HL Deb 11 February 1971 vol 315 cc272-321

4.38 p.m.

House again in Committee.


In the debate on the Amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton, which we were discussing before the two Statements, we are concerned with what is undoubtedly one of the principal controversies that has divided those who have made a specific study of drugs and the best way in which they can be controlled. The effect of this Amendment would be to deprive the police in most areas of the country of the powers that they have under the present legislation.

Clause 23(2) of the Bill under consideration is based on the Dangerous Drugs Act 1967. As we have heard from the noble Baroness when she moved the Amendment and from the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, those powers were added by way of an Amendment moved in this House by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham. There was general agreement at that time, both here and in another place, about the need for powers to be given to the police to search any person who a police officer had reasonable grounds to suspect was in possession of a controlled drug, and to detain him for the purpose of searching him. The noble Lord has reminded us how little opposition there was in Parliament to that proposal.

Outside Parliament, however, concern was expressed; the National Council of Civil Liberties and others maintained that these powers imposed restrictions on individual liberty which were not justified in the circumstances. When the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton, was chairing the Sub-Committee on Cannabis of the Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence, she and her colleagues took account of that feeling and commented as follows: This question of police powers cannot be realistically considered in relation to cannabis alone and it has been outside our task to examine the general issues. In the course of our inquiry, however, we have been made strongly aware both of concern about the effect of the exercise of these powers upon the relationship between the police and the public, and of the difficulties faced by enforcement authorities in recent years for which their wide powers of arrest and search have been thought to be essential. Because these features have contributed to so much of the current 'protest' against the existing law we recommend that as a matter of urgency the Advisory Committee should begin a general review of police powers of arrest and search in relation to all drug offences with a view to advising the Secretary of State on any changes that may appear appropriate, particularly as regards cannabis. That was in paragraph 97 of the Report published in 1968.

This recommendation was accepted by the previous Administration, and in October, 1968, the Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence set up another Sub-Committee, this time under the Chairmanship of Mr. William Deedes, the Member for Ashford, to inquire specifically into powers of arrest and search in relation to drug offences. The noble Baroness was again a member of this Sub-Committee, which reported in May, 1970. The conclusions of the Sub-Committee were not unanimous, and the members of the main Committee were also divided in their opinions. A minority in the shape of the noble Baroness, supported by two other members of the Sub-Committee, argued that the practice of stop and search should be discontinued and replaced by arrest, with search following either in the street or at a police station. Where the search revealed nothing the person should be released forthwith, while in those cases where some substance was found which needed analysis, the police should release the person concerned on bail. The noble Baroness, in moving her Amendment, has amplified her arguments to-day.

I must point out to noble Lords that the majority of the Sub-Committee did not share this view. I can do no better than quote what they said on this matter. In paragraph 122 of the Report we find the following: The majority"— the majority of the Sub-Committee— think that, given the special difficulties of detecting illegal trafficking and possession of controlled drugs, it would be against the public interest to tie the hands of the police in such a way that the police become unduly concerned that the possibility of complaint for wrongful arrest would prejudice the proper exercise of their duties and functions as regards drugs offenders. We believe that the general body of the public appreciate and accept that enforcement of the drugs law cannot be effectively carried out without police inquisitiveness. There is no doubt in our minds that the difficulty of identifying drugs with certainty and establishing that they are lawfully held makes it logical to provide for search to precede arrest. We are convinced that if, as we believe, the public wish the drugs law to be properly enforced and police activity not to be restricted … it would not see the introduction of arrest-search as a reassurance but the reverse. The act of arrest, even if nothing comes of it, carries in most minds serious implications. The Government accept that this is a difficult question and that there are finely balanced arguments, but the fact remains that it was thought necessary by the Government of the day to introduce these powers in 1967, and the previous Administration (in a decision which is supported by the present Government) after careful thought, decided that they must be continued in the present Bill. In the meantime, the Criminal Law Act 1967 has strengthened the powers of the police, giving, in the case of arrestable offences, powers to arrest without warrant any person who a police officer has reasonable cause to suspect is committing an offence carrying a maximum sentence of imprisonment of five years or snore. This power does not cover stopping and searching a person in advance of arrest, although I should point out to the Committee that in the Metropolitan Police District this power has existed for over a century since it was first placed on the Statute Book in Section 66 of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839. The power to detain and search somebody reasonably thought by a police officer to be in possession of drugs would, therefore, not be affected in the Greater London area, whatever the result of a vote on this Amendment in Parliament.

As the Sub-Committee pointed out in paragraph 109 of the Report to which I have already referred, finding a substance that may be a controlled drug is not the last but is much more likely to be the first step in a process of inquiry to identify possible criminal actions or transactions. Thus, the stop and search provisions fit logically into a sequence of police action, where arrest follows upon suspicion strengthened by what has been found. The noble Baroness, Lady Serota, asked me quite properly about what administrative action is being taken on the basis of the recommendations contained in the Report on Powers of Arrest and Search in Relation to Drug Offences. I can tell her that since Lady Wootton indicated her strong opposition to this aspect of the Bill on Second Reading, I have checked again with the police and can confirm that in their opinion the retention of these powers is absolutely essential if they are to carry out the obligations placed on them to enforce the law. Police forces are aware of the need to exercise great care in the way these powers are used, and the implications of the recommendations contained in the Report of the Sub-Committee are being discussed with a representative body of chief constables. When these consultations have been completed, the Home Secretary has it in mind to issue the Report to the police service, commending certain recommendations for adoption as standard police practice. I can tell the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, that the Government accept the majority recommendations. She mentioned particularly Recommendations (ii), (v) and (viii). Recommendation (viii) is not only accepted but is incorporated in the Bill which is before us.

I think I have said enough to explain why, in the view of the Government, it is not possible to accept the Amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton, and why it is therefore necessary for me to advise that it should be rejected.


I wonder if the noble Lord can find it possible to answer my question about whether suspicion has to be directed against a particular person, or whether it can be directed towards a group of people who are subsequently found perfectly innocent.


Yes, I can. We want to get through this Committee stage as quickly as possible, and I tried to confine my reply to the main line of policy. This is a point of detail, but since the noble Lord presses me for an answer I will give it to him. The question is: What is the position when the police are faced with a group of young people, some of whom may have drugs in their possession and some of whom may not? Will they search only those who they suspect have drugs in their possession, or will they search the whole lot? The answer is that it will depend on the circumstances. If the police see a group of people coming out of premises where they have reason to believe that drugs are being used, there may be a reasonable suspicion that each person coming out of those premises may be in possession of a drug. In those circumstances the police might search every member of a group; but if people were coming out of a football match, for example, the police would not seek to search every one of them. I have taken two extreme cases deliberately. You could take others—for example, a restaurant or a café. Whatever the premises, it will depend on the individual circumstances, and in each case the constable must have reasonable grounds to suspect that the individual person detained and searched is in possession of a controlled drug.

4.50 p.m.


Perhaps I may comment very briefly before the Committee decides on this matter and express a few views which I know are widely held by the young generation to-day. They are very acutely aware of the rapid deterioration of any rapport between them and the forces of law and order in this country. And whatever they think of the drug scene, whether they approve or not—and it is much wider than many noble Lords are aware—they are in no doubt that this clause will further worsen the relations with the police. They firmly believe—and have good reasons to believe—that they are being persecuted for their appearance and the length of their hair.

So far as the information is concerned, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, said, I would remind your Lordships that the very distinguished mother of the noble Viscount, Lord Norwich, had her house raided on information supplied maliciously to the police. Although I have no desire to-day to make any aspersions on the police, there is no doubt also that the young people widely believe that an immense amount of "planting" is going on at the moment by those in the Drug Squad. In this matter some of the views of the older generation expressed in this House this afternoon often show great ignorance of the whole of the drug scene, and they are expressed so dogmatically that they are held in contempt by a great many young people in this country.

The young generation do, however, recognise that it would not be responsible for any Government to abdicate responsibility for the control of drugs in one way or another. But the use of methods which are suggested in this clause, and which young people feel are objectionable, can lead only to greater division between the generations and give a great boost to those who are pushing drugs for criminal means. Therefore I have great pleasure in supporting the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, in this Amendment.


My noble friend Lord Stonham used the argument that the police have information—and this may well be so. But I should like to point out that in the great majority of cases the information proves to have been misleading, because in the great majority of cases where searches of this kind are made they do not produce any result. I want to emphasise that this Amendment does not propose to remove the power of search when it is a question of arrest. Arrest and search we think are quite proper; and where there is sufficient evidence for an arrest then a search may properly be made. What we view with alarm, from the point of view of individual liberty, is that searches should be made on suspicion—a suspicion which, as I tried to point out to the Committee, in the great majority of instances cannot be based on any really solid grounds.

As I said before, this provision got into the 1967 Bill in the rather particular

atmosphere of that time: we were very justifiably alarmed about the drug scene, and possibly slightly lost our sense of balance in relation to threats to individual liberty, which also are real. Is it not rather odd that there is no comparable power to search for flick-knives, which are not less dangerous objects than a great many of the drugs which might be found as a result of successful searches? The fact that there is no such comparable power illustrates that this provision was inserted in the earlier Act at a moment when perhaps our emotions had rather carried us away on a particular social problem, which is only one of a great number of much wider problems.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, for the clarification he gave and for the replies he gave to my noble friend Lady Serota. I am glad to hear that the matter of the code of practice in search is being considered by chief constables, and that it is the intention of the Home Secretary in due course to issue a standard code. But there is no such code at present, and since I do not know what the code will contain when it appears, I cannot feel justified in accepting that as a reason for withdrawing this Amendment. I suppose that the best we can hope for is that in the end this provision will nullify itself. I have already pointed out that the "big fish" know a great deal better than to walk about carrying drugs, and the "litle fish" will doubtless learn. The best we can hope for is that eventually nobody will walk about carrying drugs; and if we cannot get rid of the proposal now, with the threat that it carries, we shall get rid of it eventually when nobody who is searched ever has drugs, but in the meantime the nuisance will become intolerable.

