§ 3.35 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE, HOME OFFICE (LORD WINDLESHAM)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This Bill reforms and strengthens the law relating to the misuse of drugs. It replaces the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act 1964 and the Dangerous Drugs Acts of 1965 and 1967 and establishes new and more extensive provisions for controlling drugs. The Bill was originally introduced by the previous Administration, but as it had not completed 222 its passage through another place before the General Election it fell. Since the present Government fully accept the reasoning on which the Bill is based it was reintroduced in another place where it has now, with some amendments, completed all its stages. The Bill has been widely welcomed and few differences of a Party political nature have emerged to cloud our consideration of this problem.
And what a problem it is, my Lords! I find myself using the word "problem" rather too often and rather too loosely. But here, surely, we are faced by a problem of classic proportions. That it is a confusing and difficult question no one would deny. Its dimensions are hard enough to decribe; let alone to interpret and understand. But we must make the effort. Were we to stand back and say that the law is powerless in the face of a social phenomenon of this kind we should not only be abandoning a number of gravely sick people, but we should put at risk our interest in the welfare of a substantial part of an entire generation of young people. Professional pushers and other criminals would also be left to their own devices in exploiting, for their own gain, the weaknesses of human nature. The answer must be, No, my Lords; we cannot stand by and watch, appalled and uncomprehending, while a disabling and unnatural habit flourishes in our society.
It is not as though dependence on drugs for non-medical purposes is at all new. It has been recorded as a historical fact in the development of many societies since the sixteenth century, while much earlier clues are to be found in the remnants of past civilisations. This is not the occasion to attempt a review of the history of drug taking, but I mention it simply to make the point that other societies have faced similar challenges in the past and that their experience has, on the whole, not been discouraging. There is nothing in history to support the view that an outbreak of drug abuse is an irreversible process. Habits established over centuries are inevitably only dislodged with much pain and hardship, yet there are indications, for example, that in China great strides have been made towards the eradication of opium smoking. We should also recognise that many far less deeply rooted practices have been known to come and go in the course of a few decades. While it is true that 223 increasing population pressure and advances in technology point towards more drug problems, it is also true that technology holds out a promise of more solutions. So, although it would be foolish to underestimate the significance of the recent spectacular rise in the use of drugs for non-medical purposes in this country, it is also unnecessary to be unduly pessimistic.
One of the few undisputed characteristics of the current drug scene in the United Kingdom is that it is always changing. New drugs come into circulation, old ones are used in different ways. Drugs are mixed with other substances, and multiple misuse of several drugs at the same time is common. The picture changes rapidly—month to month, perhaps, in the cities; certainly year to year over the country as a whole. But one factor remains constant: that what statistics we have indicate that the problem is not only still here but growing. It would be unwise to try to read too much into the number of convictions for offences against the drugs laws, but your Lordships may be interested to know the current position.
For cannabis offences the number of convictions rose from 3,071 in 1968 to 4,676 in 1969, an increase of 52 per cent., as against an increase of 28 per cent. between 1967 and 1968. For heroin, other opiates and synthetic narcotics, the increase in the number of convictions was 24 per cent.—from 1,099 in 1968 to 1,359 in 1969. Convictions in respect of drugs controlled under the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act 1964 rose by 20 per cent., from 2,957 in 1968 to 3,762 in 1969—convictions relating to LSD more than doubling. In recent months there have been reports from various parts of the country of a sharp increase in LSD taking, and while the figures for 1970 are not yet available, the preliminary indications are that convictions involving controlled drugs will again have increased overall, possibly by as much as 25 per cent.
The statistics of addicts notified to the Home Office are, however, less discouraging. In 1969, 2,881 persons were known to have been addicted to dangerous drugs at some time in the year. This represents an increase—but a small one—of only 99 over the 1968 figure, compared with 224 a year by year increase of over 50 per cent. in the preceding years. I do not want to analyse these figures further at present, since to do so would take us into a discussion on the place of the treatment centres and of prescribing drugs to addicts. My noble friend Lord Aberdare, from the Department of Health and Social Security, is to wind up the debate and he will be dealing with any question which may arise concerning treatment and rehabilitation.
May I now turn to the general considerations which have been in our minds while framing this legislation? We have been guided by the principle that society has a right to use the criminal law to protect itself from forces which may threaten its existence as a politically, socially or economically viable order. Most people would agree that there should be safeguards restricting the production and supply of potent medicines and drugs that are taken for non-medical purposes. Defining in legislation what is legitimate and what is not can foster responsible distribution by the pharmaceutical industry, the medical profession and other interests which may be involved. It is when we come to consider the position of the individual user that controversy arises, both about interference with individual freedom and about the practical value of any restrictions that are introduced with a view to preventing the user from doing himself harm. These are profound questions and ones that are admirably discussed in the Report on Cannabis by the Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence (paragraphs 13 to 18). The dilemma which faces us here arises from three imponderables. First, the traditional approach to the control of dangerous drugs has been to penalise unauthorised possession, not unauthorised use. Secondly, there has been no basis for deciding whether restrictions on illegal production and supply are effective without restrictions on possession. Thirdly, there is no clear evidence that restrictions on possession deter or, conversely, fail to deter misuse of drugs.
It seems right, at this stage in our experience, to acknowledge that the past and present drugs law, with its heavy reliance on penalising unauthorised possession, has been an unduly blunt instrument. The Bill, in contrast, allows a 225 more flexible approach. We should not delude ourselves, however, and so long as the law has a part to play the drawing of the line around what constitutes "possession" is bound to be a very difficult and controversial matter. We can make it less difficult and controversial only by basing it on reliable information about the dangers of drugs and the effects of sanctions. The final principle on which the Bill is based—and I should really have put it first—is that we must at all costs avoid an approach that is too legalistic and that takes inadequate account of people and the circumstances of contemporary society. To get the balance right is in many ways the whole art of government, and certainty is impossible to achieve. But I wanted to say that the Government are aware of these considerations and have given much thought to them.
The main defects of the present legislation are that it is fragmented and compartmentalised. Some drugs are controlled under the 1965 Act; others under the 1964 Act. A variety of powers relating to production and supply, import and export, prescribing and unauthorised possession are contained in these two Acts, and in the Dangerous Drugs Act 1967. But this patchwork of legislation no longer meets our requirements. In particular, there is a lack of adequate powers to deal effectively with trafficking. I shall have more to say on this in a few minutes.
Turning now to the contents of the Bill, your Lordships will notice that Clause 1 provides for the establishment of an Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs. This body will replace the present Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence which has done such excellent work under the chairmanship of Sir Edward Wayne over the last four years. The Reports on cannabis, and on the amphetamines and LSD, both produced by sub-committees under the chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, and the two other Reports on powers of arrest and search in relation to drug offences, and on the rehabilitation of drug addicts, have been notable contributions to the literature and body of knowledge in what has been largely an uncharted field of study.
226 May I say at this point what a debt of gratitude we all owe to the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton? It seems to me that whatever fresh fields I turn to in preparation for debates in your Lordships' House, whether on penal reform, drugs or powers of magistrates, the path is prepared with reports, articles and speeches by the noble Baroness. I notice that she titled her biography, In a World I Never Made. She may feel that, but I do not believe I am alone in finding myself in a world that she has greatly influenced.
Unlike its predecessor, the Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence—which is the existing body under Sir Edward Wayne—the new Advisory Council will be a statutory body with an important additional function. And this is to advise on any exercise of the powers provided in the Bill. Although it would not be appropriate for me, until the Bill is on the Statute Book, to comment on the membership of the Council, I can give your Lordships an assurance that the Home Secretary intends to see that the membership reflects a broadly balanced grouping of medical, scientific and lay experts.
It will also be the duty of the Council to advise whether drugs should be added to the list of controlled drugs set out in the Second Schedule to the Bill, and thereafter to keep the classification under review. There is, as the Advisory Committee pointed out, a hierarchy of danger, and the true dangers of a drug may not be immediately apparent. Amphetamines, for example, have been moving up the scale. Moreover, particular forms of misuse, such as intravenous injection or mixing with other drugs, may make a relatively harmless drug a source of great danger. Clause 2 of the Bill therefore provides for drugs to be classified into three groups according to their relative harmfulness—Classes A, B and C. There is also power to move drugs up and down the list, or indeed out of the list altogether. In recognition of their real dangers the amphetamines have been upgraded from Class C—that is, the 1964 Act level—and are now distributed in Class A (injectable preparations) and Class B (other preparations). LSD, at present likewise scheduled under the 1964 Act at the Class C level, becomes a Class A drug under this Bill; and in 227 future it will be possible to modify the regulations governing particular drugs without the necessity, as at present, of fresh legislation in every case.
Clause 3 restricts the import and export of controlled drugs, while Clause 4 makes it an offence to produce a controlled drug or to supply, or to offer to supply, such a drug to another person. But here again flexibility is preserved by the powers contained in Clause 7. These enable legitimate producers and suppliers of drugs, such as the pharmaceutical companies, chemists and doctors, to go about their business subject to such terms and conditions as the Secretary of State may provide. I should point out that Clause 7 also relates to the restrictions on the possession of drugs which are contained in Clause 5, and to the provisions concerning the cultivation of the plant cannabis which are contained in Clause 6. Thus, taken together with the powers contained in Clauses 10, 11 and 30, it will now be possible, for the first time, to construct selective codes of control based on the advice of experts who are closely in touch with contemporary developments in the drugs scene. So far as the possession of drugs is concerned, a particularly important change is that liability will no longer be absolute. Clause 5 refers forward to Clause 28, which provides that proof of lack of knowledge is to be a defence in proceedings for certain offences.
The next main feature of the Bill, my Lords, lies in the provisions concerned with the illegal trafficking of drugs. Here, three new offences are created. Subsections (2)(b) and (3)(b) of Clause 4 create a new offence of being in any way concerned in the unlawful production or supply of a controlled drug. Paragraphs (a) and (b) of Clause 8 for the first time make it an offence for occupiers or persons concerned in management knowingly to permit unlawful production or supply to take place on their premises; while Clause 5(3) creates a new offence of possession with intent unlawfully to supply. This provision has been a valuable feature of American and Canadian law for some time. This spelling out of the conduct which amounts to trafficking shifts the emphasis away from straightforward possession, to which I have just referred. It also makes possible 228 a revision of the present single standard penalties for supply or possession. The penalties for trafficking and smuggling will in future be even more severe than they are at present, and the Government feel sure that this is a step which will have general support.
Perhaps I may say a word or two now, my Lords, on the subject of the penalties contained in the Bill. For simple possession the Bill envisages three levels of maximum penalty reflecting the relative harmfulness of the various classes of drugs as they are viewed to-day. Some penalties have gone up, others have gone down. For drugs listed in Class A, the maximum penalty on indictment will be seven years. This represents a reduction from ten years in the case of some drugs, like heroin—this is for the user, not for the trafficker—but an increase from two years to seven in the case of LSD and injectable amphetamines. For drugs listed in the second category, Class B. the maximum penalty on indictment will be five years. This will apply to the cannabis-taker, for whom the maximum penalty has previously been ten years. But there will be an increase from two years to five years in the case of non-injectable amphetamines. For the least dangerous drugs, listed in Class C, the maximum penalty will be two years.
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. The Magistrates' Association has expressed support for the provision of discretion to work within a ceiling of maximum penalties. I ought to say that when a prosecution takes place in the magistrates' courts and the offender is dealt with summarily, the penalties for possession of the various classes of controlled drugs are of course very much less severe than the penalties I have just described, which are on indictment. The details are set out in Schedule 4 to the Bill.
229 My Lords, there are some important points concerning the new statutory defences and the powers of the police to stop and search persons who are suspected of being in possession of drugs, which I shall not discuss now but which might be raised in Committee. Nor, in the interests of brevity, shall I refer to the detailed lists of drugs contained in Schedule 2 and the important issues that arise from the classification of cannabis as a Class B drug and the omission at this stage of the barbiturates. But I shall of course listen with close attention to anything which is said on these matters in the course of the debate, and there will certainly be opportunities to follow them up as the Bill progresses. I must, however, say a word or two before closing about the prescribing of controlled drugs—a matter in which the medical profession has a vital interest.
