HL Deb 21 July 1967 vol 285 cc556-68

1.42 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I have it in command from her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Dangerous Drugs Bill, has consented to place Her interest, so far as it is concerned on behalf of the Crown, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Stonham.)

On Question, Bill read 3a, with the Amendments.

Clause 1 [Control of drug addiction]:

LORD AIREDALE moved, in subsection (1)(a), to leave out "whom" and insert "who". The noble Lord said: My Lords, on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, who has an important engagement elsewhere and therefore cannot be in his place, I beg to move this Amendment. Paragraph (a) of subsection (1) makes use of the expression, a person whom … is addicted … to drugs"., If this Amendment is accepted, it will refer to, a person who … is addicted … to drugs". I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 12, leave out ("whom") and insert ("who").—(Lord Airedale.)


My Lords, I was delighted earlier this week to see that the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, was back in his place. When I saw this Amendment on the Order Paper I felt that your Lordships' House was back to normal. He has, of course, prevailed on a like-minded noble Lord to move this particular Amendment in his absence. I confess that when I first read it and then read out how the clause would read when and if amended, I was struck by the fact that the sound of two "who's" was a bit like an owl hoot, whatever the actual meaning was.

The usage of "whom" adopted in the Bill is not uncommon, although I of course agree it is arguable that "who" is to be preferred. Fowler's Modern English Usage, in the Second Edition, at page 708, in the second column, paragraph 2, examines this quotation from The Tempest, Act III, Scene iii, lines 91 and 92: … while I visit Young Ferdinand, whom they suppose is drown'd", Shakespeare has been almost good enough for most of us as an authority for the English language, and I must confess that at first there seemed to be something pernickety in this particular Amendment. But when I studied further the authority from which I have just quoted I noted that they said that this was an instance of a form now so prevalent that there is danger of its becoming one of those sturdy indefensibles of which the fewer we have the better". I have regarded the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, as one of those "sturdy indefensibles" on some occasions, but I am quite sure that none of us would think that the fewer of his like that we have the better.

Fowler's Modern English Usage concludes that "who" may have become "whom" by attraction immediately before an active verb; or by confusion with another (for example, parenthetical) way of expressing the same thing; or because the writer has a vague impression that "whom" is more likely to be right. On behalf of the Parliamentary draftsmen I utterly reject that last explanation, but I think this is something that we can quite safely leave in your Lordships' hands, and I leave the decision to the House.


My Lords, I was very interested indeed in that delightful speech. I do not think I can possibly withdraw this Amendment, because if I did I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, would ever speak to me again.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

LORD STONHAM moved, after Clause 6, to insert the following new clause:

Increase of certain penalties under Customs and Excise Act 1952. 1952. c. 44

".—(1) In relation to offences in connection with a prohibition or restriction imposed by section 2, section 7 or section 10 of the principal Act (importation and exportation of certain drugs and other substances), being offences committed after the commencement of this Act, sections 45(1), 56(2) and 304 of the Customs and Excise Act 1952 shall have effect as if for the words 'imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years' there were substituted the words 'imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years'.

(2) In section 283(2)(a) of the said Act of 1952 (mode of trial of offences punishable with imprisonment for two years), after the words 'two years' there shall be inserted the words 'or more'."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this clause will increase from two to ten years the maximum period of imprisonment for smuggling drugs to which the principal Act applies. Sections 45, 56 and 304 of the Customs and Excise Act 1952 create offences in relation to the importation and exportation of goods contrary to any prohibition or restriction for the time being in force under or by virtue of any enactment with regard to the goods. Each of these sections provides for a penalty of either three times the value of the goods or £100, whichever is the greater, or imprisonment not exceeding two years, or both; but in each case the penalty is stated not to apply in the case of an offence in connection with a prohibition or restriction for which a penalty is expressly provided by the enactment concerned. Sections 2, 7 and 10 of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1965 provide that "It shall not be lawful" to import or export (as the case may be) certain drugs; and Section 26 provides that for the purpose of any proceedings under Sections 45, 56 or 304 of the 1952 Act, Section 16 shall not be taken to provide a penalty.

Illegal possession of dangerous drugs is an offence punishable, under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1965, by up to ten years' imprisonment, but smuggling drugs, in the ways I have specified, is, under the appropriate sections of the Customs and Excise Act, an offence punishable by no more than two years' imprisonment. Usually, a drug smuggler commits the offence of illegal possession. In such cases—and they form the large majority—it is the practice of the enforcement authorities to bring proceedings under both the 1965 and 1952 Acts. Cases however occur (there were 17 in 1964) where proceedings can be brought only under the 1952 Customs and Excise Act, which means that the maximum penalty would be two years. Although in most of the recent cases the penalty imposed has been a fine, the present law would prevent those who might organise drug smuggling but who are not actually handling the drugs, from being punished by a heavier sentence than two years' imprisonment, although their agents in possession would be liable to ten years' imprisonment. This is an anomaly which subsection (1) of the clause removes by substituting ten years for two years.