4.55 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 9) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 36; Not-Contents, 121.

Airedale, L. Broughshane, L. Gifford, L.
Amherst, E. Brown, L. Grantchester, L.
Amulree, L. Buckinghamshire, E. Greenwood of Rossendale, L.
Archibald, L. Constantine, L. Henley, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Faringdon, L. Jacques, L.
Birk, Bs. Foot, L. Kilbracken, L.
Brockway, L. Gaitskell, Bs. [Teller.] Lee of Asheridge, Bs.
Listowel, E. Platt, L. Thurso, V.
Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, Bs. Rea, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Monson, L, Royle, L. White, Bs.
Montagu of Beaulieu, L. St. Just, L. Wootton of Abinger, Bs
Noel-Buxton, L. Serota, Bs. [Teller.] Wynne-Jones, L.
Aberdare, L. Gowrie, E. Reading, M.
Aberdeen and Temair, M. Gray, L. Redmayne, L.
Ampthill, L. Greenway, L. Rhyl, L.
Ardwick, L. Grenfell, L. Robbins, L.
Arwyn, L. Grimston of Westbury, L. Rockley, L.
Ashbourne, L. Hacking, L. Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.
Auckland, L. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor) St. Aldwyn, E.
Audley, Bs. St. Davids, V.
Balerno, L. Hanworth, V. St. Helens, L.
Balfour, E. Hawke, L. St. Oswald, L.
Berkeley, Bs. Headfort, M. Salisbury, M.
Beswick, L. Henderson, L. Sandford, L.
Bethell, L. Hood, V. Sempill, Ly.
Brooke of Cumnor, L. Howard of Glossop, L. Shannon, E.
Brooke of Ystradfellte, Bs. Hughes, L. Snow, L.
Carrington, L. Hurcomb, L. Somers, L.
Cawley, L. Hylton-Foster, Bs. Sorensen, L.
Clwyd, L. Ilford, L. Stamp, L.
Conesford, L. Inglewood, L. Stonehaven, V.
Cork and Orrery, E. Jellicoe, E. (L. Privy Seal.) Stonham, L.
Cottesloe, L. Jessel, L. Stow Hill, L.
Craigavon, V. Kinnoull, E. Strabolgi, L.
Craigmyle, L. Lauderdale, E. Strang, L.
Cranbrook, E. Leatherland, L. Strange of Knokin, Bs.
Cromartie, E. Lindgren, L. Strathcylde, L.
Daventry, V. Lucas of Chilworth, L. Sudeley, L.
Denham, L. McCorquodale of Newton, L. Summerskill, Bs.
Douglas of Barloch, L. McLeavy, L. Swanborough, Bs.
Douglass of Cleveland, L. Malmesbury, E. Swansea, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V. Teviot, L.
Dundonald, E. Merrivale, L. Teynham, L.
Ebbisham, L. Milverton, L. Thorneycroft, L.
Eccles, V. Monk Bretton, L. Tweedsmuir, L.
Elliot of Harwood, Bs. Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller.] Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, Bs.
Emmet of Amberley, Bs. Vivian, L.
Erroll of Hale, L. Moyle, L. Ward of Witley, V.
Ferrers, E. Moyne, L. Williamson, L.
Fortescue, E. Nugent of Guildford, L. Windlesham, L.
Geddes of Epsom, L. Nunburnholme, L. Wise, L.
Glasgow, E. Phillips, Bs. Wolverton, L.
Goschen, V. [Teller.] Rankeillour, L. Younger of Leekie, V.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

5.8 p.m.

LORD KILBRACKEN moved Amendment No. 10A: Page 18, line 23, leave out from ("Act") to ("is") in line 27.

The noble Lord said: This turns out to be more in the nature of a probing Amendment than a drafting Amendment, as I first thought. The subsection in question sets out the circumstances in which a search warrant may be issued, and one of the circumstances is that there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that a document relating to a dealing or a transaction which was an offence under the Bill is in the possession of a person on any premises. That is in subsection (3)(b). But in the same paragraph it adds: … an offence under this Act, or in the case of a transaction or dealing carried out or intended to be carried out in a place outside the United Kingdom, an offence against the provisions of a corresponding law in force in that place … At first I thought that these words were unnecessary, because if your Lordships will look at Clause 20(2) you will see that it says: A person commits an offence if in the United Kingdom he assists in or induces the commission in any place outside the United Kingdom of an offence punishable under the provisions of a corresponding law in force in that place.

It seemed to me that if a person committed such an offence there was no need to specify it particularly in subsection (3)(b) of Clause 23, but I have since noticed that in Clause 20(1) it is also an offence to do any act, preparatory to, or in furtherance of, the commission in any place outside the United Kingdom of an act which, if committed in the United Kingdom, would constitute an offence under this Act. It therefore seems to me—and I do not know whether this is the Government's intention or not—that since paragraph (b) states: in the case of a transaction or dealing carried out … outside the United Kingdom", it must mean that if in such a transaction the offence in question was not against the provisions of the corresponding law in force in that place, but was an offence against the provisions of this Bill, then there would not be grounds for the warrant being issued. I am wondering whether that is the Government's intention. I beg to move.


I accept that it is probably the case that a person who is in possession of a document relating to a transaction or dealing carried out or intended to be carried out abroad, which is an offence against the law in force there, will in the majority of cases be caught by one or other of the subsections in Clause 20 to which the noble Lord has referred. If so, the first part of Clause 23(3)(b) would suffice, and those are the words his Amendment would leave in. But this would not necessarily be so. The second part of 23(3)(b)—the words which the Amendment proposes should be deleted—refers to a transaction or dealing abroad which is an offence against the provisions of a corresponding law in force in that place.

The test here is not whether the transaction or dealing would be an offence under the Bill, but whether it would be an offence abroad. Assisting in, or inducing the commission of, an offence abroad is an offence in the United Kingdom under Clause 20(2). But, on the other hand, a person may have a document in his possession without committing an offence under this subsection. Clause 20(1) is different in that it is concerned with acts done in the United Kingdom—and possessing something is such an act—preparatory to or in furtherance of something done abroad which would be an offence if done in the United Kingdom. If the act done abroad would not be an offence under United Kingdom law if done here, it is not caught by that subsection, and the first part of Clause 23(3)(b) would not suffice. More often than not an offence abroad would be an offence also in the United Kingdom if committed here, but one can not say that this will always be so. The Government agree that the point is a fairly fine one and it may be that, in practice, the circumstances will seldom occur in which one would need to rely on the overseas part of Clause 23(3)(b). Nevertheless, it has some meaning not wholly covered by the first part of the paragraph dealing with offences under the Bill.

With that, I am afraid necessarily rather technical explanation, I hope the noble Lord will be content. The point has been looked at with some care since he put the Amendment down; a good deal of thought has been given to it; and although we do not attach enormous importance to this clause, we do feel on balance that the Bill is better with the words included.


I have no intention of pressing the Amendment. I should like to have time to study the rather complicated reply the noble Lord has given. I still feel a certain amount of doubt, because it still appears to me that if this document relates to an offence which was intended to be carried out outside the United Kingdom and which was not an offence against the provisions of a corresponding law in force in that place but was an offence against this Bill, there would be insufficient ground for allowing a warrant to be issued. But I am quite content that the noble Lord, if necessary, should discuss the matter with his officials, and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

LORD FOOT had given Notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 11. Page 18, line 40, leave out subsection (4).

The noble Lord said: This is an Amendment which is consequential to an earlier Amendment. The noble Lord was good enough to indicate that he accepts the substance of what I was proposing in that earlier Amendment, and therefore I do not propose to move this Amendment. I hope that it will be convenient and useful to the Committee, and indeed it may invoke a sigh of relief, if I say that all the other Amendments standing in my name would have followed had I been able to persuade the Committee to agree to put cannabis in a class of its own. So all the further Amendments standing in my name will not be moved, with one exception only; that is, Amendment No. 21, where I was proposing to remove cannabis and cannabis resin from Class B. The noble Lord, Lord Gifford, is wanting to put it into Class C, and I understand that he will be good enough to look after that Amendment when we reach it. I hope it will be some relief to the Committee to know that all those other Amendments in my name fall to the ground. If I may say one word by way of personal explanation, I am afraid that it is essential that I leave the House by about half past five, and perhaps I may be forgiven if I do not on each occasion get up and say that the Amendment is not moved.

Clause 23 agreed to.

Clauses 24 to 30 agreed to.

Clause 31 [General Provisions as to regulations]:

5.18 p.m.

LORD AUCKLAND moved Amendment No. 18:

Page 24, line 27, at end insert— ("( ) Before making any regulations under this Act and before making any order under this Act (except an order made in any provision of this Act under which, in case of urgency, an order can be made with immediate effect) the Secretary of State proposing to make the regulations or order shall consult such organisations as appear to be representative of interests likely to be substantially affected by the regulations or order.").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 18, which stands in the name of my noble friend Lord Redmayne, my noble friend Lord Ferrier and myself. In the course of the debate on Second Reading I asked my noble friend Lord Aberdare to consider the question of consultation by the Secretary of State with various bodies—the Pharmaceutical Society, the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industries and so on. The purpose of this Amendment is to remind my noble friend of this situation. One of the essences of this Bill is surely consultation, and in order that the Bill shall be really effective that consultation is an essential factor.