Clause 13 gives the Secretary of State power, subject to a number of safeguards, to withdraw the authority of a medical practitioner who is found to have supplied or prescribed drugs irresponsibly; and Clause 15 gives power temporarily to suspend the authority of a practitioner if a professional panel established under later provisions of the Bill reports that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that he has prescribed or supplied drugs irresponsibly. These provisions go further than those contained in the Dangerous Drugs Act 1967 which established a special tribunal to deal with the over-prescribing of heroin.
It may be asked why the law has to intervene and why the medical profession cannot be left to deal with its own black sheep through the well-established disciplinary procedures. This possibility has been carefully considered and was discussed during the Summer Recess at the meeting between my right honourable friend and the President of the General Medical Council, Lord Cohen of Birkenhead, whose speech we shall look forward to hearing later in this debate. As we see it, the basic difficulty about leaving it to the G.M.C. to assume responsibility in these matters is that "irresponsible prescribing" covers such a wide variety of possible practices. These range from infamous conduct at one extreme to poorly judged, but bona-fide attention at the other. It is consequently not easy to see how it could be 230 fitted into the existing disciplinary machinery of the medical profession which was designed for narrower purposes. The Council would need to be provided with new resources to investigate "irresponsible prescribing" and "irresponsible prescribers", while appropriate powers would be need to deal with cases not thought to amount to professional misconduct. Even if a system were evolved, legislation would be needed and it is possible that the Council's procedures would take longer to operate than the special machinery proposed in the Bill; and in this field speed is of great importance. For these reasons my right honourable friend concluded that the proposals in the Bill are necessary to the new machinery of control. They have been accepted as such by the General Medical Council and the other medical and professional bodies concerned.
My Lords, I am afraid that almost all my remarks this afternoon have been concerned with the regulatory and penal aspects of the Bill. But I do not want to end by giving the impression that these predominate in our thoughts. Anyone who studies the complex problem of drugs misuse quickly comes to appreciate the limited contribution that can be made by laws and their enforcement. We are concerned here with human behaviour, with the exercise of free will, with the desire to experiment, and often with the rejection of conventional standards. Many young drug takers, especially, have a sense of belonging to a culture of their own; and one that is opposed to the world they see outside. There are various voluntary bodies and social workers who are trying to make it easier to come to terms with this intractable problem which has faced the courts, the police, probation officers, teachers, doctors, parents and, above all perhaps, young people themselves over the past decade.
The first clause in the Bill recognises this and places a number of specific duties on the Advisory Council. Persons affected by the misuse of drugs must be helped to obtain proper advice, and there must be facilities for treatment, rehabilitation and after care. Cooperation between various professional and community services will be encouraged; research which might lead to a reduction in drugs misuse will be 231 initiated: and to back this all up there is an obligation to try to educate the public (and in particular younger people) to the dangers presented by drugs.
Let us not claim too much for this Bill—important though it is. Changes in the law alone will not solve the drugs problem. But they can contribute towards a solution, particularly when they are combined with social measures of the kind I have just described. For these reasons I commend the Bill to your Lordships, with confidence that it is a desirable and worthwhile step towards a better society. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Windlesham.)
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ BARONESS SEROTA
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, reminded us at the outset of his full and helpful introduction that, apart from a few amendments, it is a Bill that is almost identical with the one brought forward by the previous Administration but which was halted during its progress in another place by the Prorogation of Parliament, before it could reach your Lordships' House. He will therefore not be surprised to hear that we accept the general principles on which it is based and shall assist with its passage; although there may well be certain aspects which my noble friends and I will wish the House to consider at later stages of the Bill.
I would agree at once that subsection (2) of the new Clause 1, which is the major difference between this Bill and its predecessor, now gives clearer recognition to the broader social, educational and medical aspects of the problem of drugs misuse by the detailed definition it gives to the functions of the new Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. At the same time, it must be recognised that such a formidable list of duties will not be without its problems, especially now that in addition to its strategic planning and policy formulating role the new Council will also, presumably, be responsible for the tactical day-to-day task of examining, OT at least of overseeing, the restrictions needed to check abuse which was originally envisaged for the Expert Committee provided for in the previous Government's Bill.
232 I join the noble Lord in the tributes and thanks that he expressed to the present extremely active, non-statutory Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence under the chairmanship of Sir Edward Wayne. It has undoubtedly been the main national agency for development and policy formulation in this difficult and constantly changing field, and in the space of four years it has managed to produce four excellent and valuable Reports which—and this particularly applies to the recent report on amphetamines and L.S.D. produced by the sub-committee under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lady Wootton of Abinger—have contributed greatly to the legislation we are considering to-day. In addition, I understand that the Advisory Committee also submitted an Interim Report to the Home Secretary on the social aspects of the misuse of barbiturates and other sedative drugs—an addictive group still notably absent from this Bill. Presumably it will be open to the Home Secretary to bring this group of drugs under control within the procedure now proposed by listing them in Schedule 2 of the Bill. I should be grateful if the noble Lord who is to reply to this debate could tell us how consultations on this subject are proceeding with the medical profession and others concerned and whether it is the intention of the Home Secretary to bring them under control, or how matters now stand.
The record of the Advisory Committee is, in my view, especially impressive when one considers that its distinguished members undertake this important and time-consuming work on an entirely voluntary unpaid basis, over and above their other considerable professional and public responsibilities. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, may recall that I made a similar point in connection with another body that advises the Home Secretary, namely, the Advisory Council on the Penal System, when we recently debated the present state of overcrowding in our prisons. In that case, too, there is a need for speed in considering the question of new policies for the treatment of young offenders. But it is even more relevant here in terms of the burden of day-to-day work involved; so I make no apology for raising the issue again.
233 This Bill now provides for a statutory Council with much wider and heavier responsibilities than the existing non-statutory Committee. It abolishes the expert Committee, presumably consisting of full-time professional and technical members, envisaged by the previous Government, but makes no obvious provision to give more help to the men and women needed to undertake these vital but onerous duties. Nor, to my mind, will the device of setting up sub-committees to consider special areas of the Council's responsibilities be a solution to this problem. Indeed, generally it makes only for more activity, both for members of the Council and also for Home Office staff involved.
I will not at this stage detain the House further by commenting on the proposed membership of the Council. As the noble Lord indicated, the Home Secretary has very much in mind the need to include within its membership medical, social, educational and lay experience and knowledge, and I look forward to hearing the decisions he eventually makes on its membership.
We shall also have an opportunity to consider details of this kind when the House is in Committee on the Bill, but I should be grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, would give some indication of what the Government have in mind to assist those who are invited to undertake this work. Does the Home Secretary intend to appoint any full or part-time members of the Council? Does he intend to pay any remuneration for their services as provided for in Schedule 1 to the Bill? Would the noble Lord also give us an assurance that, at the very least, the Secretariat of the Council is to be strengthened, having regard to the additional work which will now be involved? I know that the policy and practice of Government Departments in relation to advisory bodies of this kind varies, but surely members of this important body are at least entitled to the same kind of arrangements, as, for example, the members of the Parole Board or the Community Relations Commission. They, too, are appointed to advise the Home Secretary, and they receive a very modest attendance fee for each full day given to this important public work; so that at the very least they are not out of pocket because of activities resulting 234 from membership of a council of this kind.
My Lords, with regard to the main features of the Bill, which the noble Lord so helpfully outlined, I support in particular the provisions of Clause 2 and Schedule 2 which introduce a three-tier classification for the purposes of the penalties set out in Clause 25 and Schedule 4, for possessing and supplying certain drugs. I further support those provisions which allow for rapid action to control abuse following either development in scientific knowledge or—which is just as important in this connection—changes in fashion which affect the whole situation, although differing views may well be expressed during our discussions on these issues about the detailed allocation of particular drugs between the three suggested classes and the upper level of penalties recommended in certain cases.
I also welcome the attempt in Clause 5 to deal with the admittedly very difficult problem of distinguishing between the drug user and the drug seller, trafficker or pusher. As a magistrate, I must confess that I visualise considerable difficulties for the courts in deciding that the intention to supply exists other than through the obvious, although not always necessarily conclusive, evidence of the scale of the quantities of illicit drugs involved in the operation. I look forward in the Second Reading debate and also on the Committee stage to hearing the discussion on this problem which has concerned us all for such a long time.
The third main principle which, as the noble Lord reminded us, is included in Clauses 13 and 15, concerns one of the areas of the drug problem which has undoubtedly caused great public concern; namely, over-prescribing by doctors. We know, of course, that in the case of certain drugs only a tiny handful of doctors have been involved; nevertheless, the results have been disastrous and tragic. In the case of other categories of drugs, such as amphetamines and amphetamine compounds, the prescribing habits of the medical profession are evidenced by the fact that, in 1968 alone, as many as 4 million National Health prescriptions for amphetamines were issued, putting some 100 million pills into circulation. Undoubtedly this has been a major factor assisting in the development of drug 235 dependence and drug misuse through sheer availability alone.
My Lords, I believe that, as in other areas of irresponsible and anti-social behaviour, self-discipline would obviously have been a better solution than the considerable and complex system of controls that the Government have now been compelled to provide and to take responsibility for in this Bill. In this context, I greatly welcome the lead given by hospital doctors and general practitioners in the Ipswich area in advocating and themselves applying, a voluntary ban on amphetamine prescribing in areas which they serve. It does seem—and this is very welcome news to us all—that their example in restricting the circulation of drugs for misuse is now being followed by local medical committees up and down the country.
The fact that amphetamine prescriptions have dropped from the 4 million peak in 1968 to 3.3 million in 1969 is certainly an encouraging and welcome sign that doctors are now more aware of the dangers that can flow from wide-scale availability. The recent decision of one drug company also is to be welcomed; namely, to stop manufacturing amphetamines and to destroy existing stocks because of the growing concern we all feel about the social dangers involved in amphetamine dependence. But I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and the decision of the Government, that the dangers are still so great that the kind of controls that this Bill provides are still urgently necessary, and I am glad that they have been accepted as such and included within it with the full co-operation of the medical profession. I, too, look forward to hearing the views of the noble Lord, Lord Cohen of Birkenhead, President of the General Medical Council, on this area of the Bill.
It is in this context of over-prescribing that I should like to ask the Minister what progress the Government have made in considering Recommendation 8 of the Sub-Committee on Amphetamines and LSD—presided over by the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abingerfor more rapid scrutiny of prescriptions and the need to institute a continuous monitoring system for both National Health Service and also private prescriptions issued for amphetamines and other 236 named drugs. I am convinced that the Sub-Committee were right when they argued that we need more effective machinery to ensure the early identification of doctors whose prescribing habits appear to warrant special investigation. Surely this is central to our problem. Other countries, as the Wootton Committee pointed out, have managed to devise effective systems for this purpose.
There is little doubt—and the Wootton Committee endorsed this point of view—that our present system allows too great a period to elapse before clear evidence of abnormal prescribing is picked up. All our experience goes to show that it is during this period that new problems of dependence on its use develops and spreads, and major damage is done. Can the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, also tell us whether Clause 13 of the Bill empowers the Home Secretary to control the activities of those responsible for the running of so-called slimming clinics, for example, where vast quantities of amphetamines and amphetamine compounds are still being dispensed?
I was much in agreement with the noble Lord when he reminded us that the main purpose of the Bill was to replace our present fragmented legislation in the field of drug misuse with the more flexible machinery provided in this Bill and that it is designed to respond more rapidly, both now and in the future, than previous legislation to the constantly changing drug scene, particularly in relation to over-prescribing and the illicit distribution of drugs. All noble Lords who are to take part in the debate would probably also agree with the noble Lord that it is primarily a machinery Bill, concerned with the negative processes of control and law enforcement.
No one who is aware of the marked change in the incidence and prevalence of drug dependence and of the ways in which the drug misuse epidemic has developed and spread in the last ten years from a stable group of middle class "therapeutic" addicts to infect great numbers of young people can regard the present state of the law as adequate. Neither can we be satisfied, on the basis of experience either here or in other parts of the world, that legal and penal measures alone will be sufficient to deal effectively with the ever-changing drug scene. Moreover, I think your Lordships 237 will agree that the introduction of increased restrictions and controls inevitably involve general issues of individual liberty—a problem which, as the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, reminded us, was so clearly expounded in the Report of the sub-committee of the Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence, chaired by noble friend Lady Wootton of Abinger.