I think we are all agreed that the evil human spider, sitting at the centre of the foul web of drug trafficking, is the man we should most dearly like to stop. We cannot often catch him; but when we do he should be put out of action for a long time. This Amendment would help to achieve that. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— After Clause 6, insert the said new clause.—(Lord Stonham.)


My Lords, I am sure that this, the last Amendment, will be very much welcomed on all sides of the House and elsewhere outside. I should like to thank the noble Lord for explaining its purpose. I shall say no more on this Amendment; but I should like to make a few remarks when he moves the passing of the Bill.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

1.53 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. I think that at least the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, will remember that when I spoke at Second Reading I said: … although this Bill is short and its substance mainly concerned with the conduct of doctors, it foreshadows great changes in the organisation and treatment for addicts."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, col. 1281; 20/6/67.] Since then the Government have proposed, and your Lordships have accepted, new clauses strengthening police powers of search and the customs penalty for drug smuggling and extending the Home Secretary's powers to regulate safekeeping of drugs. These provisions should greatly help on the deterrent and defensive side of our effort against drug trafficking and abuse. But the heart of the Bill continues to be the provisions giving effect to the Brain Committee's recommendations for dealing with the formidable problem of heroin addiction.

As my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has already indicated, the Government hope to introduce regulations on notification of addicts in the autumn of this year; and to brine in the regulations restricting the prescribing of heroin in the new year, by which time the new treatment facilities should be completed. The Government fully appreciate that the Bill does not deal with the problem of the so-called "soft" drugs—an expression which I hope we shall eventually be rid of—except by strengthening the powers of the police and the powers to control the custody of drugs. They are, of course, deeply concerned about the misuse of pep pills, LSD and cannabis. And they are watchful for new dangers, of which we seem constantly to be hearing.

But they do not believe that the time is yet ripe for considering new legislative action about drugs, other than the hard ones I have mentioned. There is as yet no general agreement on what new provision might be required. The Brain Committee's proposals on hard drug addiction will not do for the others. The Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence, under the Chairmanship of Sir Edward Wayne, is studying the problem of LSD and cannabis and will extend its review to other drugs in due course. The Government will be keeping a close watch on developments. So long as hard drug addiction continues to increase, it seems right to be cautious in judging the dangers of the other drugs.

My Lords, a few moments ago, in considering the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, we were considering the use, or abuse, of words; and I do not wish to be misunderstood. Much of our present difficulty springs from uncertainty about the precise dangers of certain drugs, and from uncertainty about the real challenge of drug abuse to society. That is, I hope, an immediate and relatively short-term difficulty which will be resolved when the present search for authoritative guidance is complete. In the longer term any debate about drug abuse cannot avoid looking at the values to which our society attaches importance, and in the longer run still it will be these values which will be the best antidote to the spread of drug abuse.

In my view, these values are constant and will stand up to the so-called values of the false world of drug-induced imagination. Its insidious influences are at work on the young; but I have been encouraged, in my personal contacts with people in all walks of life, to see how quick most of them have been to detect the appropriation by the "pop" world of the language of sensory experience used by drug takers. For example, there is Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds a song title which is a naïve cloak for the initials "LSD". People have been quick to deplore this for the contamination it affords to genuine values everywhere. My Lords, legislation cannot deal with social phenomena of this kind. Our defence must be in more personal influences, and in constant vigilance and responsible organisations so as to discourage the trivial and eliminate the false.

In conclusion, I should like to thank noble Lords opposite, and in particular the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, for the encouragement they have given to the Bill, and I look forward confidently to their support. I beg to move.

Moved, that the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Stonham.)


My Lords, I am sure that we should like to thank the noble Lord for the penetrating words with which he has moved the passing of this Bill. As an aside I should like to assure him that if he had not said that "soft drugs" was a phrase that he would like to be rid of, I would have reported him to the noble Lord, Lord Conesford. I am sure there is support from every side of the House and from everywhere outside for every positive step which is taken to check the rapid growth of drug dependence that is now upon us. This Bill is a significant and positive step in that direction, and for that reason I wish it well.