The Medicines Act, by Section 129(6), imposes a duty upon the Minister to consult with various organisations of a registered nature, such as the Pharmaceutical Society, before making regulations. There is an exception, as I understand it, in the case of regulations of a really urgent nature. But there are a number of aspects of this admirable Bill on which the pharmaceutical industries (and may I say at once that I have no interest to declare) feel it would be valuable to give the Bill more teeth. A number of the products in the Schedule are of course products of the various pharmaceutical industries in this country, and they are as anxious as anyone that this Bill should work and that the drugs which they produce should not fall into the wrong hands.

I do not think I need say any more about this Amendment. I quite see the difficulties with which this Government, or any other Government, might be presented if it were made obligatory for them to consult with every organisation, particularly the very small ones. But there are, as I mentioned on Second Reading and as was mentioned in another place, a number of long-standing organisations, particularly concerned with the pharmaceutical industry, with whom consultation would be most useful, and I shall be interested to hear what my noble friend has to say on this matter. I beg to move.

5.23 p.m.


I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Auckland for moving the Amendment, which in fact was down in my name although our interests are similar. I must apologise to your Lordships for not having been in my place; having waited so long I was caught out by your Lordships' procedures. Not having heard all that my noble friend had to say, I shall be very brief.

My interest in the matter is on behalf of the Pharmaceutical Society. I think my noble friend's interest is rather on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry. Of course the need for consultation was debated on both stages of the Bill in another place; it is hard to say anything new about it, and I think it will be hard for the Minister to find any new answer. In my opinion there is no question that, since one learns something about the procedures of Government, in point of fact a Minister is better served by a statutory need to consult rather than by trying to maintain general assurances given in the past. I should have thought that the Government would welcome having this Amendment written into the Bill.

I should like to say a word on behalf of my noble friend Lord Ferrier, who put his name to this Amendment but regrets that he is unable to be in his place. His view, as a manufacturer of long standing, is that the Government should ensure that draft regulations are workable and effective by using fully the expertise of the industry. The safeguarding of dangerous drugs, both in the factory and in transit—and especially in transit—is very much the constant concern of the industry. Equally, the industry pay a great deal of attention to the design of containers and of vehicles. They pay much attention to the proper security in respect of the drivers of vehicles and, equally, in regard to the routeing and timing of deliveries, all of which are necessary safeguards, all of which are the result of considerable experience and from all of which the Government, by consultation, can gain a great deal. I hope that I may omit the other cogent argument which I was going to put to my noble friend and which has already been put forward. He will be fully familiar with it, and will know the answer; and perhaps he will give it a rather more thoughtful reply than was given in another place.


On the face of it, this appears to be an entirely innocuous Amendment, but I hope that the Minister will not accept it. I think it is entirely superfluous because the big interests will be consulted by the Ministry. The noble Lord said that he represents the pharmaceutical industry.


If I may interrupt the noble Baroness, in so far as I represent any interest, I said that it was that of the Pharmaceutical Society rather than the industry. While the two are similar, the views of the industry and the Society do not necessarily coincide.


Should I be wrong in calling them close relatives?


I am not so sure about that, either.


I am quite sure that the Ministry will not fail to consult those interests that have a legitimate interest in this matter. But we have to recognise that the number of proprietary drugs on the market, and those concerned with producing them, are legion. If this Amendment were to be accepted many of the producers would feel that these drugs were related in some form or another to the controlled drugs, and would undoubtedly then make representations to the Ministry demanding to be represented on whatever kind of Advisory Committee might be set up. I think this would be entirely wrong. The Ministry would be embarrassed by so much attention, and I feel that we should leave it to the Ministry, who know very well what interests should be consulted. We should leave them to consult without putting in a clause which might, as I have said, prove to be an embarrassment.

5.28 p.m.


As my noble friends have both made clear, a similar Amendment was moved in another place and was subsequently withdrawn. My noble friend Lord Auckland made it clear that this Amendment substantially reproduces the provisions of Section 129(6) of the Medicines Act 1968. I would point out that there is one fairly considerable difference between the Medicines Act and the Bill before us; namely, that under this Bill the Secretary of State has to consult a statutory Advisory Council before making regulations, whereas under the Medicines Act there is no such obligation to consult the Medicines Commission. So to that extent there is already in the Statute the requirement for consultation.

It is also true that there never has been statutory provision in our dangerous drugs law for consultation, yet I hope that both my noble friends Lord Auckland and Lord Redmayne, from their own experience, will be able to confirm that such consultation has always taken place and has always been effective. I can give the same categorical assurance that my right honourable friend the Minister of State at the Home Office gave in another place: that effective interests will be fully consulted wherever the basic powers of control under the Bill are involved. We very much value consultation both with the pharmaceutical industry, the pharmaceutical profession, and the Pharmaceutical Society, and of course also with the other medical interests involved, and we shall continue to consult with them.

My noble friend Lord Redmayne quite rightly went on to ask why, if we accept that this consultation will in fact take place, we do not put it in the Bill. I think the reason why we would rather not have it in the Bill has been best expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, because the Amendment reads that, … the Secretary of State … shall consult such organisations as appear to be representative of interests likely to be substantially affected by the regulations or order. Like the noble Baroness, I have some fear that a great variety of somewhat strange organisations—indeed some of them even representative of interests misusing drugs—might be able to come in under that umbrella. I can give the assurance that we shall continue to consult with all those involved, as well as statutorily with the Advisory Council, before any regulations or orders under the Act are made. While I agree with the good sense of the Amendment moved by my noble friends, I very much hope that, for the reasons I have indicated, they will agree to withdraw it.


I am very grateful to my noble friend for the reply he has given. I can assure him that I never had any intention of pressing the Amendment, and I made clear in my opening remarks that it was only the registered societies that both my noble friend and I had in mind. I can see the difficulties which the Minister mentioned in relation to all kinds of organisations—some of whom may be interested in drugs in a far less scrupulous way than this Bill provides for. I think that perhaps the Amendment itself is defective in one way. I have been looking at it again, and it seems to me that the addition of the words "to the Minister", after the word "appear" in line 6 of the Amendment, might make it look a little more convincing. However, my noble friend's answer has been a very reasonable one, and I thank him for it. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 31 agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Constitution etc. of Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs]:

5.33 p.m.

LORD REDMAYNE moved Amendment No. 19:

Page 29, line 8, at end insert— ( ) two pharmacists; and

The noble Lord said: This Amendment is really related to the previous one, except that, since the Minister refuses statutory consultation—with which I do not disagree—this Amendment is of greater importance from the point of view of the pharmacist. The Schedule provides that the Advisory Council should number not less than 20, of whom at least one should represent each of the six relevant professions or industries that are set out. Of course, the remaining 14 out of 20, or not less than 14 out of 20, are to have wide and recent experience of the social problems with which the Bill is concerned.

It is obvious at once that this drafting gives the Minister a wide discretion as to the composition of the Council, and I do not doubt that he will use that fact in his answer. But it seems to me that on the face of it, as drafted, there is a danger that at some time the Council could be unbalanced in terms of the technical advice available to it. As I say, that must be all the more true if in fact the Advisory Council is to be regarded as the primary body for consultation. On that, as was said in another place: There will be experts from all the various interests concerned. That is quite true; there will be six experts, each from one interest. I think that the Minister, perhaps particularly in respect of the pharmaceutical profession, will want to be sure that he has the experience of that profession to draw on at all times. For that reason, and because now, of course, there is no expert committee in the Bill as there was in the Bill produced by the previous Government, it seems to me not unreasonable that the practice of pharmacy should specifically have two representatives.

Although I realise that other professions named in the Bill can use the same argument, there are certain reasons which make it more important that the pharmacist should be represented. For example, the Committee will be aware that most of the legitimate distribution of the drugs mentioned in this Bill is made by the 30,000 registered pharmacies in this country. The Committee will know also that the Pharmaceutical Society, as such, has always had great responsibility in this field. It was provided as long ago as the Pharmacy Act 1868, that the first poisons list should be prepared by the Society's Council, and none other. Equally—and experts on this subject will know this much better than I—when the Poisons Board was instituted under the Pharmacy and Poisons Act 1933, of the 16 members of that Board 5 were to be pharmacists. Therefore, it is perhaps a little strange that now, in a Council of 20, they should have only one representative, and perhaps not so very strange that I should suggest that they should have a minimum of two at all times.

It could be argued, as the Schedule is worded, that, since there is a representative, first, of the practice of pharmacy, and second, of the pharmaceutical industry, that is to all intents and purposes a dual representation. However, as I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, it is perfectly true that it cannot always be said that the professional and the industrial view are identical. Indeed, I think it would be true to say that if one was matching one against the other, it would often be wise to have the amount of advice weighted on the professional side as between those two.

I do not make a great deal of this point. I think it is a perfectly good point, and I hope that my noble friend will agree that it would be a reasonable safeguard to achieve a proper balance of expertise on the Council, and that he will accept this Amendment.


I am afraid that I must speak very strongly against this Amendment. Your Lordships will notice that there is only mention of one person representing the practice of medicine. I should like to point out to your Lordships that the Advisory Council might contain a Professor of Pharmacology, who would be a very good man to have on the Advisory Council. He might be a medical man, but there would be nobody in the actual practice of medicine on this Advisory Council at all. I think the medical profession have a far better case to make out for two representatives and, one might even add, "one of whom should be in the actual practice of medicine", rather than that they should have two pharamacists.

So far as I am concerned, I am prepared to let the Schedule stand as it is, and lean on the good sense of those whose business it is to appoint this Advisory Council to see that it is a well balanced Council and that medicine is properly represented. If each section wants two representatives, I believe you will have an unwieldy body of people who are busily representing something, and that will not make for the best decisions.


