to the nation of allowing teenagers to take 30 "pep" pills a day and drift into a life of mindless and delinquent futility. But, serious and dreadful as these things are, I want in the course of my speech to put the matter into proper perspective as it is in this country, as regards the population at large, and young people in particular. Bearing in mind those two factors—both the seriousness and the relativity—I propose to give fully the facts of the situation and to answer, in the course of my speech, the questions which have been addressed to me.

Within the last decade there has occurred a sudden and sizeable outbreak of drug abuse, taking a variety of forms. There has been a vogue for cannabis (marihuana), amphetamines ("purple hearts") and others; recently increasing addiction to heroin and cocaine and, most lately, misuse of hallucinogens. Except in respect of addicts to narcotics, about whom I will say something in a moment, there has been no ready means of identifying those who have been misusing drugs, and no means of measuring the various forms of drug-taking, or of analysing and understanding the reasons why a section of our population, and particularly numbers of young people, have been resorting to harmful drugs.

There can be no two views, of course, about whether young people should be protected from that menace, and the objective of the Government is to eliminate the menace by all appropriate means. But it is a formidable task. The illicit profits are very large. The other day I heard from some young people the story of an amateur buying three kilos of cannabis in Tangier for £25. It was brought back overland by car, with a girl sitting on it, and was sold here for £8 an ounce; that is, about £500. The distribution is not difficult. I asked about "reefers", and the young person gave me one. It looks just like an ordinary cigarette of a well-known brand. It could pass just like that. It is a very difficult task when the law has to deal with, and check and stop—and, indeed, punish—a situation like this.

I should now like to enlarge a little on the current situation, before I turn to the Government's policy in dealing with it. In 1964 the total number of addicts to dangerous drugs, other than cannabis, known to the Home Office was 753; and of that number, 342 were addicted to heroin and 211 to cocaine. About half the total number of addicts were of non-therapeutic origin. Forty addicts taking heroin were less than 20 years old, and 257 were in the age group from 20 to 34. I am now in a position to give the figures for 1965. These show that the total number of addicts coming to the notice of the Home Office in 1965 was 927; that is to say, an increase of 23 per cent. in a year. Of these, 521 were addicted to heroin; that is, an increase of 52 per cent. over the previous year. The number of young addicts under 20 years of age increased from 40 to 145, all but11 being addicted to heroin.

There is another figure which must also cause concern, and that is that 77 of the new addicts who came to notice in 1965 had obtained their drugs from unknown sources. In previous years no more than 5 addicts had, to our knowledge, obtained drugs otherwise than on prescription. The noble Viscount, Lord Amory, said it was his opinion that it was all too easy to obtain drugs from authorised sources. The Brain Committee's Report gave all the information one needs in confirmation of that belief. But the figures I have given show that there is now a clear sign of significant trafficking in narcotic drugs. These figures are disturbing; the trend is alarming. Moreover, I readily acknowledge that there may well be many other addicts who have not yet come to notice.

But, my Lords, when every allowance is made, the actual numbers, I am thankful to say, are still small, representing only one addict for every 30,000 of our population. This is a comparatively low rate, judged by the experience of some other developed countries. The noble Viscount, Lord Amory, asked me for comparisons. I can give some, but these comparisons are never quite exact as the methods of computation are not the same. But compared with our figure of addicts of less than 3 per 100,000. the figure in New York is 130 per 100,000: an approximate figure of 40,000 addicts—which is many times more than the total in this country as a whole. Though when I say that, do not think for one moment that we take this lightly or fail in our efforts to deal with it.

I was asked about the extent of amphetamine abuse. With regard to these drugs, it is very much more difficult to form an estimate of the extent of misuse. My noble friend Lord Segal made particular reference to this, and asked for consideration to be given to adding to the prohibitive powers of my right honourable friend. But many millions of these tablets are in proper, legitimate use, which adds to the difficulty. Most of the 1,400 convictions so far recorded for unauthorised possession have related to small quantities—less than 500 tablets. Some observers think—


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but could he just say over what period that is?


Certainly. That is since October, 1964, when the favourite Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, became an Act of Parliament. The 1,400 convictions so far recorded for unauthorised possession have related to small quantities. Some observers think that misuse of amphetamines is an established part of adolescent experience, particularly among those who are disturbed. My own inquiries—and I give them for what they are worth—suggest that three out of four young people have no experience whatever of illicit drugs. But in London, perhaps one in every four young persons between the ages of 16 and 21 has had some experience of illicit drugs. The majority experiment tentatively with "reefers" and purple hearts, or perhaps both, and then they forget all about it. It is a very small number who persist and become habituated. But I believe that the noble Viscount is right in thinking that these lesser evils—shall we say?—do, in a minority of cases, lead to narcotic taking.