But it is as well to bear in mind that this Bill on its own will achieve nothing. First of all, regulations are needed to define the addict, to specify the drugs to which it will apply, to regulate the licensing of the doctors who may prescribe under it, and so on. It has been good to get the noble Lord's assurance—I took it as such—that these regulations are, in fact, ready and that the Government have worked out the timing of their introduction. But even when the Bill is enacted and the regulations are in force, no real benefits are going to flow from this legislation until the rehabilitation centres—a word with which we have become very familiar during the passage of this Bill—and treatment centres are set up and running, and known to the addicts.

It is two years exactly to the month since the Brain Committee recomended the provision of these centres, among other steps which were recommended in its Report. Despite continuous questioning and probing in this House and in another place—and here I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, for his Answer to my Written Question in so far as it goes—we have as yet no firm assurances in any detail of the precise way in which these centres are now running or the plans for their further development. We have no details of any plans about rehabilitation centres except Spelthorne St. Mary, which has been going for eight years, and the All Saints Centre in Birmingham, which was started by local initiative before this Bill came before Parliament.

The other thing that must temper our good wishes for this Bill (I only wish I did not have to make this criticism to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, who, as his last remarks revealed, is the very last person to deserve such criticism) is the feeling that in this, as in so many other things, the Government are moved too much by expediency and the crises as they develop, and not enough by a well thought out policy. My Lords, just consider this Bill. It passed through all its stages in another place, despite the most detailed consideration and the moving of a large number of Amendments by my honourable friends, without a single Amendment. It was discussed here on Second Reading as a Bill dealing solely with heroin and cocaine addiction, and prescribing for the addicts to those two drugs.

Then note what happened. On Committee the Government tabled Amendments, desirable in themselves, concerning the custody of drugs and security, and Amendments which included an extension of the powers of search given to the police. On Report, nine days later, we got four Amendments to the previous four Amendments. At this final stage we have one further Amendment dealing with a quite separate topic, the smuggling of drugs, and dealing with it adequately, I hope. This again is desirable in itself. All these things taken separately are desirable additions to the powers of the Home Office. Any positive steps to deal with this matter are welcome. But this sort of procedure cannot but leave us with the feeling that Her Majesty's Government have not yet thought out this problem thoroughly and are not yet developing a well-based policy towards it.

Another criticism is that so far, I regret to say, Her Majesty's Government have not, in our opinion, succeeded in giving a lead in dealing with this matter. In the course of the proceedings on this Bill and in preparation for them I have moved in a number of circles where people are very concerned with this problem, and I found little evidence that the Government have yet succeeded in mobilising the effort required, either in the Health Service or the resources which are available in the community at large. The Churches, voluntary bodies and local authorities are all doing what they can, so far as they can see the problem. Only to-day I received a copy of a background paper from the Church of England Council for Social Aid, of which I have given the noble Lord and his colleagues copies. At first reading it looks to me to be an extremely helpful document which the noble Lord might like to read himself and make available to other Members of your Lordships' House. But all these people who are dealing with the problem could do with very much more guidance, encouragement and financial support from the Government.

My Lords, no one in this House or elsewhere underestimates the complexity, difficulty or urgency of dealing with this problem. Thank God!, it is not yet too large a problem. But we beg Her Majesty's Government to grasp it firmly now, before it gets out of hand and does more damage to our society than it has already done.

2.6 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to congratulate my noble friend Lord Stonham on introducing this Bill and piloting it through to the final stages with which we are dealing to-day. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, I do not propose to throw cold water on the efforts of the Government in this direction. I think the Government have acted admirably, with imagination and with a spirit of realism. Had a similar spirit been shown by the preceding Government this Bill would not be necessary to-day.


My Lords, I wonder whether I may interrupt the noble Lord for a moment, on two points. I hope that my remarks were not taken as pouring cold water on this measure. I welcome it; we all welcome it, and we all wish it well. But the last thing I want to do is to leave your Lordships' House with any feeling of complacency, and I am sure that is not in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham. The second point I should like to make relates to the first matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland. Everything we are referring to now has resulted from the Second Report of the Brain Committee, and that Committee did not report until July, 1965.


And, my Lords, the preceding Government had been in existence—for thirteen years, was it?—without taking any specific legislative action to deal with what is admitted to be a grave social evil. The present Government, in less than two and a half years, have taken that action. We want action and we do not want talk—if the noble Lord wishes to rise again, I will resume my seat.


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord again, but it is quite untrue to say that the previous Government enacted no legislation to deal with this problem. The principal Act to which this Bill refers, the Dangerous Drugs Act, was fathered by the previous Administration, as was the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act.