I want to support what my noble friend and colleague has said. The world of pharmacy has been very fortunate this afternoon to have enlisted the sympathy and support of the noble Lord, Lord Redmayne. I am quite sure that when he gives this a little further thought, he will realise that it can only be regarded as ridiculous that two pharamacists should be included on the Council, when the other fields of medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine and chemistry other than the pharmaceutical industry are not mentioned in the same way. The practice of pharmacy and the pharmaceutical industry are indeed fortunate to be represented separately. Far from asking for more, I should have thought that the noble Lord ought to have been a little modest, and ought to have said that perhaps we could combine these two and have one representative only. But, no! The Ministry are being very generous and are giving the world of pharmacy a representative under sub-paragraph (d), and the industry a representative under sub-paragraph (e). The noble Lord should be very satisfied, and should go back to his friends and tell them that they also should be satisfied.


I think the noble Lord, Lord Redmayne, will realise what a difficulty I am in now, because as soon as he asks for two representatives many other interested parties ask for two, also. I appreciate the importance of the pharmaceutical provision, but would make it clear that, under paragraph 1(1) before the members of the Advisory Council are appointed, the Secretary of State has to consult, "such organisations as he considers appropriate". So once again there will be full consultation with all appropriate organisations. Then, under subparagraph (2) at least one person experienced in the practice of pharmacy has to be appointed. So there is that safeguard; that each of those important interests is assured of one representative on the Council.

That is certainly so in the case of the practice of medicine. The noble Lord, Lord Platt, seemed to suggest that there would not necessarily be a medical practitioner on the Advisory Council. But the interests listed in sub-paragraph (2) include the practice of medicine, and one person on the Council will have to have had, "wide and recent experience of that activity". I can once again fall back on my colleague in another place, the Minister of State at the Home Office, who gave a categorical assurance about the Advisory Council. He said: … I can give an assurance that as in the Advisory Committee"— that is, the Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence— which is now to be abolished, there will be a broadly balanced grouping of medical, scientific and lay experts."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, (Commons) Standing Committee A, 3/11/70; col. 34].


I hesitate to interrupt the noble Lord, but can he also give a categorical assurance that social scientists and social workers will be on this Council?


I cannot give a categorical assurance, but I am sure that organisations of that sort will be considered for representation on the Council. There is another point on which I might help my noble friend. We very much hope that this Council will not operate—and I am pretty certain that it will not operate—by taking votes on questions. We hope that it will come forward with agreed advice to the Government. But should it happen that one member of the Council was unable to agree with his colleagues, then we would expect such conflicting advice to be offered to the Government and it would be up to the Government, no doubt after further consultation with the interests concerned, to decide on the recommendations of the Council—whether the majority or the minority recommendation. But, as I said, we very much hope that that will not happen and that we shall get agreed advice. I mention that only to reassure my noble friend that the pharmacist representative on the Council will not be in any danger at any time of being completely out-voted, with the voice of the profession not heard. I hope that my noble friend will agree to withdraw the Amendment.


I am most grateful to my noble friend for taking the matter so calmly. I thought at one moment that I was getting involved in a heated professional broil. But I am sure that the answer he has given is perfectly reasonable, and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Controlled Drugs]:

5.46 p.m.

LORD GIFFORD moved Amendment No. 21: Page 31, line 37, leave out ("Cannabis and cannabis resin")

The noble Lord said: In the light of views which I have expressed in the past, I feel that I ought to give an assurance to the Committee at the outset that this Amendment is not designed to bring about the legalisation of cannabis, although that would be its effect if taken by itself. It is to be read with Amendment No. 23, and I solemnly undertake to move Amendment No. 23 in the happy event of the acceptance of this Amendment, so downgrading cannabis from Class B to Class C. I do not want to go over the ground that was covered on the first day of the Committee stage in the debate on the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Foot, but it has to be borne in mind that his Amendment had the effect of introducing a completely new category with radically reduced penalties.

The penalties for Class C are still extremely severe. Five years and two years respectively are long periods for which to go to prison for supplying or possessing cannabis. But the main argument in respect of this Amendment is perhaps the same, that if drugs are to be classified and the penalties classified with them according to the harm which they are likely to cause, then that classification can be made only with reference to the available medical and scientific knowledge, which drives one inexorably to the conclusion that cannabis causes less harm than, and has the least potential for harm of, any of the drugs listed in Schedule 2.

Last week, I attempted to summarise the conclusions of medical research and the reports of very thorough commissions of inquiry. After I had done so, several noble Lords made assertions to the effect that those conclusions were nonsense. This must be a matter upon which we should be guided by the evidence and not by hunch. If I have distorted the conclusions of the various reports and inquiries to which I referred, if there is evidence from research or experiments proving the contrary to what I was asserting—namely, proving that cannabis has in itself some intrinsic, serious, proven harm—then let someone say so. I did my best on Thursday to give an assessment which was a proper and not a distorted assessment in the light of current knowledge and research on this subject.

The most frequent assertion which was made about cannabis was that perhaps it was not very harmful in itself, but it would open the gates to the use of, and later addiction to, the much more serious drugs. My noble friend Lord Kilbracken dealt with that argument very effectively, but I should like to make two more points. The first is that, without going over once again the various items of documented reporting and research on this matter, I would refer to the opinion of our own expert, my noble friend Baroness Wootton, and her Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, said that the noble Baroness's Committee had been frequently misunderstood, but there really is no room for misunderstanding about paragraph 51 of the Sub-Committee's report, where they say this: It can clearly be argued on the world picture that cannabis use does not lead to heroin addiction. So far as the United Kingdom is concerned no comprehensive survey has yet been made, but a number of isolated studies have been published, none of which demonstrate significant lines of progression. Our witnesses had nothing to add to the information already available, and we have concluded that a risk of progression to heroin from cannabis is not a reason for retaining the control over this drug". I leave the Sub-Committee's opinion, very strongly expressed, as it stands, and would challenge anyone to say that it is wrong.

The second point is this. To me it is a wholly novel proposition to classify drug offences and to fix penalties on the basis not of the harm that is done by the drug but on the basis of the harm which it might do if people were tempted in a certain direction. What we are saying, in effect, by placing cannabis in this category and making it subject to such heavy penalties is, "The reason why it is such a serious offence is not because you are harming anybody else by possessing cannabis, and not because you are doing any harm to yourself, but because you might be tempted to commit some quite different offence—namely, the possession of LSD or heroin—and thereby you could do yourself very great harm". That may be an argument for retaining the prohibition over cannabis: it cannot be an argument for imposing such high penalties—and I do not want to trespass on the next debate—or for putting the drug in such a high category.

If one takes the example which was raised earlier this afternoon of an offensive weapon—it may be a flick-knife or a cosh—that, again, is a thing the possession of which is prohibited by law, and for good reason. It is not because you are doing anything with the cosh but because, by possessing that cosh, you may well be tempted to inflict serious harm, not on yourself but on another; and therefore it is a crime to carry about offensive weapons in a public place. But the penalty for possessing an offensive weapon is not related to the serious harm that you might do with it. It is fixed much lower—two years on indictment and three months on summary conviction. In the same way, how can one justify, on the basis of the information as we have it, the putting of cannabis in Class B, along with the much more serious and dangerous amphetamines, and making it subject to the high penalties to which it is, when all one is really saying is, "It may be that you are right in your argument, but, of course, some people are led on to other things"?

In my submission this is an important Amendment because by the way we classify these drugs, and particularly the more commonly-used drugs, we are setting standards for young people, in particular, which we expect them to observe and to respect. There are, perhaps, two alternative views. One is that by putting cannabis in Class B we are saying that this is an evil substance, so evil that we are prepared to give the courts the discretion to "clobber" those who merely use it with imprisonment for up to five years and those who supply it with imprisonment for up to 14 years. I say, with great respect, on the basis of all the information which is available—and that must be the standpoint from which we approach a classification into degrees of danger—that that is not a view which does this Committee great credit. By putting cannabis into the lowest category, Class C, we are saying, in effect, "We believe this is a dangerous drug, and you risk quite heavy terms of imprisonment in its use and supply, but we recognise that it is less harmful than the other substances, particularly the hard drugs like heroin and ones like amphetamine, and therefore we reasonably take a less serious view of its use and supply than we do of addictive drugs". That view is a humane view, a sensible view, in accordance with the medical evidence, and is one which takes account of both the views of those who believe cannabis to be most dangerous and of the views of young people, who do not believe that this is so. I would ask the Committee to take very seriously what I believe to be a very moderate Amendment. I beg to move.


I sincerely hope that my noble friend will not see fit to accept this Amendment. My reason for saying that is this. The noble Lord, Lord Foot, when he argued along the same lines on the first day of the Committee stage, drew a parallel between cannabis and alcohol, and to a certain extent he was justified in doing so. I think most of us have either known or heard of some very sad cases of the wrecking of lives by the over-use of alcohol. But there is this difference. Alcohol is in general used by adults and responsible people who are capable of using it in moderation, and who know just how to control it. Drugs are not so. Drugs are not, as it were, a social amenity at present, and I sincerely hope they will never become so. They are, in general, used by the young, and the rather weaker young—those of weak character who are seeking for some form of excitement or experimentation and who are very likely to be led on to something much worse. That is why I feel it is important not to let them take even the first step.

5.58 p.m.


If I intervene at this stage it is to point out that we have to conclude our proceedings at 7 o'clock. We have the very important group of Amendments to be moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton, which have been twice postponed already; and here, important though the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, is, we are on ground that we covered very thoroughly on Amendment No. 1. However, he made a very strong case in speaking on Amendment No. 1, and he reviewed scientific international literature on this subject with some care. I think, therefore, that it is only right I should give the noble Lord a reasonably full reply at this point before we move on to later Amendments.