In this context I must express my personal concern about the need to continue the "stop and search" powers included in Clause 23 of the Bill, which were the subject of careful examination—and indeed of a divided Report—by the Advisory Committee under the chairmanship of the honourable Member for Ashford in another place, who has done such outstanding work in this field. I know that the arguments here are finely balanced. No doubt we shall be considering them in some detail, but I find this one of the most difficult parts of the Bill, where law enforcement needs clash with individual liberty and individual dignity and where the dangers of creating even deeper divisions between young people and adult authority and between the police and the public generally are very real indeed.
Finally, I think it is now widely recognised that drug misuse, like other forms of social deviance, has a multiple aetiology, in which personality factors and social forces, together with the ready availability of psycho-active drugs themselves, interact. Effective measures designed to counteract its constantly changing forms clearly require multidisciplinary programmes covering a complex range of educational, medical and social measures, as well as the particular legal machinery for control and law enforcement which we are considering here to-day.
No doubt other noble Lords taking part in this debate will touch on some of these wider issues which are not within the terms of the Bill but are an essential part of the problems it seeks to solve. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, who is to reply to this debate, will be able to give us a clear indication of Government policy in this wider field, and that particularly he will be able to tell the House what the Government plans are for better methods of education in schools about the dangers of drug abuse, 238 including programmes for informing parents and teachers how to recognise drug misuse, a field in which the Women's Royal Voluntary Service, under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lady Swanborough, is doing such interesting experimental work. I also hope that the noble Lord will give us a full report on the progress that is being made in the development of treatment and rehabilitation facilities in hospitals and community health and social services which go beyond mere containment.
I know that the House would wish me to conclude by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, for his clear exposition of this complex and important measure. I can assure him of our co-operation throughout its different stages.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ LORD FOOT
My Lords, I think that I shall be a little more controversial about this Bill than the noble Baroness, but I should like to say that while I have some serious reservations about the Bill as regards its general strategy and on some matters of detail, some of which reservations may be shared by my noble friends, there is one matter on which I shall certainly have the support of all my noble friends and of all parts of the House—that is, when I express satisfaction that this Bill is in the hands of the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham. I say this, not as an idle and formal compliment but because it has been demonstrated to the House already that the noble Lord brings to bear on these grave social problems which are his peculiar concern as spokesman for the Home Office not only a formidable grasp of the subject matter, as he has demonstrated here to-day and as he showed the other day when debating the overcrowding in prisons, but also a liberal and generous sympathy; and for that we are most grateful. I do not think the Bill could be in better hands than his.
In this Bill, as the noble Lord has said, we are deploying our social forces to try to combat the drug problem. In doing that, it is important that we should bear in mind that we are moving in what is largely an unmapped and unknown territory, in which we have to make difficult judgments. It is a field in which I feel there is grave risk that we may take steps which will go wrong, when 239 it is particularly important that they should go right. In approaching this problem, we have to match our determination to cope with it with a cool analysis and understanding of what the problem is. Because this Bill comes to us from another place and has been fully debated, I suppose it would be too much to hope that we can make any major alteration of the Bill as it now stands. But I know that the noble Lord is going to listen with careful attention and sympathy to all the proposals that may be made, and I am certain that he is not going to be dogmatic in defence of the Bill, clause by clause, line by line, letter by letter. I hope that when we come to the Committee stage we shall be able to make some proposals which will merit close attention.
Leaving aside the setting up of the Advisory Committee, it seems to me that the Bill does four things. First of all, it identifies and classifies the various drugs to be prohibited or controlled according to their actual harmfulness. Secondly, it goes on to say what sort of behaviour or action will constitute an offence. Thirdly, it prescribes the penalties for the different kinds of offences, and fourthly, it seeks to reinforce the powers of the law enforcement agencies in order to secure that the law is observed. Those, I suggest, are the four major objects of the Bill, and I should like to say a word or two about each of them. I shall not detain the House very long. The matter of classification of drugs in different categories must necessarily be basically a matter for the experts and for the medical profession. There is one exception: there is one drug whose classification cannot, I suggest, be determined by the experts because there is no unanimity whatever among the experts as to its effect or as to its harmfulness, and, secondly, because the examination of this drug involves social and political judgments as well as medical judgments. That drug is, of course, cannabis.
Under this Bill cannabis is classified as a Class B drug, together with some 12 others. I take it—although I am no expert—that in the case of the 12 others the harmfulness is something which is demonstrable, something which is ascertained and something which is known: but that is not the case with cannabis. 240 Secondly, the penalties prescribed for the use of cannabis, and the possession of it, are exactly the same as the penalties prescribed for the other 12 drugs in that category. My fear is that it is in the realm of cannabis and on the subject of cannabis that we are most likely to go wrong in the treatment of the misuse of drugs.
I do not want to say anything controversial about cannabis; I do not want to be drawn into a controversy about the matters which were discussed at length, and so ably, in the Report by the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger. But there are three matters which can be said about cannabis which are not controversial, in the sense that they are really indisputable. The first of them is that the effect of using cannabis is uncertain. Secondly, it could be said that it is demonstrable that the use of tobacco is more injurious to the individual than the use of cannabis, and that taking alcohol is more injurious to the individual, and to society, than the use of cannabis. I should have thought that was beyond question.
The second social property of cannabis is that there is a substantial proportion of people—including young people, but not only young people—in our population who are utterly unpersuaded that there is any moral guilt in the use of this drug. The third point about cannabis is that the number of users and the degree of use of the drug is the most significant problem in the realm of misuse of drugs. Certainly in my part of the world, in the South West, where we are confronted with these problems, as people are elsewhere, it is the use of cannabis which is the overwhelming problem. I hope that we have been lucky to escape the more serious and harder drugs. Certainly so far as legal proceedings in my part of the world are concerned, drug cases have almost exclusively been concerned with the use of cannabis.
Bearing those three factors in mind—and I hope it will be thought that they are uncontroversial—may I look for a moment at the penalties which we are applying under this Bill, first of all for the possession of cannabis, in however small a quantity. What are the penalties? As the noble Lord has pointed out, on summary conviction it is six months' imprisonment, or a fine of £400, or both. 241 On indictment it is five years' imprisonment, or an unlimited fine, or both. That is for possession, and possession only. I realise, as the noble Lord has said, that that fortunately constitutes some reduction on what we had before. Even so, is not a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment for the possession only of this drug, whose harmful effects have not been demonstrated, an enormous penalty, even now?
When we turn to the supply, the production and the cultivation of cannabis, we see that the penalties for that offence are 12 months' imprisonment on summary conviction, or a fine of £400, or both. On indictment there is a maximum penalty of 14 years' imprisonment, or an unlimited fine, or both. These sentences are the maximum sentences which we prescribe for such things as blackmail and grievous bodily harm. Theoretically, a person supplies cannabis if he passes a single reefer cigarette to a friend—even if he does it without payment. Theoretically, when he does that he renders himself liable to a maximum penalty of 14 years' imprisonment.
I know it will be said—and indeed the noble Lord implied it even if he did not say it—that one need not worry about these maximum penalties because it is always open to the court, whether a magistrates' court or a superior court, to exercise its discretion, and deal with the matter on the basis of the particular circumstances of the case. I suggest that there are two fallacies in that argument. First, there is a great disparity of thinking and attitude between one court and another. That applies not only to magistrates' courts; it applies to the higher courts and the judges as well. There are some courts who, in my experience, come almost to the same view as most of the younger generation; that is to say, that the only real offence you commit when you use cannabis is that you do something which the law prohibits. At the other extreme, there are courts which take the view that the consumption of cannabis and other drugs is one of the most serious criminal offences. Why shoud they not take that view when Parliament itself is in this Bill laying down these enormous penalties as being appropriate?
The second reason why I suggest that the argument is a fallacy is that when 242 you apply these terrific penalties for an offence which a large number of people regard as containing no moral guilt, you bring the law into grave disrepute. There is always a general danger in passing laws which are regarded by any substantial proportion of the population as being unfair and having no moral basis or foundation. That is particularly true when you are dealing with drugs. The enforcement of the laws against the misuse of drugs is a matter, and must always remain a matter, of very considerable difficulty. The noble Lord will know only too well how impossible it is to put up defences against the importation and supply of drugs—particularly cannabis.
I suggest that we are not going to be able to enforce the law unless we can satisfy the great majority of people in this country that the law is fair and right. Unless we can carry public opinion with us on this matter, and can satisfy people that the law is fair, we are not going to see the enforcement of this law. Many people who are not drug users, and many people who have never touched cannabis and never have any intention of touching it, believe that the law at the present moment, so far as the possession of cannabis is concerned—and possibly so far as the supply of cannabis is concerned—is monstrously unfair. While that situation exists there will be people turning to cannabis partly in protest against the law which they regard as manifestly unfair.
The conclusion I arrive at is that we have to consider whether we should not treat cannabis as a drug in a class of its own. I am not pleading for legalisation of cannabis. I believe that the arguments for it are logically very formidable, but politics is the art of the possible, and I recognise that at the present time that is not possible. I plead that we should have a very drastic reduction of penalties for the possession and the supply and the import of cannabis—indeed, all offences concerned with cannabis—in order, particularly, to reduce the gulf between what the law says should happen and what so many people believe to be the truth about cannabis. I will not detain your Lordships for more than a few moments longer, but I do not make any apology for having concentrated upon cannabis, because I 243 believe that much of what I have tried to say to the House is of general application to all the drugs; and consideration of the problem of cannabis is central to getting a law which is acceptable to the great majority of people in this country.
May I say just one word about the general increase of penalties provided for in the case of other drugs under this Bill. I very much doubt the wisdom or effectiveness of increasing the penalties. I myself believe that the effects of severity of punishment are sometimes nil, sometimes counter-productive, and in any case minimal. But there is this grave risk. If at the outset the penalties are put too high, and if in the light of subsequent experience it is felt that they can be reduced, it is very difficult to do so because one is always met with the argument that if Parliament should reduce the penalties for the use of particular drugs it will be appearing to condone the use of those drugs. That argument has been used over and over again. Therefore, we are in danger of making a grave mistake if we put the penalties too high at the beginning.
The other matter about which I should like to say just one word is the matter to which the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, has referred—the provisions in the Bill for enforcement of the law by search and arrest and so on. I am not going to say more than a word; but we are concerned here, as the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, himself said, with a delicate balance between enforcing the law as we make it and as it stands and the whole question of the protection of civil liberties. I say only that, here again, if we are going to ask that these measures of search and arrest—of interference with the ordinary individual—shall be accepted, we need to persuade people that the law as a whole is fair. People are going to be prepared to put up with embarrassment, inconvenience, and indeed indignity on some occasions, if they have the feeling that these measures are necessary in the enforcement of a wise and fair law. This question of what we do about cannabis enters into the argument at every stage.
My Lords, may I conclude by saying that I am not arguing the case for the permissive society—whatever that may 244 mean; I have never understood what it means. I am asking for a more cohesive society. It is, of course, a platitude to speak in these days about the yawning gulf which exists between the thinking and the attitudes of mind and the mores of the different generations. It is my melancholy conclusion about this Bill that it does not make any contribution to reducing that gulf, and I fear that in some ways it is liable to enlarge it.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ LORD COHEN OF BIRKENHEAD
My Lords, may I at the outset say that the medical profession shares with Members of your Lordships' House the feeling of gravity about this social problem of drug addiction. I fear we have to concede that some doctors—not many, but certainly a few—have made a significant contribution, particularly in relation to amphetamine, to drug addiction. However, I do not propose to deal with that aspect of the problem, since I am primarily concerned with Clauses 13, 14 and 15, which seek, as the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, has said, to curb the over-prescribing by doctors of drugs of dependence. As President of the General Medical Council, perhaps I should say that the Council has been brought into this field more and more in recent years.
Its scope of jurisdiction is, of course, limited. The law allows us to take action in only two groups of offences. The first is where there has been a criminal conviction against a doctor; and the second is where a complaint is made to the Council that a doctor is guilty of serious professional misconduct. The only penalty available to the Council is that of erasure of the name of the guilty doctor from the Register. That penalty has been in force since 1858, and was not modified until the Medical Act 1969, which permitted us to suspend a doctor's registration for a period of not more than twelve months.