And, my Lords, whatever legislation the previous Government enacted left on our doorstep the very evil with which this Bill is intended to deal.


My Lords, perhaps my noble friend will forgive me for saying, for the sake of the Record, and without wishing to inject any partisan feeling whatever into the debate, that this problem of heroin and cocaine addiction has assumed its terrifying proportions only in the last five or six years. Before then it was a comparatively minor problem and, as I feel very strongly, under complete control.


My Lords, it was evidently not under complete control or it would not have been necessary to take the action which the Government are taking to-day. I was about to say that this is a good Bill, and I welcome it. I hope that it will stamp out much of this evil. I recognise that the Bill has limited application, but it goes to the centre and the core of the problem.

Having said that, I wish to digress for a moment or two to refer to a point mentioned by my noble friend Lord Stonham concerning soft drugs. He seemed to indicate that the Government did not attach so much urgency to dealing with soft drugs as to the urgency of dealing with hard drugs; and naturally, that is quite correct. But this evil of the soft drugs is spreading throughout our society. Young people hear so much about it on the radio; they read in the Press about it and about the effects of it—which are sometimes good and sometimes bad—that they are getting curious. As a result, they are beginning to experiment with these soft drugs, and the experiments are covering a gradually widening circle.

I was going on to say that I am sure (although apparently one must not be too sure in your Lordships' House about what one says) that it would be a very good thing for the community, and particularly for our younger generation, if some urgency were devoted to this question of so-called "soft" drugs—marijuana, LSD, and the new one that was publicised a few days ago. The great danger is that if the Press, the wireless, and your Lordships' House, create the impression in the minds of young people that these drugs are not really very harmful, that they are the equivalent of taking a dry Martini or smoking a cigarette, then I am sure that more and more of these young people will be indulging in these habits, which many medical authorities have admitted are harmful. The longer we delay any action to deal with drugs of this kind, the worse it will be for the young people who are following us.


My Lords, I am always grateful for the speeches of my noble friend Lord Leatherland, and particularly grateful for his support; but on one point I must disagree with him. He said that I gave the impression that the Government did not attach so much urgency to the problem of the so-called "soft" drugs. If I gave such an impression—and I do not think I did—it is wholly wrong. What I did say, and would repeat, is that the Government are getting as quickly as we can the utmost information and the best possible advice available in this country and elsewhere in the world; and when we have that advice—not before, because it would be utterly stupid to jump before there was need—we will ask Parliament to take such legislative action as is necessary.

My noble friend mentioned the new drug. Anyone who takes the trouble of reading carefully what I said, in moving, That the Bill do now pass, will have an indication that we are aware of this. The Home Office received a sample on Monday and it went to the Government analyst on Tuesday. But until we receive a report from the analyst, we do not know whether this drug is controlled, or deserves to be controlled, under the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act. This is the kind of point I have in mind.


My Lords, if my noble friend would pardon my interrupting, may I say that I should like to have it on the Record that I am delighted to hear what he has just said.


My Lords, I hope that your Lordships will accept my assurance that on this matter we are moving as quickly as humanly possible, but we are not going to move without knowledge.

The fact that three short speeches have expressed sharply different points of view reflect two things: first, that the great and proper anxiety of your Lordships reflects the great and proper anxiety of the general public; and, secondly, that people are so anxious that they are looking for different forms of action. It is for the Government, on the best information available to them, to reach decisions. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, reproached the Government for being moved too much by crises as they develop. As evidence of that, he instanced the fact that in another place the Bill went through without a single Amendment and here we had Amendments of substance in Committee. I make no apology for that. In fact, I take credit on behalf of the Government.

The Amendments moved in your Lordships' House were for the greater safe keeping of drugs and for increased power of search by the police. Of course, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary knew that he wanted greater powers of safe keeping in the Bill, but there had to be lengthy consultations. He wanted the Bill to become an Act of Parliament this Session, and therefore started it in another place. The noble Lord will remember that I gave notice in my Second Reading speech that I should move these Amendments and stated precisely what they were. As for the Amendment moved to-day, the need for that was known when the Bill came to your Lordships' House, but again there were many preliminary investigations to be made before a decision could be reached.

This is a new situation, not only in the sense that it is vastly greater than it was before but also because it is an extremely fluid and developing situation. At no time legislation-wise shall we be able to be abreast of it, but I think that we should be thinking-wise and action-wise abreast of it, if effort counts for anything. Legislation alone cannot deal with this. As I tried to convey in my earlier speech, it must be a movement by the whole body politic, by the whole people of this country, realising what the true values are and playing their part in ensuring that this menace does not become a scourge.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.