The noble Lord asked me whether I was able to agree with his assessment of the scientific evidence. He asked, in moving this Amendment, whether anyone could say that he had distorted the evidence. The answer to that question is: No, but he has selected it; it is selective. I have looked into the question, and your Lordships will not be surprised to learn that opinions differ. There is a very extensive international scientific bibliography on cannabis, which amounts to over 2,000 titles. No fewer than 148 of these were selected by Sir Aubrey Lewis as being of particular interest when he prepared for the Advisory Committee on Cannabis a digest which was published as an appendix to the Report. In introducing his selection, Sir Aubrey Lewis comments: The bibliography on cannabis is extensive … and disorderly. Because almost every theme is beset with contradictory observations and opinions, the digest has to be inconclusive on many of the problems raised. In the second stage of the Committee's deliberations, the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, referred to the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission in 1894. The obvious point to make here is that generalisations drawn from one culture more than half a century ago have to be qualified if one seeks to apply them to another culture and another age. The findings of the New York Mayor's Committee in 1944 (to which reference was also made) were based on limited experiments carried out on selective samples of cases in custody in prison and elsewhere. The studies of Zinberg and Weil in America were based on a very small sample of cases, and the validity of their findings, particularly in the circumstances of cannabis use in this country, would need to be established by replication of the experiments on a much larger scale. The need for such research in this country is recognised and will be facilitated by Clause 1 of the Bill.

It is a feature of the cannabis debate that arguments and counter-arguments proliferate. This applies to scientists as well as to politicians. Contrary opinions to those quoted by Lord Gifford include the Report of the New Zealand Board of Health Committee on Drug Dependence and Drug Abuse, published in 1970; the work of Farnsworth at Harvard in 1956; and that of Dr. Ochsner of New Orleans early in 1970. Perhaps the quotation from scientific literature most relevant to this debate—the only one I would leave with your Lordships—is from the Canadian Le Dain Commission, also mentioned by the noble Lord. This was a Commission of Inquiry into the Non-medical Use of Drugs. In paragraph 147 the Commission said: Usually reliable authorities have publicly taken diametrically opposed positions, not only on moral and social policy issues, but on supposed 'hard' scientific facts as well. Although the current world literature on cannabis numbers some 2,000 publications, few of these meet modern standards of scientific investigation. They are often ill-documented and ambiguous, emotion-laden and incredibly biased and can, in general, be relied upon for very little valid information. It is therefore not possible to look for some magic touchstone in international scientific literature which would guide our approach to this problem. For an authoritative expression of international expertise we can turn to the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs, a part of the United Nations Organisation to which we have treaty obligations. Here we find, as I mentioned last week, an undertaking by member-States, including the United Kingdom, to effectively counter any publicity which advocates legalisation or tolerance of the non-medical use of cannibas as a harmful drug. The underlying difficulty is that what we are really talking about on this Amendment, and on Amendment No. 1. is the level of penalties. It is the level of penalties that is the common feature binding together the widely-differing drugs in these different categories. Let us look at Class A. It includes narcotics like heroin and morphine, stimulants like cocaine, psychotropic drugs like mescaline and LSD. We find in it methadone as well as heroin, though methadone is known to be less harmful than heroin and, indeed, it is used as a substitute for heroin in treating heroin addicts. The difficulty is that the relevant degree of danger cannot be quantified precisely. Who can say that one type of drug is more dangerous to one kind of person, if used in one kind of way, in one kind of situation, than another which is used by another person in a different way in a different environment?

The noble Lord is in a difficulty. He has made it clear that he would like to see the use of cannibas legalised. He told us on Second Reading that he did not support the prohibition of cannabis; but that he does not believe public opinion would be willing to go so far as that and he is moving, instead, to reduce the penalties; to move cannabis from Class B to Class C, which would have the effect of lowering the penalties. We must be clear in our minds what the effect of this Amendment would be: it would have the effect of reducing the penalties by a very slight amount. In magistrates' courts there is no difference in the maximum period of imprisonment: six months for Class B or Class C drugs. The only difference on summary conviction would be in the amount of fine, which is £400 for Class B and £200 for Class C drugs. What this Amendment seeks to do is to reduce the penalties.

The mover tells us that he personally would like to see cannabis legalised but does not think the public will go as far as that. Therefore what matters is the act of reduction, the idea behind this Amendment and Amendment No. 1 being to get the penalties reduced. The Government do not accept that. We feel that this is the crux. You cannot settle the argument by looking at international scientific literature. For that reason I cannot advise the Committee to accept this Amendment.


If my noble friend's ultimate aim is to get cannabis removed from inclusion among controlled drugs, he may take comfort from the fact that when he is Home Secretary with the power to remove cannabis from the list of controlled drugs he will be able to do so, whether it is in Class B or in Class C. Probably he will have to wait for that day.


Before we finish this discussion, may I put a point of view that I should have preferred to put on Amendment No. 1, but we were running out of time? I am not in favour of legalising cannabis or reducing the penalties; but it seems to me that there is a grave danger in putting cannabis in the same classification as the amphetamines. The young generation know that cannabis is not dangerous. If we, in our wisdom, tell them that cannabis is dangerous they, in their own minds, have already caught us out in a lie. In their own minds, therefore, any other drug that we say is in the same classification as cannabis is equally safe or "undangerous". There is a grave risk in leaving cannabis in the same class as the amphetamines. I would ask the Government to look at this point to see whether we could not overcome the problem by putting amphetamines into Class A.


I note the noble Lord's view, but we are going back over the same ground as we covered on Amendment No. 1. The Committee recorded their decision on that occasion. I can take account of what the noble Lord has said, but I cannot hold out any hope of making a change. But I can add this to what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton. We should bear in mind that this is not a classification for all time. We still need to know much more about cannabis and about how drugs are used and misused. Under the Bill the Secretary of State will have power to move any drug up or down the scale, or out of the Schedule altogether. This will be a matter kept constantly under review.

6.10 p.m.


I greatly appreciate the very careful and full reply which the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, was good enough to give me on the scientific and committee research; and much of what he said, of course, will be of great value to the Committee and to the public at large in coming to an assessment of this question. For instance, he said of the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission, very reasonably, that generalisations taken from one culture should not be used in assessing the effect of drugs in another culture. That is a very reasonable point, but one which could well be borne in mind by, I think, no fewer than three noble Lords who spoke on Second Reading of the evils of cannabis by relating it to their observations of its effects in the Middle East.

The noble Lord further quoted from the le Dain Committee and their finding, on reviewing all the various evidence, that on this issue widely conflicting and differing views are held by experts. True enough. But what one does find—and the noble Lord was good enough to confirm it—is that when one looks at those who have considered various conflicting views and tried to give an assessment of their validity, one finds that, while they express great caution, they come to the same or similar conclusion. Indeed, the le Dain Committee, as the noble Lord well knows, after a very thorough inquiry, recommended drastically reduced penalties and, indeed a drastically reduced status for cannabis in the classification of drugs; and they recommended that there should be no imprisonment for possession of it at all.


I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but he will know that this Bill very substantially reduces penalties for possession of cannabis, as I have pointed out once or twice in the debate. In the magistrates' courts the penalties for the possession of cannabis are halved.


I thought the noble Lord might make that point. I do not want to make a point in reply which could be made on the next Amendment, but it must be borne in mind that the reduced penalties not only reflect what a bad law we had before, so far as cannabis is concerned, but they also reflect, or should reflect, the fact that there is a new offence of possession with intent to supply. Therefore it is unnecessary to have the offence of possession, carrying a heavy penalty, to catch the trafficker who is found guilty of being in possession of large quantities but against whom there is no evidence of supplying. But that is a point which may be elaborated during the discussion on the next Amendment.

We have had a short but interesting debate on this Amendment. I should like to take up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Somers, who talked about alcohol and made the assertion that alcohol, in his experience, was used by a large number of adults and responsible people. I want the Committee to realise that it is that kind of assertion, coupled with the kind of measures taken in this Bill, that make the young so disillusioned. Because on the one hand they see considerable numbers of people—adult people—becoming highly agressive, violent, killing each other on the roads and becoming alcoholics through the abuse of alcohol, and they also know quite well that among young people it is not just the weaker that use cannabis. It is used by young and responsible people, and society must come to terms with this.


I must interrupt the noble Lord. I never denied that for a moment. I merely said that, on the whole, alcohol was used by adults and responsible people. I do not deny that there are, of course, other cases.


I take the noble Lord's point.

Although the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, was right in saying that the most important result of this Amendment would be to effect a reduction in the level of penalties, it is not the only point involved; because, as I said, if by categorising a drug you are giving your views to society as to its danger, the view being given to-day is that it is as harmful as amphetamines. But, having said that, I appreciate that the effect of this Amendment, if accepted, would be to reduce the penalties in a rather similar way to that proposed by the noble Baroness by the following Amendments. I appreciate that perhaps the same substantive and effective discussion on penalties generally could be held on her Amendments, and therefore I do not propose to press this Amendment to a Division. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.15 p.m.

LORD PLATT moved Amendment No. 22: Page 31, line 39, column 1, after ("Dexamphetamine") insert ("Diethylpropion").

The noble Lord said: I will be as brief as possible in moving this Amendment. This is a plea for a drug which goes by the name of Diethylpropion, and is sold commercially under the name "Tenuate", to be included with the amphetamines to be found in Class B. The only clinical use for this drug is as a suppressant of appetite. In that and in other respects it resembles the amphetamines. It is known to be a cerebral stimulant; in other words it has the "pep pill" action of amphetamines. It is known to produce a state of euphoria which is immediate, and it has been known—there is ample evidence of this—to produce a temporary state of psychosis resembling schizophrenia. For these reasons it seems to me a priori a drug of which we ought to take some note.