The first suggestion that the General Medical Council should take a more active part in the disciplining of doctors alleged to be guilty of drug offences was made in the Brain Report of 1967, which, as your Lordships will remember, dealt with the control of heroin and cocaine. The suggestion was then put forward that the General Medical Council should have a responsibility for trying doctors who 245 were alleged to be prescribing heroin and cocaine in too large amounts, et cetera. That recommendation was made without any reference to, or consultation with, the General Medical Council itself. But, following the Report, there were a number of consultations between the Council and the Home Office and the then Ministry of Health. We sought to persuade them, and did persuade them, that under present legislation that was not a function which the Council could undertake. Indeed, in the Dangerous Drugs Act which implemented the Brain Report of 1967, and which this Bill when an Act seeks to replace, there was the provision that there should be special tribunals to examine these cases, as had been suggested by the Rolleston Committee of 1926.
Following that came the debates in the other place and a number of serious allegations were made against the General Medical Council for abdicating its responsibilities. Some, indeed, were made by Ministers. But on the Third Reading, which was on May 8, 1967, the then Minister, Mr. Kenneth Robinson, said:In Committee some hard words were said about the Council … It may be that criticisms expressed tended to become reflections on the Council"—a somewhat myopic statement. He continued:I hope to show that such reflections are unjustified."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, Commons, 8/5/67, col. 989.]And he proceeded to explain why the Government had accepted the Council's view.
When the Committee under the chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, was set up, the Council gave evidence and made it abundantly clear that although it preferred the tribunal method, if the Government wished otherwise, and were prepared to amend the Medical Act so as to extend its field and scope of jurisdiction, and were also prepared to furnish the necessary finances to meet this extended responsibility, then the Council would be prepared to undertake the investigation of these cases. Of course we are not a police force; we have no inspectorate. We are a body solely concerned with the types of disciplinary misdemeanours which existed long before drug addiction became such a grave problem to this country.
246 As I am sure the noble Baroness will agree, I made it abundantly clear, in giving evidence to her Committee, what were the responsibilities of our Council, and also what we were prepared to do. Alas! history may not repeat itself but historical situations recur, and when the present Government took office and announced their intention of introducing what is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, has told us, the Bill presented by the last Government, virtually unchanged, I thought I should write to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and on June 29 I wrote to him saying:If in the light of the recommendations of the Amphetamine Sub-committee"—which had, of course, placed less emphasis on the tribunal procedure—the present Government should wish to reconsider those provisions of the Bill"—which are the disciplinary provisions in Clauses 13, 14 and 15 of the present Bill—the Council would be very ready to join in discussions with you or with your officials".On September 1, I and the Registrar of the Council met a number of Ministers, including the Home Secretary himself and his officers. We covered the ground very fully, and a month later the Secretary of State wrote to me and said that they had carefully considered everything which had been said but they thought it best to proceed with the proposals in the Bill. That letter he sent to me, dated November 2, and yet on November 10—and I feel that I must make this public, since there have been acrimonious accusations and obloquy against the Council in its attitude to this problem—a week later, in Standing Committee A on this Bill the Minister said:It is not inconceivable that the General Medical Council will learn of this debate and will perhaps even read its proceedings, and will themselves find some interest stirred in the points made for and against the different stages in the debate. Nor is it inconceivable that the points made on both sides, the views expressed and the strong feelings shown in the Committee may yet lead the G.M.C. to communicate their views to my right honourable or honourable friends at the Home Office.There was clearly a lack of communication between the Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Security, but that had been corrected by the Fifth Sitting of Standing Committee A, when the Minister concerned made a very 247 ample apology for having apparently conveyed the wrong impression.
The General Medical Council have not, of course, been inactive in this field. During the last three years they have erased from the Register the names of six of the worst offenders in this respect, but they have done so on the basis of convictions or serious professional misconduct, a term which is now used instead of that which was used by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, of "infamous conduct", which was removed from the Act in 1969, although the scope of the legislation and the disciplinary jurisdiction of the Council has not been modified. The names of the six doctors have been erased from the Register and there are already inquiries proceeding in relation to other doctors. But what I want to reiterate is something which I stressed when I gave evidence to the Wootton Committee. The General Medical Council cannot act simply on a suspicion. It cannot act because some doctor writes to them and says, "Dr. X is over-prescribing drugs". The Council must receive evidence which justifies it in going further, for instance, from the Department of Health and Social Security (who may act on their own initiative) asking for an analysis of all the drugs which have been prescribed by those doctors and then to determine whether there is a prima facie case against them. If there is, then it is referred to the Disciplinary Committee.
I might perhaps remind your Lordships that the procedure at the Disciplinary Committee is virtually identical with that in a court of law: evidence is given on oath, witnesses may be subpoenaed and decisions must be taken as to whether facts are established only on the most rigid of proofs. So I trust that after my explanation to this House none of the observations which were earlier made to the detriment of the General Medical Council's disciplinary activities will be made again. We shall be only too happy to undertake any of the responsibilities which may be thought appropriate to our jurisdiction, but we cannot do so under the present legislation and we, as a Council, are perfectly content with the tribunal procedure.
May I make just one or two other small points? It has been said that procedures before the Council might be 248 longer delayed than if they are investigated before a tribunal. That need not be. We could set up machinery which could act quite as quickly as any tribunal set up by Government. What happened previously in regard to delay was that we had not the power we wished to have and we now have in the Medical Act 1969. Formerly, if we determined that the name of the doctor should be erased from the Register, the doctor had 28 days in which to appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, and if he in fact appealed his name remained on the Register until the determination had been made by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council advising Her Majesty.
The fact is that there is often a very long delay before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council hears an appeal. In some cases it is six, nine or even ten months. And in the case, for example, of Petro, over which we were greatly criticised, it was one of the longer periods because the Long Vacation intervened. So Petro was able to continue to prescribe dangerous drugs on a non-bona fide basis, that is not for bona fide treatment, for several months after we had determined that his name should be erased from the Register. That situation cannot recur. The Council now has the power to suspend forthwith a doctor from the Register if the Disciplinary Committee believes that it is for the protection of the public or in the best interests of the doctor.
There are two minor points, which should perhaps he raised at the Committee stage, but about which perhaps the noble Lord and his colleagues may be thinking. The first is the term "irresponsible manner". The reference is to a practitioner prescribing drugs in an irresponsible manner. This will be very difficult to prove. It is not unlike the phrase which is in the Abortion Act in relation to "in good faith". The term "irresponsible manner" is one extremely difficult, as we know in our disciplinary activities, to determine, and it may well be that we should ensure that he has prescribed or supplied controlled drugs contrary to the determination of the Secretary of State for Home Affairs and contrary to the public interest.
The other point is a very minor one, but as I read through the Explanatory 249 and Financial Memorandum to this Bill and see under Clause 17 that:Particulars relating to the identity of persons who have received the drugs may not be required to be furnished,and then look at Clause 17 in the Bill and find the phrase, "shall not require … to furnish", I suggest that an attempt be made to unify what are at present two conflicting statements.
I am sorry that I have spoken on this topic at such length, but I think it is important, because it is necessary that your Lordships, and indeed the public generally, should know the limits of the present jurisdiction of the G.M.C. but that it is prepared, if the Government wish to extend its scope of jurisdiction, to undertake that, provided, of course, that there is amending legislation which would be needed, and provided that we are furnished with appropriate finance.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ LORD AUCKLAND
My Lords, there can be no doubt whatever that legislation on the subject of the misuse of drugs has been needed for a long time, and I think that both the last Government and the present Government are to be commended for producing the legislation which is now before Parliament. Inevitably it will be extremely difficult to provide legislation to close every loophole. There will be some who think that the present legislation goes too far, particularly in the matter of penalties; there will be some who think it does not go far enough in that perhaps there should be more drugs on the controlled list.
Basically it seems that there are two types of drugs which are, strictly speaking, within the ambit of this Bill. One is the amphetamines, the "pep pills" as they are popularly called, and the other is the barbiturates or tranquillisers. As has been said, the production of amphetamines has been very considerably curtailed and I think that this fact will be welcomed by everybody. Nobody likes the idea of people having to take pep pills. Similarly, nobody likes the idea of people having to take tranquillisers, but there are some members of the community to whom particularly the latter type of drug is necessary.
I have no financial connections with the pharmaceutical industry, but I have taken an interest in that industry for a 250 number of years. I have been over quite a number of factories which produce these drugs and seen them at work, and particularly have I been impressed with the security which the companies try to carry out. I have in fact been to the firm which produces the largest number of amphetamines and have seen for myself the great care which is taken to see that these very dangerous drugs—dangerous if they get into the wrong hands—are controlled.
That brings me to Clause 10 of the present Bill, and particularly subsection (2)(f). This is largely a point which could be discussed in Committee, but it is the part which deals withregulating the transport of controlled drugs and the methods used for destroying or otherwise disposing of such drugs when no longer required".This seems to me to be one of the most important parts of the whole Bill, because in the present age of hijacking it is perfectly possible that a vehicle carrying these drugs could be hijacked and the drugs disposed of, possibly sold on the black market, and find their way into illicit hands. I wonder whether the Government have any watertight methods to put this particular clause into action at the earliest possible moment. Of course, there is never the perfect method of control in this kind of problem, but it seems very necessary that vehicles carrying drugs, particularly on the motorway, should be afforded perhaps more protection than they are given at the present time.
Then there is the question of labelling, which was made the subject of legislation in Section 85 of the Medicines Act. This was the subject of a full discussion in this House and in another place, and it has really made the passage of the present Bill easier because much of the legislation which was enacted in the Medicines Act is being, so to speak, continued by this Bill. Here again, the question of labelling is most important, because so often if a label is wrongly put on, or illegibly written, a drug can be misused or get into wrong hands. I wonder whether Section 58 of the Medicines Act is having the necessary effect? It is an important section and very germane to this Bill, but one wonders whether it is having the necessary impact.
251 I come now to an important part of the Bill, this very difficult question of consultation. In the Medicines Act the Minister was under an obligation to consult the pharmaceutical industry before regulations were laid. It would seem that there is no sanction for that in this particular Bill. This seems a little strange because it is the pharmaceutical companies who produce most of these drugs. I wonder whether the Minister would look into this question. It was raised on the Committee stage in another place. I do not think enough attention has been paid to it. If consultation was made obligatory, I am quite sure that it would add teeth to this Bill.
I come, finally, to the vexed question of penalties. It is true that 14 years is a long sentence for contravening the requirements of this Bill, but the pushing of drugs is a very serious offence when one sees the hands into which these drugs could pass. They can pass, and have passed, into the hands of schoolchildren. I have seen in hospital a teenage child quite incurably under the influence of drugs. While I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Foot, that care must be taken in imposing these penalties, I think the sanction must be there. I am certainly not an expert on the qualities of cannabis or any other drug. It may well be that cannabis is less harmful than some of the more powerful amphetamines and other drugs; but I think it can be said that if one starts taking even the least lethal drug it can mount up into something far more harmful.
Clearly, there are a number of technical points in a highly technical Bill which will need to be gone into when we take the Committee stage of this Bill, but it is at least gratifying to know that in a Session in which there is to be a great deal of politically highly controversial legislation, we have a Bill here which I believe all sections of both Houses wish to get on the Statute Book at the earliest possible moment.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ BARONESS WOOTTON OF ABINGER
My Lords, I have had very great difficulty in defining what attitude I should take to this Bill. I have finally come to the conclusion that the best thing I can do is to enclose myself, so to speak, between the opening words of the Home 252 Secretary in the late Government, when he introduced the Bill for Second Reading, and the closing words of the present Home Secretary when he performed the same function in the present Session of Parliament, thus finding myself in the totally unprecedented situation of being in agreement with Home Secretaries of two opposite political persuasions.
In introducing the Bill the Home Secretary of the late Government said:… law enforcement which attempts to control personal consumption is difficult. I emphasise at the outset that there is a need for a concerted effort in the legal, social and medical fields."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 25/3/70, col. 1446.]The present Home Secretary concluded his Second Reading, speech on the Bill by saying:… we recognise that this is a grievous social problem to which, by the Bill, we are making a contribution, but only a minor part of the total contribution required."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 16/7/70, col. 1755.]The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, in his speech to-day, warned us against the danger of being over-legalistic; he also added that we should not claim too much for the Bill. If we take these pronouncements together, we shall find that there has been a considerable change in the climate of opinion in the past two years—certainly since the time when the Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence produced its earliest Report—and that we are now approaching this problem in a much more sober, rational, constructive and less hysterical way than was perhaps more fashionable a few years ago. It is also important that we should keep in perspective the scale of the problem. Every time that a young person, or indeed even an older person, destroys his personality and risks his life by addiction to one of the clearly dangerous drugs, it is a grave tragedy that no-one would underestimate. Fortunately, in relation to our whole population, it is a very infrequent occurrence.