The noble Viscount made reference to the researches of Dr. Willcox and Dr. Scott. Whatever the slight difference of opinion about the exact figures, I am sure we shall both agree that one-fifth of the delinquents in those two penal establishments had taken amphetamines shortly before admission—and that, of course, is a significant figure. I would tell the noble Viscount that further studies since then at these remand homes have confirmed similar proportions among new admissions in 1965.


My Lords, I noticed the noble Lord said, "shortly before". That is an important factor, I imagine, because it might be that the proportion who had taken it in, say, the previous two months or so might be fairly considerably greater. I imagine these were cases in which they had taken it within a few days before.


That is an assumption it is quite proper to make, and I am unable to refute it. The reason why I used the words "shortly before" is because that is how the doctors became aware of it. But I would ask noble Lords, in considering the significance of these figures—that is, the figures for delinquent youngsters—to bear in mind that in 1964 the total number of young persons under 21 received in penal establishments was at the rate of 68 per 100,000 of the total population of males (that is, 1 in 1,500) and, my noble friend Baroness Summerskill will be pleased to know, 2 per 100,000 of the total population of females (that is, 1 in 50,000). It is right to put this in its proper context. Therefore, without being in any way complacent, it is reasonable to suggest that the proportion of young people who misuse drugs is still quite small.

Furthermore, the position in London is not necessarily typical, because most of the 1,400 convictions I have men- tioned recorded under the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act 1964 have been obtained in London. In a number of provincial cities the police have no evidence at all of significant trafficking or misuse. There is also virtually no evidence from the school medical service that drug abuse is a significant problem in the compulsory school years. The author of the Central Council for Health Education's publication The Sexual Behaviour of Young People found after sample investigation that the incidence of drug-taking was too small to draw conclusions about a pattern of relationship between drugs and sex behaviour among young people.

The noble Viscount also asked me a question about the places where young people forgather. A number of local authorities who have been keeping a close watch on the situation are concerned about drug trafficking in premises where young people congregate. As noble Lords are aware, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice has introduced a Bill to provide for the control of clubs. He was good enough to discuss the whole matter with my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and myself, and the Secretary of State has expressed his readiness to give all possible assistance to the Lord Chief Justice with a view to ensuring that his Bill is in a form best suited to eliminate nuisances caused by the existence of clubs set up, often in sordid surroundings, to provide entertainment for young persons. This problem goes much wider than drug trafficking, but full account will be taken of the dangers of drug trafficking in the general exercise.

My Lords, the situation clearly gives cause for anxiety. On the other hand, it is easy to exaggerate the menace and to infer too much from limited observations. In that respect, I feel sympathy with the resolution passed at the recent annual conference of the National Union of Teachers, which, among other comments, expressed the conference's view that: The sensational publicity given to drug-taking by young people has not only created a false impression of the extent of this problem but has tended to intensify it. I turn now to what Her Majesty's Government are doing, or intend to do. Our constant aim is to cut down the volume of drugs in illicit circulation. The police and the Customs authorities are taking, and will continue to take, vigilant action against illegal trafficking in amphetamines and in cannabis under the existing law. Whatever might be the position five years hence, I do not for a moment accept the opinion which was expressed or recounted by my noble friend Lord Boothby, that this matter is in any way out of hand at the moment. This is not the case. A number of police forces have been using special groups on drugs work with success, and there are further developments on these lines to be expected. The establishment of the dangerous drugs squad at New Scotland Yard was increased in March to twenty officers.


My Lords, if my noble friend will forgive me, I should have said that what was said to me was that it could get out of control. I think I went a little beyond what my terms of reference were. I should have said that it could get out of control if we were not careful. I think the noble Lord will accept that.


I am grateful to the noble Lord; and what I am now doing is outlining the steps that we are taking to make quite sure that it does not get out of control. As I mentioned, the staff of experimental officers in the dangerous drugs squad at New Scotland Yard has just been stepped up to twenty, and the Home Office Drugs Branch will keep under special review ways of facilitating enforcement. We already have close liaison with enforcement authorities overseas.

I now want to deal with the question of heroin and cocaine; and, on behalf of the Government, I should like to express deep appreciation of the valuable Report made by the Interdepartmental Committee on Drug Addiction under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Brain, which was published last November. That Committee was reconvened in 1964 when evidence was seen of an increase in the numbers addicted to heroin and cocaine. The latest figures for heroin addiction that I have given to-day will have emphasised, if emphasis is needed, the significance of the Committee's conclusions that the increase has been caused by over-prescribing of heroin and cocaine by a few doctors and that there is a pressing need for new control measures.