I think an argument which might be raised against including it in this Schedule is that the evidence of its use is, so far, slender—and perhaps I may here interpolate that I should have added that it has been known to cause drug dependence. I do not accept that the evidence is slender. To my mind, the evidence is clear, but so far the cases are few and far between. I think the reason why the cases are few and far between is that doctors have been in the habit of using a lot of other drugs; indeed, I must confess that while I was practising medicine, which is only a few years ago, I never heard of this drug at all. So I think that the reason why cases are few and far between is simply that the drug has not yet been used on a wide scale.

It has also been said that these cases have occurred only when Diethylpropion has been used with other drugs. I do not think this is absolutely true; but even if it is, I do not regard it a reason for not including it in the Schedule. The case that I would make particularly is that if practically all the other drugs which have this action are included in Class B, and Diethylpropion is left out, there will be an immediate switch to prescribing Diethylpropion and we shall have the same kind of problem as has arisen with the amphetamines. The reply may be, of course, that there is power to add it at any time, if further experience shows that what I have been saying about its use is right. But it could equally well be withdrawn at any time if further experience showed that it was harmless. I do not propose to press this Amendment to a Division, not because I do not hold strongly that the drug should be included, but because I very much doubt whether most of your Lordships are in possession of the relevant information about it, since up to the present, this drug has not been greatly used.


I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Platt, for having chosen a drug whose name is at least fairly easily pronounceable, and not one of the others which appear on the Schedule. As he said, Diethylpropion is one of the amphetamine group of drugs and is the base of the proprietary preparations known as "Tenuate" and "Tenuate Dospan" which are appetite suppressants and used in the treatment of obesity. Until recently it was controlled under the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act 1964, as its chemical structure was covered by the generic formula in the Schedule to the Act intended to cover all the amphetamine drugs that were being misused. Under Section 6 of the 1964 Act the Home Secretary has to consult the Poisons Board with regard to the modification of the Schedule of drugs and it was for that reason that about two years ago, when the Poisons Board recommended that Diethylpropion should be decontrolled, this came about under the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act 1964 Modification Order 1970.

The Board made this recommendation, after examining the technical evidence regarding the drug, its properties and use, and also evidence that it had rarely, if ever, figured in the annual statistics of prosecutions involving controlled drugs and that no information indicating significant misuse of the drug had been presented. The Order, which specified by name those of the amphetamines to be controlled, was anticipated in the drafting of Schedule 2 to this Bill, was subject to the Affirmative Resolution procedure and was considered in this House on October 27 last.

So the fact is that Diethylpropion was not originally placed under control because it was specifically recognised as a drug of abuse or because it seemed a likely alternative to amphetamine and dexamphetamine, which were, and remain, the most common drugs of misuse. It was controlled as it were by accident, because its chemical structure fell within the generic formula which turned out to be much wider in effect than was expected or intended. It has never become a drug of misuse, and in the light of the Poisons Board's recommendation it was not considered justifiable to have persons put at risk of criminal prosecution for unlawful possession when no such risks attached to a wide range of other drugs whose liability to misuse and actual misuse are of the same low level. This was the reason for not including it in the Schedule to this Bill.

May I finally say, as the noble Lord, Lord Platt, expected me to say and as my noble friend Lord Windlesham said on the last Amendment, that if it should become a drug of misuse in the future, it can be added to the Schedule by Order in Council under Clause 2(2).


I think that I have no option but to withdraw my Amendment, but I do so with considerable reluctance.


Before the noble Lord withdraws his Amendment, may I say that I am one of those members of the Committee who, though I do not understand the contents of this particular drug, do realise from what has been said that it is one that can be used in the treatment of obesity. The noble Lord will recall that on the Second Reading one or two noble Lords ventilated their concern about the control of certain drugs that were currently being used by slimming clinics. We should like an assurance from the noble Lord that this particular drug is not one of those that is currently being used in slimming clinics.


As the noble Baroness is aware, the drugs most used for slimming are the other amphetamine drugs. I should not like to give an assurance straight away, but Diethylpropion is an appetite suppressor and it is used for that purpose by the medical profession. I have no doubt that the Advisory Council would go into this extremely carefully, if it should turn out to be a drug of misuse, but for the present moment it is not considered to be so.


I appreciate the noble Lord's position on this matter. I raise the point because it is of some concern, and I should be grateful if he would keep this under consideration. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Platt, would wish that to be done, in view of what he has said, and the fact that this is a drug that could be misused in an area that is worrying some of us greatly.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Schedule 3 agreed to.

Schedule 4 [Prosecution and Punishment of Offences]:

6.25 p.m.

BARONESS WOOTTON OF ABINGER moved Amendment No. 27: Page 38, line 10, column 4, leave out ("14") and insert ("10")

The noble Baroness said: I hope that I may cheer up the Committee by saying that this extremely elaborate sequence of Amendments is a good deal simpler than it appears. They follow a consistent pattern. My intention is to move the Amendments together so that it will not be necessary to deal in great detail with every individual Amendment. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, is agreeable that we should have a general discussion on penalties, and then it will only remain for me to say a few words as we come to each Amendment in its appropriate place.

The first batch of Amendments take out "14" wherever it appears and put in "10". These Amendments are to prevent the maximum penalty in the existing law from being raised. The maximum penalty under the existing drugs law for any offence is 10 years' imprisonment, and it is now proposed in the Bill that this should be raised for a whole range of offences to 14 years. My first objection is that we ought to be extremely careful before we impose such a penalty in any connection at all. It is well-known that after 10 years prisoners tend to deteriorate in personality. I think that the higher penalty is unlikely to be a general deterrent. There are few things that people will do with the prospect of 10 years' imprisonment that they would hesitate to do with the prospect of 14 years' imprisonment. I would also say that our law does not provide a penalty of 14 years in many cases. For very serious offences, the courts may give a life sentence, and in many cases life is preferable to a sentence above 10 years. It is more flexible and has the additional advantage that the person under life sentence is on licence literally for life. But I am not suggesting that we should have a penalty of life imprisonment here. What I am proposing, partly on general principles, is that sentences above 10 years are something to be looked at with extreme care and only to be written into the law in quite exceptional cases.

Coming to the application of this principle to the Drugs Bill, I would point out that it is proposed to raise the existing penalty of 10 years to 14 in cases which might broadly be called trafficking. Trafficking covers production, supply, possession with intent to supply, cultivation of cannabis, allowing premises to be used for the smoking of cannabis or other drugs, and also acts in the United Kingdom to promote an act abroad which would be illegal in that country. Broadly, therefore, it is proposed to put up the trafficking penalties from 10 years to 14 years. I think the objections to that are these. Again I think it goes back to the atmosphere at the time when the Bill was drafted. At that time we were being very much agitated by what one might call the heroin curve. The heroin curve was going up, and we were looking at America and contemplating that the curve would go up and up. One of the more encouraging features in the present situation is that it looks as if the misuse of this particular drug has for the time being, perhaps, under the present law and particularly the 1967 Act, been contained. Indeed, one of the worst anomalies of this Bill is that one of the most dangerous practices at present is the injection of a drug which is not in the Bill at all; that is to say, the injection of barbiturates.

So my first objection is that it is quite inappropriate at this stage to be actually raising penalties in respect of any of the drugs with which we are concerned. Let me make it abundantly clear that I am not proposing to lower the penalties for trafficking in any Class A drug. I would remind the Committee that concern was expressed in another place, both on the Government and on the Opposition side, about the high level of penalties. There is one other special feature about the high penalties for trafficking: they increase the risks of trafficking, and it is well established from American experience that increasing the risks also increases the profits. In a sense, the higher you put the penalty the more you are raising protective tariffs for the iniquitous people who are engaged in this traffic.

But perhaps the far most convincing argument against raising the penalty for trafficking from 10 years to 14 years is that the 10 years penalty itself is practically never imposed. It has been in force since 1965; that is to say, for five years. During that time it has twice been imposed. What, then, is the purpose of the proposal to raise the penalty for trafficking to 14 years? It is not as if the courts were, so to speak, banging their heads against the ceiling, imposing 10 years and saying: "We wish we could impose 14 years." Therefore, I beg to move Amendment No. 27, which in relation to the illegal production of Class A drugs proposes to leave out 14 years, which is the new penalty in the Bill, and to maintain the existing penalty of 10 years.


When one is confronted with this rather impressive array of figures one is inclined to rationalise them in a simple way. My own approach to this matter depends on two things. We have to consider the way in which these drugs will be used or misused. If a person is just taking drugs, the penalty should be small and effective, but it is doubtful whether he should go to prison at all. One presumes that whether a young offender or a first offender goes to prison on a drug charge is at the discretion of the court, but there must be a grave objection to his going to prison and thereby being exposed to various entirely unfavourable influences.

At the other end of the scale we have the person who trafficks in drugs. Here I can see no reason whatsoever for diminishing the penalty: in fact, the tendency should be to increase it. That has been the Government action. It has been stated that anyone trafficking in drugs is taking part in murder—not only one murder, but several murders, and it may be many murders. The penalty for that can quite justifiably be life imprisonment, or whatever it entails. To suggest that the penalty for trafficking should be reduced—certainly to a period of less than 10 years, such as five years—does not seem to me to be at all acceptable. The gradation of the penalties in respect of the various drugs is quite illusory. The penalties imposed for trafficking in drugs, whether they are Class A or Class B drugs, should be heavy. I personally think the penalty should not be reduced from 14 years to 10 years, but, if anything, should be increased from 14 years to life.

6.37 p.m.


I was pleased to learn from my noble friend that she intended to take this large group of Amendments together, because I believe that earlier in the debate she said that there were 27 of them, and I am sure the Committee would not relish 27 speeches from those people interested in this matter. I propose to make one speech, and it will apply to every Amendment on the Marshalled List which seeks to reduce penalties and thereby reduce the severity of the punishment.