The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, gave the figures for 1970 of convictions under the relevant Acts for drug addiction and drug offences. I only had the figures down to 1969. At that time the total of convictions was just under 6,600. Of that total rather more than half were convictions for offences in respect of cannabis. I broke down the figures for 1969 into age groups. The noble Lord, 253 Lord Windlesham, has not broken his figures down into age groups, but perhaps we shall have them at some later stage. I found that in 1969 the proportion of young people in the most vulnerable age group (which is between 15 and 20) who had been found guilty of drug offences was not 1 per cent. of the total population in that age group, and not one-tenth of 1 per cent. of the total population in that age group. If the proportion of the young is still the same in the total for 1970, it might bring the proportion of the young convicted of drug offences up to just about one-tenth of one per cent. of the population in the age group. That is a rough calculation that I have made while listening to the noble Lord.
That matter is only the tip of the iceberg. But it would be a very large and a very strangely proportioned iceberg if we were to infer from these convictions—which, after all, are won by great police vigilance—that there was a vast mass of potentially convictable population, particularly among those who are using the more dangerous drugs.
We ought to keep this matter in perspective, perhaps by comparing it quickly with one or two other issues. Yesterday, your Lordships were debating road safety. The number of convictions of persons having excess alcohol in the blood is more than three times the total of those convicted for offences under the Drugs Acts. If one is thinking of the lethal effects of various practices in our society, may I point out that the number of deaths in 1968 which were definitely attributable to the misuse of drugs was 30, while the number of cases in which there was suspicion that drug misuse had played a part was 438? The number of people killed on motor-cycles is practically 30 times more than the number who died from the effects of drugs, and practically twice the number of cases in which drugs were under suspicion as the cause of death. May I point out that from those figures are eliminated genuine accidents and suicides? I give those figures merely to show that this problem needs to be kept in proportion.
I think we can have some hope for the future. The present use and misuse of drugs is a fashion, a craze. It is a 254 horrible craze in relation to the more serious drugs; but it is a craze, and no craze lasts for ever, especially those crazes which are favoured by the young only because they are different from what the previous generation did. I do not know what will take its place; it may be something equally nasty. But I feel reasonably confident that this is not something with which we are going to have to live for ever.
This Bill has obvious merits. It reorganises the classification of drugs. It has put cannabis down, it has put LSD right up into the top class, and it has put amphetamines up alongside cannabis. It provides a flexible procedure for the future. These are all steps which we should commend. In view of the outcry against the Report of the Committee on Cannabis, over which I had the honour to preside, may I express my appreciation of this change, and of the very generous words spoken in his opening speech by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, about the work of that Committee? I should also like to express appreciation of the remarks of his colleague, the Minister of State at the Home Office, who, during the Committee stage of this Bill in another place, even referred to one of the recommendations of my Committee as being very important.
That recommendation was that persons found in possession of small quantities of cannabis, particularly first offenders, should not normally be subject to sentences of imprisonment, The Minister of State further communicated to me that there has been a very significant reduction in the number of cases of persons found in possession of small quantities of cannabis who have been sent to prison for a first offence. The reduction between 1967 and 1969, so far as immediate sentences of imprisonment are concerned, is from 12.8 per cent. of the number of prosecutions right down to under 1 per cent. If we take into account suspended sentences the figure is still down to under 5 per cent. The Minister of State was good enough to say tint the Committee perhaps had some influence in bringing about that position. I say that merely because it is common knowledge that the Report of that Committee incurred extreme obloquy and a great deal of public misunderstanding.
255 Having praised those parts of the Bill, I must associate myself with the noble Lord, Lord Foot, in saying that I think the penalties are much too high. I am very glad to see that the top penalty for cannabis has been halved, but it is still much too high, as is the whole run of penalties. This is part of a general philosophy that penalties generally are much too high; and I am speaking here of penalties for offences other than drug offences. Very long sentences clog up our overcrowded prisons, and I am very doubtful whether they deter the rest of the public. Certainly, they do not reform the person who is incarcerated.
I hope the time will come when only a few very dangerous people incur sentences of the magnitude contemplated in this Bill. I find it extraordinarily difficult to believe that there are offences which people will commit if they are liable to ten years' imprisonment, which they would not touch if they were liable to a 14-year sentence. This seems to argue a perspective and a rational calculation in offenders which I can only say I find most improbable.
There are extremely drastic penalties for drug offences in other parts of the world, but there seems little evidence that they are effective. In the United States they have Draconian penalties for drug offences, and we know what their record is. In Persia, they put people to death for importing heroin; and my information is that that has been entirely ineffectual. There is one other aspect of the very high penalty which ought to be remembered; namely, that, in a way, it provides a protective tariff for the person who breaks the law, because the higher the penalty the greater the risk and, therefore, the greater the profit that he requires. This is a law which has been observed to operate very conspicuously in the United States, where the profits from illegal sales rise with the severity of the penalty.
I must express regret about the search and arrest provisions. The Bill repeats the section in the 1967 Act which really crept in where it did not belong at all, because that Act was concerned with quite a different matter—the treatment of heroin addicts. That section allows a constable to search and detain a person if he has reasonable cause to believe him 256 to be in possession of a controlled drug. This power to search, without sufficient evidence to justify arrest, creates very great ill-feeling between a certain section of the younger community and the police. It would be far better if the evidence required for searching was evidence sufficient to justify arrest. Search and arrest should be combined, but not search and this vague power—which I think has no legal definition—to detain.
Moreover, the clause is expressed subjectively and states, in effect. "if the constable has cause to believe", not, "if there is reasonable cause to believe". On the evidence, the constable often seems to be wrong. I have no doubt that he believes sincerely and genuinely, but the evidence is that he is very often wrong. Even in such a sophisticated London police station as Cannon Row, the record of successful searches under this provision is a little more than one in six, while in other parts of the country it is very much less.
In Birmingham, where they have a very careful and liberal policy on all matters concerning drugs, they have managed to get up to about one in three. So that in the great majority of cases "reasonable cause to believe" is "unfounded cause to believe" in so far as the facts are concerned. I therefore very much regret that the recommendation of the minority of the Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence on the arrest and search procedure has not been incorporated into this Bill. We shall no doubt return to that point when it comes to the Committee stage.
I come now to what I believe to be the best part of the Bill; that is, the part which deals with the erring doctor. I was much interested to hear the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Cohen of Birkenhead, though I must confess that I was a little puzzled by them. He started by saying that the General Medical Council had made it clear that they preferred the tribunal procedure, and indeed his evidence to my Committee was extremely clear and complete on that and related points. He then devoted much of his speech, as I thought, to suggestions that the job might be better done by the G.M.C.; but perhaps I misunderstood him. I gather that I did. But my confidence was restored at the end, when 257 he said that the Council is happy with the tribunal procedure.
The tribunal procedure seems to me to be well designed. It is full of safeguards. There are possibly too many safeguards, but at least it protects the doctor against false accusations of over-prescribing and against false accusations of not recording persons who are addicted, as he might be required to do under Clause 10 of the Bill. Clause 10 also makes it possible—and I think this is very important—to extend to other drugs the present provisions which relate to heroin; namely, that they may be prescribed only by doctors specifically licensed for the purpose, which really means in appropriate clinics. I think that the clauses relating to the medical profession are admirable, though I regret that, coming back to the penalties, the doctor who defies the Home Secretary's direction makes himself liable to the maximum penalty of 14 years as a common "pusher". This seems to me only to underline the inappropriateness of these very high penalties.
So, my Lords, when all is said and done I suppose I can look upon this Bill only as being a curate's egg, and I recall what happened when it was first introduced by the Home Secretary in the previous Government. On that day one of the B.B.C. teams went down to an area where there was a considerable number of addicts and interviewed them as to what their views about the Bill might be. I presume that they were given some short summary of what the Bill contained, because it seems to me improbable that they would have run up to the Stationery Office and bought it at the earliest opportunity. But the general impression was, "Well, I do not think this will make a lot of difference to us". I am not sure that there is not a good deal of truth in that, because we come back to what the two Home Secretaries said and to what the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, said at the beginning: that the legal approach to this, the approach via the criminal law, is a contribution, perhaps, but probably a minor contribution to this problem. Perhaps I might end by recalling that it was, I think, Spinoza who said that he who forbids too many things is likely to foment crime rather than to prevent it.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ LORD PLATT
My Lords, like most of the other speakers—I suppose all the other speakers in this debate so far—I am generally in favour of the principles of this Bill. I think it is a considerable improvement on what exists at the present time, and I think that such a Bill is a very necessary one. I agree with most of what has been said, and perhaps especially with the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Serota. I should like to make one comment on the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Foot, before passing on to the few points which I want to make on my own behalf, as it were.
I think that what the noble Lord, Lord Foot, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton, have said about the severity of penalties must be true. They both, I am sure, have more experience than I in this kind of matter. So far I go with them, but when they start comparing the harm done by, say, cannabis at the present time with the number of deaths from motor cycle accidents or with the harm done by alcohol and cigarette smoking, they are of course on extremely unfirm ground. If 60 or 70 per cent. of the population smoked cannabis as they at present smoke cigarettes, or if about 80 or 90 per cent. of the Members of your Lordships' House smoked cannabis as they appear to drink a little alcohol occasionally, then we should have figures which would enable us to make a real comparison. The question that the noble Lord, Lord Foot, has to ask himself is not whether cannabis is doing more harm than the cigarette at the present time—and far be it from me to speak in favour of the cigarette. The question is: If less than one-tenth of 1 per cent. of the people in this country smoked at the present time, would he want to make it easier to introduce the cigarette into this country knowing its ill-effects in some other countries?
The points that I want to make can, I think, be made quite shortly. Your Lordships may think that they are points really for the Committee stage, but unless we get some clarification on them first I think we shall not know whether we want to put down Amendments or not. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Cohen of Birkenhead, said about the very indefinite meaning of "irresponsible manner" of prescribing. My Lords, irresponsible prescribing goes on every day in a very 259 large number of doctors' surgeries, but it is not the kind of irresponsible prescribing that we are thinking of in this particular debate. It surely is irresponsible prescribing if a doctor prescribes a pill for you when he really ought to have asked for an X-ray of your chest. That is irresponsible prescribing, but it has nothing to do with to-day's debate. I think that wording certainly needs a little clearing up.
Then we come to Clause 10, and I draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that it refers to the Secretary of State being able to make, by regulations,such provision as appears to him necessary or expedient for preventing the misuse of controlled drugs".Obviously, he must have pretty wide powers of discretion here, and I do not think anybody will object to what this clause is trying to do. But I should like to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, in summing up, that it is the Government's intention that there should be really full consultation with the people concerned.
The pharmaceutical industry has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, in this connection, and I would of course endorse what he said. I would say that I hope that in all relevant matters the medical profession would also be consulted, not only because they know a good deal about this matter, but because an enormous amount of nuisance value can be created by regulations which require the tilling up of a lot of forms and, perhaps above all, by the people who invent the forms which, as noble Lords will know, you can almost never fill up without asking yourself some extraordinary question as to whether or not you come into this or that category. I hope that we shall get reassurance on full consultation, because I am reminded of the debate on charges to museums which did not give some of us very great assurances that Her Majesty's Government were given to the principle of full consultation before action.
I come now to Clause 17. All I am going to say about this clause is that in the previous edition of this Bill, when it came before the House of Commons, it referred to, in the second and third lines, I think, "a social problem caused 260 by the extensive misuse of controlled drugs"; and further on in the same paragraph "controlled drugs" were referred to. Controlled drugs are defined in Schedule 2 of this Bill; but for some reason unknown to me the wording in the present Bill has been altered to:… extensive misuse of dangerous or otherwise harmful drugs …Very few drugs are not "otherwise harmful" and "dangerous" in certain circumstances. I know that there is a "get out" for this one; because the clause is operative only in the circumstances of a "social problem" existing in some area in Great Britain, so that it is really clear that it is only intended to mean the use of drugs of addiction; but I can see no special reason why this wording has been chosen instead of "controlled drugs" which seems to me to be very much better.