Noble Lords may wonder why, in the light of the Committee's findings, Her Majesty's Government have not acted already to give effect to the Committee's recommendations for new controls. The reason is that some of the recommendations—for instance, for confining prescription of heroin and cocaine to treatment centres, for compulsory notification of addicts, and for enforcing these restrictions—would involve complicated provision, and this must be worked out in consultation with the medical profession. Much work has already been done, but there are difficulties. The proposals for restricting the numbers of doctors authorised to prescribe heroin or cocaine to addicts raise considerable problems in relation to the organisation of treatment and the likely behaviour of addicts.

Lord Brain's Committee recommended that the Disciplinary Committee of the General Medical Council should assume responsibility for enforcing new restrictions. Unfortunately, this proposal has proved to be impracticable, because it would require the Disciplinary Committee of the Council to exercise a function inconsistent with its present responsibilities; so, instead, alternative tribunal procedure is being considered for discussion with the professional interests. Nevertheless, I agree with the noble Viscount that this problem—he put his finger on it—must be tackled at its source. I am sorry that I cannot give any undertakings to-day about when it will be possible to introduce the necessary legislation but I can assure your Lordships that the work is being pressed on as rapidly as possible, taking full account of the information I have given earlier about a further increase in the number of young addicts.

The Government have already announced acceptance of the Interdepartmental Committee's recommendations about treatment centres and the setting up of a standing advisory committee to keep under review the whole problem of drug addiction. My right honourable friend and his colleagues hope to be in a position soon to make an announcement about the membership and terms of reference of the committee. The intention is that it shall have a general function of review over the whole field as suggested by the Interdepartmental Committee, and that it shall have a broad balance of medical and lay interests competent to review the social as well as the medical aspects of the problem and to advise on corrective health and social measures. The Government attach the utmost importance to the establishment of this committee as a guide to fuller public knowledge and more effective management of the problem.

My Lords, I will not go into detail about treatment of heroin addiction, but I ought perhaps to say a word about the present arrangements and those which are under consideratoin. The noble Viscount, Lord Amory, urged a central control department or a person at the head who is to be responsible. The Home Office is that department, and my right honourable friend has the personal responsibility; but obviously some ancillary matters will be dealt with in other Government Departments, such as the Ministry of Health. The medical view endorsed by the Interdepartmental Committee in its Report in 1961 is that treatment can be given satisfactorily only in suitable institutions such as hospitals. Treatment falls into two stages. The first stage involves the progressive withdrawal of heroin by substitution of other drugs, to prevent painful physical symptoms, and then the subsequent withdrawal of the substitute drugs. For this stage, which is usually successful, the addict needs to be in hospital. The second stage aims at removing psychological dependence on the drug, and this usually requires the patient to be under pyschiatric supervision in hospital or in a local authority hostel. These hospitals are being provided, and there is no reason to confine them to those addicted to narcotic drugs. The centres will deal with anyone in such need.

Following the 1961 Report, hospital authorities in England and Wales were encouraged to provide facilities on these lines. In 1964 (the latest year for which figures are available) the total of admissions to psychiatric hospitals and units of persons suffering from all forms of drug dependency was 1,138. This figure included persons dependent on dangerous and other drugs; it also included readmissions as well as first admissions. Last year, about 160 hospitals treated persons suffering from all forms of drug dependency. There was a good deal of specialisation and about 70 per cent. of the treatment was given in 35 hospitals. In the London area alone there are now four hospital units which cater exclusively for patients who are dependent on drugs or drugs and alcohol.

It is true that a heroin addict who is simply deprived of the drug suffers unpleasant, painful physical consequences. Because one of these is that the flesh becomes cold and the hair stands on end, the condition resulting from deprivation of heroin has been called "cold turkey". But I should like to emphasise that this is not the kind of treatment that is given in hospitals. Hospitals accompany the withdrawal of heroin by the administration of substitute drugs to prevent the painful symptoms associated with "cold turkey" which the addict may have heard about or experienced himself when temporarily deprived of heroin. Furthermore, the addict will be in the hands of doctors and nurses whose professional skill is to understand his problems and to bring his treatment to a successful conclusion. I very much hope that the fact that this treatment is available will encourage any young person who wishes to be rid of this terrible scourge of drug dependence to seek help without delay.

With regard to future arrangements for hospital treatment, Her Majesty's Government have been carefully considering the recommendation in the Brain Committee's Report. Present treatment facilities have been reviewed, and consultations are in train with the various bodies concerned. These consultations must cover the nature, scale and location of treatment facilities in the future, involving estimates of the nature, scale and incidence of demand. There is also the question of the extent to which treatment should be provided in specialised institutions, to which my noble friend Lord Segal referred. These are not simple matters. Her Majesty's Government are conscious of the need to reach early and sound conclusions, and hope to do so shortly.

The Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act 1964, making unauthorised possession of amphetamines an offence, and introducing other restrictions, came into full operation only on October 31, 1964. But the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, will be glad to know that we are already actively reviewing its effectiveness. Inquiries have already been made of the trade, selected police forces, the prison and other services with relevant knowledge of the working of the Act. It is obvious why we are inquiring of the trade. A great deal of information has been collected and further inquiries are being made to see whether the Act could usefully be strengthened, for example, as regards the security of the very large quantities of these drugs during production or distribution. There has been a marked increase in forcible thefts from warehouses and pharmacies. These are sources of supply, and the problems of security in such premises will be closely considered. A special committee of the United Nations Narcotics Commission will be meeting in Geneva in August to study the question of international control over stimulant and sedative drugs.

As for cannabis—which is not a narcotic but an intoxicant—trafficking and consumption appear to be growing throughout the world. This trend has been reflected in the increasing number of offences recorded here in recent years. In 1946 there were only 17 convictions. In 1965 there were 614 convictions. Although the traffic appears to be on an extensive scale, enforcement authorities last year seized no less than 1,037 kilograms of the stuff here. I may say that the efficiency of our authorities in this matter is the well-respected envy of international authorities.

Your Lordships will recall that the law against cannabis was strengthened in 1964 by the inclusion in the Dangerous Drugs Act of that year of a provision penalising the use of premises for smoking cannabis and the cultivation of the cannabis plant. It is rather early to judge the effect of that additional provision, but twelve convictions were obtained in1965 for permitting premises to be used for cannabis smoking.

Reference has been made in the debate, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, to the question of the misuse of LSD 25, and perhaps I should say a word about it. There is no reliable information about the extent of its misuse in the United Kingdom. LSD 25 is listed as a poison in Part I of the Poisons List and can be sold at present only by a pharmacist on a prescription. The Poisons Board recently recommended that the supply of this substance should be restricted to duly qualified medical prac- titioners and persons or institutions requiring it for research. Effect has been given to this recommendation in a new rule which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has included in consolidated Poisons Rules made recently and which will come into operation on July 6.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord, because this is interesting to me? Is it an offence to be in possession of this drug?


In possession of it? My Lords, I do not know what would be in the regulation, but I have one or two more points to make about this drug, because the Home Secretary is also considering whether LSD 25 and similar hallucinogenic substances should be controlled under the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act 1964. He hopes to take a decision shortly, and the noble Lord will be the first to hear, after I have heard.

The noble Lord also asked whether it was in the Government's power to add a new substance to the Schedule of drugs controlled under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1965, or the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act 1964. The position is that Section 12 of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1965 permits a substance to be scheduled only if the United Nations Narcotics Commission or the World Health Organisation decide or appear likely to decide that the substance should be controlled under the Single Convention. As the noble Lord said, it is very difficult when we have to get international agreement on these things. This Convention is not designed to control drugs other than narcotics. But we can of course add drugs to the Schedule to the 1964 Act, subject to consultation with the Poisons Board. So far as strategy is concerned, we will certainly bear in mind the noble Lord's point that action should be taken as soon as possible, and certainly taken before a drug appears to be liable to abuse. I can reassure him that the Poisons Board has most attentively been keeping this matter under review.

The noble Lord also asked me about the use of Section 6, relating to adding a new poison to the Schedule. So far, we have made no use of it, but we are urgently considering the question of adding LSD 25 to it. As he so well knows, the Act came into operation less than two years ago so that the need for addition is, in any event, likely to be small.

My Lords, I have perhaps spoken overlong, but the length of my speech will, I hope, be taken as an earnest of the great seriousness with which the Government view this situation, or, perhaps I should say the prospective situation. I hope that I have been able to give some indication that there is no question whatever of playing down the problem, no question whatever of complacency. The trends do give genuine cause for anxiety, and I have said so. But, on the other hand, I hope I have made clear, by putting the figures in perspective, that it is unwise to exaggerate it. In the comparatively few years in which drug abuse has become a problem many counter-measures have been taken. I have outlined some of them, and others are being urgently considered. Everything which has been said in this debate by your Lordships will be most carefully considered, and in again thanking the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, for raising the subject, may I assure him that the Government will continue to press forward energetically with whatever counter-measures are needed.


My Lords, I should like, if I may, simply to thank the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, for the information which he has given us, which I think is extremely interesting and useful. We should all like to study it in detail, and perhaps one day before very long it would be a good plan to examine this problem over a rather wider field. I thank the noble Lord.