My noble friend did not mention precisely what the offence was, but my noble friend and colleague Lord Brock has touched on it. What the Committee have to recognise is that these heavy sentences are not those which will be suffered by some ignorant boy or girl, or some young man or young woman, who has been foolish enough to take cannabis and to have a "trip". These are heavy sentences which will be given after long and careful thought to individuals who are the enemies of the people. Those who have arrived at these heavy sentences have decided that in the interests of the community and the health of the community, both physical and moral, these particular individuals must be removed from our society, and removed for many years.

I do not deny that long imprisonment causes deterioration in health. But of what are these people guilty? Most of them are utterly merciless. For money they are prepared to debase and degrade, and to ruin the health of people. They are prepared to see an individual die in the utmost misery, having endured the most frightful agony in terms of losing friendship, being alone and waiting for the end. I am sure that my noble friend must have been to the drug addicts' clinic. She must have sat there with them and seen these appalling creatures: the very dregs of humanity, who have been reduced to this condition because there were cold, calculating people prepared to sell them drugs for a sum of money. How can we say that we must be merciful to these people? Did they show mercy? No; they are completely merciless. That is why fairly heavy penalties have been arrived at.

I want to say about these Amendments that I oppose every one of them on the ground that the punishment is well deserved and is necessary in order to protect society. The time may come, perhaps, when smaller punishments will be given, but I do not believe that the times or the circumstances surrounding these crimes of trafficking in drugs call for a more lenient attitude. Time and time again we have heard people say—as the noble Lord, Lord St. Just, says—that cannabis is harmless. I have read to the House reports of authoritative organisations, and I would remind the noble Lord that the International Narcotics Control Board said: There is evidence that many heroin consumers have begun with cannabis. The noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, asked for evidence. We are trying to protect these unfortunate individuals; these weak, inadequate, miserable creatures finding it difficult to face up to life. We are trying to protect them, because we know that once they start on cannabis they may well turn to heroin and harder drugs.

My final word is this. I say to my noble friend (for whom I have the greatest respect) that I believe she is misguided. I believe that as Parliamentarians it is our duty to protect the physical and moral welfare of the young people of this country. We are failing in our duty if we put on the Statute Book legislation which can be interpreted by the young people of the country as indicating that this House wishes to take a more lenient view of this crime. Therefore, I intend to oppose each one of these Amendments.


I must come to my noble friend's rescue. My noble friend Lady Wootton has been consistently misunderstood in everything she has said about drugs from the moment she began. I have been in great trouble at dinner tables for defending her. It is always thought that she wants to legalise cannabis, whereas as everybody in this House knows, she objects to legalising cannabis. Now she has made a suggestion that an increase—not a decrease—of sentence from 10 years to 14 years should be taken out of this Bill, not because it would be less severe for people who traffic in drugs, but because it is irrelevant to their trafficking. We are to have a debate next week on the question of long sentences, and so one does not want to go into that matter now. But it is important not to confuse the point of view of my noble friend Lady Wootton—which is that to increase sentences from 10 years to 14 years is to use a rule of thumb which is meaningless—with the idea that one wants to let off people who are doing the kind of damage which my noble friend Lady Summerskill did not in any way exaggerate.

I went into the same Lobby as my noble friend in opposing moving cannabis into a category by itself for the very reason that she so eloquently stated—that in the eyes of the young this might look like a softening towards this serious and awful problem. I have been to drug centres and seen people who are skeletons and miseries, and I do not need anybody to convince me about this. But as somebody who is interested in penal reform, I say that so long as legislators think that by adding to length of sentences over a certain period they are doing anything at all, those of us in this House and elsewhere who have any acquaintance with the facts must try to disabuse them. Therefore, in this first instance of taking out the sentence of 14 years, I am very happy to support my noble friend.

6.46 p.m.


Let me repeat what the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, and the noble Lord, Lord Brock, have said. We are debating here only the penalties for offences concerned with trafficking and certain other specific activities set out in Schedule 4. There is a completely different set of penalties where possession is concerned. We have to accept that the trafficker is the source of virtually all the pain, suffering and grief that constitute the most tragic aspects of the contemporary drug scene. Without people who are willing to traffic and trade in these harmful substances, it is inconceivable that there could be a drugs problem on any widespread scale at all. We are talking here about the sources of supply, whether it is illicit production, import or distribution, and in so doing we have to keep in our minds, as the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, said, that behind each person whose life is ruined there stands a trafficker. This is the context in which the penalties have to be seen.

The noble Baroness, Lady Wootton, and the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, have argued that, as a general proposition, penalties of up to 14 years' imprisonment are too high. But 14 years is the level of penalty which has been set by Parliament in recent legislation for such offences as burglary, handling stolen goods, blackmail, or possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life or resist arrest. Your Lordships and Members of another place felt that a maximum of 14 years' imprisonment was appropriate in each of those instances. Where those offences are concerned, the courts may sentence offenders on conviction on indictment to up to 14 years' imprisonment. Who can say that the man who organises and takes part in a systematic trade in dangerous drugs is doing less harm to society than the burglar or the blackmailer?

The noble Baroness may want to develop her thoughts about long sentences when we come to the debate next week on prisoners who are serving long terms of imprisonment. There are general arguments about the level of penalties, the place of long sentences in the penal system, their effect on the criminal and on the prisons, and so on. But to-day I have to point out to the Committee that in this Bill the penalties are based on the same levels which have been adopted by Parliament in recent legislation. Having said that, I want to point out that it is only in the most exceptional cases that the courts use the maximum penalties available to them. This applies both to penalties available on indictment—and, of course, these very long terms of imprisonment apply only in the higher courts—and also to the much lower penalties available in magistrates' courts. Since the Dangerous Drugs Act 1965 came into operation, as the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton, has reminded us, there have only been two occasions when the higher courts have used the full penalties open to them under that Act. The first occasion was one offence for trafficking in heroin in 1965, and the second was one for trafficking in cannabis in 1969—both very grave offences.

It is helpful to know what is happening at the moment—how the courts are using their powers. We must not get the idea that if a 14-year maximum penalty is authorised there are going to be vast numbers of people pouring into the prisons to serve sentences of up to 14 years. I have therefore analysed the convictions in 1969 under the existing drugs legislation. If we take first those cases dealt with in the higher courts—and we can assume that these are the people who are involved in the more serious offences—we find that well under half (370 out of 822) were sent to prison or borstal: nearly one quarter (178 people) were fined, and about one in eight were put on probation. The majority of offenders were dealt with not in the higher court but by magistrates.


Would the noble Lord make it clear whether he is speaking about Class A offences, or whether he is speaking about drug offences generally?


I am speaking of all drugs offences under the 1964 and 1965 Drugs Acts in the calendar year 1969. That is the most helpful way of looking at the size of the problem. In the magistrates' courts we find that nearly half the total—the total was 5,336—were fined, and about one in five were placed on probation. Out of these 5,336 persons fewer than 300 (274) were sent to prison or borstal. Four hundred and fifty-nine received a suspended sentence, and a further 130 or so young men were sent to a detention centre. If I may offer just one other statistic, if we look at the first offenders convicted in all courts—higher courts and magistrates' courts—of offences involving the possession of small amounts of cannabis—that is to say, up to 30 grammes, or about enough for 60 or 70 individual reefers—we see that only 21 people were sentenced to serve terms of imprisonment in 1969, with a further 120 suspended sentences.

I quote these figures to show that the courts normally feel it appropriate to impose penalties well below the maximum available to them when sentencing people who have been convicted of drug offences. And there are parallels. Burglary, for example, which I mentioned earlier, attracts a maximum penalty of 14 years on indictment, though in practice most of the sentences imposed for this offence are of three years or less, and it is rare for anyone to be sentenced to more than five years' imprisonment for it.

In consequence, it might be said that, since on the whole the courts impose much lower penalties than the maximum available, high maxima are not needed. But this is an argument that the Government cannot accept. We say, in exactly the same way as did the noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite when they were in office, that the courts must have wide powers to deal with the very worst offences. We are confident that the courts can be trusted to use the maximum powers available to them only when they believe the circumstances of the case before them fully justify it, and that in all other cases more modest penalties will be imposed.

We are coming near the end of the time available for the Committee's proceedings to-day. I have spoken at some length on this Amendment because it governs the other 25 or so Amendments in the name of the noble Baroness. Like other noble Lords in the Committee, I greatly respect the knowledge and integrity of the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, and have listened with close attention to the arguments she put forward in support of this series of Amendments. But I must advise the Committee that it would not be right, in the view of the Government, to accept this Amendment, or any of the other Amendments in the series. I therefore urge the Committee to reject each of them.


I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge for having at least clarified the situation and defended me from a number of false accusations to which I have long been subject, both inside and outside this House. I would say only this to the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill. She is kind enough to say that I am misguided. I would retaliate by saying that she has extraordinary ideas of mercy. She begged us not to accept this Amendment, on the ground that we were going to show mercy to these horrible people. It is not my idea of showing mercy, to retain a power to send people to prison for 10 years; but it may be hers. I must say again that I am not proposing to do anything to reduce the penalties in Class A for trafficking below the level at which they stand at present. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, seems to have given the oddest argument in reply. He wants to put up the maximum penalties for Class A trafficking, and the evidence given in support of this is that the courts in fact do not come within miles of the existing maximum penalties. Why this is an argument for putting them up, I fail entirely to understand.


What I said was that we felt the courts must have these powers to deal with the exceptional case, but that the courts would use the powers only where they were absolutely sure the circumstances justified it.


The exceptional case must be infinitely more exceptional than any case the courts have yet had, because on only two occasions (I am grateful to the noble Lord for the information) have they given sentences even up to the existing maximum. So why the Government should want to increase the maximum by 40 per cent. is more than I can understand. However, I do not propose to pursue this matter, as time is short. I therefore beg leave to withdraw this Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

BARONESS WOOTTON OF ABINGER moved Amendment No. 28: Page 38, line 10, column 5, leave out ("14") and insert ("5").