My final point is something which may well be thought to be a Committee stage matter but I should like to mention it now. Certain extremely responsible members of my profession who know a lot more about drugs than I do are concerned that diethylpropion (also known under the trade name of "Tenuate") has not been included in the Class B drugs which include most of the drugs of the amphetamine type used as pep pills and to keep the appetite down in cases of obesity and as a cerebral stimulant. This drug diethylpropion may not yet have been shown to be a drug of addiction, but it is certainly a cerebral stimulant and in certain circumstances has been known to produce a psychosis. It seems to some of my colleagues in the profession that to exclude it when you are in fact bringing in most other amphetamine-like drugs is almost advertising it as being the only one that is safe. I think that that is rather a dangerous thing to suggest in this Schedule. If that point could be explained either now or at a later stage of the Bill, some of us would be greatly obliged.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ BARONESS BIRK
My Lords, I should like to confine my remarks to the question of education, which I see as one of the key factors in the preventive field in this whole problem. I welcome the fact that educating the public is spelled out in the 261 Bill as one of the functions of the Advisory Council. I also welcome the other functions which will stop the duplication of many of the organisations, voluntary and otherwise, that are concerned in this work. But I think that it is essential that, very early on, it should be accepted that there must be the closest links between the Advisory Council and the Health Education Council of which I have the honour to be Chairman; since it is the Health Education Council which is responsible for health education nationally and I take it for granted, even at this stage, that it would be my Council which would have to be mainly responsible for putting into action the recommendations of the Advisory Council and also the proposals worked on by ourselves and the various Ministries.
I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Cohen of Birkenhead, whose Report was responsible for the setting up of the Health Education Council, is here and has spoken in this debate. Therefore I would ask, even at this stage before the Bill becomes law, that a health education representative should be included—I think this is essential—on the Advisory Council and that the appointment should be made in consultation with the Health Education Council.
I was delighted that my noble friend, Lady Wootton of Abinger, and several other speakers stressed the danger of over-dramatisation of this whole problem. Various figures have been given, and it seemed to me, as many of them vary so much, that there is a great deal that we still do not know statistically, medically and socially about this problem. I would venture to say that part of the increase shown by the Home Office figures is probably due to increased vigilance and to the fact that more people are being brought before the courts. A few years ago—and I say this as a magistrate—some of the offenders were dealt with internally in their colleges of further education or universities now they are much more likely to be brought straight before the court. It is rather appalling to read reckless statements like, "Every school in the country has a drug problem". Somebody made that remark and it was well publicised. In fact in a work published last year, Drugs and Schoolchildren Dr. Wiener puts the figure for schoolchildren at 10 per cent.—and 262 even that has been questioned and is thought to be on the high side.
One of the things that I think important—and here I speak from the educational point of view—is that we should not be panicked into the production of pamphlets and posters which themselves seem almost to have become addictions. When people are discussing measures to stop a particular abuse they ask: "What are you doing about it? Why are you not putting up posters? Why are you not printing leaflets or showing films?" We must be quite clear on what we are doing and at whom we are aiming our message to ensure that the whole thing is not socially unwise and unsound and financially wasteful.
What we have to accept at this stage is that the ignorance over the whole field is extremely great. With great respect to the noble Baroness who was not on this particular sub-committee of the Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence, the Health Education and Publicity Sub-Committee reported in January, 1968, and recommended the publication of a single document containing all the basic factual information about drugs, to be made available both to secondary school children and other young people and also to teachers and adults concerned with them. Frankly, I do not think that that kind of approach is "on". First, it strikes me as similar to issuing a leaflet not set in any social or educational context, giving the alcoholic percentages of a whole list of drinks. I should have thought it like some of those injurious pamphlets which tell parents how to look for drug warnings and which can lead to much more harm than good.
So far as schools are concerned, I understand that there has been the most success in dealing with this problem where teachers know their own pupils and can discuss the problem with their colleagues, and all can work together. Where you can get a triangular relationship between pupil, school and parent—unfortunately it is more rare than general—you have a very good chance of dealing with something before it reaches large proportions.
So far as the Health Education Council is concerned, I must be frank and say that we are conducting a holding operation. What we are doing is probably inadequate, but it would be even more 263 inadequate to do more until we know much more about the problem. The Field Service gives help in response to invitations from schools and colleges of education who particularly ask for lectures or information. The Director told me the other day that in 1970 we had 34 requests for this service. One of the reasons for these requests is that there is a reluctance on the part of many teachers to give a lecture themselves, because of their own ignorance; their dislike of discussing the topic and their very real fear that their pupils know more about it than they (10 themselves.
We are also approached directly by different people, again mainly by teachers during term time. We have something like 15 to 20 calls a week to the Council asking for help in the form of both of visual aids and of facts. All we can do at the moment is to give a short outline of the use and abuses of drugs, indicate the main legislation and official reports and selective publications; and provide statistics on drug addicts. As I said, this is a holding operation; nevertheless, it seems to me that there are some promising developments in the educational field.
The Schools Council have a number of projects on curricula subjects where I think that these matters should be discussed. The University of East Anglia has a project on the Humanities; in York they are carrying out a project in general studies and are particularly concerned with the quality of teaching. This seems to me to be one of the right ways, though even more long-term, of trying to deal with the educational side of the problem. Following the recent survey that Dr. Wiener carried out among school children in London, one of the conclusions was that to treat drug-taking as a major problem among school-age children was likely to make it into one. I think we have to take that into account.
My Lords, why we are marking time, what we are waiting for, is the Government's social survey on drugs; not just on the drugs which we are discussing today but on drugs generally. Like many other people, I was hoping that we should have had the result of that survey before now. I understand that it has been delayed, but I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, can help with a date. My latest information is 264 that it is hoped that there will be a report in the not too distant future. When this report does come out we should know what sort of drugs young people know about; who are the young people who are using them; how they acquire their knowledge; what they thought they were using the drugs for—whether to allay anxiety, to get kicks or to demonstrate, as they see it, their maturity—also their attitude to drugs, the attitude of their colleagues and parental attitudes. Once we have the report—the survey was done in conjunction with the Health Education Council—we hope that we shall have a basis on which we can carry out research and engage on an educational programme. I think that to do something without this knowledge would be entirely irresponsible.
The second long-term development and the task we have to look to in the future is the training of teachers, particularly training in the colleges of education. Surely it is time that the whole subject—whatever we call it, whether health education, healthy living or the Humanities—including human relationships, became part of the professional responsibility of our education system and was accepted as part of the curriculum by the central education authority and by local education authorities. We are coming up against so many problems and subjects in regard to human relationships which are concerned in a much wider context with the whole area of living, that to deal with them in isolation (this applies also, I think, to sex education) seems entirely wrong. Also it sets up emotive reactions in other people and holds back the work. I should like to see the question of drugs discussed in a wider social as well as factual context: the fact that they can be injurious to people and the fact—which I think that the noble Lord, Lord Platt, put so well—that however some people may feel about cannabis, we still do not know enough about it to be able to tell young people that it is harmless. If this subject were discussed in a wider social and emotional as well as a factual context, we might start to get somewhere.
Included in the education of the educators would be the instruction of youth club leaders and the personnel and welfare officers in industrial firms, and also 265 magistrates. Very often, even with the training given to new magistrates, the question of the amount of drugs found on a person presents a problem. When there is a charge of being in possession of drugs, many magistrates are unaware of what constitutes large quantities, and whether a person is a "pusher" or using drugs for his own consumption.
Finally, my Lords, I think that when we look at this problem we must do so in the wider perspective. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, talked about the culture of our time and the question of the freedom of the individual. There is the need to look at the cause as well as the symptoms. So much discussion about this problem, the penalties and the punitive side, deals not with the causes but the symptoms. There are some questions that we have to ask. Is it the responsibility of adulthood from which many young people are fleeing? Is the introduction to adult life so much different now from what it was, say, a decade ago? With further education continuing for a longer period, and the factories that young people go into when they leave school being so much larger, does the confrontation with adulthood become more remote? If society, with the general intake of legal drugs, has become a sort of permissive drug society, without that being illegal, has that some bearing on the matter?
Other speakers have remarked upon the number of people who take tranquillisers and sleeping pills. There are many TV advertisements on what to take if we are "under par", with people swallowing tablets and drinking water to get the wretched things down. An atmosphere is being created in which it is accepted that we should take something to make us feel better, and this escalates into a climate in which we begin to think that we should take something more to make us feel even better. This is no reason why we should not deal with the problem, but it seems to me that it is part of our social planning as well as part of the penal and legal systems.
I agree very much with what my noble friend Lady Serota said about making sure that the gap between the older generation and the young is not widened. Even if the police are using reasonable 266 caution when they suspect someone is in possession of drugs, their powers must be used carefully. As my noble friend Lady Wootton of Ahinger pointed out, any extra antagonism created between young people and the police—members of the establishment, as they see them—can only do harm. My son was a teacher of liberal studies in a technical college. Though the students in his class, so far as he could possibly know, were not drug takers, they complained that if they went to the local dance hall on a Saturday night, when they came out the police would often search them. Even though my son tried to put the view that the police have a job to do, the reaction of his students was, "The 'cops' are using this as an excuse to frisk us." So far as possible we must find some form of liaison and co-operation, because one of the counter products of such antagonisms is that young people react in a way which makes them feel that they must do the very things we do not want them to do. I hope that with this Bill, particularly in its social and educational clauses, those of us who work in this field will have an opportunity to get down to some really constructive work in the preventive area, to try to reduce the' difficulties and problems with which the Bill is concerned to deal.
§ 6.4 p.m.
LORD ST. JUST
My Lords, I should like to start with a few general remarks. Without wishing to provoke the wrath of the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, I think that the existence of the hard drug addict is one of the greatest evils in our present day society. If it were not so, this Bill would not be before Parliament. A young person starting on the road to becoming a heroin addict has little chance of cure, and even if addiction is broken, which is very doubtful, he will have to live on one of the substitute drugs probably for the rest of his life. I think that anybody who does not believe the seriousness of the situation has only to go round to the drug addiction centre in order to see evidence that will change his mind.
One question to which society must find an answer is: Why do young people take drugs? We have heard a lot about this in your Lordships' House this afternoon. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, dealt 267 with it. It is not just a question of doing it "for kicks", nor is it necessarily a group social experiment. It is something deeper, and I think more complex. The basic reasons will have to be discovered, and I am certain that they will be discovered by sociologists, psychiatrists and social workers, both here and in countries like America, where the situation is very serious.
One of the greatest tasks of the Advisory Committee to be set up under the Bill is to educate the public, particularly the young, in the dangers of the misuse of drugs, and to give publicity to these dangers. I am sure that there are a great many people in this country who know virtually nothing about drug addiction and about how young people start on drugs. Recently, I have had letters from two people about their children at school, both of whom have gone on to heroin, both being under 16. This is an appalling problem. I think that if by education and publicity we can get the dangers over to the public, especially parents, we might start to put a brake on the situation.
Coming to the Bill itself, I should first like to deal with the question of cannabis. I know that this is a difficult subject. I do not think that my noble friends on the Front Bench will be pleased with me over this, but I agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Foot, said about cannabis. I think that cannabis ought to be taken as in a group on its own. I am not for legalising its use. That could not be done at the present time, and I think it would be wrong. But we must remember that young people have heard eminent men like Dr. Stafford Clarke, who is consultant psychiatrist at Maudesley and head of the York Clinic at Guy's Hospital, reported in The Times and stating on television that there is no harm whatever in taking cannabis. Going literally to the other end of the spectrum, there are specialists, like the Professor of Psychiatry at London University, who say it is harmful. The answer is that nobody knows. And while this position exists, we are not going to stop young people smoking cannabis.
I think the existing position puts the law in disrepute. It has been got out of proportion. Many experts say that using cannabis is the start on the road to 268 taking hard drugs, but others say it is not so. They say that people take hard drugs for problems deeply embedded in their minds and that they are so unbalanced that they would take to drink if they could not take to cannabis. I think that this is probably true. I would leave it at that; but frankly I feel that the sentences in the Bill in connection with cannabis are too severe.
Another problem, which was gone into at some depth in another place, and which I think we should look at again in Committee in this House, because the arguments upstairs in Committee in another place were finely balanced, is whether the medical inspection of children in schools to detect drugs should take place. Very often school is where the trouble starts, and there is something wrong in the responsibility for this as between teachers and parents. It is like a ball in a tennis match being tossed backwards and forwards. The schools toss it to the parents; the parents toss it back again to the teachers. This is something which one day will be correctly dealt with, but until it is I do not think there is anything particularly degrading in having to submit oneself to a test. I do not think that that infringes on the rights of the individual.