The noble Baroness said: I want to say a few words about this Amendment because I think that here the logic has broken down. All through this Bill, where the proposal to raise penalties from 10 to 14 years is included Class A drugs are treated in exactly the same way as Class B drugs. What is the point of segregating Class B drugs from Class A drugs, if they are to have the same penalties for trafficking, possession and all the rest? I can understand that it may be considered equally wicked to sell anything which is a prohibited article. But in that case there is no ground for discrimination between Class B and Class C.

I should have thought, on the other hand, that it was much more sensible to discriminate all through; to say that since the Class A articles are much the most dangerous, therefore the penalties should be highest for Class A; rather less for Class B, and less again for Class C, and that this should apply to trafficking just as much as it applies to possession. It is totally illogical to have the same penalties for trafficking in drugs in Class B (which covers a very wide range: it has already been pointed out that it covers amphetamines and cannabis) as for trafficking in Class A drugs. One has to remember that trafficking covers a great variety of actions. It may cover very small-scale actions, which doubtless would not attract the maximum penalty, and it may also cover large organised business. But surely in either case there ought to be a discrimination. I beg to move.


It is true that the maximum penalty for trafficking in Class B drugs is the same as that for Class A drugs, and therefore trafficking in cannabis, amphetamines and other drugs scheduled in Class B is subject to very heavy penalties. But this is really because the extent of misuse of these drugs is so very great that it is thought that the courts ought to have the same powers to deal with offences of trafficking whether the drug concerned is in Class A or Class B. It is the widespread extent of misuse that is the justification for making the maximum penalties the same.


The Committee on cannabis over which I had the honour to preside considered making a distinction between trafficking and possession, there being no such distinction in the present law. Considerable difficulties were raised, and we therefore suggested that the matter might be re-examined; and I gather it has been re-examined. But I am sure we did not contemplate that if it was found possible to distinguish trafficking from possession—as we should have liked to do—the only way to do it would be to put up the penalties for trafficking. We thought it would be very much more reasonable to make a new scale of penalties which would put trafficking on top and possession lower. And if the drugs are going to be classified into three grades, I would suggest now that the appropriate maximum penalties are those which my Amendments throughout suggest—that is to say, 10 years for Class A, five years for Class B, and two years for Class C offences. This pattern—10, 5, 2—runs through all the remaining Amendments that have to deal with trafficking and kindred offences.

I should like to say that in making that proposal I have in one respect departed from the recommendations of my own Committee, and departed in the direction that my noble friend Lady Summerskill would doubtless approve of as a sign of incipient grace in myself. As at that time we could not discriminate between trafficking and possession, we put the maximum penalty for either at two years. Now that it has apparently been thought possible to discriminate I have accepted a penalty of five years for Class B trafficking. It is on the grounds that I think it is totally illogical to have separate penalties for possession of these drugs A, B and C but the same penalty for trafficking that I moved this Amendment. However, it is obviously not possible to pursue the matter further, in view of the unyielding attitude of the Minister and the Government, and I therefore beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.2 p.m.

BARONESS WOOTTON OF ABINGER moved Amendment No. 34: Page 38, line 16, column 5, leave out ("6") and insert ("4").

The noble Baroness said: This Amendment, together with Amendments Nos. 35, 37 and 39 embody the recommendations of the Cannabis Committee, over which I presided. This is the only one of this whole series of Amendments in which I have proposed to alter the penalties in the magistrates' courts. In these Amendments I have proposed that the six months' penalty in the magistrates' courts for Class B drugs should be reduced to four months, and I propose that the fine should be reduced from £400 to £100 for Class B drugs. This is because these were the considered recommendations of my Committee. I think they were about right then, and not much has happened since to make it desirable to change them. May I mention now that I shall not move Amendment No. 38 because it would be consequential upon the acceptance of Amendment No. 37.

I hope that I have made clear the intentions behind these four Amendments which embody the recommendations of the Cannabis Committee. I was very glad to see that in the Committee stage in another place the Minister of State called attention to some of the recommendations of the Committee in much more favourable terms than they have ever enjoyed before. He said that they were very important, and he added that the recommendations of the Committee may have had some influence in reducing the sentences passed upon first offenders in possession only of small quantities of cannabis, which of course is a Class B drug. This encourages me to stand by the recommendations of my Committee in toto, and that is why I propose to move these four Amendments. I beg to move Amendment No. 34.


These four Amendments to which the noble Baroness has referred are all concerned with possession, and I could wish that the question of penalties for possession were not passed over in a hurry, because it is necessary to consider the whole rationale of penalties of long terms of imprisonment and terms of imprisonment imposed in the magistrates' courts for the possession of dangerous drugs. We are (are we not?) getting ourselves into a bit of a tangle when, on the one hand, we say of the trafficker that he is merciless and that he is one of the prime causes of the agony of drug addiction, and when we say that the rationale of our high penalties for trafficking is to protect the moral welfare of the young people of our society. When we are faced in the courts with the young people who are the victims of the wiles of the trafficker—people whose only offence has been to be in possession of any of these dangerous drugs—on indictment the courts have a discretion to impose, in the case of Class A drugs, seven years, Class B drugs five years and Class C drugs two years' imprisonment; whereas the magistrates have a discretion to impose terms of imprisonment of 12 months, 6 months and 6 months in each case.

The young person who is in possession of any of these substances ranging from heroin down to cannabis is presumably the young person one is trying to educate; to whom one is saying, "Do not be led into the dangers of addiction by sampling these drugs". These are the people one is trying to deter from going further with their experiments—and in the case of the hard drugs I accept that intention in this Bill wholeheartedly. Why then is it necessary to have available to the courts swingeing terms of imprisonment for those who are not concerned with the supply of drugs in any way? What the Le Dain Committee in Canada recommended was that possession of any drug should not be punishable with imprisonment at all. That this is a correct approach becomes even more clear with the introduction of a new offence of possession with intent at the time—and I must take the time of the Committee to elaborate the point which perhaps I failed to get across before.

The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that under the old law there was only an offence of supplying and an offence of possession. Therefore, if someone was found with a vast quantity of drugs in his possession, neatly parcelled up into packages, and with scales besides, unless there was evidence that he had actually been supplying them he could only be charged with possession, and therefore there was an argument for allowing the courts a discretion to impose heavy terms of imprisonment. This is no longer the case, because the person who will be charged with possession will be a person against whom there is no evidence that he intended to supply.

I wish to refer to one point which the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, made during the Second Reading debate—and I hope that he will listen, because it is a serious point. The noble Lord said, refering to penalties, Your Lordships will agree that these penalties are still very substantial. They are, however, maximum penalties, and the courts will no doubt continue to work well below them, as they do now. This wide margin is deliberate. It will leave the courts discretion to distinguish between the first offender, the persistent offender and the trafficker who can be charged only with possession but from the evidence in whose case more serious inferences may be drawn."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14/1/1971, col. 228.] If I read the noble Lord aright, what he is saying there is that it is perfectly permissible for the courts to sentence someone before them on the basis that he is a trafficker when he is only charged with possession, and that would be a lamentable state of affairs when it is open to the prosecuting authorities to charge him with trafficking. Also, it takes away the basis for continuing to press for penalties of this magnitude for the simple offence of possession.

In conclusion, may I say that it is all very well to say that the courts will use their discretion and deal with offenders coming before them in a humane way. It is my experience that, by and large, that is the case; that one does get, particularly in this city, a very reasonable and humane attitude taken by magistrates and benches of justices to offenders who have been in possession of drugs. But if justices or judges take the view, as some do, that persons before them charged with simple possession deserve to go to prison, who can blame them in that attitude when the penalties are fixed in this inordinate way? And it is not enough to say that any excess of bigotry can be cured on appeal, because the appellate authority in some regions may be no better. Great hardship, I do not say is frequently caused but can be caused when justices or judges take these penalties as the sort of guide which many noble Lords have taken them as, as a reason for "clobbering" drug offenders. I hope that my words will be taken note of and the whole rationale of penalties reviewed.


I have been trying to help the Committee as regards time. I am very conscious that we are now, and have been for some minutes, on borrowed time; we were hoping to finish at seven o'clock. This is the dilemma: there are two further Bills for consideration and a number of Orders. I quite appreciate that the noble Baroness should wish to move this Amendment and speak to it, because she spent so much time and work in drawing up the Report on Cannabis, and these are the penalties which were proposed. At the same time, we have twice debated the matter very extensively: on Amendment No. 1, the proposal to put cannabis in a separate class with lower penalties, and on Amendment No. 21, the proposal to move cannabis from Class B to Class C, which would have the same effect of reducing the penalties. The level is a little different in each case, but the principle is the same, and I should not be using the time of the Committee in the most fruitful way if I went yet again through the reasons why the Government did not feel that it was possible to reduce the penalties for the possession of cannabis below those which are already included in the Bill. When we have disposed of this Amendment, perhaps the noble Baroness would let us know whether or not she feels she would like to move the remaining Amendments, in which case we ought to adjourn for another day, or whether she feels that the point has been made and the argument fully explored.


I have no alternative but to withdraw this Amendment and to say that I shall not move those that follow. I shall not do so without protest. This is the third time that this debate has been conducted under a timetable, and there is no guillotine in this House. It is the only time—the noble Lord will forgive me for saying so—in the twelve years that I have been in this House that I have heard a Minister say that he must reject all the Amendments that follow before they have been moved or spoken to. In the circumstances, I do not propose to continue this discussion. I ask leave to withdraw this Amendment and I give an undertaking not to move the others, but I do it under protest.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 4 agreed to.

Remaining Schedules agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.