My Lords, I wish to say little more, except that I am glad to see that pushers of drugs are to be severely dealt with. If anybody in this world ought to be imprisoned for life it is the pusher. The pusher is basically responsible for the slow killing of a great many people. No doubt doctors will have to minister those who have been cured, especially those on hard drugs. This is not easy, but the whole question of getting a person back again into normal life, having been once addicted, covers a wide spectrum. After-care is most important point of all. Many reports have indicated that one of the difficulties connected with drug addiction is that even if a person will take a cure and try to get back into normal life, he swings back again among his own circle of friends that he had before and goes back to addiction again. This is why the idea of hostels where people may be cured of addiction, where the addicts will be living with people who have led perfectly normal lives, and are not in any way addicted, will stop this vicious cycle taking place again.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ LORD GIFFORD
My Lords, this is a Bill which affects young people, and although I should probably no longer be accepted by the younger generation as entirely one of them, I feel that both in age and attitude I may be closer to the younger generation than other noble Lords who have spoken. I speak now because I believe that if we are not—particularly on this issue—to have an increasingly divided society, it is essential for the gap between the generations to be bridged.
Let me make it quite clear that I would be the last person to gloss over the appalling suffering which results from the abuse of hard drugs. There can be no more wretched fate for a young person than to become a victim of the degradation of heroin addiction. The use of LSD, and amphetamines in large quantities, can do incalculable damage, both physical and psychological. Barbiturates for some reason are excluded from the Bill, and perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, will explain to the House why this is so when he winds up, because I do not understand it. Even barbiturates are now being taken intravenously as a substitute for heroin, with terrible effects. One must, as my noble friend Lady Wootton said, keep a sense of proportion about this suffering. It is absolutely right and necessary that society should do everything possible to prohibit the distribution of hard drugs; to cure and care for those who become addicted, and to educate the young about the dangers of addiction. So far I go along with the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham. Nevertheless, I am bound to say that if this Bill is designed—as the law must be designed—to set standards which young people can respect, then it will largely fail in its purpose.
I believe there to be two fundamental flaws in the whole philosophy behind the Bill. The first has been mentioned by many noble Lords: the imposition of bludgeoning criminal penalties for the simple possession of drugs. I have referred to the horror of addiction, and it follows from what I say that those who corrupt young people into that misery deserve severe punishment (I have no quarrel with that, and it is provided for in the Bill) and this is particularly so when it is done for gain. It also follows that those who are the victims of that 270 corruption need sympathy, education and, in many cases, treatment. The last thing they need is to be branded as criminals and thrown into prison, yet we find that the maximum penalty for simple possession of heroin and LSD is, for instance, 7 years on indictment and 12 months from a magistrates' court.
If I understood the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, aright, it is even suggested that one reason for this is that people who are only accused of possession may be sentenced for supplying as a result of some inference which the magistrate or judge may draw when no charge of supplying has been proved by the decision of the jury. I find that very disturbing. People who are sentenced on the basis that they are traffickers should be convicted on the evidence that they are traffickers.
Perhaps the most authoritative and recent investigation into this matter is contained in the Canadian Interim Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs, chaired by Mr. Gerald le Dain. The conclusion reveals a totally different approach. They question whether simple possession should be prohibited at all, and recommend very firmly that no one should be liable to imprisonment for simple possession of a psychotropic drug for non-medical purposes. I have quoted from paragraph 455. Surely, this is right. To take two of the most common examples, what possible benefit is prison to someone who is wholly or partially addicted to drugs? What possible benefit is prison to some young man or girl who has experimented with a dangerous drug? I urge the House, and the Government, to consider very carefully the whole question of penalties on the Committee stage of this Bill.
My Lords, I now come to the second fundamental flaw, and to the heart of the controversy on drugs; namely, that cannabis is included as part and parcel of dangerous drugs legislation. How can we possibly be taken seriously in our efforts to educate young people against hard drug addiction, and its dangers, when what we say about cannabis is totally discredited by the experience of huge numbers of young people? What the numbers are is impossible to gauge, but it is evident that the smoking of cannabis is becoming increasingly 271 accepted as an agreeable social pastime among young people of all walks of life. This is indicated by the dramatic rise in the convictions. It is indicated by the attendance of hundreds of thousands of young people at "pop" festivals in Hyde Park and on the Isle of Wight, peaceably enjoying music which lauds cannabis in the same way as the drinking songs of classical opera laud alcohol. We may be some years behind San Francisco, but a survey there has shown that in the 18 to 24 age group one in every two men, and one in every three girls, smokes cannabis. Indeed, I wonder whether I am the only person in your Lordships' House who on holidays in other countries has enjoyed a cannabis reefer and found it to be a pleasing, though not extraordinary, experience. This host of the younger generation know from their experience what the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, and her colleagues concluded in their Report: that the long-term consumption of cannabis in moderate doses has no harmful effects.
The Home Secretary in a debate in the other place recognised this problem. He said that we have not made our story about cannabis credible. Indeed, it has not been made credible, and I have failed to hear in all the debate, and all the research, arguments which make it credible to young people who are affected by this Bill. The argument that the majority of hard drug addicts started on cannabis holds no more water than the argument that the majority of alcoholics started on beer. For my part, just as I would not support the prohibition of alcohol, although it is often abused, although it can cause death and injury on the roads, so I do not support the prohibition of cannabis, although it can be abused, and although it can (even though at present it does not appear often to) cause death and injury on the roads.
Certainly with both substances one should educate against misuse. Certainly with both one should punish those who do harm to others. Certainly one should control and tax distribution. But when, instead, we give ourselves a licence to indulge in our own preferred social pastime, and brand others as criminals for indulging in theirs, then we are rightly 272 thought of as hypocrites, and our laws will find little respect.
The effects of the present prohibition on cannabis I have time only to summarise, but I would pray in aid a quotation from The Times leader of January 6 of this year on the Report of the Royal College of Physicians. About the smoking of tobacco it was said:Prohibition, on the American liquor model, can be ruled out for the sufficient reason that it would be unacceptable and for the supplementary reasons that it would induce bootlegging, law-breaking and police harassment out of all proportion to the social evil (as opposed to the individual misfortune) that cigarette smoking may be thought to cause.Prohibition of cannabis is causing this, and worse than this, among the younger generation to-day, for inevitably the law is brought into disrepute; for inevitably the police have the opportunity to harass young people because of their age and appearance; and inevitably with the search powers they have, and will continue to have, there are those who take that opportunity. Inevitably many of those thousands who are convicted of a crime which is no crime to them harden their attitude against society, or drop out of it altogether. Many of them of course need help, and need help badly. The greatest tribute is due to the workers of "Release", and other organisations, who provide the help which they need. Inevitably, also, the distribution of cannabis gets into the hands of big-time racketeers, and this is going to happen increasingly as a result of the vastly increased penalties. Inevitably, too, by the very fact that cannabis is outlawed, some young people are led into an underworld where the killer drugs are also available; and this, in my view, is the real link between cannabis and heroin.
My Lords, I realise that cannabis will continue to be a prohibited drug for many years to come, but I think it right to speak out, not because attitudes can be changed overnight, but because a dialogue between the generations must begin. I ask your Lordships, including those on the Front Bench, those outside in the Government, and those in the police forces, to think again; to consider that they could be wrong; to weigh the growing evidence that cannabis, though capable of abuse, is a pleasure which in itself is not dangerous, and to listen to the voices of young people whose full participation in this society we so badly need.
§ 6.25 p.m.
VISCOUNT ST. DAVIDS
My Lords, to quote A. A. Milne, "I am a bear of very little brain", and therefore I feel that I myself cannot afford to muddle my mind with any of these drugs whose sole purpose seems to be to do just that. On the subject of the hard drugs, I do not think anybody in this House is in disagreement with the Bill. It is obvious that this Bill sets out what we must do. On the subject of the soft drugs—cannabis in particular—I would go a very long way with my noble friend Lord Gifford, if it were not for two things. One is that I should not like to see liberalisation, permission for the handling of any drug of this nature, until the medical profession have cleared it. We have seen in the matter of thalidomide just what can happen if an uncleared drug gets loose in the community. Until the medical profession are prepared to say that no such long-term results come from cannabis, I am not prepared to agree with my noble friend Lord Gifford on this point. If the medical profession say that there are no such longterm results, then I feel I can go a great deal further with him.
There is, however, one horrible thought in my mind. It would not have been so serious a number of years ago but now it is very serious because, with the ever-growing increase in road traffic and the ever-growing prosperity of the country, young people are driving cars and other vehicles on the roads much more than they used to. If one's mind can be confused and dulled and made inefficient by alcohol, it can also be made confused, dull and inefficient by cannabis. I loathe the idea of somebody coming in the opposite direction on the road, driving a car or a motor-bike, if he has taken drugs. This must be just as serious as, or possibly even more serious than, if he has taken alcohol. I have a feeling that there should be something either in this Bill or in some other legislation which makes it a very serious offence to drive a car while under the influence of such a drug.
VISCOUNT ST. DAVIDS
My Lords, I know that a provision exists already, but I feel it should be reinforced. If it were reinforced, possibly I should go further with my noble friend Lord Gifford.
274 Apart from that point, which really gives me the horrors, I feel that there is something to be said for the takers of cannabis when we know that the drug is safe.
§ LORD GIFFORD
My Lords, before the noble Lord continues, I hope he will accept that driving under the influence of drugs is accepted under the law as being just as serious as driving under the influence of drink.
VISCOUNT ST. DAVIDS
Yes, my Lords; I quite understand my noble friend on this point, but I feel the offence ought to be regarded even more seriously. After all, the main purpose of drink is not to confuse the mind, even if it does so; but the very purpose of these drugs is to confuse the mind. That is the aim of a drug; it has no other aim. It is not fun to take. That is why I think the offence I refer to should be very much jumped on.
§ BARONESS WOOTTON OF ABINGER
My Lords, before the noble Viscount sits down, I think he will accept that the real difference is that in the case of alcohol it is possible to detect the amount of excess alcohol in the blood, whereas in the case of cannabis it is not possible at present, although soon it may be possible.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND SOCIAL SECURITY (LORD ABERDARE)
My Lords, I am grateful to everybody who has taken part in this debate. We have not had a long list of speakers, but those who have spoken have done so with great knowledge and it has been a most fascinating debate to listen to. I am also pleased that most of your Lordships have given a welcome to the Bill, albeit some of your Lordships have described it as a "curate's egg", but it still has its good parts.
The 20th century has been distinguished for its rapid scientific progress, but the question still remains unanswered whether the new knowledge that we have will be used for good or evil. This general proposition is true in many fields and certainly in that of drugs, which we have 275 been discussing to-day. I imagine that most of your Lordships have benefited in some degree or other by modern drugs used medically to alleviate pain or effect a cure, and there can be no doubt that drugs have made a significant contribution to the treatment of all forms of illness. Think, for a moment, only of mental illness, which before modern drug treatment led to confinement in huge impersonal institutions. In future we shall see no more of them and treatment will be increasingly carried out in psychiatric units or in outpatient departments of district general hospitals, in day hospitals and in facilities in the community, thanks to modern drugs. But unfortunately some of these very same drugs are liable to misuse, often with tragic consequences; and it is with this aspect of the problem that we are concerned to-day.
As my noble friend Lord Windlesham explained so lucidly in introducing this Second Reading, the object of the Bill is to ensure speed of action and flexibility in the counter-measures available to the Government, and to simplify the present law. But as many of your Lordships have made plain, that is only one way to tackle the problem. We need the right sort of legal framework but we also need other weapons in the fight against drug addiction.
The first is health education, which was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and by my noble friend Lord St. Just. One of the functions of the proposed Advisory Council will be to advise on measures for educating the public in the dangers of drugs misuse. As we are concerned particularly with the young, Clause 1 of the Bill includes the Secretary of State for Education among the Ministers who may consult, and be advised by, the Advisory Council. The Government regard education in the dangers of drug misuse as an essential part of our total preventive effort, and the inclusion of this function in the remit of the proposed Advisory Council is a reflection of this. As your Lordships know, the body responsible for promoting health education at national level is the Health Education Council, which is ably chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk. I can confirm to her that it would be to this Council that we should look to devise and carry out the educational programmes, 276 because of its expert knowledge of the necessary techniques.
Therefore, while we see the proposed Advisory Council as having an essential part to play in identifying needs and priorities in education, we should expect it to work in close consultation with the Health Education Council in formulating educational plans. May I also say to the noble Baroness that we will most certainly bear in mind the remark she made about the need for representation on the Advisory Council of someone from the Health Education Council. The noble Baroness also asked me about the survey of public attitudes to drug taking and I can give her what is, I fear, not a very satisfactory answer. The field work for this survey, which was carried out by the Government Social Survey which is now the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, was completed in the summer of 1969. Since then the processing of the data has been considerably delayed because of computer troubles, but work is now progressing and it is hoped that a draft of the Report will be ready within a few months.
The second way in which we can tackle the problem is through the control of irresponsible prescribing, and the various powers in the Bill will help us to deal with improper sources of supply of drugs to addicts and to young people at risk as potential addicts. I am indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Cohen of Birkenhead, for his clear statement of the action taken by the General Medical Council and of their existing powers. The Department and the Home Office will continue to keep a close watch on excessive prescribing of drugs of dependence and will not hesitate to lay information before the General Medical Council where there is reason to think that a doctor may, by virtue of prescribing, have behaved unethically. Though there are few cases of irresponsible prescribing, it is essential to act quickly if a case arises, and that is the reason for Clause 15 of the Bill, which is a new provision which gives the Secretary of State the power, subject to certain conditions, of giving temporary directions to practitioners, precluding them from engaging in certain activities connected with controlled drugs.
I would mention to the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, that this clause would enable effective action to be taken should 277 it be evident that there was over-prescribing of drugs in the case of slimming clinics. May I also say to the noble Lord, Lord Platt, who mentioned, in connection with the slimming clinics, the drug diethylpropion, that I cannot give him a quick answer to-night, but I will certainly look into the matter and will let him know why that drug is not scheduled. May I now pay a special tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Cohen of Birkenhead, for the very helpful and constructive way in which he has discussed all these matters with the Government, and also to the willingness of the General Medical Council to co-operate with the Government. After full consideration of the Council's view we believe that the solution proposed in the Bill is the right one, for the time being at any rate, but we shall naturally be willing to look at it in the light of experience.
One important way of preventing the supply of drugs for misuse through irresponsible prescribing lies in voluntary action by the medical profession itself. I understand that the voluntary ban on the prescribing of amphetamines which was recommended by a resolution of the B.M.A. Conference last summer is spreading. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, I very much welcome such voluntary action by the medical profession. And may I say to my noble friend, Lord Auckland, that I very much welcome also the co-operation of the Pharmaceutical Society, who advised their members not to dispense prescriptions for amphetamines in powder form. As the noble Baroness mentioned, it was joint action by members of both these professions in Ipswich which has resulted in the virtual elimination of amphetamine prescription in the course of two years.
The noble Baroness, Lady Serota, asked me about the monitoring of prescriptions. The sub-committee on amphetamines tinder the chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, recommended that the Department should devise a method for the early identification from prescriptions of doctors whose prescribing of drugs warrants special investigation. The Bow Group recommended that a centralised drug information bureau on the Canadian pattern should be set up and the Pharmaceutical 278 Society suggested the introduction of triplicate prescription forms for control of drugs. However, the experience of other countries has left us in considerable doubt about the cost effectiveness of central monitoring on the larger scale of therapeutic practice in this country. The main problem that we have been faced with has been control of over-prescribing rather than its detection, and the Bill provides specific measures to deal with that. When addicts have found a doctor who prescribes irresponsibly his name quickly becomes known to the authorities through the "grapevine". In view of what I was saying about the computer, it seems that in certain cases the "grapevine" works more swiftly than the computer.
§ BARONESS WOOTTON OF ABINGER
My Lords, would the noble Lord not accept that not only is there the problem of irresponsible over-prescribing, the black sheep, but the evidence to my Committee was that there are a number of grey sheep prescribing rather more than the average, and who are doing this in good faith, or out of carelessness, or even ignorance?
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, there are in the Bill, under Clauses 10 and 17, powers which make it possible to construct more elaborate information systems if they are necessary, but we are a little worried, and we have given assurances, to consult on this, that it may lay a tremendous burden on doctors and the pharmaceutical profession. I should like to repeat that assurance—one of your Lordships asked for it—that we are very concerned to avoid the introduction of unnecessary procedures and that we will approach this matter with caution and in the fullest consultation with their interests. I should also mention that although in the normal case it takes up to two to three months before National Health Service prescription forms become conveniently available, where a particular set of prescriptions are required as evidence they can be extracted much more quickly.
§ BARONESS SEROTA
My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt again, but as I recall the report of the Wootton Committee they made a specific point of including private prescriptions as well as National Health Service prescriptions. I would ask the 279 noble Lord, in the consideration of this important matter, that these, too, should be included.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, I do appreciate that point, but this is one of the reasons why it could involve a very heavy burden on the pharmacists who have to provide the information about private prescribing.
I was asked by the noble Baroness and by my noble friend Lord Auckland about barbiturates. The Government are at present considering the recommendation of the Barbiturates Sub-Committee of the Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence that notifications under Clause 10(2)(h) of the Bill and the control of supply under Clause 10(2)(i) should be applied to a very small number of barbiturate dependent persons who practise intravenous injection or who develop severe dependence necessitating increasing dosage. This will require consultation again and will take time. Your Lordships will appreciate that if it appears desirable when these consultations are complete, action can then be taken to add barbiturates to the Schedule by order, and the recommendations could be implemented under the Bill as it stands. But there are complex problems which arise for the Government and the professions concerned when drugs liable to misuse are also widely used for legitimate therapeutic purposes. In the case of barbiturate prescriptions we are talking in terms of over 14 million prescriptions per annum. I would once again assure the professions and the pharmaceutical industry that the Government will have full regard to the importance of not laying unnecessary burdens on them, and to the need for full consultation with them, and I hope that will reassure my noble friend Lord Auckland.
The third way in which we can tackle the problems of drug dependence is by treatment and rehabilitation. The Bill lays on the Advisory Council a duty, specified in Clause 1(2)(b), to advise on measures to enable persons affected by the misuse of drugs to take proper advice, and to secure proper facilities for the treatment, rehabilitation and aftercare of such persons. It is probably too early for any definite evaluation of the different methods of treatment available, but this is something into which we are already doing research, and Clause 32 of the Bill 280 will be of further help. Whatever the method of treatment, rehabilitation is an integral and vital part of the process, as is emphasised in the report on the rehabilitation of drug addicts by the Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence.
Our treatment of heroin addicts, as a result of the 1967 Dangerous Drugs Act, has pointed the way. There are at present 14 treatment centres in London, where some 80 per cent. of all out-patients and 66 per cent. of all in-patients are treated. There are also a number of centres outside London. Without our wishing to be over-optimistic, it looks to us as if the problem of heroin addiction is at least being contained. The general policy of the centres is to wean the addict off heroin and the needle and on to methadone by mouth. The amount of heroin prescribed at treatment centres has fallen since 1968 from over 3,000 grammes to about 1,300 grammes per month, though there has been a slight increase in the amount of methadone prescribed.
The basic purpose of the whole process of treatment and rehabilitation is to bring the drug addict to a stable and useful life in the community in which he no longer feels the need of the drug as a prop. The establishment of meaningful relationships with the treatment centres staff can be an important step in this direction, and this is one of the most valuable features of the work of these staff. It is also necessary to put the patients in touch with other statutory and voluntary agencies which can help with their various problems, and it is in this field in particular that the social worker has such a very important part to play in the rehabilitation process.
The rehabilitation report of the Advisory Council recommended that local health authorities in the London area should provide two hostels for homeless addicts attending out-patient clinics and four for addicts who had completed treatment, and that others should be provided elsewhere as necessary. There are now in fact three hostels in London for withdrawn addicts, run by voluntary bodies, two of which receive financial support from local authorities. A further hostel for withdrawn addicts now in planning has been promised local authority support. In the Provinces, five hostels have been established for ex-addicts, one of them by a local authority, 281 and two others are planned. The question of hostel accommodation for addicts still receiving drugs presents more difficulties, and this is at present under discussion between my Department, the treatment centres and the London Boroughs Association. There are three day centres catering for addicts under treatment in the London area.
Despite evidence that the addiction problem is being contained, a very close watch must be kept on the situation. My Department has regular meetings with the consultants in charge of the centres, at which information is exchanged and attention can be drawn to any significant developments. More information is needed about the course drug dependence takes in different people under different methods of treatment, and this is one of the areas in which Government Departments are considering the direction of further research.
The noble Lord, Lord Foot, put a very persuasive case on the question of cannabis as it was covered in the Bill, and he started his persuasion with some kind words of praise to my noble friend which I thoroughly reciprocate. I admit that there are a number of people who take the same view as he does. In fact, my noble friend Lord St. Just, and the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, gave him some support. I would only say that there are also a great many people who do not agree with that view, one of them being the noble Lord, Lord Platt. I venture to say also, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, that there are a great many young people who do not agree with his view. Surely one thing can be certain—and this was one of the three points that the noble Lord, Lord Foot, claimed would be non-controversial—and that is that we simply do not know what the long-term results of cannabis are. It would surely be very dangerous, just at this particular moment when we have only, after years, discovered the dangers of cigarette smoking, to jump to the conclusion that there was less danger in smoking cannabis. In my view, we should be failing in our duty not to fight against the misuse of all drugs, and I would include in this cannabis. We shall have a chance of discussing this matter in more detail on Committee, and particularly the points raised about the penalties for this particular drug.
282 The noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, as I suspected she might, brought up the question of search and arrest. This is clearly one of the clauses in the Bill over which there will be some difference of opinion. As she clearly stated, it was studied by a sub-committee of the Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence and there was a difference of opinion in that sub-committee. But the majority recommended that we should retain the present law as it is, and I am sure that the noble Baroness is not surprised to hear that the Government agree with the majority decision. As she knows, Clause 23 retains the power of the police to search anyone if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that that person is in possession of a controlled drug. Nevertheless, this is obviously a most important clause which we can again discuss in much greater detail in Committee.
I would make only three points in general. The first is that we are not taking any new power in this Bill; it is a power that exists under present legislation. The second point is that the police themselves, from their experience, find it invaluable, and have even gone so far as to say that without it it would be extremely difficult to enforce the law. The third point is that the constable must have reasonable grounds to suspect before he searches, and that records are kept of these searches and are available for inspection.
§ LORD FOOT
My Lords, I wonder whether I might interrupt the noble Lord, not to ask him for an answer to this question now but to ask whether, when he says that the Government are taking no new powers, he would consider between now and the next stage of this Bill Clause 23(4)(b), which provides that,A person commits an offence if he—(b)conceals or without reasonable excuse (proof of which shall lie on him) fails to produce any such books, documents, stocks or drugs as aforesaid.What I would invite the noble Lord to do is to consider between now and the next stage of the Bill whether that is not taking a power which was previously unknown to the English law.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, I should not like to cross swords with the noble Lord on a legal point, and I most certainly will look at this most carefully. 283 The remarks I was making applied more to the searching of an individual than the searching of premises, but I most certainly will have that point looked into.
There are one or two small points that I can answer. The noble Baroness, Lady Serota, asked about the Advisory Council. It is not envisaged at the moment that the members of the Advisory Council will be paid, or that there shall be full-time members. However, the position will be reviewed in the light of experience. As far as the Secretariat is concerned, no final decisions have as yet been taken. What is absolutely certain is that the Advisory Council will have available to it the full resources of the Government Departments concerned. The noble Lords, Lord Cohen of Birkenhead and Lord Platt, both referred to the difficulty of the words "irresponsible manner". I am sure that we can go into this point on the Committee stage. It is difficult to do more than to leave it to the tribunal to come to a conclusion as to whether the prescribing has been done in an "irresponsible manner".
We are tackling a very difficult problem, and no one yet really knows the right answers. I suggest that in such circumstances there are two essential needs: the one is co-operation and the other is flexibility in action. The Government are grateful for the co-operation of many organisations and individuals. Doctors, dentists, vets, pharmacists, local authorities and voluntary bodies are all playing their part; and underlying this Bill is the need for continuing consultation with all those interested. The provisions of the Bill will enable agreed action to be taken swiftly and effectively, and I hope your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading.
On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.